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Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen’s most entertaining film in years. Also X-Men, Beijing Taxi, Orgasm Inc. and fun with exploitation pictures

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The Olympics are about to start but, though she and her daughter are seen looking at the stadium from afar, the film is not an attack on that event. It is a lament for the Beijing that has changed dramatically. The old neighborhoods are being torn down. Skyscrapers sprout in their place. Flashy new nightclubs light up the evenings and throb with loud music, prompting one driver to say: “I don’t understand where these customs come from.” People have become obsessed with money and “China, step on the gas” is promoted as a slogan. Mao’s face is on a collectible medallion while a popular TV show called “The Struggle” is about yuppies. The film explores all this with sensitivity and strong images. It plays one night only, Wed. June 8 at the VanCity Theatre, with the director in attendance to answer questions. 3 ½ out of 5 

ORGASM INC. As a money-maker alone, Viagra is surely a wonder drug. (Let’s not mention those annoying ads that keep popping up during the hockey games, though). A similar drug for women could be next but there’s a problem. There’s no known medical condition it would treat.

No matter. Researchers have identified one anyway, called it female sexual dysfunction and told Oprah, CNN and other media platforms that 43% of American women are affected by it. This lively, often funny, sometimes bizarre film flits back and forth across the US to hear from drug companies about the race to find a remedy, their sex-therapist supporters, like the Berman sisters of Chicago who’ve become media stars, several opponents who decry the tactics of “convincing healthy people that they’re sick” and a few first-hand stories from patients. A side trip to Montreal, to a World Congress of Sexology, adds two radical surgical solutions, and one horror story. Most enlightening is an FDA hearing where the case for and against a new drug called Intrinsa is debated. This film is a playful but tough study of the pharmaceutical industry. (Pacific Cinémathèque, Fri and Sat. http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/) 3 out of 5

Playing in tandem with … 

MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED: Films buffs will love this. As long as they don’t expect art, because there isn’t much of that in the movies celebrated in here. What there is is: violence, blood, kung fu, monsters, women in prison, women with big guns and, as often as possible, women baring their breasts. We get a healthy sampling of them all in the many clips from unheralded titles like Beast of Blood, TNT Jackson and Vampire Hookers. Also, as a change of pace, a midget secret agent, handy with both a gun and karate.

This documentary gets down and sweaty with a little known phase of the American movie industry. In the 1970s and 80s, producers like Roger Corman sent actors to the Philippines to make exploitation films for U.S. drive-ins. Expenses were low, health and safety rules were non-existent and if you needed an army, the Marcos government sent one along.

Corman, directors like Jack Hill and Eddie Romero, and actors like Sid Haig and Pam Grier recall the era with considerable affection. They made big-looking movies very cheaply. Unbeknownst to Marcos, they managed to sneak revolutionary themes into the films and to the surprise of John Landis and Joe Dante they claim a women’s empowerment subtext in their women in prison films. Nah, it’s just crass and sexist schlock, the two directors argue, but then their memories are tinted with snickering sarcasm. Entertaining stuff, although edited so fast, it’s hard to savor the many film clips. (Also Pacific Cinémathèque, Fri. and Saturday) 3 out of 5

 

Also now playing …

X-MEN FIRST CLASS: The second movie of the season based on Marvel comic books. (There’s a third one on the way and also one coming from their big competitor, DC Comics.) In true comic book, fashion this is an origin story, explaining how the two mutant leaders, Professor X and Magneto, came to be enemies, when they were friends as young men. The tale is far different from the one originally told in the comics. James McAvoy plays Xavier as a dedicated academic while Michael Fassbender, as the future Magneto, is a firebrand Nazi hunter. Jennifer Lawrence plays Raven. Much of the film is one of those international adventures that travels to cities all over the globe and somehow both the CIA and the Cuban Missile Crisis are involved. I haven’t seen it yet but the reviews are glowing and a friend who has watched it says the story and the actors match perfectly to make this an excellent summer movie. (Scotiabank, Oakridge and many suburban theatres)

THE FIRST GRADER: An inspirational true story from Africa but be warned, there’s some hard to watch torture by the British and a family death shown in graphic detail. They come in flashbacks in aid of an anti-colonialism message. The main story is recent. The government of Kenya offers free education for all and an 84-year-old former Mau Mau freedom fighter takes them up on it.

 

Oliver Litondo, a former TV newsreader, plays him bonding easily with his six-year-old classmates and fighting resolutely with the school board to get his rights and with parents who object to him taking up classroom space. Naomie Harris plays a sympathetic teacher show supports him. (International Village)

NOTE: The images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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