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Bad Teacher, Cars 2, Beginners, an epic history from China and a rediscovered sci-fi gem

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BEGINNING OF THE GREAT REVIVAL: If you were in China, this would be pretty well your only choice at the movies right now. Theatre operators have been told to play it everywhere. Even the new Transformers movie will have to wait. Why? It’s an historical epic celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist party. The party wants it seen. (A companion film two years ago, about the party’s triumph in 1949,  was a huge hit).

This is a very detailed history showing the ten years from the Wuchang Uprising in 1911, after which Dr. Sun Yat Sen returns to China and proclaims a republic, through various governments collapsing, splintering, reforming, a boy emperor restored to the throne, civil war, and other chaotic events up to the party proclamation signed on a secret boat cruise to elude government agents. It’s like a well-made pageant, with lots of period detail, battle scenes and in the exciting action of the student May 4th Movement, some possibly unintended reminders of Tiananmen Square. There’s a lot to absorb. A huge cast of historical characters appear on screen, identified in tiny script and played  by some 150 known Chinese actors. Mao, Chou En Lai, Dr. Sun are familiar to most of us; many of the others are not. (Fans of Chinese movies will have a great time watching for the stars like Chow Yun-fat (as the tyrant Yuan Shikai, Andy Lau and Liu Ye as a rather reserved Mao Zedong.

Some will be able to spot the bit players like the comedians Feng Gong and Fan Wei or the Hong Kong supermodel Angelababy.) We get a big dose of ideological debate about the relevance of Marx and Lenin’s theories to China, but we get more about the humiliation China suffered during the colonial period and again during the peace talks that ended World War One. Ultimately the film credits the party with both freeing China and creating today’s wealth. Propaganda, sure, but there’s a solid history lesson lurking behind it. (International Village, Station Square, Coquitlam and Riverport)  3 out of 5

 

THE BEST OF HOT DOCS: This weekend, the Vancity Theatre is showing five of the best films from North America’s largest documentary festival. I’ve only seen one so far, but it’s bound to be popular. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is for fans of the last-night TV comedian. They’ll get a bit of a glimpse into his backstage life, a stage show that feels a bit like TV itself, and maybe too much music as Coco belts out like 40 Days and I Want my Show Again (aka On the Road Again). He toured, even to here in Vancouver, after he lost his show and was legally barred from performing  on TV or the internet. (3 out of 5)

Another highlight is Project Nim, which is building tremendous buzz at festivals. Not only is it the story of the chimp that was taught sign language and treated as a child in a famous experiment but it comes from the same people who made the compelling, and Oscar winning, Man on Wire.

A third film, I’m interested in, The Pirate Tapes, watches Somalian pirates with a hidden camera and apparently explains their actions. There’s information about all these films at www.viff.org.

 

WORLD ON A WIRE: Here's a must-see for fans of science fiction. This is a film Rainer Werner Fassbinder made for German TV back in 1973. It's showing in Vancouver for the first time. The New York Times says it's "bold vision is still ahead of its time." It anticipates Avatar, Blade Runner and even The Matrix with a story about a cybernetics corporation's that has created a miniature world of "identity units" that are unaware they are being control by forces above.

A researches stumbles across the paranoia-laced information that his world may not be real. Philip K. Dick, David Cronenberg, and in his own humorous way, Douglas Adams, have all dealt with themes like this. Fassbinder's film plays it out on two levels of reality. The film is also in two parts (and you'll have to pay a double feature price). Three days only, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You can find more information at   http://www.cinematheque.bc.ca/world-on-a-wire

THIS IS TRUE GRIT, part 2: The Pacific Cinémathèque also has three more of those westerns Jimmy Stewart made with director Anthony Mann. This second batch includes the one I like the most, The Naked Spur, which has only five characters in a story of obsession and greed that’s easily as intense at The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Stewart, as a bounty hunter, is after Robert Ryan but needs help from an old timer and a dishonorably discharged cavalryman. Everybody feels the urge to turn on each other in this streamlined but complex adult western.

The Far Country is also about greed, this time in Canada, in the Klondike gold rush. Stewart tries to stay on the sidelines and not get involved in the lawless boomtown.

The last film, The Man From Laramie, is in beautiful Cinemascope, one of first western to get that widescreen treatment. Stewart is on an obsessive hunt for revenge for his brother’s death. (4 ½, 3 ½ and 4 out of 5, respectively)

 

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