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Captain America, Friends with Benefits, Life Above All and portraits of an Eco-Pirate and a paranoid chess master

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The horror accumulates relentlessly and just as you start getting numb to it, rape brings a second and more harrowing terror into the film. The Japanese commander orders “comfort women” rounded up to service his soldiers, who he says are getting “unruly”. These scenes aren’t graphic but stir up a chilling outrage as we watch. What makes the film work, though, are the many small breaks from the violence to show how people deal with it—on both sides. A Chinese soldier tries to stay out of sight. A stocky man and a young boy repeatedly cross paths. A Chinese family feels safe inside a German compound (also depicted in the film John Rabe that played VIFF last year) until the demand comes to borrow 100 women. On the other side, the Japanese are also shown as human beings. A sergeant is coldly efficient, maybe even bloodthirsty, but a young soldier is visibly turning against the horror. It’s this nod to real people inside the general rage, along with the exceptional visual construction, that makes this a great film. (VanCity Theatre) 4 1/2 out of 5


LIFE, ABOVE ALL: This is a very moving film about the stigma of AIDS in South Africa, featuring a stunning natural performance by a first-time actress named Khomotso Manyaka. Of even more interest to us, is that the script is by local writer Dennis Foon, who’s got a wide resume that includes TV, movies and, as one of the founders of Green Thumb, children’s theatre. The whole project is a hybrid, based on a book by Allan Stratton of Toronto and directed by South African-born, now living in Germany, Oliver Schmitz. It is not, under Telefilm rules, Canadian. The film was on a shortlist for a foreign language Oscar though. It’s entirely in a dialect called sepedi and therefore subtitled.


Manyaka plays 12-year-old Chanda who has to deal with superstition and gossip in her village, an overbearing neighbor and a drunken stepdad.  In the opening scenes she has to pick out a coffin for her infant sister’s funeral. When her mother also gets “the flu”, it’s said she brought it on herself, by defying the family’s plan for an arranged marriage. When she goes away on a mysterious trip, Chanda is left behind  to care for two siblings, argue with a friend who’s drifting into prostitution and grow up fast. The details of fear and ignorance are laid on rather obviously but they feel authentic and when she sets out to find her mother the film becomes a statement of spirit and toughness. There’s also humor which helps keep this hard film watchable. (International Village)  4 out of 5

LIFE IN A DAY: This film officially opens next Friday, but gets a preview Sunday because that’s a year to the day after everything you see in there happened. People were asked to film something in their life on July 24, 2010 and these 91 minutes are culled from over 4,500 hours that came in.

 It’s a marvel of editing and quite entertaining, ranging from mundane to dramatic. It starts chronologically with a midnight moon, moves to elephants bathing, a child breastfeeding, a teenager hard to rouse from bed. As the day moves on, the film shifts now and then to themes like “What do you fear?” There’s no great revelation about the state of the world but we do get a lively hop through a lot of scenes from all over the world. A Peruvian shoe-shine boy goes home to work on his laptop. A young man phones his mom to reveal he’s gay. Another man shoplifts and jumps a turnstile into the subway. A giraffe leads a section on giving birth. People are crushed in a German street festival called Love Parade. There’s a brief scene of animal slaughter, two funny weddings (one with an Elvis theme in Las Vegas), African women singing as they work and a glimpse of Vancouver’s fireworks on English Bay. Kevin Macdonald (director of The Last King of Scotland ) put it together with the Scott Brothers, Ridley and Tony, overseeing. (International Village) 3  out of 5 

NOTE: The photos were supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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