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Best new movies to see in Vancouver this weekend

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TAKE SHELTER: I can’t remember that I’ve ever seen a better representation of schizophrenia in the movies. Michael Shannon gives an amazing performance as a regular family man with a good job who starts having dreams about rain storms and attacks by swarms of birds. He gradually sinks deeper into paranoia and also sees these visions while he’s awake. They become apocalyptic and in his periods of clear-thinking he becomes obsessed with building a shelter in his backyard. “There is a storm coming like nothing you’ve ever seen,” he yells.

His daughter is scared by his outbursts. He breaks down weeping after one particularly bad one. His wife (Jessica Chastain) is supportive when it’s only a vague feeling that “something’s not right” and later tries to get him to a psychiatrist.  The film grabs you from the beginning to show his decline but eases up often enough so that it doesn’t become an ordeal. That’s probably true to the disorder too; it seems to come in waves. Here the mood is eerie most of the time and harrowing at the peaks. The only feeling I have that something is not right is about the ending. It seems to back off from the line of logic it was following. Still, it’s a thrilling movie with strong images and superb acting. (5th Avenue) 4 ½ out of 5. 

MACHINE GUN PREACHER: If it weren’t a true story, we’d call it contrived. Imagine, a Pennsylvania tough-guy gets out of prison to find his wife has found Jesus, or as she says, Jesus found her. He tells her to go back to work as a stripper. She says no. He runs off to a biker bar where he shoots up heroin and wakes in the morning to his daughter’s eyes silently asking why. Before you know it he’s in church, finds religion himself and takes on a personal mission: to help rescue child soldiers in Africa. He does it by providing them shelter in an orphanage he built and often by battling the men who try to kidnap boys for their armies.

Gerard Butler plays the real-life crusader Sam Childers with a teeth-clenching intensity and a wandering accent. He’s not perfectly credible but the scenes the movie puts him into are. There are night time raids on innocent villagers by the Lord’s Resistance Army, gun battles with boys who look about 12 and harrowing stories of the boys’ recruitment and training in the army. The film makes a valuable contribution by revealing these horrors. That trumps the odd problem in how the film is constructed. As the real Childers says in a clip attached to the end credits, does it really matter how it’s done?. (International Village) 3 out of 5

 

And, also now playing: three that I haven’t seen: 

THE THING: This being from another world first appeared in the Arctic in 1951, in a film some think the great Howard Hawks directed. John Carpenter remade it in 1982 but set it down under in the Antarctic. It’s still there in this new version which is said to be a prequel. At the very least, that tells you the thing won’t be killed at the end. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays a graduate student who joins a Norwegian scientific team that finds an alien space ship and an apparently dead “thing”. They conduct an experiment. It comes back to life. They’re under attack. An unnecessary re-make/prequel, I’m told by a friend who’s seen it. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 

THE BIG YEAR: It’s hard to tell from the trailers but this is a comedy about bird watching. It was filmed around BC and parts of the Yukon, which means lots of photogenic scenery, and it stars Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin. They’re competing in a year-long race to spot the most bird species around North America. Power birding can get extremely intense and these are three edgy comedians. So what happened? A friend who got to a press screening tells me this a very bland film. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 

A LEGEND OF WHITEY: David Lawrence and Paul Spence are famous within certain circles as the two stoners in the FUBAR movies. Now, they want us to see them as half brothers on the run from racists, homophobes and gossips in Alberta’s pioneer days.

They are also trying to shepherd a white spirit buffalo which they believe is actually a beautiful woman under a spell. Improvised comedy becomes a campy western with a dim view of Alberta’s past. The film received a mixed reception at a Calgary festival and the two stars and creators will be at the first show of its Vancouver run (Saturday, Granville Theatre) to explain, defend and answer questions. 

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

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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