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Chimpanzee, The Lucky One, Damsels in Distress and five new films: review

Young Oscar’s family is in danger of attack by the “thugs” from over the ridge in the excellent wildlife documentary, Chimpanzee.

Disney’s annual Earth Day film leads off this week’s new movies. A sardonic look at college life, some obsessive pop culture fans and two views of modern Africa and two Canadian films are among the others.

Here’s the whole list:

Chimpanzee:  4 ½ stars

The Lucky One:  2 ½

Damsels in Distress: 3

Sleeping Sickness: 3 ½

Comic Con Episode 4:  3

Hard Core Logo:  2 ½

The Odds:  --

Think Like a Man:  --

CHIMPANZEE: This is a superb wildlife documentary and a great film for any young naturalist you know and for anybody at all. That’s because there’s more than information and stunning photography here. There’s a narrative that’s just as dramatic as any regular movie.

It’s the latest in Disney’s annual series for Earth Day. We watch a young chimp, who the filmmakers call Oscar, from his first day alive through three years of growing up in an Ivory Coast jungle. Like any kid he’s playful, eager to learn (cracking open nuts and eating bugs on a stick are important skills) and generally stays right by mom within his extended family. A rival band of chimpanzees just over the ridge covet their land and are seen skulking through the trees now and then. They raid, Oscar’s mom is lost and he spends days looking for her.

As his family shuns him, an unlikely benefactor emerges but the over-the-ridge chimps looms again, making this an enormously engrossing film. It brings out the cute and the similar-to-us without anthropomorphic gimmicks. So when a bigger rock is needed to crush a nut and Tim Allen’s narration has “Bring on the power tools,”  it’s not about what the animals are thinking but about what they’re doing. The directors, Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield made the equally celebrated Planet Earth for the BBC and Discovery Channel. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 4 ½ out of 5

THE LUCKY ONE: Everybody wants another one like The Notebook. An intense love affair, a big struggle and a good cry made it the highpoint in the string of movies made from the works of Nicholas Sparks (now numbering seven). This new one is not a match. It’s pleasant, comfortable and mild. I can’t imagine many coming to tears over it.

It’s got Zac Efron, improving as an actor but no Ryan Gosling, and Taylor Schilling, relatively new to the movies, playing the lovers. They’re both very pretty people and we like them for that but they don’t generate much in the way of sparks. Their kisses and a couple of later sex scenes are almost chaste. The conflicts they build up to don’t seem momentous, an impediment rooted in the novel. Zac plays a Marine who survives a bomb in Iraq because he wandered 20 feet away to pick up a photograph.

Back stateside, he walks from Colorado to Louisiana searching for the woman in the picture. He finds her running a dog kennel, raising a brainy young son and dodging a resentful ex-husband who happens to be the local police chief and mighty suspicious of this new arrival. Zac can’t bring himself to reveal the picture that brought him there and you can pretty well guess the double showdown coming. Destiny is mentioned a couple of times and then left alone. Too deep I guess for the surface softness this film prefers. (The Park, Scotiabank  and suburban theatres).  2 ½ out of 5

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS: Back in the 90s, Whit Stillman won an admiring audience on campuses everywhere with his films Barcelona and Metropolitan. Now he’s back and right on the students’ own turf with this fanciful and literate view of politics there, social activists and misplaced self-perception.

 

Greta Gerwig stars as an opinionated and slightly obsessed coed on a mission to improve the world. In this case,  it’s the immediate campus where most of the male students offend her overactive sense of smell and she and four friends run a suicide prevention centre where a banner reads: “Come on. It’s not That Bad.” They offer up similarly sage advice, donuts and dance classes. That last one gets mocking jeers from the student newspaper editor and Greta counters that he’s like all journalists, pedantic and lacking humility. That’s the comic tone Stillman spins: light, articulate and airy in this funny portrait of a campus activist. She’s sure of herself and quick to offer guidance, even if, after a romantic setback, she runs off and stumbles upon a goofy solution for everything: motel soap with a pleasing scent. Gently absurd. Well-observed (except for a couple of the male characters). Cool and crazy. Arch. Overly quirky but still fun. (International Village)  3 out of 5  

SLEEPING SICKNESS: This story of Europeans doing good and otherwise in Africa feels authentic. The director, Ulrich Köhler, from Germany, seems to know his subject well. His parents work there as doctors and he was rewarded with a best-director award at the Berlin film festival.

More in New Movies

Wise talk by The Two Popes; a media circus for Richard Jewell and big action in Jumanji

Also: That Higher Level as a free gift from the National Film Board and a clumsy seasonal theme in The Kindness of Strangers

Greek tragedy goes modern with Antigone, black family life in Waves and a film artist’s self portrait

Also: Isabelle Huppert hosts a crowd as Frankie, notes on some highlights at Whistler, including a time travel enigma and a seemingly under-achieving children’s film

A scary Marriage Story, a classy Knives Out murder mystery and fighting DuPont in Dark Waters

Also black lives matter for Queen & Slim, the Winnipeg General Strike recalled in Stand! and an actor’s true story in Honey Boy
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