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Dark Shadows, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Headhunters, plus a Canadian bank robber and a headstrong mother

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Aksel Hennie stars as a man who is obsessed with his height. He says he’s 1.68 meters tall (about 5 ½ feet) and inherited only bad genes. So to keep his wife in the life-style he thinks she demands, he has two jobs: by day he interviews candidates for executive positions. A few extra questions tell him about any valuable art they own. At night he steals it, abetted by a security company worker sitting at a bank of monitors. His newest victim (played by impossibly handsome Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who you’ll recognize from Game of Thrones) has a thing going with his wife, experience with guns and hi-tech systems and a long-lost Rubens in his possession. The story hurtles along throwing one surprise after another at us (including a gross scene that outdoes even that Slumdog Millionaire kid in an outhouse). This film has action and humor, builds suspense and tension when it’s called for and succeeds with a difficult task: it makes us root for a main character who’s not particularly likeable. 4 out of 5

EDWIN BOYD CITIZEN GANGSTER: I’m always happy to see the movies tell our own stories and this is a good one. I just wish the film was more intense. Boyd robbed banks in Toronto in the early 1950s (and, incidentally, lived his last years near Victoria as a bus driver). He became a media sensation (during a newspaper circulation war) and a people’s fascination but too little of that comes across on screen. Where’s the grandstanding mayor? Omissions like that hold this film back from the rousing yarn it could be.

What we get is a standard sympathetic view of the guy both through Scott Speedman’s charismatic performance and director Nathan Morlando’s choice to perpetuate the “gentlemen gangster” image. A famous CBC profile punctured that years ago and even the script here contradicts itself. It suggests Boyd turned to crime because he was psychologically damaged by war. Then Brian Cox, as his father, says no that’s not it, “He’s been lazy all his life”. Bank robbery was quicker than working to get what he wanted.  

The film prefers the charming rogue approach. Boyd goes to jail and breaks out twice to rob again, this time with a small gang led by another army vet (Kevin Durand) who does show considerable intensity. The story then meanders along a well-known arc of partying with the molls, keeping ahead of the cops and bringing on their own downfall. It should have happened with more suspense. Boyd’s home life, on the other hand, with Kelly Reilly as his wife, does engage us up to a very emotional last scene. And visually the era is recreated in perfect detail.  3 out of 5

FAMILY PORTRAIT IN BLACK AND WHITE: Finally, after many festivals, including ours five months ago, Hot Docs in Toronto, where it won a big award, and Sundance, this intriguing documentary is back home. It’s showing everyday for a week at 4 pm at the Denman Theatre and gets a special Mother’s Day screening Sunday with “filmmakers in attendance.”  Appropriate, because this is a portrait of a singular and headstrong mother.

Olga Nenya is raising 17 children that no one else in her small town in the Ukraine wants. They’re mixed-race, fathered by African or Middle-Eastern visitors and then abandoned to orphanages by their mothers. Olga defied the local opinion, interference by municipal inspectors and actual racism spouted by a neighbor and some skinheads and gave the children a real home. As best  she could. That’s where the film takes a fascinating turn. She’s strong and the children are grateful but the film does not idealize her. We see what she does wrong as well as right. She nags the children to work in the vegetable garden. She plays favorites with a boy who gets into fights with some of the others. She imposes her will and one child complains “We don’t have the right to our own thoughts. We have no rights at all.”  Another eventually rebels. It’s an absorbing film by Julia Ivanova, a Russian émigré who lives here in Vancouver. (Denman) 4 out of 5

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

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