45 Years, a gem about seniors; big-sea action in The Finest Hours, and short Oscar hopefuls
Poets and chefs, old age fears and childhood angst. We’ve got them all this week. Plus a thrilling high-seas rescue mission and ten short films in the running for an Oscar.
Here’s the list:
45 Years: 4 ½ stars
The Finest Hours: 3
Al Purdy Was Here: 3 ½
The Demons: 3
Oscar-nominated shorts: various
Noma, My Perfect Storm: 2 ½
Kung Fu Panda 3: not reviewed
Fifty Shades of Black: not reviewed
45 YEARS: Every now and then, movies come along that acknowledge the older fans. This is a fine example, subtle, highly involving and resonant. What really makes it special is the superb acting by Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. She’s nominated for an Academy Award and both won at the Berlin Film Festival. They play a couple living in a country house in England and about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. They and the film capture the nuances of the lives of older people who’ve been together for a long time. They know each other’s quirks and snap gently at some of them. They’re comfortable with each other. These two seem real. I know people like them.
But even at their age there may be secrets. Charlotte certainly suspects that when an old story re-emerges. Before their marriage, Tom had a girlfriend who died when they were hiking on a glacier in Switzerland. Her body has only now been found. Tom starts acting strangely, but denies anything is wrong. Charlotte starts feeling jealous. A crisis is brewing and Andrew Haigh the director brings it out subtly and quietly, using irony instead of posturing. Charlotte conveys a lot without words, only facial gestures. Tom bemoans what he calls the worst part of aging: “losing that purposeness.” The film is not dreary though. It’s utterly engrossing. (5th Avenue cinemas) 4 ½ out of 5
THE FINEST HOURS: There are several reasons to see this one. Our close connection to the sea is one, especially as the film demonstrates the important job a coast guard does. Another is our continuing concern over oil tanker accidents. There’s an extreme one shown here and though it’s not comparable to what we fear today – the tanker was a shoddy, fast-build for World War II – it does remind us of what is possible. And top of the list: this is a gripping thriller telling a real story, and accurately at that, according to one of the participants who is still alive.
It takes place in 1952, off the coast of Massachusetts. A mammoth storm has split open two tankers. One is getting help. Only a small boat with four crew is available for the other. We see a tense rescue effort from both sides. The tanker has broken in half, the captain is gone and an engineer (Casey Affleck) has to take charge. He wants to steer the powerless remnant onto a sandbar to delay its sinking. The coast guard boat coming to help is battling huge waves and driving snow. It’s also skippered by a sailor reaching above his abilities. Chris Pine plays him as timid and self-doubting (far off his Cpt. Kirk in the new Star Trek movies). Both characters have to deal with gripers as well as the fury of weather and disintegrating ship. Thanks to the special effects, we feel all the power of both. The 3-D is unnecessary and there’s too long a lead-up to the action but through it all the depiction of working-class types is grainy and realistic, quite a bit like films from the 1930s. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
AL PURDY WAS HERE: “I am a sensitive man,” he repeats in his most famous poem. Maybe. He was also loud and direct and clearly charismatic. People like Margaret Atwood, George Bowering and Dennis Lee talk his praises in this amiable film; Leonard Cohen reads some of his words and Bruce Cockburn, Gordon Downie and Sarah Harmer perform songs inspired by him. In a way he’s back alive in a revealing documentary by former film-critic Brian D. Johnson (who dabbled a bit in poetry himself).
Purdy died 16 years ago. That’s a statue of him in Toronto’s Queen’s Park. In quotes from his work and a wonderful collection of TV clips, he emerges as an outspoken cultural nationalist. He was also a self-made man whose early poetry was too bad to publish but who stuck with it and produced work that was widely honored. Just being alive in Canada was one his main themes. Johnson’s journalistic instincts take us further. There was a first marriage--not mentioned in Purdy’s autobiography—and it produced a son. Johnson interviews him. He’s a bit sketchier with Purdy’s longtime Vancouver connection—his teaching at Simon Fraser isn’t mentioned—but his publisher Howard White, McLeod’s Books and a poem of BC aboriginal place names are prominent. All in all an enlightening portrait. (Cinematheque, Sun. and Wed.) 3 ½ out of 5
THE DEMONS: There’s a compelling and moving study of a young boy’s psychology here but I wish it moved along a little faster. Quebec director Philippe Lesage has a good eye for important details (he’s known for documentaries) but often he allows scenes to go on too long. That jostles the otherwise evocative tale he gives us of a still-forming character and how influences from the world around affect him.