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Anthony Hopkins playing with Transformers, Harmonium’s potent Japanese drama and something not to do on vacation

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Thomas Sung, who founded the bank calls it “a gross injustice.” He was marched out in handcuffs past reporters. Cyrus Vance Jr., the district attorney, alleges “systemic fraud over a long time.” Matt Taibbi, investigative reporter for Rolling Stone, is skeptical. It’s just “a family business wedged between two noodle shops in Chinatown,” he says. The story we get from him, other observers, Sung and four feisty daughters is bizarre. A loan officer did do shady deals, much like what the Vancouver Sun has been revealing about underground banks in Vancouver real estate. He misrepresented the income and resources of clients to qualify them for mortgages. By the time the police came the bank had found out and fired him but later, at trial, he re-appeared as the DA’s star witness. It’s a highly involving financial, legal and family story.  (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

THE BAD BATCH: A couple of years ago Ana Lily Amirpour made a stunning debut film called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It was her version of a vampire film, set in Iran though made in California. Here’s her skewed version of another genre: the dystopian desert thriller. She shapes it as a nod to the people that popular culture and the media usually disregard, the folks in the small towns and off the grid. She imagines them living strange lives and then goes overboard in depicting strangeness. Way overboard.

In her vision, Texas exiles its undesirables out beyond a fence and into a wasteland. They have to survive with what they find. Our protagonist Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is captured by cannibals and quickly deprived of an arm and a leg. That’s merely to set up that play on words, I suspect, and she escapes on a skateboard.  After that, the cannibalism angle doesn’t lead anywhere. The main one she meets (Jason Momoa) is sensitive and a family man. A prolonged search for a missing young girl is one of the story strands. The other one is Arlen’s trek to reach the town of “Comfort” presided over by “The Dream,” a desert mystic and playboy with a harem of pregnant women carrying guns. He’s played by Keanu Reeves and pontificates on good and evil and makes a startling speech about image and toiletry. Jim Carrey is a homeless guy, Diego Luna, a DJ, and the ambience is spaghetti western. It’s imaginative and cool but also disjointed and vague about what it’s trying to say. (Rio Theatre, Fri, Sun and Tues, and The VanCity Theatre starting next Fri) 2 ½ out of 5 

47 METERS DOWN: Just in time for the vacation months, here’s a cautionary tale about what not to do as a tourist. Don’t go out on any dodgy adventure with unproven tour operators. Mandy Moore and Claire Holt learn that as sisters on holiday in Mexico. They’re offered an exotic escapade. With scuba gear on, they're lowered underwater in a cage to watch the sharks up very, very close. They don’t notice that Matthew Modine’s boat is pretty rusty and down they go.

Mandy’s Lisa is afraid and whimpers; Claire’s Kate is a try-anything sort. They’ll soon be tested because in this contrived script, everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. The cable breaks, the cage falls to the ocean floor, radio contact gets crackly, a guy bringing a new cable doesn’t show, only his flashlight is found. Meanwhile the sharks cruise by and Kate has to dare being seen by them when she has to go outside the cage a couple of times. When she suffers a cut the sharks smell blood. Her sister mostly whimpers. The direction by Johannes Roberts and the cool cinematography set up potent scenes of fear and tension. A few times it won’t make sense to have such an incessant parade of mishaps but the film recovers because the writers clearly know their stuff. Ever heard of “nitrogen narcosis?”  (International Village and a few suburban theatres) 3 out of 5 

THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN’S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY: Here’s a modest little documentary with an uplifting message. It’s by Errol Morris who spends the whole film in Elsa Dorfman’s home being shown photographs she took and hearing the stories behind them. She’s cheerful and unpretensions, describing herself when she was young as “one lucky little Jewish girl” and grateful to finally get some recognition now. “So long I was at the bottom of the list,” she says. It’s a gentle portrait of a woman who persevered. 

 

Just out of school in 1959, she moved from Massachusetts to New York, got a job as a secretary at the censorship-defying publisher Grove Press and met the avant garde creators of the time. As an amateur photographer with professional ambitions she took pictures of Ferlinghetti, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Jorge Luis Borges and others. Alan Ginsberg was a friend for many years and she casually shows a large photo of him nude. She also plays a phone message he left shortly before he died. She’s warm-hearted throughout, although she lets out a brief flash of invective talking about what’s happened to the Polaroid Corporation whose oversize 20x24 format she used. “Idiots”, she says “had no respect for great machinery." She preferred happiness in her photographs and thinks that may explain why she isn’t better known. Good to meet her, if only for an undersize 76 minutes. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5

 

 

 

 

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