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Ben-Hur re-made again, a modernized western and one of the best animated films of the year

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Jake (Theo Taplitz) is shy and artsy; Tony (Michael Barbieri) is extroverted and wants to be an actor. They bond over video games (naturally, they’re teenagers) and riding skateboards and scooters. But what brought them together is about to split them apart. Jake’s dad (Greg Kinnear) has inherited the building where, on the ground floor,Tony’s mom runs a dress shop. He moves his family in upstairs, needs to raise the rent on the shop and is pressured by his sister to evict the woman if she won’t pay. The dynamics of the story are smoothly escalated into real tension. Jake’s dad wants to do things nicely but Tony’s mom, played by the great Chilean actress Paulina Garcia who we saw a couple of years ago in Gloria, counters with crafty digs and insults. The boys feel the fallout, in this low-key but utterly engrossing study of human interaction. (International Village) 4 ½ out of 5

EDGE OF WINTER: This small Canadian film has a couple of name stars it can boast about. Joel Kinnaman is in the current hit, Suicide Squad, and Tom Holland is the current Spider Man. Here they’re father and son, who along with another son (Percy Hynes White) endure an ordeal in the woods near Sudbury. Dad is divorced and mom leaves the boys with him as she goes on a cruise. Circumstances, and fatherly impulse, prompt him to take the boys out to show them how to fire a hunting gun. Nothing comes easily in this well-acted film with a few story problems.

It soon becomes clear that dad is emotionally unstable. He’s been laid off, is terrified his sons will be lost to him but causes himself one problem after the other. He crashes his truck through a gate at the logging camp he used to work at and after the truck gets stuck in a ditch, leads the boys on a trek to find a cabin he thinks is out there somewhere. When they encounter two hunters who also have a truck stuck in a snow bank, the story problems come out. The main one is the too-rapid escalation in dad’s psychological distress. It loses credibility. The sibling rivalry shown by the boys is more convincing. The film is strong in atmosphere though.  It takes place in a cold, grey winter, which you can almost feel as you watch.  (VanCity Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5   

WHEN THE OCEAN MET THE SKY: There’s more sibling rivalry for you in this British Columbia-set film. It shows that it can last much longer than you might expect. These three boys are adults. That doesn’t stop them sniping at each other, claiming to be superior or trash talking about someone’s life, wife or ideas. Luckily it’s all done in some well-written natural-sounding dialogue on a long trek through some nicely photographed BC wilderness.

 

Three brothers, played by Philip Thomas, Spencer Foley and Aren Bucholz will come into an inheritance if they complete a hike stipulated in their late father’s will. It will retrace the same one dad and his wife took many years before, when they were hippies. One brother is a grouchy businessman; another is a failed musician; the third is sensitive and a reader. Along the way they take on a guide (Terry Field) a hippie of sorts himself and a stoner. His eternal cheerfulness provides a contrast  to the brothers who are  often tangling verbally. Entries from a journal that dad wrote on his trip give them new insights into what their parents were really like and why he ordered they take same route. It’s a tricky story to pull off but director Lukas Huffman and his cast, probably with a great deal of improvisation, comes pretty close. It feels like a group effort. (VanCity, Sat and Sun only) 3 out of 5  

 

Also now playing …

WAR DOGS: Two popular young stars, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, with a cameo by Bradley Cooper and direction by Todd Phillips, the man who made The Hangover, and you’re ready to laugh, right? Not so fast. This is not a comedy. Phillips is going serious with a story from a Rolling Stone article about a couple of young guys who discover they could become international arms dealers. It really happened. U.S. government policy allows it. Suddenly they’re making $300 million dollars deals with some very shady people in Afghanistan. I’m told the film, which I haven’t seen, is mediocre but the amount of money being tossed around is startling. Budget problems? Where? (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres)    

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