Big sequels to Mamma Mia and The Equalizer plus Joaquin Phoenix and Gus Van Sant’s return with Don’t Worry …
Mary (Elle Fanning) was 16 when she met Shelley, the poet (played with smouldering charisma by Douglas Booth). There are delicious tingling scenes of attraction at a party. He asserts that "people should live and love as they wish." She, famously impetuous and daughter of a woman who wrote about female empowerment, agrees and starts living with him. Even after she's confronted in the street by his wife and daughter. That marriage "was a mistake," he explains and exists "in name only." She buys it, rejects her father's counsel and goes off with Shelley to Geneva where Lord Byron (a scene-chewing Tom Sturridge) seduces her stepsister and all write ghost stories. Mary's, famous to us as a horror story, is praised as a perfect depiction of abandonment in this film by Haifaa Al-Mansour. She's put lots of atmosphere and more than a little feminist thinking into this biography, which except for a few gaps, is quite effective. (International Village) 3 out of 5
ARRHYTHMIA: OK, Russia has been on our minds a lot recently, for several reasons, so why not visit it through this movie and see what life is like there these days. We get to see a lot, much of it not shown to us very often, as we follow a paramedic and a small crew out on medical calls. We see how people live; how they react to the help that comes and what they encounter inside the hospitals they’re taken to. And then how a by-the-book supervisor brings in new rules—20 minutes to get there and only 20 minutes to spend there, with a dispatcher demanding reports and issuing orders through the whole time. It’s touted as efficient and cheaper.
Oleg, who is used to spending as much time as needed with a patient, fights the new rules and takes the heat. He’s also in trouble at home. His wife Katya, a doctor, wants him to stop drinking but he says having been sober for 30 minutes has been long enough. It becomes a moving domestic drama. She wants a divorce because she feels he’s in a “different galaxy” but with apartments hard to get can only make him start sleeping in the kitchen, on an air mattress. Wry comedy works its way in now and then even, into medical scenes, as when multiple stabbings happen to drunks in a knife fight. But these parallel stories of strife at home and with bureaucracy at work seem like a credible pulse-taking of Russia today. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
PRODIGALS: A realistic appreciation of small-town life is the chief reason to see this one. It’s set in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, casually sites several other towns not well-known outside that province and generally establishes a strong feel for what it’s probably like there. And yet it’s a Vancouver production, filmed only partially there, mostly here and directed by Michelle Ouellet, who is local. The themes are universal though, going back, hoping for a second chance, stirring up old emotions and envy.
David Alpay plays a Toronto guy lured back for one reason but more interested in another, reconnecting with the woman he deserted. She’s played by Sara Canning. Striking anything back up isn’t easy though. “I never think about you,” she says and several loud arguments ensue. Meanwhile, he’s there because people think he’s become a lawyer (he’s a drop out actually but won’t say so). He’s been asked to help defend an old friend charged with murder after a drunken fight in an alley. He does get on the defense team but for how long? Lots of grey, snowy small-town ambience and several revitalized conflicts creep by as we wait. The acting is good but the story’s resolution is shaky. (VanCity, two nights only: Sat and Tues) 2 ½ out of 5
THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ: I wrote about this briefly when it was here as Best of Hot Docs. It’s back on a regular run and tackles a tricky issue about The Holocaust that rises up now and then, especially in Germany. Should very old men be prosecuted so long after? Are they different people than when they were young? What about men who didn’t participate in any killing but were forced to work at other jobs in the camps?
Oskar Gröning was 94 when he was put on trial in 2015. He had joined the SS as a teenager, worked at Auschwitz and drew attention to his history when he went on television to denounce Holocaust deniers. “I was there,” he said. Legal theory that developed out of the much publicized trials of John Demjanjuk says that if you were there, you knew what was going on and that makes you an accessory. Former law professor Alan Dershowitz forcefully explains that line of thought in the film. He and other legal experts, one from Toronto, explain how it evolved and why prosecutions even at old age are necessary. The film is by Toronto director Matthew Shoychet, who has also included two residents from there who testified at the trial and a lot of grim details. It is potent and angry. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
Also now playing …
UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB: Another horror movie based on fear of the technology that’s all around us. Remember when VCR tapes posed a threat? Or three years ago when in Unfriended a sort of evil presence intruded into some teenagers’ Skype conversations? Now a lap top loaded with hidden files is tracked by a previous owner intent on getting it back. Could be interesting but it arrived out here unheralded and with no previews.