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Chappie, Wild Tales, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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WILD TALES: It’s from Argentina and therefore in sub-titled Spanish but in no way does that get in the way of the fun. And there’s plenty of that, of various varities, in this six-pack of stories about people pushed to the edge, and reacting. They’re all very funny, although one about a hit-and-run case takes a while to get there, and even then only does so in a mordant, acerbic way. The first story—about a plane full of people discovering there are connections among them— is also a slow builder. It’s short and ends with a surprise visual punchline. 

 

In other stories: a bride discovers a secret about her new husband during the wedding reception, which then does turn wild; a case of road rage escalates astonishingly and a café worker is faced with serving or punishing a loan shark who ruined her family. The great actor Ricardo Darín stars in the middle story about a man’s frustration with mindless bureaucracy after his car was wrongfully towed. (Most anybody living in a city can identify with that one.) Some of the humor is very dark. Better to see it with a sizeable audience: you’ll come out feeling buoyant. The film was an Oscar nominee this year but has won many awards elsewhere.  4 out of 5

THE VALLEY BELOW: Proof that you don’t need lots of money to make an effective film. Kyle Thomas in Alberta has been earning praise on the festival circuit with this anthology about small-town life that rises substantially above its modest circumstances. It’s now getting slightly wider distribution. Around here it’s showing in New Westminster.

Thomas has written and directed these vignettes about people who might actually be real and living in Drumheller. Their dialogue is ordinary, seemingly aimless at times, but gradually an authentic portrait coalesces.

 

An ice-rink worker (played by Kris Demeanor, a former poet laureate of Calgary) dreams of a music career and performs on open mike night down at the pub. His drinking problem hobbles him. A young woman (Mikaela Cochrane) about to go to college discovers she’s pregnant. A taxidermist (Stephen Bogaert) suffers a failing marriage and an RCMP constable (Alejandro Rae) wishes he could start a family, problems or not. Their stories are well-told, nicely visualized and distinguished each from the others with original songs by Dan Mangan, Rae Spoon and others. (Landmark Theatre New West)            3  out of 5   

ELEPHANT SONG: It may have been a gripping stage play but as a movie it gets dangerously close to tedious. This English-language film from Quebec looked promising as a verbal sparring match between two contrasting characters. Bruce Greenwood, calm and reliable as usual, is a psychiatrist interviewing a young mental patient played by Xavier Dolan, the wunderkind director of films like Mommy, here acting devious and manipulative. He may know the whereabouts of a doctor who’s gone missing but prefers to harp on an obsession he has for elephants.

 

Both characters have traumatic chapters in their background and, whether live or in flashbacks, we hear about them all. In an attempt to liven things up, director Charles Binamé frames it all as an after-an-incident investigation by a hospital manager. The frequent cutting back and forth is smoothly done but can only add so much. There’s little tension. It’s still just a long conversation, with a few extra characters (such as Catherine Keener as a nurse) popping in now and then. An overwrought climax followed by a weak resolution don’t help either. 2 ½ out of 5   

Also now playing or coming …

TWO SALMON DOCUMENTARIES: The Van City Theatre is restarting a series of environmental films it runs in conjunction with the Sea Shepherd Society, which it calls “the world's most effective marine protection organization”. Monday they have two films about salmon.

In THE BREACH, former fishing guide Mark Titus wanders through Washington, B.C. and Alaska to learn why wild salmon have suffered such a huge decline.

In THE PRISTINE COAST filmmaker Scott Renyard blames the decline on fish farms.

Both directors will be at the screening Monday, along with other guests. You can learn more at the website http://www.viff.org/theatre   

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: A Vince Vaughn comedy in which three men go to Europe on a business trip and get into raunchy episodes a la The Hangover. Among the crowds they encounter are sex fetishists and global economists. Ken Scott from Quebec directed it. Last time he turned his own film Starbuck into the Vaughn comedy Delivery Man.

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