Doing it like Elton John, looking for justice in Canada, defying convention in Bollywood
Four women tell their stories. “I’m financially not together,” says one. She was earning money for her boyfriend’s bail. She and the other three address the court and talk with a counselor for GEMS (Girls’ Educational Mentoring Services) and a sympathetic prosecutor. A number of other services and organizations are mentioned indicating there’s backup available. It seems to work. The worst cases, the perpetually stoned hookers, aren’t in the film but the ones who are seem encouraged. The counselors respond. “They’re like my family,” says the GEMS woman. It’s not all good, though. There are fears Trump may cut funding and immigration agents have been in pursuing illegals. Meanwhile, it’s a hopeful experiment. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
PHOTOGRAPH: Ritesh Batra, of India, had a world-wide hit six years ago with The Lunchbox. His new film doesn’t charm and sparkle as much but it is enjoyable. Again, it’s about two dissimilar people trying to connect. He’s an ordinary guy, a street photographer in Mumbai with a spiel to the tourists about preserving the memory of this day. When his grandmother back in the village he came from insists he get a girlfriend, he says he has one and sends her a picture he took that day. Grandma says she’s coming to meet her and he has to find her and convince her to play along.
It’s not Bollywood, although some familiar faces appear, including Nawazuddin Siddiqui as the photographer. (He played a friend in The Lunchbox). Sanya Malhotra, as the young woman, is relatively new but already a natural at displaying innocence. The story focuses on the differences between them, country/city, class, dark/lighter skin and, briefly, religion. “She’s not of our religion,” grandma says. But she is under pressure. Her rich parents are trying to arrange a suitable marriage for her. Fans will recognize the themes and delight in the Mumbai sights and this sly allusion: the couple go see a movie that’s not identified but must be the Shah Rukh film that’s been playing there for 24 years straight. Unlike typical Bollywood, this new one is a fresh outsider. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
THE FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE: Denys Arcand’s latest pulse-taking of North American society is a mixed effort. At the start it’s a highly engrossing crime caper but somewhere near the end it wears out its welcome with its good intentions. Arcand is exposing the corrosive effects of money on people, both good and bad. He plays the theme perfectly when it’s incidental behind his main story and then insists on stating it again and more obviously and turns an amusing drama with sub-text into an editorial. It’s not related to his big hits The Decline of the American Empire or his Academy Award winning The Barbarian Invasions although the level of discourse is similarly high.
A philosophy graduate (Alexandre Landry) and a high-cost escort (Maripier Morin) are the attractive couple at the centre of this story set in Montreal. He’s stuck working as a parcel delivery guy, gives to the homeless, loves to quote Plato, Wittgenstein and others to explain himself and, when he accidentally comes into possession of two bags of stolen money, hires her for a night. She stays around to help him deal with the cash and the problems it brings. Mobsters want it back. Two pesky police detectives are looking for it. A financial whiz just out of prison and eager to turn straight can help hide it and another expert knows how to launder it through off-shore tax havens and fake charitable foundations. Cynicism is robust here. Cops, politicians, financial types are all crooked. On the other hand the escort says she never hurt anyone when she broke the law. There’s nothing unexpected here, or deep, but with humor and a breezy pace the film is quite entertaining. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5
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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS: It’s the big film of the week, in a number of ways, but it previewed the same time as another so I haven’t seen it. It’s the 35th film in the longest movie franchise ever; Bond’s next is only his 25th. Godzilla is Japanese, originated in 1954 with the atom bomb fears of the time and has wider ecological concerns these days. He wants to be left in peace but when disturbed (which always happens) trashes cities in a destructive orgy. He’s got three other monsters from the old days with him, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah, and humans played by Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn and Vera Farmiga. But really, it’s the special effects people who matter most.
MA: Octavia Spencer won an Oscar for The Help, was nominated two more times and executive produced the Oscar winner Green Book. This week she’s in a small psychological horror movie because, well, Get Out’s success has made them trendy and she says she was able to identify with the character she plays. She’s a lonely veterinary assistant who invites local teens to party in the basement of her rural home. Apparently she’s on a desperate quest for approval because of traumas from her past. Things get dark. Can’t tell how dark. There was no chance to preview it.