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A feisty Grandma, a sweet Intern, a chess war and new picks at VIFF

Plus high profile Canadian films Hyena Road and Beeba Boys outdone by a small summer tale

 

There are three new films worth talking about today and then a batch of new picks at the Vancouver International Film Festival. These are for Saturday and Sunday and through no intention they’re all Canadian. And they don’t even include one I’m anxious to see: My Internship In Canada. Philippe Falardeau’s comic look at politicians seems pretty timely right now.

These are the films I have included:

Grandma: 4 ½ stars

The Intern:  2 ½

Pawn Sacrifice:  3 ½

And the VIFF films

 Sleeping Giant: 4

Hyena Road: 3

Beeba Boys:  2 ½

Fractured Land: 4

Michael Shannon: 3 ½

Sandwich Nazi: 3

GRANDMA: What I’m about to tell you may make this film sound like a dour treatise on the role of women these days. It’s got some of that content but it’s far from dour. This is a funny and very smart character study of an aging women’s lib activist (Lily Tomlin) as she tries to help out her granddaughter (Julia Garner) who has no idea about names like Betty Friedan and Simone De Beauvoir and doesn’t know anything about women’s rights and how they got them but needs an abortion.

 

Grandma and she set out to find the money to pay for it. It’s a day-long quest and the characters and sites they visit gradually reveal their personal stories. Grandma is a lesbian poet, but her friends don’t help.  She’s estranged from her daughter (Marcia Gay Harden) and in a very touching sequence sparks real anger in her former lover (Sam Elliott). Even the world has changed. A free clinic is now a tony coffee shop. There’s a nice mix of sarcastic humor, melancholy and acerbic commentary in this film and Tomlin, showing feisty determination and a kind heart is terrific. Paul Weitz, who wrote and directed this one, has subtly melded in a lot of issues. (5th Avenue Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5

THE INTERN: Nancy Meyers is back with her first film in six years. Her last one was It’s Complicated (and a bit raunchy) and a few back of that there was What Women Want. That’s her favorite theme and here’s the career-woman-has-to-make-choices version. It’s pleasant, mild and often funny stuff. Not at all challenging, though.

 

Anne Hathaway plays the creator of an on-line clothing retailer. It’s growing fast; she’s successful but trying to do everything. Robert De Niro comes in as an intern in a hire-a-senior program. There are comic bits about old age. He can’t create a Facebook profile but carries a nifty briefcase they don’t make anymore. When Meyers runs out of those jokes she switches to the travails of the working mom which includes distance from her husband and kid and eventually a problem both at home and at work. Who can save her? You know who. He drives well, has life experience and a knack for calming things down. You’d expect this film to play at Christmas; it’s got a whimsical tone and a glossy appearance. You won’t get a lump in the throat but you’ll find it cozy and warm. (Scotiabank and a few suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

PAWN SACRIFICE: Chess is war in a board game.  This gripping film takes us back to a game that was almost war off the table too. Bobby Fischer, the USA’s great hope, played the Soviet Union’s (and the world’s) champion in Iceland in 1972 in a contest that ABC sports deemed important enough to broadcast live. For the Russians and the Americans it was bigger than that. National and ideological superiority was at stake.

 

The key game in the series is often called the greatest ever played. The great thing about this film by Edward Zwick is that it takes us right into the games, not whether that bishop takes that pawn but how the two players sweat and try to foil each other and react to every surprise moved at them. We also get all the political gamesmanship around the games, both political and personal. Fischer grew increasingly paranoid, hated his Communist mother and turned anti-Semitic (though he was a Jew himself). That part of the story is soft-pedaled here. But Tobey Maguire in his acting, brings out all of the man’s spacey and erratic character and Liev Schreiber is solid and grumpy as Spassky. You don’t have to know chess to enjoy this film.  (5th Avenue, International Village and two suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5

 

SLEEPING GIANT:  Summer at the lake. Three boys joke around, boast, try to one up each other and blare out their views on sex. It’s a typical situation and portrayed with great authenticity in this film by Andrew Cividino. He took it to Cannes and won big awards in Toronto and Munich. It’s one of the best Canadian films I’ve ever seen; a portrait of youth that will resonate.

 

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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