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

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Two of the boys are cousins and often arguing. The third is attracted to a local girl; the others goad him to do it with her. He’s pretty shy though and as his anxieties expand he sees the girl go off with one of those friends and also sees his own dad misbehaving. He has to assert himself to dispel the confusion. An elaborate shoplifting expedition isn’t enough but then a local drug dealer shows them a film of the day he jumped into the water off a high cliff and became a legend. You know where that’s going but not how it gets there or how it turns out. The film avoids the expected and gives us a superb drama about growing up. It was filmed in some beautiful locations near Thunder Bay, Ontario. (Sat, Sun and Wed) 4 out of 5     

HYENA ROAD:  I for one am glad to see Canadian soldiers on screen for a change. Fighting loud battles, getting into gun fights and playing out their personal dramas back at the base. Paul Gross has given us a film that’s just as exciting as any American war film. It doesn’t match the very best but it’s good and worth your time.


Gross plays an intelligence officer with Canadian forces in Afghanistan. (How often do we see our efforts over there represented?) He gets on the trail of a village elder who protected several Canadian troops from Taliban fighters. Why and who is he? A local informant helps unravel that one as the film becomes as much a mystery as a battle film, though there’s plenty of that too. Twice, small operations turn into mayhem when Taliban fighters come swarming over the hill. Gross offers several almost cynical observations and cites Alexander the Great to show the morass that is Afghanistan goes way back. Rossif Sutherland plays a sniper; Christine Horne plays an officer. Their extra-military relationship seems trite and unnecessary but proves a key intensity-builder in a climactic scene. (Sat and Tues) 3 out of 5

BEEBA BOYS: This one is a disappointment for me. Deepa Mehta is a great director and writer (Water is a masterpiece) and she’s got a vital story here that, although it’s set 20 years ago, continues today. It’s about the drug gangs among young South Asian men in Surrey. Wars break out over and over as they fight for supremacy.

Mehta  uses the career of the legendary “Bindy” Johal from the late 90s to inspire her story of Jeet Johar played by rising Bollywood star Randeep Hooda. He’s a stylish dresser because he needs to be seen. He craves respect. He wants to fit in. All of that happens; Mehta did excellent research. Jeet’s plan is to drive out the old gangsters (led by another Indian actor, Waris Ahluwalia) and take over. Real events are woven in. There was a woman juror who got into a relationship with a gangster. But the fragments don’t fit together well. The tone changes often, from silly comedy, to family drama to hood warfare. The look is great but the throughline is ragged. (Sun and Tues) 2 ½ out of 5

FRACTURED LAND:  Meet Caleb Behn. He’s the most interesting new aboriginal leader I’ve heard in some time here in BC. He’s a lawyer, natty in a suit and tie, and sometimes a dancer to hip hop music. He’s familiar with both white and native value systems and comes across as clear-thinking and highly articulate in this film.


He’s from the Peace River country where fracking has become his big issue. He’s convinced it’s making people sick. (The film was made before those recent stories about earthquakes and restrictions on some fracking activities). From an environmentalist mother and an oil industry father he learned the right language to confront the industry. We see him in action in this compelling and tightly edited documentary. Or as a magazine described him: “A brainiac lawyer on a righteous quest.” (Sat and Wed) 4 out of 5 

MICHAEL SHANNON MICHAEL SHANNON JOHN: Imagine that your left town, you hear he died overseas and discover he had another family over there. And here’s the creepy part: his two children over there have the same name as his two over here. Chelsea McMullan follows this fascinating story for this engrossing documentary.

John Hanmer was a cop in Ontario; got involved with bikers, fled to Thailand and hung out with more bikers, fled to the Philippines and died there of gunshot wounds. Michael and Shannon follow his trail; meet the other Michael and Shannon and their mother and see some film of their dad when he ran a strip club and bar.  The film starts slow (do we need to see coffee poured quite that long?) but builds in intensity as the odd story spins out and the children try to make sense of it. (Sat and Mon) 3 ½ out of 5

THE SANDWICH NAZI: For something bizarre walk into this man’s shop in Surrey, via this film. His customers love the giant sandwiches he makes; some also enjoy the bawdy stories that come with them. Not all I imagine. They can get quite dirty.


Salam Kahil talks freely about his earlier life as a male escort in Lebanon, where he was born, and in Saudi Arabia, Europe and Canada. He had limits. “I never had a penis up my ass,” he says in typical rhetorical flight. There are grandmotherly costumers who smile at it. There’s a darker side too about a brother who he says sexually abused him as a child. A trip home is awkward. The film captures a lot of boasting (“I take Viagra like candy”) but also a kind-hearted man who distributes sandwiches in the downtown eastside. Fascinating and weird. (Sun and next Fri) 3 out of 5


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