Films about art and artists with Emily Dickenson, Cézanne and some sparkling Shakespeare

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John Caird, the award-winning director staged it at Stratford two years ago. He’s a Canadian, with an international career and this was his first project at the Ontario festival. TV veteran Barry Avrich filmed a live performance for the big screen (and a later television date). He had 10 cameras to take us right down with the actors and get us lots of angles and reaction shots and 128 channels of sound to catch all the clever wordplay and punning. You get a lot of that because it’s one of Shakespeare’s early plays. The story is about the resolve of four men in the old kingdom of Navarre to stay away from women for three years and concentrate on their studies and how that’s seriously upset when a princess and her three ladies arrive. The acting is spirited, especially by Mike Shara as Berwone (“I that am honest’), Juan Chioran as the very demonstrative Spaniard Don Adriano and just as remarkably Moth, his page played by a very young Gabriel Long. (Sat 12:55 pm at Scotiabank, several suburban theatres and The Park, which also has an evening show at 6:40) 4 out of 5

AFTERIMAGE: The great Polish director Andrzej Wajda (Man of Iron, Kanal, and many others) died last October. This is his last film and it bears all the hallmarks of his best works. There’s an understated passion here, in this case to condemn political interference in art. The storytelling is precise although that task is unusually complex. Wajda had introduce us to Wladyslaw Strzemiński, who was Poland’s “most important artist of the 20th century” but not familiar to most of us. He had to tell us the facts of his life and his clash with Communist party dictates over what art should be. He also managed to outline some of his intricate theories about how to look at paintings and did it all without ever getting ponderous.


This film moves at a brisk pace because the craft is so sharp and because the story is so compelling. Strzemiński (played with great dignity by Boguslaw Linda) is a popular teacher who paints his own avant garde works with great difficulty. He’s lost an arm and a leg. Suddenly one day he’s ordered to switch to the social realist style that the Party mandates, to cheer up the people. “What they need is enthusiasm,” he’s told. He resists and that brings on a series of bureaucratic irritations. He loses his job, his food stamps, the backing of the association of artists and designers. He’s arrested for a time and struggles to finish a book about his theories of art. We learn about his personal life, including his daughter and ex-wife, also an artist, and his early admiration for Lenin that was dashed by Stalin. Typical of the visual vitality in this film, the first scene shows him slashing a banner of the dictator that’s blocking the windows of his apartment. (VanCity Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5

NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER: You hear about guys like this in news stories now and then. Hustlers, small time operatives, who’ve attached themselves to political figures and do jobs for them. Richard Gere is tremendous as one of these characters. He’s got no office, just a phone and a business card and he’s always offering to introduce you to some important person who you really should know. It’s doubtful though if he actually knows that person or if it’s all bluster and he is, as he’s called at one point, “a delusional name dropper”.

Norman introduces himself, make that latches on to, an Israeli deputy minister (Lior Ashkenazi) who is visiting New York to meet with supporters. He wangles him an invite to a private dinner with a high-powered financier. That fails and Norman gets an embarrassing censure from the host. He just keeps on going though, later reconnects with the politician who has by then become prime minister and gets involved in a scandal that leads to a hot and vituperative debate in the Knesset. The film isn’t clear what that’s about. It’s an odd misstep because everywhere else it develops its story line succinctly and perceptively. Gere gets across his character’s real need: to feel like he matters. Michael Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, Steve Buscemi and Hank Azaria are with him and the writer-director is Joseph Cedar who a few years ago made another study of ambition, Footnote, about competing Talmudic scholars.  (5th Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5


Also now playing …

THE CIRCLE: Strange that this wasn’t previewed for media around here. It’s a Tom Hanks movie after all,  and Bill Paxton’s last. Emma Watson stars as a young woman hired on to what looks like a dream job at a social media company. Hanks, as a bad guy for a change, gets her involved in an experiment that threatens people’s privacy, her family and all humanity. Sounds topical though overblown. The few American reviews I’ve found range from  “valuable” as a caution to “condescending”.

LOVE OFF THE CUFF: A third entry in this immensely popular series from Hong Kong (and Beijing). It’s been seven years since young urbanites Cherie and Jimmy met in Love in a Puff and five years since they survived an on-again off-again affair in Love in the Buff. So it’s time for new problems to come up and threaten their relationship, a philandering father, for instance. It seems that the mildly salty content of these charming romantic comedies has been boosted enough get a warning about “violence, offensive language, sexuality.”  (International Village, Marine Gateway and two suburban theatres)

THE MAYOR: Think back to the political turmoil in South Korea, the violent street demonstrations, the impeachment of the president last month and the snap election being held in a couple of weeks and you can feel how contemporary this film might be over there. This fictional mayor of Seoul is exploiting his popularity to run for an unheard of third term and thereby set up a bid for the presidency. Corruption threatens to be exposed and undo him in this film by In-Je Park described as a “hard-charging thriller”. (Coquitlam and International Village theatres) 

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