Foxcatcher, award ready; Horrible Bosses 2, no prize; and fun with race issues in Dear White People
More than anything else, the film is about identity. It centers on four characters all trying to find their own style at a largely white university. A nerdy would-be writer (Tyler James Williams), a beauty (Teyonah Parris) with TV ambitions and a name change to sound less “ghetto, ” the acquiescent son of the university dean (Brandon P. Bell) and his former girlfriend (Tessa Thompson), the radical on campus. She dispenses advice on a radio show like “Dear White people, stop dancing” or you now need two black friends to avoid appearing racist. There are serious issues too, a whole range of them argued in zippy dialogue. “It wasn’t speeches that won civil rights,” she says. “It was the anarchists.” In a rare bit of anger the film busts up a party of whites in blackface and then shows photo evidence of real incidents like it. The story could have been told better but the ideas, the writing and the acting are strong. (International Village) 3 out of 5
EVERYTHING WILL BE: Vancouver’s Chinatown is suffering growing pains? Or is that dying pains? Old style stores are disappearing. New, non-traditional businesses are moving in. Condos are looming. Not everyone feels the optimism of this film’s title, which is also written across a building down there owned by realtor Bob Rennie. This documentary by Julia Kwan, who grew up there, isn’t so sure. She takes us into stores and upstairs clubs to meet merchants and other denizens to explore what is happening to the area. Some call it Westernizing.
We sit in at a singing club and a mah jong game, and talk to the herbal medicine man and the 90-year-old woman selling newspapers on some outside stairs and get a flood of warm memories mixed with concern about a way of life that’s slipping away. I could have used more on why the area is declining and one speaker offers this caution. “The biggest threat?” he asks. “When people start thinking of the place as a museum, not as a real place where real people live.” The film is an elegiac tour with great pictures of what is still there. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
FORCE MAJEURE: What’s expected of a modern man may be changing but one thing remains as ever. When there’s danger, he must protect his wife and children. The father in this film from Sweden didn’t do that. On a family skiing holiday in Switzerland, with an avalanche apparently coming right at the patio where they’re having breakfast, he runs. The wife and kids can’t find him in the white cloud that envelops them.
It’s a scene that builds with extreme tension. A different but just as potent a tension builds after that. The wife asks where he was. He says he was right there. She accuses him of abandoning his family. He denies he did. The argument goes on in various forms over the weekend, also taking in two friends who show up. One says they need therapy and their discussions are almost exactly that. Dad is almost backed into a corner. The children become terrified their parents are heading for a divorce. The mother starts dreaming of adultery. The dialogue rises from calm to passionate and angry. It’s extremely well-observed about how couple argue. And it’s a highly engrossing film. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
CORNER GAS: THE MOVIE: If you liked the TV series, you’ll like the movie.
The same cast is back, from Brent Butt to Gabrielle Miller, Eric Peterson, Fred Ewanuick, Nancy Robertson and the others. Dog River is in big trouble. The mayor lost all its money by investing in Detroit. A big corporation is snooping around and the locals need to find a way to save the town. The film is funny in the hick kind of way that made the series so popular. It plays five days in theatres, starting Wednesday, before moving on to other media. I’ll have more to say about it next week. (International Village and six suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
WOMEN WHO FLIRT: This is a spirited comedy from China that offers decidedly retro advice on how to attract the man you want. Among the recommended moves: tease, act helpless, be passive aggressive, act sophisticated and show more cleavage. The girls offering these ideas are named Gigi, Kiki, Mimi and Lily. Their trainee is Angie, played by Zhou Xun, the most commercially successful actress in the history of Chinese cinema. Star power, however, can’t overcome the trite plot and the rather silly goings on.
Angie quietly loves Marco (Xiaoming Huang) who goes to Taiwan on a business trip and returns with a new girlfriend. Hence the training sessions to learn how to win him over. There are allusions to the hit film Ghost, complete with a sexy sculpture scene and the song Unchained Melody. There’s lots of color and good location work but the story is ridiculously old-style. The girlfriend, for instance, coos to draw Marco near and cries in terror at a mere scratch on her leg. The film is entirely predictable.It has opened in North America months before it reaches China. A bit of modern progress, I suppose. (International Village and Riverport) 2 out of 5
Also now playing …
PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR: I haven’t seen this one but I’ve been reading up on it. The evidence is very mixed. It’s a spin off from the popular animated series about zoo animals that go AWOL. These are the wisecracking birds they’ve encountered in all three movies. They’re now in their own adventure facing an evil scientist (voiced by John Malkovich) and obliged to work with a secret agent (Benedict Cumberbatch). Described as both manic, funny and flat, it’s said to be for kids only. An opening mock documentary resembling a Werner Herzog film sounds interesting but explain that joke to the kids. (International Village and many suburban theatres).