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The German hit Toni Erdmann, Gold, the Bre-X clone, and the animal rights target, A Dog’s Purpose

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Then each time a sort of reincarnation happens and a new puppy emerges and starts a fresh story. The narration (by the dog) is always voiced by John Gad  so we know a soul has carried on. This comes from a hugely popular book by W. Bruce Cameron who has the dog ponder “what is the meaning of life?” The eventual answer is thin but there’s plenty of story along the way including a drunken father, a lonely cop, a river rescue (which Campbell claims did not involve cruelty as alleged), young love (both canine and human), doggy hijinks and some serious boy-and-his-dog bonding. It’s sentimental and manipulative but, as directed by Lasse Hallström, also amiable and heartwarming. Local actor Gabrielle Rose has a small part and Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton show up late. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

WHERE THE UNIVERSE SINGS: This effervescent documentary celebrates the art of Lawren Harris one of the most innovative painters Canada has produced. He’s known as one of the founders of the Group of Seven but he also inspired Emilie Carr with his advice and of special note around here spent the last 30 years of his life in Vancouver. He should be better known and that may be happening. There was a major exhibition in Toronto last summer, curated by Steve Martin, the movie actor and comedian. He’s also in the film, along with art scholars, critics and writers, all extolling Harris’ artistry and his journey from painting urban realism to natural landscapes that become more and more abstract with the years.

 

Along with some 130 of his paintings we get his spiritual musings read by Colm Feore (“I’m searching for the summit of my soul”) and life details by A. Y. Jackson, read by Eric Peterson. Harris was a rich Ontario kid who trained in Germany, led painting excursions in his province, Nova Scotia and the far north and documented some with a movie camera. A few of those films are included. The doc is thin on gossip though, his divorce, for instance, and his marriage to his best friend’s wife which ostracized him from staid Toronto society and sent him to the US, but also seems to have freed up his art. In most other ways the film is rich with information and insight. Nancy Lang, the director, previously did research for a film on another art icon, Tom Thomson. (Park Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5   

TRESPASS AGAINST US: Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson as traveller’s? Those gypsy-like denizens of a slovenly trailer park somewhere in England? Yes, and they pull it off; they’re convincing as father and son as they tangle in some hot arguments about their future. I couldn’t make out all of their set to—the dialect is so thick that it would help to have subtitles--but the two actors get across the split and the bonds in their relationship.

 

Essentially, the son wants a better life for his family; no more the petty thievery and minor robbery the dad presides over. That doesn’t stop him from getting into elaborate car chases with the police and crash a car into a manor house’s front door to pull off a heist. The film alternates between such action and character-revealing scenes. For the most part they’re enjoyable to watch and listen to, for instance Gleeson being cocky with wild stories and Jesus allusions in a police interrogation.  But the film doesn’t get much accomplished. It’s just a brief visit with an uncommon subculture. (Park Theatre)  2 ½ out of 5

ELLE: This French film from Dutch provocateur Paul Verhoeven has drawn big praise from many critics and won two Golden Globes (best foreign language film and best actress, Isabelle Huppert who also has an Academy Award nomination). Ok so that’s a variety of reasons to see it, right? It is a slick, well-directed thriller and Huppert’s acting is superb. There are other problems though, chiefly the story.

A high-powered businesswoman in Paris is raped in her apartment. Rather than tell the police she resolves to find the guy herself. That’s been lauded for its theme of a woman refusing to act like a victim and seeking retribution herself. I see it as part of another phenomenon I’ve seen discussed recently, the proliferation of rape in popular culture. Verhoeven can run with it here. He gives us the same rape three times, each one more detailed, and later throws in a couple of new ones. Huppert’s search for the perpetrator turns up several suspects, including a couple at work where it’s said nobody likes her. The big reveal is no surprise; they’ve all been identified as possible. It’s the fact that he did it at all that comes off as ludicrous and contrived. (International Village) 3 out of 5  

STAYING VERTICAL: Here’s a shocker from France that simply tries too hard. To shock that is. There’s a graphic birth scene. Sex with up close studies of genitalia (male and female) though why the director Alain Guiraudie is so interested in a woman’s is a mystery. He’s a gay who made a fine real mystery a few years ago with Strangers by the Lake. The high, or low, point here is a scene that leads to the most lurid newspaper headline I’ve ever seen: He Sodomizes, then Euthanizes an Old Man in front of His Baby. Yes, it happens. What it means, or what the whole movie means is unclear.

He (Damien Bonnard) is a screenwriter who wanders into the countryside for inspiration, fails to pick up a young man and takes up with a sherherdess (India Hair). She has two children, bears his also and then promptly splits and leaves him to care for it. Beggars under a bridge, an old man who loves listening to Pink Floyd and a pack of wolves among the sheep have a role as the film gets increasingly obscure but strangely memorable. (Cinematheque)  2 out of 5

More in New Movies

Coming back to Downton Abbey, Brad Pitt on a space trip in Ad Astra and Robbie Robertson’s tales of The Band

Also: some angry race relations, a cool Miles Davis, a Chinese surprise and a 5th from John Rambo

Angry history in Official Secrets, dubious flash in Hustlers and a muddle in The Goldfinch

VIFF has just added this: Michael Moore will be here to show and give a creator talk about the film that made his career: Roger and Me. It was the most popular documentary where it premiered at VIFF...
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