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The Great Gatsby parties wild, Blackbird finds paranoia and jail, Kon-Tiki re-creates a perilous ocean voyage

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He’s a goth, although as played by Connor Jessup, rather sweet not menacing. The jocks on the hockey team bully him and a counselor suggests he write down his angry thoughts. Bad advice. In a flash he’s accused of planning a shooting spree at school and tossed in jail where the other inmates call him “Columbine.” “Easy is not really my thing,” he admits. However, this common tale of teen resentments has switched easily into a tangle with the justice system and with juvenile prison. Both parts come off as realistic, thoughtful and absorbing in this first film by Jason Buxton of Nova Scotia. He’s a former Simon Fraser student and there’s another local connection. Alexia Fast, who plays an in-crowd girl who befriends the outsider teen, was born and lives here part of the year. (5th Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5

KON-TIKI:  This one, in the original Norwegian, was nominated for an Academy Award this year. We get the English-language version which was filmed at the same time. No matter, we’ve got a rousing adventure here, with dramatic ocean scenes and a true story. It happened in 1947, when adventurer  and self-styled anthopologist Thor Heyerdahl  set out to prove a theory. Polynesia, known to have been originally settled by migrants from Asia, was actually settled from South America. An old man told him  that legend. Scientists scoff “impossible.” Thor rounds up a crew of five men , builds a balsawood raft in Peru and starts drifting west.

 

The film gives us all the perils in beautiful re-creations: a heavy storm that tosses Thor overboard (he can’t swim); shark attacks, whale visits, drifting off course and a dangerous reef. It also has a few visual tricks, as when the camera rises from the raft up through the clouds, high enough to see the curve of the earth. The comparison to space exploration is made.

Thor’s driving optimism and a few resulting arguments aside, we don’t get to know the men individually. They’re a crew and remind me of mountain adventure types here in B.C. The actors look a great deal like the original men, though, judging by a few clips from the film they shot on the voyage.  That film won an Academy Award back in 1951. (5th Avenue) 3 ½ out of 5

AT ANY PRICE: Aha, the Monsanto controversy pops out of the documentaries and into a commercial film with big stars, although here it’s a company with the ironic name Liberty Seeds. But wait, it turns out this isn’t about the company. It’s about a farmer (Dennis Quaid) out there in Iowa’s corn fields who sells the genetically modified seeds to his neighbors. Uh, wait again. It switches to his son (Zac Efron) who wants to be a race car driver rather than a farmer. His other son is off mountain climbing in the Andes and his dad (Red West) is snarky about what kind of farmer, and man, he is. So is he because he’s got an affair going on the side while claiming to be too busy to take his wife (Kim Dickens) on a holiday and, in a return of what we thought would be the central theme, the seed company is snooping round. And believe it or not, there’s more. Focus is not one of this film’s strengths. 

 

Amidst this jumble, there’s a well-meaning review of both rural life today and the pressures modern farmers are under.  “Expand or die” is the mantra and a giant tractor with a GPS unit reflects it. Director Ramin Bahrani, who made the superb character-revealing Goodbye Solo a few years back (with Red West in the lead) sets up his big issues too obviously, then drifts in and out of them but gets good performances from his actors. (International Village) 2 ½  out of 5

Also now playing …

PEEPLES: For a while there, Tyler Perry’s movies  were actually promoted here in Vancouver. Not this time. No preview screenings were held but then Tyler is only “presenting” this one, as a producer. To script and direct it, he hired Tina Gordon Chism, the writer of the fondly remembered Drumline. The setting this time is a level higher than the usual black middle class. Kerry Washington plays a daughter in a family in the Hamptons. (That’s on Long Island, Gatsby territory). She’s a United Nations lawyer; her father (David Alan Grier) is a judge but her boyfriend (Craig Robinson, well-known from TV’s The Office) is merely a children’s entertainer. He drops in unannounced intending to propose marriage but manages to stir up a family brouhaha.  The US critics say its formulaic but disagree on how much fun. (International Village Cinemas) 

NOTE: All images are movie stills provided by the producers. They are the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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