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A great new Planet of the Apes, cultural discord in Tanna and songs of aboriginal history in The Road Forward

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THE ROAD FORWARD: Originally, I couldn’t image how this could work. A musical history about aboriginals in this province, and Canada? But darned if I wasn’t wholly caught up in it, both with the factual story and the quality of the songs. There was that stage musical about residential schools that played here a few weeks ago (the composer is also in this film) so, it can be done. There’s more proof here from a cast of performers who’ve won Junos and other awards and sing in a wide range of styles. One or two songs have a decidedly “native” sound but we also get gospel, celtic, R&B, rock and even a short rap. They illustrate and bring emotion to key events and some are genuinely moving. 

 

Local filmmaker Marie Clements assembled the chronicle and wrote most of the lyrics. She studies the impact of BC’s first native organization, The Indian Brotherhood, founded in 1931 (the Sisterhood followed two years later) and the influence of the newspaper The Native Voice. Then, with recent interviews, she brings it forward to constitutional battles, residential schools and missing women. Tom Berger remembers the native hunting case he won and the Calder case it led to. It helped define aboriginal rights. George Manuel’s daughter recalls the Constitution Express that her dad organized and one of his speeches is turned into a defiant song (“You don’t ask for it. You take it”). Other songs mourn, motivate or energize. Clements doesn’t deal with the movement’s internal battles in this call for action. As a line in the final song says it: “One heart, one mind.” (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5

THE ORNITHOLOGIST: One of the oddest, most beautiful and most elusive films I saw at the film festival last fall is back for a “first run” at The Cinematheque. It’s allegorical about one man’s search for his spiritual and sexual centre. As played by the French actor Paul Hamy he doesn’t express much outwardly but what happens to him is bizarre.

 

He’s an ornithologist, as the director, Portugal’s João Pedro Rodrigues, used to be. We see him paddling up a river to take in some spectacular and glistening scenery while watching the eagles, storks, egg-sitting birds and a goat or two through his binoculars. He’s in an Eden of sorts and gets a cell phone call from his lover Sergio. Then he has a kayak accident and is rescued by two Chinese lesbians who had wandered off a pilgrim trail. “He has no faith,” one says and suggests they castrate him. He later has sex with a young man named Jesus. A group of Amazons come riding up, bare-chested and sporting rifles. The film is full of these religious and mythic references and parallels the story of Portugal’s Saint Anthony of Padua. A shipwreck becomes a kayak spill and so on. It seems to be a personal affirmation for the director about being queer within a controlling church. At the end he plays the lead himself. It’s an engrossing puzzle and laced with quite a bit of humor. (Cinematheque) 3 out of 5

THE LITTLE HOURS: I was negative on this one but my wife defended it. It captures the flavor of the source material perfectly, she said. That’s The Decameron, the ribald stories from the 14th century by Giovanni Boccaccio. The film tells the first one and I got the earthy humor, the delight it has for sex and the funny digs at the church. There’s a hilarious confession scene and later a bishop’s tribunal in which the list of transgressions goes on and on to absurd entertaining effect. I also enjoyed the visual details that perfectly re-create the era. The problem I had is elsewhere.

 

In the tale, a servant (Dave Franco) has to flee after being caught sleeping with his master’s wife. A priest (John C. Reilly) hires him as a handyman for the convent he supervises where three randy nuns (Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza and Kate Micucci) are eager to come on to him. Sin be damned. Sex is fun and joyous. True it is to the book and, Jeff Baena, the director claims, to the reality of nuns back then. But it’s jarring to hear these nuns fling the f-word around and speak like teens in a modern Hollywood comedy (“She’s so out of it … delusional”).  It doesn’t feel like the 14th century, even more so since a couple of Saturday Night Live veterans are around too: Molly Shannon as the senior nun and Fred Armisen as the bishop. And Aubrey Plaza, best known from TV’s Parks and Recreation, overacts in some of her scenes. But then, she is one of the producers and the girlfriend of the director. Just sayin’. (The Park)     2 ½ out of 5 

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