Heartrending welfare stories in I, Daniel Blake and reviews of five other films at VIFF

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But how close should Sheil, best known for House of Cards,  get inside her problems? It’s a gripping psychological film with pertinent thoughts about what we demand to see on TV. (screens Thursday)

THE ORNITHOLOGIST: This is one of the oddest and most beautiful films I’ve seen at VIFF. A birdwatcher paddles up a river in Portugal and takes in some spectacular and glistening scenery while watching the eagles, storks, egg-sitting bird and a goat or two through his binoculars. He’s in an Eden of sorts when he takes a swim.


He’s within cell phone range though and when he gets a call from his lover Sergio there’s a hint of much more going on. And it does come. He’s rescued after a kayak accident 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 religious symbols and references and parallels the story of Portugal’s Saint Anthony of Padua. A shipwreck becomes a kayak spill and so on. João Pedro Rodrigues, the director, was himself trained as an ornithologist and the film seems to be a personal affirmation as the character grows spiritually and appears at peace with himself. It’s heady stuff full of allegory and artistic notions and also quite a bit of humor. (Screens Thurs and Monday)

MEAN DREAMS: Teenagers on the run. We’ve had a lot of them. Steven Spielberg, Terrence Malick and others have worked the genre and here’s a pretty good, though derivative, one from Nathan Morlando in Ontario.

Two fresh-faced young kids (Josh Wiggins and Sophie Nélisse)live on adjoining farms and fall in love. That riles up her father a corrupt cop who not only lives on a slovenly property but makes deals with bikers, selling them drugs we presume.

The kids steal his money, run off to among other places The Shady Rest Motel and her dad comes after them. He’s played with scenery chewing terror by Bill Paxton.  Colm Feore plays his boss with just as much corruption in his make up.

“It’s gonna get mean,” Paxton says. It does but in a light, artificial way. There’s suspense, intense proclaiming, lots of rural atmosphere but nothing too grim. This is also one of those films that hides where it’s from. Every license plate has the province name blacked out. It was filmed in Sault Ste Marie you should know. (Screens Thurs and Sunday)  

HELLO DESTROYER: The insights are good. This movie about our national sport is hard to watch though because of a failure to communicate within the story, metaphors that are too obvious and a darkness that often makes the images and the faces of the characters hard to see.


Jared Abrahamson gives a good performance as Tyson Burr a rookie player with a fictional team in Prince George called The Warriors. Unfortunately he’s playing an inarticulate character and that makes him less than compelling.

When the coach screams he has no room for losers, Tyson takes the message to heart. He throws a tough check on a player who falls into the boards and ends up seriously injured. It was hardly a Bertuzzi  but the team cuts him loose, makes him take the blame and leaves him to drift alone.

In two of those metaphorical turns he ends up working in a slaughterhouse and in his spare time demolishing an old house. Writer-director Kevan Funk also makes him think about responsibility, possibly for the first time in his life. But he doesn’t have the words and anyway the film is awfully grim. (It screens Thursday)   

More in New Movies

New vs old in Birds of Passage; an easy look at a killer sickness in Five Feet Apart and a good one for the kids, Wonder Park

And lots more: hippies try farming, a divorcé seeks love, melodrama and politics in Argentina and a dystopian teen thriller with something of a Handmaid’s Tale vibe

Watching that new female super hero, more women in film and that giant leap for mankind

Also Peter Bogdanovich’s ode to a genius of movie comedy, the great Buster Keaton

Chloe meets Greta, Ruben Brandt steals art and Jean-Luc Godard ponders the state of the world in his Image Book

Also dancers on an acid trip in Climax and four other movies not available for review
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