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Jack Ryan, Charles Dickens, plus singing oil sands workers and Canada’s “best” films

A mobile spy, a revered writer and a cross-dressing entrepreneur are featured in the new movies this week.

You have so much choice this week. Besides the new arrivals, there are most of the Oscar nominees still playing (Gravity just returned) and most of Canada’s best, as so named by the people at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Here’s the list:

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit:  2 ½ stars

Oil Sands Karaoke:   3

The Rocket:  3 ½

Asphalt Watches (of Canada’s Top 10: 3 ½

The Invisible Woman: 4

The Nut Job:  1 ½

Ride Along  / Devil’s Due:  not reviewed


JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT: If you don’t insist on originality, you might enjoy this one. It’s a snappy tale of a spy vs an economic-terrorist that feels like a Mission Impossible at times, a Bourne movie during a car chase and, now and then, Skyfall. But it also does something that’s rare these days: it generates suspense.  That, plus its glossy look and its attractive stars, keep you interested and forgiving of an absurd plot.


Russia is trying to destroy the U.S. again. The perpetrator this time is a businessman with high-level connections (Kenneth Branagh). He’s carrying a helluva grudge over Afghanistan and (how’s this for contemporary?) a pipeline project.  He plans to crash the American economy by selling dollars but has to explode something as a starting gesture. The CIA gets wind of it, recruits Jack Ryan and sets him to work on Wall Street and take note of anything unusual. He does. It takes him to Moscow, where he’s joined by his recruiter (Kevin Costner), his girlfriend (Keira Knightley) and for a memorable dinner, Branagh, who not only directs the film with great style but wields a mean compact fluorescentlightbulb as a threat. His action sequences, though, tend to get blurry. Chris Pine, the fourth actor to play Ryan (Harrison Ford did him twice) is a pleasant enough everyman in the role; maybe a bit young. A boy scout on a camping trip, he’s called at one point. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½  out of 5

OIL SANDS KARAOKE: If you heard Neil Young’s incendiary interview on CBC Radio this week or saw the trimmed version on The National, this look at Alberta’s tar sands controversy might seem pretty mild. Charles Wilkinson (Deep Cove resident) doesn’t condemn, he visits. Although he does give us recurring glimpses of torn-up land and signs of the boom in the town of Ft. McMurray (It now has a bumper-to-bumper morning commute) his real mission is to understand the people who work there. He gets the thoughts and personal stories of five in between their karaoke routines at Bailey’s Pub.


Like in many frontier towns, most are escaping something. A guy from Ontario has debts, another has a stalled music career.  A First Nations guy performs in drag and talks of an old homophobic incident. A tiny First Nations woman lived in foster homes and now drives the biggest truck on earth and sings Britney Spears songs. They tell poignant stories and as an added benefit, they’re all good singers. The film culminates with a contest. On the inevitable environmental question, they express good intentions but say they need the money they’re earning. Kind of like what Ottawa and Alberta are saying about the oil sands. Wilkinson will be at the Friday night screening to discuss his film. (Vancity Theatre) 3 out of 5.

As for Neil Young’s angry version, you can hear the whole interview at

THE ROCKET:  (Playing in tandem with Oil Sands Karaoke): Theoretically, this film shouldn’t even work. And yet it does, beautifully, as a vibrant crowd pleaser. Australian director Kim Mordaunt made it in Laos by putting together several story elements he found while researching a documentary. Phase one: a young boy feels he’s cursed because he was born a twin. Village lore says one is born evil; the other good. Since his brother was stillborn, he can’t tell which he is. At any rate, whenever misfortune arrives, he’s suspected as the cause, as when his family is forced out of their valley for a hydro project. They’re resettled but the amenities they’re promised never arrive.


The boy befriends a village outcast, a man who collaborated with the Americans when they were making war in south-east Asia back in the 60s and still idolizes James Brown enough to act and dress exactly like him. He proves a handy ally in the film’s final segment: an annual competition to fire homemade rockets. An emotional story, great local details and atmosphere and good performances from the actors in their own language make this one worth your time. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5 

CANADA’S TOP 10: The annual touring festival of our best (as chosen by the Toronto International Film Festival) is back at the Cinematheque, well eight of them are. Two are coming soon in regular bookings. Most have been seen only at festivals so far and this may be your best chance to catch them. Many are included in the nominations  for the Canadian Screen Awards that also came out this week.

Vic + Flo Saw a Bear was a favorite of mine at VIFF, about a couple of ex-con women who retreat to a small town and try to rekindle the love affair they had in prison. Resentful relatives, neighbors and a woman claiming to be a gardener get in the way. A prize winner in Berlin.

More in New Movies

Disney wildlife times two, a blast at American politics and a traumatic teen drama

Also a couple of small but amiable comedies, one of them Canadian

More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

Movie theatres are shut down, so what’s streaming?

Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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