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James Franco’s fine movie about a bad one; Woody Allen’s waning appeal and some Canadian sci fi

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RADIUS: It seems too bad that this film is playing in only one theatre around here (out in New West). I would have thought there’s a wider audience for it and certainly critics at fantasy fests have praised it. There’s an intriguing premise, mysterious atmosphere and lively pace. And, as I see it, a flaw. Still it’s a sharp little film by Quebeckers Caroline Labrèche and Steeve Leonard, made in Manitoba and set somewhere in the US (and therefore all in English).

 

A man wakes from a car wreck and can’t remember a thing. Anybody he comes near to, falls dead. He thinks he’s the cause but how? TV and radio news speculate on a biological attack and NASA reports a “cosmic event”. The police come after him but a woman finds him first and recalls they’ve met before but can’t think where. It’s becoming an elaborate Twilight Zone story. Her presence nullifies his killing effect and so they have to stay together. There’s good suspense as events repeatedly try to separate them. And, then the flaw.  Brief flashes now and then hint at a sub-plot which is later revealed as the real crux of the story. It’s so far removed from what we’ve been watching though that it’s not just a twist. To me, it’s a cheat. TV actors Diego Klattenhoff and Charlotte Sullivan give solid performances and almost make it work all the way. (Landmark’s New Westminster Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY:   It’s shaped like most any romantic film and anybody could get enthralled. It’s poignant, full of yearning and personal transformation and positively gay. Graphically so, in spots. It’s got potent emotions and a scenario that is, I imagine, entirely authentic.

A young man (Josh O'Connor) is stuck working on his parents’ farm in Yorkshire, England and only able to follow his sexuality with the odd quickie in the washroom at the pub in town. He’s bored and surly. Then a young farm hand from Romania (Alec Secăreanu) arrives to work for a week. They interact awkwardly at first but then go out on an overnight trip to fix fences. Suddenly, it’s Brokeback Mountain all over again, steamy, hot and breathy, this time with sheep looking on. Mom senses what’s happening but doesn’t say anything. Dad, usually stern and critical, is waylaid by medical problems. Folks in town do sneer but the son is already on his way to coming out of his funk and accepting himself. That change is deftly portrayed in this first full-length film by the English actor Francis Lee. He grew up in rural Yorkshire and seems to have written and directed what he knows. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

TOM OF FINLAND: I’d not heard of him but apparently he’s an icon in the gay world. He was a pioneer of queer pornography with his intricate drawings of men with enormous muscles, especially that one at the exact middle of their bodies. His images were deemed illegal and originally only published in a physical fitness magazine in California. As the laws eased in the 1970s, they became widespread and pretty well created the black-leather-jacket-and-cap gay image. As one character in the films says: “You make these different boys feel special. Beautiful.”

 

That and more we learn from this spunky film from his home country, which is submitting it for the Academy Awards. It’s a respectful bio-pic, skips over some not quite salient details but shows his growth from World War II soldier, to advertising illustrator, to parkside cruiser, to rebel pushing against censorship. Along the way there are police raids and intimidation, just like what gays in Canada just got an apology for. Those images and tensions from that time are probably the film’s strongest aspect. Close behind is the convincing portrayal by Pekka Strang as Tom (real name Touko). He’s not at all flashy but firm. The film is a straight-ahead celebration of his progress. (VanCity) 3 out of 5   

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