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Jennifer Lawrence in mother!, Dylan O’Brien in American Assassin and Catherine Deneuve with The Midwife

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THE MIDWIFE: Catherine Deneuve as a free spirit. What more do you need to know to go see her? She’s wonderful as an aging bon vivant who still smokes and drinks, gambles and dresses in style and returns to France after 30 years away to reconnect with her best days. She acts like she’s still in them, contacts the woman of the film’s title (Catherine Frot) and expects to resume an old friendship. That’s awfully presumptuous since she was her father’s mistress and led to his suicide.

 

We get a treat though, terrific work by two great French actors in a well-observed drama about how women interact and influence each other. It’s a model of character development. While Deneuve is a dynamo, Frot’s role is quite the opposite: she’s a hard worker, quiet and reticent. It takes time for her to warm up to her. The film directed by a man, Martin Provost, shows it happening subtly and in small increments. When the midwife puts on lipstick one morning we know she’s changing. The acting bumps up another level when it’s confirmed for Deneuve’s character that she has cancer. Those story lines, familiar as they are, get a superb execution here.  (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

RAT FILM: Don’t be put off by the title and the subject. Sure rats are creepy and this film takes great pains to prove a bit of common knowledge, that they are much more prevalent in poor parts of town. But the information amassed to make the point, in this case in Baltimore, Maryland, is endlessly fascinating. For instance, that old racist laws helped create the problem there and when they were eliminated not that long ago, unwritten real estate practices perpetuated it. Today there are guys who hunt rats for sport, some believe it or not with fishing rods, just like fly fishermen. We see them.

 

We also see people who have them as pets. One sits on a man’s head as he watches TV. A city pest control officer takes us into the neighborhoods and lets us meet the people he’s called to help. As he says, it’s not a rat problem. It’s a people problem. A ghostly voice over tells us about the changing city policies over the decades. In the 1940s there was a war on rats. It made the problem worse. In the 1950s, the goal changed to improve the neighborhoods. There’s a startling account of research that was done –with rats as stand-ins for humans—about overcrowding. The effects were frightening. Baltimore, like Vancouver, is a port city so much of what the film says applies here too although, curiously, it hardly acknowledges that rats thrive just as well in tony parts of town than in the slums. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5

 

And two I haven’t seen but are also now playing …

LONG TIME RUNNING: I’m told that no matter what you think of the Tragically Hip’s music, you’re bound to like this chronicle of their final tour.

There’s a bit from every stop on the way, up to the last concert in Kingston, Ont. There are lots of backstage moments, fan reactions, interviews with band members and their friends and great scenes of Gordon Downie fronting the band without any sign of the cancer that forced him to end his career. Essentially it’s a well-made documentary by a couple of experienced hands of the form, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier. (The Park and several suburban theatres)

 

CLASH: From Egypt, this film recounts the 2013 military coup there in an unusual way. It’s all set in the back of a police van. Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood regime was toppled. Supporters and opponants are scrunched together in stifling heat, with only brief glimpses of the crowds outside and one point of agreement: their common hate for the two journalists also tossed in with them. It’s a drama, said to be artistic in presentation and a microcosm of the cracks in Egyptian political society. (VanCity Theatre)

 

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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