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La La Land is joyous, Lion will move you, and Fences gives chatty high drama

And more:  a tune-crammed Sing, two best actress winners and an Emmy winner in sub-par movies, and gay teens and a cranky farmer at the VanCity Theatre

This next week is usually the busiest of the year for movie going. That’s why there are so many new films to consider today, nine in all, two not opening until Christmas Day.

Here’s the list …  

La La Land: 4 stars

Lion:  4

Fences:  3 ½

Sing:  3

Passengers:  2 ½

 Assassin’s Creed:  2

Why Him?  1 ½

Being 17:  4

Peter and the Farm:  3 ½

LA LA LAND: No it’s not as good as the best of the Hollywood musicals, like Singing in the Rain, The Band Wagon and  others. The songs aren’t memorable and Damien Chazelle, who wrote and directed it, is new to the form. But he comes pretty close to the classics by revisiting their mood and the film zings as an enjoyable entertainment. It was the most popular film at Toronto’s festival and is the nominations leader for the Golden Globes.


It’s a valentine to tinseltown and the people who collect there trying to follow their dream. Ryan Gosling is a jazz pianist in a pop-music world; Emma Stone, an actor who’s so tired of auditioning that she writes a show of her own. They meet in a traffic jam, don’t like each other but meet again and again until they do. The plot doesn’t follow that well-trod arc exactly; there are twists and modern touches but the basics are there. The songs speak. Going to a party: “We’re on a mission”. Left alone: “Waiting to be found”. Dancing on cars: “Reaching for the heights.”  Stone and Gosling sing well-enough and dance beautifully. They seem to be channeling Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly and that’s a good thing. (Park, Scotiabank and suburban theatres, starting Sunday) 4 out of 5

LION: This is a perfect film for the holidays. It talks about family, about the draw of your heritage, about mothers and sons and even at one point gets Dickensian as a young boy is lost in a big city. And it has perhaps the best emotional payoff of any of the movies out there right now. There were even reports out of the Toronto film festival that some of the critics at a press screening got teary-eyed.  That wouldn’t be out of sadness, but out of joy.


The story is in two time periods and that makes this a two-part movie. In part one, a young boy in rural India manages to get separated from his brother, onto a train and almost 1,700 kilometers away to Calcutta unable to speak the language there and say where he came from. Sunny Pawar gives an endearing performance as Saroo as he evades the dangers and the street people and lands in an orphanage. He’s adopted and taken to Australia where 25 years later he’s played by Dev Patel with Nicole Kidman as his “mother”.  Can he find his way back home? Well there is Google Earth, there’s a poignant climax and Saroo did write a book about it. It’s become a very good movie. (5th Ave and International Village) 4 out of 5       

FENCES: You’re going to encounter some griping that this adaptation of a celebrated stage play is too talky. Even if the talk is in the backyard, in a hallway or on the job picking up garbage, it feels like it’s on stage. True, but that didn’t bother me because the language is so rich and the actors deliver it so beautifully. Also it delineates a character in full and then delivers a shock that calls for a difficult response. Give it a chance; you’ll be absorbed by this drama.


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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