Lady Bird charms, Justice League assembles and local boy makes good again in Wonder
Major project: send him to school. After years of safety with homeschooling, that’s terror for him. Most kids feel some of that on their first day of school but this is extreme. Kids look at him; stay separate in the lunch room. There’s a bully and even a budding friend makes a verbal faux pas. All these details are carefully observed in Stephen Chbosky‘s precise direction. And there’s more. The family dynamics are sensitively explored. Sister Via (played by Izabela Vidovic) never gets even a fraction of the attention. At the same time, you can see why Auggie craves so much of it. He needs to feel he’s accepted. The film promotes kindness without resorting to preaching. It fits the season coming up. FYI: It was filmed here. You’ll recognize some of the streets and buildings and Ben Ratner as a drama teacher. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
MUDBOUND: It seems that I can’t avoid Netflix films any longer. Anyway this one is very good and might get some awards consideration so I’ll give in.
This is a fresh look at the race issue in the U.S. south, bringing together, and apart, two families in rural Mississippi in the 1940s.The McAllans (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan) have moved there from Memphis as aspiring farmers. The Jacksons (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige) and several generations before them have farmed there as sharecroppers. They continue but are now beholden to the McAllans who own the land. That’s potential enough there for racial conflict and the film, based on a best-selling novel, brings forth another. Each family sent a son to the army to fight in Europe in World War II. When they (Garrett Hedlund and Jason Mitchell) return, they become close friends but get different treatment. One is a hero; the Jackson son is shunned. His liberator status over there is forgotten at home. Director Dee Rees, who also wrote the script, wrings a lot of emotional drama and some biting scenes of racism out of the story. It’s leisurely but very effective. (Netflix starting today) 4 out of 5
PARADISE: And here’s a very different look at the Holocaust. It focuses on three people and in between sequences showing their stories, gives us scenes of each of them sitting at a table, looking at the camera and telling what they were thinking. We’re not sure whether it’s an interview, an interrogation or a confession. It becomes all three. There’s a police chief in a small French town recalling the Jews he arrested. A woman, arrested for hiding two Jewish children, is a Russian princess and a former playgirl. A young German officer, from a distinguished military family, knew her years ago at a resort in the south of France and tried to renew the relationship as a commandant at a death camp.
Sounds gimmicky but it works. We get very thoughtful explanations from them, most of them from him. Some of it is the usual, Germany humiliated, the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler “touched our soul” with his vision of a German “paradise.” Some of his thinking gets very personal, although why he hated Jews so much is never made clear. He probably didn’t know why and just went along with it. “Joy was lifting me out of the abyss of despair,” he says. The film by Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky is more of an intellectual exercise than usual and hardly goes into the camps. It’s very strong though and revealing. It won a big award at the Venice Film Festival last year. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5
THE DIVINE ORDER: Saudi Arabia has just allowed women to drive. More remarkable is it that Switzerland, a more progressive country, didn’t allow women to vote, until 1971. This rousing German-language film depicts the popular pressure that built up to make it happen through the evolution of a meek housewife. Her husband won’t let her take a job. She responds by getting in with a group of activists and agitating for the vote. Equality of the sexes is a sin against nature, says a clergyman. The director, Petra Volpe, develops a radical feminist ambience to tell the story, to the point of having the women study their private parts with a mirror and identifying seven types. That leads to a fiery shout at one husband: “There is a tiger between my legs.” (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL: Takashi Miike of Japan is being honored like a cinema artist for this his 100th film. Judging from it, I’d say he’s a very competent director of b-movies featuring lots of violence, and apparently, although not here, sex. This is a Samurai story, based on a popular manga, (that has already been filmed once before). The main character, Manji kills several dozen samurai coming at him early in the film, is made immortal by an 800-year-old crone wearing a hoodie, and proceeds to wipe out another army near the end. Later he gets tired of immortality but that angle isn’t developed very fully.
He teams up with a young girl (who looks like his sister from years before) and she learns to do some chopping herself. And he has to face a villain who is taking over all the martial arts schools and imposing his style of fighting. There’s another villain who killed the girl’s father, for historical reasons. A lot of limbs get cut off but Manji’s reattach themselves. All this is flawlessly staged and quite engrossing, if you’re into this kind of stuff. It was on the bill at the Rio last night, starts at International Village today and opens again at the VanCity Theatre next Friday. 2 ½ out of 5
Also now playing …
THE STAR: The Nativity story told in animation through the animals who were at the stable that night. Steven Yeun voices a donkey, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey are camels, said to be “hilarious,” and Christopher Plummer is the voice of King Herod. It’s an American film but was made in Montreal. It’s playing at International Village but hasn’t gotten much a push, as far as I can see, by the studio.