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Michael and Alicia bring tears; Natalie Portman laments Israel’s history and a big French star gets small

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Here he’s levelheaded as a captain in charge of a French platoon in Afghanistan. They’re in a rocky valley that sticks out like a feather between three countries. I’ve never noticed it on a map before. That’s just part of what’s odd. A dog, then two soldiers, then another go missing. Did the Taliban take them? Villagers say no but they are missing some men too and want compensation for sheep that died in the camp’s barbed wire. They had intended to sacrifice them. It seems a patch of land they’re on is sacred. Anybody who falls asleep is taken back by Allah. A meeting with a Taliban commander called The Sultan gets no answers, only more mystery. The film isn’t able to keep it up all the way, but in its quiet, eerie way it is full of intriguing events and musings on ethics. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5

UP FOR LOVE: Here’s an amusing trifle that offers a once-over-lightly examination of bias and considerable charm as well. It’s from France, originated as an Argentinian film and has also been re-made in Columbia. Obviously the story carries. The prejudice at issue is height. Would you date somebody much shorter than you? A beautiful lawyer (Virginie Efira) is faced with that dilemma when she forgets her cell phone in a café and gets a call from a man who found it. He’s played by Jean Dujardin, who won an Oscar for The Artist four years ago. He sounds amiable; she agrees to meet him and finds he’s only 4 ½ feet tall.

 

In no time at all they’re sky-diving and kissing in the car and, after he complains that she seems to be hiding him from her friends, going to an art gallery and dancing in a disco. Her former husband, and still business partner in a shared office, has some unpleasant comments and her mother says a short man has a disability, although not like her own husband who is hard of hearing. That talk, including about “all these images in my head of what love is supposed to look like” is facile. There’s excess in an actual fistfight and mom’s driving in-shock on the wrong side of the street. The biggest impediment though is technical. Dujardin’s short height, created by digital effects, seems to vary. That interrupts the fun. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5      

BORIS SANS BEATRICE: The work of Quebec filmmaker Denis Côté (a former critic, I’m told) is quirky and enigmatic, and ultimately a bit obvious. It is all that in this latest film in which a narcissistic businessman is advised to become a better person but has trouble seeing how to do that. A climactic intervention has to show him the way, which is explained with the Greek myth of Tantalus who was punished by the gods  for his hubris. By that point, the tone has turned mannered and artificial. It was cool and crisp before that.     

 

James Hyndman stars and asserts a firm no-nonsense presence.  His wife (Simone Elise-Gerard) is suffering a deep depression and stays silent.  Is he the cause? After all he’s screwing a co-worker and then also his wife’s caretaker. We see him get waspish with a store clerk, with the mayor at a council meeting and with the Prime Minister. The dialogue easily switches back and forth between English and sub-titled French. He’s angry with anyone talking to him in a condescending way. That might be the key to his character but the script doesn’t explore it. Instead it offers redemption through self-improvement as outlined by a mystery man one night in a quarry. There’s also an estranged daughter and two gays rehearsing as Orestes and Elektra. The particulars are novel but they’re hanging on a stale plot. (VanCity) 2 ½ out of 5   

THE 9th LIFE OF LOUIS DRAX: It’s hard to whack on a film with so many Vancouver connections but this one calls for it. If it weren’t so low in energy, it might star in a bad movie festival some day. It certainly has enough incongruous plot points that could have the more cynical fans chortling. But those points don’t sit together well and there’s little flow to the narrative. And there’s an odd slow down in the film’s momentum more than half way along. But it was filmed and produced here.

 

Jamie Dornan (who also played in 50 Shades of Grey around here) stars as a child psychologist working with an accident-prone boy (B.C. actor Aiden Longworth). He’s trying to get the real story out of him about the day he and his dad (Aaron Paul) fell over a cliff while on a picnic with his mom (Toronto’s Sarah Gadon). Jamie has himself hooked up to the boy lying in a coma and comes to feel he’s under his control. Another psychologist (Oliver Platt) was more conventional. He did a series of interviews with the boy who gave smart-alecky answers like what an easy job he has. Although the director, Alexandre Aja from France, is known for gore-heavy horror films, here he delivers a mystery like Hollywood used to make years ago. Except they’d never have a laughable creature in a cave, like this one does. (5th Avenue) 2 out of 5  

MORGAN: The other high profile movie debuting this week is this artificial intelligence thriller. When a boy is “bio-engineered with synthetic DNA” a character says “It’s the next step in evolution.” I haven’t seen it; the preview conflicted with a more important film, but  it looks like yet another evil child film. Known actors like Toby Jones, Michelle Yeoh, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Giamatti and Brian Cox are in it and Ridley Scott’s son Luke is the director. Interesting trivia: Since the film is about A-I, IBM was asked to use A-I to make a trailer. They analyzed 100s of trailers and produced one that I think looks pretty dull. It’s on U-Tube. The film is at Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres.

 

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