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Movies about our digital age, a dirty history, a judge on trial and a beloved children’s book

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ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY: Here’s how you can make a full-length movie out of a very short book. You change it almost completely. You add so much new to it that it’s pretty well only the general theme that remains. A boy and his family have a succession of set-backs one very bad day. They learn that everybody has them now and then.

 

It’s been a much loved children’s book since Judith Viorst published it in 1972 but anybody who has read it to their kid or to themselves may be surprised young Alex doesn’t even get to say his signature line about wanting to move to Australia. He and his friends are familiar with smart phones and the film has a vibe that the dad (Steve Carell) describes as “12-year-old cool”. And much of the film isn’t about Alex.  Dad is trying to get a job with a video game company and mom (Jennifer Garner) is in line for the vice-president job at a book publisher. A disastrous book launch hosted by Dick Van Dyke is just one of the many bad things to happen. They come one by one, fast and frenetic to the whole family. It’s over-kill and little kids might be alarmed by some of it. But, it’s also exuberant fun and most kids will have a great time. Ed Oxenbould as Alexander is endearing. (Dunbar, International Village and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5

THE TWO FACES OF JANUARY: Since Hitchcock isn’t around anymore, others often take up his style. This is Hossein Amini’s attempt and he comes pretty close. The story is by Patricia Highsmith (whose novel Strangers on a Train was filmed by Hitchcock) but the style is like another movie from her work, The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s set in sunny Greece and has three characters plot and scheme, assist  and double cross each other and keep us guessing about their motives.

 

Viggo Mortensen plays an American on the run from people he cheated. A private detective ends up dead and Viggo needs a new passport and a place to hide for a while. Oscar Isaac takes him and his wife (Kirsten Dunst) to Crete. The hustler of tourists may have eyes for the wife though which leads to suspicions, recriminations and twists that’ll keep you interested even if the suspense is relatively mild for this kind of movie. There’s charm in the relaxed storytelling.  (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5

MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN: People walk around with cell phones stuck to their ear. Some folks use their computer to find porn; others to set up cheating affairs. Some go to quack websites  or are addicted to on-line games. What? You know all that? Jason Reitman’s latest film recounts all this as if it’s brand new. He’s taken a provocative novel, softened the story and settled for familiar observations about our digital age with little that’s positive about it or enlightening about what it’s doing to life here on earth.

 

This is a light comedy about middle-class people, like the mother (Jennifer Garner) who monitors her daughter’s computer use far too closely, another mother (Judy Greer) who enables her daughter to post sexy photos, a porn and escort  seeker (Adam Sandler) and his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt) setting up a cheating affair. The film has ambitions beyond the mundane though. It reaches for the entire cosmos at the start and end with the image of the earth as a blue dot and astronomer Carl Sagan’s words about unity. Only one character is on that wavelength, a teen (Ansel Elgort ) who quits football because in cosmic terms it is meaningless to him. The film is funny in parts and easy to take but far short of profound. (5th Avenue) 2 ½ out of 5

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DRACULA UNTOLD: There have been so many Dracula movies it must be hard to find a new way to spin the story. This one, filmed in Northern Ireland, tells how he became that way. It was for good reasons it seems. Vlad the Impaler needs help keeping the Turks from taking every first-born son in Transylvania for their army. His wife, played by Toronto’s Sarah Gadon, encourages a deal with a demon. Charles Dance in a cave proposes a try-out as a vampire, with permanence if he likes it.  Most critics haven’t liked it. (Scitiabank and suburban theatres)

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