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Movies this week examine Russian corruption, hockey, American crime and health care in France

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BLACK OR WHITE: What’s missing in this film about race relations in America today is a lot of angry shouting. But don’t think it’s any less real. It’s just that Mike Binder has taken a lighter approach to these incendiary issues, a bit like The Help, and predictably is drawing the same charge that it’s a cop out. I don’t see it that way. I think it’s a calm, balanced examination of one dispute, not the whole racial picture. We get to hear valid arguments from two sides and that makes it engrossing. Part of the story is based on a situation Binder’s own sister was in. 

 

Kevin Costner plays a high-level lawyer who’s been raising his mixed-race granddaughter played by cute newcomer Jillian Estell. Her mother (his daughter) had died in childbirth while her father was missing and oblivious somewhere, a junkie. Now her grandmother (Octavia Spencer, who was also in The Help) wants custody so the girl can be with her own people. The film raises a number of valid issues like that both before and in court. How down and dirty should the fight be? Is Costner’s character a racist, as the black lawyer infers? He did call the father, who has re-appeared, a “street nigger” and in a dramatic speech in court apologizes for that. But what about his drinking, and is the father now clean of drugs as he claims? Everybody, except the little girl, gets their say. The film is contrived in its marshaling of all these issues but for a mainstream audience it works and the acting, especially Costner’s, is strong.  (International Village and two suburban theatres) 3 out of 5

HIPPOCRATES: It’s as if the nurses or the hospital employees union had sponsored a movie. That’s how detailed and passionate this film from France is about conditions in hospitals there. I don’t know if it applies to all hospitals—the country has a mixed system of public and private health care—but the director seems to know his stuff. Thomas Lilti is a former doctor who still practices part-time and made this film in a hospital at which he actually worked. He gives us dirt like overworked staff, malfunctioning equipment, “profitability targets” and supervisors taking short cuts. You should see what he finds scrawled on the walls down in the staff living quarters and hear the mordant humour around the halls.  

 

He gives us all that inside a drama about a young doctor’s first shifts as an intern. He’s played by Vincent Lacoste, an actor usually seen in light comedies but over-shadowed here by Reda Kateb (who was in Zero Dark Thirty). He’s an experienced doctor forced also to intern because he’s an immigrant. His work on a spinal tap is uncomfortably graphic. As an actor he’s got authority and presence. A patient lost, a dying woman unwisely kept alive and a staff revolt all figure in this stinging comment on the French health care system. It might be a bit suspect because doctors there are often quick to criticize, but it’s a strong film and a big hit back home. (The Cinematheque) 4 out of 5

Also at The Cinematheque …

BIRD PEOPLE: Here’s a bit of whimsy from France, if you’re ready for it. It makes little sense, except as a fantasy but it’s enjoyable anyway and is about half and half in English and French. Josh Charles (of TV’s The Good Wife) is a Silicon Valley engineer on his way to a big project in Dubai. He stops off in Paris and on a whim decides to stay there, watching the planes land and take off at the airport, telling his boss by phone he’s quitting and getting vitriol from his wife via Skype.

Charming newcomer Anaïs Demoustier plays a maid in that hotel. She arrives by train every day, gets orders from a severe supervisor and cleans rooms while the engineer sleeps. They’re going to get together, right? Well, this film goes an unexpected way. The maid turns into a bird for a while, flying over the airport and streets at night, joining a flock of other birds in a park until she gets hungry and comes back. Metamorphosis and flight one the one hand; earth-bound realism on the other. Suitable for dreamers. ( The Cinematheque) 3 out of 5  

PROJECT ALMANAC: I guess it’s hard to come up with anything new in a time travel movie. There have been so many of them. This one puts its story in a high school context (yes mean girls, cranky chemistry teachers, science nerds) and makes like it was filmed with the latest technology: a smart phone. That shaky, found-footage look may be the chief innovation here. It proves annoying though and cracks apart a story that is actually quite promising at the start and also shows respect for science.

 

An MIT-accepted student (Jonny Weston) finds a shock in the video of an old birthday party. He can be seen both up front, age 7, and in the background—as a teenager. His father had been working on a secret project before he disappeared and there in his workshop, under a trap door, it is: a time machine. Two other science kids, his sister, and later the cute girl from the cafeteria (Sofia Black-D'Elia) join him as he gets it working and come along on short hops back in time. A Lollapalooza Festival is the most ambitious. They walk on stage past the band, throw balloons out to the crowd and engineer their downfall. They get carried away, win a lottery, ace a science quiz and one, as teens are wont to do, gets a night of sex, before things go wrong. The pace is speedy but contradictions, leaps of logic and a choppy story flow mar this one.  (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 out of 5

 

More in New Movies

Locally-filmed The Predator, a mommy blogger’s Simple Favor and bad blood Under the Tree

Also Nicolas Cage really flips out over Mandy and The Cakemaker romances his lover’s widow

A vengeful mom, a demonic nun and Michael Caine’s memories of the swinging 60s

Also: a tulips and Mafia fantasy in Italy and the troubling lives of three skateboarders

Opening and closing VIFF films announced along with a high profile line-up

Both The Hummingbird Project and The Front Runner have Canadian connections
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