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My VIFF picks: a delicate immigration yarn, two music stars and a crazed Kevin Bacon

Tomorrow. Thursday. VIFF is back. The Vancouver International Film Festival is about to roll out over 350 films (including shorts) from 70 countries.

I’ve only seen a small number so far but I already have some enthusiastic recommendations. Like Sleeping Giant and 31st October, which I'll write about soon.

Here’s my list of picks for these first two days:

Brooklyn:  4 ½ stars

A Tale of Three Cities:  3 ½

Mavis:  3 ½

Paco De Lucia:  3

Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: 3

Cop Car:  3 ½

BROOKLYN: The film that opens VIFF this year (and plays two more times) is unusual for a festival like this. There’s nothing edgy or ironic here. It’s a sweet, heartfelt film about an immigrant coming to America, done in the classic style of old Hollywood. You’ll feel like you’ve tuned in something filmed in the 1940s or early '50s, the era in which this story takes place.

 

Saoirse Ronan plays a young Irish woman who (after the film thoroughly outlines life in a small Irish village) travels to New York, moves into a Brooklyn boarding house and takes a job in a department store. She’s timid and shy. Her landlady (Julie Walters) snaps at giddiness and any disrespect for the lord around the dinner table. Her boss coaches friendlier customer relations. A young Italian man introduces her to a culture she’s never joined before. Still, she’s homesick and when events draw her back home, and a village lad (Domhnall Gleeson) courts her, she has to fend off guilt and find the courage to control her own life. Her growth is superbly and subtly conveyed in the script by Nick Hornby and Ronan’s enchanting performance.  (Also plays Sat. and Oct 5, at the largest VIFF venue, The Centre) 4 ½ out of 5.

A TALE OF THREE CITIES:  Jackie Chan’s latest film hasn’t come here yet but how about this sprawling, adventure-filled tale about his parents. There’s excitement, romance and a good deal of history to savor, as well as the performance of two fine actors. Lau Ching-wan plays Daolong (Jackie’s father to be) and Tang Wei is Yuerong  (the future mother).

 

We meet them in several time periods, thanks to flashbacks, as they are repeatedly separated by China’s turbulent history. The Japanese invasion, the destruction of the international compound in Shanghai, the KMT government losing to the Communist revolution— they’re all here and presented with fine historical detail. The couple first meet as customs guard vs opium smuggler, and many incidents later (and maybe many years too) have to make a desperate and tense escape to Hong Kong. There are big battle scenes and torrents of refugees. There are big gushing emotions, again like in classic old films, and good entertainment. Mabel Cheung is the director and there’s a Vancouver connection. The co-producer is Shan Tam who lives here and works in film and TV on both sides of the Pacific.  (Fri and Sun) 3 ½ out of 5.  

MAVIS is the first of two excellent music documentaries playing this weekend. She’s in her 70s and still belting out her mélange of gospel, pop, rock and freedom songs. We see her do a few and in between tell us about her life and what drives her. She sang lead in her family group, The Staples Singers, which had a number of hits years ago under the wise leadership of her dad. “Pops” was into mixing genres. He blended the blues and gospel and covered Bob Dylan songs. As an admirer of Martin Luther King, he sang about civil rights.

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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