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

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Mavis absorbed it all. We catch her singing Wade in the Water, then Rolling Stones songs, then working with Prince. She talks about the fight for freedom with both fervor and humour. She won’t retire ever, she says. Somebody else, Bonnie Raitt I think, says she’ll sing all night if people are screaming. I saw her concert when she was last in Vancouver and the film, which is not at all innovative, shows us her amiable energy pretty well.  (Fri and Sun) 3 ½  out of 5.

PACO DE LUCIA:  The legendary flamenco guitarist was also into mixing genres. From Spanish traditional music, to backing Jose Greco (who was not Spanish at all) on the Ed Sullivan Show, to playing in jazz groups with stars like Ruben Blades and John McLaughlin, De Lucia wouldn’t let one style control him. The film has testimonials from a wide variety of artists, and suggestions that his wandering irritated traditional artists like Sabicas (his early role model). The best thing about this film is not only that we get to hear a lot of his music but we get to see how he played. The camera gets close and stays long watching his tremendous finger work. Guitar players will love it. The film won the Goya (Spain’s Oscar) for best documentary. (Fri and Sun) 3 out of 5.

DRUNK STONED BRILLIANT DEAD: This story of National Lampoon is a fine backgrounder on the origins of modern humor. Even if you’ve never read the magazine, number one on college campuses for many years, you’ve experienced its influence. Judd Apatow goes so far as to say “They became all of modern comedy.” They would take on anybody and anything; mixing satire with dry absurdity and tossing in sex with their jokes. What’s not to like for a college boy.

 

This famous cover made the reputation of the Lampoon and the crazies writing it. It pretty well sums up their attack.The magazine then spun off records, stage shows, and movies (Animal House is the high point), gathered a crew of comic talents that included John Belushi, Christopher Guest, Harold Ramis, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner, most of whom were lured away to Saturday Night Live. The film charts how the influence expanded wide, with lots of comic bits and page views and a wide variety of observers. In an old clip Marshall McLuhan offers that the magazine had “a particular audience of fairly well-to-do nobodies.” Its rise is well-told. Its decline not so much. A breezy pop cultural history. (Thurs and Sun) 3 out of 5    

COP CAR: Kevin Bacon can play sleazy characters so well. Here he’s a small-town sheriff in Colorado who’s up to some unspecified nefarious something or other. He’s got a bloody guy locked in the trunk of his car. So when a couple of young boys find it standing in a desert gully and drive off with it, he is frantic to get it back.

 

This is a sleek thriller, a well-told story, with no distractions. And no deeper meaning; just the hunt. The closest we get to a grander theme is to watch the boys act out their fantasies about driving, speeding down the road, admiring guns and strutting like characters they’ve seen in movies and such. The rest is purely a cat-and-mouse game cleverly played out. When Bacon tells the boys “I’m the only one out here that you can trust” it’s more than irony. It’s a sign that director and co-writer Jon Watts has got control of his story and is deftly tilting it back and forth. (Plays Fri late and Sunday afternoon) 3 ½ out of 5

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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