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New at the movies: modern takes on a popular fairy tale, the bad old west and life on a farm

Angelina Jolie sparks as the wicked fairy Maleficent

 

BC’s top movie and TV awards, The Leos, are being handed out this weekend. It’ll take 3 nights –Friday, Saturday and Sunday –to do it, a sign that there’s strength in the industry here.

Watch for the winners names. Down River, inspired by the late Babz Chula has 13 nominations. Two films from last week, Cruel & Unusual and Stress Position, as well as That Burning Feeling, Evangeline and No Clue also have multiple nominations.

Here’s what’s new in theaters this week:

Maleficent:  2 ½ stars

Tom at the Farm: 3 ½

We Are the Best:  4

The Grand Seduction:  3

A Million Ways to Die in the West:  2

Filth:  2 ½

 

MALEFICENT:  The Sleeping Beauty story has been around for over 300 years but somebody at Disney decided it needed more. So, now we get an explanation of why that wicked fairy became wicked in the first place and what motivated her to put that curse on the princess. She wasn’t invited to the christening. We’ve always known that. Now we also learn she was exacting revenge on a prince who not only snubbed her but sent soldiers to cut off her wings. The curse starts at age 16, is for all time and can only be broken by a true love kiss. She added that detail because in her bitter state she’s sure that true love does not exist.  So, a modern, somewhat feminist justification for her actions; not too convincing but functional.

 

Angelina Jolie is the sole reason to see this one. That's her real daughter in the picture with her. At the peak moments, she exudes vindictive fury in the role as well as many other flavors elsewhere:  passion, craftiness, outrage, feigned or real compassion, cackling menace. It’s a wonderful performance. She’s a dark scary character, continually fascinating except at the many times I was distracted by her cheekbones. They’re sharply-angular prosthetic add-ons that try to match the animated vision in the Sleeping Beauty film and were apparently inspired by Lady Gaga’s in a video. Too unnatural here.

The film starts and ends well, spinning an air of magic and wonder with pictures that’ll remind you of old Arthur Rackham illustrations. (Robert Stromberg, the director, has a background in production design and Oscars for both Avatar and Alice in Wonderland). But I got bored somewhere in the middle. The proceedings seemed too deliberately manufactured. The story and character details got muddled. Elle Fanning as the princess and Brenton Thwaites as her “true love” are bland. The visual effects seem fuzzy and the backgrounds are obvious computer creations.  (Scotiabank, The Park, Dunbar and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

TOM AT THE FARM:  With five films in five years and still only 25 years old, Xavier Dolan has burst out of Quebec to the world screen. For his latest, Mommy, he won a third-place award last weekend at Cannes (shared with one of his idols, Jean-Luc Godard). Tom at the Farm is his second-latest.  It played here last fall at the film festival after winning a prize in Venice and finally returns on a regular booking. Good. It’s well worth seeing for its eerie psychological thrills even though some later story elements are perplexing.

 

Xavier himself plays Tom (as well as scripts, directs, edits and more). He’s a Montreal ad agency guy who drives to the farm country to the south for his lover’s funeral. He finds a mother (well-played by Lise Roy) sad that no other friend, not even his girlfriend (“that whore”) has bothered to come. And he finds a volatile angry brother (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) who threatens violence if Tom tells mom the truth. “Just pretty words, then get out of our lives,” he orders. Standard rural homophobia, it seems to be.  Then, with a surprising twist or two, and a creeping sense of menace and tension, it evolves into something more mysterious. Based on a stage play, it’s hard to accept at times but always engrossing.  (VanCity Theatre)  3 ½  out of 5

 

Playing in tandem with ...

WE ARE THE BEST: Here’s a low-key but speedy, joyful but slightly apprehensive film about youth; one of the best and truest I’ve ever seen. It’s from Sweden, directed by Lukas Moodysson who has done young people’s stories before but not usually this bouyantly light. His wife Coco wrote the graphic novel it’s based on about a trio of misfits trying to make a mark in the world by rebelling.

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