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New but not that great from Seth Rogen, an underused Judi Dench in Red Joan and more hot picks at DOXA

Also children get a cheerful life lesson in Ugly Dolls and elsewhere, hoax or not, Satan is rising again

The Avengers hold the theatres and the box office again this week but here are a few alternatives and a good bunch at DOXA, the documentary festival. I cover six of them today (four by Canadians) while these from last week , Push, Gordon Lightfoot, Because We Are Girls and City Dreamers are still active too. You read the whole line up at  www.doxafestival.ca

Long Shot: 2 ½ stars

Red Joan: 2 ½

Ugly Dolls: 2

Hail Satan: 3 ½

DOXA films: all highly recomended

We Will Stand Up

Propaganda

 Illusions of Control

Dark Suns

Call Me Intern

Toxic Beauty

Also Now Playing: The Intruder: --

LONG SHOT: I love it when I can report that a local guy has made a fine movie. Unfortunately, I can’t with Seth Rogen’s latest. His spoof of American presidential politics is often funny but not very sophisticated. The jokes are obvious, mostly smart-alecky. There’s better and consistent satire in the late night talk shows on TV. Here, some of it works but the film largely turns into a rom-com full of immature wish-fulfillment. And I don’t detect much romantic chemistry.

 

Rogen is a cheeky journalist in this one, until he’s told to behave to please the new owner of the alternative newspaper he writes for. He quits instead and co-incidentally the Hillary Clinton-like Secretary of State (Charlize Theron) is told she needs a speechwriter who can put some jokes into her messages if she’s serious about running for president. Or before that, keep pushing that international environmental pact she has in mind. Sure, she hires Rogen. As a teenager she used to babysit him and according to a flashback stirred up some lusty feelings in him. Well, they’re back as they travel to conferences and hit the cocktail parties. He’s an outsider and often embarrassed. She’s told to drop the environmental stuff (orders from the president who came from TV and listens to businessmen) and that sparks a big idealism vs practicality argument. Inevitable and not at all deep. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½  out of 5

RED JOAN: Based on a true story. Yes, but not enough to tell it all or use real names. Or give Judi Dench as much time on screen as she deserves. The film spends much more time with her character’s younger self, played by Sophie Cookson.

 

Dench plays an 87-year-old widow who was arrested in 1999 for passing secrets to the Soviets. That was 60 years earlier at Cambridge University where quite a few students (remember Kim Philby and others?) got involved with the Communist movement. She worked on the atom bomb project, as Britain (and Canada) were in a race with the Americans, and at the behest of a classmate-and-cousin duo (Tereza Srbova and Tom Hughes) started passing along information. She was motivated by idealism but not much of that comes out in the film. Believe its version and you’ll think it was mostly love that drove her, for the co-conspirator cousin principally but also for a mentor in the lab. The film sinks into romantic melodrama rather than properly elucidating what she was thinking. The acting and the scene setting are fine, but Trevor Nunn, the director, lets the film wallow rather than grab us. (Fifth Avenue) 2 ½ out of 5

UGLY DOLLS: Its heart is in the right place. It delivers a message to kids to respect yourself and tolerate minor flaws in other people. Maybe even yourself. Nothing wrong with that thinking. But it doesn’t connect too much in this animated film which boasts a terrific voice cast and lots of color and still misses the mark. It’s for little kids, but doesn’t really fit them. After a cloying-cute start, that will turn older kids off, it goes over the heads of the young ones. Do they even know the word sycophant or some of the ideas thrown at them about perfection?

 

More in New Movies

Local kid gets potty mouth in Good Boys, British teen is musically Blinded by the Light and a stunning history is uncovered

And in other films: Octavia Spencer accuses, Cate Blanchett breaks down, Julianne Moore manipulates, Leslie Jones faces the Angry Birds and four teen girls attract sharks

Women mobsters in The Kitchen, country ways in Honeyland and TV journalism as Mike Wallace did it

Also: stardom as David Crosby endured it, a dystopian tale and a wise dog yarn, both filmed in Vancouver, and two more that I haven’t seen

Big and dumb Hobbs & Shaw; smart Amateurs and a director's story and dreams in animation

And more: a calming Little Forest, a Free Trip to Egypt to connect with Muslims and two Film Noirs by a woman director
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