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New in theatres: weak sci fi, strong Oscar contenders and a vampire in Iran

Song of the Sea is an animated masterpiece

Oscar nominees are big to see this week. You can (and should) catch Song of the Sea, the animated gem from Ireland, and maybe the two programs of shorts. They’re all at the VanCity theatre where another event must also be noted.

Saturday night there’s a screening of Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy. The documentary is about folks who draw editorial cartoons. It’s a hot topic after the Charlie Hebdo killings and a former editor of the Georgia Straight, Charles Campbell, and the former cartoonist at The Province, Dan Murphy, will be there to talk about the right to lampoon and dissent. 

New this week …

Jupiter Ascending:   2 stars

Song of the Sea:  4 ½

Oscar shorts: animation:  3 ½

Oscar shorts: live action:  3

A Girl Who Walks Home Alone at Night:  4

The Spongebob Movie:  --

Seventh Son:  --

JUPITER ASCENDING: The story is loopy. At a key point, Jupiter, yes that’s her name, played by Mila Kunis, is at a fertility clinic to sell her eggs for money when three creatures barge in to grab her and a man (Channing Tatum) who is also part wolf crashes in to rescue her. Soon after, on a planet far away an aide who looks like a crocodile comes to Eddie Redmayne with the dire news: “Sire, something’s gone wrong at the clinic.” Eddie, who is Oscar-nominated in another movie for playing Stephen Hawking, yells as loud as he can, “I want her found and I want her dead.”

What’s going on here? Good question. I asked it several times during this dull, uninvolving science fiction tale. Andy Wachowski  and Lana Wachowski, still riding on their Matrix success, imagine spectacular visual scenes and action sequences ...

...but neglect to tell the story very well. We get lost even more than in their more recent Cloud Atlas. Too bad because there’s a kernel of an intriguing idea there. Earth, it seems, is a farm run by an inter-galactic corporation. The owners are privileged and affluent. The Wachowskis, on an anti-capitalism drift, give Eddie lines like “Life is an act of consumption.”

There’s a succession dispute among Eddie and two siblings, and Mila’s Jupiter may be the real heir. Quite a promotion from cleaning toilets in Chicago but also heavily fought over and, of course, hard for us to believe in. There’s also a budding romance but Tatum and Mila don’t show much chemistry.

So try to enjoy what’s left: big action set pieces (Chicago buildings get smashed around again), a retro feel that evokes Flash Gordon and others and a surprise steampunk interlude about bureaucracy in which an old hand (Terry Gilliam) appears. The 3-D (unnecessary) was added here in Vancouver.

Scotiabank and suburban theatres; 2 out of 5 

SONG OF THE SEA: If there were any justice in this world, this magical animated film from Ireland would win an Academy Award this year. But then, it is up against more of the brassy 3-D fare Hollywood has come to specialize in. This one is not like that; it’s gentle, delightfully traditional and permeated with Irish folklore. The artwork is rich in detail, with lush, watercolor backgrounds and sharply-drawn characters upfront. The story feels familiar when it starts and then takes us into new, mysterious places.

 

Some lines from William Butler Yeats, Ireland’s great mystic poet, preface it about children lured away by fairies. A brother and his sister will encounter some of them and several other mythical figures as they try to get back home from the big city where their grandmother had taken them— to the remote lighthouse where they had lived with their father. Saoirse needs to go back; she’s a selkie, a creature of both land and sea. Ben has a map he drew to find the way back. They’re followed by an owl witch, get help from fairy folk in an Irish band, and meet elves, a great storyteller and a sea god. There’s depth to the story and art in the execution but it’s probably too complex and a little slow for younger children. Fionnula Flanagan and Brendan Gleeson each voice two of the adult characters. Tomm Moore, who wrote the story and directed, also made a similarly enchanting film, The Secret of Kells, which was nominated for an Oscar five years ago. This new one was also nominated for six Annie awards.

VanCity Theatre, with child-friendly showtimes; 4 ½  out of 5 

OSCAR-NOMINATED  SHORTS: It’s a nice head start for Academy Award night. It used to be we’d watch these smaller categories knowing nothing about the candidates. Here in two programs, we can see them all.

ANIMATED: Five nominees and two runners-up, and quite a mixed bag.

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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