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Notes on the revised Dumbo; some worthy Canadian films and hot fun with McConaughey in Florida

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THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE: The novel won the Giller Prize 11 years ago; the movie makes you ask what’s so special? This is a pedestrian adaptation that underplays a lot of powerful themes about indigenous people in Canada: missing women, culture clash and exploitation in the cities, isolation of remote communities, the menace of the drug trade there. Ironically the film is a victim of another hot issue: cultural appropriation. Although it’s co-produced by a Cree woman (Tina Keeper, who also has an acting role) it’s director and screenwriter, Don McKellar and Barbara Samuels, are not indigenous. The novelist, Joseph Boyden, has an arguable claim to be indigenous. Ok, that’s the baggage. What’s the film like?

Tanaya Beatty (who lives around here) stars as a young woman in a tiny community on James Bay who goes to Toronto to find her missing sister. Some drug dealers also want to find her, and her boyfriend too, because they think they ripped them off. So we have parallel stories. She visits the gleaming offices and studios where her sister was making it as a model. Her uncle (Brandon Oakes) is back home dealing with psychological issues left from years in a residential school. Also, the drug dealers come after him. There’s enough there; it should work but the two stories play out separately when they should be working together. Also, both stories plod along without building up much momentum. There are good actors in them though, including Tantoo Cardinale, Graham Greene, Oakes, who’s up for an acting award Sunday, and especially Beatty who conveys drive, determination and vulnerability.  (5th Avenue and theatres in Langley and Mission) 2 ½ out of 5

THE MUSTANG: What do you get when you put a surly prison inmate to work training a wild horse? A metaphor, that’s what. Who needs taming? Who will learn from who? It’s all so obvious but in this nice little film it’s not at all trite. The journey of the violent convict played by Matthias Schoenaerts is absorbing to watch. He’s recruited into a program (that actually exists in the Nevada prison system) to work with wild horses. Apparently some 100,000 are running free out on the range. A few are caught,  tamed and then sold for auction.

 

Much like the horse, Matthias is un-coperative and non-communicative but Bruce Dern, old, grizzled and aggressive pushes him on. The usual threats and plots among the prison crowd hamper him; his daughter visits and reveals why he’s there at all and a meeting led by a psychologist brings out his deep feelings of regret. One mistake that lasted only a few seconds got him 12 years in prison. The director, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre from France and new at the helm, tells his story with humanity and compassion. He doesn’t say much but conveys a lot. And we connect. (International Village) 3 ½  out of 5

THE BEACH BUM: This movie is great fun and entirely inconsequential. When it’s over, you’ll ask what was that about? Nothing really, just partying and smoking dope. All day. Everyday.  Matthew McConaughey says it candidly when his character comes into some money. To him it means “We can do whatever we want, or nothing at all.”

 

The Oscar winner is having a merry time playing a perpetually-stoned would-be poet known as Moondog carousing in the Florida Keys. Snoop Dogg, Jonah Hill and Zac Efron are along for the ride as he crashes through life absolutely unconcerned what people think of him. “He’s from another dimension,” says his ex-wife (Ilse Fisher). “A great man … brilliant”, says his daughter, whose wedding he arrives at late and almost disrupts. Often seen typing away, always holding a beer and/or smoking a giant joint and predisposed to have sex anywhere, anytime, he’s another fantasy figure dreamed up by Harmony Korine.  Spring Breakers,  his film from a few years ago, was mean spirited. This film isn’t, except for a few incidents. It’s a mindless hoot. With lots of sun, good music and even an appearance by a real Keys character, Jimmy Buffett. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

 

Also now playing …

HOTEL MUMBAI: I regret not being able to get to this one yet because people who have seen it say it’s excellent. It’s a detailed and tense telling of the terrorist attack and siege of the Taj Hotel in 2008. Of the actors, Dev Patel and Armie Hammer are best known to us.

THE AFTERMATH: A British officer (Jason Clarke) arrives in Hamburg, Germany after the war to oversee pacification. His wife (Keira Knightley) and the German officer (Alexander Skarsgård) who houses them carry on a busy affair. Not made available for a preview here but Caryn James calls it “disappointingly lifeless.” 

 

 

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