One new film, with fireworks, and my picks for the year’s best
ZERO DAYS, from January, is another thoroughly researched, revealing and alarming film by Alex Gibney. (He won an Oscar for his Iraq War expose). Here he tracks Stuxnet, a computer virus developed by the United States and Israel and unleashed on Iran to confuse its nuclear development program. Obama okayed its use. Now it’s out there running free, waiting for somebody nefarious to use it. Chilling stuff. EX-LIBRIS is Frederick Wiseman’s latest fly-on-the-wall documentary. He gives us three hours inside New York’s public library system. With guests like Richard Dawkins and Ta-Nehisi Coates and even Elvis Costello’s dad on film singing “If I Had a Hammer,” you’re never bored. And finally, JANE is an amiable visit in two time periods with Jane Goodall, the chimpanzee expert. Recently re-discovered film from 50 years ago shows her early work and in contemporary voice over she explains what we see, most of which is remarkable.
ANIMATION: The Boss Baby? Really? Yes, read on.
THE BREADWINNER: Already much honored with awards and nominations, this film takes an Ontario woman’s book, an Irish studio’s production and gives us a smart, mature story about conditions (of a few years ago at least) in Afghanistan. A young girl has to provide for her family because her father has been arrested by the Taliban. She has to dress up as a boy to do that and is constantly in danger of being discovered. Women’s rights are sharply defended.
WINDOW HORSES: In this fanciful animated film by Vancouver’s Ann Marie Fleming a young poet is invited to a festival in Iran, where her father is from. He’s gone missing. It’s colorful and exhilarating and does double duty, as self-discovery for her and a statement of unity among the world’s people.
THE BOSS BABY: It’s as if the spirit of Tex Avery is loose in this one. There are endless sight gags and laughs and a double purpose story. The kids will understand the sibling rivalry when a bossy new baby arrives in the family. Adults will get the many jabs at business types and corporate culture. Very entertaining.
MAUDIE: Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke are brilliant in this mostly Canadian film about a Nova Scotia woman who fought through a painful affliction (arthritis) to become a celebrated folk artist.
Maud Lewis was a housekeeper for a crusty fisherman (Hawke), did her first paintings on the walls there and survived his gruff annoyance to grow an independent spirit and eventually marry him. It’s a sweet film and heartwarming, but also understated. It doesn’t demand your emotional connection but achieves it anyway. It was the people’s choice at VIFF 2016 and played in theatres in April this year.
DUNKIRK: This is one of the most intense immersions into the reality of war you’ll ever experience. Not the blood and gore as with Private Ryan, but the extreme tension and the ever-gnawing fear and the sudden attacks coming out of nowhere. And maybe most importantly: the truth of most wars that it’s the young who are sent to fight them. Several of the main characters here are hardly out of their teens.
The British army is backed up to the beach at Dunkirk. Small boats are called to rescue them and Christopher Nolan, the film’s writer and director and a Brit himself, focuses on the cowardice and heroism that occurred there. There’s spectacular action (as when one ship is sunk and the soldiers have to fight their way back from underwater) and dangerous flying by a few planes above. Mostly though the film focuses on ordinary young men and the incidents they get caught up in. Even with a confusing time sequence, it is a major creative success.
BLADE RUNNER 2049: It looked like a thankless task that Quebec director Denis Villeneuve took on. Make a sequel to a beloved science fiction film of 35 years ago? The fans were wary but he delivered. This is a smart, philosophical film that respects the original, adds to its musings on what it means to be human and, in these days of expanding AI and robotics, makes them feel contemporary.
There’s a new corporation controlling the “replicants” with plans for a dangerous advance in the technology. How Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Jared Leto and Robin Wright play that out is long (almost three hours), talky (which may have hurt its box office) but first-rate speculative fiction.
SUPER HEROES: Three films in a row this summer blasted us out of the doldrums so many comic book movies have sunk into. WONDER WOMAN did it with a feminine slant, the latest SPIDER-MAN with a resonant story of a teen boy finding out who he is and THOR: RAGNAROK with humor. Lots of it.
Too bad it didn’t last. The next one, Justice League, reverted. And who knows what to expect from the many others coming in 2018.