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Oscar-nominated shorts are special; Side Effects and Identity Thief, just ordinary

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Buzkashi Boys is the longest. Two boys in Afghanistan dream of playing in the national sport, a sort of polo that has a swarm of riders after a goat carcass. One is adventurous but “a fatherless beggar”. The other is meek and intended to be a blacksmith like generations of men in his family.

An absorbing story of growing up actually filmed in Afghanistan, directed by an American and produced by Halifax native, now Montreal resident, Ariel Nasr. 

Rating for the group: 4 ½ out of 5

SIDE EFFECTS: Don’t let your mind wander for a second when you’re watching this latest (and he says, the last) from Steven Soderbergh.  It seems to be one thing when it starts and then shifts into something else more than once. To accomplish that it brings in twists and betrayals and story tricks that would be satisfying if they were at all plausible.  Instead, it’s a screenwriter’s exercise in puzzle building. That said, it’s also a stylish and well-acted film of deception and intrigue.

 

Rooney Mara, who played the English-language Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, is here a young wife suffering depression. Her husband (Channing Tatum) has been away in prison for insider trading. When he returns, the spark between them doesn’t.  She finds a new psychiatrist (Jude Law) who prescribes a new drug which he’s being paid to test out on patients.  “It stops the brain from telling you you’re sad,” she’s told.  Initially a knock on the pharmaceutical industry; then on the doctors who take their money and then on the whiney patients who demand more and more pills, the film switches into a too-complex plot with a suicide attempt, a killing, a murder trial and improbable revelations. Rooney Mara believably conveys her psychological distress and Jude Law is always good as a man of uncertain ethics.  (5th Avenue, International Village and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5 

IDENTITY THIEF:  I would have thought this one would be much funnier. The story is perfect for big laughs but the film has long stretches without any and only a few sequences that’ll have you chuckling for any extended time.  On the bright side, it doesn’t have the mean-spirited humor of the director’s last film, Horrible Bosses and actually comes off as sweet and teary-eyed a few times, thanks to an endearing performance by Melissa McCarthy as the thief.

 

The plump comedian we got to know in Bridesmaids plays a Florida woman who shops wildly and buys shots for everybody in the bar with fake credit cards she has duplicated. The latest is in the name of a straight-laced accountant in Denver (Jason Bateman) who one day finds his own card declined at a gas station gas, his job in jeopardy and police arriving with an arrest warrant. He has to go and find her and immediately gets a punch in the throat. That starts a series of testy encounters that are only mildly funny and then a long road trip to Colorado with both a skip tracer and a pair of criminals working for an imprisoned boss chasing them.  The film turns into a second-rate Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  I think it undercuts its humor by showing too early that she’s needy and even pathetic. “People like you don’t have friends,” a bartender tells her. Even McCarthy’s exuberant performance can’t pull her out of a hole like that. (The Park, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres)  2 ½ out of 5

Also now playing …

VIMFF: That’s the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, the annual extravaganza for adrenalin junkies. This 16th edition is the biggest yet with 50 films and a stellar list of guest speakers. Too many to detail here so go to vimff.org for the info you need or find the seven-page insert that appeared in Wednesday’s Courier. 

A few films that I’ve noticed:

CHASING ICE: a National Geographic photographer’s visual proof and warning about climate change.  I gave it 3 ½ stars when it played here back in November.

CROSSING THE ICE: Two Australians try to cross Antarctica to the South Pole by foot.

WHERE THE TRAIL ENDS: Mountain bikers search for untraveled territory in several countries around the globe, doing great runs down a B.C. river, in the Gobi desert, the mountains of Nepal  and more.

The fest has three locations this year: The Rio on Broadway, The Cinematheque on Howe and the Centennial Theatre in North Van.

 

NOTE: The images are movie stills provided by the studios. They are the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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