Reviews of Juliet, Naked (stars and fans), Searching (stories via computer) and Generation Wealth (examining excess)
GENERATION WEALTH: Here’s a documentary that’s absolutely appropriate for these times. It explores, and without directly saying so, slams the current mania for amassing wealth and luxury goods. The pictures shout the message “If a lot is good, more is better,” and even children are lured to venerate “glamour and feathers and glitz.” Michael Douglas’ line in Wall Street, “greed is good” is the underlying thinking here and various observers, including a former hedge fund manager currently eluding major fraud charges, blame “the end of fiscal discipline.” The film takes that idea down to the personal level and shows consumption run amuck. $20,000 hand bags? TV and music videos take a lot of the blame.
Lauren Greenfield also studied excess six years ago in her film The Queen of Versailles about a couple building a giant mansion. They’re back, in clips from that film, and then sitting close behind Donald Trump at one of his rallies. There’s a connection, for sure, but Greenfield doesn’t explore it any more than that. Instead she veers off into side issues, the current craze for plastic surgery, the boom in pornography and then to her own life and how her mother raised her. That personal soul searching over her career as a photographer versus something more socially helpful is out of step and goes on too long. The rest of the film has the good stuff: extravagance and financial fallout from several countries. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5
WE THE ANIMALS: You want to see what really shapes the personality of children? It’s the parents according to this tough-love look at the lives of three boys and their sometimes fighting mom and dad. It’s from a semi-autobiographical novel by Justin Torres rendered into film by Jeremiah Zagar. His background is in documentaries, one of which was about his own difficult life as a child. So it’s with a double dose of appreciation of how harsh those early years can be that we get this fictionalized tale. It comes across as very real.
The youngest of three brothers, Jonah, tells the story of his father, known simply as Paps (Raúl Castillo) and his mother (Sheila Vand) and the disfunctional household they run. They fight, separate, and re-unite. The boys can only watch, although one time, dad disappears, mom stays in bed in pain, and lets the boys run free and find their own food. They turn to shoplifting and raiding a farmer’s field and that gets them invited in for a meal and time with a porn-video-watching son. It’s through such incidents that we see these boys grow up. Jonah, who dad thinks is rather mild, does seem to be. Getting tossed in the lake as a swimming lesson doesn’t seem to toughen him up. He shows his real feelings about his life (and about men) in drawings he makes and hides away. They and the whole film are calm and then chaotic and back, a pretty good reflection of this uneasy childhood. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
TRENCH 11: I was ready to trash this horror thriller before I saw it because of what I had come to know about it. Yes, some German doctors conducted horrible experiments in World War II but not in tunnels under a French forest (as far as I know). And not so that we have to get up close and see these gory sights described as immensely disgusting? Turns out it's not quite like that. The gory parts are brief, though still painful to watch, and there's a well-made film around them. And it’s Canadian.
Actually it's World War I. An German experiment with a new type of gas has gone bad and produced a band of infected soldiers that look like zombies. The tunnels are sealed to keep them inside. A British officer leads a band of soldiers to break in and find out what's going on. Rossif Sutherland, is the Canadian in the bunch. There are creepy searches through makeshift tunnels, sudden attacks by these zombies, infected with worms by the way, and gross scenes of exploratory surgery. But there's also a heavy debate about the ethics of war and the use of science. German actor Robert Stadlober steals the movie with his intense performance. Director Leo Scherman has style but needs a more palatable subject. This one is for horror hounds only. (Park Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5
Also now playing …
KIN: Twins Jonathan Baker and Josh Baker took a short film the made and did this new longer version. Teen action fans might like it. The reviews haven’t been good where it was previewed, which did not include Vancouver. A young man gets hold of a futuristic gun (and apparently uses it repeatedly) in this mash up of a family adventure and sci fi. He and his brother are on the run from a “gang of otherworldly soldiers” and from James Franco. Montreal-born Sean Levy produced it.