Reviews: Mad Max, a blast, Pitch Perfect 2, good fun, and Going Clear, scary

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PHOENIX: At VIFF last fall, I was wowed by this German film about rebuilding a life and by implication a whole country after World War 2. There’s superb craft on display, lucid storytelling and first-rate acting. However, seeing it again, I find it harder to make the suspension of disbelief it requires. Nina Hoss plays a Jewish woman who survived the camps, declines to move to Israel, as she’s encouraged to do, and re-connects with her husband who, she’s told, may have betrayed her to the Nazis. She’s too much in love to stay away.  

That’s where the dodgy plot point comes in. He doesn’t recognize her. She had facial reconstruction surgery because of an injury but her voice and kiss can’t have changed very much. He does allow that she looks enough like his wife to pass for her. Together they can collect an inheritance which he’ll split 50-50. Ronald Zehrfeld comes across like a shady Rhett Butler and Hoss is believably timid. He trains her to walk and dress like her while she tries to figure out how truthful he is. It’s a tangled, Hitchcock-like plot that comes from a French novel and was previously filmed in England 50 years ago, but with a much different story. Christian Petzold’s new version reflects on atonement and living with a terrible history. It works if you can live with the shaky logic. (VanCity) 3 out of 5

DANCING ARABS: A ridiculous name, I thought, until I read about the novel it comes from on Wikipedia. The film focuses on a Palestinian boy gets a chance to study in a prestigious Israeli school. He is taunted and laughed at, and has to hide a relationship he starts with a Jewish girl.

Sayed Kashua was recounting his own experiences when he wrote the book and the screenplay. The director, Eran Riklis, is Jewish and that collaboration produced a film that seems to say the two sides are really the same people and should respect each other. Witness how easily the Palestinian can get through a military checkpoint with a borrowed identity card. On the other hand, he believes terrorists are warriors, because his father said so. He gives a fiery critique of how Arabs are characterized by Jewish writers. The film promotes understanding, which is also Kashua’s personal mission, although he recently got fed up and moved to the United States. It’s a fine film, showing the everyday conflicts people go though and proclaiming there is hope.  (5th Avenue) 4 out of 5 

KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK: How much do you really need to know about the Nirvana front man who topped the Seattle music scene, was revered by his fans and then killed himself in 1994? You learn a lot in Brett Morgen’s documentary because he got access to material Kurt had hoarded in a closet and had the co-operation of his daughter, Francis Bean, which got him interviews with his mother, father, sister and Courtney Love, his wife. He also speaks for himself on previously unheard cassette tapes.

Some is too much, like his sexual encounter with a special needs girl. Much of the film focuses on details from his full-of-energy childhood, the trauma of his parents’ divorce and his parallel drive to make music, followed by his descent into drug addiction. Home movies show him as a sensitive husband and father. But in one sequence, he is shown spaced out on heroin. The fans will find it all revealing, but for me the music is enough.  I like the explanation for the tortured intensity he puts into the song In the Pines on that MTV Unplugged CD. He seems to have been profoundly insecure. But after almost 2 ½ hours, still a mystery. (Rio Theater Sat.-Thurs.)  3 ½  out of 5   

SUGAR COATED: Here’s another chance to catch one of the highlights of the DOXA documentary festival. The Cinematheque is showing it five times over four days. Like the film Fed Up last year it details the health risks of too much sugar in our diet, heart disease, diabetes and liver problems. It doesn’t reveal as much about the science, and is therefore less of a guide for us, but it exposes the devious fight by the sugar industry to deflect the food scientists who were raising the alarm as much as 40 years ago. A California dentist found documents that showed clearly that they were using the same techniques as tobacco moguls to deny, create doubt and fund friendly researchers. It’s lively, eye-opening film that includes a key scene in Vancouver.  (The Cinematheque).  3 ½ out of 5  

GOOD KILL: The DOXA festival had Drone about the latest technique of war, long-range killing by remote-control  aircraft piloted half a world away by people at computer screens. Good Kill tells exactly the same story in dramatic form, but not as well.


Ethan Hawke operates the device from what looks like a trailer near Las Vegas. Bruce Greenwood is his supervisor, acting like a coach to him and his team when questions come up about the morality of what they’re doing. Hawke has many. He feels like a coward and wants to get back to flying real planes. When he goes home to his wife (January Jones), he’s aloof and cranky. It's a clear sign of stress. Drone did a better job getting across that personal impact when two of these “pilots” described the guilt they feel in anguished terms. Here, it’s only sketched in and there’s so much editorializing written into the dialogue that it comes off as unreal.  It covers all the points Drone makes and then some. I like the jab at a certain Nobel Peace Prize winner who is a big supporter of the drone program. On the whole, there’s more message than drama. (International Village and Riverport) 2 ½  out of 5

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More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

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Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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