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Reviews of Monkey Kingdom, True Story, Unfriended and two social realist films from France

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 Marieme is 16, destined for vocational school rather than college, offered a job in an old-age home like her mother and slapped-around by a controlling brother, is ready to rebel. Her outlet is a small gang led by Lady, who’s both cool and domineering. They shoplift, yell at a rival gang in the metro station and dance and sing exuberantly to Rihanna’s song Diamonds. She changes her hair, clothes, name and demeanor and, in the biggest sign of growth, gets into a revenge fight with a teen who humiliated Lady. A later sequence working for a pimp seems a standard plot turn. Before that, and after, the film is well-observed, thoughtful, energetic and very well-acted, especially by fresh face Karidja Touré as Marieme.  (VanCity Theater) 4 out of 5

EASTERN BOYS:  Also from France, also dealing with the underclass, this one couldn’t be any more different. It brashly changes story line and tone a few times and yet satisfies. There’s a gay sex story, a home invasion, delinquent immigrants, a slam at social services and ultimately a father-son drama. It feels unified because all these things could easily be happening together.  

 

A button-down man who looks like he’s just left work at the office picks up a young guy at the Gare du Nord train station in Paris and has him come to his apartment next day. A young boy shows up in his stead threatening to call the police. “I’m a minor,” he says. But then six others arrive, led by the intimidating Boss, played with blue-eyed menace and good cheer by Danil Vorobyev. They put on some music, start a party and steal the TV and all the paintings on the wall. The original hustler arrives late but stays to finish the gay sex deal which extends into a longer relationship. (The bedroom scenes are rather tame for a French film). The young man irritates the Boss though and the film turns into a tense thriller in the hotel where the immigrants are housed without supervision. You’d get a politically correct backlash if you made such a film here. The story is highly involving and even with four distinct phases feels authentic. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 4

UNFRIENDED: I’ll take it even though it’s silly and absurd because it dares to do something new. This entire movie plays out on one computer screen. Six friends are chatting online from their bedrooms via Skype; we see their faces in various configurations on that screen and hear them banter and tease and laugh until they realize there’s somebody else in the chat room. Is it a hacker? A ghost? An evil presence? This is a horror movie after all.

 

It’s the one-year anniversary of the suicide of another friend, a victim of cyberbullying.  Is it her? Somebody using her identity to taunt them? The film ably develops the plot and the individual characters through both dialogue and a lot of on-screen typing. The entity, whatever it is, works to expose all their secrets. They have many, although one asserts “We are good people.” You probably know how these teenage horror movies end. This one, more with the novelty of the structure than with scares and horror, gets to the same place. (Scotiabank and suburban theaters) 2 ½ out of 5

Also now playing …but not reviewed …

PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2: Even a very ordinary movie can breed a sequel if the original made money (an unexpected $150 million six years ago) and if the star needs a career lift. Kevin James says there’s another factor: children have been pleading for more about the hapless mall security guard who foiled a Die Hard-like takeover. It’s a true “underdog” story. He’s on vacation in Las Vegas and, wouldn’t you know it, he’s obliged to foil a robbery. No media or public previews. Make of that what you will. (International Village and suburban theaters)

 

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