Reviews of the new Star Wars, the latest Churchill and a bunch of awards nominees
THE BREADWINNER: This one has been honored with a nomination from the Golden Globes, 10 from the Annie Awards and two top prizes at an animation festival. They recognize its sparking artwork and mature story telling. Take the older kids; it might be too much for the young ones since it deals with lack of power among women in Afghanistan and recurring moves by the Taliban to keep them in their place. It’s from a book by Ontario writer Deborah Ellis and was animated by an Irish company whose two previous films (The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea) were both Oscar contenders. Nora Twomey is the director.
In the story Parvana, an 11-year-old girl in Kabul, has to provide for her family because the Taliban have thrown her father in jail. Women can’t go out alone or even buy anything at the market. So, she dresses up as a boy and is constantly in danger of being discovered. Military aircraft fly over now and then and smoke clouds are seen in the distance. Meanwhile, Ellis and Anita Doron, who wrote the screenplay, created an entire second story, to add more Afghan culture to the mix. Parvana tells it to her baby brother at night. It’s got monsters and women’s struggles and gradually parallels her own situation. It’s hand-drawn like in the old days and a very good, relevant film. (International Village) 4 out of 5
FERDINAND: You can take the younger kids to this one. It’s not too scary and that scene in the “chop shop” (slaughter house) is brief. The rest of the time it’s a joyous romp about a bull who is like any child trying to find his way when young and grows into a lumbering animal in almost no time. His friends are ready to fight and are anxious to be chosen for the bullring by a visiting matador. Ferdinand likes to smell the flowers.
It’s from a children’s book that Disney made into an Academy Award-winning short film almost 80 years ago. The people at Blue Sky studios (the Ice Age films) have expanded, inflated, stuffed it full with new story lines and characters and still managed to keep it an intimate story. It got them a Golden Globe nomination.
Pacifist or not, Ferdinand gets to the bullring, faces the matador and … well, no spoiler here. The trip there is great fun. There’s a china shop scene (naturally), a break dance contest against some uber Teutonic horses (a rare insertion of modern pop culture) and a wish to find his missing dad. It’s a lively, rambunctious film that kids love. John Cena, Kate McKinnon and Bobby Cannavale are the best known among the voice actors. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 3 ½ out of 5
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE: The theme is as relevant as when Finland’s best known director, Aki Kaurismäki, looked at it six years ago in Le Havre. People must help people, in this case: refugees on the run. A Syrian man arrives in a ship’s coal bin to Finland which he feels is a tolerant country. The authorities are not, the Finnish Liberation Army skinheads in black leather jackets aren’t. The crew and owner at a struggling restaurant are, enough to give him a job and a storeroom to sleep. The film, which is about half and half in English and Finnish, is not as powerful as Le Havre and Kaurismäki’s wry humor takes a while to show up. Gradually it does creep in though and helps fashion a light, funny tone without dulling the serious intent or the humanism. On Saturday night, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, the droll farce that made his name over here, will also be shown and next Friday it’ll be the follow-up Leningrad Cowboys Total Balalaika Show (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5
REBELS ON POINTE: Montreal filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart usually deals with women’s stories. In this playful and amiable documentary she takes an oblique tilt and shows us men performing as women. They’re the members of New York’s Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo who do their ballet in drag. They’re a comedy troupe but also skilled dancers and strong athletes. They make en pointe look easy as their tip toe around in their tutus and occasionally collide.
It’s not to mock. It’s “high art and clever camp” as somebody says. That’s true but I don’t quite get this comment: “They use their masculinity to say something about femininity.” I’m not sure what that means. I also wonder about the claim that the company with its comedy draws more people to appreciate ballet. Maybe some. It’s fans are more likely knowledgeable already and therefore able to understand the subtle in-jokes in the choreography. The film is very entertaining though, and when the dancers tell their personal stories, quite poignant. It’s been winning awards at festivals too. (VanCity) 3 ½ out of 5