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Robert Redford takes a walk, Steve Jobs pushes his gadgets and a new Transporter runs the road

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Who is that again? Skrein had a short role in Game of Thrones Season 3 and has a bigger one in the upcoming Deadpool which was filming around here not long ago. He’s expert at showing a steely determined expression, pretty well the only one he uses in this film. But then acting is not the strength of these films anyway. It’s his driving, making no-questions-asked deliveries and invariably attracting a chase of bad guys and causing lots of cars crashing around on the roads. He’s hired by a femme fatale (Loan Chabanol) to take down a band of human traffickers and incidentally free his dad (Ray Stevenson) being held hostage. The film raises the tricky question: how many times can you hit guys with a steel pipe before they stop coming at you? It’s speedy and sleek and dumb. (Scotiabank and suburban theaters) 2 out of 5   

CARTEL LAND: I’m often amazed how modern documentaries manage to take us right into the action. In this one we’re caught in gun battles, go along in raids into criminals’ hideouts and stand in the middle as crowds stand up to corrupt police. In one scene, the camera crew actually has to scramble to safety when the shooting starts. It’s all part of an examination of citizen power, vigilantes if you will, when the official powers don’t do the job.

 

Matthew Heineman’s documentary gives us two versions of the phenomenon, the better one in Mexico, the other, and rather suspect one, in the US. That one shows us a group in Arizona, patrolling the border with Mexico against drug smuggling. “This area has been ceded to the cartels,” says their leader.  The camera is right with them as they find more smuggling of people than drugs. They come off as gun-happy survivalists paranoid that their government is collapsing.

Almost 2,300 km south, in Mexico’s Michoacán State, people have more reason to fear that way. The government can’t, or won’t, dislodge the drug cartel called Knights Templar. A local doctor does though. He leads a vigilante movement that drives them from several area towns. He inspires loyalty and when an army patrol arrives to intervene, courage in a tense standoff. We also see the darker side of the doctor and his movement and then setbacks for both. It’s a highly dramatic film that could have analyzed vigilante actions more than it does. But being taken right into the centre has value too. The film won two awards at Sundance and is raising some Oscars buzz. (VanCity Theater) 4 out of 5 

VLAFF: There’s more from two borders south of us as Mexico is the featured country at this year’s Vancouver Latin American Film Festival. It’s on now until the 13th at various venues but chiefly at The Cinemathque. Mexico has sent several big name directors out to the world stage recently but also nurtured a thriving local industry. Few of those films come here but there are 16 in this festival, five in competition. In all there are 67 films from 16 countries. That’s too many to detail here but there’s lots of information at http://www.vlaff.org. Click on FESTIVAL 2015 and the dropdown menu will give you short synopses or the entire festival catalogue.

There are three films serving as a retrospective of one of Mexico’s greatest directors, Juan Antonio de la Riva, and two classics by Luis Buñuel. He was a Spaniard but made half of his films in Mexico. Canadian-born Alex Phillips was the cinematographer on both.


 

ASCENT TO HEAVEN (Subida al cielo) from 1952 was released in the US as Mexican Bus Ride because the bulk of the film is exactly that. A dying woman’s will has to be notarized and one of her sons (just back from his honeymoon) has to ride to a distant city to get it done. He meets a series of temptations and absurd episodes on the way and has recurring Freudian nightmares. Bunuel said he based it on real events that happened to a friend of his on a bus trip.

ROBINSON CRUSOE is the Dafoe classic with Bunuel touches and an extra Canadian connection. The script is by Canadian Hugo Butler, one of the writers blacklisted in Hollywood in the early 1950s. Dan O’Herlihy starred and was nominated for an Academy Award (but lost to Marlon Brando). Bunuel made both an English and a Spanish version. VLAFF is showing the sub-titled one.

Both films are screening  at the VanCity Theater on Monday (Sept 7).

 

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