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The Salesman, high drama from Iran, The Comedian, a De Niro dud, and The Space Between Us, sci-fi romance for teens

Also the bittersweet lament and history lesson Quebec My Country and the clumsy chiller Rings

The VanCity Theatre has started its annual film series for Black History Month. The highlight comes late this month with the Academy Award Nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro. I’ll review it and the equally promising Mali Blues closer to their time.

But right now notice that the great, and rare, concert film by Prince, Sign ’O’ the Times, screens Sunday, and films about black mountain climbers, black hockey players, a slave rebellion (Birth of a Nation) and an inter-racial rights court case (Loving) are also coming. You can see the whole schedule at viff.org

Also notice the Cinematheque’s next free showing of an important Canadian film is Wednesday: the visually stunning documentary Manufactured Landscapes.

And these are new in the mainstream theatres:

The Salesman:  4 stars

The Comedian:  1 ½

The Space Between Us: 2 ½

Quebec My Country, Mon Pays:  3

Rings: 2

 

THE SALESMAN: It’s got an Academy Awards nomination but the director Asghar Farhadi won’t be there. He’s protesting Trump’s ban on Iranians traveling to the U.S. That strength of conviction is also evident in his work, which has already earned him one Oscar. Once again he delves into family dynamics. A couple deal with extreme tension in their relationship while also acting in a stage presentation of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. Farhadi strikes parallels between the social change the play described in the US and what is going on in Tehran right now. The middle class is being crushed as the city grows and modernizes.

 

The film states all that quite subtly and puts an intriguing story up front. At a friend’s suggestion, the couple move into a new apartment and soon encounter strange events connected to a former tenant. She forcefully insists they store her stuff. They hadn’t been warned that she’s a wild one who had clients over many nights. At least one doesn’t know she’s moved out. There’s an assault and the husband sets out to find the perpetrator without bringing in the police. That and the ongoing rehearsals of the play, start the couple’s relationship starts cracking. Top notch acting brings the story alive, even as some of the symbolism (e.g. cracks in the building) feels a bit contrived. The film won two big awards, including best screenplay, at Cannes. (5th Avenue) 4 out of 5

THE COMEDIAN: As bad as the movies get sometimes, few are actually painful to watch. So, this one is in a small, select group. Just witness Robert De Niro as a past-his-prime comic leading a roomful of seniors at an old-age-home to sing about constipation. Making Poopie, he calls it. That’s the worst, a highlight of sorts, but there is more. He tries to be funny doing stand-up in comedy clubs, doing bathroom humor at a country club and telling insult groaners at a wedding. Though he’s acknowledged by Billy Crystal in an elevator and by the crusty types at The Friars Club, he’s not funny. Except to fans who insist on recollecting a TV sitcom he was in and to Leslie Mann.

 

She plays a woman he meets at a soup kitchen where both have been sentenced to do community service. He punched out a heckler. Both have testy relationships with family, he with a brother (Danny DeVito), she with a rich father in Florida (Harvey Keitel). Good actors, but the various times they meet inevitably become uncomfortable. There isn’t much good cheer in this script. It misses the potential in its story of a man desperate to regain his earlier respect. De Niro was an inept comedian years ago in The King Of Comedy (for Martin Scorsese) and just recently played that Dirty Grandpa. This new one is too much like them. A bunch of short bits by real comedians help, a bit. (International Village and a few suburban theatres) 1 ½  out of 5 

More in New Movies

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life

A touching drama about dementia, a daredevil rock climb and another 007 spoof

Also a teen’s life lessons from skateboarders and a cold war anachronism with submarines
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