A shiny new Robert Pattinson, a skewed Bruce Lee and some not-for-kids animation
The central event was real: a fight that holds legendary status in the martial arts world. Back in 1964 in San Francisco, Bruce Lee fought a master from China named Wong Jack Man. Only a few saw it and opinions differ on who won but it helped boost him into a star and idol. The film draws on a magazine article but somehow misses much of the drama in it. Instead it purports to explain the reasons for the fight as a clash of two attitudes. Lee is cocky and ambitious; Wong is humble and philosophical. They’re portrayed perfectly well by Philip Wan-Lung Ng and Xia Yu, respectively. But look what comes with them: gamblers, enforcers, monks, triads and forced servitude in a Chinatown restaurant. We see it all through a white character (Billy Magnussen) who falls in love down there and gets Lee and Wong to help save his woman. Filmed in Vancouver, by Americans. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 2 out of 5
THE FENCER: The inspirational teacher is a favorite at the movies. This is one of the best. It’s smoothly directed, well-acted and offers a story that connects emotionally. How much of it is true I don’t know. It admits it is partially fictionalized, although thefencer, Endel Nelis, was a real person and the academy he started still exists. Officially it’s a Finnish film, the director, Klaus Härö, is from there, though it takes place in Estonia, a satellite of the Soviet Union at the time.
Nelis returns there from Leningrad under some sort of cloud. He takes a job as a high school P-E teacher and is cautioned against ever going back to Russia. He teaches fencing which the students love but the principal tries to stop in favor of “something more suitable for the proletariat.” Also somebody is asking questions about him, he’s told, and a school functionary is sent to research his background. While these shadowy threats loom, the students want to enter a major competition in, where else, Leningrad. A sweet but determined young girl begs him; a teacher he’s romantically close to fears danger, but he cites his duty to the kids and off they go. You’ve seen stories like it before but this one is worth seeing again. It was a Golden Globe contender last year. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
THE END OF THE ROAD: This one played three times at the Powell River Film Festival back in February and now gets a one-time screening here, at the VanCity Theatre Sunday evening. Anybody into BC history and social movements should see it. For hippies it’ll also be highly nostalgic because it candidly documents a common BC phenomenon of almost 50 years ago. That was a back to the land movement, mostly by young Americans, some dodging the draft. They settled in small towns, like Lund, B.C. north of Powell River in this film, and created their hippie communities.
These “bush bunnies,” as some called them, built houses, organized community events, staged amateur theatre and held dances. Sex and drugs and rock and roll was practiced enthusiastically. One survivor talking in the film recalls a time of “sporadic and free joining of genitals” which among other things made Father’s Day a difficult event to mark.
Tai Uhlmann was raised there and returned after years working in the film industry in the US. With her partner Theo Angell as editor, she made the film to let the people tell their stories. And they do. The film is crammed back to back with them. Kids ran free. Single men were shared. Sexism was common. And yet, the people telling us these things seem to have come through it all perfectly normal. Home movies and photos show us what they were like back then. It’s a valuable historical record. There’ll also be a filmmaker Q&A. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK: Another film (the second in two months) with a Simon and Garfunkel song in the title and no strong reason to have it there. It’s a showcase of wit, not emotion, and a display of intricate plot construction, not of any reality you can imagine. Accept those shortcomings and you’ll be lightly entertained by a likeable cast.
First up, rising British actor Callum Turner as the “boy.” He’s fresh out of college, feeling directionless and hanging out with a girlfriend who’s about to go off to Croatia. He’d like to be a writer but the highest praise he ever got for his work from his father (Pierce Brosnan), a high-powered publisher, was “serviceable.” Mom (Cynthia Nixon) is neurotic and dad is sleeping with a freelance editor (Kate Beckinsale). So naturally he does too. Her name is Johanna and yes, it takes awhile but Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna eventually plays. Meanwhile, a new neighbor in his apartment building (Jeff Bridges) recognizes his melancholy and starts mentoring him with wry observations and banal advice. You know it’ll all come to a head but you won’t expect the twist the story takes. It adds to the unreality. Marc Webb also directed the quirky 500 Days of Summer and a couple of Spider-Man films. (5th Avenue) 2 ½ out of 5