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Snitch, Dark Skies, West of Memphis, Crazy Horse and Detropia: reviews

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Dwayne Johnson plays the sturdy boss of a Missouri construction company. When his son is set up by a snitch, faces 10 years in jail and refuses to implicate anybody else, dad goes to work. On the advice of an ambitious prosecutor (Susan Sarandon) and a scruffy undercover narcotics agent (Barry Pepper), he infiltrates a local drug operation. He offers transportation on his company trucks and is soon noticed by a higher-level drug lord. “You work for us now,” he’s told as he gets an assignment to take a run into Mexico. The film has action, suspense, very good acting (yes, including from Johnson) and an urgent momentum ably steered by former stuntman Ric Roman Waugh. He previously directed a little-seen but highly-regarded film called Felon.  The producers have made well-known films like The Cove, The Help and An Inconvenient Truth. Incidentally there’s another assault on the war on drugs coming next week in the documentary The House I Live In. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres)   3 ½ out of 5

DARK SKIES:  Although it’s from the producers of the Paranormal Activity films, we’re lucky that the parallel doesn’t go very far. Yes, there are monitor screens of a security system but not for long and only a few times. We’re not sitting there endlessly waiting for things to happen. They do, in good time. A slow buildup creates a tingly atmosphere of dread and then gives way to a pretty effective thriller about a family in danger.

 

Keri Russell (remember her from TV’s Felicity?) is the mom, Josh Hamilton is the dad and Toronto’s  Dakota  Goyo is one of their two sons. Strange incidents start up: food scattered on the floor, photos removed from frames, noises at night. Then 100s of birds dive bomb the house, apparently drawn by something inside. Parents and kids both go into trance-like spells that they can’t remember afterwards. Director Scott Stewart, who also wrote the script, does two things absolutely right. He lets us get to know the family first. That makes their growing helplessness believable. And he holds the explanations until very late. Mom gets close, referring to “something not from here” but it takes a grizzled expert (J.K. Simmons) in a nicely creepy scene to tell them what they’ve got. You get chills and scares that are fun, not gross.  (International Village and suburban theatres)  3 out of 5

CRAZY HORSE: Master documentary maker Frederick Wiseman takes us inside the famous Paris nightclub to watch the “best nude dancing show in the world.” Make that mostly nude and often adorned with lots of lighting effects like polka dots and geometric patterns.

 

So this is not for gawking at naked women. It’s to watch a popular show being re-designed by Philippe Decouflé, the same man who created the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1992 Winter Olympics at Albertville. The dances are tastefully staged to “suggest with restraint.” That’s been the club’s vision for over 60 years.  The creators, watched closely by the fly-on-the-wall camera, talk of it as art. The women dancers are said to be quite “modest.” The audiences are men and women; young and old. Still, it is just a nude revue however colorful and artful it is. The costume woman, for instance, fusses over a fabric that catches too much light and makes the buttocks look bony and not “nice and round.”  Some of the older routines have a 1950s view of women.  New ones are modern, even surrealistic. The film is dazzling but, maybe since we don’t hear much at all from the dancers, a bit too cool and remote.  (Pacific Cinemathéque, until Monday) 3 out of 5

Playing in tandem with …

DETROPIA: The one time I was in Detroit I was trying to sleep in an all-night movie theatre. Couldn’t. A guy with a long pole came around to poke awake anybody he saw trying. So, my image of that city is already full of rough and seedy visions. According to this film, they’ve pretty well taken over. Detroit has lost half its population in the last 50 years. It’s near bankruptcy and has to shut off street lights, cut transit and lay off police. This film by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady shows the sad result. There are more than 100,000 abandoned homes; auto parts factories shut down; a schoolteacher reduced to cooking in a bar he owns (he can’t afford to hire anyone), guys making their living by scavanging for scrap metal which they know will go to China to build cars. Artists are now coming to town for the cheap accomodation and the city wants some neighborhoods turned into urban farms. In contrast there are still giant office towers downtown and an opera. There’s a dream-like feel to this moving documentary offering an elegy, a salute to a great city’s past and quiet anger over its deflation. (Only playing until Monday. Check the Cinemathéque website). 4 out of 5 

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