Spectacular scenes at Dunkirk, poignant fantasy in A Ghost Story and movie treasures found in Dawson City

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Mom arranges a marriage to a farmhand. She agrees but won’t sleep with him and he says, that’s OK, there are other women. There’s another man for her too, a recovering soldier she meets at a Swiss spa where she’s sent to treat her kidney stones and cramps. He promises to send for her but the letter never comes although she writes him repeatedly. Years later, she jumps to drop by his place on an impulse and finds … well, caution number two actually. Don’t paint your protagonist into such a tight corner that only an extreme denouement will get her out. I won’t say what this one is, but it’s completely improbable and even quite laughable. The film, directed by Nicole Garcia, has a promising start and then spoils it. (VanCity Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5

DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME: History and movie buffs will surely both love this documentary by Bill Morrison. Dawson City in the Yukon was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush back in the late 1890s. A bustling city grew up, million were made in the mines and casinos and dancehalls. Robert Service was there, Jack London for a while, Charlie Chaplin not at all but he made his Gold Rush film anyway. Donald Trump’s fortune had its origins there in his grandfather’s restaurant and brothel. The film tells the story of the city’s boom and then decline, including the displacement of the aboriginals by the mining industry.


But what happened in 1979 is what makes this film special. A construction project turned up hundreds of canisters of old silent films. Titles like The Social Buccaneer from 1916, starring Louise Lovely, The Unpardonable Sin, A Sagebrush Hamlet and Brutality (by D.W. Griffith) constituted a major find. Most silent films have been lost. There were also newsreels about war, labor battles and the only known film of the infamous Black Sox world series of 1919. And how did they get there? Movies played in Dawson City two or three years late. It wasn’t worth the expensive to send them back. The ones that weren’t dumped into the river or burned were used to fill in a swimming pool to build a skating rink. Morrison uses clips from over 100 of them, plus 34 others, to tell the story. The conception and the assembly are clever and the film is engrossing because it’s so stuffed with interesting facts and incidents. (VanCity Theatre. Morrison will appear via Skype at the 6:45 show today (Friday) 4 out of 5

THE BLACK PRINCE: We get films like this now and then, aimed at a people’s diaspora and exposing an injustice done to them. Three months ago The Promise brought us the Amenian genocide. Now it’s the destruction of the Punjabi kingdom, which England absorbed into India (and later split in two with Pakistan.) This story is about its last king, on the throne at age five, taken to England as a teenager in 1858, welcomed by Queen Victoria (Amanda Root) and raised as a Christian by a well-meaning doctor (Jason Flemyng) but curious about his heritage and his Sikh religion.


Satinder Sartaaj, a well-known Punjabi poet and singer, takes a first foray into acting here. He’s not too strong but his mother, played with intensity by veteran actor Shabana Azmi is. She pushes him to regain his culture and his kingdom and says his soul has been “quashed”. She also recognizes Queen Victoria’s tea cups and a diamond as pilfered from India.  The Prince, or King as he insists, does conspire to return home and raise an army with the help of Moscow and Paris. Apparently a conflicting, untrue story has been spread around. People in the Khalistan movement should like this one; it explains what drives their cause. Actor and director Kavi Raz from England made the film and Badhan Singh, a businessman in Surrey, B.C., helped finance it. It’s about family solidarity as so many Indian films are and about the many historical wrongs Punjabis have suffered. That’s common in Sikh literature. The messages are stronger than the drama. (International Village, Riverport and two theatres in Surrey) 2 ½ out of 5


Also Now playing …

VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS: Luc Besson of France is back in a science fiction mode but I can’t tell you how the man who made The Fifth Element does this time. I do know that he arranged the $180 million financing himself, through his own studio, and I know the plot. It’s based on a popular French comic book. The future of the universe is under threat from a dark force. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne are special operatives sent to put a stop to it at a vast space metropolis called Alpha. Promotion has been heavy but out here the media screening was at the same time as Dunkirk. As if … (At theatres everywhere) 

GIRLS TRIP: (Also previewed the same evening as Dunkirk) This is the second wild women excursion in a month but better according to what I’ve read than that Rough Night in Miami. This one is about sisterhood bonding in New Orleans among Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and one to especially watch, Tiffany Haddish. The director Malcolm D. Lee specializes in comedies for the black audience. He’s best known for The Best Man and its sequel, The Best Man Holiday. (International Village and suburban theatres)     


More in New Movies

Angry history in Official Secrets, dubious flash in Hustlers and a muddle in The Goldfinch

VIFF has just added this: Michael Moore will be here to show and give a creator talk about the film that made his career: Roger and Me. It was the most popular documentary where it premiered at VIFF...

VIFF announces the opener, closer and a very promising schedule for this year’s festival

A scene from Parasite, the Cannes winner that will be also screen at VIFF
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