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Star Trek and Ab Fab return with new episodes and Captain Fantastic tries parenting

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CLOSET MONSTER: This was a surprise last fall. This first feature by a 27-year-old director from Newfoundland was named best Canadian film at the Toronto festival. Take note of his name, Stephen Dunn. I now know why he won. He’s a talent and his film is a briskly-paced and edited and extremely well-visualized story of one teen’s problems growing up. His dad is a domineering tyrant; his mom has split and girls at school think he’s gay. He starts wondering himself and senses a tingle when a new boy at school starts taking an interest in him.

 

Those early feelings are introduced so subtly they feel universal, gay or not. Then Dunn brings them on as a rush with fantasy visions, kinetic editing and music. A young actor named Connor Jessup perfectly enacts both the anxiety and the urge to explore that his character feels. More fantasy lets us hear what he’s thinking. He has conversations with an imaginary friend, a pet hamster voiced by Isabella Rossellini. There’s one not-at-all graphic sex scene but a couple of violent incidents. Somehow it all works and takes us inevitably to the day he has to stand up to his dad. It hardly feels like fiction. (5th Avenue) 4 out of 5 

THE MUSIC OF STRANGERS: There’s no way you’re going to feel anything but uplifted when you hear the glorious music in here played by Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. Or hear the humor and optimism in his voice as he explains why he started the group 16 years ago. Partly it a charity project; mostly it’s an effort to create something new by the mere act of having musicians from different cultures playing together. They’re exploring the roots of creativity he says. Maybe. To us it’s all about listening, to the music and the stories he and four players tell.


 

A Spanish woman who plays the bagpipe is a powerhouse of enthusiasm. The world’s best pipa player tells of the effect of the cultural revolution on her parents in China. A kamancheh player talks of repression in Iran. A clarinetist from Syria talks of the turmoil there. “Nobody remembers who the king was when Beethoven lived,” he says. 

Yo Yo Ma has an impish quality talking about himself. We see clips of him at age seven with Leonard Bernstein and as an adult with Mr. Rogers.  “Who am I and how do I fit in?” he asks. Self-discovery is one of the themes in this documentary by Morgan Neville, whose last one, 20 Feet From Stardom, about backup singers won an Academy Award. This one is slower because it’s more contemplative but then the music always comes back. (Park Theatre)  3 ½ out of 5 

ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE:  The animated series that put woolly mammoths and dinosaurs on the earth at the same time gives us more erroneous science in this 5th outing. Also too much of everything else. This film is way too busy. There are digressions that take us away from trite situations and a simply outrageous but frenetically funny parallel story. That would be with Scrat, the acorn-chasing squirrel usually seen in a cartoon before the film starts, now part of the main movie. He finds a flying saucer buried in ice, frees it, flies to outer  space and manages to crash around enough to both create our solar system and send an asteroid heading to earth.

Down here the mammoths are in a family drama. Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah) and Manny (voiced by Ray Romano) are preparing for their daughter’s wedding and dreading the day she and her husband will move away.  But there’s startling news from Buck the weasel (Simon Pegg, back after missing the last film). The asteroid will kill them all unless they figure out how to stop it. They come up with a plan after one character’s Pythagorean dream, a visit to a llama in a new age colony called Geotopia which proves funny but illelevant, and a few other sidebars tossed into the script to make it full-length. A fashion show of hairstyles and garter belts in a kids film? A weasel singing Figaro? Fabulous animation but a story and many jokes that fail to grab. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

LIGHTS OUT: Another one of those modern horror films that have been coming along for a couple of years. This one tries to do something different than the regular haunted house flick and is commendable for that. But it’s also curious in that doesn’t raise many scares, just a few startles and a shock or two. Strange when you consider the talent behind it. James Wan, who made The Conjuring 2  into a big hit, produced it. His regular team (cinematographer, designer, editor) worked on it and a director he discovered (David F. Sandberg) led them.

A dark spectre of a woman terrorizes a young boy living with a depressed mother (Maria Bello). Her daughter tries to take the boy, her brother, away but children’s services intercedes. So we’re stuck in a house where that dark shape appears when the lights go out, and disappears when they’re switched on. Mom, who has a history of mental illness, calls her Diana. A history between them is revealed after 90 minutes of spooky events, locked doors, shaking doorknobs, bumping noises and a creepy digression down into the basement to check the fuse box. The elements are there. They’ll keep you on edge but the chills are rather mild. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5

 

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Four good ones at VIFF take us to The Vatican, India, the Arctic and Hong Kong:

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Also: explore Niagara Falls for its reputation and catch a couple of notable German films
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