Take a break from the summer blockbusters with one of these smaller films new this week
MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART: Here’s a deeply felt examination of modern China and a lament for what it has lost in its miracle economic boom. Director Jia Zhangke tells a three-part story to show what has and is happening. It’ll resonate for anybody, even over here, who has been watching recent developments. Part one, set in 1999, seems like a typical romantic melodrama. Young woman is wooed by both a coal miner and an arrogant entrepreneur. She goes with the latter. He’s a better prospect. In part two it’s 2014 and they’re divorced. He’s moved to Australia, calls himself Peter and demands custody of their son, who he renames Dollar.
Part three looks ahead to 2025. She’s been living in Toronto (which isn’t shown) and visits her former husband in Melbourne where he’s become sick and frustrated. He’s now got the guns he couldn’t buy in China but nobody he can shoot. The son can hardly speak Chinese anymore and won’t honor his ancestors. In a way all three have lost their Chineseness and that’s how Zhangke sees the future in this richly-detailed and emotional film. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
HEVN: It means revenge in Norwegian and that’s a frequent theme at the movies anywhere. Not often like this though, with a woman seeking it and mostly women making the film. The central character is quietly angry, ill-prepared to carry out her plan and making it up as she goes. That helps make this a highly-involving psychological thriller.
A woman (Siren Jorgensen) arrives at a hotel on a scenic fjord in Norway to write an article for a travel magazine. So she says, and the owner (Frode Winther) is pleased. What she really intends to do is kill him for raping and thereby causing the death of her sister years before. We get all this in small increments, one reason why it’s so gripping.
She holds back on a couple of early chances in order to investigate whether she really knows the truth. After all, his staff and wife adore him and he’s referred to at one point as “Mr. Perfect.” A complex bit of subterfuge, sending him texts as if from a teenage girl on his staff, gets the mystery unraveling. There are a few problems in the story but they’re overcome by strong acting, the savoring of telling details and acute suspense. Kjersti Steinsbo wrote and directed this Canada-Norway co-production. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
CHEVALIER: Here’s a fine example of the quirky movie fare coming out of Greece these days. It’s a sly send up of the competitive urge among men and it’s written and directed by a woman. Athina Rachel Tsangari makes her points subtly but with a great eye for real tendencies.
Six middle-aged men are on a holiday cruise on a luxury yacht. They get tired of the usual comparisons they make –the size of fish they catch, how long they can hold their breath, the number of pushups they can do. They start a sort of omnibus contest in which they will rate each other in all sorts of things and declare “The Best in General.”
The categories are wide, including housework on the boat, phone calls home, snoring, cholesterol levels, and yes, not unexpectedly, erection sizes. It’s quietly comical and absurd until it also leads to arguments, insults, lies and a near punch up. The acting is superb. The title refers to a ring that the winner would get and wear for a year. Rather like a sports trophy; the Stanley cup maybe. (Cinematheque) 3 ½ out of 5
LOLO: Julie Delpy together with another French icon, comedian Dany Boon, should have been a slamdunk. Instead it misses. The laughs and the clever dissection of modern society aren’t there. It seems for a while they might be coming but good ideas are badly executed and the mood eventually turns from comedy into a psychotic creep show.
Julie plays a sophisticated Parisian who meets a provincial hick (Boon) while on vacation but is wary of starting something. A friend assures her that “Boneheads bone better” and that men are sick of bimbos which is attributable to “the Merkel effect.” Much of the dialogue is that mix of low and observant. Then the plot kicks into gear. Boon moves to Paris and in with Delpy while her son tries to break up the relationship. Initially that plays out as funny though unimaginative (itching powder, boring clothes, imposing on Karl Lagerfeld for a selfie). Then it gets creepy with spiked drinks, young prostitutes and a crude bit of cyber-sabotage. What charm had been there, dissipates. Village of the Damned, seen on TV at one point, you didn’t expect. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5
Also now playing …
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP STOPPING: Andy Samberg and his two buddies in the group Lonely Island, who used to be regulars on Saturday Night Live, thrash about on the excesses of the celebrity culture. In this case it’s a boyband member (Samberg) who’s gone solo but starts on a slide. I haven’t seen it but hear it’s like a skit that goes on too long but has some very funny bits within it. Sound like an easy target though. (International Village)
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: Michael Bay didn’t direct this one. But he did produce it and I expect that means it has all his traits: huge action, a frantic pace and gimmicks galore. I hear the 3-D frequently points or tosses things at you. The turtles, all named after Italian artists, have to fight off a plot by a super villain, a mad scientist and a creature called Krang to take over the world. My only question is this: How did Laura Linney end up in this? (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres)