Tammy needs more laughs, and Gore Vidal puts barbs into 4th of July

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EARTH TO ECHO: A bit foolhardy, I’d say, for anyone to make a film so similar to E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, one of the most popular and successful films ever (#9 on the all-time box office chart for North America). It’ll always be compared and, indeed, comes off as far less emotionally involving. But it’s still a good bet for young boys if you’re tired of taking them to the giant, bombastic movies summer has brought. It deals with good concepts like idealism and friendship. Three boys (played by Reese Hartwig, Teo Halm and Brian “Astro” Bradley, an X-Factor competitor) ride their bikes out into the Nevada desert after receiving a strange interference on their cell phones. They find a stranded alien robot that looks like a toy owl and needs help. Its space ship is damaged; parts are missing. The boys, whose community is about to be bulldozed for a new highway, don’t trust adults to do the right thing. So they get to work, documenting everything on their smart phones—we see the shaky videos—and spouting inspiring lines like “tonight we’re no longer boys; we’re men.” Later, a girl (Ella Wahlestedt) also joins in. Critics have been searching their memory banks for antecedents like The Goonies, Explorers and Batteries Not Included , films that evoke the more innocent entertainment of the 1980s. This one isn’t E.T. but it’ll do. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5 GORE VIDAL:

UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA: It’s funny to see the VanCity Theatre opening this one on the 4th of July because Vidal was one of the most fervent critics ever of America and its leaders. We see him in full flight in this documentary in choice archival clips and excerpts from an exclusive interview not long before he died two years ago. He was an author, an essayist, a screenwriter and raconteur. He knew everybody; argued with most of them and is seen analyzing everything that’s happened in the U.S.A. with an acerbic tongue. He liked John F. Kennedy as a person but says he was a bad president, his chief contributions being a failed attack on Cuba and starting the Vietnam War.

George W. Bush is “Junior.” He only wanted to play with guns, hence Iraq. It was Truman who turned the U.S. into a world military power. This film is bristling with intellectual vigor and mischievous wit? There’s a classic argument with a surly Norman Mailer on the old Dick Cavett Show. Two debates with William F. Buckley around the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago are scintillating and politely nasty. We get Vidal’s views on anything (“Never have children; only grandchildren.” “Art is not a democracy.”) visit his home in Italy and learn all about his books, his script work in Hollywood and his attempts to get into politics. Brilliant and entertaining. You can’t go wrong with this one. (VanCity Theatre) 4 ½ out of 5 Playing in tandem with …

WHITEY UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. JAMES J. BULGER: Joe Berlinger, the man who blew open the West Memphis 3 story (in a trilogy of full-length documentaries) is at it again with another hot case. It’s about state abuse of power and probably stupidity and incompetence. Gore Vidal would have had a field day with this stuff. Whitey was a thug who terrorized shop owners and others in Boston for over 25 years. (There’s a thinly disguised version of him in the Martin Scorsese movie The Departed and Johnny Depp will play him in another film next year). Many years after he moved away he was brought back and put on trial for extortion and murder. The central issue became: how was he able to operate so freely for so long when the police knew all about him? They said he was valuable as an informant? That’s an insult to any self-respecting criminal. He said he was paying off the police. Who’s right? The film doesn’t settle that question but does dig deeper and finds a justice department, the FBI and its head at the time, J. Edgar Hoover embarrassed by the The Valachi Papers. The Italian Mafia suddenly became their only target, not Irish hoods. It’s a tale that’s thicker than most any novel and entirely riveting. (VanCity) 3 ½ out of 5

DELIVER US FROM EVIL: Something else you can blame George Bush for. Did you know that three U.S. soldiers came back from Iraq possessed by demons? No, real ones. They encountered them in an underground tunnel they were investigating, inadvertently brought them home to the Bronx in New York and unleashed some localized but still nasty terror. There’s domestic violence by a crazed wild-man. There’s a woman who throws her baby into a lion’s den at the zoo. There’s a family whose entire house is possessed. Dubious? It’s all “inspired by the actual accounts of an N.Y.P.D. sergeant,” the film says, referring to a book by Ralph Sarchie, who was a working cop at the time. He’s now a full-time demonologist. He’s portrayed by Eric Bana (stiff as usual); up against British actor Sean Harris (intense as the lead bad guy) and allied with Edgar Ramirez as an unconventional street-level priest. They discuss evil for a while (distinguishing between your common variety and the far-worse “primary” evil) and eventually conduct an exorcism. Director Scott Derrickson is known for two previous kicks at that can, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. This one is very effective in several tense sequences as Bana creeps down into a basement or along dark hallways. It’s deliciously chilling, until it happens again and again and we’re forced back to pondering the doubtful story line accompanied for no reason by Doors songs. But you know, strange things do happen. Just this week the Pope certified an association of exorcists and a New York judge overturned a former cop’s conviction for cannibalism because he hadn’t actually done any of it, just fantasized. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 2 out of 5

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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...
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