A third Hobbit, a new Annie and a persecuted genius in The Imitation Game

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Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett have joined with Jay Z and Kanye West to produce this one as a black retelling of the Little Orphan Annie story.  So adorable Quvenzhané Wallis is Annie (remember her Oscar nomination for Beasts of the Southern Wild?) and modern and hip Jamie Foxx is Daddy Warbucks, without that name. The bad people are both white: Bobby Cannavale (formerly a gangster in TV’s Boardwalk Empire) is a political aide and an overacting Cameron Diaz is the neurotic foster mother Miss Hannigan. Rose Byrne, though, is white but nice.

Among the many changes: some new songs, some missing, others revised, and most not sung very well. FDR doesn’t appear at all. He’s just mentioned in a class presentation by Annie in which she describes the Great Depression as a time when everybody was poor, “like today but without the internet.”  In this updating, smart phones, texting and tweeting get major and continuing prominence and after a heartfelt introduction of Annie’s situation (which would appeal to any young girl) the glorification of wealth and rich lifestyles gets a bit unsavory. But there’s a brisk momentum and lot of light-hearted fun here too. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5   

THE VANCOUVER ASAHI: Japantown as it used to be and its internal debates are re-created lovingly in this re-telling of a story we should all know better. There have already been documentaries and there’s another one coming but this is a drama about the baseball team the sons of Japanese immigrants played on and the success they had in the 1930s. They had two major obstacles to overcome: discrimination and their inability to win against the bigger players on the white teams. “None of us can hit,” says one player. “Worst of the worst,” says a newspaper headline. 


The game becomes a symbol in this film made in Japan (and partially here). For some, it’s a way to assimilate with white society and that leads to a continuing argument with the ones who want to stay separate. “Not all Canadians are horrible,” says one character. “They won’t accept us. They never have,” says another. And beyond that there’s a parallel debate: between complaining or just taking what comes. They two leading players on the team represent the opposing sides of that one. Pop idol Kazuya Kamenashi plays the hot-headed Roy; superstar actor Satoshi Tsumabuki is the more reticent Reggie. The film itself doesn’t take sides and maintains a decidedly Japanese attitude. Even when the team and the community are destroyed in the wartime internment, the film just tells the story without rage. It’s too leisurely at times but the energy builds nicely as the boys learn how to win. And Vancouver looks good. The film was voted the most popular at VIFF, the film festival.   (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5

Check the website because Asahi and the next film, Advanced Style, are showing at various times between now and the first week of January. 

ADVANCED STYLE:  “Aging can be a wonderful thing.” That’s not a sentiment you get in the movies very often because they’re generally youth obsessed. This film celebrates the later years by letting us spend time with seven women who not only enjoy their life as seniors but stand out because they dress in style. Definitely their own. Sometimes long in assembly. Often with thrift-shop finds. But always eye-catching.


They’re all from New York City where photographer  Ari Seth Cohen found them for a blog, then a book and now this film, directed by Lina Plioplyte. There’s Tziporah, age 62, who says “My art is dressing,” Zelda, age 95, who says “”Good style improves the environment for everybody” and  79-year-old Lynn who proclaims “Either you have it or you don’t”.  They expound vibrantly on their philosophy which is both live fully and you don’t have to impress anybody. Debra, age 74, has a 67-year-old boyfriend who, when he first met her, thought she dressed like a clown. There are charming stories but also a recurring thought that death isn’t that far away. In fact, one of these women doesn’t make it to the end of filming. Still, your thoughts of old-age will surely lift after watching this film. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5   

Also now playing …

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB: The third of these fantasies starring Ben Stiller could be the last. Too bad. The first two made lots of money and all three were filmed here, although this one also ventured to Kamloops and London, England. Once again historical figures come to life in the museum but that may also end unless Stiller can find a way to keep it happening. Sounds like the story of the film series itself. This one is notable as the second or third last film appearance by Robin Williams and a sequence in which Sir Lancelot barges into a stage production of Camelot and bothers Hugh Jackman trying to perform. I haven’t seen it but am told that part is very funny. (International Village and many suburban theatres)   

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