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Thor lightens up; Wonderstruck offers a time-spanning fantasy; Una is timely about sex abuse

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The film builds effortlessly from edgy to cynical to outright creepy.  Now and then it eases up on the obsession with flashes of absurd humor (“I’ll make you eat your hair.”) That’s not unusual in the films of Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek director here working in English for a second time. (The first one, The Lobster, was a sizeable hit.)There’s a slight stilted tone in the dialogue here which adds to the surrealism and unease. Barry Keoghan, who we last saw in Dunkirk, is most responsible for that.  He’s eerie as Martin and drives Farrell to some extreme measures. A few things don’t make sense or seem improbable but the mood-building and strong acting have an impact. Of the three films I’ve seen by Lanthimos, this is the one I’ve liked the most.  (International Village and suburban theatres)  4 out of 5 

UNA: Can you get any more timely? Sex abuse is such a big talking point right now and here’s a fictional case that has the power to disturb. The facts and the effects are extremely-well reflected upon and sensational performances by Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn bring them out. He, Ray, and she, Una, were neighbors when she was 13. He seduced her, offered to go away with her but abandoned her. Years later, she sees his picture in a newspaper and confronts him at his workplace. For the ninety minutes that follow, they dredge up the hurting details. 

 

She’s clearly been damaged by the experience and may be unstable. He claims he really did love her and tries to explain what he did and how sorry he is. He insists he’s not a pedophile. “I was never one of them,” he says and yet little signs suggest otherwise. Brief flashbacks take us back there so we can see ourselves. Ruby Stokes plays her 15-years younger, naïve, inexperienced and susceptible. The script is from a stage play (Blackbird, by Scottish writer David Harrower) and has been considerably opened up. There’s a lot of walking down hallways and at one point the couple are on a ferris wheel. The film hardly needs it because the dialogue is so potent. There’s Scottish money in this English production but also some from right here, from Bron Studios in Burnaby. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5

NOVITIATE: This one feels authentic but also passé. Do many people care about what young women had to do to become nuns? How many still try to become one? As a historical thesis I can take it. The film works beautifully as sort of a time capsule but how relevant is it today? The story is set right at the time when Vatican II was throwing out the old rules and changing everything. A postscript says some 90,000 nuns left the church because of this upheaval. The film doesn’t deal with that, only with what was going on before. Becoming a nun was an ordeal and you wonder why anyone would even want to go through it.

 

Margaret Qualley (Andie McDowell’s daughter) plays a Tennessee teenager who does want to. For mixed reasons. Free education. “Love and sacrifice.” To undo the effects of a toxic home life. (Another says she wants to be like Audrey Hepburn in the movie A Nun’s Story.) Melissa Leo as the tough-minded Mother Superior warns they’d better have good reasons and then lays down the rules. The toughest is “grand silence,” during which absolutely no talking is allowed. Penalties include self-flagellation. Leo is fierce, imperious and condescending. She’s also protective of the system and tries to keep the new rules out.  The film by New York socialite Maggie Betts is strong on showing those tensions, even better on the procedures of becoming a nun and the new thinking about faith and even sexuality among the girls. The rest of the story, that Vatican II, enacted by men, had the effect of lowering the status of nuns, gets only a brief mention. (International Village) 3 out of 5       

A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS: Before you read what I think, consider this. Audiences love this film. They laugh a lot at the further antics of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn as mothers tired of trying to be perfect and turning to some pretty raunchy behavior. In this second film there’s pressure on them to create the perfect Christmas and it gets worse when each has a mother show up talking up what they would do. Those mother-daughter tensions gradually take over the film and, I’m sure, constitute the film’s main appeal. I hope it’s not the other stuff. Not stealing a tree from Foot Locker. The other.

 

Hahn starts things off by falling for a client at her spa, a male stripper whose balls she waxes. It’s not long before all three moms are in a bar watching a whole line of male strippers and noting especially the size of the bulges in their briefs. Then Susan Sarandon jumps up there too. She’s one of the visiting mothers; an unreformed rock and roll chick who worked for years as a roadie for REO Speedwagon and only comes around when she needs money. The star mother though is played by Christine Baranski who guilts her daughter (Mila) mercilessly, puts up a mammoth display on her lawn and holds a huge party in her house. She steals the movie with her exuberant performance.  Too bad the movie she’s in is not good at all. Small children swear, there’s family advice like “you should never have to watch your mom lick your boyfriend’s nipples” and  even Kenny G, the “national treasure” Christine hires to play at her party, gets off a penis joke. Low humor sells, I guess. (International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 2 out of 5

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