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Three very good films reviewed: The Death of Stalin, Foxtrot and Unsane

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THE YOUNG KARL MARX: The story of how Marx and his cohort Friedrich Engels came to write The Communist Manifesto is surprisingly relevant today. They studied inequality back then, in the mid-19th century, and produced an impassioned critique of the economic system that produced it. No matter what you think of their recommendations, their analysis is just as true now. That’s the point director Raoul Peck makes with this film’s step by step account of Marx’s intellectual growth. 

His journalism was too incendiary in Germany, but in Paris, Belgium and finally in London, under the influence of Engles, the rebellious son of a factory owner, he developed his ideas about capitalism and the class struggle. August Diehl as Marx and Stefan Konarske as Engels get into repeated debates about that struggle, some of which is a bit arcane if you’re new to it but also enlightening. The film is not a dry history or economic lesson though. Peck drew on the letters they wrote to each other to humanize them. It’s not as riveting as his other major film, I Am Not Your Negro, which is about James Baldwin’s thoughts on race relations, but you do get a strong feeling for what drove Marx and Engels to change the world as they did. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5

PARADOX: Another of my very occasional reviews of Netflix films; this one because Neil Young is in it. He didn’t direct this one; Daryl Hannah, the woman he’s with these days, wrote and directed it and not very well, but his aura is all over it. He and his current band, Promise of the Real, play cowboys in what looks like the old west but may be in the future. They dig up relics from the past including a cell phone and a computer keyboard. There seems to be an environmental theme but it’s hard to tell what it is. Willie Nelson shows up briefly, does a gunfighter stand off with Neil for a bit and then joins him to rob a seed bank. Luckily there’s music.

Willie’s son Lukas leads the band and sings one of his dad's songs. Neil sings a Jimmy Reed classic and a few of his own songs. The highlight is an 8-minute guitar jam with the band from his song Cowgirls in the Sand. That’s exciting but actually comes from a festival in California from a few years ago before a huge outdoor crowd. Most everything else is relaxed but when a busload of women arrives to bring fruit and vegetables to Neil and the band “to keep you plunderin’, pillagin’ lot alive,” it’s back to obscure. (Netflix starting today) 1 ½ out of 5     

MADAME: As you’re watching this comedy from France, you feel all the effort the filmmaker had to put in to make it. Amanda Sthers (yes, that’s spelled correctly) must have strained to write in all the contrivances and improbabilities and that weighs down the film and prevents it from what it should be doing, bouncing along nimbly. It’s not very funny and there’s a mean streak in the main character played by Toni Collette that adds more than a bit of unpleasantness. 

Collette and Harvey Keitel play an American couple who’ve moved to Paris and try to keep up an aura of privilege and class. Actually they’re nearly bankrupt. When she holds a dinner party and their son unexpectedly shows up, there would be 13 at the table. She’s too superstitious for that and presses her main maid (Rossy de Palma, a veteran of Pedro Almodóvar films) to be a 14th guest. A familiar plot but it doesn’t play out the usual way. One of the guests, an art broker from London played by Michael Smiley, falls in love with her. No good reason, except that he’s been told she’s of royal blood in Spain. Toni’s character turns nasty and imperiously tells off the maid. “This is not your world,” she says. Maybe, but she’s the only sympathetic character. This film is for dedicated cynics. (International Village) 2 out of 5

 

Also two film that are now playing but I haven’t seen …

PAUL, THE APOSTLE OF CHRIST: The latest faith-based film, anticipating Easter, has Jim Faulkner playing the former killer of Christians now a convert and stuck in a Roman prison. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus some films back, is Luke in this one, the doctor who smuggles out Paul messages. The studio didn’t preview it around here.

MIDNIGHT SUN: A different summer romance, based on a Japanese film but now starring Bella Thorne and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s son, Patrick. She’s a teen with a rare disease—she can’t go out in sunlight. He takes her on pleasant evening date and can’t understand why she runs off when the sun starts coming up. Or why she avoids him after that. It’s already the 5th movie for Patrick. I haven’t seen any of them.

 

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