Tina Fey stars, but Lily Tomlin shines in Admission: plus reviews of Olympus Has Fallen, Italy Love it or Leave It

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Japan’s modern age started with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. This story is set just before that, in Yokohama where 16-year-old Umi runs the family boarding house and raises a flag every morning to the ships going by.  A teenage boy, Shun, takes a liking to her.  He edits a student newspaper out of a rundown building slated for demolition. Both get involved in a fight to save it but their romance takes a whiplash turn. Shun surmises from two identical photographs that they are actually brother and sister.  Resolving these issues requires first, a trip to a beautifully-rendered Tokyo and second, a look back into history.  A peppy jazz score helps build the film’s energy. (VanCity Theatre, four times in English, four times in sub-titled Japanese. Check the website:  4 out of 5

Playing in tandem with …

ITALY: LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT:  Four years ago a couple of gay guys from Rome made a film about intolerance in Italy and won wide praise at festivals. Now, Gustav and Luca are back, not as optimistic anymore and wondering if they should leave, for Berlin, perhaps. “What became of our country?” they ask. No jobs, plant shutdowns, pollution, Berlusconi and more. They hop into a tiny Fiat and travel the country to give it a checkup.


It’s a fascinating tour. Fiat workers are under pressure. Lake Como, where George Clooney lives, is the most polluted in Italy. He’s not there when they deliver a gift, a coffee maker whose manufacture has been outsourced to Romania. They irritate fervent Berlusconi supporters at a rally. They tour some unfinished—and un-needed—public projects and a store selling Mussolini memorabilia. They also meet people doing good, one of whom is a Mafia opponent who’s trucks are regularly burned. They debate each other constantly. Luca is the romantic; he’s from Rome. Gustav, from the north, is the realist, handy with grim numbers and facts. There’s English narration but most of the film is in Italian with sub-titles. Better that way for this low-key, quirky, equally funny and bleak national portrait.  3 out of 5

ERNEST & CELESTINE: The VanCity Theatre also has another animated film, showing just twice this weekend, and it’s a pure gem. It plays to the innocence of children, without modern gimmicks or hipster references, but with storytelling charm. It tells of a friendship that shouldn’t be, between a mouse (Celestine) and a bear (Ernest). Normally he would eat her but they work together in a candy store raid and a heist of teeth from a dentist supply (too complicated to explain here) and are pursued by police forces from both their worlds when they hide out in a woodsy cabin.


They’re the creation of the late Gabrielle Vincent, the Belgian writer of a series of French-language children’s books. The film was created (along with Benjamin Renner) by Stephane Aubier and Vincent Patar, who are renowned for a very goofy stop-motion film they made four years ago called A Town Called Panic. This one is more normal but it also has plenty of nutty humor and frantic action, all done in a delicate, minimalist drawing style.  Great fun for children old enough to read sub-titles. (VanCity Saturday 2 p.m and Sunday 12:30 p.m.)  4 ½  out of 5

HOME AGAIN:  This film takes you way off the tourist loop in sunny Jamaica to dramatize what Toronto filmmakers Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness call “a human tragedy”. Every year Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. deport immigrants who’ve broken the law back to the island paradise where they were born but haven’t lived since they were children. When they land in Kingston’s Trenchtown its no paradise for them. Crime, exploitation, unemployment are more likely.


This film tells three fictional stories. Marva from Toronto had to leave her children behind and takes a job as a nanny. Dunston from New York gets a gun, a job as a security guard and then work for a local drug-dealing  gangster.  Everton from England is just a teen. He ends up homeless, sleeping under cardboard, occasionally calling his mother to assure her he’s fine. The stories aren’t exceptional, often pure melodrama, but the filmmakers’ passion is there and the atmosphere (although filmed in Trinidad) is hot and authentic. That includes a visit to a Rastafarian retreat where a sermon about “blessed love” mixes with the ganja. Through much of the film subtitles help us follow that version of English spoken in Jamaica. (International Village) 3 out of 5 

Also now playing …

THE CROODS: Didn’t we already see this theme in one of the Ice Age movies?  A prehistoric family has to move to survive. They’re also dysfunctional, understandably so since Nicolas Cage is the voice of the patriarch. Emma Stone is his daughter but attracted to a more free-spirited type, voiced by Ryan Reynolds. The studio didn’t screen this one for the Vancouver Observer so I can’t tell you much more. I do hear though, that there’s not much for adults in it but kids will like it. (International Village, The Dolphin and many suburban theatres)

NOTE: All images are movie stills provided by the studios. They are the exclusive property of their copyright owners.



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