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Tom Cruise’s fiery comeback, Marion Cotillard’s travails as The Immigrant and a grueling desert trek in Tracks

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Favreau has taken a break from the big films he directs (Iron Man and others) to create this personal statement. In a sense it’s his slap at the controlling power of the big studios. He states it by analogy. Dustin Hoffman, as is his boss, orders he serve only the usual menu when a critic comes to review. “Creative rut” the man writes to which John replies in a tweet “You wouldn’t know a good meal if it sat on your face.” He becomes a sensation in the twittersphere and confident enough to quit his job.  Then, helped by his son (Emjay Anthony) and a pal (John Leguizamo), buys a greasy old truck, cleans it up and starts cooking on the street, first in Miami, then New Orleans, Texas and finally back to L.A. Each city adds new foods which we see prepared to the beat of the local music. The vibes are pleasurable and even just the sight of grilled cheese sandwiches are sure to make you hungry. A sign of a good food movie. There are nice cameos from Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s very funny, playing to his tabloid image.  (5th Avenue, International Village and some suburban theatres) 4 out of 5

THE IMMIGRANT: Here’s a melodrama like they used to make. You know, a wide-eyed innocent arrives in the United States and gets drawn into an exploitive underside of the land of the free. The story may be old style but it comes alive through the work of two great actors.

 

Marion Cotillard plays Ewa, a Polish woman who gets tangled in red-tape at Ellis Island in 1921. She’s detained as a single (and probably loose) woman when her sister, who came with her, is put into quarantine. A helpful savior (Joaquin Phoenix) arrives, greases a few palms and takes Ewa to a tenement where he puts her into a burlesque show and later into prostitution. She’s headstrong but goes along with it anyway because if she’s to free her sister, she needs money. A magician, played by Jeremy Renner, sees that Ewa herself needs help and gets into a major conflict with Joaquin. The film hadn’t shown us too much that he’d been falling in love with her. Its storytelling is hit and miss. A later development comes as an even bigger surprise.  Director and co-writer James Gray has better success creating atmosphere, the look and feel of New York streets back then and the cheap flats where people lived.  (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5

TRACKS: Imagine walking with four camels across 2,000 miles of desert. Robyn Davidson did in Australia back in 1977, from Alice Springs to the coast at the Indian Ocean. She wrote about it for the National Geographic and then a book and this film takes us along as it re-creates the whole trip. Almost 200 days of it.

 

Mia Wasikowska plays her as a stubborn young woman who can’t really explain why she’s doing it. An early sequence where she’s deceived by a camel rancher gives a clue, but nothing definitive. She doesn’t talk that much anyway, but her drive and determination are easy to read on her face. And her impatience with people who annoy her, including  the photographer who shows up every now and then to document her trek. He’s played by Adam Driver, familiar to fans of the TV series Girls.

Along the way she meets sad lonely people, aboriginals who know the land, tourists anxious to snap a few photos and natural threats, a windstorm and rutting camels trying to get at her animals. You learn a lot by watching her resourcefulness and a few flashbacks to earlier years. Not much though about why. But then we’ve all done things now and then for no deeper reason than it seemed like a good trip. (5th Avenue and International Village) 3 out of 5

PALO ALTO: Ready for another Coppola making films? Here’s Gia, granddaughter of Francis Ford, niece of Sofia and seemingly inheritor of some of their creative genes. This is a very good re-creation of what life is like in high-school. Well, part of it. These kids all have stories and hang-ups worth telling about. Absolutely normal kids don’t qualify. You’ve got the beauty unsure about life (Emma Roberts), the girl with round heels trying to win favor (Zoe Levin), the troublemaker with an artistic side (Jack Kilmer, who’s dad Val is in the cast too) and the cocky live wire (Nat Wolff, who also appears this week in The Fault In Our Stars).

 

Jack has to do community service after driving drunk. Emma and he are potential sweethearts but are split apart. Emma instead starts an affair with her soccer coach who hires her as a babysitter now and then and is played by the ubiquitous James Franco who also wrote the stories the film dramatizes. There’s no one story line; just a series of vignettes. Nat for instance seduces Zoe. Just one of his antics, you see.  There’s little deeper meaning here but a lot of plausible ambience.  (The Rio on Broadway and the VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5 

WOLFCOP:  Vancouver company, Cine Coup, debuts the first product from an innovative talent search. They asked for good new ideas, offered financing and guaranteed exhibition in Cineplex Theatres and, with the help of fans voting on-line, chose this from some 90 submissions. And even before it opened, because of a couple of big sales at Cannes, they’ve given the go-ahead for Wolf Cop 2.That’s about it for the good news.

 

The film is for horror fans only. Leo Fafard plays a cop with a drinking problem in a small town afflicted by a series of bloody “incidents.” After one investigation, he turns into a werewolf and a coven of shapeshifters gets involved racing against both the full moon and an imminent eclipse. Writer-director Lowell Dean shows he has talent for telling a story economically and keeping things moving along. Notice how much he conveys with an opening montage and then two chatty hosts heard on the radio. I just wish he hadn’t set his sights so low. Most of the characters are played so broadly, they sound like Georgia crackers.  (The film doesn’t admit to its Saskatchewan roots at all). The general tone is frantic, with a lot of humor, only a bit of it sly and subtle, and some well-done gross sequences.  And if you need to see a werewolf shooting an automotive rifle or getting it on with a sexy barmaid, this might be for you.  (International Village)  2 out of 5 

 

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