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The Transformers overwhelms with excess, while On the Line takes on Northern Gateway

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THEY CAME TOGETHER: Sure, romantic comedies from Hollywood can be spoofed. Some practically do it to themselves. But I’d sure like to see a parody with more bite than this one. The insights are lame and the jokes are obvious. Some are repeated; one of them a full 10 times. Too bad, because the director, David Wain, clearly knows his stuff including all the clichés of the genre and his stars know comedy. They just don’t create a unified whole out of the story bits here, a few of which, admittedly, are funny.

 

Amy Poehler plays a candy store owner in danger of going under. Paul Rudd works for a candy conglomerate opening across the street. Naturally they meet, dislike each other, meet again both dressed as Ben Franklin at a costume party and overcome their dislike (they both read “fiction books’) until they fall out again realizing they are commercial rivals. He’s under pressure at work. His ex (Vancouver native Cobie Smulders) wants him back. Amy is being courted by  her accountant (Ed Helms) and her dad is a racist. They tell their story in chapters over dinner with a friend (Bill Hader) and his date. These people are usually adept at making fun of beloved things. It’s the material that’s weak and the sentiments are insincere. A sex scene performed by acrobatic dancers probably sounded like a funny idea and a revelation with Judge Judy is too big a jolt to feel right. (Towne Centre Abbotsford, and video on demand) 2 ½ out of 5                 

THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY: THE STORY OF AARON SWARTZ: He was a child prodigy (as we see in old home movies), a computer whiz (who helped create RSS and Reddit), a popular advocate for internet freedom (as seen in several interview clips) and something of a martyr for freeing up information. This vigorous documentary by Brian Knappenberger, who previously wrote and directed We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, is also an anger-stirring account of a tragedy.

 

Swartz was under 13 felony indictments brought by the U.S. government when he killed himself last year. The Department of Justice seemed to think Swartz was just a hacker. Maybe even a threat to national security. He had downloaded millions of scientific papers because he thought they should be available to anybody and not controlled by a for-profit company. The film doesn’t speculate what he intended to do with them but it does show his life, his accomplishments and what moved him to political action and that, incidentally, explains why there was such a huge outpouring of grief when he died. Toronto’s Hot Docs Festival ran it on opening night and named it one of its 10 best. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

MANAKAMANA : If you have patience, you’ll be rewarded. If not you’ll think this is just a series of 10-minute cable car rides up or down a mountain in Nepal.  Eleven of them, with different passengers sitting opposite you each time and not a great deal happening. The man and boy on the first ride don’t even say anything. It’s much like riding up a Grouse Mountain gondola. Even the landscape is similar.

 

Stick with it though. Gradually little vignettes have you reflecting on life and passing time. Most of the riders are pilgrims on their way to a shrine (which we never see) where the Hindu goddess Bhagwati  grants wishes. There’s a woman with a bouquet and then a man with a rooster. Two men tune up their stringed instruments called sarangis and three long-hair guys, rock ‘n’ rollers apparently, are bringing a kitten. At each turnaround, it’s fascinating to see who gets on next. Two old women recall it used to take a three-day hike to get up the mountain. Now there are houses all along the way. That’s as close as the film gets to stating a central theme. It’s the latest from Harvard University’s Sensory Ethnography lab which produced similar observe-only films on a sheep ranch (excellent!) and a fishing boat. I’d put this one somewhere in between.  (Cinematheque Sunday and Monday)  3 out of 5

It’s playing in tandem with …

A SPELL TO WARD OFF THE DARKNESS:  Musings on spirituality drive this strange documentary, but you’ll have to do the musing yourself. Film artists Ben Rivers (British) and Ben Russell (American) aren’t going to be so direct as to tell you exactly what they’re doing here. They just show you one man’s existence in three different situations and hope you can follow and get something out of what you see.

 

The Chicago-based musician Robert A.A. Lowe (aka Lichens) is glimpsed first in a commune in Estonia where he’s just an observer, a visitor, hardly a participant at all. The regulars share communal meals and baths, work the garden, build a dome and talk about their views of life. A woman describes hers as a “logarithmic spiral”. A man talks up “happy pessimism.”

Lichens then goes solitary in the woods, climbing mossy rocks, fishing on a lake and, in a third section, vocalizes in a Norwegian black-metal band. No lyrics; just screeching and wailing to throbbing guitars and drums. Almost a half hour of it. The film which progressed from one form of everyday life, to a Thoreau-like nature quest, to this banshee screaming , is oddly mesmerizing but primarily for fans of experimental  movie making.  (Cinematheque Sunday and Monday) 3 out of 5 

 

More in New Movies

Widows of criminals doing it for themselves, the seed of modern politics and the perils of war reporting

Also an ingenious take on the migrant crisis, and a second appreciation this year of Ingmar Bergman that adds to what we already know from the first

Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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