US soul searching in 12 Strong, Hostiles and The Final Year

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Barack Obama let the camera watch him and his foreign policy team for an entire year. We see him at work in the west wing and on emotional trips to Laos (“the most heavily bombed country in history”) and Hiroshima (where he spoke of “the inevitable tragedy of war”). John Kerry or his State Department colleagues talk Syria, Cuba, Iran, global warming, terrorism and refugees on their travels. UN Ambassador Samantha Power makes a prescient speech: “You are entitled to your own opinions. You are not entitled to your own facts.”  These are good people doing a good job you feel and director Greg Barker gets that across with a zippy display of clips and pictures. But every once in a while, usually on a TV set in the background … Trump is nominated, leads in Florida, wins. It’s a quietly powerful film.  (VanCity Theatre) 4 ½  out of 5    

THE SQUARE: Swedish director Ruben Ostlund who knocked manly courage a few years ago in Force Majeure is back with an assault on arty pretension. This satire won him a top prize at Cannes and proves to be very funny. At first it’s about the curator of a Stockholm modern art museum who removed a military statue and replaced it with a 4 x 4-metre square said to represent trust and caring, equal rights and obligations. How to publicize it? Two consultants suggest ways to cut through the media clutter. They cause a virulent controversy. Museum supporters are parodied and a performance artist upsets their banquet with a monkey imitation. The film asks what is art, are there limits and who are the people who lap it up and talk it up?


Claes Bang, from Denmark, plays the curator. He sounds pompous in an interview with an American journalist (Elisabeth Moss) ends up in bed with her and gets his comeuppance in a hilarious side story that parallels his theory of art reflected in everyday items. This is a sly movie swaying back and forth between two types of humor, droll and blunt. Good fun, with bite. (VanCity) 4 out of 5

DEN OF THIEVES:  Here’s a virile film about a bank heist that entertains, then exasperates. At 2 ½ hours it is too long, and veers off focus with unnecessary scenes.  It should be much more compact, and stay sharply on topic. It’s also reaching for something it can’t really deliver: to show that criminals and the cops who chase them are really much alike. The script has one cop put it this way: “We’re like a gang. Only we’ve got badges.” But just saying it doesn’t make it believable. That’s what’s missing in this one.


Gerard Butler plays a scruffy cop in Los Angeles, said to be the bank robbery capital of the United States. Pablo Schreiber leads a gang of bank robbers working on a really big job. With rapper 50 Cent and new recruit O'Shea Jackson Jr (Ice Cube’s son) along, they want to steal $30 million from the local branch of the Federal Reserve. These are bills destined to be destroyed. But how do you get inside? Steal an empty armored car and drive in. All that is carried out to with precision and tension, under  Christian Gudegast’s first-time direction. It’s in his other role, screenwriter, that the problems sit. Butler’s cop is arrogant and violent but why spend so much time with his unhappy homelife. Shreiber’s gang leader is calm and controlled; too good I’d say. 50 Cent gives a long lecture to his daughter as she goes out on her first date. These things aren’t needed and just drag out the heist at hand. It’s already suffering from improbability and comes to a not so clear conclusion. (Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5 

FOREVER MY GIRL: I saw one comment about the trailer for this film as “cheesy.” I can’t think of a better word for the entire film. That and perhaps “sweet,” to be charitable. It’s like a Harlequin Romance with beautiful people and a storyline that feels like a soap opera. In a mannered, down-home country style.


Alex Roe, who is British, plays a big American country star who eight years earlier stood up his fiancé (Jessica Rothe). He left her waiting at the altar with a church full of people and now comes back to the small Louisiana town for a friend’s funeral. He re-meets his ex- and resumes a relationship. It’s awkward at first, naturally, but she goes along. Apparently she’s one of those women who think she can help a damaged man—we don’t hear what caused the damage until almost the end of the film. But we learn she’s strong, started her own business and has a daughter—theirs—and never bothered to tell him about her. It feels like stereotypical women’s story telling. In fact most of the creative people behind this film (from director/screenwriter Bethany Ashton Wolf to the novelist, cinematographer, editor, and on and on) are women. It’s a step forward. There are also songs, including one from a real country singing star, Travis Tritt. (International Village and suburban theatres) 2 ½  out of 5  

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