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Vancouver new movie reviews: Oz the Great and Powerful, Shepard and Dark, Hit ‘N Strum, Dead Man Down

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Kirk Caouette, a long-time stuntman in the local film industry, wrote, directed, composed and sung several songs and does a perfectly credible job acting, as the unsociable homeless busker. Michelle Harrison is clear-eyed eager as the woman who tries to get him off the street. She does get him into a recording studio and even to Toronto to meet a record company honcho. Those scenes aren’t the most authentic and the brief attempt to explain him is vague. The strength of the film is in the humanity the two actors (and the script) convey between two people with completely different values. Also, in the cinematography. From the steam clock, to Chambar, to the bridges and alleys, Vancouver has never looked as good. (Fifth Avenue) 3 out of 5 

SHEPARD AND DARK: This is a remarkable film because it gives you so much to think and talk about. It details the vagaries of friendship, or as my wife specifies, male friendship. Men are much shallower than women in relating to their friends and they don’t dwell on or face up to the past. That was true also for Sam Shepard, the actor, playwright, author, celebrity, and his long-time friend (since 1963) Johnny Dark, a private, stay-at-home type who worked part time at a deli meat counter. The two loved to talk about books, smoke dope and listen to Dylan.

 

They wrote long letters to each other when apart and, when Sam married the daughter of Dark’s wife, they lived as part of an unconventional family.  That is, until Sam ran away to be with actress Jessica Lange, leaving his son behind. When he left Jessica too, the idea came up to compile those letters into a book. Treva Wurmfeld’s documentary catches Sam and Johnny  together again, now (and maybe for the first time) looking into their past through a detailed record of their thinking over all those years in those letters.  The film shows them at work, often happily, sometimes annoying each other, and with the help of home movies and photos from Dark’s comprehensive personal archives, gives an intimate, surprisingly candid glimpse into their lives. Sam regrets his mistakes and can’t shake the influence of his Fulbright Scholar father who was also a drunk. Dark is a perceptive critic of Sam’s work and content to be a loner. This is a rich and thoughtful film.  (Pacific Cinematheque, screening five times through the weekend.)  4 out of 5

The Cinematheque’s spaghetti western series continues too, with For a Few Dollars More, Friday, and A Fistful of Dynamite, Saturday. Check the website: theCinematheque.ca

DEAD MAN DOWN: You’d better have a bit of patience watching this one because for some time at the beginning you won’t know what’s going on. Hang in there, though. It explains itself gradually. And with a great deal of mysterious atmosphere; odd camera angles and arty compositions on screen. You expect that, of course, because this is an American reunion of the director (Niels Arden Oplev) and the star (Noomi Rapace) of the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. They enter the well-trod world of urban criminal gangs here and tell an unlikely tale of parallel revenge plots. Colin Farrell is working for one gang, talking to another and joining in a shoot-up against a third. We only learn well into the film that he’s seeking revenge.

 

Noomi plays a woman who lives in a building across from his and manages to blackmail him into helping in her own quest for revenge. Her face is scarred from a traffic accident and she wants the perpetrator dead. Several coincidences come together improbably but the film is so stylish they’re hard to complain about. The plot is twisted and complex and the director cranks up great periods of tension. Only periods, though. The film’s cool and moody tone forestalls much extended excitement. Some of the gunplay is excessive but the characters are unusually well-drawn for this kind of film. Rapace is excellent as a woman obsessed with anger. Farrell plays it low key, introverted but resolute. Terrence Howard as the leader of one of the gangs and Dominic Cooper as one of his minions also do top-line acting.  (International Village and some suburban theatres) 3 out of 5

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

 

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