The Walk, Sicario and Coming Home and more VIFF picks
The regular films haven’t slowed down while the Vancouver International Film Festival is on. There are three very good ones just arrived.
From VIFF I’ve got four films reviewed for the weekend and a few extra suggestions at the end.
Here’s the list:
The Walk: 4 stars
Coming Home: 3
The Martian: not reviewed
VIFF: Dheepan: 3 ½
VIFF: Into The Forest: 3
VIFF: Eadweard: 3
VIFF: Entertainment: 2
THE WALK: The 2008 documentary told the story. This film puts you on the wire as its happening. Right up there, looking from all angles, from above and below, as Philippe Petit is taking a high-wire walk at New York’s World Trade Centre. It’s 1974. He’s more than 100 stories up on a cable he’s strung between the twin towers. He walks eight times, dodging police at both ends, taunting us with a number of reckless moves.
It’s an exhilarating display of freedom for him; a lump in the throat thrill for us filmed in shiny and deep 3-D. If you’ve got a fear of heights don’t look down.
The walk is the highlight but much of the film is the preparation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the daredevil with Gallic charm a la Hollywood, Montreal actor Charlotte Le Bon plays his girlfriend and Ben Kingsley plays his mentor in France with whom he had a stormy relationship. There’s a light comic tone in those early scenes. Petit narrates his story standing at the Statue of Liberty; a sign that director Robert Zemeckis is having fun with this one. He even uses the 3-D a couple of times to fling things at us. But once up there, with the camera showing as often as possible how far down one could fall, he’s serious about clenching us up with tension. The first film, which won a best-documentary Oscar, had more suspense in the getting there; this one holds it back until we’re up there. The film is very entertaining. It shows in IMAX and premium theatres now and in many more next week. (Scotiabank, Riverport, Metropolis) 4 out of 5
SICARIO: It means hitman in Mexico but that’s not what the film is about. It’s about the drug war that crosses back and forth over the United States border seemingly at will. This strong, engrossing film by Quebec’s Denis Villeneuve gives us a lot of the grisly details, any of which could have been caused by hitmen, but it also gives us an accompanying dissertation on ethics. Over in Mexico, cops aren’t always the good guys. On the American side a drug agent shoots up three guys in a car and proclaims “This is the future.” The film posits that everyone in this war gets corrupted.
Emily Blunt is caught in the middle of it. She’s an FBI agent invited to join a DEA team led by Josh Brolin and her idealism is tested immediately. Twenty bodies in a remote Arizona house start it off; Brolin’s happily cynical stepping on the law and and Benicio Del Toro’s mysterious agent with a serious revenge drive pushes it further. Their mission is to take down the head of a Mexican cartel who has expanded his operation into the U.S. A parallel story line pops up now and then about a Mexican cop and his soccer-playing son. The story gets complex. Motivations get murky. There’s an ever-present feeling of threat and unease. With that and several big action set pieces, Villeneuve has made a very good, exciting and smart movie. (Dunbar, Scotiabank and suburban theatres) 4 out of 5
COMING HOME: It was here a year ago at the film festival and finally returns like the father in the story. He’s been sent to prison during China’s cultural revolution accused of being a “rightist”. His wife, played by the elegant Gong Li, is a dance teacher for productions like The Red Detachment of Women. Her daughter wants to dance the lead but that’s in threat when dad escapes to come home. The daughter tips off the police who recapture him in a tense, suspenseful scene at the train station. What follows is thick with melodrama.
It’ll be another three years before he does return, rehabilitated and anxious to reunite his family. Major problems though. His daughter is thick with regret and his wife can’t remember him. “Psychogenic amnesia” a doctor calls it. A bit of a contrivance, I say. However, with repeated attempts to get through to her, this is a moving film and something of a tearjerker. No more politics, though. That’s melted away to the pervasive piano tinkling of Lang Lang in this 8th collaboration of Gong Li and China’s top director Zhang Yimou. While it doesn’t match their best (Raise The Red Lantern, Ju Dou), it is well-acted, crisply directed and even with little edge, an appealing watch. (Fifth Avenue Cinemas) 3 out of 5
Also now in theatres …
THE MARTIAN: It (he?) got heavy praise at the Toronto film festival and people here who’ve seen it agree. I’ll catch it when I can. Ridley Scott seems to be back in good form after his dull Prometheus. He’s gotMatt Damon stranded on Mars but not giving in to that impossible situation. Science, he announces, will keep him alive and get him off of there. Jessica Chastain is the commander who accidentally left him behind and Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels and Sean Bean are in mission control down on earth working on the problem. Mars is in the news right now, so the timing is great. (The Park, Scotiabank and suburban theatres)
The VIFF notes …