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Wise talk by The Two Popes; a media circus for Richard Jewell and big action in Jumanji

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One teen (Alex Wolff) goes back into the game to make up for some dissatisfaction in his life. The others (Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner and Ser’Darius Blain) go in to find him and inadvertently bring along a grandfather (Danny DeVito) and his estranged old friend (Danny Glover). But the avatars they appear as are all mixed up. The nerd isn’t the muscleman (Dwayne Johnson) this time; the grandfather is. (Johnson does not do a good DeVito impression). The football player, not one of the girls, is now inside the map expert (Jack Black) and most amusingly Kevin Hart is hosting, and brilliantly channeling, Danny Glover. Only Karen Gillan’s avatar is the same as before and Awkwafina is a new one. Whatever form they’re in, they go on adventures in the desert (against a herd of ostriches), in a malfunctioning blimp, on drifting suspension bridges (chased by wild baboons) and in a Game of Thrones look-alike scenario with a veteran of that series, Rory McCann, playing Jurgen the Brutal. Individual parts are excellent; the whole, not so much. (Scitiabank, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres) 3 out of 5

THAT HIGHER LEVEL: It only played here once, back in Sept, and now it’s available again, FOR FREE. It’s streaming on nfb.ca and YouTube. Hooray. This film can inspire young musicians and educate the rest of us. It lets us watch the 100 or so musicians in the National Youth Orchestra at work, in rehearsals, getting instruction and then follow them on a tour across Canada culminating in a final concert at the Chan Centre at UBC. We get a generous excerpt from that one. 

 

We see them work on their art. It’s thrilling when a violin girl is advised she’s playing too hard and then gets it right. We learn something too when an instructor explains the background for the main piece they play, Death and Transfiguration by Richard Strauss and when the students talk about the emotions it raises in them.  For many this is an early step to a professional career. As a trumpet boy puts it: “This is what I’m doing now. This is it.” The enthusiasm is infectious. The film’s director, John Bolton from here in Vancouver, understands. He’s been a viola player. 4 stars out of 5 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS: Yes, it fits the season, this message that kindness can overcome adversity with acts of love. The expression of it here though is clumsy and maudlin. These people don’t impress you as authentic. They’re types, conveniently imagined by writer-director Lone Scherfig who is from Denmark, has set them in New York and filmed them in Toronto. There’s Canadian money in this co-production.

Zoe Kazan plays a young mother who runs out on her abusive husband in Buffalo to New York City,  with two sons and no resources except a car in which they sleep. She scrounges food from hotel functions and meets a variety of other needy people between a soup kitchen and a friendly Russian restaurant which all the characters at one time or another enter. Bill Nighy is in charge and puts on a Russian accent for the customers’ sake. He seems to be the only person in the whole film having any fun. He’s out of place, then. He hires an ex-con, who comes dining there with his lawyer (Jay Baruchel), as his head  chef. Both men also attend a self-help group run by a sad-eyed nurse (Andrea Riseborough) who also runs a soup kitchen.  Another guy, said to be “bad at just about everything,” shows up there for a meal but is mistaken for a server and put to work. The message, that we have to care for each other, is good; the stating of it here is heavy-handed and calculated. (International Village) 2 out of 5   

Also now playing …

BLACK CHRISTMAS: Not so much into the spirit of Christmas movies? Then how about a slasher film?. This is the second time this Canadian cult-favorite has been re-made. The original was filmed in Toronto, the second here in Vancouver and New Zealand hosted this new one. The story is the same: sorority girls at a university are one by one killed off around Christmas eve. Several things are new this time: there’s a woman director (Sophia Takal), a contemporary plotline (the women refuse to be victims and fight back) and a peculiar change. The killer may be part of “an underground college conspiracy”. Maybe the biggest change: a milder rating: PG-13 in the US; 14A for most of Canada.  

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