Can You Ever Forgive Me: 4 stars
Bohemian Rhapsody: 3
Suspiria: 2 ½
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This Mountain Life: 3 ½
Maria by Callas: 3 ½
Bel Canto: 2 ½
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: --
Nobody’s Fool : --
CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? How refreshing it is to see Melissa McCarthy in something other than the raunchy and loud comedies she’s become known for. This one is aimed at adults, not adolescents, and you know what? It is funnier than most of her others. It’s in a lower key and delivers chuckles rather than big laughs (although there are a few of them too) but it is wonderfully entertaining. That’s largely because her character is so well-written, full of anxieties and insecurities, feeling lonely but still feisty and finding ways to carry on.
It’s a true story. Lee Israel’s writing career has stalled; the New York publishing establishment won’t help her anymore and she can’t pay the rent. But she discovers there’s a collector’s market for original letters and notes by famous people. So, she forges some. Who’s to tell if that’s really Noel Coward’s signature or if Dorothy Parker really wrote those clever lines? Somebody will eventually, of course, but she managed to carry on the scam for over a year. It’s a delight to watch her develop her trade, dupe the dealers of ephemera and bring on an ally to help as best he can. He’s a gently cynical gay man and a sort of aimless bon vivant played by Richard E. Grant. They trade wit and biting commentary and consume a lot of liquor. They’re a great pair in a very amusing movie. (5th Avenue) 4 out of 5
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY: Go for the music not the story. It’s not solidly factual anyway; it’s truncated, toned down. Key people are missing from it. Key events are shifted and you’d do better reading a book to get the real goods on Queen and their conflicted but charismatic lead singer, Freddie Mercury. But you’ll most assuredly have a good time watching, and listening, to the re-created performances in this film. Some, particularly the 1985 set at Live Aid, are close to thrilling. Bob Geldof, the organizer, reverted to his music critic role and proclaimed they were absolutely the best band out there. The film captures the euphoria perfectly and you’ll feel buoyant for some time after.
The other parts of the movie are hit and miss. We learn that Freddie was of Parsee heritage and felt like an outsider. He happened to introduce himself to a small-time rock band just as their lead singer had quit (doubtful, but okay), developed a great operatic vision of what pop music could be and led the band, that he renamed Queen, to a huge career. It still holds the record in England for top-selling album. We see the creative process at work as they came up with anthemic songs like We Will Rock You and a bit of the business side. “No-one is going to be head-banging in the car to Bohemian Rhapsody,” proclaims a record company guy played my Mike Myers. Recall that he and Garth did exactly that in Wayne’s World.
The band had misses too (not in the film); Freddie went solo for a while (almost a minor event here) and he was a busy bisexual (downplayed here). Rami Malek captures his spirit perfectly, and later in the film, his looks too. (He looks a bit like Mick Jagger early on.) Most amazingly, you feel like he’s actually singing. In reality it’s a bit of him, a lot of Mercury from studio and live recordings and a sound-alike, a Canadian named Marc Martel. Technically, that’s a marvel. The film could use more of that care on the drama side. (5th Avenue, Scotiabank, Marine Gateway, suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
SUSPIRIA: Luca Guadagnino has succumbed to over-thinking it. His last one, Call Me By Your Name, was straightforward, bright and cheerful and was celebrated at the Academy Awards. Now he’s taken one the horror movie crowd loves for its garish colors and lurid plot and remade it with artistic intentions. He’s dulled the look and crowded in extra themes: the power of women, motherhood, the continuing influence of the past on our lives and political unrest in the news. All that while the central story is still the same simple tale about a dance academy that is really a front for a coven of witches. The original teased out that revelation; this new one lets it out very early and offers up a long tale in “six acts and an epilogue” that takes some diligence to follow.
Dakota Johnson plays a young American who gets accepted into a prestigious dance academy in Berlin run by a demanding and stern teacher played by Tilda Swinton. (She’s also in two other roles but I won’t elaborate). She insists on total dedication from the dancer. A previous newbie couldn’t take it, escaped and recounted her experiences (“delusions”, some say) to a psychotherapist. He tells the police and when they turn up nothing sinister, keeps investigating himself. That also brings in his personal history (he lost his wife after the war) which joins the dancer’s flashbacks to a strict upbringing in a Mennonite community and ongoing news broadcasts about terrorism by the Bader-Meinhof gang (it’s 1977) and no wonder the film is now almost 2 ½ hours long. Luckily it never feels slow; just rambling. It’s rarely scary; is occasionally gross, flounces nudity and rises to a bloody and violent climax. It’s well-made but takes itself far too seriously and is not likely to delight the art house or the horror movie crowd. (International Village) 2 ½ out of 5
THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE: There are strong visuals in this ode to living among mountains and even stronger bursts of philosophy. Mountains lift you spiritually the people in the film say. They soothe your soul, says one. "I feel like I'm in touch with the whole cosmos," says another. Grant Baldwin, the Vancouver-based director, cinematographer and composer, is urging us to experience them. Very few of us do, he says in an on screen note, even though BC is 75% mountains. He makes his points through several enthusiasts.
First, and repeatedly, there's a mother and daughter duo travelling by foot, occasionally on skis or on a raft, through the coast mountains from Squamish to Skagway, Alaska. That's like walking from here to Mexico. It takes them five months, and the camera is there for all the aches, cold, exertion and joy. Every once in a while the film veers to other mountain fans, a skiing nun, an artist who's been off the grid for 50 years, a climber in the Kootenays who says colors are more vibrant and his hearing is more acute in the mountains. There's a chilling and detailed description of three people caught in an avalanche, one buried several meters deep. You get a quick avalanche education and overall a new appreciation, respect even, for our province’s most prominent geographical feature. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
MARIA BY CALLAS: It’s back after its VIFF appearance and opera fans will be delighted. They should see it for sure and for the rest of us this is a fine introduction to the diva who has been called the greatest opera singer ever. More for the intensity of the drama she conveyed, than her actual voice, but no matter. We get generous helpings of her singing in several long excerpts from her performances. And we get her story, both glorious and tragic, in old interviews, home movies and in excerpts from her diaries read by an actor making it sound like she’s narrating her own story.
Notably we get the Aristotle Onassis chapter. She had an affair with him and expected he would marry her only to find one day that Jackie Kennedy got him. She was fired from the Metropolitan Opera (not well explained), had a reputation for tempestuous outbursts (not overly dwelled on here) and in a way led a sad life. As she says to David Frost in a TV interview, a woman should be with a man and have children but destiny meant that for her it was not to be. This very intimate, and mostly self-, portrait is proud and poignant in equal measure. (VanCity Theatre) 3 ½ out of 5
BEL CANTO: I didn’t recommend it when it played at the Film Festival and still can’t. It’s made by and performed by good people but is just too convoluted for me. And improbable, even though it’s from a popular novel which was inspired by an actual event. A swanky government affair in an unnamed Latin American country is crashed by revolutionaries. (Something like it did happen in Peru). A Japanese industrialist (Ken Watanabe) has promised to invest in a new factory if his favorite opera singer can be there to help celebrate. Enter Julianne Moore, lip synching to Renee Fleming’s voice (sometimes not too badly).
Comedy-specialist Paul Weitz directed it; seems to have followed the keep-it-moving school of filmmaking and logic suffers. He doesn’t build up to some key events, lets them just pop up and make us try to believe them. So the singer and the industrialist fall in love. So does his translator and the young woman among the rebels. German actor Sebastian Koch arrives as a Red Cross worker trying to de-fuse the situation before the army can burst in. He’s got a good idea; it disappears without so much as a discussion. There’s not much tension either but to the film’s credit it develops some sympathy for the rebels. Not that it matters a lot, because they’re inept and disorganized. Not the film, though. It’s only clumsy. (VanCity Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5
Also now playing …
THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS: Disney’s take on the holiday standard is big, colorful, star-studded (Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and, briefly, prima ballerina Misty Copeland). Foy plays Clara who on Christmas Eve is given a music box that belonged to her recently deceased mother but has to venture out into those realms to find a key to open it. I haven’t seen it but the reviewer at Screen Daily, while praising it for invoking the warmth of Christmas, knocks it for “blockbuster blandness.” (Dunbar, International Village, Marine Gateway and suburban theatres)
NOBODY’S FOOL: Tyler Perry’s movies hardly get a release out here, let alone promotion and preview screenings. This one might have merited some because of the cast (Tiffany Haddish, Missi Pyle, Whoopi Goldberg and others) and the fact that it’s not about the continuing character Madea. Tiffany plays a woman trying to expose the man who “catfished” her sister. That means he struck up an on-line relationship under false circumstances. Whoopi plays their mother. (International Village and one suburban theatre)