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Maybe the film supply is getting thinner. Today’s are old or small, though more than half are very good. And three other titles new in theatres are obscure. Disney is dumping a horror movie called The Empty Man, which came to it when it bought 20th Century Fox. Lupin III is an animated film from Japan about heading off a resurrected Third Reich, and Twiceborn, also from Japan, is a true story about a businessman revered as Buddha reborn. I couldn’t preview them, but I do have these:
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm: 3½ stars
Memories of Murder: 4
Over the Moon: 3½
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life: 4
Major Arcana: 3
The Antenna: 2½
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM: Almost 15 years after he first punked America as Kazakhstan’s fourth-best journalist, Sacha Baron Cohen is at it again, and in these darker days, goes even tougher at it. He shows that he’s one of our top satirists. He doesn’t bother with polite discussion and goes for the extreme. There he is walking into a Republican rally in a KKK outfit. Or a Mike Pence speech dressed as Donald Trump while the vice-president proudly proclaims the virus is under control because “we’ve only had 15 cases.” Cohen made the film months ago. What has transpired since is part of the joke, a very dark one, as is the cross-section of Americans he meets: An anti-abortion pastor, Georgia socialites at a debutante ball, gun-holding Trump supporters, and more. It’s hard to tell what is real and what is scripted, and it doesn’t matter too much anyway. There’s much to laugh and cringe at.
Borat, who allegedly embarrassed his country with that first film, is now sent on a mission by his president, who is fuming that he’s the one strongman Trump has not become friends with. He’s to take a present to Pence as an offering, but loses the gift and quickly has to find a new one. How about a young woman? He gets the idea from an old photo of Trump with Jeffrey Epstein. (See? He doesn’t hold back.) His own daughter, a stowaway on the trip and played by Maria Bakalova, would be a fine gift, once she’s cleaned up and dyed blond, and Rudy Giuliani’s a fine recipient. That encounter is mildly embarrassing, but not as lurid as the rumours would have it. The strength of the film is in skewering a whole range of American attitudes — from the Melania fairy-tale video the daughter watches, to the crowd that Borat gets singing along to a virulent anti-Obama song. Little in here is subtle. Enjoy. (Amazon Prime) 3½ out of 5
MEMORIES OF MURDER: Nothing like a major win at the Academy Awards to get people interested in your earlier work. Bong Joon Ho’s film Parasite won four Oscars last year, and that prompted the return of this one from 17 years ago. It’s his second full-length feature and comes in a sparkling new restoration. What really shines is his storytelling talent. (He directed and co-wrote the film.) He again shows his preference for mixing social commentary and humour into very grim storylines.
A serial killer is at work here (loosely based on a real case in South Korea in the 1980s that wasn’t solved until just recently). A couple of regional cops are investigating. One, played by Song Kang-ho, who was also in Parasite, is quick to jump to conclusions and is sure that a local youth who is intellectually disabled is the killer. His partner is quick with his fists and kicks, and together, they get a confession, they think. A sharper detective (Kim Sang-kyung) is sent down from Seoul and shows them both up with his deductive powers. The real break comes from the only woman on the force (Ko Seo-hie) who notices a coincidence: The killings happen when a certain song is requested at a radio station. It’s a break, but not a solution. The film draws you into the mystery with stylish direction, swirling tension, comic touches about bumbling police, and, from outside, the sounds of political unrest. It’s complex and captivating. (In theatres now at International Village, Cineplex Coquitlam and Odeon Victoria, and digital and on demand Nov. 3.) 4 out of 5
NOW: Here’s a perfect companion piece to I Am Greta, which was just here. This documentary features the climate activists who were inspired by Greta Thunberg. It’s not clear how many of them were already activists before her worldwide fame, but longtime or newbie, they’re an impressive lot. Several are from Germany, since that’s where this documentary is from. So is the director, Jim Rakete, although he has also worked in Los Angeles. So we get to know people like Felix Finkbeiner, whose group Plant for the Planet advocates planting a trillion trees. Al Gore inspired him. Marcella Hansch is fighting plastics. American Vic Barrett of Youth v. Gov talks of “environmental racism.” Zion Lights (that’s her name) of Extinction Rebellion, Kelsey Juliana, who took a case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and others articulate the urgency they feel to fight climate change.
There’s footage of demonstrators swarming into an open-pit coal mine and thousands marching in city streets. Thunberg shows up throughout, in the background at first, then speaking loudly in Poland and at the UN. (“How dare you?”) Observers like singer Patti Smith, film director Wim Wenders, economic anthropologist Jason Hickel and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus offer analysis, praise and warnings. “Can the movement turn self-destructive?” they ask. Most intriguing, though, is the growing feeling among the activists that the entire economic system, not just fossil fuels, is the enemy. That’s something to watch. (Available digitally at https://theimpactseries.net) 4 out of 5
OVER THE MOON: I enjoyed it, but I wonder how Chinese movie fans will take to this one. It’s an extreme update of a legendary story. Pretty well all Chinese children are told the tale about a beautiful lady named Chang'e who lives on the moon. Apparently, many believe it’s true and look for any sign of her on the night of the annual Moon Festival. Originally a harvest festival, it’s now a family holiday. This film starts rather cutesy, but then becomes loud, colourful and strident.
Young Fei Fei believes the story is true, and, after her mother dies, builds a rocketship and flies there. She brings along her pet bunny and an annoying soon-to-be stepbrother. (He and his mother, voiced by Sandra Oh, have joined the family.) On the moon, she’s welcomed by Chang'e, who sings emphatic, show-stopping songs in the voice of Phillipa Soo, who was big in the Broadway show Hamilton. It’s far away from Chinese mythology and very Hollywood. Margaret Cho, Ken Jeong and John Cho, or least their voices and personalities, are in it, too. Fei Fei is voiced by a newcomer, Cathy Ang.
Co-directors Glen Keane and John Kahrs have extensive experience in animation, and both won Oscars for short films. So the visual work, though not top-flight, is dazzling. Some of it was done in Vancouver. The colour and action we see on the screen both delights and makes you wonder about how sensitive to tradition the film is. Kids will surely like it. Careful, though: There are two deaths that have to be grieved and moved beyond. (Netflix) 3½ out of 5
OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE: For most of us, Oliver Sacks became known when Robin Williams played him in the film Awakenings. Readers of his books already knew him as a compelling and enthralling thinker about the human brain, how it works, how it shapes us, how to treat it right. He was a neurologist who charmed his readers with real stories in books like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and offended some in his profession. They accused him of exploiting his patients by writing about their afflictions. He makes no apologies in this film, constructed from a series of interviews he gave shortly before his death.
He comes off as a smiling and amiable man who explains his fascination with science. He was attracted to the “order, stability and mystery.” He was also haunted by rejection. He was just a teen when his mother called him an abomination after he revealed he was gay. He became a biker, got hooked on amphetamines and, after splitting with a partner, resolved never to live with anyone again.
Clumsy in his laboratory work, Sacks was demoted to seeing patients and “neurological heaven opened” for him. The film details his work with catatonic patients, his focus on “the richness” of the experience of victims of Parkinsonism and Tourette’s syndrome and his overriding philosophy: To treat the patient and not the disease. Science, medicine and personal drama combine precisely in this fascinating documentary. It’s directed by an experienced hand, Ric Burns, brother (and sometimes associate) of Ken. (Vancity Theatre) 4 out of 5
MAJOR ARCANA: They’re the most influential cards in a deck of Tarot cards. They affect your life, karma and where you’re going — or exactly what a sketchy guy named Dink is going through in Vermont. He has been away for years (can’t explain why), is back (because his dad died and left him a house and property) and doesn’t have much of an idea what he’ll do. So he starts building a house in the woods, reconnects tentatively with the girlfriend he left years ago and argues briskly with his mother. She figures she should get a share of the property and the money that may be hidden in a walls of the house.
That’s the setup for an engrossing visit with a man who is floating through life with no clear purpose. He says he wandered the West Coast and spent time up in B.C. (He reminds me so much of guys you might have met up in the Slocan Valley or Lund or elsewhere. Back-to-the land hippies.) He has uneven teeth and a craggy face. But he’s an artisan. Repeatedly through the film, we see him at work: cutting down trees, shaping logs, cutting mortise and tenon joints and raising beams. His work looks authentic, because he is. Director Josh Melrod chose Ujon Tokarski to play him when he saw him work on his house. Lane Bradbury and Tara Summers, as mother and girlfriend, are both experienced actors with a lot of television work. Together they create a realistic, low-key ambience around a man who has to move on — but where to? A quiet, thoughtful but always involving film. (Vancity Theatre) 3 out of 5
THE ANTENNA: It’s become almost a trend. Filmmakers use horror movie conventions to post a pungent criticism of society. The U.S., the U.K. and now Turkey have joined in. First-time director Orcun Behram (he also wrote it) rants about increasing oppression in his country through the experiences of people in one apartment building. They’re told that as of midnight, a new communication will start up called the Night Bulletin. It will go to every household in the country and bring on “a new era,” and the country will be “closer to the ideal order.”
Almost immediately, things go wrong. A rooftop installer falls to his death. A tenant reports a black goo oozing into her bathtub. It seems to be coming from the antenna. Children hear noises in the walls. Just pipes making sounds, they’re told. A building superintendent has to ensure the installation is done smoothly and clean up the ooze (and more) as we wait for the system to start up and wonder what it will offer. “Differences of opinion will not be tolerated” is one message it eventually imparts. There are more, all typical autocratic pronouncements. And there’s more ooze. The film makes its points clearly enough and builds eerie tension doing it. I don’t understand the ooze, though, except perhaps as a visual representation of harmful ideas engulfing people. It seems a forced connection. (On demand at iTunes, Amazon, cable companies and others.) 2½ out of 5