Summer is here. Certainly at the movies where TRANSFORMERS are battling last week's number one, SPIDER-MAN, with THE LITTLE MERMAID still around and THE FLASH coming next week.
If that's too much here's an alternative you can try. HOW DO YOU MEASURE A YEAR? is small, short and quiet, a 29-minute montage of a girl interviewed every year from age 2 to 18 with the same questions. We see her grow, mature and become more aware at every step. Parents will recognize the reality. The film is now streaming on CRAVE.
In theaters, we have these:
Elemental: Re-imagine Wildfire: 3 stars
Without Precedent … Rosalie Abella: 4
Chile '76: 4
Daliland: 3 ½
Squaring the Circle: 3
Transformers Rise of The Beasts: 2 ½
ELEMENTAL: REIMAGINE WILDFIRE: You can't get more timely than this. While we're in the worst wildfire season on record, here's a film that talks about them head on. What causes them, how to avoid them and what to do about them when they start. The information is from California and Oregon but it's the same as here. Millions of trees burned. Towns evacuated. Some burned out. One fire advanced six miles in just two hours. The pictures of charred trees, flattened buildings and burned out cars are eerie. Wildlife is under threat.
Actor David Oyelowo narrates and forest scientists from the three westcoast states give the facts that their research has turned up. Since the 1980 drought has been increasing, people have been moving in and fires have been getting worse. States work on suppression but the scientists found it doesn't help much. The common techniques, backburning and fuel thinnning, aren't effective. It's better to leave the forest alone and concentrate on making communities safer. An article in the Globe the other day called it “fire hardening.” Make homes less susceptible to fire. The film shows suggestions. Also, accepting that forests benefit from fires. “They do a lot of good work for free,” one scientist says. There's a lot of detailed information in this film though, to my mind, not enough focus on the role of climate change in what's surely a crisis. (Available on TVOD/Digital starting Tuesday, June 13) 3 out of 5
WITHOUT PRECEDENT: THE SUPREME LIFE OF ROSALIE ABELLA: Appointed judge at age 29 (youngest in Canadian history), then the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court, writer of some very controversial decisions and now, with her “sparkling personality,” she's the subject of an engrossing documentary. You're bound to enjoy it because she's so good natured. That comes out in a long interview she gave to the director Barry Avrich which forms the bulk of the film. But also in comments from Margaret Atwood, Brian Mulroney, Joe Clark, Paul Martin and many others, including her husband Irving Abella.
An unexpected detail revealed: her love of collecting odd and often kitschy knickknacks. It's a very human side to the public figure who made it a mission to defend the rights of minorities and thereby re-shaped our country. She wrote about employment equality at a royal commission, the pensions of same-sex partners at the court of appeal and same-sex marriage at the Supreme Court. She drew on her own history, born a displaced person after The Holocaust, to decide in these cases, including that of a Tamil refugee and also on labor rights and assisted suicide. This is a history lesson and a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of law. It premiered at the recent Hot Docs Festival in Toronto and is now in theatres across the country. 4 out of 5
CHILE '76: The post-Allende time in Chile gets a quite different treatment than we're used to. No prisoners held in a stadium or strutting soldiers and police. They're a prescence, but in the background, in the news on TV or a radio speech by Pinochet. We see their effect in one household where a woman's uninvolved, privileged life is affected. Her priest convinces her to shelter a young man who was caught stealing in desperation and suffered a gun shot. No details given, but gradually you sense there's more to it than that and tension and dread slowly build.
The man's wound needs tending. The woman's husband is a doctor and she has to appeal to him for antibiotics, without revealling why she needs them. She has to go on errands, always mindful that a curfew is in effect. When she has to go into a slum part of town and into a bar, a “friendly” man chats her up but seems more than a little inquisitive. She's being watched, it seems; she's being affected by political events even as she tries to avoid them. Actress-turned-director Manuela Martelli tells it with a feminist slant and Aline Kuppenheim gives a tremendous, very natural performance in the lead. It's a quiet but potent thriller. (Art-house theaters inVancouver now, Edmonton and Ottawa, next week) 4 out of 5
DALILAND: That would be a world of parties and carousing around Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist artist who in this film is seen in New York. He spent every winter there for over 20 years and lived the life of a celebrity. The time is 1973; he's preparing for a show of new works but partying so much that his agent sends a young man (Christopher Briney) to make sure he works at painting. That proves hard to do. There are people to distract him, including Alice Cooper, the singer, and Jesus. Well, the actor who plays him on Broadway, who is played by Zachary Nachbar-Seckel. Also a transgender model (played by a real one, Andreja Pejic) and a beauty named Ginesta, played by Suki Waterhouse.
The central relationship though is between Dali (played convincingly and calmly by Ben Kingsley) and his wife Gala, played by the great German star Barbara Sukowa. The couple are solid in their relationship, even though she is miffed that she helped him to become big in the artworld but gets no recognition for it. Not even from him. He tells how he first met and won her over. His younger self is played in the flashback by Ezra Miller, the scandal-tinged star who'll be back next week as the comic-book character, The Flash. Kind of fits doesn't when you think of the odd characters who hovered around Dali. This isn't a biography; it's a fascinating incident, ably directed by Mary Harron. She's Canadian and also has a film about Andy Warhol in her credits. ( Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver theaters) 3 ½ out of 5
SQUARING THE CIRCLE: Music fans will like this one. Certainly the ones who can remember staring at the album cover as they were listening. The children on Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, the crowd on Paul McCartney's Band on the Run, the Prism breaking the light on Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. And many others.
Here you learn about the men who created them and how they did it. Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey "Po" Powell called their London art studio Hipgnosis, you know “hip” meaning cool “gnosis” meaning wise in Greek. A cover for the band Nice got them noticed and eventually they went “stratospheric.” The cow of Atom Heart Mother doesn't mean anything. It was just a whim to do something unexpected. The film credits a rocky relationship between Po and the difficult to get along with Storm for the creativity. Vinyl is the poor man's art collection somebody says and Noel Gallagher, who laments that music has become too much of a commodity, says the Hipgnosis covers “represent the golden age of the music business when people believed they could change the world”. (In theaters, some like Toronto, Victoria, Montreal and Vancouver today, others soon) 3 out of 5
TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE BEASTS: Autobots and Decepticons have been battling it out here on earth since 2007, ever changing from cars and trucks to robots and back, prolonging a war from their own planet, and, of course, helping to sell toys. Predacons, and Terrorcons have now joined the campaign, along with Maximals, animals that transform. It's getting harder to keep track of the sides here. Kids might be better at it, but here's what I understand. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), leader of the Autobots and a semi-trailer truck in his other form, wants peace and to return home.
He has to battle Scourge (Peter Dinklage) leader of the Terrorcons and his boss Unicron and is joined by the Maximals, the shape-shifting animals (i.e. toys) that originated in a TV series. They're all after a mystical key that enables travel between space and time. It's now in two pieces, half in Peru, half in a Washington museum where a researcher (Dominique Fishback) is studying it. In comes a guy from Brooklyn (Anthony Ramos), so desperate for money that he steals a car only to see it transform into a robot (voiced by Pete Davidson). Since he's also an old school friend of the woman researcher, he's soon right in the quest for the whole key. There's more story than usual. Then, lots of big noisy crash-bang battles ensue. They're what you've come for, isn't it? (In theaters everywhere) 2 ½ out of 5