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Film festivals are busy these days announcing what they've got coming. Venice has new works by Michael Mann, Ava DuVernay, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sofia Coppola and Bradley Cooper. Toronto is featuring, among many others, the latest from Richard Linklater, Alexander Payne, Alice Rohrwacher, Catherine Breillat and Hirokazu Kore-eda. Vancouver has just revealled its early list including those last three also, plus Ken Loach, Atom Egoyan and a film about Mr. Dressup.
Lots to look forward to and while you're waiting note that two excellent films have returned. She Said shows how two New York Times reporters exposed Harvey Weinstein. It didn't find an audience when it came out and is now streaming on CRAVE. Satan Wants You, about the satanic panic that swept North America in the 1980s and actually started in Victoria, is now playing in seven cities across Canada, from Toronto to, yes, Victoria.
Or you could check out these ...
Heart of Stone: 3 stars
The Beasts: 4
Passages: 3 ½
Red, White and Royal Blue: 2
The Monkey King: 3
100 Years of Warner Bros.: 4
HEART OF STONE: Here's another terrific action film for this summer, on Netflix though. It could wow on the big screen as it takes us to six countries, including the Italian Alps and an African desert, for the adrenaline pump you want in this genre. There's an exciting car chase through narrow streets in Lisbon, a motorcyle race down a mountain, a fall out of an airplane only to land on an airship which soon explodes, and other fanciful events you might think Tom Cruise has the corner on. But it's Gal Gadot this time, branching out from her Wonder Woman success to play a female action spy.
The plot is intricate and not always perfectly clear. She, last name Stone, is with MI6 but part of a secret group that works seperately. It's called The Charter and has to safeguard an Artificial Intelliigence program called The Heart. Bollywood star Alia Bhatt plays a hacker trying to get hold of it. Jamie Dornan plays the group leader and Matthias Schweighöfer an associate, or is he? Loyalties are sketchy at times but the program they're fighting over is precisely described: by harvesting trillions of data points it can predict the future. “Knowledge and power” is the target, much like and seemingly even bigger than with The Entity in this summer's Mission Impossible film. This movie is just as rivetting, if you can follow the twists and shadowy connections. Or if you can just overlook them for the exploits and thrills. (Netflix) 3 out of 5
THE BEASTS: Gripping is the right word for this one. It is intense, telling of a rural dispute driven by a local bully against a newcomer's intransigence. Dread builds, you're tense, you sense something will happen. Director Rodrigo Sorogoyen builds that ambience perfectly. And also crafts a sudden mid-film shift that startles for a while but also brings in a couple of different angles to the dispute. It's quite a feat and works perfectly.
It's based on a true story from a small town in Spain. A couple originally from France run a small organic farm and eke out a modest living. It's idylic but has infuriated a local man and his brother. As he spouts off bombastically in the tavern and snidely insults the farmer, we understand the problem.
The farmer voted against an energy company's offer to buy land and build wind turbines. The town is economically depressed. The rundown look of the streets and buildings make that clear. Easy money, badly needed? Not really, argues the farmer, and look what you lose. He disappears and the film shifts to the wife. She has to deal with the police and also an argumentative daughter who disagrees with what they've been doing. The film shows that the issues aren't as clearcut as we thought they'd be and brings them out with very good acting and writing. (in a theater in Toronto now, Vancouver next week, and more to come) 4 out of 5
PASSAGES: This is the better, far better, of the two gay love stories that have come along this week. It deals with reality that could happen to anyone, gay or not. And it deals with the attraction and impact of one central character on those around him. Again, universal.
Tomas Freiburg is a film director, German but now in working Paris, and is played with startling presence by Franz Rogowski. He's seen at work in the early scenes insisting on the correct downstairs walk from an actor, making him do it over and over. He'll make demands like that in regular life too where he has a husband (played by Ben Whishaw) and tests that relationship when he strays.
At a party he dances with a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos), then sleeps with her and reports that it was "exciting" and "different". He's not so casual though when the husband meets another man, a writer and has sex with him. Then things get really complicated. The husband demands freedom. ("I want my life back ... and I don't want you in it.") Emotions are deep when he meets the woman and they compare notes about him. Made by American director Ira Sachs, a specialist in human relationship dramas, this is a fine study of love for this modern era. And careful. There's some quite graphic gay sex. (In theaters: Toronto and Vancouver now, Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa next Friday) 3 ½ out of 5
RED, WHITE AND ROYAL BLUE: Here's a gay love story that's plays like a regular rom-com. The usual plot points are all there and it aspires to be a light-hearted, sweet romance. Unrealistic, almost phoney is more like it, though it is based on a New York Times bestseller by Casey McQuiston that apparently was met with acclaim. But get this: the US has a woman president (Uma Thurman) and her son Alex falls in love with an English royal. Prince Henry he's named. I really wonder what Harry and Meghan will think of this and not just because Harry's real name is Henry.
Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Alex, played by Taylor Zakhar Perez, felt snubbed by the prince when they met at a climate conference years before. Henry is played by Nicholas Galitzine and really has the air of a prince. He played another one just two years ago in Cinderella.The two meet again at a wedding where they manage to knock over a giant cake and get their icing-covered faces spread all over the internet. But, surprise, when they meet later, they kiss. Rom-coms thrive on impulses like that and there are many more to come . Rumors make the news and society is shocked. Even King James III (Stephen Fry) has to lay down the law for the prince. It's all fantasy and so much like so many other films that it comes off as trite. Watch for Rachel Maddow as herself covering the story on MSNBC, Sarah Shahi as a feisty publicist and the Washington Monument as a phallic symbol. That one's typical of the trite feel in here. (Prime Video) 2 out of 5
THE MONKEY KING: The beloved and very old Chinese tale makes it to Netflix in a very hyper and sporadically enjoyable animated film. I don't know the tale's history but I had a nagging feeling thet this version may be a bit disrespectful of Chinese culture. There's wisecracking dialogue, a very cheeky monkey, frenetic action and Buddha himself appearing to recommend “meditation and reflection.” It feels more American than Chinese.
The monkey (voiced by Jimmy O. Yang) has an ego problem, he's boastful and feels entitled to join the “immortals,” i.e. live forever. He's told he'll have to defeat 100 demons just to even be considered for that. A frantic montage shows him win over many; then the focus turns on that one more to go. He's opposed by the Dragon King, who rules the sea (voiced by Bowen Yang). But a little girl (Jolie Jiang-Rappaport) insists on helping him. A trip to a graveyard, a underwater splash into a pool and a trip to the underword later, and the Jade Emperor says he's still only achieved half-immortality. There's much more story to come, intervention by Buddha (B D Wong) and even the monkey leaping from Buddha's hand up to outer space. Is that part of the tradition? Ultimately there's the message: that even one being can make a difference. That's worth saying. And notice that all the voices are by Asian actors. That's a first. (Theaters now: Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Hamilton, Sudbury, Vancouver, Waterloo and Windsor, Netflix next Friday) 3 out of 5
100 YEARS OF WARNER BROS.: Movie buffs are going to lap this up. Books have covered the same information but this has more recent additions than say The Warner Brothers Story published in 1979. It's got talking heads like Martin Scorcese , George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey and Leonard Maltin, narration by Morgan Freeman and lots and lots of clips. They're well-selected and beautifully inserted. When Bette Davis fights for her rights, a clip from a film seems to comment directly. A line from Casablanca is right on about isolationism. Freedom is a big theme in swashbuckler films.
There are four episodes in the series. The first, which premiered last Sunday, takes us back to the studio's founding, a near bankruptcy and then rescue by Rin Tin Tin, the first dog movie hero. Also the coming of sound, with Al Jolson performing in blackface in The Jazz Singer. Then the 1930s gangster films, musicals and even combinations of the two. Up to Bonnie and Clyde. The episodes aren't just about one era. So wartime and contract battles feature in this one, while #2 is mainly about the 1970s when the studio allowed filmmakers like Stanley Kubrik, Clint Eastwood and even Mel Brooks to “swing for the fences.” Films like Blade Runner, All the President's Men and The Excorcist resulted and Woodstock pulled the studio out of another financial crisis. Behind-the-scenes business is a big part of this well-told history. Episodes 3 and 4 will get to the 1980s and beyond. (It's streaming at the Hollywood Suite platform) 4 out of 5