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Canada has just announced the film we'll send to next year's Oscars: Rojek is a documentary about people who want to establish that Islamic caliphate. They've been arrested, are sitting in prison but still believe. The film isn't well known but has played in a few theaters and won an award at Toronto's Hot Docs festival. Apparently it documents "a new kind of threat."
Note this too: the Ukrainian troubles are now back in theaters in the film Iron Butterflies. It's about a lead-up to the war, the downing of a Malaysian airliner. Based on a distinctive butterly shape in the shrapnel, it's blamed on somebody who had a particular Russian missile. Who? The film searches; a commision suggests, the Russians deny and call it preposterous. (In 6 theaters from Ottawa to Vancouver)
And Saturday is National Cinema Day. You can get into any movie for just $4. For the list of theaters in your region that are participating, check here https://www.nationalcinemaday.ca/
In theaters or streaming, these are new this week:
Gran Turismo: 3 ½ stars
Dreamin' Wild: 4
Golda: 2 ½
Star Wars Ahsoka: 4
Warrior King: 2 ½
100 Years of Warner Bros: 3
GRAN TURISMO: Just like in the real world of car racing where company logos are plastered over every driver's clothing, on all the cars and every fence on the track, this movie has product placement galore. It also has a seen-it-before plot line: a young driver defies his dad's wishes and follows his dream. He has to fight off the skeptics, rivals and any doubts he may have of his own. Not at all unusual in the movies. Forever. But having said that, I must add that you'll have fine time here. The story works well and the racing sequences are spectacular, some filmed from a drone that gets us right into them. A couple of crashes are almost frightening. And the story is true, though how much of it was altered for dramatic purposes,I don't know.
It starts with the Playstation game, Gran Turismo (the company helped produce the film). It's so realistic that the players learn all about driving race cars and could be a good source to find new drivers for real. That's the pitch by an advisor to the Nissan car company's racing division (Orlando Bloom). The company goes for it, he hires a chief engineer (David Harbour) and they hold contests to find the best and then take them to the track.
We follow a young guy from Wales (Jann Mardenborough, played by Archie Madekwe) whose father (Djimon Hounsou) strenuously objects that he's wasting his time. I don't remember his mother saying much, although she's played by former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, who is married to a race car driver. We see him in the original contest and then several races actually filmed on real car-racing tracks around Europe. They're thrilling and his story resonates as he fights to prove himself. There's ambition and competition, well-evoked by director Neill Blomkamp. He had a critical hit with District 9 (2009) but some disappointments recently. Looks like he's back. Originally from South Africa, he's lived and married in Vancouver. (In theaters) 3 ½ out of 5
DREAMIN' WILD: Another film about following your dream and it couldn't be different. First off, the father is totally supportive. Second, the dream doesn't happen, not at first but does 30 years later and the film is about how to live with that. It's a true story spun off from a New York Times article.
A couple of brothers, Donnie and Joe Emerson in the rural town of Fruitvale in Washington State, record an album in the 1970s and it disappears. Like often happens with self-publishing, it's doesn't find buyers. It has effects though. The family farm was mortgaged to pay for it, and lost. Donnie, played by Casey Affleck, the creator among the two has been living with the disappointment and guilt. Joe (Walton Goggins) is more casual but is first to hear the news: some record collectors found the LP, put it on the internet and it's become a hit. People are calling it a masterpiece. A small company re-issues it and the brothers play in public again and the family celebrates.
Dad played by Beau Bridges and Donnie's wife played by Zooey Deschanel are happy and encouraging but he causes trouble. He's an artist and wants his new songs heard, not the old ones that the public wants. The film, directed by Bill Pohlad, has a nice relaxed pace and buoyant feel as it explores these ideas of second chances, redemption and the artistic temperment. (In 8 theaters now, including Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver and more next week) 4 out of 5
GOLDA: This is a good history lesson; quite a dull movie though. That's despite the very engrossing performance of Helen Mirren as Golda Meir when she was Prime Minister of Isreal and here, in 1973, struggling to lead during the Yom Kippur War. It caught the nation and her unprepared. Syria attacked from the north and Egypt attacked from the south. Meir hadn't listened to intelligence warnings that it might happen (because the source had been wrong before) and took full blame later at a Commision of Inquiry. Not mentioned in the film is that she resigned when it's reports came out. Obviously her decisions weighed heavily on her but we don't get enough of such self-reflection to get too emotionally involved.
We do get a lot of war cabinet meetings in dim lighting and debates with Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon and others. In a couple of very dramatic scenes they're listening to radio transmissions from the front as commanders yell about setbacks, tank asaults and deaths. In one, they found a weak spot in the enemy line was actually a trap. Meir had agreed to attack there. It's a rare scene for its power.
In contrast there's a meeting with Henry Kissinger when he comes to visit. Meir wants more American support but is refused because Nixon is too busy with Watergate and unwilling to anger the Arabs who might cut off the oil. Meir blames the Russians. The scene feels expository, not real, and slightly off in another way. While Mirren looks like Meir thanks to make up; Liev Schreiber looks nothing like Kissinger who we saw just before in actual news footage. Flaws like that harm the film. (in theaters) 2 ½ out of 5
AHSOKA: This latest spin-off series from the Star Wars films is candy for the fans who know that galaxy well. They know it is set about the same time as The Mandalorian series, that it follows the first triology of movies and may know whether that's before or after the Clone Wars. And Dave Filoni who created it (along with Jon Favreau) and directs two of the eight episodes has very subtly thrown in lots of easter eggs they can enjoy, minor characters returning briefly, incidents recalled, sights repeated, those sorts of things.
Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) used to be a minor character too. She was a Jedi apprentice who originated in a in an animated series and has a complex history. She quit the Jedi because she disagreed with their strict attitudes and was hurt by false accusations. She's back to help fight off a new peril: a threat to the New Republic by men who still believe in the old Galactic Empire (contemporary, eh?). They may rally around an old villain, Grand Admiral Thrawn who wants to revive the empire. He has disappeared somewhere out into space along with Ezra, an old friend of Asoka. She and with two women allied with her are searching. One stop they shows up bureaucracy and hints at corruption. There's lots of lightsaber action, great cruising-on-highway scenes and vistas that'll remind you how much you enjoyed the first movies. Two episodes in, I sense lots of promise here. Two more arrive on the next three Wednesdays. (Disney+) 4 out of 5
WARRIOR KING: In Asia it's a literary classic that's been passed down in oral tradition for over 1,000 years as well as in books, poetry and stage plays. Here's a Chinese version in an animated film with English voices dubbed in . It looks and feels just as much American or European as Asian. I guess the modern computer animation gives it that appearance though the director says he used a traditional style called thangka which he likes for its complex lines and brilliant colors. They're here alright in the tale of the future King Gesar.
The aim is clearly to give new life to ancient mythology and maybe affirm again that Tibet is part of China. That's where the story is from and the film is endorsed by the Si Chuan of the Communist Party of China and the CPC Tibet Autonomous Regional Committee.
A peaceful kingdom is overrun by monsters. A young man “born of three divine entities” is chosen by Buddha to drive them out and save the world . A speedy series of adventures follow. He overthrows a slave master. He unites a group of feuding tribes to battle the demons. He searches for a ginseng creature for medicine for his dying mother. A demon king is trying to stop him and sends fighters after him. He also has to fight a water monster. Early on, he was falsely accused of killing a yak, a terrible taboo, and was exiled. He has to fight to regain his status. There's a lot of story crowded in here, too much, though it sends a good message: “The more good deeds you do, the stronger you will be.” More is more in this film. (In theaters) 3 out of 5
100 YEARS OF WARNER BROS. Episode 4: It's the final one and even with new information pretty well repeats what it has already said. The studio is great because it pushes boundaries.This time it has with a huge hit with the Harry Potter series. The company saw its potential early and it paid off massively. It also revolutionized the industry, the film says. I assume that means big budget sequels became sought after. There was also yet more financial turmoil (interesting how often that happened) this time with a take over by AOL the internet provider and the dot.com collapse that came soon after. Warners is now merged with Discovery. There were big films all along, Argo, Wonder Woman, Million Dollar Baby, Dunkirk, and so on, plus hit TV shows like The West Wing and The Big Bang Theory. The episode gets a bit too hagiographic in praising it's willingness to take chances and then, ironically, has only about a second-long clip from its biggest recent coup, maybe ever, the billion dollar baby Barbie. (Streams at Hollywood Suite) 3 out of 5