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Late summer usually brings the lesser films of the season. Not this week. Except for Denzel Washington's violence, there are fine newcomers out there, from an enterprising 12-year-old, to a true crime remembrance and another Star Wars spin off. Look at my ratings.
The Equalizer 3: 2 ½ stars
Polaris: 3 ½
The Jewel Thief: 3 ½
Ahsoka, 3rd episode: 4
THE EQUALIZER 3: This film is so well-made, what's not to like. Well, graphic ultra-violence for one thing, but there are people who go for that in the movies. And stereotypical Italian gangsters, for another, although they're not as trite as some have complained. And Denzel Washington does holds his own amid all this. The Academy Award winner shines; his star power and likeable personality draw us in. He's retired from being the government assassin of the two previous movies (loosely based on a TV series) and is enjoying an easy life in Italy. Since it's down in Sicily, you know trouble will arrive. In fact it pretty well starts the film as the camera wanders into a winery farmhouse and finds bodies bloodied and mutilated, one with a meat cleaver. The Mafia controls the small town and he'll take them on.
For him, just sipping tea at a bistro, it starts with seeing a case of extortion on a fish-store owner. Violence erupts fast; he gets a small bullet wound himself and the key question from the doctor who treats him: “Are you are bad man, or a good man?” He's not sure probably because, as we see, he does very bad things for good reasons. He confronts the Mafia boss in a terrific showdown scene in a public plaza and the guy's brother and a bunch of his goons with brutal violence. He also reports them to the CIA by phoning up a young agent played by Dakota Fanning and pointing out that the huge drug shipments coming in aren't terrorist-related, as she thinks, but just gangster stuff. There's much more (a hotel and casino development, a crooked police chief) and it's briskly though too-graphically directed by Antoine Fuqua. That's five films now that he and Denzel Washington have made together. (In theaters) 2½ out of 5 (And incidentally CRAVE has just started streaming the first film in this trilogy. You can compare)
POLARIS: Here's a very imaginative film with a strong narrative drive and the environment and the future of the world on its mind. It's also a dystopian thriller, not out in a desert like many films before, but in snow. Very Canadian. It was filmed in the Yukon, with a polar bear's scenes shot in a studio in Abbotsford, B.C. What's going on? Well, a voice tells us this at the start: “After the fires, came the floods and then the freezing.” It's the year 2144; only women have survived and they roam the land in snowmobiles (kind of like in Mad Max and other films, but often in blizzards. There are also huge forestry vehicles but how they manage to have gas to power them isn't clear. Just accept it as a fantasy.
A young girl named Sumi travels through this world. She was raised by a polar bear mother and is clearly in sync with nature judging by her magic realism-style communication with trees. She meets groups of women called Morads who threaten her, cage her up in one scene or drag her through the snow. She manages to rip out an eye of one and use it to replace her own. She also befriends an old woman who she hears playing a harmonica, a sound that becomes a symbol from then on for better human interaction. It has to compete with a lot of the bad kind. The girl meanwhile looks to the star Polaris to symbolize what she imagines her destiny is. Kirsten Carthew has written and directed an intriguing vision here and delivered it with only a made-up language. No English is spoken but the actors, particularly Viva Lee, as Sumi, communicate faultlessly. (The film is playing in only a few theaters now, several of them in Quebec. Watch for it) 3 ½ out of 5
SCRAPPER: A new director, of features at least, and a new young girl actor unite to bring us this delightful film from England. The title could be taken two ways. 12-year-old Georgie is both quarrelsome and a thief. That is she steals bicyles and sells the parts for scrap. That's how she supports herself. Her mother has died and she lives alone in the same flat as before. She lies to child welfare officials that her uncle, named Winston Churchill, is there with her. She gets a man to record fake phone messages to send. She's resourceful. At school and with friends she's feisty.
Then her father shows up. He and her mother were too young when they had her, he says. That's why he's been away (in the party resort of Ibiza) and wants to make things better. He's something of a child himself. That both helps and hinders. He's got advice on how better to steal bikes. She likes him because he seems like a kid. The film smoothly and effortlessly brings them closer and shows them both maturing a tad. Lola Campbell who makes her acting debut as Georgie performs like a natural. Harris Dickinson who's been in an Xavier Dolan film and more recently Triangle of Sadness and here plays her father is entirely believable and contemporary. There are improbablities in the story but you won't mind.(In theaters: already in Toronto, Vancouver and Sudbury, next week in Montreal and Waterloo) 4 out of 5
THE JEWEL THIEF: True crime stories are big these days but this is a remarkable one. It's almost uneblievable but we get the goods from the criminal himself and two detectives who chased him. He's Gerald Blanchard, a Nebraska farm boy, poor, raised by a single mother, who as he grew up developed a skill for shoplifting into a multi-level career. There was the Radio Shack scam in which he stole goods and then returned them to claim a refund. He turned to robbing banks in Canada and was in Vancouver, Winnipeg, even Chilliwack. He knew how to break into ATM machines. He tells all about his exploits in interview portions of the film, including the time he was arrested but escaped by driving off in a police car. He had a good attitude. “If you're confident in yourself, you'll get away with it,” he says.
His biggest coup though was stealing a bit of royal jewellery in Austria. He had married a woman from Europe, traveled with her to Vienna and while there stole a hairpin that had belonged to Sisi, the Empress Elizabeth of the 1800. It was now in a secure museum. He substituted a gift-shop replica. Years later, he tried to bargain his way out of an arrest by revealing he still had it. Two police detectives from Winnipeg who tracked him for years also talk in the film and we get a clear picture of a very resourceful crook. And from him, what made him do it. Necessity, of source. He started by stealing milk and went on from there. It's a an engrossing film. (Disney+) 3 ½ out of 5
AHSOKA: The third episode of this new Star War series that came down Wednesday is only 37 minutes long but it's packed with story, action and new additions to the mythology. New to me anyway, but I haven't seen all the spin offs or read all the books. Space whales? I haven't heard of them before but we see an encounter with one and a droid tells the legends about them. Their ancient migration routes have become travel lanes for spaceships. Ahsoka (Rosario Dawson) is flying one.
She's been part of the rebellion against the Empire for a long time but as a secondary character. She started in an animated series and is now on the trail of a general who may be trying to overthrow the Republic and re-establish the Empire. He's rumored to have died, she doesn't believe that and a meeting of senators of the Republic doesn't believe her and won't authorize an expedition to find him. She goes anyway, along with colleague Sabine Wren (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) and that droid. There's a giant space battle and a giant “space ring,” a station under construction. By who? It's like Stars Wars has been at its best, a compelling story, well-presented. Episodes , there are eight in all, premiere Wednesdays. (Disney+) 4 out of 5