Support journalism that lights the way through the climate crisis

Goal: $100k

There are only a few new movies this week but a lot to tell you anyway. You know that the Academy Awards are on Sunday and probably know that the odds-on favorite is Oppenheimer. It's got momentum from the many other awards it has already won.

The tightest contest looks to be in the International Films category where there are five strong nominees: Io Capitano, Perfect Days, Society of the Snow, The Teachers' Lounge and The Zone of Interest. They're all excellent. I'd be hard pressed to choose.

Over in the Documentary Feature category I'll be hoping for To Kill a Tiger, a gripping film set in India but made by a Canadian originally from there. It's about a father's courage to break with village constraints and get punishment for the men who raped his daughter after a dance. It's up against 20 Days in Mariupol but still has a good chance, I think. If you haven't seen it, you can, for free, at the National Film Board website.

And these are the new titles this week:

KUNG FU PANDA 4: The first three made so much money that, of course, there had to be a fourth. Even eight years later. And it's attracted new voices like Oscar winner Viola Davis and fan-worthy Awkwafina while bringing back many from before, Jack Black, naturally, but also Dustin Hoffman, Ian McShane and Brian Cranston. The aim is to give you more of the same, much more. It's even louder and more hyper than I remember of the previous.

Courtesy of Dreamworks and Universal Films

Ironically, the theme this time is change. The once-lazy panda named Po (voiced by Black) is urged by his master (Hoffman) to retire from his hard-won role as Dragon Warrior and become a spiritual leader.

Dustin Hoffman and Jack Black, in character. Courtesy of Dreamworks and Universal.

That's not his thing though; kicking butt is. So he's refusing to change and a new villain's arrival gives him the excuse he needs. She's a sorceress (voiced by Viola Davis) who is a lizard but able to shapeshift into any size of a creature. She wants to rule the world and tries to grab Po's Staff of Wisdom to enable her. If she gets it she can bring back all the villains Po defeated in the previous movies. But how can he find her to stop her? A sly fox voiced by Awkwafina knows how and allies with him, but, as it turns out, with dubious motives.

We get a complex story, huge action scenes and crisp, sometimes flashy, animation. That's all good but you can feel how hard the filmmakers worked to make it huge. The earlier films were goofy fun. Here, not so much. (In theaters) 3 out of 5

COLD ROAD: Here's another in the growing slate of movies made in Canada by and about Idigenous people. But that cultural angle is only strongly suggested here and not the main issue up front. Fear on the road is what you feel here, and intensely at that. Long drives on empty northern highways are what you have to endure. And what if there's something bigger to fear? In this film that's a tractor-trailer truck that terrorizes a lone driver by tailgating, bumping into, swerving back and forth, chasing and impeding her car. Those scenes keep coming and get progressively harrowing. Not unlike the famous TV movie, Duel.

Courtesy of Level Film

We never see the trucker; we're with the woman driver played by Métis/Cree actress Rosanne Supernault. She is trying to get home to her dying mother, hundreds of kilometers away. She talks by cel phone now and then with her sister who is worried she won't get there in time. We're reminded repeatedly how much gas she has left and how far she has to go. The urgency and tension builds. There are setbacks, including a scary stop for gas and a face-off with a suspicious cop. But again and again there's that menacing truck. The horrid issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is there, not said, but implied. And she, said to be timid and a worrier (with some over-done scenes of her moaning about her life to prove that) has to rise up. It's a movie that'll keep you hooked. It's well-directed and written by Kelvin Redvers who is from Hay River, NWT and filmed it there and in Alberta. He learned filmmaking in Vancouver, has made award-winning short films and touts this one as authentically Indigenous. (VOD/Digital on Apple TV) 3 ½ out of 5

RICKY STANICKY: Peter Farrelly won two Oscars five years ago for co-writing, producing and directing the best picture winner Green Book. So whatever is he doing slinging out the juvenile humor in this film? The raunchy comedies he used to make with his brother Bobby were at least funnier. This one has the raunch (more dick and masturbation jokes) but far fewer laughs. Too bad because the plotline is promising, building on a common movie theme: the lie that comes back to haunt you.

This time it's a whole character, Ricky, who three friends made up as boys when a Halloween prank went wrong. You know, the burning bag of dog pooh on the porch? Years later, as adults played by Zac Efron, Andrew Santino and Jermaine Fowler, they still talk as if he's real and in fact use him to get out of attending a baby shower and go to a rock concert instead. But then, to cover that up, they have to produce the real guy. They hire an out-of-work actor who has a nightclub act impersonating rock stars like Billy Idol and Dee Snyder but with “jerk off” versions of their songs. They pass him off as righteous, sometimes working with Bono on aid projects in Africa. John Cena plays him amiably.

Courtesy of Prime Video

The lie keeps spinning out of control though. Ricky so impresses the boys' boss at a financial firm (William H. Macy) that he's hired in a bid to promote philanthropy. Worse: he has to finish a rabbi's incomplete job at a circumcision ceremony. With a steak knife. That's the style of humor you get here, not subtle, enthusiastically rude. It took eight writers to do it. (Streaming on Prime Video) 2 out of 5