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So now we know a little more about when the movie theatres will open. July 3 is key. Cineplex intends to reopen then, the small chain Landmark too, although it is opening a few in Alberta now. The Cinematheque says July 9, and the Van City Theatre has no date in mind yet. It still has renovations going on and will continue streaming movies for a while.
This week we can stream Jon Stewart’s sendup of American politics, a brisk father-son thriller, the return of a colourful but flawed portrait of Vancouver, a must-see time travel series, and two also-rans.
Irresistible: 2½ stars
Bella Ciao!: 3
The Road Forward: 3½
The 11th Green: 3
Exit Plan: 2
IRRESISTIBLE: I never saw Jon Stewart on his TV show, but I had the impression that the political humour he did there was much more biting than this film, which he wrote and directed. It’s a pleasant comedy and hardly the assault on modern election failings it imagines it is. It hits some targets, but obfuscates others in imagining one campaign in the U.S. heartland. A Washington strategist (Steve Carell) catches a news clip of a vigorous speech to a small town council and sees an opportunity. The speaker (Chris Cooper) talks like a Democrat and should be mayor and getting him elected would help the Democrats connect with rural America. The campaign turns big when an organizer from the other side (Rose Byrne) shows up and the fight is on.
Some early scenes work nicely as Carell awkwardly tries to get with small-town ways and fit in with people he thinks are hicks. And then modern campaign techniques are brought in. The posters are flashier (“If you don’t think he will fight for you, you don’t know Jack”) and professional organizing technologies using “analytics” arrive, and fail in a very funny way. Elections have been perverted by money seems to be the message and a postscript cites the power of political action committees. The film doesn’t explain that part, though. It offers not much more than sentiments (“What is happening in this country is wrong.") and quick jokes (“He’s like Bill Clinton with impulse control.”). Want something stronger? Watch for A Face in the Crowd, which plays on TV quite often. It’s from 1957, but is remarkably prescient about the coming of Trump. Irresistible is funny, but lame. (Video on demand, $19.99 for a 48-hour rental.) 3 out of 5
HAMMER: Here’s a tight little thriller that’ll keep you interested in two ways. First, there’s the main plot: A drug deal gone wrong, an errant son in trouble again and a father reluctantly obliged to help. It moves along at a speedy pace as the pair try to find a stash of money and an injured woman who might be dead, while the ripped-off dealer arrives with a gun and a mean disposition. Director and co-writer Christian Sparkes takes it beyond this standard story by reflecting on father-son bonds. This dad (Will Patton) has given up on his son (Mark O'Brien) who complains, “You treat me like I don’t even exist.” “Good job with the parenting,” one character sarcastically rubs in.
Patton, usually a supporting actor, is most believable in the role. He’s aloof, then angry, self-critical, even crying at one point, all the while pondering what he’s done wrong. The script is agile in the way it works in those thoughts, with the tension building and there's even a surprise revelation. It’s a small film, but worth your time. All the actors are strong, and the title, as we learn in the end credits, is the director’s nod to his own father. He’s from Newfoundland and made the film there and in Sault St. Marie, Ont. (Available digitally VOD and EST.) 4 out of 5
BELLA CIAO!: It took me a few minutes before I realized I had seen, and reviewed, this one before. Over a year ago, when it was playing here. The social justice group Reel Causes has brought it back for virtual screenings and I’m glad, even though I think it’s flawed. But I did enjoy it better watching it again, largely because of the vivid picture it brings to one of Vancouver’s liveliest neighborhoods: Commercial Drive. Carolyn Combs, who lives nearby, has captured its diversity. It’s a nexus where Chileans, Italians, indigenous and many other people come together and create a cultural energy that you’ll find nowhere else in town. The film is scattered and leisurely and is marred by a story problem, but the community is portrayed accurately.
The film connects two missing people stories. A woman from Chile is wracked by traumatic memories of the rise of Pinochet and the people who went missing. She’s played by Carmen Aguirre, who is from Chile herself. She’s stuck in a wheelchair, which is stolen at one point, dreams of a trip up the mountain and is ready to stop taking her meds. There’s a native youth (Taran Kootenhayoo) who is into petty thievery and searching for his missing sister. Marie Clements appears as an activist on the missing woman case. A stoned woman prances by now and then. Men in a restaurant discuss personal responsibility and the Chilean woman’s daughter tries for a job in a coffee shop. And Ross Barrett leads a band through an alley to the old partisan song, Bella Ciao. How Vancouver and how Commercial Drive is that? (Reel Causes is presenting it as a fundraiser until mid-July. The group suggests a $5 donation. There’s also a cast and crew special on July 9. See https://www.reelcauses.org/bella-ciao/ for details.) 3 stars
ALSO notice that a film by Marie Clements has recently been added to the National Film Board’s free streaming service. The Road Forward is a musical documentary with a long list of performers singing about Indigenous history, the beginnings of their activism and its vitality these days. The music is widely varied and I gave the film 3½ stars when I reviewed is three years ago. Find it at NFB.ca
DARK: Saturday, June 27 is a big day for two reasons. One, the third and final season starts for this time travel series from Germany. It’s developed a huge cult following with a plot line so complicated that it’s way beyond a puzzle. It’s so intricate, I would suggest you don’t jump in now; watch the first two seasons first. At the very least, check one of the many summaries out there on the internet, at insider.com for instance, or the Cheat Sheet at IMDB (although that one runs through it so fast, you’ll come out not sure if it’s silly or not).
The story, set in a small German town, involves a fight to control time. It’s been going on for two seasons and is poised to expand into something much larger. You see, there’s a wormhole in a cave near a nuclear power plant that allows characters to move to other times, specifically the years 2019, 1953, 1986, and 2053. Along the way, they break all the rules of time travel, like meeting themselves. One character is both her own mother and daughter. There are allusions to Greek mythology, the Bible and to German literature. It’s been absolutely fascinating so far, albeit unexplained, and I’m hoping for some real answers. And the second reason why Saturday is key? In the story, June 27, 2020 is the predicted day of the Apocalypse. Don’t want to miss that.
THE 11th GREEN: I don’t know what to make of this one. It’s engrossing to watch, but the content is so far out, it doesn’t make sense, even as a fantasy. It takes the eternal rumours about Area 51 (flying saucer visits covered up by the U.S. Air Force) to way out there. It even says right off the top that the film is “speculative,” but “likely factual.” Really? President Eisenhower knew about the flying saucers and credited the aliens’ efforts with heading off a nuclear war? But kept them secret except to discuss them with President Obama in connection with the newer world threat: climate change? (Eisenhower died years before Obama became president.) Maybe we’re to take it all metaphorically.
The film presents it as real, through the efforts of an investigative science journalist (Campbell Scott). He rattles some security-minded types by reporting on a company’s anti-gravity engine and then stumbles on much more. His dad, a secretive air force general, dies, and in his papers, there’s proof that the engine has been known about for decades and that Eisenhower had contact with aliens. They warned him that humanity had evolved into a “military consciousness.” (Klatu had the same message way back in 1951 in The Day the Earth Stood Still.) A new alien (Tom Stokes, in the picture above) brings a plea for peace, which, I guess, is the point of the film, dressed up with replica newsreels, belief in the rumours (Defence Secretary James Forrestal’s murder, for instance) and a lot of imagination by maverick filmmaker and Sundance favourite Christopher Munch. (https://theatricalathome.com/products/the-11th-green) 3 out of 5
EXIT PLAN: I suppose this could be seen as a cautionary tale about assisted suicide. The story imagines something that looks like a club or private business to provide the service. It’s the only purpose I can imagine behind this film. Other than that, it’s a weak horror movie, but with moping not scares. And full of Nordic chilliness. It’s from Denmark, with financial help from other Scandinavian countries.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (presented as far less handsome than when he was Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones) plays an insurance investigator who has closed himself off. He’s been diagnosed with a brain tumour that can’t be surgically removed, but he finds an out. Trying to verify a reported death so a widow can collect insurance, he learns of an institution called Aurora where people contemplating suicide can fantasize how to do it. He failed in his two attempts and checks in to learn more. The place is bright and glistening, but the film is slow and contemplative. There are flashes to the suicide attempts he imagines (often ended by a phone ringing), annoying encounters with other clients, and a lot of talk about “the circle of life” and questions like “Do you like yourself?” But not a lot of energy or reason for this film. (Video on demand, but not iTunes.) 2 out of 5