New films via DC Comics, Marion Cotillard, Adam Driver and Lin-Manuel Miranda
There are a lot of new movies and a lot of news this week.
Disney opens an animation studio in Vancouver. There was a Pixar studio here for a few years, but closed it. I’m only speculating now, but the return might be to compete with animation studio Sony, whose latest work is included in my reviews today.
In addition, the Vancouver International Film Festival has announced its dates for the year: October 1-11. Like last year, it’s a bit shorter than usual.
And the Cinémathèque does not tinker with its successful summer formula: its Film Noir series is resuming. It started on Thursday with Cross cross and Raw tuning, both of which will be showing again, including today. I am eager to The glass key and Wrong number Sorry, but check out the site to find out what all will be there. The series runs most of the month.
And elsewhere, there are novelties in town …
Suicide Squad: 2½
Escape from Mogadishu: 4
SUICIDE SQUAD: Here’s how to tell if it’s for you. Well done with a lot of action? To verify. Wacky situations and irreverent humor? To verify. A ridiculous scenario? Uh, oh. Also check. But if you can tolerate it, you can have a lot of fun. It might have made more sense in the DC Comics books it came from, but here it shows exactly what writer-director James Gunn meant when he said he was free to do it without ” rules”. However, he had enormous resources and a solid cast including Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Viola Davis, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga, Pete Davidson, Michael Rooker, Taika Waititi, and more.
Davis commands the super-secret squad (official name Task Force X) from a high-tech surveillance center. She sends him to a fictional island nation in South America where a coup has toppled longtime rulers and a popular movement is building against the generals currently in charge. It must protect a secret scientific development that the Nazi flight began decades ago and in which the United States has an interest. This political background is one of the interesting parts of the film. The project is not. It’s a giant starfish that can send tiny versions of itself to cling to your face and stomp on buildings crashing down like another Godzilla. There are also Rats, Millions, a Shark (voiced by Sylvester Stallone), and a squad of characters who disrespect or even understand each other and sometimes fight. And there’s Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, playing her a third time), who once again brings life, impulsiveness, and insolence to the role. She is a treat in this violent, bloody and crass, but at times exciting, film. (5th Avenue, Scotiabank, Marine Gateway and many suburban theaters.) 2½ of 5
ANNETTE: It’s one of the strangest movies you’ve ever seen, and you’ll probably hear that it has become cult one day. So come in now, but be careful. There is nothing sweet and pleasant here. The two stars, Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver, demonstrate their characters’ love for each other in an almost constant song and with occasional oral sex. It’s a musical created by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, who form longtime band The Sparks. And it is imagined by the wild French director Leos Carax, better known for the madman Holy engines, who was here a few film festivals ago. This opened the Cannes Film Festival this year.
Cotillard plays a soft-spoken opera singer; Driver a virulent humorist. Their relationship becomes murky. Annette, the child they fathered, is a wooden puppet. To see? Strange. Annette later shows that she too has a soft voice and as her mother becomes a bigger star, Driver slips. He performs in a bathrobe, tells grim monologues and attracts songs from his audience: “Why did you become an actor?” The film appears to be a meditation on fame, fame, and the connection between an artist and an audience. He describes his method as “killing them”. She calls what she does “save them”. Somehow there is the meaning of this movie, which is watchable because it’s so weird. (Vancity Theater.) 3 of 5
VIVO: Ready for more from Lin-Manuel Miranda? He’s everywhere this year, this time on Netflix in a heartfelt musical tale about the honor of a lost love. It’s lively, so he’s there in vocals only and in 11 new songs, including one written with Missy Elliott. Several are sung by Gloria Estefan, who also expresses the lost love. She’s a Cuban singer who left for Miami years ago, retires and invited her former partner to a farewell concert. He dies, however, and it’s up to his pet kinkajou (a teddy bear-like creature from the rainforest named Vivo and voiced by Miranda) to make the trip for him.
He has an urgent mission: to bring him the score of a song that the man has written and that he has never been able to sing to him. Vivo hitchhikes with a young tourist (Ynairaly Simo) traveling with her mother (Zoe Saldana), must escape a trio of Girl Scouts defending an environmental message, and take a detour through the Florida Everglades. She almost loses the song, lacks connections, has to be saved from a snake by a bird. The animation is excellent (some are produced by Sony Pictures Imageworks in Vancouver), the songs are humble and the feeling is warm. (Netflix.) 3 of 5
MOGADISHU ESCAPE: South Korea has been sending very good movies for quite some time now, and this is another. Little known perhaps, but fascinating to watch. It is as good as Argo, and almost as good as Black hawk down, both of which share elements of the story. It is also a true story. Rebels invaded Somalia’s capital in 1990 and threaten foreign embassies. The South Korean ambassador is trying to join his North Korean counterpart in getting their staff out. He is repulsed because he allegedly spread rumors that the North armed the rebels. Both countries want Somalia’s support for a UN vote.
Their politics and these tensions are artfully exposed, but the real excitement is in the streets. There are demonstrations, pushbacks from the army, riots and looting staged with thrilling authenticity. Not once, but several times. The two Koreas have no choice but to try to work together to get help from the Italians and the Chinese and then rush to the airport. They have to lie about “conversion certificates” (defection of North Koreans) and stick books on their cars to stop the bullets. There is a frantic chase amid cannons firing from all directions and, ultimately, a lament that the two countries are not united. It’s at Village International and Cineplex Coquitlam and worth finding. 4 out of 5
SWAN SONG: I’m not the target audience for gay movies, but this one builds a story that is so much larger and with so many universal elements that I was quite captivated. It’s about remembering, honoring people you know and reconnecting with them. It’s also a matter of forgiveness, as an aging drag queen is forced to give it up and accept it. These problems can be encountered by anyone and are the subject of a very touching presentation here. Udo Kier, familiar with many European films, plays the former “Liberace of Sandusky” (it’s in Ohio).
He is also a former hairdresser, now living in a nursing home, and travels through town and through his memories when he receives a strange request to do other work. A former client has passed away and in his will he asked that he be hired to do her hair because for her he was the best. “Rita” (played in flashbacks by the former Dynasty star Linda Evans) “wants to make things right,” her lawyer says, referring to a falling-out she caused years ago. There is a complicated list of things: a rival barber shop, a betrayal, a lover of his who died of AIDS and who still makes him cry when he goes to his grave. It might get tearful, but it doesn’t in the writing and directing of Todd Stephens, who tells the story of a real man. He knew him and based the film on memories. It plays out this way: Emotional and in Kier’s performance, genuine. (Vancity Theater.) 4 of 5
12 POWERFUL ORPHANS: Two sports stories happen this week, at the same time small, improbable but true, and catchy. This one is about a high school football team in Texas that nobody expected much from. It was in 1938, towards the end of the Depression. The students were all orphans and none of them had ever played football before. Enter a new English teacher (Luke Wilson), who saw that boys had to learn to believe in themselves and promoted the sport to do so. The school doctor (Martin Sheen) was on the side, the administrator (Wayne Knight) not so much. And the league and the boys needed to be convinced.
What follows is a moving story of motivating players and fighting against their old resentments. A boy sees each opponent as a version of his mother. There is hard work to learn the game, innovative games to make up for team weakness, catchy speeches, and then unexpected success. The sarcastic journalists are stunned. We are bloated. Win or lose is an inspiring example of self-respect building and one of the best sports movies for quite a while. (Village International.) 3½ of 5
DREAM HORSE: The other history of sport is not at all innovative. But it is warm, pleasant and entertaining. He doesn’t work to inspire; just tells about what happened and what it means to the people to whom it happened. Toni Collette plays a grocery store clerk in a small town in Wales, with a boring life. Neither her husband nor her job turns her on, and she needs “emotional motivation and energy”. A man she catches in a pub starts it for her. Get started in horse racing. But how? She has no experience and little money. She forms a union. The local population contributes 10 pounds per week; she buys a mare, pays for a riding service, and watches a foal emerge and become a dashing runner that the group calls the Dream Alliance.
A trainer is dismissive, but concedes “she has wit”. A wealthy and successful horse owner sniffs the group. They arrived on the trail in a rented bus, which suggests not only the inequality they live in, but the camaraderie they develop. They sing heartily in the pub and feel the tension and relaxation as they watch the horse run. It usually starts slowly and then picks up the pace. We’re there with it thanks to great cinematography. It’s no surprise that she competes in the Welsh Grand National. The film does not change the formula; just give us a good version. (5th Avenue, International Village and eight other theaters in British Columbia) 3½ of 5