Coda, Turning Red and the Adam Project
Two groups of film critics handed out their awards this week. Toronto’s Choice drive my car as the best international film. Vancouver chose The power of the dog and notably won awards in other categories for four indigenous films. This recognizes something that is growing rapidly here in Canada. I review one of these films below and these others.
Code: 4 stars
Red turn: 3 ½
The Adam Project: 3
After Yang: 4
The wolf and the lion: 3
CODA: I didn’t have access to this one when it premiered a few months ago (it’s only on Apple+ TV) but I had to catch up because its reputation has only grown. He’s won awards everywhere, including recently a big and influential one from the Screen Actors Guild. It threw the Oscars fashion pundits rethink as their favorite, The power of the dog, is said to be slippery. CODA is far behind, 3 nominations against 12, but the upheavals are coming for the best picture. This one is a crowd pleaser and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it. You care about the characters and you get one of the most emotional scenes of the year to solve a tangle of problems.
Coda means child of deaf adults. Ruby, 17 and played by Emilia Jones, is not deaf and her parents and brother, all in the Massachusetts fishing industry, rely on her to interpret their sign language to others. But she’s drawn in, first by singing in a school choir, then by a teacher who wants her to try for a scholarship to a top music school. Can she go, when we need her here? There are disputes with underpaid fish buyers, plans to create a cooperative and new regulations in the fishing industry. This is a remake of a French film and does it better. All the deaf characters are played by deaf actors: including Troy Kotsur, as a father and Marlee Matlin (Oscar winner in 1986) as a mother. The acting is top notch and the film, directed by Siân Heder, is sweet, evocative and very engaging. (Apple+ TV) 4 out of 5
BECOME RED: This one is also about a young girl growing up and finding her own way. But it’s much more whimsical than usual. When 13-year-old Meilin Lee feels anxious and restless, she transforms into a giant red panda. It’s an apt image to describe the outbursts teenagers are prone to during puberty. And that makes for a very entertaining animated film, the latest from Pixar and their star creator in Toronto, Domee Shi. She won an Oscar for a short film three years ago and this is her first feature film.
She created a heady mix of imaginary Chinese mythology and memories of her own life. And she put a lot of Toronto on screen, from streetcars to Lester B. Pearson Middle School to the old Skydome. (I was surprised to read that his image is copyrighted.) Much of his recollections relate to his mother who seems to have been bossy and overbearing.
Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) is devoted but mom, voiced by Sandra Oh, can be annoying. Mythology is about the panda, which mom says women in her family have been affected by for generations. Only an ancient ritual can remove the curse, but it must be timed precisely for a Blood Moon. This is exactly when she and her friends want to be at a giant concert at the Skydome by a boy band called Four*Town, which is doing songs written by Billie Eilish and her brother. There are frenetic and provocative scenes but also respect for family and ancestors. And a regular at Pixar: vibrant animation. (It on Disney+) 3 ½ out of 5
THE ADAM PROJECT: Vancouver is seen but not named here. Ryan Reynolds returned home and worked a second time with director Shawn Levy (from Montreal) to film this time travel story. He said he wanted to elicit the same feeling he got from Back to the future when he first saw it. It didn’t quite happen. It’s an intriguing and well-constructed story but too far from the norm. Time-traveling characters shouldn’t meet, right? It was a rule. This does not apply here.
A teenager finds an injured pilot (Reynolds) in his garage, soon learns the guy is actually himself, back from the future but won’t say why he’s there. “Classified,” he says. Well, we finally learn. And it’s complicated. The teenager’s father (Mark Ruffalo) invented time travel, but died a year ago. His partner (Catherine Keener) has taken control of the invention and it must be taken back from him. How to do that? Go back and stop it ever being made up. Put the genie back in, they say. The Time Soldiers are in pursuit and the fights are happening. The inventor is found giving a lecture. More wrinkles appear in an increasingly dense story. The biggest surprise is that time travel was invented and is exhausted by “the world’s largest electromagnetic accelerator”. This is new to me in time travel theory. As the inventor has just realized: “Humanity does not have to alter the mechanics of the universe.” The film is fast and brave but not at all logical. (Netflix) 3 out of 5
AFTER YANG: Here’s another intriguing look into the future. It also comes with flimsy logic but lots of interesting ideas. Colin Farrell is the head of a mixed family. His wife (Jodie Turner-Smith) is black and his young daughter is Asian. To connect her to his heritage, he bought her a Chinese android named Yang. But he stopped working and the girl is distraught. The warranty is still in effect but the dealer who sold it is bankrupt. Colin goes to find someone who can help. Respectable dealers will do nothing; a back alley guy will but warn of extreme dangers like increased surveillance.
A woman in a technology museum will help him if he brings the unit and donates it. She says it’s a model that has been abandoned by law due to privacy violations. It took repeated photos and videos to document everything he encountered. Colin looks at a few of them and sees a young woman that Yang has met several times in a cafe. He revives Yang, illegally, and the film turns into a meditation on what exactly life is and what is so special about being human. Thoughtful reflections from the American director named Kogonada. (In theaters in Toronto, Vancouver, Hamilton and Kingston now; Kamloops and Sudbury coming soon) 4 out of 5
SAVAGE: Here is a good example of the rise of Aboriginal cinema in Canada. It is set in Mi’kmaq territory in Nova Scotia and is written, directed and produced by a filmmaker from there, Brett Hannam. He created a roadtrip and a cultural exploration.
Link (Phillip Lewitski) is a young man who has denied his culture and dyed his hair blonde. He lives in a trailer park with an angry father, but learns that his mother, who he was told is dead, may still be alive. He leaves with his young half-brother to find her. They take a ride with another young Mi’kmaw ((Joshua Odjik) until his truck breaks down, then walk. The new man is a dancer on his way to a powwow and has a lot to say about his culture and a lot of help given to the people they meet in the settlements along the way.
Dance lessons too, and skimpy swims that turn into sexual attraction. This represents a two-spirit angle in the culture but distracts from the main quest. Do they find the mother? Let’s just say there’s a very moving ending but also a cultural revival. (In theaters in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax. Montreal to come) 3 ½ out of 5
THE WOLF AND THE LION: Kids and animal lovers are bound to love this one. It’s lovely, offers a message or two, and lets you see two animals behaving amazingly, but still like the creatures they are, not trained performers. He was born with Gilles de Maistre, a French screenwriter director who imparts lessons on kindness to animals. This time it’s to say that creatures we think are natural enemies, like lions and wolves, don’t have to be. By extension, different people don’t have to be enemies either. That is, if they are reunited as friends at a sufficiently early age. He trained four pairs of these two animals from birth and made this film with the duo that got along best.
A young woman named Alma (Molly Kunz) finds them in an isolated house she inherited from her deceased grandfather. A wolf and her cub were her guests on the property, and then a lion cub fell from the sky, straight into Alma’s arms. It was from a crashing plane. Unlikely, but effective in bringing them together. Alma, who plays the piano, names one Mozart, the other Dreamer. Graham Greene plays a local who proves useful, but a circus owner wants the lion shipped to him and wildlife officers want the wolf. You can see where this is going, but with playful animal play and the censorship of mistreatment by circuses, thoughtless officers and, yes, hunters, it still works. It was filmed in Quebec, with the help of an Alberta animal park owner who now hosts the two stars. (Streaming to 150 screens across Canada including Bowmanville, Meadow Lake, Chilliwack and towns and cities in and around). 3 out of 5