MOVIE: Summer Action, A Good Summer Read, Jane Austen, Leonard Cohen’s Most Famous Song
Movie theaters may soon run out of great movies. Apparently there’s a downturn coming though it’s hard to feel that when Top Gun, Thor, The Minions and others are doing so well right now. It’s also hard to fathom when there are so many new smaller and medium titles coming out right now. See below and write this down: my favorite movie of the last few weeks, Marcel the seashell with shoes we have now expanded, it was in only two cities, and is now in nine others, from Halifax to Victoria.
And these are new…
The Gray Man: 3 stars
Where the Crawdads sing: 3 ½
Persuasion: 2 ½
Mrs. Harris goes to Paris: 3
Murine: 3 ½
Paws of Fury: 2
THE GRAY MAN: This might be the most action-packed explosion of the summer. I haven’t seen so many car crashes, bus rollovers, wild driving in a movie in a long time. But there it is in a chase sequence on a major city street (in Prague, I think) halfway through that Netflix movie that never ends. It’s their most expensive movie of all time and it’s directed by the Russo brothers, Anthony and Joe, who’ve done this stuff for a few Marvel movies. They actually brought in writers and crew from those movies and Chris Evans who played Captain America for them. They had him play an agent described as a “psychopath” who is hired by the CIA to bring down a former agent, played by Ryan Gosling.
Ryan was recruited into an elite program called Sierra, he’s #6, by a handler played by Billy Bob Thornton. I never understood why the others wanted it now, something about dark secrets, but it’s the hunt that’s important, not what it’s about. There are many in many cities around the world. There’s lively dialogue around him, man-to-man fights, and subtext about questioning authority. Also a big emphasis on loyalty, sticking with your real friends (eg Ryan and Billy Bob) and an agent (Ana de Armas) who supports him. Interesting angle: Evans says he’s in the private sector so he’s not bothered by government rules. There are ideas sprinkled amidst the outlandish action. It’s in a few theaters for a week, good for that, then on Netflix. 3 out of 5
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING: As a novel, it was extremely popular. It was number 1 on two separate charts in the New York Times last week. Now, as a movie, it has some of the same pull, the breezy side of summer reading, but also shows what it isn’t. The big themes are underplayed, issues like class prejudice, judgment of the poor, women abused by men. They’re all there, but a colorful image of a feral child is what really catches the eye.
Kya, played by English actress Daisy Edgar-Jones, lives alone in an old house in the North Carolina swamps. His family left. She must survive on her own and not be broken down by the rebuffs she receives from the nearby town. People only know her as The Marsh Girl and assume that she is cheap and low. Two young men get to know her but she breaks up with them and when one is found dead, she is tried for murder. David Strathairn plays a lawyer who takes his case out of pity and it’s through flashbacks to that case that we get his story. We see a vicious father, a weak mother and her own efforts to establish herself. She is a talented naturalist and artist. We are on his side. Edgar-Jones takes us there with his acting. But the problems that plague her are too low-key, as director Olivia Newman presents. (In theaters) 3 ½ out of 5
ALLELUJAH: LEONARD COHEN, A SONG, A JOURNEY: We’ve seen Leonard Cohen’s life story told in documentaries before, but this one is different. We see his life entirely through one song: Hallelujah. The song itself has a complex history. It is now well known that Cohen’s record company refused to release him, letting him appear on a small independent label first. But the rest of the story is just as amazing. Folksinger Jeff Buckley picked it up and set off what eventually became an avalanche. Some 300 artists have recorded the song. John Cale’s version was used in the movie Schrek and it gave him another great boost.
Cohen spent years writing it, with dozens of verses and two versions. One addressed to God; the other to the women in Cohen’s life. The song reflects both Cohen’s spiritual quest and everyday life. The Shrek version is edited to clean up some racy content, which also allowed the song to be played at many functions, especially weddings. You will hear fragments of many versions in this film. Get ready to catch an earworm. And a deeper understanding of Leonard Cohen, as well as the strange story of a single song. (Theaters in Toronto–Varsity–Vancouver–5e Avenue—and Montreal with more soon.) 4 out of 5
PERSUASION: This is the last cinematic version (the 5e according to my calculations) of Jane Austen’s last novel but unfortunately not the best. Not that I’ve seen them all, but I’ll highlight a better one below. This one has all the rich design, grand houses, and capable English actors you’d want to bring the Regency period to life. But two problems stand out. First, modernization. Not the look, but the tone. The snippets of dialogue are anachronistic: one character calls another “a 10”. I doubt Jane Austen wrote that.
Ann Elliott, played by Dakota Johnson, is a modern woman — for her time — but she stands out as if she stepped in from our time. She speaks directly to us several times, even winking occasionally. It might be common in the theater, where director Carrie Cracknell is from, but feels wrong here. Ann doesn’t really feel English either and worse, there’s no chemistry between her and Captain Frederick Wentworth (played by Cosmo Jarvis). He’s the guy she was persuaded to reject seven years earlier because his status was too low for her snobby family. He’s come back into his life now, richer and more esteemed but is there a game to be played? The film misses a huge concern of Austen: the low status at that time of women who are still unmarried. It’s barely mentioned and we’re essentially left with a romantic comedy in costume. Check out the 1995 version with Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. It tops this one (Netflix) 2 ½ out of 5
MRS HARRIS GOES TO PARIS: I think it could be a very pleasant fantasy for many women. Imagine a housekeeper in London (Lesley Manville) traveling to Paris to buy herself a Dior dress, just to feel good. Yeah, like. But then, due to a unique circumstance, going straight into a private and very exclusive exhibition of the latest dresses, meeting Dior himself, attracting the attention of a friendly Marquis and annoying a snobby Dior employee (Isabelle Huppert) . It would be a trip, vacation or not.
And there’s more. The Maison Dior is in decline. It takes ideas to bring it back to life. Meanwhile, there are layoffs and labor protests. No, Ms. Harris doesn’t have the answers, but she manages to encourage those who do. This is thanks to his good humor and his optimism towards people. Most are good, or can be convinced to become good. Not a common misconception in movies, even a bit dated these days, but this movie, directed and co-written by Anthony Fabian from a novel by Paul Gallico, makes it work and doesn’t even feel like a joke. a pollyannaism. This movie makes you feel good. (In theaters) 3 out of 5
MOURINE: We get coming-of-age films fairly regularly, but not often from Croatia. This one is a delight and a few years ago, the judges of Cannes charmed it so much that they awarded it a grand prize, that of the best first film. They gave it to Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic who directed and wrote the film and set it up near Dubrovnic where she grew up. She also spent time in the US, so we get a hybrid.
The teenager Julija (Gracija Filipovic) lives with a very authoritarian father and yearns to escape. The murina is a type of eel that is very adept at this. Dad is visited by an old friend (Cliff Curtis) who is now wealthy and lives in the United States and hopes to sell his land to him. Julija senses that there was something in the past between him and his mother. This gives her an idea: replace her father with him and she can be free. There’s plenty of subtle plot to come, hints of past relationships, and the seething emotions they evoke. The director subtly weaves it all together in a tale that will keep you involved. It’s slow but appealing and steamy. (Small theaters, like the Rio in Vancouver) 3 ½ out of 5
PAWS OF FURY THE LEGEND OF HANK: Want an animated movie to take your kids to that will have them jumping and kicking in the car on their way home? This one will get them excited, which isn’t usual for American kids movies these days, but you’ll have to explain what all that show biz humor is all about. Much of it is pure Catskills schtick. Mel Brooks, for example, voicing a Shogun character, repeatedly saying “There’s no business, like Shogun business.” Brooks helped write the screenplay and produce the film. Don’t explain what’s funny about this line from Samuel L. Jackson: “What the cocker spaniel father is going on here?”
Michael Cera plays Hank, a dog who wants to be a samurai. His mission: to defend a city full of cats. A dog that defends cats? Well, it’s a plot by a sneaky cat voiced by Ricky Gervais to destroy the city. It turns out that it is also a call to overcome hatred and prejudice. Cats and dogs don’t like each other. Hank must earn the respect of the cats. It’s also a slight homage, perhaps a weak copy, of Brook’s classic Western parody Blazing Saddles. The kids won’t get that; adults will also have connection problems. Noise, bomb and fart jokes abound. Chief among the three directors is Rob Minkoff who worked on The Lion King and Stuart Little. This one isn’t very funny or entertaining. (In theaters) 2 out of 5