Last week, I complained that Respect, the Aretha Franklin biopic, partially made with B.C. money, wasn’t promoted out here. I got a call from New York saying sorry, and offering a screener to catch up with it. Glad I took it. I liked it, with reservations, and if I have time, I’ll add some notes below.
But first, there’s a lot to cover. Here’s the list.
Reminiscence: 2½ stars
The Night House: 3
REMINISCENCE: There’s too much going on in this one, and writer-director Lisa Joy (a co-creator of the popular TV version of Westworld) hasn’t wrangled all the elements to work together properly. So, they bump into each other and break the spell. First of all, this is a film noir, you know the kind where a woman walks in and enthralls a gumshoe who gets involved with her and tells us so in his voice-over narration. In this version, he’s played by Hugh Jackman, she by Rebecca Ferguson. And this is not the past, it’s the future. He operates a service that, by dunking you in a water tank, allows you to recall your favourite memories. He can see them and record them on discs. She just wants to find some keys she has lost. When she disappears, too, he’s obsessed with finding her and finding out who she is.
The bare-bones story is involving, but gets cluttered. There’s crime, corruption, and permanent flooding in Miami. The rich hog the dry neighbourhoods. A developer is on trial for a highrise fire that killed people, and folks are rioting to protest. Yes, they’re all connected, but it’s a bit of a slog to find out how and what dragged Hugh’s character into it. All the while, he makes lofty observations about memory like, “Nothing is more addicting than the past.” He’s suitably tough; Rebecca is not quite the siren she’s supposed to be, and the story, which advances with the tank-induced memories of several characters, is involving, but not that satisfying. (5th Avenue, Scotiabank, and suburban theatres.) 2½ out of 5
DEMONIC: Oddly, this film has some parallels with Reminiscence, chiefly a plot device and, unfortunately, some shared problems of credibility. In this story, an experimental medical-imaging technique puts a woman’s consciousness into the mind of her comatose mother. We see what she feels in there, and it’s also not credible. Carly Pope plays Carly who, with the help of sensors attached to her head, links with her mother (Nathalie Boltt) hoping to find out why they became estranged years back. Mom is in custody as a killer and her daughter gets to arguing with her. “I didn’t want to see you ever again,” she tells her. “I hate you.”
The man who runs the shady research facility (Michael J Rogers) says the mom has a long-ago brain injury and his experiment can alleviate suffering. A friend of Carly’s suggests demonic possession made mom burn down an old age home. Carly’s visits are shown in flickery special effects. There are old memories, the family home, dark woods with mom calling, a tunnel, and a long institutional building. The psychological-horror atmosphere works, but then the demon arrives looking like a bird or a lizard and, again, a spell is broken. This is the fourth film by Vancouver-based Neill Blomkamp, who made it in the Okanagan where he also has a home. Originally from South Africa, he hit the big time 12 years ago with District 9 and since the badly-received Chappie, six years ago, has been making short films. He’s not back yet. (Park Theatre.) 2½ out of 5
IN THE SAME BREATH: You might get extremely angry, but you’ll be enlightened by this documentary about COVID-19. It’s a personal essay on how two countries, China and the U.S., handled the pandemic’s early days. Mishandled, actually, as we see in these scenes assembled by Nanfu Wang, who is from China, but has been living in the U.S. for almost 10 years. She used her contacts over there to get scenes secretly shot in hospitals and with people not officially allowed to talk. Most of the harrowing scenes are from Wuhan, where the virus first appeared, but was downplayed by the government. Ambulances have trouble finding hospitals that can take more patients. Critics disappear and others are punished for spreading “rumours.” The virus is kept under control, says the Xi Jinping government, and elaborate events with choirs singing about “My Motherland” celebrate that. A few medical staff dare to speak out.
In the U.S., the same downplaying, even denial, is at work. We’re more familiar with that part, having followed Donald Trump’s pronouncements, the changeable advice from his medical experts, and the assertions of “freedom” from anti-mask types. All that while the crisis is ongoing. Newscasts in China claim the system there is superior and better able to handle the pandemic. The film compares and contrasts both countries’ disinformation very well, and makes the point that both governments use tragedies to enhance their power. The most heart-rending scene is of a woman in China who ran a clinic with her now-deceased husband and expresses gratitude for the Xi government’s positive stance. (Crave.) 4 out of 5
WILDLAND: The concept of family is explored with caustic results in this terrific, well-acted and written film from Denmark. This family is criminal and violent, ruled by a harsh mother (Sidse Babett Knudsen) who runs a loan sharking operation.
She’s got three sons who go out to collect for her, and rough up the deadbeats if they have to. In comes a new member to the clan, teenage Ida (Sandra Guldberg Kampp), a niece placed there after her mother dies in a car accident. She doesn’t say much, but we understand a lot of what she’s thinking from seeing her watch what goes on. One brother, Jonas, is a self-styled leader. That means he sits in the car when the others deal with the debtors. David is a loser and an addict. Mads is mostly into video games. When Ida goes along on a collecting trip, everything goes wrong. A father is killed; his daughter recognizes Ida and the police take an interest in her. The brothers and their mom insist, “Don’t tell them anything.” Jonas states the philosophical essence: “I would do anything for my family.” There’s an emotional response to that, and to the idea of family. (VanCity Theatre.) 4 out of 5
PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE: It has been a phenomenal hit on TV with young boys and their sisters, plays in 160 countries, sells lots of toys, and, based in Toronto, is a huge Canadian success story. Now it’s trying the highly competitive animated movie field and looks like a winner. The animation, writing, and story are strong. And there are a few new elements. Kim Kardashian and Tyler Perry even, though I doubt your normal six- or seven-year old will care about that.
He and she will care that the rescue dogs and their master Ryder are there as usual, even though this time they travel from their small town to the big, noisy Adventure City. A city dog named Liberty aspires to join the group and shows them around. They encounter a truck driver (voiced by Tyler Perry) and a poodle (Kardashian), watch a TV reporter (Jimmy Kimmel) named Marty Muckraker, and encounter an old nemesis, Mayor Humdinger, who has won an uncontested election and has plans for the city. Naturally, they all go wrong and the Paw Patrol has to put things back right. The animation is grand (most of it from a Montreal company) and there are a few elements for adults. The rest is like the preschool set wants it: lively, busy, and colourful. (International Village, Marine Gateway, and suburban theatres.) 3 out of 5
CRYPTOZOO: This is an animation that is not for the kids. There’s, sex, nudity, violence, and language not good for them. And an environmental message above most of their heads. For the rest of us, it’s a treat: A fantasy about saving mythical creatures from people who want to exploit them. You know, including dragons, unicorns, gryphons, centaurs, Pegasus, and so on. A central one is the baku, which one woman (voiced by Lake Bell) wants to keep out of the hands of a military type who may use it for war-making purposes. I can’t imagine how; it looks like a toy elephant.
Joining the search is Matthew (voiced by Michael Cera) and a woman named Phoebe, who turns out to be a cryptid herself: a gorgon. They get to Florida, a Kentucky strip bar, a tarot reader (Zoe Kazan), and a satyr (Peter Stormare) at an orgy. There’s a strong hippie flavour to this trip and eventually a strong debate: Although creatures like this must be protected, should they be kept in a sanctuary? A zoo can be a prison. What’s done about that question brings on a frenetic burst for freedom. The animation is simple but potent, and the writer-director, Dash Shaw, was given an Innovator Prize at Sundance. (VanCity Theatre.) 3½ out of 5
THE PROTECTED: This film has gone through different names. It was Ana when it was filmed, The Asset when it was sold, and has the alternate title The Killing Kind in the credits. They’re all appropriate. Maggie Q plays a woman who was rescued in Vietnam by a hitman (Samuel L. Jackson) and trained to be a contract killer herself. She’s very good at it. They work together until one day, she finds him dead, shot in the bathtub, and sets out to avenge his death.
She figures the last case they were working on is somehow involved and sets out to find the mark. The bookstore she runs in London as a cover gets shot up. Her tech guy tracking the whereabouts of the mark is killed. And a mysterious businessman (Michael Keaton) who has been in to buy a book comes into her life again. At a restaurant table, they can identify each other’s guns by just the sound of a click. It’s that kind of film. Stylish fun directed by Martin Campbell, who did a couple of James Bond films. It’s not too worried about making sense. Just pushing a quest, throwing in an extreme plot twist, and a lot of action. One sequence has Q escaping through a crawlspace as bad guys shoot up the ceiling and then getting electrocuted when she turns on a sprinkler. She climbs down a fire hose and gets hit by a car. There’s lots more like that to come. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway, and suburban theatres.) 3 out of 5
THE NIGHT HOUSE: Here’s a horror film that holds back on horror and delivers lots of chills and dread and tension and a strong performance by Rebecca Hall. She’s alone in a lakeside house that her husband designed as an idyllic nest. But he’s killed himself, and she’s drinking too much and hearing noises and clunks at night. Normal little things like a door sticking become startling and scary. Director David Bruckner manages them to great effect. He has a tougher time with her story.
She consoles herself by watching the video of their wedding, but when she looks through his papers and his phone, there’s a mystery. She finds a note saying she’s right, a book about a trickster, and a photo of a woman she doesn’t know, but who looks much like her. And there are others on the phone. It’s been an effective study of one woman’s grief. Now it’s a quest to find that woman and learn more about the husband she thought she knew. It’s engrossing, somewhat slack at the end, but worth your time to savour Hall’s performance. (International Village, Marine Gateway, and suburban theatres.) 3 out of 5