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Sunday Matinee: Come Drink With Me

Marital arts in movies have been around on the screen since the early days of film. But the massive international popularity of them wouldn’t really begin until the 1960s. In 1966 The Shaw Brothers Studio produced a movie called Come Drink with Me which would kick start a massive onslaught of martial art movies.

Come Drink with Me starred actress Cheng Pei-pei in the lead role as Golden Swallow a bad ass martial artist who is out to try and save her brother who has been kidnapped by a bandits have allied themselves with an evil monastery lead Abbot Liao Kung (Yeung Chi-hing). On her journeys she is helped by Drunken Cat aka Fan Da-pei (Yueh Hua), a former member of the same martial art master that trained Abbot Liao Kung.
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REVIEW: (Groan), Lucy

Oh, Lucy! was the first movie I saw in last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. I remember thinking “what a pointless oddity. I’m positive I will never hear of this movie again.” And here we are.

Produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Oh Lucy! is not the film you would expect from the Anchorman duo. Setsuko (Shinobu Terajima), a lonely middle-age woman living in Tokyo, rediscovers her joie de vivre when by chance lands in an English class with John (Josh Harnett, don’t ask). The expat’s teaching technique consists in giving the student a blond wig and an American identity, “Lucy”. (Seriously, people have problems with Isle of Dogs and not with this?)

Unbeknownst to John, the class triggers a tectonic shift inside Setsuko. She loosens up, quits her job and decides to actively pursue the English professor. John has gone back to America, you say? No problem! She has a passport.

There are a couple of additional complications (John is dating Setsuko’s niece; Setsuko and her sister can’t stand each other) that give the film a whiff of screwball comedy, but Oh Lucy! never takes off: Harnett is no one’s idea of comedic performer and Shinobu Terajima embodies too much pathos to come across as funny.

The film is more effective while in Japan. The moment the action moves to Los Angeles and the “fish out of water” cliché kicks in, Oh Lucy! loses its charm. The tonal inconsistency is jarring: This is a comedy that opens with someone launching himself in front of a train, and clearly there is something wrong with Setsuko that is never addressed.

If nothing else, Terajima’s performance keeps the film watchable, but the low stakes and even lower production values hurt the overall experience. The message -the connections you make in the world may save you in the end- is a sweet one, if about as pat as they come. One and a half planets (out of five).

Oh Lucy! opens this Friday 13th at the Roxy Theatre.

Sunday Matinee: Tiger of the Seven Seas

Gianna Maria Canale stars as Consuelo who is the daughter of the notorious pirate called Tiger. Tiger has decided to retire and decides to hold a contest to see who will take over his command. The contest comes down to William (Anthony Steel) and Consuelo. Consuelo wins but then her father is murdered in the night.
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Sunday Matinee: Anne Of The Indies

This 1951 action adventure swashbuckler stars Jean Peters as Captain Anne Providence, a notorious pirate who sails the sevens seas. Intended to be loosely based on Anne Bonny the movie took several liberties and eventual became its on thing.

Anne and her crew have just seized a British ship and she meets Captain Pierre François LaRochelle (Louis Jourdan) whom she spares and lets him join her crew. Anne starts to fall in love with Pierre and takes him to meet her mentor Blackbeard (Thomas Gomez).
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Sunday Matinee: Johnny Guitar

There are a few westerns in the 1940s and 50s which had strong female roles. 1945’s Along Came Jones featured Gary Cooper as easy going Jones who is mistaken for a bad guy except unlike the bad guy Cooper can’t shoot very well. Fortunately Loretta Young can.

There was also Ann Savage in Renegade Girl (1946), several adaptations on the life of Annie Oakley, first in 1935 with Barbara Stanwyck in Annie Oakley and then a musical with the same name in 1950 with Betty Hutton. There were also several Belle Starr films, the first was a silent in 19287 called Court Martial. Gene Tierney played her in Belle Starr (1941) and Isabel Jewell played Starr in Badman’s Territory and Daughter of Belle Starr (both 1946), and Jane Russell was Starr in Montana Belle (1952).
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Almost Ready, Player One

The #604Stacks.

It’s Juno weekend in Vancouver. For those who think music died with Bowie and Prince, the event doesn’t carry much weight (three weeks ago, I didn’t know what a “Hedley” was. Now I’m trying to forget), but at least the side attractions are quite fun.

Chief among them are the #604Stacks, the low-income housing featured in Ready Player One, Steven Spielberg’s latest movie based on the Ernest Cline best-seller. The stacks are shipping containers -not unlike Brazil favelas- that symbolize the widespread poverty and overpopulation that may characterize the planet in 2045. From this environment emerges Wade, a teen gamer who goes on an epic journey -both virtual and in real life- to become a hero for a disheartened population.

The #604Stacks are a full scale recreation of the aforementioned housing in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. Three of the containers are accessible to the public. The first one is filled with classic arcade games: “Centipede”, “Ms. Pac Man”, “Donkey Kong” and the sort. Worth mentioning, the Oasis, the virtual reality universe where Wade spends most of his time, is peppered with 80’s references, and knowledge of the decade’s pop culture and electronic games is indispensable to thrive.

The second container is a duplicate of Wade’s residence (it doubles as rewards area). The third one houses a VR game inspired by the film. “Rise of the Gunters” pits Wade and friends against the corporate agents who want to control the Oasis. I did poorly at “Gunters”, but crushed “Centipede”. Hours and hours of Atari 2600 practice pay off.

#604Stacks its open to the public Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th, 12 to 9pm.

Ready Player One opens next March 29th everywhere.

Sunday Matinee: The Paleface

Other than the action serials of the 1930s and 40s there was very very few leading roles for women as the hero. Most leading roles at the time were primarily drama, mother of a family struggling to keep the family together and such or a woman trying to become a star was another popular theme. But there the odd hero role for women.

Starting in the silent film era there was the odd western about a female gunfighter. 1918 had The Gun Woman. In the 1935 Annie Oakley a bio-pic about the sharp shooter starred Barbara Stanwyck, in 1935 The Plainsman starring Gary Cooper as Wild Bill had Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane but only in a non fighting side role. 1941 had the romanticized bio-pic Belle Starr (Gene Tierney) the notorious outlaw although the movie makes her more sympathetic, less of robbing criminal and more of a patriotic freedom fighter.
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REVIEW: Tomb Raider Is Serviceable Fun

Back in the day (2001), when Angelina Jolie was announced as the incarnation of the world’s (second) most famous tomb raider, the decision was celebrated as a victory for Girl Power: Finally, a female hero carrying an action film.

Besides the fact we have progressed astonishingly little in that regard (word by word, the same was said of Wonder Woman last year), it’s worth mentioning Jolie’s Lara Croft movies were not great. Not only the plot was unwieldly, Angelina played a sassier version of herself and not really a character.

The main change the 2018 version of Tomb Raider is that Alicia Vikander actually plays Lara Croft. The film is simple but cohesive and the action set-pieces are fluid, as opposed to the choppy style of some other genre specialists (ehem, Michael Bay, ehem).

In this incarnation, Croft is an bike courier/MMA aficionado living paycheck to paycheck. She doesn’t have to. Lara has inherited millions of dollars from her missing father, but she is reluctant to take a penny as she hasn’t given up hope that her dad may resurface.

On the verge of caving in, Lara stumbles upon a clue of her father’s whereabouts: A restless man, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) may have ended in Japan, in pursuit of the resting place of a witch with devastating powers. And he wasn’t the only one in pursuit of the grave.

Tomb Raider is one of those rare cases in which the marriage of an European filmmaker’s sensibilities and a Hollywood production works out. Director Roar Uthaug, responsible for the low-budget, high-octane tsunami flick The Wave, keeps things grounded in reality. Because Indiana Jones’ parentage is undeniable, Uthaug embraces it, leading to effective sequences of Lara Croft using brains and brawn to escape from impossible situations.

A reliable performer, Alicia Vikander brings her low-key charisma to the role. She is immensely watchable and brings a modicum of verisimilitude to ludicrous scenarios. Fans of the videogame (the film is based on the 2013 reboot) are served with winks and nudges, without going overboard.

As the first movie of a would-be franchise, the film does a good job sticking to the story at hand and not overloading in mythology, so often the kiss of death of origin stories. A strong supporting cast (Walton Goggins, Kristin Scott-Thomas and a criminally underused Derek Jacobi) and rather amusing set pieces make Tomb Raider an enjoyable popcorn flick. 3/5 planets.

Tomb Raider is now playing everywhere.

Sunday Matinee: Brenda Starr, Reporter

Brenda Starr was a popular comic strip that had started in the 1940s written and drawn by one of the few female comic artists working at the time Dale Messick. The comic followed the adventures of Brenda Starr a reporter who got into all sorts of adventures (Messick came up with it after her all female pirate comic got rejected). The series was so popular it lasted until 2011 in newspapers.

Columbia Pictures loved adapting comic characters into serials, Superman, Batman, The Phantom, Congo Bill, Terry and the Pirates and many more so it was not much of a surprise that they adapted Brenda Starr.
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REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time Could Use Some Ironing

Storm Reid is Meg Murry in “A Wrinkle in Time”.

Director Ava DuVernay has had a remarkable career. Outside forays in music videos and television, her films have been consistently powerful: The fierce family drama Middle of Nowhere, the revelatory doc 13th and the heart-wrenching Selma, they all have left an indelible impression. It wasn’t a surprise Disney would pick her to head the adaptation of the emblematic sci-fi novel A Wrinkle in Time. She has the chops and the sensibility to pull it off.

Which is why it pains me to say A Wrinkle in Time is not up to par. It’s not necessarily DuVernay’s fault. The script is agonizingly obvious (kids are more sophisticated viewers than the movie gives them credit for) and commits a capital offense for an adaptation of this nature: It nearly forgoes world-building. Also, as seminal as the Madeleine L’Engle book is, it’s 56 years old, and every plot point has been recycled to death.

The one thing A Wrinkle in Time has going for is zeitgeist: All major social movements crystalize in the story of Meg (Storm Reid), a brilliant 13 year-old who -following her father’s disappearance- has turn sullen and withdrawn. Well on her way to hopelessness, Meg and her family are visited by Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a kooky figure who seems to know more than she should about Meg’s dad and his interdimensional travel theories.

Soon Meg, her would-be boyfriend and her annoying little brother head to other worlds in search for the missing father, under the tutelage of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Oprah, supernatural, benevolent beings battling the Darkness, the source of all evil.

I could go into further details, but there is no end to all the narrative details the movie both tackles and glosses over. While nobody expects a page-to-page recreation, A Wrinkle in Time does a poor job explaining the mechanics of the story. Things happen. It’s magic. Moving on. A poor casting decision (Meg’s younger sibling is hard to understand and much of the plot hinges on him) further hinders the film’s unfolding.

Ava DuVernay manages however to keep the visuals interesting, particularly when choosing practical effects over CGI. For brief moments, the film becomes tactile, relatable. Makes you wonder what could it have been… with a better script. 2/5 planets.

A Wrinkle in Time is playing everywhere.