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Recent Movies: Paranorman; Stories We Tell; How To Survive a Plague; Old Movies: Bonjour Tristesse; Live Concerts: Barbra Streisand *****************

November 16, 2012

Recent Movies

Paranorman

In this U.S. animated film, a boy has the ability to see dead spirits.  This leads him to being urged to end a 300-year-old curse placed on the town by a witch.  The curse also causes seven zombies to rise from their graves once a year.

In the beginning, the film shows a casual, laissez-faire attitude about bullying.  This attitude seems very out of place these days.  However, there is a very powerful and moving conversation at the end about the consequences of being hell-bent on revenge.  Its message is powerful for anyone of any age.

In between all of this, the film is OK.  There are some funny moments especially an over-the-top drama teacher at the school the boy attends.  Other moments rely on old forms of slapstick.

The supernatural elements of the film are interesting but there’s still a feeling it’s been done before.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * *

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Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley, a Toronto film actor and director, does a documentary about her blended family of origin.  At the same time, she works out a mystery about the possibility that the father who raised her might not be her biological father.

Diane (Sarah’s mother, a theatre actress) died  in the early 1990s when Sarah was only 11.  This film includes interviews with all of her four siblings, her father, and her mother’s friends and associates at the time Sarah would have been conceived.

Perhaps only a family descended from performers and artists would be willing to reveal so much private family information.  This makes the film both fascinating and a bit uncomfortable.  Do they really want us to know all of this?

Diane comes off as quite an enigma as well.  While it might be easy to judge what she did in the past, the judgments are cast aside as everyone remembers her spirit and dedication to family with so much love and admiration.

The film might have trimmed 15-20 minutes to be more effective.  Also, some interviewees (including the interviewer herself) seem too emotionally detached at times considering what they are revealing.  Likewise, the credits at the end inform the viewers that some of the “footage” was simulated – rather disappointing considering how fascinating it was.

But this very unusual project is fascinating to watch nonetheless.  It ably recalls the fun and free spirit of the late 1970s and adds to that ongoing debate about Toronto (detached and workaholic) vs. Montreal (warm and free-spirited).  These comments are from the Torontonians in modern times and in the 1970s.

Rating:   * * *

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How To Survive a Plague

This U.S. documentary exposes the history of ACTUP (AIDS Committee To Unleash Power), an activist group that began in 1987 to fight against government apathy towards people suffering with AIDS.

This subject has shown up in documentaries rather frequently lately including “We Were Here” and “Vito”.  Those other documentaries were very powerful in getting to the viewer’s heart; this new film gets down and dirty and shows, via recorded camcorder footage, the extreme anger that was needed to get government action to get drugs that could prolong life for those living with the disease.  Tensions within the movement are also exposed.

Such anger would be dismissed in modern times as going too far.  But considering the many who were ill, dying, and losing eyesight in those difficult times, the in-your-face approach was needed for true action especially when prejudice was also a factor.  Sadly though, there are very uncomfortable moments when members of government institutions are being directly confronted and accused of murder.  This seems very unfair yet one wonders if it was the only approach left to try to get the drugs to prolong life – drugs that became available in the mid-1990s.

This rhetoric would later morph into the extremes of political correctness that also arose in the early 1990s.  It became a royal pain as it was used by many other people and groups who exaggerated their victim-hood if they had any to begin with.  Perhaps, this will be the subject of a future documentary.

Most effective in this film was interviews with the surviving activists and their outlook on what happened in the nine years of that movement before better drugs were invented.

Rating:   * * *

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Great Old Movies Seen Again

Bonjour Tristesse  (1958 – U.S)

A wealthy playboy Raymond  (David Niven) and his teenaged daughter Cecile (Jean Seberg) live lives of hedonistic bliss.  When Raymond becomes engaged to Anne (Deborah Kerr), a sensible fashion designer and longtime friend of the family, the differing values cause conflict.

The first half of the film is well-made but seems to only expose the indulgences of the upper-class.  However, this is only a set-up for a very powerful second half where things take an unexpected emotional turn.

There is much to praise about this film including its directing (Otto Preminger), its story (based on the novel by Francoise Sagan), beautiful photography and settings and a superb cast.

The standout of these is Kerr’s performance.  She truly seems conflicted as someone wanting the best for her potential stepdaughter while not knowing if she has gone too far.  She feels like someone we have all known.

Her character is also the most sympathetic:  while she is of the upper-class, she feels there is more to life than the hedonism among those around her.  She is also superb in a couple of breakdown scenes letting the emotions build slowly before losing control.

Likewise, the heartfelt feelings at the end of this film linger long after the film is finished.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

Award-worthy Achievement:   Deborah Kerr’s performance

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Live Concerts

Barbra Streisand on tour at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto

Fulfilling a childhood dream, I went to see The Great One despite the ticket cost.  When she was last in Toronto, only the most expensive seats were available  and I passed.  I later regretted that decision.

At 70, this gal is still gold.  Occasionally, her voice sounded a bit raspy during some high notes but she recovered quickly and easily.  Mostly, she was as magical as she has been for the past half-century or so.

The show was a mix of her old standards, other songs rarely heard, and Broadway songs better known as being performed by other singers.  I would have preferred more of her old standards but she was still great with the other songs.

I also would have preferred more of the singer herself.  Her son, Jason Gould, was on stage for at least three songs.  He is a great singer but we paid (a lot) mainly  to see Barbra.  The tenor group, Il Volo, however, were superb as always and it was a pleasure to see them live as well.

I don’t think the concert was quite worth the high price for it; however, the show was beautiful nonetheless with its own special magic and beauty that lingered well after its end.  Also, while I don’t believe in nonsense like “bucket lists”, if one such list existed for me, a major item has been checked off.  I’m still glad to have seen Streisand perform live.  Her brilliant voice is an international treasure that should be well known for centuries to come.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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