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Recent Movies: The Oxbow Cure; Museum Hours; Blackfish; Live Theatre: Angels in America

September 4, 2013

Recent Movies

The Oxbow Cure

A woman living in a city (presumably Toronto) moves to a cottage in the wilderness during winter.  Her apparent purpose is to help cure a debilitating illness.

This film has the difficult challenge of having no dialogue as the main character lives as a hermit.  The first half of this rather short feature length film (one hour and twenty minutes) is beautiful and meditative.  The winter scenery in Ontario’s cottage country is mystical and beautiful.  In this half, the film lives up to the challenge.

The second half begins to lag a bit, though, with an extremely bizarre ending that seems out of place.  In this way, the film disappoints considering such a pleasant start.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Museum Hours

A guard at the great Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna has an uplifting experience as he befriends a woman from Montreal who is visiting the city to visit an ailing relative in a hospital.  They have many reflective discussions about life and art.  This film is an Austrian/American co-production.

As both characters are presumably over fifty, there are many interesting observations of life and of the world they have seen pass by.  Considering the characters’ age group plus the fact that they are not financially well off, the viewer is given a rare chance to observe people that might be normally dismissed in the film world but who are fascinating nonetheless.

Director/writer Jem Cohen has many fascinating shots of Vienna and the museum during the bleak winter.  These shots (many outside tourist sites) would not be included in tourist brochures but they still have their own special beauty.

Aside from the fine conversations, there are other interesting asides.  The best is a guided museum tour lead by an interesting guide who knows her subject well but is still open-minded to what others in her group have to say.  This openness is challenged as one member of her group seems a bit pompous and argumentative.  It might be no coincidence that the pompous group member is seen reading his iPhone at the beginning of the tour.

Much of this film is beautiful mainly for its unique approach.  This unique approach, however, would have worked better within a more condensed time (it runs almost one and three-quarters hours).  Deliberately leaving out subtitles during the occasional German dialogue was also upsetting.  But despite these shortcomings, “Museum Hours” is still a gem in its own special way.

Rating:   * * *

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Blackfish

This U.S. documentary exposes the dangers of keeping killer whales in captivity and using them as show pieces.  The main focus is on a killer whale named Tilikum whose hard life has caused dire consequences for many.

This is a very well structured documentary that uses a good variety of techniques to create tension, sympathy and outrage.  The most powerful element is the interviews with former killer whale trainers who were very well meaning and sentimental but ill-informed in pursuing their childhood dreams.  This is maqinly because of deliberate misinformation from that most sleazy and despicable of human creatures: wealthy executives who use spin doctoring to cover up their rotten misdeeds.

This film pulls no punches on the dourness of the situation but leaves at least some hope in showing how hospitable and friendly the great creatures are in their own environment.  It’s yet another reminder of the dangers of fooling around with Mother Nature.

Rating:   * * *

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Live Theatre (Seen Again)

“Angels in America” – Parts 1 and 2 by Tony Kushner at the Young Theatre Centre, Toronto

The play originally debuted in the 1990s.  It takes place in New York City and focusses on the AIDS epidemic’s effect on the gay community.  Other issues covered include closeted gay right-wing Republicans, the Reaganite culture of the time, adultery, pill addiction, Mormon guilt, Jewish guilt, and the difficulty in finding proper treatment for AIDS patients.  The play mixes these real elements with surreal elements such as hallucinatory dreams that might be real, ghosts of the past, and an angel that appears to announce a prophecy to one of the characters.

Despite these seemingly grim topics, the play comes through with much warmth and humour.  While some of the writing seems difficult to understand at times, it still seems fascinating within its own imaginative context.

In Part 1 (Millennium Approaches), some of the text seems a bit dated but it still fascinates.  Veteran actor Diego Matamoros is superb in the role of the real-life character Roy Cohn, a closeted gay Republican who is dying of AIDS.  Cohn had worked closely with Sen. Joe McCarthy during the anti-Communist trials in the 1950s.  The character is shockingly acerbic in the play and Matamoros is brilliant.  The other players were fine too but seemed a bit restrained from going to further greatness in Part 1.

Luckily, all players shone beautifully in Part 2 (Perestroika).  Part 2 is also better written while it brings the story to a wonderful conclusion with charm and laughter.  This pair of plays is praiseworthy for its great mix of the real with the surreal – especially when the “real” of the time was a topic few wanted to touch.

Rating:

– Part 1 (Millennium Approaches):   * * *

– Part 2 (Perestroika):   * * * 1/2

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