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Recent Movies: The Eagle Huntress, Elle, Queen of Katwe; Musical Theatre: Come From Away

January 2, 2017

Recent Movies

The Eagle Huntress

The subject of this documentary is Aisholpan Nurgaiv: a thirteen-year old girl from a nomadic, indigenous family in Mongolia. Her family, like others in her community, maintain a tradition in teaching the male members to capture a young eagle and train it to hunt for food and fur for the family. Aisholpan has an usually high interest and an inherent talent for such ventures herself thereby being the only known female in her community to ask to follow the path of the male lineage.

The sunny, winter mountainous scenery are a joy to the eye. Stunning vistas and aerial views are a gift to the viewer who can see the beauty without having to feel the cold temperatures.

The narrative of the documentary is pleasing though it has only minimal conflict and struggle (mostly against nature). In some ways, it is predictable. The final song to conclude the film is beautiful. But to choose it to round out this film seems to trivialize the experience through the perspective of western feminism. The movie is so much more than that.

The film is mostly a special father-daughter bonding experience. Aisholpan’s amiable personality wins over her father, her community, and the audience. In fact, her father’s support – and those of other family members – are paramount in her ability to break with tradition and do it so well. She never needs to be pushy, rebellious or troublesome. Her serenity is as much a strength as her abilities in eagle-training and hunting. This is seen in her day-to-day interactions at school and at home.

The special bond between the two is best seen when they are riding side-by-side on horseback each holding their hunting eagles on their right arm. The horses are riding in perfect unison. Add that to the magnificent background and it’s a vision that’s unforgettable.

RATING (out of four stars): * * *


Elle

Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is a well-off Parisian CEO of a video-game company. Her past includes a childhood trauma and her life is troubled in various ways among family, friends, and people at work. Things get worse when she is brutally raped and has a very unusual response to the situation.

In the film’s favour, it is very well directed by Paul Verhoeven who creates a dark and mysterious mood. He is well aided by the haunting musical score by Anne Dudley. Huppert is also marvelous in the lead role. This is to be expected as her presence and performances always raise her films to a higher level.

The trouble is in the role itself as well as the script. Yet again, Huppert plays a twisted sadomasochist like she did in “The Piano Teacher”. While she can be praised for taking on dark roles, it would be nice for the sake of contrast to see her in a cheesy rom-com in which her greatest dilemma would be deciding what to buy as a Christmas gift for a loved one.

Despite potential sympathy for all that has happened to her, Michèle, like almost everyone else in the movie, is unlikeable. David Birke’s screenplay has too many oddities and leaves too many loose ends by the conclusion. It also has a very contorted view of the traumatic experience of rape – something that leaves a poor taste by the end.

RATING: * *


Queen of Katwe

Based on a true story: Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a ten-year old living in the slum district of Katwe, Uganda. Through the kind and able mentoring of a local missionary (David Oyelowo), she discovers the joys of chess and realizes a potential that is beyond her life circumstances. “Queen of Katwe” is an American film and in the English language.

The film’s first half is very appealing especially as it exposes class struggle and prejudice in various situations. Phiona is seen as the poorest of the poor when she first learns chess among neigbourhood peers; later, she and her new peers face further barriers and snobbery as their collective and individual talents take them to much higher places. It is more than just a battle against other chess opponents. The bigger battle is the internal voice that says, “I don’t belong here” when sent to places that radically differ from the Katwe slums.

Sadly, the film sags in the second half. It is even more disappointing that the directing is by Mira Nair who has done so well with other films especially “Monsoon Wedding” back in 2001. Despite the depth of the inspiring story in the first half, a blandness takes over in the second. This is unfortunate considering the movie’s potential. In any case, Oyelowo is moving as the father-like figure – not surprising considering his fine work in “Selma”.

RATING: * * 1/2


Musical Theatre

“Come From Away” at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Toronto

The small town of Gander, Newfoundland welcomes strangers on U.S. flights that were not allowed to enter the U.S. following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. For the next few days, the passengers bond in an unexpected way with the locals before they are eventually allowed to return home.

The book, music, and lyrics are by Irene Sankoff and David Hein. This team shows great insight in their mix of intelligence, wit, and heart. The hilarity of the local situation is juxtaposed with the broader tragedy that created it. The humour is genuine as it blends with the bigger drama around it. This blend is enough reason to give this show high praise, yet there is so much more.

The ensemble of twelve players who each play various roles are perfect. Nobody stood out because everybody did: splendidly and absolutely. And they are so well co-ordinated by director Christopher Ashley and choreographer Kelly Devine. The energy is constant and the change of scenes, with actors casually re-arranging chairs and tables, looks effortless.

Some of the best humour comes through when crime-wary Americans are shocked, in a good way, by the well-known hospitality and trusting nature of Newfoundlanders. Yet, the main reason that this show is a winner is its exposure of the human condition and how the best of humanity comes through in such unexpected ways during a shocking tragedy. It also shows how people’s lives were touched in ways that they might not have been otherwise.

This show is expected to play on Broadway soon. I hope it lives on forever. I look forward to seeing it again.

RATING:   * * * *


Upcoming movie reviews:  Sully, Arrival, Things to Come, Loving, Cameraperson, Neruda, Manchester by the Sea, Jackie, Lion, La La Land, Fences, Julieta

 

Dennis Bowman

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3 Comments
  1. I am from Newfoundland and have heard such great comments about “Come From Away”. I tear up when I watch videos of some of the musical numbers on YouTube! It is such an honour as a Newfoundlander to have this story told to such a larger audience with such humour and respect for all involved, and to also hear about its rave reviews. I definitely need to see the musical at some point!

    • Carter permalink

      You really should…one of the best things I’ve seen in years! Nice to know we’re capable of producing something of this calibre

  2. Definitely! There was a show in Gander before the show started in Toronto. Unfortunately, I was unable to go but there were so many great reviews I heard.

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