Gay romance, resurrected witches and a western rides again. They’re at the top this week and not far below, let’s get serious with a few other picks from the Vancouver International Film Festival. It’s Now, lasts until October 9, and offers a thoughtful cinematic experience. Foreign, independent, Canadian and British Columbia films are attracting attention there. Many may never return, so watch what happens.
I’m glad Back Home, a movie I plugged in, was selected for a third screening. He’s local, has been noticed by the pros, and has my grandson in the cast. I’ll be there tonight to watch him.
I list below those that interest me and these films from the usual places and outlets here.
Bros: 3 ½ stars
Hocus Pocus: 3 ½
BROS: There have been gay romances on screen before, usually from independent companies. It’s from one of the big guys, Universal and it’s a step up, another is that it achieves what the two creators set out to do. Billy Eichner co-wrote it with Nicholas Stoller, who directs it. Billy, who also acts, wants to show that gay people have been around forever and should be portrayed realistically in movies like everyone else. This is the message conveyed by the character of Bily, a podcaster.
The film proves this by its very structure. It’s a rom-com like any we’ve seen from Meg Ryan that’s visually referenced a few times. Boy meets boy, boy loses boy, boy gets boy back. Same story arc.
The lover here is a muscular, athletic guy who likes to take off his shirt and secretly wants to be a chocolatier. He is played by Luke Macfarlane. Eichner in his podcasts argues that homosexuals are not the same, they are different, their sex life is different. Their biggest mistake was convincing people they’re smart. It’s about vanity, runaway emotions and victimhood. Critics ? Didn’t seem to bother the gays at a preview. They laughed and appreciated that Eichner dared to say them. There’s more at a planning meeting for an LBGTQ museum and with several cameo characters. Debra Messing, for example, complains that gay people always ask her for advice just because she played Grace. Jokes galore and real-life observations about gay people and not-quite-graphic sex add up to a smart, breezy film. (In theaters) 3 ½ out of 5
HOCUS POCUS 2: The film’s story is almost as grand as the one it contains. This sequel comes 30 years after the original, which was a flop at the time. Roger Ebert hated him, people avoided him, and he could have walked away, except he caught on when cable and video got him. It has become a hit every Halloween. This follow-up, which took years to put together, brings back Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Three Witches and a small role Doug Jones as Billy Butcherson. All other cast and characters are new.
The time is today Salem, Mass. Three teenagers led by Becca (Whitney Peak, known from several TV series) accidentally bring the town’s infamous history to life. With a book of spells and incantations they found in a thrift store, they bring back the three witches who were put to death at the time. Also Billy, whose affections quarreled with two of them, though he mostly watches in wry disbelief what is happening now. It seems that the reverend who condemned them there in the 17th century has also reappeared. He is now mayor and a candidate for re-election. Reincarnation? Well, it’s a fantasy. But the witches want revenge and they have one day to get it. Or they will disintegrate. The film has great energy and Bette Middler owns it. She struts and stands happily and declares that she is so powerful that she doesn’t need a book. It’s a great, showy performance from her, and a subtle, quieter performance from her modern counterpart, Becca. And a nice movie. (Disney+) 3 ½ out of 5
DEATH FOR A DOLLAR: Many of us grew up with westerns and that makes them a treat. They are so rare these days. The fact that it comes from legendary director Walter Hill, has a great cast including Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe and Rachel Brosnahan, and was made in Alberta, adds to the appeal. It’s not a classic but draws you in with a tale and vibe that will remind you of some of them. Mostly spaghetti westerns. He has the brooding style and respect for honor and courage perfectly and he mixes in some racial and female issues.
Waltz plays a bounty hunter hired to bring back a woman (Rachel Brosnahan) who has been kidnapped by a Black Army deserter in Santa Fe and taken to Mexico. At least that’s the story he and we hear early on. It’s not true, as he eventually learns. He will have to decide if he will finish the job he was paid for. Meanwhile, Willem Defoe enters the story, ostensibly to “play cards and stay out of trouble”. It is not possible. Waltz had caught him years before and sent him to prison. A confrontation is sure to come out of this. Also, after the arrival of eight horsemen, a major gun battle spreads throughout a small town and becomes wildly excessive. The film is like that, crafty and then over the top. (Streaming on Cineplex, Telus, Shaw, Rogers, Bell, Sasktel, Cogeco, Apple (iTunes), Microsoft, Google) 2 ½ out of 5
VIFF CHOICE: The festival is shorter this year, there are fewer films but it is still difficult to do justice to a list of good choices. Most of the most interesting films are not available in preview and some are only shown once. It is worth noting those who have won awards elsewhere. Decision to leave for example: best director at Cannes. The whale: three prizes in Venice. The brokerbest actor at Cannes, Alcarras, the Golden Bear (best film) in Berlin. I especially look forward to The Banshees of Inisherin (two prizes in Venice but more because it was Martin McDonagh who did the very funny In Brugge with the same two actors, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.)
These are a few that I have seen before.
I wrote about RICEBOY SLEEPS and CROWS BONES last week and congratulated them both. Very,
THE GRIZZLIE TRUTH: (October 1 and 5) is a kind of follow-up to Kathleen S. Jayme who once again displays her passion for the long-gone Vancouver Grizzlies basketball team. Four years ago, she showed us the team’s most famous player, “Big Country” Reeves. This time it focuses on the whole team trying to figure out why they developed such love among the fans and what won them over (in Memphis Tennessee). And why it failed as the Toronto Raptors thrived.
She finds many answers: a losing record, a falling Canadian dollar, the failure of a star player selection, perhaps hampered by league policies. She tracks down that escaped star player, shoots hoops with him, and hears his side of the story for the first time. She meets Stu Jackson, the general manager who regrets letting her go and is still blamed by many for the misstep. Jayme also hears how great teams are built and what drives fans to obsession. She admits she has it.
She leads protests, even in Mephis when she goes there. But she also listens and comes back much more upbeat than I expected. It’s a very good film. 4 out of 5 stars
REBELLION: This documentary is bound to be of interest to Observer readers because it shows the origins, and the principles, of probably the most radical group fighting against climate change. Extinction Rebellion uses the well-known tactic of the civil rights movement – nonviolent disruption – to get the message across. They clog roads, block bridges and stop traffic.
It all started in England under the leadership of Roger Hallam, a Welsh organic farmer who saw the effects of climate change on his crops. He said blocking traffic was the easiest way to get noticed and get the media to pay attention to the grave emergency. This puts pressure on politicians. Later he became more extreme, saying everyone in the movement should work to get themselves arrested. “How far you should push it depends on your reason,” he said. The film traces the growth of what he began to take in small meetings, planning sessions, training courses, massive crowds in the streets and even later meetings where dissension arose against his leadership. . There are superb images, beautifully edited, giving us a living and important document. (Sunday evening & Monday afternoon) 4 out of 5
ANYOX: I wish I could be that positive about this one. It has a great story to tell and was directed by much admired filmmakers, but it’s beyond disappointing. Shots are often held too long. Do you need what feels like two minutes to stare at a hole in a rock face? Or watch the water flow around a rock? Especially when they add nothing to the story of a mining town north of Prince Rupert, British Columbia in the 1930s. Immigrants are brought to work in the mines, are underpaid and go on strike. The provincial police are called to arrest him. Martial law is declared. I haven’t heard of it before.
Some personal accounts are read and it works, but then a whole government report is flashed on the screen page after page and we can barely read them. Pages from a workers’ newspaper, The worker, then go up and the next page gives a different incline. We can’t read much either, it’s on microfilm, but the headlines are big enough to give the facts. “To the beleaguered workers of Anyonx.” “Anyox strikers stay strong: keep the copper plant closed.” And much more. A most interesting story but not well told. (Friday and Monday screens) 2 of 5