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Big stars in Tulip Fever, intimidation in The Teacher and genuine Aboriginal anger in Neither Wolf Nor Dog

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Initially, the teacher seems welcoming and friendly. She has each of her students state their name and what their parents do. We soon learn it’s actually a flashback from a parents meeting where her methods are under attack. That ingenious way to introduce the students was really her way of finding out whose parents she can call on for free services. Also the students are pulled in to chores in the teacher’s home.  The ones who don’t, get low marks. The parents argue about what it means, if it is true or what they can do about it. After all the teacher is the Communist Party rep at the school. If they object, they’ll be branded as troublemakers. Some of the students do rebel and have to face their parents. This is an extremely well-written and well-acted take on the corrosive effects of the corrupt use of power. Though the theme is heavy, the film is not. It has a sprightly air about it. It played at VIFF last year and it’s just been announced that Hrebejk will have a new one there this year. (VanCity) 4 out of 5 

NEITHER WOLF NOR DOG: The other great humanitarian outrage in America’s history is of course the treatment afforded aboriginals. This film reminds you of that in some of the strongest words ever spoken about it in the movies. They’re from an old man named Dan, played in a remarkable performance by Dave Bald Eagle who was 95 when the film was made. He died last year after a widely-varied career that included a role in Dances With Wolves. This film is nothing like that. It’s based on the celebrated novel by Kent Nerburn and exposes the anger, the soul-grinding sense of loss some natives carry inside. “They were warriors. They had honor” one character says about the past.

 

Dan invites a writer (Christopher Sweeney) to come to the reservation in North Dakota, look through a box of his notes and turn them into a book.  It’ll be better than the “bullshit” he’s been writing about Indians, he says. A road trip shows him what life is really like for them. A cynical friend (Richard Ray Whitman) and twin sisters played by Vancouver’s Roseanne Supernault set him straight at times, even to the point of scolding. But Dan has the big speeches. “We knew how to live on this land”, he says. “Settlers tried to change it.” Later at the actual site of the Wounded Knee massacre he gives an impassioned and grim account of what happened there. Some of this is preachy; much of it is very moving. There’s a low-budget look and some shaky acting but that adds an authentic feel. Whitman for instance was part of the Wounded Knee occupation back in 1973. The film also flashes humor, resilience and a warm community spirit and they make it one of the better representations of life on the rez that I’ve seen. (VanCity Theatre) 3  out of 5

PATTI CAKE$:  This film is fine, if you haven’t already seen the story many times. It’s about making it in the music industry and as usual the main character has few prospects and a lot of impediments but definite talent. What’s novel this time is the setting, the genre and the central character, a young white woman in New Jersey who wants a career as a rapper. She’s got the rhymes but not the look. She’s heavy and the guys call her Dumbo. Australian Danielle Macdonald plays her with an equal measure of spirit and vulnerability.

Her story feels authentic. It was written and directed by Geremy Jasper whose background is in commercials and music videos. Not surprisingly, the film has great energy and a lot of quirky elements. Patti works two jobs and still can’t pay the bills. Her mom, who used to be a professional singer, drinks. Her grandmother (Cathy Moriarty) needs attention. A friend who works in a drug store pushes her musical ambitions and a chance meeting with a mysterious rapper (Mamoudou Athie), who calls himself Basterd, the AntiChrist, helps her advance. He’s got his own studio, which can lead to a demo CD (featuring grandma no less) and promo copies to pass around and hope for some response. The plot line is familiar. The scene, believably portrayed, and the characters hanging out in it, both in run-down neighborhoods and the digs of the wealthy, plus Patti’s spunky raps and willpower are what make this one different. (International Village) 3 out of 5

 

More in New Movies

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Also a fun trip with an elephant named Pop-Aye and bizarre doings in the Canadian film Blood Honey

News and notes from the VIFF look-ahead press conference

Wonderstruck, from a YA novel, is the VIFF closing film this year.
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