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Wise talk by The Two Popes; a media circus for Richard Jewell and big action in Jumanji

Also: That Higher Level as a free gift from the National Film Board and a clumsy seasonal theme in The Kindness of Strangers

A lot has been said this week about the Golden Globes failing to nominate a woman director. Definitely an error but not rare. In all their 78 years they’ve nominated only five women directors and awarded one. I think there’s another big omission: Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life (which arrives in Vancouver next week) isn’t anywhere on the list but should be.

Interesting that Netflix got more nods than anybody –17—including three of the five in best drama. That’s how the times are changing right now..

Meanwhile, next week, the VanCity Theatre starts showing its choices for the best films of 2019. The 15 titles include seven directed by women, one set in Vancouver, one--The Nightingale--a Vancouver premiere, several that do have Golden Globe nominations and an extended cut of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood.  This one is 10 minutes longer, not hard to imagine actually. The first edit was almost an hour and a half longer.

You can see the whole schedule at https://viff.org and, right here, my notes on new films in town.

The Two Popes: 4 stars

Richard Jewell: 3 ½

Jumanji The Next Level: 3

That Higher Level: 4

The Kindness of Strangers: 2

Black Christmas: not previewed

THE TWO POPES: This high-toned and very reverent film about faith and church politics has got four Golden Globe nominations (best picture, screenplay and lead and supporting actor). That’s as it should be because it’s literate, intelligent, devout and yet more than enough entertaining to put it among the best films of the year. It’s also a lively acting summit between two experts: Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce. The former is Pope Benedict, a German, a loner, an academic who won the job in a conclave that placed Pryce, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, second. Eight years later the Latin American cardinal is summoned to Rome, asks to be allowed to retire but is surprised to hear that Benedict wants to step down from the top job.That leads to a series of conversations between them about the future of the church (both say it needs to change but differ on how), about personal faith and even pop culture.

Jorge whistles ABBA and loves football. Benedict plays classical piano and has to be coaxed to watch the World Cup.  Jorge tells of his biggest regret, his conduct after the coup in Argentina, when he thought co-operating with the military government would protect the priests. Flashbacks tell only part of it. The Pope has some garbled regrets about his youthful politics. The film has them focused much more on the future: how to fix the church which is losing members. Surprisingly, all their talk--the whole film actually--is lively and often humorous, thanks to the writer, Anthony McCarten, and the director, Fernando Meirelles, both with Academy Award nominations in their background. It’s a Netflix film but worth seeing on a big screen thanks to the fine art direction, including a meticulously re-created Sistine Chapel. Filming is not allowed in the real one. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5 

RICHARD JEWELL: This is a true story drawing on a magazine article about the man who was a hero (briefly) in the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and then a suspect (for three months). But is it also a Trump-like screed mounted by director Clint Eastwood who is noted for conservative views? Several have written so. I don’t see it that way. It seems to be like many films we’ve seen about somebody wrongly accused and the police forces haunting him. This film adds the news media, usually the good guys in the movies, to the oppressive side and does a good job of portraying the “media lynching” that fell upon this guy and his mother.

 

Paul Walter Hauser and Kathy Bates are tremendous as the hapless security guard and his protective mother. He still lives in her house, has a gun collection and dreams of a job as a police officer. Just the kind of guy who might set off a bomb thinks the FBI agent played by Jon Hamm, who, armed with a phoned-in tip, goes after him. He also trades information and sex with a newspaper reporter (Olivia Wilde). That, 23 years later now, has arguments and threats of lawsuits flying. Incidentally, she is shown picking at the facts in the FBI case, so the film seems to be trying to be fair. Sam Rockwell is a low-rent lawyer but it’s Jewell himself who helps himself the most in a dramatic FBI tribunal. Hauser rises far above what he’s done before (I, Tonya and Super Troopers 2, are best known) with this very real portrayal of a loser who finds his self-respect when he needs it. This is an absorbing film. It’s typically Eastwood-- crisp, efficient and economical—and a potent slap at misuse of power . (International Village and 2 suburban theatres: North Van and Richmond. ) 3 ½ out of 5

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL: A smash hit two years ago brings us to this, up a notch in video game terminology but a little less in movie practice. The mission was to do it all again, only different and in that this film strains too hard. It takes away some of the fun to constantly feel the mechanics of scriptwriting that brings the four teens from the last film together again, introduces new characters and restores the video game that was smashed back then. It doesn’t help that there’s a long slow start before the real action gets going. Then we get clever switcheroos and amazing spectacles, albeit with little thinking about the bigger issues the story hints at.

More in New Movies

Films about race and poverty in Paris, low-life exuberance in London and Werner Herzog re-tracing a friend’s quest

Also: damning memories from and since the Viet Nam war, an innovative dance choreographer in 3-D, the latest unhinged act by Nicolas Cage and a new but unseen version of The Turn of the Screw

Bad Boys shoot again; Adam Sandler gets loud in Uncut Gems and Clemency ruminates on capital punishment

And for the kids: A superior Japanese anime in Weathering With You, Robert Downey Jr. talking to the animals in Dolittle and your chance to sing along with Frozen II.

1917: a must-see, Just Mercy, a should-see, and Underwater, a don’t-bother

But do check out three others making a welcome return from last fall’s film festival
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