By ANDREW PARKER, ALEX BOZIKOVIC, BARRY HERTZ, JOHANNA SCHNELLER
Special to The Globe and Mail
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Born in China 2½
The latest in the series of yearly Disney nature documentaries travels to the mountains of China to spend time with the likes of cranes, golden snub-nosed monkeys, chiru, snow leopards and, of course, pandas. Clocking in at barely 75 minutes (including credits that are worth sticking around for), Born in China doesn't reinvent or improve on the nature documentary form in any way. It's a dedicated delivering of educational basics geared toward a younger audience, wrapped in made-up stories about real animal families, replete with corny narration warmly delivered by John Krasinski. There's a little bit of peril and mayhem, but mostly of the variety that won't give kiddies nightmares. As always with these Disney docs, the cinematography is patient and resplendent, and for once there's even a bit of tragedy that's well-handled. (G)
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City 3½
Jane Jacobs versus Robert Moses. It's a David-and-Goliath story from 20th-century New York that defines contemporary urban debates and Matt Tyrnauer tells the tale well in this gorgeous, tightly written and entertaining film. Moses personified the alliance of big government, business and modernist planning called "urban renewal." Jacobs, of course, was the writer-activist who opposed it all. Her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961 revealed the value of informal community and "the sidewalk ballet." As a history of this war of ideas and as an introduction to Jacobs, the film is essential. But it also pivots toward a great challenge: today's global urbanization. The towersand-highways thinking that failed in North America is being reenacted. "China today is Moses on steroids," academic Saskia Sassen says. But Jacobs's bottom-up approach offers no clear answers about how to house and serve tens of millions of people in short order, and neither, really, does the film. (G)
There are some movies whose premises defy simple description. But here goes: In this half-comedy, half-drama, half-sci-fi epic, an alcoholic named Gloria (Anne Hathaway) discovers she has a strange connection to a giant Godzilla-like monster wreaking havoc on Seoul. To say any more would ruin the wonderful surprises writer-director Nacho Vigalondo has delicately peppered within his film. But it is no spoiler to say the film is simply unlike anything else to play theatres this year. The Spanish filmmaker Vigalondo, who attempted similar genre deconstructions before with the nicely twisted Timecrimes and the not-so-successful Open Windows, delivers an unexpected and singular ride, even if it occasionally stumbles on its own premise.
Clearly a movie designed for niche audiences, it will not strike everyone the same way. But for those who embrace Vigalondo's wild wavelength, the rewards are innumerable. (R)
The Lost City of Z 3½
Across five acclaimed features, director James Gray has never left the suffocating comfort of New York. Yet, here the filmmaker is, braving the terrors of the Amazon (well, Colombia), to tell the tale of real-life 1900s explorer Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z.
The change in scenery for Gray may be jarring on paper, but the never-ending jungle proves perfectly suited to the filmmaker's lush, operatic aesthetic, as does the film's central theme of escaping one's background, through whatever means necessary. As Gray follows Fawcett up and down the river across decades - interspersed with his stifling existence back home in Britain - he delivers a visually stunning, poetic treatise on the folly of adventure and the toxicity of colonialism. Slipping in references to everyone from Kubrick to Fellini, Gray creates a truly intoxicating experience. It is this close to being an all-time classic, if only Charlie Hunnam's central performance as Fawcett didn't slip out of Gray's period trappings every now and then (you can't help but wonder what Gray's long-time collaborator, Joaquin Phoenix, would have done with the role).
The Promise 2
Sweeping historical romance epics. Who doesn't love them? Casablanca, Doctor Zhivago, Reds, The Year of Living Dangerously - there's nothing sexier than a love that defies urgent current events.
The catastrophe of contemporary cinema is that our only epics come clad in spandex. Writerdirector Terry George (Hotel Rwanda, Reservation Road) is hoping to change that here. His backdrop is a worthy one: the Armenian genocide of 1915, when Turkey tried to wipe a nation from the face of the Earth. His love triangle is promising: an American journalist (Christian Bale) and an Armenian medical student (Oscar Isaac) fall desperately in love with the same woman (Quebec actress Charlotte Le Bon). Bale and Isaac even have fantasy-franchise cred (Batman and Star Wars, respectively). But their noble intentions can't disguise their epic failure: The love story fails to ignite. No disrespect to Le Bon, who is pleasant enough, but this kind of part should be a career-definer. Where is today's Ingrid Bergman, Julie Christie or Diane Keaton? Blame those damned superhero pics, which, in appealing only to adolescent boys, have cost us a generation of actresses.
Anne Hathaway stars in Colossal.