FILMS WORHT WATCHING by Robert Alstead
As far as festive movies go, The Nativity Story (opens December 1) fits the bill. Starting with the biblical story of the Christ Child’s birth, which many of us know from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, it imagines the probable trials and tribulations of Mary and Joseph as they made their odyssey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
After the mega success of The Passion of the Christ, Hollywood has recognized there’s an audience for films with a Christian theme, and while The Nativity Story is unquestionably a commercial project, religious critics have praised the tastefulness of the filmmakers in their creative choices. The film even had a premiere screening for the pope.
Director Catherine Hardwicke (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown), a former production designer, went to great lengths to create an authentic biblical feel for the film, which included recreating Nazareth in the ancient Italian town of Matera, where Mel Gibson shot The Passion, while Mike Rich’s screenplay elaborates on the biblical characters and event for dramatic effect. For example, Mary, played by 16-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes (youngest ever nominee for an Oscar for her part in the Maori film Whale Rider) is initially unhappy about being wedded to Joseph, played by relative unknown Oscar Isaac, through an arranged marriage.
The film also explores the emotional turbulence Mary would have experienced as those around her responded to her immaculately conceived pregnancy with disbelief, even threatening stoning. Fortunately, as we know, the nativity story has a positive, uplifting conclusion.
Hot on the heels of the controversial Death of a President, a fictitious account of the assassination of a president, comes a dramatization of the last days of Robert Kennedy, the man who might have been president had he not been assassinated in 1968. Bobby (out now) is an ambitious ensemble piece set in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where Kennedy was shot. As it leads up to the momentous event, the film encapsulates the socio-political landscape of the time through multiple subplots, such as stories of the Mexican kitchen workers, the Vietnam War resistor, a boozy, show biz singer, the philandering hotel manager and so on.
While Kennedy himself only appears in news footage, or glimpsed from behind, it’s particularly striking how articulate the man was, and even accounting for the selective choice of newsreel, how much his appeal crossed social and ethnic divides. The 22 characters are played by a veritable galaxy of stars including Charlie Sheen, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Elijah Wood, to name a few. Some of the dialogue is creaky and the sprawling nature of the multiple storylines means the pace of the film is sluggish at times. But while Bobby doesn’t quite come off, it has an undeniable final impact.
Vancouver’s Downtown East Side is the location for Unnatural and Accidental by Vancouver director Carl Bessai (Lola, Emile, Severed). Based on a true story, it recounts how Gilbert Paul Jordan killed as many as a dozen First Nations women by pouring alcohol down their throats until they died. Adapted by Metis playwright Marie Clements from her own stage play Unnatural and Accidental Women, the film is a vivid reminder of the vulnerability of many impoverished, First Nations women. The film, which has an almost feverish, dreamlike aesthetic, opens December 1 at Granville 7 Cinemas.
Finally, Snow Cake, an Anglo-Canadian production, sees the unusual pairing of Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver in an odd-couple type “dramedy” set in northern Ontario. As an ex-con, traumatized by a fatal car accident, Rickman plays the straight man to Weaver’s live-wire, autistic character. Critics were not impressed with Snow Cake on its UK release, but fans of the two leads seemed to approve. (Opens December 15 at Fifth Avenue Cinemas.)
Reviewer Robert Alstead recently completed You Never Bike Alone, a feature-length documentary about Vancouver’s Critical Mass.