Film Friday: Finding Vivian Maier, Bad Words, Noah and more

A quick scan of new releases in theatres this week

Finding Vivian Maier (John Maloof, Charlie Siskel) sifts through some of the 100,000 photographs shot by nanny and compulsive hoarder Vivian Maier to construct a compelling portrait of an artist who refused to be seen. Unknown to the world until co-director Maloof happened to acquire her negatives at auction, Maier’s raw, poetic street photography portrays a distinctive view of the everyday. Here the photographs are not just art but breadcrumbs leading to an enigmatic personality. In interviews, some who (barely) knew her describe Maier as Mary Poppins-like while others report a nastier side that includes physical abuse. Maybe the biggest mystery of all is why she took so many photos and then hid them from sight since the negatives were never processed, even Maier never saw her own work. The consistently intriguing doc reveals facets of a woman who was eccentric, abrasive, soulful and mentally unhinged. Maier may still be an enigma, but the film does a remarkable job of developing those riddles into a fascinating picture. 83 min.

Rating: NNNN (RS)

Opens Mar 28 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. See here for times.

Bad Words (Jason Bateman) casts director/star Bateman as Guy Trilby, a 40-year-old cipher with a photographic memory who enters a children’s spelling bee thanks to a loophole in the rules and uses grown-up head games to cut a path through regional contests straight to the finals – all the while keeping his motive a secret even from his sponsor and occasional bed partner Jenny (Kathryn Hahn). It’s a great set-up, and a fine role for Bateman, who shifts his characteristic exasperation into something uglier and more venal. But as the plot nears its payoff and Guy’s reasons are revealed, the movie grows softer and less complex in a way that seems calculated and unconvincing. Some stories would be much more satisfying if they let their asshole stay an asshole. 89 min.

Rating: NNN (NW)

Opens Mar 28 at Carlton Cinema, Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk, Coliseum Scarborough, Colossus, Courtney Park 16, Queensway, Scotiabank Theatre, SilverCity Fairview, SilverCity Mississauga, SilverCity Yonge. See here for times.

The Returned (Manuel Carballo) is a zombie movie almost entirely lacking in zombies, set in a world where a daily serum lets infected people live normal lives. Kate (Emily Hampshire) is a Toronto doctor, and her partner, Alex (Kris Holden-Ried), has been living with the virus for six years. Now supplies of the serum are running low, forcing them to contemplate desperate acts to stay together – and stay alive. The terror of losing a loved one to disease has been a key subtext in zombie movies since Night Of The Living Dead defined the genre, and Hampshire and Holden-Ried engage with it fully. They’re terrific, but director Carballo and screenwriter Hatem Khraiche Ruiz-Zorrilla don’t trust their story to carry the picture, piling on convoluted conspiracies and increasingly dopey plot twists that make it much less than the sum of its parts. 98 min.

Rating: NN (NW)

Opens Mar 28 at Carlton Cinema. See here for times.

3 Days in Havana (Gil Bellows, Tony Pantages) is a wrong-man thriller without the ingredients to thrill, like a rum punch without the rum. Canadian actors Bellows and Pantages co-wrote and -directed this slapped-together caper pic about an insurance exec named Jack Petty (Bellows) who travels to Havana for a conference but ends up sipping the wrong mojito. Jack chances upon an ominous travel writer named Harry Smith (Greg Wise), a man who you will immediately guess is more likely to contribute to the demand for obituaries. Wise relishes his role as the mischievous instigator who gets Jack embroiled in an assassination plot against international gunrunners. However, he’s alone in this regard. None of the other actors manage to shake the numbness of their stock characters and the predictability of what comes next. 82 min.

Rating: N (RS)

Opens Mar 28 at Yonge & Dundas 24. See here for times.

Noah (Darren Aronofsky) stars Russell Crowe as the Biblical hero who builds an ark, but in this version based on Arl Handel’s graphic novel, he has an environmental vision that’s sure to upset fundmentalists. See review March 28 at 138 min.

Opens Mar 28 at 401 & Morningside, Beach Cinemas, Cineplex Cinemas Empress Walk, Coliseum Mississauga, Coliseum Scarborough, Colossus, Courtney Park 16, Eglinton Town Centre, Grande – Steeles, Humber Cinemas, Queensway, Rainbow Market Square, Rainbow Promenade, Rainbow Woodbine, SilverCity Fairview, SilverCity Yonge, SilverCity Yorkdale, Varsity, Yonge & Dundas 24. See here for times.

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