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Fame High (Scott Hamilton Kennedy, USA). 97 minutes. Wednesday (April 10), 9:45 am; April 16, 9:45 am. Rating: NNNN
Following four southern California teenagers through a year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, Scott Hamilton Kennedy's documentary shows us ordinary adolescence as experienced by some extraordinary teens.
Dancer Grace wants to date but can't get her parents to allow her to have a social life; theatre major Ruby lands an understudy gig but can't handle not getting to go onstage; pianist Zak deals with his demanding father while bumping up against his creative limitations; and singer-songwriter Brittany risks her placement at the school because she keeps cutting classes to go to auditions.
The kids are incredibly winning and appealing (and perfectly comfortable in front of the camera, being compulsive performers), but Fame High isn't a puff piece about them; it's an unblinking, rewardingly tough examination of what it takes to position oneself for success in the contemporary entertainment world. If any of these kids ends up on a reality TV show, the school has failed them.
Miffy The Movie (Hans Perk, Netherlands). 70 minutes. April 13, 12:45 pm; April 16, 1 pm; April 20, 10 am; April 21, 10:15 am. Rating: NN
Having starred in many, many children's books, Dick Bruna's fun-loving bunny, Miffy, gets her own stop-motion adventure feature film aimed at very, very young children. It's all bright colours and simple dialogue as Miffy, her parents and some friends (including dull-witted pig Grunty and tiny dog Snuffy) go to the zoo and have a treasure hunt.
Director Hans Perk's direct-address strategy replicates Dora The Explorer, with Miffy asking viewers for encouragement or advice at key points in the narrative. (The movie's soundtrack responds with plenty of enthusiastic cheering, should the actual audience be listless or asleep.) Kids won't mind the haphazard storytelling, but adults will find the stop-and-start structure pretty frustrating. And who lets a dog into the zoo anyway?
Once In A Lullaby: The PS 22 Chorus Documentary (Jonathan Kalafer, USA). 85 minutes. Wednesday (April 10), 10 am; April 12, 12:15 pm; April 13, 11 am. Rating: NNNN
It's not exactly rock and roll, but you'll like it: Once In A Lullaby: The PS 22 Chorus Documentary is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser about the Staten Island children's chorus that performed at the 2011 Academy Awards. Jonathan Kalafer follows music teacher Gregg Breinberg as he prepares his ebullient charges for their trip to the Kodak Theatre, filling in the backstories of several students along the way.
It's a totally conventional underdog story, and the way Kalafer structures the kids' stories into mini-arcs wouldn't be out of place on American Idol, but the kids are so winning - and their performances so lively - that you can't help rooting for them even if the movie itself doesn't quite know when to quit.
The Legend of Sarila (Nancy Florence Savard, Canada). 82 minutes. April 12 at 7 pm, April 13 at 3:15 pm, April 15 at 10 am, April 18 at 10:30 am. Rating: NN
In Canada's first 3D animated feature, a well-meaning but flimsy attempt at enchanting kids with Inuit mythology, spirit animals battle evil hexes while bland human characters just stand in the middle laughing. Don't ask what they're laughing at because I didn't hear any punchlines.
When young would-be shaman Markussi (voiced by Dustin Milligan) goes out in search of food for his starving clan, an old evil shaman (Christopher Plummer) sends smoke, fire and possessed Inuit to kill him. In those Arctic conditions, I would be grateful for smoke and fire.
None of this is exciting since the derivative screenplay dictates that Markussi be repeatedly saved by a magic owl, cute lemming or flirty mermaid. He's basically the laziest animated hero since Homer Simpson.