M FILM – An Irish history lesson

Infinitely Polar Bear refreshing portrayal of mental illness

There are few British directors more beloved than Ken Loach – at least among film fans who share his passion for exploring issues of class, politics, and social injustice. His latest film is called Jimmy’s Hall, and is set in 1932 Ireland. A kind of follow-up to his marvelous, award-winning The Wind That Shakes The Barley, this unfolds a decade after the Irish civil war that set brother against brother.

Based on true events, it chronicles the return of Jimmy Gralton, a prodigal son home after a lengthy exile in New York. It doesn’t take Jimmy long to decide to reopen an old hall and start up anew with a wide variety of arts classes – everything from painting and music to the poetry of W.B. Yeats. Jimmy is an ardent and effective social activist and his radical critiquing of the harsh status quo – as well as the hall’s Saturday night dances with people gyrating to exciting new jazz rhythms – soon makes him enemies with the local parish priest, the heartless landowners, and political leaders as far away as Dublin. What follows is a crowd-pleasing drama full of well-drawn characters, heartfelt moments, a touch of romance, and some nuance to shade the rather obvious moral of the story. Hall is a decent film from a great director.

Jimmy’s Hall ***1/2

Stars Barry Ward, Jim Norton

Directed by Ken Loach

 

The drama is more domestic in Infinitely Polar Bear, which stars the great Mark Ruffalo as Cameron, the loving but deeply troubled father and husband of a mixed-race family in 1978 Boston. In the film’s opening minutes we see Cameron arc from being exuberantly playful to downright scary during a particularly bad bi-polar episode. As post-breakdown Cameron progresses from a psychiatric hospital to a halfway house, his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), struggles to support the family on meager wages. With Cameron on the mend, ambitious Maggie gets a scholarship to a prestigious business school in New York City. Which means Cameron has to suddenly transition from bohemian goof-off to single parent responsible for laundry, dishwashing and feeding kids.

Even with Maggie home for weekends, Cameron is in over his head – not least because his mental illness makes him socially clumsy and emotionally erratic. Add in the usual tensions of family life, and this is one fraught household. Hollywood is typically sentimental in its portraits of mental illness (Benny & Joon, anyone?) and writer-director Maya Forbes – inspired by experiences with her own father for this story – is refreshingly unsparing in her portrayal of how mental illness is a torment to sufferer and family alike. That said, Bear is also sweet and funny, and benefits in particular from a sensitive and powerful performance by Ruffalo.

infinitely polar bear ΗΗΗ1/2

Stars Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana

Directed by Maya Forbes

Jimmy’s Hall runs Sept. 4-5, and Infinitely Polar Bear runs Sept. 6-7. Both shows are at UVic’s Cinecenta.

COMING SOON:

Regression

Ethan Hawke, David Thewlis, and Emma Watson star in a promising psychological thriller about a father who inexplicably confesses to a terrible crime. Written and directed by Spain’s award-winning Alejandro Amenabar (The Others, The Sea Inside).

A Walk In The Woods

Two old “frenemies” (Robert Redford, Nick Nolte) decide to put retirement on hold in order to hike the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Sore feet and old grudges abound.

Black Mass

Here’s the true story of how the FBI recruited Irish mobster James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) to help destroy the Italian gangs – only to inadvertently create one of the most ruthless gangsters in Boston history.

Everest

Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, and Jake Gyllenhaal are just part of the great cast for this fact-based thriller about the 1996 Mount Everest climbing disaster where many people perished.

The Intern

Robert De Niro stars in a comedy about a retired widower who becomes a “senior intern” at an online fashion site. Turns out that the old dog has a few tricks left to show the hip young puppies who think they know how business gets done. With Anne Hathaway.

The Green Inferno

Student activists from New York City travel to the jungles of Peru to stage a protest but instead encounter a tribe of cannibals. Awkward!

 

 

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