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Movie Review: The Sapphires and Becoming Redwood

The Sapphires is a music-driven feel-good film, Becoming Redwood is a coming of age story
The Sapphires is a feel-good musical adventure, opening in Victoria area theatres this weekend

The Sapphires is a music-driven feel-good film whose synopsis sounds like a combination of Dreamgirls and The Commitments. That said, it’s not merely formula moviemaking. This is the true story of four young Australian Aboriginal girls in the 1960s who formed a Motown-style soul group and toured Vietnam to entertain American troops; the result sparkles with humour, sass, and charm. Crowd-pleasing performances of classic tunes like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Soul Man” are to be expected; it’s the fine acting, comedic flair and the grounding of the story in the harsh racism of the Australia of a half-century ago that makes the movie special.

The girls hail from a reservation-style “mission” in rural Australia, and catch the eye of a goofy music promoter named Dave (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids) at a cheesy talent contest. After persuading them to forget country music in favour of soul, he gives them a crash course in the Four Tops and The Supremes. Soon they’re en route to various military bases where their great harmonies, snappy choreography and sexy stage presence have the grateful soldiers howling.

There are some basic conflicts built into the story, ranging from petty rivalries between the sisters to a darker subplot about the problematic reunion with the mixed-race cousin who used to sing with them — until this light-skinned girl was taken by authorities years ago and given to a white family to raise. And with all those peppy love songs being belted out, it’s no surprise that daft but big-hearted Dave starts to fall for the eldest sister. It’s all predictable, sure. But just like any perfect pop song, Sapphires generates authentic emotion and toe-tapping heat.

The Sapphires  ★★★½

Directed by Wayne Blair

Starring Chris O'Dowd, Deborah Mailman

PG - 13   • 103 minutes

Opens Friday at The Odeon


A Jack Nicklaus Fan Comes Of Age

Fantasy sequences are like a spice: use too much and the taste buds start to rebel. That’s sometimes a factor with Becoming Redwood, a low-budget Canadian drama about 11-year-old Redwood Hanson who, rather improbably, dreams that if he can only beat golf legend Jack Nicklaus at a Master’s Championship he will somehow summon enough magic to reunite his estranged father and mother.

Redwood is the son of ‘60s California hippies who were heading for the Canadian border so that the draft dodger dad wouldn’t get sent to Vietnam. But the mother bails at the last minute while the dad continues on to Vancouver where, eight years later, he’s still driving a beat-up VW van with a peace symbol on the front. He’s also got a grow-op in the garage, and when the cops come with the handcuffs, Redwood gets sent back to California to be with his mom, who is now married to a rural redneck with a mean streak, two teen boys and something mysterious in the basement.

As coming-of-age stories go, Becoming has a solid narrative arc. It also boasts decent performances and a droll sense of humour when it comes to depicting the ‘60s and ‘70s (complete with an effective period soundtrack). But the recurring fantasy sequences — with an Afro-sporting caddie and a pair of sports announcers cheering on Redwood as he supposedly plays against Nicklaus — quickly wear out their welcome. Add to that a few too many clichés that undermine the script’s freshness and this family-friendly film, although often charming, seems well-meaning more so than well made. M


Becoming Redwood ★★½

Directed by Jesse James Miller

Starring Ryan Grantham, Jennifer Copping

PG - 13 • 98 minutes

Opens Friday at The Star



Perfectly Potable

One of the most reliable wines for those wanting something a bit posh is Clos de los Siete, a blended, full-bodied red from Argentina that offers palate-pampering flavour notes ranging from black cherry to plum and blackcurrant. Add in a nice lick of oak and a silky mouthfeel and it’s hard to imagine a better wine for $23.

Film Listings:




★★★★ STILL MINE -(Odeon) Themes of aging are engagingly dramatized in this heartfelt true-life story about an 89-year-old New Brunswick farmer who ends up having to fight both a city hall bureaucrat and his wife's debilitating illness. With fantastic performances by James Cromwell and Geneviève Bujold. Starts Fri. See review.

THE GREAT GATSBY -() Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge) directs a lavish, over-the-top screen version of F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic Jazz Age novel about a glamorous and mysterious millionaire on Long Island. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan. Starts Fri.




★★½ BECOMING REDWOOD -(Star) In this appealing but heavy-handed Canadian drama set in the '70s, an 11-year-old boy fantasizes that if he can only beat golf legend Jack Nicklaus then he can summon enough magic to reunite his estranged parents.

★★ THE BIG WEDDING -(Odeon/SilverCity/Empire Uni 4) A long-divorced couple (Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton) pretend to still be married when their extended family meets for a huge wedding. This vulgar and often mean-spirited comedy wastes the talents of all concerned, including Katherine Heigl, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Topher Grace and Susan Sarandon.

the colony -(SilverCity) In this futuristic sci-fi thriller, remnants of humanity are forced underground by a new ice age -- and find themselves in a terrible struggle to preserve their humanity. With Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton.

THE CROODS -(Empire 6/SilverCity/Westshore) A prehistoric family taking an unexpected "road trip" into a magical land is the plot of this whimsical animated charmer (which has been getting great reviews). With the vocal talents of Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, and Ryan Reynolds.

ESCAPE FROM PLANET EARTH -(Caprice) This animated adventure tale features a brave astronaut in peril because of inter-galactic bad guys. With the vocal talents of Brendan Fraser, Jessica Sarah Parker, and Jessica Alba.

★★½ EVIL DEAD -(Empire 6) This 1981 "splatter" classic by horror maven Sam Raimi gets a clever but humourless remake for a new millennium, as five hapless 20somethings head to a remote cabin where they inadvertently summon a bunch of demons that proceed to torment and slaughter them with shocking enthusiasm.

★★★ 42 -(Odeon/Empire Uni 4/SilverCity) Here's the amazing story of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the supremely talented black player who broke the segregated sport's colour barrier in the '40s when he was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Hokey filmmaking, sure, but it's a decent, feel-good history lesson.

★★ G.I. JOE: RETALIATION -(Westshore) This cartoonish action series gets really amped up in a sequel where the good guys are not only battling arch enemy Cobra but also struggling against dark forces lurking within their own goverment. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jonathan Pryce and Channing Tatum.

★½ IDENTITY THIEF -(Caprice) The considerable talents of Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) are wasted in this witless and often mean-spirited would-be comedy about a mild-mannered businessman who makes the grave mistake of tracking down the seemingly gentle woman who has stolen his identity.

★½ THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE -(Caprice) Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi don't bring much joy to this uninspired comedy about a pair of Vegas magicians whose act has gone stale. Jim Carrey steals what little show there is as a Criss Angel-style "mind rapist" who specializes in extravagant displays of self-mutilation.

IRON MAN 3 -(Capitol/SilverCity/Empire Uni 4/Westshore) Poor old Iron Man (the incomparable Robert Downey) finds himself in a world of pain at the hands of the terrifying Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), one of the intriguing all-powerful megalomaniacs of recent years. With Guy Pearce, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Paul Bettany.

★★ JACK THE GIANT SLAYER-(Caprice) This is a disappointing, rather joyless variation on the Jack and the Beanstalk tale. Directed by Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects, X-Men) and starring Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, and Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies).

★★★★ JURASSIC PARK 3D -(Odeon/Empire Uni 4/SilverCity) Steven Spielberg's classic 1993 tale of a dinosaur theme park where the toothy critters unexpectedly run amok gets a re-release in 3D.

★★½ OBLIVION -(Odeon/SilverCity/Empire Uni 4/Westshore) Tom Cruise stars in a visually stylish but rather dull and derivative sci-fi thriller about a man who returns to a ruined Earth to extract its remaining resources when strange things start to happen and he begins to question his mission and himself.

★★★ OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN -(Caprice) The White House has been invaded by terrorists and it is up to a disgraced former Presidential guard to use his skills and insider knowledge to try and free the President from his captors. As brainless popcorn movies go, this one is sleekly directed, well acted, and offers mayhem on an epic scale. Starring Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, and Aaron Eckhart.

★★½ OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL -(Empire 6) Sam Raimi directs an extravagant rendering of L. Frank Baum's Oz novel, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, about a small-time magician (James Franco) who ends up in a fantastical land where he can achieve true greatness if he becomes a hero by battling a terrible witch. Basically, there are too many special effects and not enough heart. With Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz.

★★½ PAIN & GAIN -(Empire 6/SilverCity/Westshore) Three Florida body builders come up with a really dumb idea involving a kidapping scheme that, no surprise, goes terribly wrong. Based on real events,this sadistic and very violent black comedy is directed by Michael Bay, but feels more like an indie film that draws clumsy inspiration from Scorsese and Tarantino. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Mark Wahlberg, and Ed Harris.

★★★ THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES -(Odeon/SilverCity/Westshore) The new drama from the director of Blue Valentine stars Ryan Gosling, Eva Mendes, and Bradley Cooper in an overly ambitious tale with three intersecting storylines and an overarching theme about father-son relationships. This is far too long, but it has strong performances and is that almost extinct breed of film aimed at adults.

★★★ QUARTET -(Caprice/Roxy, 7:00) Dustin Hoffman turns in his directorial debut with this droll and heartfelt comedy about a retirement home for classical musicians where the annual concert to celebrate Verdi's birthday is disrupted by the arrival of a diva's diva (Maggie Smith). The great cast includes Billy Connolly, Michael Gambon, Tom Courtenay, and Pauline Collins.

★★★ REVOLUTION -(Odeon) The latest from documentary filmmaker Rob Stewart (Sharkwater) is more ambitious but less successful as it presents a wide-ranging argument about how fossil fuels are killing the oceans -- and will soon be literally killing us.

★★★½ THE SAPPHIRES -(Odeon) Sixties soul music is at the centre of this delightful, true-life story about four young Australian aboriginal singers who hooked up with a wacky promoter and toured American military bases in Vietnam, performing Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett songs to adoring soldiers.

SCARY MOVIE 5 -(Caprice) The recent spate of horror flicks get spoofed in the latest in a seemingly endless series of lowbrow movie parodies.

★★★ SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Roxy, 8:50) A bipolar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life -- and his marriage -- back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. This quirky romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter).





BEAVERS -(10 am Fri. only)

FLIGHT OF THE BUTTERFLIES -(10 am [Sun.-Thurs.], noon, 2 pm, 4 pm, 8 pm--Sun.-Tues.)


THE LAST REEF -(1 pm, 5 pm)

★★★½ MYSTERIES OF THE GREAT LAKES -(11 am, 3 pm, 6 pm--except for Wed.-Thurs., May 15-16)

TO THE ARCTIC -(7 pm, Sun.-Tues only)




MOVIE MONDAY - Presenting **** Cloudburst. This bittersweet and wildly -- make that profanely -- funny road picture involving two octogenarian lesbians on the run to Canada in order to get married is a raunchy and very touching delight. This one has wowed festival audiences all across the country. Starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker. 6:30 pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. By donation. 595-FLIC.





Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365.


ALPHA DES ETOILES -(Wed., May 8: 7:00 only) Cinecenta's La Tournee Du Cinema Quebecois begins with this touching documentary from a French Canadian filmmaker who details the consequences of his daughter's rare genetic disorder and the struggles of the parents to help her overcome a serious learning disorder and successfully integrate into a regular classroom.

LAURENCE ANYWAYS -(Thurs., May 9: 7:00 only) Cinecenta's La Touree ends with the latest exceptional love story from Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother), this one about a deeply in love college professor who suddenly announces to his sweetheart that he knows in his heart that he was born to be a woman.

★★★★ BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD -(Fri., May 10: 7:00, 9:00) Nothing but raves have greeted this unusual and touching drama, which uses moments of magic realism to portray the inner life of a young girl who is part of a small community of poor Louisiana folk who live entirely "off the grid."

★★★★ SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN -(Sat., May 11: 7:10, 9:00) This Oscar-winning musical documentary features the incredible quest of two South African men to discover whatever happened to a Bob Dylan-style troubadour from the early '70s who never amounted to anything in his native America but became a huge superstar -- and revolutionary influence -- in South Africa at the height of the Apartheid era.

BLOOD PRESSURE -(Sun.-Mon., May 12-13: 7:10, 9:00) A bored wife and mother is encouraged to "take the next step" in an anonymous letter from what seems to be a romantic admirer. She takes that step . . . and a slick, noirish thriller is the result.

★★★★★ CITIZEN KANE -(Tues., May 14: 7:00, 9:15) Orson Welles's audacious and innovative masterpiece -- and his debut film, in 1941 -- chronicles the grandious ambitions of a publishing tycoon (very much based on William Randolph Hearst). This invariably makes it at or near the top of all influential "best films" lists.

NEIGHBOURING SOUNDS -(Wed.-Thurs., May 15-16: 7:00, 9:25) A posh neighbourhood in Brazil is the setting for this subtle, Robert Altman-style quasi-thriller about how the privileged members of a walled enclave are both protected from yet still affected by the poverty outside their doors.