Johnny Depp exposes a pollution cover-up, Jim Carrey battles Sonic and life lessons from a Cow

The best in Canadian films are being honored this week at the Canadian Screen Awards. And quality wise, it’s been a good year as you’ll see when the final ceremony airs on CBC Sunday.

Scarborough and Night Raiders lead the list with 11 nominations and All My Puny Sorrows is next with eight. It hasn’t opened yet but I’ve covered most of the others and today review another one, Islands, which comes available Tuesday. It’s got upcoming dates in the U.S. too.

That’s a bit of a reversal from the usual and as almost always happens most of the films getting wide play in Canada this week are not from here. Sonic the Hedgehog, Johnny Depp and even Elon Musk do show up. Michael Bay too, but not in my reviews. The studio didn’t preview it west of Toronto. The Financial Times called it “berserk” and I’ll leave it at that.

So, check out these …

Islands: 3 ½ stars

Minimata: 3 ½

Sonic the Hedgehog 2: 2½

Cow: 3

Mothering Sunday: 3

Return to Space: 3

ISLANDS: This little film is hardly known at all but the people at the Canadian Screen Awards think highly of it. They’ve nominated it for three prizes, two for acting and also the first feature award to Martin Edralin who wrote and directed it. Now we can see why, it’s a little gem about shy Joshua who, now 50 years old, has to come out of his shell, somehow. He’s the son of Filipino immigrants, still living with them and is played with enough reticence by Rogelio Balagtas to earn one of those nominations. The other is for Esteban Comilang who plays his father and with few words but lots of visual acting steals this show every time he’s on screen.

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Courtesy of Route504PR

The mother dies; the son has to take care of the aging and confused father but then an angel arrives. She’s a cousin played by Sheila Lotuaco, helpful and friendly and just the kind of person to bring Joshua out into the world, dancing even, as well as save the dad from his cooking. There are warm scenes ranging from teaching him how to chop an onion to quietly sitting together on the couch. Finally, he’s moved to say “I’m falling for you.” Where will it lead? You might expect you know because so many films have done the usual with stories like this. Don’t count on it. But do enjoy the warm humanity. There are some story jumps that don’t feel right but overall it works. (Opens in theaters in Toronto and Winnipeg on Tuesday, others including Vancouver soon and even San Diego in two weeks) 3 ½ out of 5

MINAMATA: You might have been preplexed when this almost unknown movie placed 3rd as a fan favorite at the Oscars telecast this year. How it got there I don’t know but now we can see what it is. An earnest but quite good celebration of environmental activism, that’s what? And of journalism, though that’s secondary.

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Courtesy of Vortex Media

Johnny Depp plays a Life Magazine photographer (and frequent drunk) who back in 1971 was coaxed into covering a story he knew nothing about but that turned out to be huge. A chemical plant in Japan was dumping toxic waste into the ocean and the fish that were caught there were making people sick. It caused deformities and became known as Minamata disease. Depp, playing Eugene Smith, barges in on his editor (Bill Nighy), gets the assignment to go and with his contact, the woman who coaxed him (played by Japanese actress Minami) goes to Japan. He finds creepy scenes of people with twisted fingers and bodies, a company CEO (Jun Kunimura) claiming the water is safe because it’s been treated and ordinary people not wanting to be photographed because they feared losing their job. Deception to get into a hospital, dramatic photos (including a photo-journalism classic called Tomoko in her Bath) and a huge story followed when they were published.

The film is a stright forward telling of the story, exposing a cover-up with fake signatures in a book, police intimidation and activists almost wearing out under pressure. But eventually a victory for them. It’s a worthy example of what can be done. The film ends with a long list of environmental disasters caused by industry. (VOD and digital) 3 ½ out of 5

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2: No surprise. The first movie was the biggest hit ever based on a video game and so we have this sequel. It’s family-friendly but beware. It is so loud and frantic it’s bound to make your kids hyper for the rest of the day. It plays to them with speedy action and to fans who’ve played the SEGA games with constant references back. They’ll be able to show the depths of their knowledge: why Sonic hates water, for instance, or the origins of the Master Emerald everyone is after in this story. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

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Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Following right upon the first film, Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) is living with a small town couple (James Marsden, Tika Sumpter) He’s dubbed “still just a kid” because of his antics but left alone when they go off to Hawaii for a friend’s wedding. Enter the evil Dr Robotnik (Jim Carrey, strutting and grinning as is his specialty). He was exiled to another planet but with the neat gambit of inventing a getting back to Earth machine is back to menace Sonic and get revenge. He’s got Knuckle, a sort-of porcupine voiced by Idris Elba, helping him. They have to get hold of the emerald and that brings on a round the world chase and even crashing that wedding in Hawaii. At two hours long this movie gets tiring but the cast is game and the direction by Jeff Fowler, who also helmed the original, pumps up the energy and nicely mixes animation with live action. (In theaters everywhere) 2 ½ out of 5

COW: Like Gunda, the film about a pig we got last summer, this one challenges us to think about animals differently. They are conscious beings, according to the director, Andrea Arnold. She wants the film to remind us that we are animals too and “That we are all connected to everything living.” That’s from some background notes she’s provided; there’s no statement like that in the film. Hardly any words at all except for incidental fragments in the background from farm workers. You have to draw conclusions yourself as you watch one cow from birth on, and she watches you. Often you see her staring right into the camera as if asking what you’re thinking.

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Courtesy of IFC Films

What we see is the endless routine she and others on this English dairy farm live with. They work hard, are kept pregnant and produce milk. We see the whole process. The milking machines, the feeding, the hand-in inspection. The enthusiasm when they’re let out to graze in a field. But also the bull mounting them, the ultra-sound to confirm “she is pregnant” (among the few human words heard clearly) and the constant mooing heard from them. You can feel the concern one mother cow seems to be showing when her calf is taken away. But there’s also a curious heat application to the head , apparently to burn out any horns that might grow. And later one cow with an enourmous udder; the size of a large beachball. Explanations would help. Our emotional connection is a little weak without it. (art house Theaters in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver) 3 out of 5

MOTHERING SUNDAY: A French director takes on British reserve from an acclaimed novella and the result is, well, reserved. A bit muddled too as the story switches time periods too often by way of memories . It looks good though as British period pieces tend to do.

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Courtesy of Mongrel Media

It’s 1924. Australian actor Odessa Young plays a maid at the country mansion of The Nivens (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman, big stars in quite secondary roles). The maid has been carrying on an affair with a young man (Josh O’Connor) at a neighboring estate and goes there again on this day, England’s version of Mother’s Day. What transpires will occupy her memories forever. There’s sex, then word of a tragedy. Then a change of jobs, working in a bookstore where she meets another man she’ll come to love and lose. She started life as an orphan and Colman at one point tells her that has prepared her to survive all sorts of setbacks. She even says that makes her fortunate. It’s hard to see it that way but the story, from a Graham Swift novella, moves along, rather languidly and with most of its passion underplayed. (In theaters in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal) 3 out of 5

RETURN TO SPACE: While you wait and see what Elon Musk has in mind for Twitter now that he’s its largest shareholder and on its board of directors, take a look at another of his projects. Besides cars, he’s into spaceships and envisions starting a colony on the moon and from there going on to Mars. He’s not just dreaming; look at what he’s already done. He’s contracted with NASA to have his SpaceX company be the transport from earth to the international space station. NASA had shut down its space shuttle program and accepted Musk into a public-private partnership. This film shows how he’s made that work.

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Courtesy of Netflix

It’s by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin who won an Academic Award for one documentary, Free Solo, and made another brilliant one, The Rescue, last year. This one isn’t as dramatic but it’s got information and drive galore. And in a couple of instances, tension. Musk was pushing his people to perfect a re-usable rocket and the suspense built through four failures to an eventual success. He’s like a corporation CEO, directing his staff, including the man who piloted the last shuttle, and inspiring with personal tales and quirks. He says he got ideas from the movie Spaceballs and “Luck is the best superpower.” Failure is a good teacher. A space launch is “an achievement of humanity.” The thoughts aren’t profound but they do explain him. Colonizing space? “You can’t stay in the cradle forever.” It feels like an authorized profile but the access to his world is revealing. (Netflix) 3 out of 5

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Johnny Depp exposes a pollution cover-up, Jim Carrey battles Sonic and life lessons from a Cow

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