Reviewed: Down River; It Was You Charlie

Times Colonist movie writer Michael D. Reid is covering the Victoria Film Festival. Ratings are out of five stars.

Down River

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Where: Cineplex Odeon

When: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 7:15

Rating: 4/5 stars

The spirit of Babz Chula, the late Vancouver actor and arts community builder, playfully permeates writer-director Ben Ratner’s indie gem bolstered by Helen Shaver’s fearless, naturalistic performance as Pearl, a free-spirited, no-nonsense woman who, like Chula before her death in 2010, mentors others while facing a battle with cancer. Without becoming maudlin, Ratner, a longtime friend and colleague of Chula’s, balances humour, poignancy and drama as he interweaves the mentor’s own story with those of three young protegés. Colleen Rennison, as a brash, self-destructive bisexual musician with addiction issues; Jennifer Spence, as a quirky, introverted abstract artist with an overbearing father; and Gabrielle Miller as a struggling actor whose insecurities threaten her well-being, are collectively captivating. Ratner, making inspired use of the Vancouver cityscape, has crafted a film of considerable beauty — Larry Lynn’s lovely cinematography is a standout — with great dialogue that underscores the wisdom of giving your head a shake and making the most of your life while you can. Jay Brazeau, Tom McBeath, Ali Liebert, Brian Markinson and Teach Grant appear in significant supporting roles.

It Was You Charlie

Where: Odeon

When: Tuesday, Feb. 11, 9:45 p.m.

Rating: 3/5 stars

“Nothing goes right,” Rodney Dangerfield famously lamented, and that pretty much sums up the life of Abner, a diminutive doorman and former art teacher on a downward spiral since he survived a car crash that killed a woman. This lonely, artistic sad-sack’s woes are exacerbated by the discovery that Madeleine, the attentive woman he loves, regards him as a friend, not a prospective lover, and is marrying his skirt-chasing brother instead. Convinced he’s being followed by two sinister-looking, sunglass-wearing characters in trenchcoats and annoyed by a boozy, widowed neighbour’s flirtation, Charlie contemplates suicide, but he can’t even get that right. When Charlie calls a suicide prevention hotline, for instance, he is put on hold. While some might find writer-director Emmanuel Shirinian’s warped humour just too weird as reality and fantasy collide, he does conjure up a potently peculiar style and coaxes some terrific performances, notably from Michael D. Cohen as the comedy-drama’s doorman on the edge, and Emma Fleury as Zoe, a free-spirited young taxi driver whose surreal presence adds an undercurrent of hope and redemption.

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