Nanjing Nanjing (City Of Life and Death) Lu Chuan (China)
THREE AND A HALF STARS
The city of Nanjing was destroyed by Japanese forces in 1937 and its inhabitants were killed, raped and mutilated in every imaginable way. The very difficult accomplishment of this film is to show the atrocities in all their physical and psychological horror, and yet to temper that with respect for the dead and with dignity for the world that still must bear witness. Shot stunningly in black and white, the film records the murder and destruction in epic proportions, although the storyline focuses sparingly on only a few characters, including historic figures such as German expat John Rabe, who helped to shelter many civilians in an international safe zone. Considered a likely Oscar contender, this mature, intelligent film has been criticized for its humanist portrayal of Japanese soldiers. That's debatable, for the numbness the Japanese soldiers feel only makes the savagery committed all the more sickening. G.D.
Sept. 19, 6:15 p.m., Varsity 3
The Neil Young Trunk Show Director: Jonathan Demme Starring Neil Young USA Three and a half stars
Early in Jonathan Demme's unrehearsed concert portrait of the artful soul Neil Young, the iconic singer-songwriter speaks backstage about set-lists, reckoning that his versatile band could pull off just about anything. And so the dozen or so songs of Neil Young Trunk Show are an unpredictable offering, from the classics (Cinnamon Girl) to newer grungy rockers (a 20-minute version of 2007's No Hidden Path) to something like Kansas, an unreleased country-tinged track from the mid-seventies, which has Young curiously rubbing his piano, as if in a day dream on stage, after the song is done. The footage was shot mostly with hand-held digital cameras, over the course of two December nights in 2007 at the small Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pa. The intimate home-movie vibe is Demme's response to his own Heart of Gold (2006), a more conceived piece of concert filmmaking involving Young. Long may this collaboration run. B.W.
Today (Monday), 9 p.m. Yonge-Dundas Square, free outdoor screening.
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning
Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai (Thailand)
Evil warlords, odious slave traders, ruthless bandits, breathless horse chases, stampeding elephants and in the middle of them all is Tony Jaa, the gravity-defying Thai action sensation who chews up the scenery and everyone in it in this martial-arts-style medieval-era epic. Tien, a feisty young noble, is rescued from slave traders and guided through years of gruelling close combat training by the leader of a bandit posse. Before assuming the top job, Tien seeks revenge on the warlord who slaughtered his parents years ago. Who needs more plot when there's so many exotic kicks to be had? J.P.
Sept. 19, 9: 45 a.m., Scotiabank 2 and 11:50 p.m., Ryerson
The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers
Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith (USA)
Military analyst Daniel Ellsberg's Oppenheimer-like disenchantment with what his tremendous intelligence had helped create marked a shadowy prelude to the more notorious Watergate scandal. This new account of how and why he leaked 7,000 pages of top-secret Pentagon documents on the Vietnam War will be gripping to any political junkie. Filmmakers Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith found an ideal, if not particularly neutral, narrator in Ellsberg himself, whose gravelly, aspirated voice spins a yarn worthy of a John Le Carré novel. But some of the most revelatory moments come from Egil Krogh, one of the men who set up the notorious "White House Plumbers," now contrite and introspective. And while a public debate about government documents doesn't exactly lend itself to breakneck pacing, there is a heart-pounding sequence as Ellsberg, gone underground, scrambles to get the documents to as many newspapers as possible, while the Nixon government races to get injunctions against them. J.B.
Sept. 11, 7:15 p.m., Varsity 3; Sept. 13, 3:15 p.m., AMC 5; Sept. 16, 5:45 p.m., AMC 4
My Dog Tulip
Paul and Sandra Fierlinger (USA)
You don't have to be a canine connoisseur to appreciate animators Paul and Sandra Fierlinger's latest feature-length film, but it might help. An adaptation of J.R. Ackerley's novel, it's the story of a solitary writer who, rather late in life, adopts a German shepherd named Tulip and, much to his delighted surprise, finds a kind of love hitherto unknown. Alas, as artistically skillful and diligent as the Fierlingers are - more than two years and 60,000 drawings went into the making of the picture - the lack of a genuine narrative pulse weighs heavily. The first half concerns itself largely with Tulip's less than fastidious bowel and bladder habits; the second, with the writer's attempt to find her a suitable stud. The voice-over acting of Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini and others is flawless, but I was more bored than charmed. Michael Posner
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