Peace Out, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Collaborator, Neil Young Journeys and Ice Age
I didn’t get to the two big films this week (thanks again, Fox) so I’ll just preview them without a rating. Before that, there are three smaller films to tell you about, all recommendable and, coincidentally, all made in Canada. Note also that the Hitchcock and Fassbinder retrospectives are continuing at the Pacific Cinematheque. Both series include classics and their less-seen TV work.
Here’s my list for the week :
Peace Out: 4 stars
Neil Young Journeys: 3 ½
Beasts of the Southern Wild: --
Ice Age: Continental Drift: --
PEACE OUT: Charles Wilkinson’s documentary on one controversial power project turns into a wide-ranging meditation on one of our addictions: energy. Electricity, gasoline, natural gas, what have you, we’re over using them. Our TVs and computers gobble up the wattage even when they’re not on. When electric cars become common, the load will shoot up again. This film explores the real costs, without posturing or hectoring but in a quiet, thoughtful inquiry. Wilkinson, who has made features, TV movies and documentaries and also teaches at Capilano University, says he was drawn to look into B.C. Hydro’s plans to put a third dam on the Peace River at Site C because his father used to talk about it. The proposal was recently revived and is now in environmental assessment.
A gorgeous river valley is to be flooded and class A agricultural land destroyed. A wildlife corridor will be disrupted. Damage from the biggest of the dams already there is unmistakeable. Further along, near Dawson Creek, hundreds of natural gas wells a year are drilled with the dodgy fracking method. Across the line in Alberta, a company is pushing plans for a nuclear power plant. And beyond that, there’s the tar sands development tearing up the ground. Four projects on just one river. The film visits them all and hears from activists, analysts, politicians and industry people. There’s no grandstanding, not even from a Greenpeace guy. Hydro and oil industry types get time to explain themselves. You’ll learn a lot from the differing sides. The film isn’t all that clear that Site C’s impact will be tiny compared to existing dams but the rest of the information seems to be solid. It’s also a good-looking film that has been winning awards at festivals, including here in Vancouver last fall where it was an audience favorite. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
NEIL YOUNG JOURNEYS: Jonathan Demme’s third Neil Young documentary in six years is again a display of filmmaking craft and great music. This one is extremely casual. In the musical sections, filmed in Toronto’s Massey Hall, Young is performing solo, wearing a rumpled white shirt and an old hat like a summer tourist.
The first notes of Down by the River or My My Hey Hey bring cheers from the audience we never see. Neil has the stage, mixing old songs with new ones from his Le Noise album. One is more directly environmental than After The Gold Rush, which itself is updated. Mother nature is now on the run “in the 21st Century”. There’s a major spot for Ohio, his Kent State song, with news clips and pictures creating a memorial for the “four dead”.
The film actually starts and between songs returns to Omemee, Ontario, the not-so-far-north town where he lived as a young boy. According to Helpless, all his “changes were there,” although that song isn’t heard until the end credits. Young drives a 56 Ford around town (following his brother Bob) and shows us the old fishing hole, the school named after his father and other sights. He recalls a friend who lured him into minor acts of misbehavior. A quick visit to another hometown, Pickering, is followed with a drive into Toronto and then more music. Only Winnipeg, where his career really started, is missing. Still, it’s a folksy backgrounder and an intimate visit with one our most respected artists. (International Village) 3 ½ out of 5
COLLABORATOR: For a hostage drama, this one has very little tension. It takes a chatty, low-key approach, more cerebral if you will. You’ll be interested all the way, but not grabbed.
Martin Donovan, familiar from Hal Hartley movies and a lot of TV, wrote, directed and stars as a New York playwright whose latest reviews are scathing (“a writer fading into irrelevancy”). He retreats cross-country to visit his mother in Los Angeles where he re-connects with two people from his past. One willingly, an old flame (Olivia Williams), the other not, (David Morse), a guy he had no time for in school, now an under-achiever, in and out of jail and still living with his mother across the street.
When he comes over with a couple of joints, a few beers and a gun, just wanting to talk, and with police and TV news crews gathering outside, they do talk. They touch on class differences, celebrity, success and failure, a brother’s death in Viet Nam and wasted patriotism. Also, curiously, the craft of writing. There’s an implausible turn in the plot and dialogue that’s often stiff, but the two actors turn it into a spirited sparring match. Donovan, who left New York himself -- he now lives here in Vancouver -- found enough tax credits in Ontario to get this off-beat film made. Sault St. Marie stands in for L.A. (Granville 7) 3 out of 5
And two that I haven’t seen yet …
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: This is one I must catch as soon as possible. It’s gained a great reputation and is said to be destined for best-of- the-year lists and award nominations.
A charming newcomer named Quvenzhané Wallis plays 8-year-old Hushpuppy who is forced to face the world on her own. She lives with her dad in an off-the-grid community in Louisiana but when he gets sick and storms seem to be bringing on the environmental disaster a teacher warned was coming, Hushpuppy sets out to find her mother. An innocent dealing with harsh realities. An uplifting tale of resilience. Echoes of Mark Twain, Maurice Sendak and Terrence Malick. There’s been a lot of praise heaped on this film, although the Washington Post also saw cultural condescension. That’s been said before about depictions of poor people. As often as not, unfairly. (5th Avenue Cinemas
ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT: The immensely popular animated series – almost a billion bucks earned last time –is back with more. That may not be such a good thing. A friend who’s seen it says this chapter is so crammed with new characters that kids will find it hard to follow because it’s so crowded. The core group, Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, voicing Manny, Ellie, Diego and Sid respectively, are back and now joined by Jennifer Lopez, Peter Dinklage, Keke Palmer, Toronto rapper Drake, TV’s Aziz Ansari, and others in a variety of subplots. The main one is kicked off by Scrat, the squirrel whose acorn-hunting exploits have previously been only an opening act. This time he cracks the ice shelf and sends our friends drifting away on a floe. (International Village, Dolphin and many suburban theatres)
NOTE: The images are movie stills provided by the producers and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.