Captain America, Friends with Benefits, Life Above All and portraits of an Eco-Pirate and a paranoid chess master
ECO PIRATE: THE STORY OF PAUL WATSON: By my count, that's now three full-length documentaries in four years about the maverick environmentalist. He’s also got a TV series called Whale Wars and more than a bit of a reputation as a publicity hound. He’s into what people sometimes call, monkeywrenching. He doesn’t just march and put up banners, he gets in there and blocks. That includes ramming whaling ships, tangling up propellers, throwing stink bombs and yes getting on the phone to news media and sending out video clips.
This film celebrates all that by showing him at work during yet another campaign against Japanese whalers in the Antarctic (a mainstay of all three films), other actions including the sinking of a notorious whaling ship called The Sierra (“a satisfying experience”) and explaining himself in interview clips. “Human beings are not moral,” he says. You have to hit them economically, not with morality. Vancouver filmmaker Trish Dolman marshals a line of admirers and critics to tell his whole story, his firebrand origins in Greenpeace when it was first organized here in Vancouver, his ejection from its board after the anti-sealing campaign he organized was dubbed “a fiasco,” and the subsequent campaigns that got him labeled “the Rambo of the environmental movement.” There are only brief flashes into his personal life. He once beat up his own father, he says. His daughter says he was rarely around. His third wife, who speaks a lot during the film, suddenly goes away and Paul explains that he won’t left women change him. I don’t know how much better I know him from watching this film, but it’s a good start. The director will answer quest as the Friday evening and the 4: 35 Saturday screenings. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 3 ½ out of 5
BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD: One of the strangest sideshows in the U.S./Russia cold war was a chess tournament held in Iceland in the summer of 1972. Fischer took the world championship away from Russia’s Boris Spassky but he mustered up a circus to do it. He played some games in Vancouver to qualify and then refused to go. Henry Kissinger phoned him with a personal appeal. When he arrived (late, of course), Fischer complained about the hall, some noise, the money and more. It took 21 games to decide the winner.
All this was followed breathlessly by the newspapers and even ABC TV as a sports special—and now by this lively film. Director Liz Garbus has brought in recollections from almost everyone involved, even Fischer’s bodyguard, and has turned up some choice archival film. There’s Fischer, age 15, on the TV show I’ve Got a Secret being questioned by Dick Clark. There he is at age 29 ranting that Russians cheat. Others talk of his colossal egotism and his later paranoia, apparently a hazard of high-level chess. He never defended his title but became a recluse, an anti-semite and, after a sad re-match with Spassky, a criminal wanted by the U.S. government. It’s a compelling story that ends, ironically, right back in Iceland. (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5
CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH: This film is often hard to watch but if you stick with it you’ll be rewarded with a dramatic and heart-wrenching history lesson. The city is Nanking, China’s southern capital in 1937, invaded by the Japanese army and the site of some horrific atrocities, that Japan to this day downplays and this Chinese film (based on a celebrated book) re-creates. From what director Chuan Lu dramatizes so well in glistening widescreen, black and white, the expression “the rape of Nanking” is fully justified. There are street battles, hangings, firing squads and mass executions. An entire field of prisoners is literally moved down by machine-gun fire in one scene. People are buried alive in another.