J. Edgar, Immortals, Margin Call, Adam Sandler’s latest and two timely studies of war

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Then he follows one marine, Sgt Nathan Harris, back home to the U.S. to live with a gunshot injury to his hip. Months of rehab and pain, petty annoyances and a growing pain-killer habit, prompt him to proclaim “things were more simple in Afghanistan.” Fluid editing takes us back and forth between war and scenes at home and build a touching portrait of a soldier who still believes that “our freedom is worth it.”   (VanCity Theatre) 4 out of 5

Playing in tandem with …

WE WERE HERE: Another kind of remembrance altogether. The height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in 1980s San Francisco is recalled by four survivors, one of whom lost two partners to it,  and a nurse who helped tend to the victims. Three of the men say they came for the wide-open gay sex scene. The fourth says he was too awkward for that. They all describe clearly the rising terror as this unknown sickness swept into the community and took their friends away. The film says over 15,000 died there. Pictures of men covered in red lesions, stories of collecting the eyes of the dead and calls to quarantine gays eventually give way to a positive. As one man says, the community “really coalesced” because of AIDS. There’s nothing flashy here; just heartfelt observation and memories that should resonate here in Vancouver.  (VanCity Theatre)  3 ½ out of 5 

WAR MADE EASY: This incendiary documentary looks back through the last 50 years and details how government deception, with the help of compliant media, has repeatedly dragged the U.S. into war. From Vietnam to Iraq, the evidence piles up through archival footage of good guys and scoundrels ranging from Spiro Agnew, Henry Kissinger, both Presidents Bush, Wolf Blitzer, Walter Cronkite, Sean Hannity, and many more. Sean Penn narrates.

The film, screening for free at Pacific Cinematheque Fri. at 7 p.m., kicks off this year’s Media Democracy Days, a weekend of events, panels and speeches about independent journalism. For instance, Linda Solomon, the publisher here at the Vancouver Observer, will moderate Saturday at 1 p.m. at the main library as the editors of The Tyee, The Georgia Straight and OpenFile Vancouver, plus Emmy-winner Peter Klein, discuss the future of journalism.

You can find the whole schedule, which includes a keynote speech by Judy Rebick, at

VANCOUVER JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL: On now until Nov. 20. Pamela Grcic has been writing about it on this site (click on CULTURE) and I’ll just mention three films that have caught my attention.

COMPLEXITY is a second feature by local boy Adam Bogoch, who turned just 19 this summer. His coming of age story about a young woman he describes as “a family pleaser” who needs to become independent has been warmly received at other festivals.

SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS: is a documentary about the folksy writer who’s stories inspired Fiddler on the Roof. It details his own colorful life (1859-1916) and by extension the history of Jews in Eastern Europe. Back in July, the New York Times headlined a very positive review like this: “So, Would It Hurt You to Go See a Documentary About a Yiddish Writer?”

JEWS AND BASEBALL: Hank Greenberg, the legendary Detroit first baseman, once sat out a pennant game because it was Yom Kippur. Take Me Out to the Ball Game is by a Jewish songwriter. This film narrated by Dustin Hoffman finds lots of tidbits like those as it attempts to define “the special meaning” baseball has for American Jews.

(Ridge Theatre. More info at


Also now playing … 

THE WAY: Martin Sheen and and his son Emilio Estevez explore spirituality, all kinds, not just Roman Catholic, in this film set on a legendary pilgrim trail. The Camino de Santiago stretches some 500 miles in northern Spain. Ever since the Middle Ages people have walked it to affirm their faith and today it's just as much a draw for tourists. Sheen plays a father who arrives to collect the body of a son who died there and on a whim decides make the trek himself. It's a lfe-changing experience. Deborah Kara Unger plays a sarcastic Canadian, just one of several people he encounters. The film previewed while I was away but the American reviews have been "generally favorable". 

NOTE: The images are stills supplied by the movie studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.

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