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Kong is big but unremarkable, Window Horses is diverse and whimsical and The Last Word welcomes back Shirley MacLaine

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He had readers as diverse as Albert Einstein and Marilyn Monroe. And Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, Carl Bernstein and Noam Chomsky all of whom explain his importance. And we hear from journalists carrying on his spirit, Jeremy Scahill, Amy Goodman at Pacifica Radio, Glenn Greenwald who got out Edward Snowden’s revelations, John Carlos Frey, investigating mass graves on the US border with Mexico,  and others. As one says, their goal is “adversarial, fearless journalism.”

So we learn that Obama, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, grew a program of assassination by drones. We also get a scathing critique of a dumbed-down regular media. In one great clip, a transatlantic interview with an ambassador is interrupted for a Justin Bieber story.

All this is assembled into a bristling film by Fred Peabody, a veteran journalist at both CBC’s “the fifth estate” and ABC’s "20/20," a double Emmy winner now living in Vancouver.  Ok, maybe he’s preaching to the converted but it’s good to hear it anyway, although I get the sense that some of the mainstream, corporate media have found a little more courage these days. Peabody will do a Q&A via skype at 9pm after tonight's screening. (International Village) 4 out of 5

WINDOW HORSES: This fanciful animated film by Vancouver’s Ann Marie Fleming does double duty, as a young woman’s self-discovery and a statement of unity among the world’s people. Just look at the different elements here. A local poet who was raised by her Chinese grandparents after her mother died and her Iranian father disappeared gets her first chance to experience the world outside. A self-published book gets her an invitation to a poetry festival in Iran where she meets poets from several cultures and learns a little more about herself with each encounter. She also learns why Iranians love poetry so much and on then finds out the real reason why her father left.

 

It’s a quick, cheery story peppered with poems, vignettes and insights from a diverse group, German, American, Chinese, Iranian and individually illustrated by guest artists. (She’s drawn in Fleming’s familiar stickgirl style). The result is a colorful and quite exhilarating mix that has a secondary function to show how differences can exist together. A fine voice cast adds to the vitality of her story. Sandra Oh plays her, Ellen Page a friend, Don McKellar a racy German poet, acting veteran Nancy Kwan as the grandmother and several Iranian actors including Payman Maadi who starred in the Oscar winner A Separation. Fleming’s film won two big awards at VIFF last fall, best B.C. and best Canadian film. It’s a pleasure to watch. (International Village) 4 out of 5          

THE LAST WORD: Shirley MacLaine is as alive in this film as she’s ever been. She’s 83 and plays a pushy old woman who wants to control what the eventual obituary says about her. So she sets about getting one written. First stop a newspaper she supported when she was a top advertising executive. It’s now struggling like many newspapers and the editor agrees to give his obit specialist (Amanda Seyfried) time to write the piece. (More time than any newspaper could afford to give, but this is fiction).

In a series of interviews (sometimes brittle wrangles of attitude) the feisty client sets the requirements (four essentials of a good obituary) and the rules (don’t talk to her family). Bit by bit Amanda learns more truth about her than she expected: hardly anybody liked her. She was assertive when women weren’t supposed to be. A new example of it is impossible but entertaining. She walks into her favourite radio station, demands a prime disc jockey slot and gets it. She also turns a surly young black girl into a loyal friend. The inevitable meeting with her daughter (Anne Heche) who she hasn’t seen in years remains cool. The film is a mix of improbable, poignant, clichéd and wished-for incidents. They feel manufactured and don’t jell but the acting is strong and the inconsistencies are bearable. MacLaine won an Oscar playing a similarly head-strong character in Terms of Endearment.  (5th Avenue) 3 out of 5

 

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Melissa’s forgeries, Rami’s dead-on Freddie Mercury and a cult classic re-imagined

Also: a bit of opera (real with Maria Callas and fictional in Bel Canto) and an ode to BC’s chief geographical feature in This Mountain Life
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