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Reviews of Danny Collins, Clouds of Sil Maria, Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet and more

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An economist by training, Salgado was inspired to turn to photography by the deprivation he saw in Africa. He has documented famine in Ethiopia, drought in the Sahel, war in Sudan. Then he branched out to Kuwait, the former Yugoslavia and the one that really shook him, genocide in Rwanda. He treated each one as a major project and published his photos in extensive books. The film charts the evolution of his thinking. “I no longer believed in any solution for the human species,” he said after Rwanda. But he found one. He returned to Brazil, started replanting trees and led to the creation of a national park. The images are stunning; the content is inspiring. The film was a winner at Cannes and a nominee at the Academy Awards. (5th Avenue)  4 ½  out of 5

THE YOUNG AND PRODIGIOUS T. S. SPIVET: The popular youth lit book becomes a movie with visual dazzle, good though not really necessary 3-D and an attractive story with a little too much content. It’s filmed in Alberta, Quebec and the B.C. interior but set in Montana and gives us a precocious 10-year-old science whiz who sneaks off to Washington. D.C. when he’s offered an award from the Smithsonian Institute. The director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, from France, is most famous for another film about youthful imagination, Amelie.

Children will warm up to T.S. He spends much of the film hopping freight trains, hitching a ride in a semi and living in a RV. Kyle Catlett plays him with great confidence, even sitting through and shining in a Rick Mercer interview. Back home he’s got a dad (Callum Keith Rennie) who resents his non-cowboy ways and a mom (Helena Bonham Carter) who studies insects. Also a sad story. His brother died in an accident and appears to him now and then stirring up feelings of guilt. Those two stories, getting the award and living with guilt, don’t mesh well. It’s a shock when the second one intrudes. T.S. seemed perfectly in control until then. The film emulates the book with drawings and charts overlaid on the screen but deviates too. In the book, the award is about something to do with insects; in the film T.S. has invented a perpetual motion machine. Should we be promoting that idea to kids? It’s an impossibility. (International Village) 2 ½  out of 5 

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD: Actually this wonderful film documents one family’s attempt to get away from time. And computers, the internet, i-phones and other trappings of modern life. For nine months they lived in the bush up in the Yukon, following only the rhythms of nature and living with each others’ company. They took no clocks or watches  although a snowmobile was necessary for when the river froze and the temperature got to minus 51. They returned to a simpler life powered by imagination, creativity, hard work and what one of the children called “freedom.”

 

Suzanne Crocker, the mother in the family and a former doctor in Dawson City, served as  director, producer,camera operator and sometimes editor for this colorful, sharp-focus film. She, her husband and three children, age 10, 8 and 4, give their thoughts in voice over while we watch them bake bread, chop down trees, dig a snowcave, read to each other and generally get close as a family. A pesky bear provides some late tension in what is generally a calm, idyllic and heartening experience. As another of the children says: “You feel connected to everything around you.” (VanCity Theatre, twice as part of the Reel 2 Reel Festival of films for youth, and five times on its own).  4 out of 5

THE BACKWARD CLASS: This heart-tugging documentary is both moving and inspiring, partly because it is powered by reality observed up close. Vancouver-based Madeleine Grant shows us intimate glimpses of deep poverty among the lowest caste in India and details what a pioneering school is doing about it. She knows the material well because she volunteered there a few years ago and with Jessica Cheung of Toronto she has co-directed an engaging, briskly-moving film.

 Despite the laws, India’s Dalit are still “untouchable." They do the lowest jobs. Some work in the sex trade. We hear of grandmothers working in a rock quarry. The Shanti Bhavan School works to break the cycle by preparing its students for university entrance exams. The film follows the current grade 12 class who are very articulate as they outline their hopes, fret about the coming ordeal, regret what they didn’t do well enough and show how their families back home live. One recalls her mother setting herself on fire when her father left. Stories like that fill in the severe background about what’s at stake. We also meet the New York doctor who founded the school and a beloved teacher who wonders what they’re preparing the students for. The day results come out is very tense.  (VanCity Theatre. Madeleine Grant  will attend all screenings) 3 ½  out of 5

Also now playing …

THE LONGEST RIDE: The question I have is how many more of these romantic stories can Nicholas Sparks turn out? And how many can the movie-going public take? This is the 10th since 1999. They’re coming one a year now. What’s new in this one is a star-making turn by Scott Eastwood, Clint’s son, as a former champion bull rider who looks great without a shirt on. He romances a young woman played by Britt Robertson but first they listen to a man trapped in a car wreck talk about his the memories of young love. Sparks often has a two-generation angle in his stories. Variety called it “this three-hankie twaddle.”

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