Reviews: Russell Crowe’s The Water Diviner, Blake Lively in The Age of Adeline and robots in Ex-Machina

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DOXA: Here’s an early heads up about this year’s Doxa documentary festival. It starts Thursday, runs for 11 days and has so many interesting titles scheduled, you’ll need some time to plan. Pick up the free catalogue or log on to to read about those corporate pranksters The Yes Men, the dangers of sugar, America’s drone program, the Arizona town whose economy is based on prisons, film bios of several French directors and much more.

The opening film HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD (also screening Saturday May 2) is of special interest. It tells, and shows with a lot of great film I’ve never seen before, how Greenpeace was formed here in Vancouver. It started when a bunch of eco-freaks and hippies sailed a boat to Alaska to protest a nuclear test; then started saving whales and eventually evolved it into the world-wide environmental organization it is now.

Guided by the idealism of journalist Bob Hunter, whose words read by actor Barry Pepper serve as narration, Greenpeace made news and grew. Then it splintered in disputes over strategy. In new interviews Paul Watson and Patrick Moore give self-serving explanations and other now-old-timers, notably photographer Rex Weyler, offer their interpretations. We’re familiar with the story and there’s nostalgia in the many archival clips, but there’s also much more here about what was really going on. The film was made by a Brit, Jerry Rothwell, who along with some local guests, is scheduled to speak at the first screening. 4 out of 5

TRACEABLE: Speaking of documentaries, here’s a cause I hadn’t considered before: get to know where your clothes come from. The label may say made in China or India, but this film shows that’s only part of it. The growing, processing, weaving and whatever else of the raw material could each have been done in entirely separate countries. We’re far removed from that “untraceable” supply chain and are only made aware of some of it when accidents happen— like the garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed some 1,100 people.

This film by Jennifer Sharpe, who got her start in Vancouver, follows a young designer named Laura Siegel as she travels to India and makes a connection with the artisans in the villages. As one speaker says: “When you know who makes things you buy, you care more about those things.” The film argues strongly for supporting local crafts and the culture they come from, and cites the Bangladesh factory collapse to support the point. It screens tonight, two years to the day since the collapse, at the VanCity Theatre as part of Eco Fashion Week and on TV (MTV, Bravo and others).  2 ½  out of 5

MONSOON:  If you’re up for another documentary trip to India, here’s Sturla Gunnarsson’s look at the weather phenomenon that is said to be the soul of India. The annual monsoon rains can be torrential and last all summer but they’re also essential. They revive the parched land back to food-growing capability. We hear a lot about that from ordinary people, from meteorologists who get surprisingly philosophical, and from Sturla’s narration. It’s like we’re a witness to creation, he says.


The images and the vistas are grand, even spectacular, but I don’t think we see enough of the power of the monsoon itself. We get a long buildup waiting for it, lots of gathering clouds, kids playing in water that sort of thing. Then, some of its force but mostly its aftermath: flooded, even collapsed, houses, broken levees, that sort of thing. The point is made though. The monsoon is “like an ancient god.” It creates but is completely indifferent. Proof of that point? One region hasn’t had rain for four years. That has driven farmers to suicide. A Bollywood actress speaking in a taxi doesn’t add anything; rather it’s the Indian mysticism we hear from others that tells us what these rains mean. (Strawberry Hill in Surrey and starting Saturday also at the VanCity Theatre in Vancouver) 3  out of 5   

SONGS SHE WROTE ABOUT PEOPLE SHE KNOWS: Another Vancouver comedy from Kris Elgstrand and his friends, just as quirky as his Doppelganger Paul of a few years ago but no more convincing. You’ll have fun with parts of it and wonder about motivation with others..


Arabella Bushnell plays a meek office worker who in music therapy is encouraged to put her thoughts into song. She leaves them as voice mail messages. A threat to kill a neighbor wasn’t meant to be taken seriously she says. Calling her boss (Brad Dryborough) an asshole brings him around with guitar singing his own composition “Sorry Sorry Sorry Carol.” Next day he fires her, quits his own job and invites her on a trip to California to follow his dream of a music career. Back in Vancouver they manage a semblance of success with her songs like “Mother You Ruined My Life.” That’s all we get in the way of explanation from her. There’s a gentle absurdity here and a lively performance from Dryborough but only a minor film.  (VanCity Theatre starting Saturday. The director will speak at Wednesday’s screening and a Women in Film panel discussion will follow.) 2 out of 5     

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