Sunday, November 05, 2006

NOW PLAYING: Big Screens (Feb 17)

Currently (or very soon to be currently) on screen at Vancouver-area theatres

Updated Feb 17 2007

The year-end cinecopia that filleth Soul Foodie souls with thanksgiving shriveleth and its fruit returneth to seed as the year progresseth. Now it's just leftovers, and all the crap distributors couldn't unload since last summer. (I exaggerate, as is my rhetorical wont: there's still plenty of good stuff spilling out of the horn of plenty. But little of it is new.)

What is new and exciting is at the Fifth Avenue (no surprise): THE LIVES OF OTHERS, a German drama about life in Iron Curtain days, supposed to be extremely fine.

I'm thrilled that PAN'S LABYRINTH has caught people's attention: one of the two best movies in town (see next paragraph), and one of the two best movies of 2006 (next to SON OF MAN, which was in the VIFF). Huge imagination, visually brilliant fantasy (or supernatural?) world juxtaposed against atrocities of the all-too-real Spanish civil war - and ultimately, for me, very close to the heart of the gospel: Fifth Ave, Paramount, and tons of really-big-screen multiplexes all over the place (three cheers!). (See PS below for more on PAN)

LITTLE CHILDREN continues at Tinseltown, the other best movie in town for my money. Perfect complement to director Todd Fields' earlier IN THE BEDROOM: like the predecessor, it's all about Our Human Condition (meaning sin), but this one's also all about grace, I'd say. A queasy watch (due to the pedophile character), but wow. PAINTED VEIL has been unfortunately overlooked in the year-end hoohaw, but should be drawing strong Christian interest with its redemptive story about a young woman who's confronted with her own narcissism, terrif turns from Naomi Watts and Eddy Norton, transporting cinematography (think Jungle Cruise goes to China): Fifth Ave. (See PS below on both CHILDREN and VEIL)

I've wondered a lot about PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS. If you've got any compassion, you'll feel for Will Smith's can't-get-a-break eventually homeless single dad; if you've got ulcers, they'll only get worse - this guy's got stress! There's some gospel music in a church shelter that suggests some sort of transcendent Hope, yet I can't help thinking at another level that this is pretty much just Horatio Alger materialism when you come right down to it. But if you're sceptical about Will, dont be: and what chemistry between him and his (on-screen and off-screen) son! Dolphin, Tinseltown, several others.

APOCALYPTO's got legs: Mel Gibson's noble savage keeps on running through the jungle pursued by Mayans whose culture is apparently under God's judgment for being too violent (so what's that say about ours? that shows movies like Mel's?) at the Denman, 9pm nightly. BABEL has only referential connection with the book of Genesis, but places high on many Christian film folks year end lists: Empire 7, Richmond Centre and various satellite cinemas. CHILDREN OF MEN stripped out most of what made Anglican P.D. James' most distinctively Christian novel distinctively Christian, but that doesn't stop many Christians (and everybody else) from celebrating it: I loved the dystopian vision of the first third, but the more it became a chase movie, the less it stuck with me - think of it as a sci-fi APOCALYPTO: Tinseltown and the burbs. JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN is back for a one-night-stand at Cinematheque, Thursday Jan 22: looks like a Christianity Bad Inuit Stuff Good story, but I figure that's part of our story that needs to get told, right? STRANGER THAN FICTION offers another layer of meaning to us folks who believe it's not just Will Ferrell who's a characters in some Author's story (and Maggie Gyllenhaal's as cute as a counter-cultural bug's ear): Denman Place.

THE QUEEN offers what is undoubtably the most celebrated female acting performance of the year, Helen Mirren in ultra-understated mode in a smart, carefully calibrated character study: Dolphin, Tinseltown, and everywhere else. BLOOD DIAMOND's got no God stuff, but does call evil evil, and features a divine performance by Leo - following hard on THE DEPARTED (Granville 7), let's hope this silences once and for all those who figure if you're handsome you can't act: Paramount, Riverport, others. HISTORY BOYS is at the Hollywood for a week (cheap!): of course, I'm the only person in the world who liked it, but I sure as heck did - the conversation about the Holocaust is extraordinary, the central question about truth vs cleverness an essential one, the performances marvelous (though you will have to suspend your disbelief about age and such). LAST KING OF SCOTLAND continues at Tinseltown, carried on the shoulders of Forrest Whittaker's Oscar-nommed turn: Tinseltown and Coquitlam. Apparently NOTES ON A SCANDAL is nastier (or at least more despairig) than the trailer would indicate, which is fine by me - at least when it features Dench and Blanchett: Fifth, Tinseltown, Esplanade.



PAN'S LABYRINTH is a stunner (Fifth Ave, Parmount, etc), shoulders L'ENFANT and SOPHIE SCHOLL aside as my #2 favourite film of 2006 (top slot reserved for SON OF MAN): a girl on the verge of womanhood experiences two interconnected worlds, the real-world horrors of the last days of the Spanish civil war and another, subterranean world that may be fantasy, or may be a deeper reality. The brutal real-world violence (and comparable below-ground terrors) are far removed from the pain-porn of HOSTEL or its ilk: this visionary film earns the right to show us the dark side of human behaviour with its commitment to showing the courage and sacrifice that counter-balance. Film-maker Guillermo del Toro identifies himself as a lapsed Catholic, but takes pains to clarify that that's "not quite the same thing as an atheist," and that distinction doesn't surprise me - this film gave me one of the most extraordinary glimpses of Eternity I can recall. It's become an annoying commonplace these days to label films (usually sentimental ones) "redemptive": which usually just means "don't worry, it ends happy." But redemption is a far more exacting, sacred, and potent word than that: PAN'S LABYRINTH is the rare film that can truly claim that descriptor. I've posted some notes from the director and several film writers here.

LITTLE CHILDREN follows SOPHIE SCHOLL on my own personal hit parade for the past year, and it's about to leave our fair city, bowing out with a one-week run at the Van East (9:30 nightly). Literate, intelligent, challenging, adult: the anatomy of an affair, an inquiry into sexual and other sin that holds an unflinching - but never cynical - mirror up to human behavior. A fit counterpoint to director Todd Field's unflinching IN THE BEDROOM.

Next to those truly extraordinary films, the new movie I'm most keen to point everybody to is THE PAINTED VEIL (Fifth Avenue), a handsome treatment of Somerset Maugham's story of a narcissistic and over-privileged young woman "taken in adultery" who is challenged to some sort of spiritual awakening when her husband volunteers to fight a cholera epidemic in a remote Chinese village. Maugham's characteristic British restraint and psychological insight tempers what might sound like melodramatic stuff into something understated and substantial.

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