Saturday, June 30, 2007

NOW PLAYING: Small Screens

Soul Foodish pix recently added or still surviving on video store shelves

Updated June 30 2007: new additions in bold

A recent visit to my plain old ordinary neighbourhood video store turned up the following titles, all of which have (or would like to have, or seem like they would have) some sort of Soul Food angle;
Apocalypto (ultra-violent Mayans cursed by God in ultra-violent Mel Gibson film)
Babel
Cache
Celestine Prophesy (nope)
Children of Men (trace elements of original novel's Christianity)
Click (BruceAlmighty-ish comedy?)
Conversations With God (nope)
Copying Beethoven (so many delays, Beethoven biopic probably a bomb)
The Da Vinci Code (nope)
Dear Wendy (von Trier provocation)
Don’t Come Knocking (Wenders/Shepard)
Deliver Us From Evil (doc on pedophile priest)
Devil & Daniel Johnston (doc on mentally ill musician with Christian background)
The Devil Wears Prada (hi-fashion Faust?)
L’Enfant (Dardenne Bros fourth masterpiece in a row)
The Fountain (eternal youth strangeness from Aronofsky)
The Girl From Monday (Hal Hartley "sequel" to Henry Fool)
A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints
Hawaii, Oslo (Norwegian soul food)
Hell (based on incomplete Kieslowski script)
The History Boys (smart, a couple more-or-less Christian characters)
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (good Inuit, bad missionaries)
The King (bad pastor)
The Lady In The Water (bad movie. Or not?...)
Little Children (grace to some who need it?)
Land Of Plenty (Wenders film about missionary)
The Man Who Sued God (apparently dumb comedy)
The Nativity Story (apparently bland Christmas story)
The New World (Pocahontas gets religion)
The Notorious Bettie Page (pin-up queen gets religion)
One Night With The King (church-audienced Esther story)
Pan’s Labyrinth (my pick for most spiritually significant film of 2006)
Pursuit of Happyness (gospel of Horatio Alger)
The Painted Veil (spiritual awakening, Somerset Maugham-style)
The Proposition (a Downunder Melquiades Estrada?)
Shooting Dogs / Beyond The Gates (Hotel Rwanda with priests)
Saint Of 911 (Doc on gay chaplain)
Saraband (Bergman)
Sherrybaby (saved in prison, now back on the streets)
Stranger Than Fiction (characters in Somebody else's story?)
Superman Returns (aims for Jesus parallels)
The Ten Commandments: The Complete Miniseries
The Ten Commandments: The Musical
Wicker Man (original was better, or at least less laughable)
World Trade Centre (Christian man helps victims - Oliver Stone)

I'll fill on some of those below...

ALL THE KING'S MEN
Corrupt Southern politics (Huey Long inspiration), from acclaimed novel by acclaimed Catholic (am I right?) novelist Robert Penn Warren. Get a load of this cast, every name here a monster actor; Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Boris Karloff. (Okay, I'm kidding about Boris K.) Oft-delayed opening did not bode well, and while it got the red carpet at TIFF, ATKM opened and closed in no time here in Vancouver and hasn't left a mark elsewhere.

BECKET

BEYOND THE GATES (see SHOOTING DOGS)

BLACK SNAKE MOAN
Lots of violence, but also lots of religion, in the ultra-pulpy (just check out the poster) BLACK SNAKE MOAN – Sam Jackson plays Lazarus, a God-fearing bluesman who takes extreme measures to save a wild young nymphomaniac (Christina Ricci) from herself. Hollywood reporter calls it a “ludicrous Southern melodrama” – but its fans figure that’s kind of the whole point. Kind of like criticizing THE TEN COMMANDMENTS for being religious. Roger Ebert called it – What, he’s writing reviews again? Yeehaw! Nice to have you back, Rodge – he called it “the oddest, most peculiar movie he’d seen about sex and race and redemption in the Deep South.” God at the Grindhouse?
This one obviously won’t be for everybody: Kristen Toby isn’t sure it ought to be for anybody - not necessarily for the obvious reasons; “We're not supposed to gawk at religion, or at a naked woman beaten and in chains. But Brewer gives us license to gawk at them in tandem by making us think that we're gawking at the other one, each in turn. And in the battle for thematic supremacy, we end up taking neither wild sexuality nor wild religiosity seriously. The film sets itself up to present sex and religion as pervasive and powerful forces, responsible for who people are and who they become — but ultimately Black Snake Moan deals with an ambiguous, tenuous kind of redemption that has little to do with either.”


BREACH – Robert Hanssen sold secrets to the Commies and was a devout Catholic – go figger. Probably not a poster child for the church, but I do want to check it out – I like those kinds of paradox, and heck, I’d watch Chris Cooper and Laura Linney if they were guest stars on Barney...

CLERKS II (2006, USA, Kevin Smith)
So what's with this email Peter Chattaway cc's me on? With cryptic scraps about Kevin Smith's latest? One guy wrote, "I just noticed this weekend that, in the poster, Jay is depicted with one of those "Hello, I'm" labels on his toque, and in the blank space, he (or someone else) has written "Forgiven!" And then another guy replies, "actually, i was surprised at how much Jesus was actually in the film, though i probably shouldn't have been."
The reason he probably shouldn't have been is because foul-mouthed, nothing-is-sacred director Kevin Smith (as well as having attended Vancouver Film School) is actually a practising Catholic! DOGMA riled many Christians, but plenty of others love the irreverant (but maybe authentic) take on Christian faith. Check out this NY Times interview, where a wonderfully self-effacing Smith pays homage to his favourite film, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS! You heard it here first.
Anyhow, an online blurb: "The sequel to the 1994 independent hit picks up 10 years later. It's about what happens when that lazy, 20-something malaise lasts into your 30s. It's time for the Dante and Randal to actually grow up and do something more than just sit around and dissect pop culture and talk about sex." Hmmm...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL
An angry indictment of sexual abuse among the Roman Catholic clergy that's being praised by reviewers and approached warily by some Christians. Director Amy Berg focuses her documentary eye on Oliver O’Grady, a confessed pedophile whose predatory behavior in several California parishes over many years is described not only by his victims but also – remarkably – by the priest himself, now living “under church protection” in Ireland. With such an emotionally charged issue, it will be difficult to discern whether the film is anti-Catholic or anti-sin: while orthodox Christians may feel uneasy with details such as an opening title card that quotes from “The Gospel Of Thomas,” it’s worth remembering that the film does reach for balance by including the stories of abuse victims who still practice their Catholic faith. Played Vancouver: November 2006.

END OF THE SPEAR
Though I found it bland and somewhat churchy, there are many fans of this mostly-marketed-to-Christians missionary pic. Says CT Movies; "One of the most compelling missionary stories of all time—the tale of the five Christian men martyred in 1956 by a savage tribe in Ecuador. END OF THE SPEAR tells the tale of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot and the other murdered men—and how the good news of the gospel ultimately got through to the Waodani tribe anyway." Played churches: early 2006.

A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS
No way to tell if the whole saints thing is for real here or not, however unconventional, though Darrel Manson liked it – and I was talking to a movie buddy yesterday who raved it.
"A coming-of-age drama about a boy growing up in Astoria, N.Y., during the 1980s. As his friends end up dead, on drugs or in prison, he comes to believe he has been saved from their fate by various so-called saints." Robert Downey Jr, Dianne Wiest.
Available at Videomatica

JESUS CAMP
Up for an Oscar. Though it only ever had limited big screen release, that didn't stopped JC from garnering lots of attention among Christians: links and details here. Basically, a documentary on a pentecostal summer camp that aims to be even-handed but can't help gawking, and finding the "bootcamp for Jesus" ambience and way-right-of-center politics just a little problematic. You could always rent HELL HOUSE and have a swell (condescending? tendentious?) double feature - "Wouldja Just Look At Them Crazy Fundies!"

LADY IN THE WATER
M. Night Shyamalan's movies have charted a precipitous downward trajectory, from the flawless SIXTH SENSE through the interesting UNBREAKBLE to the scary-but-stupid SIGNS to the just-plain-stupid VILLAGE. So I couldn't bring myself to check out his latest when it hit the cineplex this summer. However, I had the pleasure this summer of hanging out in Cannon Beach Oregon with one of my best movie buddies, Rick Bonn (of Hollywood Jesus), and his impassioned advocacy for MNS's bedtime story has me guardedly eager for the DVD release.

LITTLE CHILDREN
Flat-out stunning, very similar in scope and tone (human scale, morally searching, contemporary literary source material) to the same director's justly acclaimed IN THE BEDROOM, just as truthful and unflinching but even more complex. 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. Grace abounding to the chief of sinners.


A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
I’ll be playing Thomas More onstage in this one next January, so it’s great to see the original Zinneman film of Robert Bolt’s classic play out in a new DVD release. “In his single-minded pursuit of a male heir, King Henry VIII defied the Catholic Church, severing England's ties to Rome, just so he could divorce his first wife and remarry with impunity. His plan worked reasonably well, except for a thorn in his side named Thomas More. More, who was Henry's Lord Chancellor, steadfastly refused to recognize the legitimacy of Henry's actions vis-a-vis the Church, and in so doing he sealed his fate.”


THE PAINTED VEIL

PAN’S LABYRINTH


SHOOTING DOGS
Hotel Rwanda with a priest? And without Don Cheadle. You can see why release was delayed south of the border. But they gave it a cheerier title (“Let’s call it BEYOND THE GATES – maybe some of those dumb Christians will think it’s a sequel to END OF THE SPEAR...”) and it’s done alright. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it yet – HOTEL RWANDA sent me into a spiritual tailspin for almost a year! – but I will soon, I think. There’s a Peter Chattaway review at CT Movies.

SOPHIE SCHOLL: THE FINAL DAYS (2005, Marc Rothemund, screenplay Fred Breinerdorfer)
The White Rose was a secret organization of Christian university students in Germany who opposed Hitler during World War Two. Based on previously unavailable interrogation and trial transcripts, as well as interviews with surviving participants and family members, this spare, unsensationalized film is a portrait of extraordinary courage and integrity.
Seeing this celebration of a Protestant saint in its screening at my city's Jewish International Film Festival, I was moved to tears and beyond: how I yearn to be like that young woman in all her courage, intelligence, decisiveness and matter-of-fact self-sacrifice. We see no glimpse of her spirituality for such a long time: I had resigned myself to yet another film where a hero of the faith is stripped of the faith that fuels their heroism, until - alone, in her cell - she began to pray. An extraordinary moment, all the more powerful because her faith had shown itself in actions before being expressed in words.
Some found the film cinematically bland: I found it artful, its atmospheric red and grey night-time palette evocative, its careful interior architectural compositions claustrophobic and stark. There was nothing showy in the quiet integrity of Sophie and her White Rose compatriots: the film's visual restraint is perfect.


ONE NIGHT WITH THE KING
"An epic motion picture set in an imaginative world of adventure, intrigue and romance, "One Night with the King" follows a young girl who rises from peasant to princess by going against the culture and seeking the King's heart rather than the riches of the kingdom." Yup, you guessed it - the story of Esther. Church-market, from the people who also brought us THE OMEGA CODE. CTMovies is underwhelmed by an over-plotted, over-explained screenplay, but remarks that it "may well be the best-looking movie from a Christian company to date, with sumptuous visuals that are both artistic and authentic."

THE PRODIGAL (1955)
This off-the-beaten-track release is part of the brand new boxed set “Cult Camp Classics 4: Historical Epics” which came out June 26 but may not hit most commercial video stores. Looks fun. Here are Hal Erickson’s jottings for the All Movie Guide: “One critic has noted that The Prodigal was aptly titled, inasmuch as it was all too prodigal with the funds of the then-flagging MGM studios. In its retelling of the 22-verse Biblical story of the Prodigal Son, the film helpfully fills in the story details inconsiderately left out of the Old Testament. Edmond Purdon plays Micah, the wastrel son of Eli (Walter Hampden) who takes his share of his father's fortune and blows it all in wicked old Damascus. Micah's one redeeming feature is his unserving faithful in the Lord God Jehovah. Pagan princess Samarra (Lana Turner at her most giddily exotic) intends to seduce Micah into renouncing his faith, only to get stoned to death for her troubles. Nearly two hours pass before Micah returns home and the fatted calf is killed in his honor. If for nothing else, The Prodigal would be memorable for Lana Turner's pagan-ritual costume, which is little more than a glorified bikini.”
Nice graph, Hal. Except, that’s the New Testament...


REQUIEM
VIFF 2006. Oct 20 2006: Limited release
A restrained and understated treatment of the same events that inspired Scott Derrickson’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose
)(2005), one of the best films I saw in 2007, if one of the bleakest. Dramatizes the tragic exorcism in 1976 of a young German university student whose “demonic” manifestations may have been supernatural in origin, or may have been some form of epilepsy. REQUIEM sticks much closer to the historical events, offering a sympathetic (if harrowing) psychological study that refuses to come down on either side of the natural / supernatural debate, leaving the viewer with the same agonized perplexity one might experience in the face of such events in real life. REQUIEM is a rigorous, heart-breaking film: highly recommended. Further details here. Available at Videomatica.

SHERRYBABY
Very limited big screen release in Fall 06.
With all the twelve step language in the blurb, I wonder how the good old Higher Power will come into this one? I hear it's pretty raw, and suspect Sherry's jail-cell religion is mostly something she drops like hot jewelry once she's out of The Big House. Still, as I'm wont to say, you never know. In any event, this business of living out your best intentions, following through on a change of heart, is always close to my heart - criminal that I am. (Me and T-Bone.)
"Three years after entering prison for robbery as a 19-year-old heroin addict, Sherry Swanson (Maggie Gyllenhaal) begins her first day of freedom, clean and sober. Concerns about Sherry's ability to care for her young daughter, and her inability to prove them wrong, threaten to destroy the already delicate relationship she has with her daughter, as well as her newfound sobriety." More here.

WORLD TRADE CENTER
Oliver Stone dials down on the politics, even weaves in some religion! Who'da thunkit? CT Movies writes... "Stone, known for his political rants both stark and subtle, tones down the politics significantly in this film, opting instead for a truly human story of selflessness and heroism. And, somewhat surprisingly, Stone is faithful to faith, so to speak, as he liberally sprinkles the movie with Christian content—especially in one subplot involving a Marine who believes God has called him to help in the search for survivors. All in all, it makes for an inspiring and important film, even as it hearkens back to a day we sometimes might wish we could forget. But it's a powerful reminder of the big event that plunged our world into chaos, terror alerts, heightened security—and now, cancelled flights and long lines at the aiport."

Friday, June 29, 2007

NOW PLAYING: Big Screens (June 29)

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

Updated June 29 2007

EVAN ALMIGHTY is the only thing in town with an explicit God angle, and judging by the generally blah response, that may be “Godawful” more than God-inspired. Okay, I exaggerate: several say it’s pleasant enough, and I’ll definitely check it out – I really liked BRUCE ALMIGHTY. But still, the same thing that made me never get around to actually seeing THE NATIVITY averts me from this one – the clear and present danger of extreme blandness. There’s a real danger that Mel Gibson’s idiosyncratic, edgy-as-hell limit-pushing PASSION has spawned a whole industry of corporate-designed, mushy, inoffensive religious movies designed for middle America (which is often mistaken for Christian America). How perverse. We finally seem to have a big screen equivalent of CCM. Damn.

Not necessarily name-checking the Almighty, but considerably more likely to contain nourishing levels of Soul Food, is the marvelous AFTER THE WEDDING, revived this week only at the (bargain priced) Hollywood Theatre. I loved this movie: without throwing junk, it changes up its pitches often enough to keep even the savviest movie-batter off balance. One of the best films I’ve seen this year. God bless the Danes!

John Woo’s THE KILLER is Sunday night only at the VanCity, part of this Asian fest they’re featuring. Might sound like a stretch re: spiritual sustenance, but there are those who insist otherwise: check out my COMING SOON entry for way more detail on that than you probably need.

And dang, I better get out to WAITRESS before it goes off shift. I’ve heard promising things. Maybe sort of a JUNEBUG appeal?

ONCE continues at the Fifth Avenue. Know what? I won’t be surprised if it’s still running there at the end of August, judging from word-of-mouth enthusiasm I keep overhearing. (But don’t let that breed complacency: a movie this small and un-slick, it could be gone next Thursday). I’m wary of setting up high expectations for this tiny, good-hearted movie, I really liked it. Irish street busker meets inquisitive young woman from Czech Republic. Not much more to it than that, but the music is swell, it's got a nice unslick "indie" vibe, and the two leads are most likeable. Date movie.

PARIS, JE T'AIME. Sophisticated fare at the Fifth, what they call a portmanteau film (that’s French for “suitcase,” dontcha know?). Set – appropriately enough – in Paris, an anthology of short films by a whole handbag full of arty directors, from Soul Food regulars Tom Tykwer and Alexander Payne to the Coen boys, Alfonso Cuaron, Gus Van Sant... Even Gerard Depardieu tries his hand. “Stories of Love. From the City of Love.” Arty date movie.

Apparently AWAY FROM HER continues at the Van East? Very substantial, mature film, definitely about aging, but even more a love story, I’d say, if a sad one, as a husband copes with the gradual loss of his wife as she succumbs to Alzheimer’s. I’ve not read the Alice Munro short story, but it sure feels like a pretty much perfect transition from page to screen. CanLit date movie?

EVENING opens this weekend: they’re marketing it so relentlessly as the chick flick to end all chick flicks, I’m expecting them to hand out specially designed Hallmark cards to the first fifty million women who line up for tickets. But we mustn’t judge a book by its cover blurbs, am I right? A marketing campaign does not a movie make – or unmake – and I find the line-up of actors irresistible; Meryl Streep, Toni Collette, Claire Danes, Vaness Redgrave, Natasha Richardson, and Glenn Close. Holy smokes! Think all five best actress nominations might go to one film? If you see it, tell me if it’s any good. Unless I beat you to it. Impress-your-wife date movie.

Surprisingly good crit response to KNOCKED UP: they’re saying there’s a surprising pro-family, trad-values vibe beneath its AMERICAN PIE crust, and that’s got me curious. Doubly so, as the previous outing from the creator (no, not the Creator) was a multi-viewing favourite of a spiritually acute playwright pal o mine – 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, can you believe? Nachos-and-beer date movie.

EAGLE VS SHARK wants too badly to be NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (with the little MISS SUNSHINE girl thrown in for good measure), but somehow we don’t end up liking the unlikeable misanthropic social misfit at the centre of this one the way we did end up liking the misanthropic social misfit at the centre of Nappy D. The female lead is quite lovely, if only she weren’t trying so hard to be quirky: in most scenes she screws up her face with just a little too much actor self-consciousness, and that’s indicative of her performance: when she leaves the quirk to the screenplay and just lives in the scene, she’s quite wonderful. Goth date movie.

MIGHTY HEART sounds surprisingly substantial for summer, the wife’s-eye-view of the abduction of American journo Daniel Pearl that apparently steers clear of Hollywood plastic and Yankee jingoism. (Not surprising, from adventurous, anything-but-slick UK director Michael Winterbottom: The Road to Guantanamo, A Cock and Bull Story, 9 Songs, Code 46, In This World). And ignore the fact that a celeb stars: if she can act (and apparently she can), who cares what tabloids obsess on her or who her boyfriend is? Probably not a date movie.

evan almighty notes

Steven Greydanus may have summed this one up most succinctly with "Harmless, diverting, very mildly uplifting." Doesn't make me want to run out and see it. At a bit more length...
Compared to Bruce Almighty, Shadyac’s pop spirituality comes off a bit better in Evan, I guess. Certainly there’s nothing here as problematic as the earlier film’s “Be the miracle” pap, in which God suggested that people need to stop “looking up” and look to themselves instead. / Where Bruce intriguingly turned on Bruce surrendering to God’s will and coming to a real understanding of selfless love, Evan addresses obedience to God’s calling whatever the consequences, even if your family is against you, while at the same time emphasizing family solidarity with a too-familiar tale of a workaholic dad too and his long-suffering family.
His full review is here.

Carolyn Arends was much nicer - but then, she's a much nicer person. (Don't take it personally, Steven: she's a much nicer person than any of us.) CT Movies

She's not alone: the esteemed Jonathan Rosenbaum was at least this positive: "Idiotic, but it's so good-natured I didn't mind."

David Plotz at Slate was less charitable.
All that is compelling, moving, and profound about the Noah story has been systematically excised. In the Bible, God chooses Noah to survive because Noah is a righteous man. But Evan is faithless and stupid, and comes to believe in God only because God hammers him over the head with about 137 miracles. Any moron will believe when an omnipotent divine being appears in the back seat of his car and starts sending him pairs of lions and giraffes. The lesson of the Bible is that faith is hard, and unrewarding, and painful. Faith is belief when there are no giraffes.
... Evan Almighty also strips away anything Christian (or Jewish) about the story and replaces it with a message of universal hokum. God's entire instruction to his flock? Practice "acts of random kindness." (Look at the initial letters of that phrase.) That's not religion or even morality. It's a coffee mug slogan. The proof of Evan's redemption is that he starts to like dogs.
I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but Evan Almighty makes me miss The Passion. It was a sadistic, horrifying movie, about a bloody and terrifying book. But Mel Gibson captured the sense of the story, the ideas of suffering and sacrifice that undergird Christianity. Evan Almighty is evidence that Hollywood wants the trappings of faith in movies, but without the substance.


Thanks, PTC, for tracking down that last one. Ouch. I can't find Peter's own review, but here's a pithy comment from the A&F thread; "I actually thought about adding a line to my review to the effect that if there's anything really objectionable about Evan Almighty, it's that it makes such a bland, inoffensive and unchallenging movie about faith. I eventually decided, though, that it was better just to note the bland harmlessness of the film and let readers draw their own conclusions about whether this amounted to damning or faint praise."

once notes

Dublin-set sort-of romance between a street musician and a young immigrant from Eastern Europe. Glen Hansard, lead singer of The Frames ("Lay Me Down" is a favourite tune of mine), plays the guy, Marketa Irglova plays the girl, and they wrote and perform all the tunes in the show. But don't go (or stay away) expecting CATS: The Village Voice writes "Hansard sings like Cat Stevens performing Damien Rice's songs for a Coldplay crowd as James Blunt forlornly looks on wishing that were him at the mike."Here's Stephanie Zacharek at Salon; "Although there's plenty of music, and plenty of joy, in "Once," it's ultimately a quiet, wistful picture: In its tone and mood, in the way it shows us young lovers wandering through a city and making it part of their story, it reminds me very much of Richard Linklater's quiet masterpiece "Before Sunrise." "Once" has a rare and buoyant generosity of spirit: The guy's elderly dad (played, wonderfully, by Bill Hodnett) doesn't look like much of a pop-music fan, but when his son plays him a tape of his music, he beams with pride, assuring his son how great it sounds."Check out Kenneth Turan's review for the Los Angeles Times. Date movie?

COMING SOON: Big Screens (June 29)

Soul Food(ish) and – this time in particular – other notable films on their way (sooner or later) to your local cine 'matheque or 'plex
Slightly updated Aug 15 2007

Jul 1,7: THE KILLER (VanCity Theatre)
JUL 5-7: LA STRADA (Cinematheque)
Jul 11-13: TOKYO STORY (Cinematheque)
Jul 19,23,25: BEAUTY & THE BEAST (Cinematheque)
Aug 3-9: KILLER OF SHEEP (VanCity Theatre)
Aug 3: THE TEN (limited release)
Aug 24: SEPTEMBER DAWN (limited release)
Sep 28: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Fall: The new "Final Cut" of BLADE RUNNER

Also on the lookout for: DARATT (DRY SEASON), SILENT LIGHT, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Coen Brothers), CAMDEN 28, THE DARJEELING LIMITED (Wes Anderson)

*

DETAILS AND LINKS

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE
Okay, nothing particularly Christian in this one, unless you count the spirit of saints John, Paul, George and Ringo. But I’m exceedingly excited. Directed by auteur Julie Taymor, whose definitive TITUS is bold and eccentric as Shakespeare’s text – FRIDA and the stage musical of THE LION KING are also The Real Deal. It’s a sixties story, it’s saturated with Beatle covers, and... I’m thinking somebody’s as much of a Beatles devotee as Yours Truly. Check out this cast list; Jude, Martha, Lucy, Max, Sadie, JoJo, Prudence, Mr Kite, Dr Robert (played by Bono!), Desmond and Molly, Bill, Julia, Lil, and even a nurse – wonder if she’s pretty? But Daniel, and Emily? Can’t place those two, unless Elton John and The Zombies are also invited to the party... Check out the trailer - especially around the two minute mark, when “Hey Jude” gears up.
This from a woman who saw an early test screening;
...Taymor's vision as a director seems to borrow from everything. ... There is what looks like Jan Svankmajer in a stunning industrial dance scene in a draft board as civilians are turned into soldiers. Another scene has giant puppet pageantry straight out of Peter Schumman's Bread and Puppet Theater and Resurrection Circus. One scene is a dreamlike vision done entirely in the psychedelic solarised colors of Richard Avedon's Beatle portraits. Her set designs are at times so clever and colorful, you laugh at the unrestrained joy and daring.
She begins with a glorious reinvention of the fifties musical, and careens into pure psychedelic delirium. The cinematography is rich and varied to the purpose of each scene, and dance sequences explode into place. The film moves from the innocence of small town upper-middle class America, to the nascent hippy scene in the village, to a sort of hallucinatory Garden of Eden (with too much but amusing Bono as a Ken Kesey Merry Prankster guru type). It moves to romance, and onto the dangers and volatility of the anti war 60's. All this is rendered through a constant flow Beatles songs delivered amidst magnificent set designs and video composites.... A ballad version of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" movingly reinvents the song. ... At times songs and sounds collide like the Beatles in "Number Nine". The collision of a war protest at Columbia University with Helter Skelter over Dear Prudence is brilliant. Taymor has edginess that matches the sixties zeitgeist, and avoids the vacuous cotton candy fluff of Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge".
There was a dust up this spring between Taymor and her exec about edits to the film: I why would you hire Julie Taymor and then hope for a conventional film? Still, whatever version ends up onscreen, I know where I’m going to be on September 28...

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (La belle et la bête)
France 1946. Director: Jean Cocteau
Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST might seem strange choice as a “soul food” movie, though no one would question its place on a list of film masterpieces. But here's what Ronald Austin wrote in IMAGE Journal #20, which was all about film and spirituality;
"Jean Cocteau, one of the earliest of the film poets, upon returning to his faith late in life, remarked in a letter to philosopher Jacques Maritain that 'what comes from God is always shocking, and what shocks my contemporaries is the idea of order.' When Cocteau wrote those lines, over fifty years ago, he was obviously not referring to the stale order of academic convention or conformity. The academy of today, in fact, proclaims a rule of fundemental disorder, the vanishing of the foundational. This perception of Cocteau, a rogue modernist, suggests something on the horizon. The order to which he refers is the wondrous design we hear in Bach and Mozart, the 'inscape' of Hopkins, and the intuition of deep structure that has inspired the leap into mysticism of may contemporary physicists." Ronald Austin, IMAGE 20, pg 4

“Perhaps the most sensuously elegant of all filmed fairy tales” (Pauline Kael), La belle et la bête is the great Jean Cocteau's most popular film, and one of the masterpieces of fantastic cinema. Sumptuous, surreal, and thoroughly enchanting, this poetic retelling of Madame Leprince de Beaumont's famed 18th-century story stars Jean Marais, in extraordinary cat-like make-up, as the gruesome, castle-dwelling Beast. Josette Day is delicate Beauty, whose love transforms monster into man. (“Give me back my Beast!” Greta Garbo famously exclaimed over the hero's ultimate morph into prosaically handsome Prince; Cocteau said his aim was “to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.'”) The film displays Cocteau's celebrated talent for rendering a “realism of the unreal,” and features a virtuoso visual style modelled on classic Dutch painting, the work of Vermeer in particular. The black-and-white cinematography by veteran Henri Alekan (Wings of Desire) is stunning; the art direction by Christian Bérard, who also designed the costumes, is pure magic. Unforgettable. “Cocteau's fairytale set standards in fantasy that few other filmmakers have reached” (Tom Milne, Time Out). “ B&W, 35mm, in French with English subtitles. 96 mins.
Thursday, July 19 – 9:35 pm
Monday, July 23 – 7:30 pm
Wednesday, July 25 – 9:35
Available at Videomatica

BLADE RUNNER
There’s been lots of hoohaw over the years about the various edits of this film. Ignoring the detail, let it be said there’s much excitement among its fans of a special limited release big screen run of the new “Final Cut” of this eighties sci fi landmark, which is loaded with God Stuff. I personally don’t find the religious stuff compelling in this one, but many do, and what I do love is the kinetic cyber-punk-meets-Raymond-Chandler milieu – great looking, great energy. Check out The sacred and the profane: Examining the religious subtext of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner by Sharon L. Gravett of Gonzaga U.

DARATT
Doug Cummings: "Ron, you simply have to see DARATT (DRY SEASON) if it comes your way. Think of it as a Chadian LE FILS ...
The one film I saw at the Los Angeles Film Festival
this week I would unequivocally recommend to everyone here is a film
from Chad called "Daratt" ("Dry Season"). It won the Jury Prize at
Venice last year, and it's part of the excellent New Crowned Hope
series commissioned for Mozart's 250th anniversary. Building off the
theme of vengeance and forgiveness in the composer's "La clemenza di
Tito," the film is set immediately after the civil war when official
amnesty was declared...taking the law into his own hands, an elderly
man who lost his son in the war asks his grandson to avenge his death,
and the determined teenager travels to a nearby village to assassinate
the murderer. As the boy is devising his plan, the murderer--now a 60
year old baker--offers him a job.
I don't want to say more, because this is a highly nuanced story that
focuses on this strangely volatile, yet potentially positive
relationship, and its myriad details and tensions in a way that is
highly reminiscent (and I say that complimentary-wise) of the
Dardenne's "The Son." The filmmaker, Mahamat Saleh Haroun, has said he
was inspired by Mozart's violin concertos to make a make a film that
evoked their minimalist power, resulting in a film with strong visual
rhythms, a highly observant camera, and terrifically underplayed,
simmering performances. I loved it."
IMDb


THE KILLER
July 1, 9:30; July 7, 7:30
HONG KONG 1989 // Director: John Woo
What would a series on Hong Kong filmmaking be without John Woo? The Killer is perhaps his most demented, over-the-top, action packed epic, with, of course, Chow Yun-Fat as a contract killer who accidentally blinds a nightclub singer, then takes one last job to pay for her cornea transplant. Much mayhem ensues.
And what, you may be asking, what is this movie doing in a soul food blog? Good question. I’m glad you asked. (There are no stupid questions. Only stupid people.)
At least one John Woo fan (and make no mistake, his fans are fans) figures there’s more to JW than meets the eye: Michael Bliss is sure enough about that to have made a book out of his idea: “Between The Bullets: The Spiritual Cinema of John Woo” (Filmmakers series, No. 92, Scarecrow Press). Jacket blurb: “John Woo is widely regarded as a master action director, but sacant attention has been paid to the manner in which Woo’s films reflect the directo’s religious and ethical concerns. BTB examines representative films from the director’s Hong Kong and American periods and proposes that Woo be regarded as a predominantly religious director whose action films explore the nature and quality of spirituality.” Sound like a stretch? Some jottings...
Based on Jean-Pierre Melville’s LE SAMOURAI... Disdain for materialism and ethical corruption... Sacrifice leads to regeneration... Woo does not distinguish between secular and religious regeneration. Like (Flannery) O’Connor, Woo uses the material world to convey his spiritual and religious themes... For Woo, the hero’s quest is the search for a region in which integrity, trust and friendship can flourish... Male relationships must be tempered with female elements if male violence is to be productive... Churches, literal and figurative, sit at the films’ moral center... churches often struggling to survive... One major difference between Woo’s film and Melville’s is that Woo allows for the possibility that people can change, and that with change can come redemption... For the central character, the church is not a place of religious salvation but of secular respite from the anxieties of his profession. He’s there at the film’s beginning when Sydney arrives with details of JOhn’s latest assignment; and John returns to the church for what becomes the film’s final shootout. Indeed, the shape of THE KILLER’s plot makes it plain that the return to the church (both in terms of a physical return and a coming back to its potential for spiritual change) is virtually inevitable... In THE KILLER’s opening shot, Sydnye enters the church in slow motion. After sitting down and looking around, Sydney asks John if he believes in what the church stands for. John replies, “No, but I like the peacefulness here.” The remark veers away from religion, something that John nonetheless believes in if we are to judge from the horrified look on his face in a later scerne when one of Weng’s gunmen blows up a statue of the Virgin Mary... Innocence is a figurative blindness that people who live in a dangerous world cannot afford... A choice between two realms must be made... (WARNING: SPOILERS FROM HERE ON) Woo suggests that having lived so long among the damned, John has himself become damned and that – in the only example of such a trope in any Woo film – he has become a person who is incapable of redeeming not only himself but someone else... “Easy to pick up, hard to put down”... Woo’s films don’t flinch from showing us the depths to which individuals, even well-intentioned ones such as Sydney, can fall; if they didn’t, the films would not also be able to plausibly represent the heights to which great actions of sacrifice, courage and forgiveness can take us... At the final shootout, the film’s manifold meanings converge. Johnny Weng, his hitman and a gang of thugs storm the church in which John, Jenny and Li are holed up. People and objects associated with religious devotion are destroyed... The values that the church represents are under siege as a result of the actions of the men who are assaulting the physical church. Woo implies that what is needed is a rebuilding of the church symbolic, a necessary response to the constant onslaughts that the kingdom of heaven suffers at the hands of the violent, who attempt to bear it away... For Woo, sacrifice alone is sometimes not enough. One must often do more than merely hazard one’s life for a friend or lover; one must also remain true to one’s world... Yet we can regard THE KILLER’s ending as less despairing than it might at first appear if we focus not on John’s death but on his attempt to rise to the demands of the church within himself, which symbolizes the best values to which humans aspire: love, faith, trust, friendship. At its end, THE KILLER suggests that evil can be vanquished, duplicitous associates can redeem themselves, and assassins and policemen can help each other find some form of redemption – that is, if people keep their eyes on the ethical path and divert their gaze from the dragon and vengeance and betrayal who sits idly by, waiting, and hoping, for them to fail.


KILLER OF SHEEP
Aug 3-9, VanCity Theatre
No particular God element in this one to my knowledge, but surely a notable film event. Here’s the VanCity blurb;
For many the film event of 2007 is the restoration and release of Charles Burnett’s legendary debut feature, a brilliant, impressionistic look at the daily life of an average man. “Made while Burnett was a 33-year-old grad student at UCLA, Killer of Sheep is a study of social paralysis in South Central Los Angeles a dozen years after the Watts insurrection. The subject matter harks back to the heyday of Italian neorealism but Burnett uses the film language of experimental documentaries like In the Street, Blood of the Beasts, and Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising....Sui generis, Killer of Sheep is an urban pastoral—an episodic series of scenes that are sweet, sardonic, deeply sad, and very funny. It’s a movie of enigmatic antics, odd juxtapositions, disorienting close-ups, and visual gags...[with] an improvised feel and a studied look—as if Burnett decided on his often unconventional camera angles and then set his mainly nonprofessional actors loose. Songs of innocence and experience collide...In retrospect, it can be seen that the two great independent features of the late ‘70s were Killer of Sheep and Eraserhead. As fresh and observational as it was 30 years ago, Killer of Sheep seems even more universal now.”—J. Hoberman, Village Voice


SEPTEMBER DAWN
PTC reports that The Hollywood Reporter says Jon Voight and Lolita Davidovich are currently shooting a film called September Dawn in Alberta: "a love story set against the 19th century massacre of a wagon train of settlers in Utah at the hands of a renegade Mormon group. Voight plays the leader of the renegade Mormon faction, while Davidovich is a member of the wagon train who stands up to Voight's threats." UPDATE: A comment posted to another thread indicates that the film opens August 24, 2007, and adds "Check out www.septemberdawn.net for more details and the clips at YouTube.com."

LA STRADA
Italy 1954. Director: Federico Fellini
Fellini's international breakthrough, and his first unquestioned masterpiece, came with La Strada , a film which won a Silver Lion at Venice and the first of the director's four Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film. Giulietta Masina gives one of cinema's most memorable performances as Gelsomina, a simple-minded peasant girl who is sold to a brutal circus strongman (played by Anthony Quinn) for a plate of pasta. Richard Basehart (of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fame) co-stars as the Fool, a gentle tightrope-walker who befriends the beleaguered heroine. Although ostensibly neorealist in form, La Strada 's highly allegorical, profoundly spiritual quality marked a departure from the strict tenets of neorealism, and drew angry attacks from critics on the Left. The Catholic press, for its part, hailed the work as a genuinely Christian parable of suffering and redemption. “Rarely has a film expressed so completely its director's sense of the wonder, fantasy, surprise, and mystery in the simple lyrical moments of life” (Peter Bondanella). “For all its sentimentality, this overshadows virtually everything Fellini has made since La Dolce Vita ” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out ). B&W, 35mm, in Italian with English subtitles. 107 mins.
Thursday, July 5 – 9:20 pm
Friday, July 6 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, July 7 – 9:20 pm
Available at Videomatica

THE TEN
(Limited release Aug 3)
An episodic comedy, ten short pieces each riffing on one of the commandments. Not exactly Kieslowski or deMille, but it could be funny: tagline, “If He'd meant the commandments literally, He'd have written them in stone.” Cute. (The trailer features way too many body part gags – is this for grade eights or grown-ups? - but I still reckon I’ll give it a try.)

TOKYO STORY (Tokyo monogatari)
Japan 1953. Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Selected to all three editions of the A&F 100 list of Spiritually Significant Films, the quintessential work of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, one of the three central subjects of Paul Schrader's seminal book "Transcendental Style In Film."
“One of the manifest miracles of the cinema” (Penelope Gilliatt, The New Yorker), Tokyo Story is generally acknowledged to be Ozu's supreme masterpiece, and widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. (It polled in the top five in the 1992 and 2002 instalments of Sight and Sound's once-a-decade survey of international critics; a 2005 piece by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian cited a mounting body of opinion naming Tokyo Story as, indeed, the best film of all time, “beating Charles Foster Kane and his sled.”) A sad, simple, economical tale of generational conflict, told in the consummate Ozu style, the film concerns an aging couple who journey to Tokyo to visit their married son and daughter, only to find that their presence seems to be an imposition on their rather insensitive and apparently too-busy offspring. Tokyo Story offers a perfect example of the quality of mono no aware — a sad but serene resignation to life as it is — that informs Ozu's work. “Ozu's vision ... is emotionally overwhelming, and arguably profound for any engaged viewer; it is also formally unmatched in Western popular cinema” (Tony Rayns). “A picture so Japanese and at the same time so personal, and hence so universal in its appeal, that it becomes a masterpiece” (Donald Richie). B&W, 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. 135 mins.
Wednesday, July 11 – 7:00 pm
Thursday, July 12 – 9:35 pm
Friday, July 13 – 7:00 pm
Available at Videomatica

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Andrei Tarkovsky's Top Ten Movies

Andrei Tarkovsky's Top 10 Films
1. Diary of a Country Priest (Dir: Robert Bresson)
2. Winter Light (Dir: Ingmar Bergman)
3. Nazarin (Dir: Luis Buñuel)
4. Wild Strawberries (Dir: Ingmar Bergman)
5. City Lights (Dir: Charlie Chaplin)
6. Ugetsu Monogatari (Dir: Kenji Mizoguchi)
7. Seven Samurai (Dir: Akira Kurosawa)
8. Persona (Dir: Ingmar Bergman)
9. Mouchette (Dir: Robert Bresson)
10. Woman Of The Dunes (Dir: Teshigahara)

Andrei Tarkovsky's Top 10 appeared in Sight and Sound, March 1993, Volume 3, Issue 3 and is listed at www.nostalghia.com, the finest online resource for Tarkovsky. There's a nice introduction to Tarkovsky's films at moviemail

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

BRUCE ALMIGHTY


BRUCE ALMIGHTY (2003, USA, Tom Shadyac)
BRUCE: How do you make someone love you without changing free will?
GOD: Welcome to my world, son. You come up with an answer to that one, you let me know.


Believe it or not, this sometimes-amusing, sometimes-trying-too-hard-to-be-ingratiating little flick got me thinking about the problem of evil. How actions have consequences. How maybe sometimes even God couldn't administer the medicine to salve our scrapes without all kinds of unwanted side-effects. Why doesn't he answer our every prayer, fix our every problem? Well, what if He did? Bigger problems. Either God makes us free – "free to be selfish," as C.S. Lewis puts it in SHADOWLANDS – and allows us to suffer the consequences of our own and everybody else's freedom and selfishness, or He seals us off from the discomfort, even the agonies, that follow our stupid choices – and then we're nothing but little God puppets. No, God chose to give us choice with all its consequences, and that means there's going to be pain in the world, even terrible suffering, because that comes along with our freedom to choose.

Okay, I'll admit, theodicy isn't the main theme here (though I suppose prayer just might be). But it's in there, along with a whole lot of other unexpected insights. It's that kind of movie. You can watch it for the broad Jim Carrey humour, the jokes about girls' breasts and dogs peeing and people farting – big draw for me, I gotta tell ya, though some of that dog stuff did get me laughing. (They warn you that "some material may be inappropriate for children under thirteen," but I'm thinking that stuff's only appropriate for children under thirteen.) Or you can watch it for some pretty fun situational comedy, or for a romance story that's actually got something to say about love – not earth-shattering, but worth saying.

Or you can keep one eye on this more-than-meets-the-eye movie's theological preoccupations and wind up with some great conversation fodder. (Want a clip to kick off the chat? Jump in at Chapter 15, where the Stanley Cup riots break out, or even further in, at 1:16:25 or so, let it roll right through Bruce's "long talk with God" and you've got yourself a discussion. To keep the momentum going, throw in the "Answering Prayer" sequence at around 16:32 from the Deleted Scenes – good stuff there. Seems pretty clear it wasn't just the director who is a person of faith: somebody on the Steve Koren / Mark O'Keefe / Steve Oedekerk writing team obviously knows a thing or two about this "God business." The screenplay is not only clever, sometimes it's maybe even wise.

Sure, I had big qualms when it seemed God's final pep talk before ascending back to heaven was landing a little too close to the standard Gospel According Hollywood heresy of self-reliance: "That's your problem, Bruce – you keep looking up." Hmmm... But hold on to that image of Bruce mopping the floor alongside a janitor God and you'll get your money's worth. God may climb back into heaven and tell Bruce it's all up to him, but sometimes God only tells us the part of the truth we need to hear at the moment. It's not long before Morgan Freeman's version of the Almighty shows Himself no watchmaker deity after all: he's more than willing to listen in on the occasional bedtime prayer, and even to do something about it.

It's amazing the way this cute little film pays off - eventually. If you like Jim Carrey you're home free, but it took me a long time to get past the frenzied non-stop mugging – he's basically a self-impressed Jerry Lewis – and I was a pretty far in before I started warming up to the "So you want to play God?" scenario. In time, though, the hundreds of clever details and the surprising glimpses of truth won me over. How about the ongoing bit about the homeless guy with the signs? With a great double pay-off that's worth waiting for. And there's that burning billboard, that takes us remarkably close to George MacDonald territory: is it a Higher Power or a Lower one that might be willing to indulge our every whim, say yes to every prayer? See what I mean about this movie covering a lot of theological territory? Maybe the movie ends up saying its best stuff about vocation, or maybe just plain contentment. Stuff that's well worth saying in our ambitious, "I want it all" world.

And hey, who picked those songs! Tony Bennett in the fancy restaurant singing "If I Ruled The World," Bruce mangling Joan Osborne's "One Of Us," not to mention "God-Shaped Hole" and "Ready For A Miracle" and "You're A God" and "I'm With You"... Kudos to the soundtrack dudes. (And on the comedy front, I'll have to admit, even a Carrey-careful Scrooge like me got to laughing pretty good eventually. The movie's gets up a nice comic rhythm now and then – Steve Carell had me howling with his brilliantly bad debut as news anchor – and when it comes to Carrey, if you can forgive him his excesses, there's some nice work there, especially near the end when he – and Bruce – stop trying so darn hard.)

BRUCE ALMIGHTY provides a classic opportunity to flex your "Find the good in it" muscles. It's dead easy to point out the problems, fixate on the annoying stuff, and miss what's actually working. But if you invest the effort to get onside with the movie and see what it hactually has to offer, you might be surprised. Personally, I think BRUCE's stupidity is all on the surface. It's only superficially shallow: way down deep, it's actually pretty deep. No less a theologian than Robert K. Johnston, president of the American Theological Society, praises the film, calling it "Theology 101 – a class that everyone can enjoy." No, it's not the graduate level course, but he suggests it's not a bad Intro To The Sovereignty of God. Johnston points us to the controversial book The Openness Of God for the more advanced stuff. (1994, InterVarsity Press)

This movie works on a number of levels. Its dumb-funny. It's smart-funny. It's a pretty decent love story – Bruce's romantic epiphany is hard to fault. And it's got more theology per square gag than you'd ever have thought: some of it good, some of it so-so, but all of it grist for some pretty interesting conversation.

THE SORCEROR'S APPRENTICE, THE MAN WHO COULD WORK MIRACLES, DEAR GOD

Monday, June 25, 2007

July 19: Regent Filmmakers Show Their Shorts!

Regent College
Shorts Film Festival
Thu Jul 19 (exact time TBA: check website for update, or phone 224-3245)

Motel Depot
Directed by Murray Stiller; Starring Craig Erickson
9:14 min, Drama/Comedy

A Well Watered Garden
Produced and Directed by Elisa and Matthew Leahy
11:18 min, Documentary

The Hitchhiker
Directed by Jason Goode; Produced by John Sullivan and Jason Goode
Based on the play by Kathleen Parsons
Starring Aleks Paunovic and Gina Chiarelli
13 min, Comedy

Saturday, June 23, 2007

LE CONFESSIONNAL


LE CONFESSIONNAL (1995, Canada, Robert Lepage)
It's men who find it hard to forgive. God forgives everything, for God is all-merciful. Don't be afraid.

Robert Lepage is Canada's most celebrated and innovative stage director, and if this film doesn't have the breathtaking audacity of his theatre work, it is still a rich and sophisticated piece of work. When his father's death prompts Pierre to seek out his adopted brother Marc, the two of them strive to come to terms with events of their childhood that reverberate in the present – events that were interwoven with the filming of Alfred Hitchcock's I CONFESS in their city.

Lepage pays frequent homage to Hitchcock, brilliantly interweaving the two films and referencing films like VERTIGO and PSYCHO. He rarely resorts to mere cleverness, and when he does, he is very clever indeed. In one sequence, Hitchcock auditions French girls for the role of two school children who witness the murderer leaving the scene of the crime: the audition serves the contemporary story by developing character and interweaving past and present, but the sequence also gives a subtle nod to Hitchcock's cameo in the original film that almost seems to acknowledge his own "there but for the grace of God" culpability – "Was he fat or thin? Did you notice anything special about him? But you're absolutely sure he was a priest?" – before concluding in a double-take of a segue that links the city's cinematic past to its media present in the person of TV newscaster Renee Hudon.

The Lepage film is far edgier than its predecessor, and it is more interested in psychological and relational questions than in religious ones. Even so, themes of the holy confidentiality of the confessional, as well as the integrity and humanity of the priesthood, carry through from Hitchcock's film into this. Set in a secular, sexualized Quebec that contrasts sharply with the pervasive Catholic milieu of its predecessor, the contemporary film is about faith and vocation, but even more it is concerned with their loss.

This is a densely layered film, with a visual power and complexity that dazzles: his startling use of colour, endlessly inventive segues from scene to scene, past to present, and startling compositions add layer after layer of significance to an already powerful story of fallenness and reconciliation that's unsentimental to the point of bleakness, but ultimately neither cynical nor hopeless. There is an almost sacramental attention to the physical, sensual world: imagery of paint, blood and blindness invoke themes of guilt and innocence, truth and deception, concealment and reclamation, inheritance and sins of fathers. Complex visual references ironically link the confessional to gay saunas, strip clubs, elevators and Japanese hotels: the contrasts are sometimes cuttingly ironic, sometimes nearly tragic as they evoke what has been lost in Quebec culture, and in the lives of these two lost and fatherless young men.

Lepage's film lacks some of the transcendence implied by Hitchcock's, while the older film lacks the emotional power and complexity of the contemporary one. But what a great double feature! Taken together, they are both artistically stimulating and spiritually gratifying – true Soul Food.

MORTAL SINS, THE ROSARY MURDERS


Available at Videomatica

I CONFESS


I CONFESS (1953, USA)
Hasn't God forgiven me, thanks to you? The police never would.

Alfred Hitchcock was raised a Catholic, and if this isn't his best – or best-known – film, it's certainly his most explicitly spiritual. In the 1930s, Hitch saw a stage production of Paul Anthelme's turn of the century drama Nos deux consciences, and its story about an innocent priest accused of murder haunted him for years. This "transference of guilt" theme shows up in any number of his films: here, the Master Of Suspense tells the story with images that connect Father Logan with Christ, suffering for sins he didn't commit and refusing to answer his accusers. The ending Hitchcock intended to shoot underlined the symbolic connection with Jesus as sacrificial victim, but the one he actually shot is more satisfying at a human level.

It really is a compelling premise: the seal of the confessional forbids Logan from identifying the real murderer, a frightened parishioner who ends up turning suspicion in the priest's direction. I'm not convinced this film does all it could with the material: though French critics and Canadian movie buffs make much of the flick, I'm not sure it's more than a workmanlike rendering of a potentially powerful examination of conscience and moral paradox, rendered a bit flat by Monty Clift's limited range in the central role. Still, it has its strengths, and makes a doozy of a double feature with Robert Lepage's LE CONFESSIONNAL, which centres its events around the filming of Hitchcock's film in picturesque Quebec City.

MORTAL SINS, THE ROSARY MURDERS


Available at Videomatica

Janus in June/July: More vintage Soul Food at Cinematheque

Of the three Soul Food masterpieces on offer to date in Pacific Cinematheque's Janus Films retrospective, I only managed to catch DAY OF WRATH, but it was well worth it. I'll have to catch up with the Bergmans on the smaller screen: fortunately both of the Bergmans (WILD STRAWBERRIES and SEVENTH SEAL are available in pristine Criterion versions at Videomatica (where else!). Oh, and by the way, Videomatica's special summer deal has kicked in again, I believe it runs through to late July: I think you pay forty bucks, which allows you to rent up to twenty films during a twenty day period? Something like that. So if you're down for some serious movie watching, that's an amazing deal! Their rentals normally range from $3.99 to $6.99 a movie, so if you see five to ten movies in your allotted three weeks, you're ahead of the game: rent all twenty, that's two bucks a pop! I did it last summer, and saw a remarkable number of lasting favourites (THE BIG COUNTRY and some of those amazing Jacques Tourneur titles come immediately to mind).

Well, 50 Years Of Janus Films: Essentials Of World Cinema continues at Cinematheque through to the end of July, and again the menu includes a some tempting gourmet offerings for the soul. RASHOMON is featured on the 2005 A&F 1000 list of Spiritually Significant films, and TOKYO STORY has been selected for all three of the A&F lists: the quintessential work of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, one of the three central subjects of Paul Schrader's seminal book "Transcendental Style In Film." Fellini's LA STRADA has been celebrated for many years as one of the great spiritual fables of cinema, and while Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST might seem a strange choice for a list of spiritual films (though no one would question its place on a list of film masterpieces), here's what Ronald Austin wrote in IMAGE Journal #20, which was all about film and spirituality;
"Jean Cocteau, one of the earliest of the film poets, upon returning to his faith late in life, remarked in a letter to philosopher Jacques Maritain that 'what comes from God is always shocking, and what shocks my contemporaries is the idea of order.' When Cocteau wrote those lines, over fifty years ago, he was obviously not referring to the stale order of academic convention or conformity. The academy of today, in fact, proclaims a rule of fundemental disorder, the vanishing of the foundational. This perception of Cocteau, a rogue modernist, suggests something on the horizon. The order to which he refers is the wondrous design we hear in Bach and Mozart, the 'inscape' of Hopkins, and the intuition of deep structure that has inspired the leap into mysticism of may contemporary physicists." Ronald Austin, IMAGE 20, pg 4


RASHOMON
Japan 1950. Director: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyo, Masayuki Mori, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki
Kurosawa's hugely influential modernist masterpiece was the film that introduced the Japanese cinema to the West; it now stands as a cultural touchstone, with a title that has entered the international lexicon as a synonym for the subjectivity or multiplicity of truth. In medieval Japan, four witnesses to a rape and murder give mutually contradictory accounts of the incident. Expertly paced and superbly acted, the film features magnificent cinematography by Kazuo Miyagawa, the master of camera tracking who also shot Mizoguchi's sublime Ugetsu. Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura head the fine cast. Rashomon was a surprise winner of the Golden Lion at Venice in 1951. Japanese officials had been reluctant to enter the film, fearing it would be misunderstood by foreigners; Kurosawa himself thought that a film reflecting contemporary life might better serve as an introduction to his country's cinema. Rashomon went on to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and spawned Broadway, Hollywood, and American TV remakes; Alain Resnais would cite it as the inspiration for his Last Year at Marienbad. “One of the most brilliantly constructed films of all time ... A hallmark of film history” (James Monaco). B&W, 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. 90 mins.
Saturday, June 23
Monday, June 25
Available at Videomatica

LA STRADA
Italy 1954. Director: Federico Fellini
Cast: Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani
Fellini's international breakthrough, and his first unquestioned masterpiece, came with La Strada , a film which won a Silver Lion at Venice and the first of the director's four Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film. Giulietta Masina gives one of cinema's most memorable performances as Gelsomina, a simple-minded peasant girl who is sold to a brutal circus strongman (played by Anthony Quinn) for a plate of pasta. Richard Basehart (of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fame) co-stars as the Fool, a gentle tightrope-walker who befriends the beleaguered heroine. Although ostensibly neorealist in form, La Strada 's highly allegorical, profoundly spiritual quality marked a departure from the strict tenets of neorealism, and drew angry attacks from critics on the Left. The Catholic press, for its part, hailed the work as a genuinely Christian parable of suffering and redemption. “Rarely has a film expressed so completely its director's sense of the wonder, fantasy, surprise, and mystery in the simple lyrical moments of life” (Peter Bondanella). “For all its sentimentality, this overshadows virtually everything Fellini has made since La Dolce Vita ” (Geoff Andrew, Time Out ). B&W, 35mm, in Italian with English subtitles. 107 mins.
Thursday, July 5 – 9:20 pm
Friday, July 6 – 7:30 pm
Saturday, July 7 – 9:20 pm
Available at Videomatica

TOKYO STORY (Tokyo monogatari)
Japan 1953. Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, So Yamamura, Haruko Sugimura
“One of the manifest miracles of the cinema” (Penelope Gilliatt, The New Yorker), Tokyo Story is generally acknowledged to be Ozu's supreme masterpiece, and widely considered one of the greatest films ever made. (It polled in the top five in the 1992 and 2002 instalments of Sight and Sound's once-a-decade survey of international critics; a 2005 piece by Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian cited a mounting body of opinion naming Tokyo Story as, indeed, the best film of all time, “beating Charles Foster Kane and his sled.”) A sad, simple, economical tale of generational conflict, told in the consummate Ozu style, the film concerns an aging couple who journey to Tokyo to visit their married son and daughter, only to find that their presence seems to be an imposition on their rather insensitive and apparently too-busy offspring. Tokyo Story offers a perfect example of the quality of mono no aware — a sad but serene resignation to life as it is — that informs Ozu's work. “Ozu's vision ... is emotionally overwhelming, and arguably profound for any engaged viewer; it is also formally unmatched in Western popular cinema” (Tony Rayns). “A picture so Japanese and at the same time so personal, and hence so universal in its appeal, that it becomes a masterpiece” (Donald Richie). B&W, 35mm, in Japanese with English subtitles. 135 mins.
Wednesday, July 11 – 7:00 pm
Thursday, July 12 – 9:35 pm
Friday, July 13 – 7:00 pm
Available at Videomatica

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (La belle et la bête)
France 1946. Director: Jean Cocteau
Cast: Jean Marais, Josette Day, Marcel André, Mila Parély, Michel Auclair, Nane Germon
“Perhaps the most sensuously elegant of all filmed fairy tales” (Pauline Kael), La belle et la bête is the great Jean Cocteau's most popular film, and one of the masterpieces of fantastic cinema. Sumptuous, surreal, and thoroughly enchanting, this poetic retelling of Madame Leprince de Beaumont's famed 18th-century story stars Jean Marais, in extraordinary cat-like make-up, as the gruesome, castle-dwelling Beast. Josette Day is delicate Beauty, whose love transforms monster into man. (“Give me back my Beast!” Greta Garbo famously exclaimed over the hero's ultimate morph into prosaically handsome Prince; Cocteau said his aim was “to make the Beast so human, so sympathetic, so superior to men, that his transformation into Prince Charming would come as a terrible blow to Beauty, condemning her to a humdrum marriage and a future that I summed up in that last sentence of all fairy tales: ‘And they had many children.'”) The film displays Cocteau's celebrated talent for rendering a “realism of the unreal,” and features a virtuoso visual style modelled on classic Dutch painting, the work of Vermeer in particular. The black-and-white cinematography by veteran Henri Alekan (Wings of Desire) is stunning; the art direction by Christian Bérard, who also designed the costumes, is pure magic. Unforgettable. “Cocteau's fairytale set standards in fantasy that few other filmmakers have reached” (Tom Milne, Time Out). “ B&W, 35mm, in French with English subtitles. 96 mins.
Thursday, July 19
Monday, July 23
Wednesday, July 25
Available at Videomatica

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

angel-a (two days only?)

Luc Besson's snazzy-looking B/W cross between WINGS OF DESIRE and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE almost slipped by me. It's showing at Tinseltown Wednesday (today, June 13) and Thursday at 12:15, 2:50, 5:05, 7:15 and 9:30. Eye candy that might also feed the soul?

It ran at Cinematheque back in December. Here's what they had to say about it...
Cinematheque: "A visually ravishing black-and-white valentine to Paris, shot mostly in shimmering, crack-of-dawn light, Angel-A marks the much-anticipated return to the director’s chair of French high-concept stylist Luc Besson, luminary of le cinema du look. (Besson, director of La Femme Nikita and The Fifth Element, has been startlingly prolific of late as a producer and a screenwriter, but hadn’t helmed a movie himself since 1999’s The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc).

Playing like a chic hybrid of It’s a Wonderful Life and Wings of Desire, Angel-A pairs up André (Jamel Debbouze), a little guy in debt up to his eyeballs, and Angela (Danish model Rie Rasmussen), a long, leggy blonde in the skimpiest of black dresses. These mismatched lovers meet when their respective suicide attempts bring them to the same picturesque Paris bridge on the same night. After André pulls Angela from the Seine, she resolves to be the guardian angel who will deliver him from his myriad difficulties. Besson’s film, true to form, is drowning in style; the exquisite images are by cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, a Besson regular since Nikita. (Arbogast also shot Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale, Ms. Rasmussen’s film debut). B&W, 35mm, in French and Spanish with English subtitles. 90 mins.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

buechner, bonsaver, bobby on la dolce vita

I'm going to watch LA DOLCE VITA later today, or tomorrow at the latest. A series of odd coincidences has led me to it.

I think the first radar blip was Friday, reading a terrific Sight & Sound article in the May Sight & Sound, Guido Bonsaver's You Must Be Joking, about Rossellini in general and FRANCIS, GOD'S JESTER in particular (a film which came to mind, by the way, when I watched ADAM'S APPLES. But I digress). Bonsaver surprised me with this perspective on VITA;
Fellini's La dolce vita (1960) should be seen as a film about the loss of innocence and values in those years of unexpected richness. It is ironic to think that for so many the film is thought to be about the beautiful life of 1950s Rome. Perhaps Fellini should have kept the discarded opening scene that showed the joyful swimming of a group of friends around their billion-Lira motorboats. It was a perfect picture of the hedonistic jet-set life until one of the guests on board dropped a cigarette into the water on to the pool of petrol spilling from a leaking tank. The scene was supposed to end with the horrifying screams of bathers burning alive but Fellini cut it and went for subtler tones. Yet the social critique and search for purity remained: hence Marcello and the girl in the final beautiful scene are unable to hear each other, unable to communicate. La dolce vita traces the end of any utopian idealism. And still, the urge remained.
It's strange to think of being surprised by anything one might read about a film one hasn't seen, but then, one can't help having an impression of certain films without having seen them, yes?

At any rate, that put me in mind of Frederic Buechner's piece "The Face In The Sky," which opens his anthology "The Hungering Dark;"
As the Italian film LA DOLCE VITA opens, a helicopter is flying slowly through the sky not very high above the ground. Hanging down from the helicopter in a kind of halter is the life-size statue of a man dressed in robes with his arms outstretched so that he looks almost as if he is flying by himself, especially when every once in a while the camera cuts out the helicopter and all you can see is the statue itself with the rope around it. It flies over a field where some men are working in tractors and cuases a good deal of excitement. They wave their hats and hop around and yell, and then one of them recognizes who it is a statue of and shouts in Italian, "Hey, it's Jesus!" whereupon some of them start running along under the plane, waving and calling to it. But the helicopter keeps on going, and after a while it reaches the outskirts of Rome, where it passes over a building on the roof of which there is a swimming pool surrounded by a number of girls in bikinis basking in the sun. Of course they look up too and start waving, and this time the helicopter does a double take as the young men flying it get a good look at the girls and come circling back again to hover over the pool where, above the roar of the engine, they try to get the girls' telephone numbers, explaining that they are taking the statue to the Vatican and will be only too happy to return as soon as their mission is accomplished.

During all of this the reaction of the audience in the little college town where I saw the film was of course to laugh at the incontruity of the whole thing. There was the sacred statue dangling from the sky, on the one hand, and the profane young Italians and the bosomy young bathing beauties, on the other hand - the one made of stone, so remote, so out of place there in the sky on the end of its rope; the others made of flesh, so bursting with life. Nobody in the audience was in any doubt as to which of the two came out ahead or at whose expense the laughter was. But then the helicopter continues on its way, and the great dome of St. Peter's looms up from below, and for the first time the camera starts to zoom in on the statue itself with its arms stretched out, until for a moment the screen is almost filled with just the bearded face of Christ - and at that moment there was no laughter at all in that teater full of students and their dates and paper cups full of buttery popcorn and La Dolce Vita college-style. Nobody laughed during that moment becuase there was something about that face, for a few seconds there on the screen, that made them be silent - the face hovering there in the sky and the outspread arms. For a moment, not very long to be sure, there was no sound, as if the face were their face somehow, their secret face that they had never seen before but that they knw belonged to them, or the face that they had never seen before but that they knew, if only for a moment, they belonged to.

I think that is much of what the Christian faith is. It is for a moment, just for a little while, seeng the face and being still; that is all.
Which put me in mind of another passage, I think in Rick Moody & Darcey Steinke's book "Testament" - but I don't see it at the moment, but I'll put it in here when I do - so I was thinking it's high time for me to finally taste "the sweet life," Fellini style. At least on a screen.

Then yesterday morning I'm putting together a summer playlist on my computer - summer hit a few days ago and we, the mole people of Vancouver, have emerged from our shelters, our blinking eyes regarding the blazing fire god in the sky and humming to ourselves, "Summertime, and the living is easy..." Or, "sweet," as the case may be. Coming up with a couple feel-good tunes that had been used in TWU's "Taming Of The Shrew," I also saw "La Dolce Vita Suite" and marveled that it should come along just when I had that movie on my mind, threw the tune on the list and gave it a couple listens.

Then last night I finally managed to fulfill the urge that hit me when the great weather hit and watch a personal favourite movie, a little gem, terrific performances, savvy screenplay with heart, lots of Dad-daughter stuff going on (and I'm a sucker for that), and the picture is gorgeous to look at, that pristine sixties SoCal bungalow with the light off the pool and all that pristine vinyl, Bobby Darrin's "The Good Life" (which is on my summer playlist), Frank's "Summer Wind" (also, of course), and... This slightly familiar, haunting theme. "La Dolce Vita." (It's not a big leap from "The Good Life" to "The Sweet Life," so I'm wondering if the soundtrack guy had something in mind there. Especially if Fellini is interrogating that life the way Bobby Darrin is...)

So anyhow, it seems like destiny. I'll let you know later how I like Italy.