Saturday, August 16, 2008

NOW PLAYING: Big & Small Screens

Ah, the dog days of summer, so called because it's the time when Hollywood unleashes nothing but dogs. But there are a few scraps in the big screen doggy dish, and plenty in the small screen pantry...

New on Vancouver screens is the latest revisitation of Evelyn Waugh's BRIDESHEAD REVISITED.  I've been wary of this one since reading a Daily Telegraph piece a good five years back, suggesting that Waugh's explicitly Christian intentions would likely be stripped by screenwriter Andrew Davies: "If God can be said to exist in my version, he would be the villain." Alas. Perhaps the Granada miniseries would have fewer of the Soul Food nutrients processed out? Videomatica's got it (of course).

SON OF RAMBOW revisits us at the Hollywood this week. Swell picture, though it's nearly as hard on the Plymouth Brethren as Davies' BRIDESHEAD is on the Catholics. Nevertheless it's a glorious portrait of boyhood friendship and the love of the movies, especially in the early going before it gets too plotty and a bit gimmicky. (It's also due on DVD Aug 26, but everything's always best on the big screen - especially at that time-capsule of an old movie house, The Hollywood).

Some other things worth seeing, but nothing I'm all that excited about, and nothing else with a particular Soul Food angle. So let's take a stroll over to the new release section at good old  Videomatica...

AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (1988, France, Louis Malle)
"The Holocaust is a huge event that can only really be related one small story at a time, whether that story is of tragedy or miraculous survival. "Au Revoir Les Enfants" takes place in a Catholic boys school in occupied France, where young student Julien befriends a Jewish boy being hidden at the school by the instructors. This was Louis Malle's first film made in France after a long sojourn in Hollywood and it's a very personal story based on his own wartime reminiscences." Videomatica

BELLA (2006, Mexico, Alejandro Monteverde)
"Jose works as a chef at his uptight brother's New York restaurant, but it wasn't always so: once, he was a soccer star until a piece of ill fortune changed his fate. When his brother fires a waitress, Jose follows her to see if she's all right. The two of them embark on a journey around the city, revealing their past to one another and altering the way they see their futures. People's Choice Award, Toronto International Film Festival." Videomatica

IN BRUGES (2008, UK, Martin McDonagh)
"After botching a job in London, up-and-coming hitman Colin Farrell and old pro Brendan Gleeson are sent to the Belgian town of Bruges to await further instructions. Brendan loves the town - its canals, its medieval architecture, its Flemish art - but Colin can't wait to get back to London. "If I grew up on a farm, and was retarded, Bruges might impress me but I didn't, so it doesn't." Colin's budding romance with a local Belgian girl isn't helped by his habit of punching people at classy restaurants, so he opts for a little relaxation with a coke-snorting dwarf. It's not long before the boss (Ralph Fiennes in full dirtbag gangster mode) pays them a visit... the kind of visit where you bring a gun. "In Bruges" is the feature directing debut of playwright Martin McDonagh." Videomatica

"Bruce Greenwood and Rebecca DeMornay star in this HBO series as Mitch and Cissy Yost, owners of a SoCal surf shop whose dysfunctional extended family is turned upside down by the arrival of John, a young man who appears to be mentally disabled... and who also manifests unusual paranormal abilities. Levitations and visions make the Yosts wonder if they've been smoking too much Californian weed; meanwhile, seemingly unrelated people and events seem to draw together into a web of interconnectedness." Videomatica

THE LAST SUPPER ("La Ultima Cena" 1976, Cuba, Tomas Gutierrez Alea)
"A slave owner named Don Manuel (Nelson Villagra) selects twelve of his lucky slaves to serve as apostles in his re-enactment of the Last Supper in which he, quite naturally, plays the role of Christ. Don Manuel is a clueless blowhard who envisions himself as a liberal thinker and is jealous of his slaves supposed "freedom to serve". At first, the awkward situation plays as pure absurdism. The drunker the master gets, the more outlandish his religious rantings become, but once Don Manuel becomes wasted, serious tension rears its ugly head. An audacious undertaking by one of Cuba´s greatest directors (best known for the 1968 film "Memories of Underdevelopment"), and based loosely on a real event from the 18th-century which existed only as a single paragraph in single history book." Videomatica

THE MAN WHO PLANTED TREES (1987, Canada, Frederic Back)
"A lonely shepherd resolves to transform his arid, barren surroundings and works tirelessly to that end for years in this thirty-minute animated film from Frederic Back. The shepherd works for decades, through two world wars, sowing seeds and tending his field, until his patch of land becomes a beautiful verdant oasis with thousands of trees. This tale of renewal is adapted from the short story by Jean Giono and narrated by Christopher Plummer." Videomatica

THE NIGHT OF THE SHOOTING STARS (1982, Italy, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani)
Special Edition disk recently released "In Tuscany, August 10th is known as 'The Night of the Shooting Stars', a night when wishes come true. Watching the shooting stars with her young son, a woman recalls another August night in 1944 when she was only six years old. With her town occupied by Nazi and Fascist forces, the young girl took a chance and joined a brave group of villagers who dared to venture away from the "safe haven" of San Martino's Cathedral and try to make a difference. On this night when anything can happen, a young Italian girl learned that following her heart could save her life. VIFF selection." Videomatica

ONE PUNK UNDER GOD (2006, USA, Jeremy Simmons)
"Jay Bakker, the son of the infamous televangelists Jim Bakker and Tammy Faye, is a punk. He grew up in his parent's huge church, only to abandon it after his faith was shaken by his father's scandal. Now in his late twenties, he's started his own church, an "alternative" youth ministry that meets in bars and night-clubs, and a six part Sundance Channel reality TV series documents it. It's disarming to watch a religious leader wrestle so nakedly with his ambivalence over what path to follow, as Jay is simultaneously a shepherd to his oddball flock, and a lost little boy seeking his conservative father's love and approval." Videomatica

"Dramatizing a year in the life of northern Italian peasants at the turn of the century, Ermanno Olmi's THE TREE OF WOODEN CLOGS pays loving tribute to both the neo-realist style of filmmaking and a rural way of life that no longer exists. Hoping to create a better life for themselves, a poor family decide to send their young son to school despite the crushing sacrifice involved. When the boy's wooden clogs break on the long journey home, the seemingly minor incident sets into motion a series of tragedies that reverberate throughout the peasants' lives. Olmi's slice-of-life film--which he wrote, directed, shot, and edited--uses this central story as a launchpad to document, in moving detail, rural life under oppressive poverty. As the camera lingers patiently over women handwashing laundry on the banks of a river or farmers preparing a pig for slaughter, the quasi-documentary images transform these mundane tasks of peasant life into an almost sacramental epic of grace and beauty." Criterion
"As a movement, Italian neorealism was pretty much over by the mid-1950s, but as a style and an attitude toward reality, its influence spread to many other countries. A number of present-day Italian filmmakers have continued in the tradition of neorealism. For example, Olmi's movies are steeped in the values of Christian humanism. In this film, which was shot on authentic locations with nonprofessional players, he celebrates the everyday lives of several peasant families around 1900. For them, God is a living presence - a source of guidance, hope, and solace. Their faith is childlike, trusting, like that of St. Francis of Assisi. In a series of documentarylike vignettes, Olmi unfolds their gentle drama, extolling their patience, their tough stoicism, their dignity. Above all, he exalts the sacredness of the human spirit. For Olmi, they are the salt of the earth." Louis Giannetti / Jim Leach, "Understanding Movies"

WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY? (2007, USA, Rob VanAlkemade)
"Produced by Morgan "Super Size Me" Spurlock, "What Would Jesus Buy?" grew out of a 2006 Sundance Film Festival Jury Award short. Rob VanAlkemade’s documentary follows a pretend-reverend who rails against the rampant hyper-consumerism in rousing performances that often end with him being escorted away in handcuffs. Here he and his 40-strong "Stop Shopping Gospel Choir" let loose on a cross-country, Christmastime tour of performance venues, big-box stores, and malls.  Disrupting people simply trying to shop or have a cup of coffee is juvenile, but if the public is going to act like a baby, then it's gonna get treated like one. The calls here for reining back debt and demanding responsibility - from not only powerful corporations, but consumers as well - make a lot of sense." Videomatica

And one other recent Soul Food movie release that Videomatica hasn't picked up on yet...

MONSIEUR VINCENT (1947, France, Maurice Cloche)
"At last! Maurice Cloche's beautiful award-winning 1947 film Monsieur Vincent, starring Pierre Fresnay as St. Vincent de Paul, is coming to DVD on 7/15 from Lionsgate/StudioCanal. Monsieur Vincent won an honorary foreign-film Oscar in 1948 (it was a 1947 film but came to the US in 1948). Fresnay won best actor in Venice in 1947. The film was also nominated in the 1949 BAFTAs (best film from any source) and the 1950 Golden Globes ("best film promoting international understanding"). It's also one of the 1995 Vatican film list's 15 films in the Religion category -- and one of the last Vatican list films to become available on DVD. (Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp came to DVD in 2007, and Mallet's Au Revoir Les Enfants in 2006. With Monsieur Vincent now on DVD, I think the only remaining unavailable titles may be Buñuel's Nazarín and Gance's 1927 silent Napoléon, the Brownslow restoration of the latter being tragically withheld from U.S. audiences by rights issues.)" Steven D. Greydanus, Decent Films

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