Tuesday, November 30, 2010

woman with 5 elephants

A trusted Soul Food buddy writes "Saw Vision and Woman with 5 Elephants tonight. The first disappointing, the second a marvel; you must see it!"

Monday, November 29, 2010

dec 2 + 5 | king's speech | director night + advance screening

Soul Foodie and filmmaker Jason Goode alerts us to an early opportunity to view a film that's likely to be a must see this December. Director Tom Hooper also created Longford, one of the great overlooked Soul Food essentials. (The Longford screenplay was by Peter Morgan (The Queen, The Last King Of Scotland, Frost/Nixon, Hereafter).

"The King's Speech, which won the People's Choice Award at T.I.F.F. this year, will have an advance screening on the morning of Sunday, Dec 5th at 10AM at Fifth Ave cinemas. Director Tom Hooper is, in my estimation, one of the great directors working today and will soon be a more familiar name to North American audiences. The King's Speech debuted with the best per-theatre average for any film this year and the 17th best ever."

There's a half-hour interview with Hooper available online, from NPR's Fresh Air.

Oh, by the way, Jason is presenting a Director Night on Hooper's past films this Thursday evening (Dec 2) in a friend's home out near UBC.  If you're interested in attending, check out Jason's blog for details.

Videomatica has many of Hooper's previous films, including Longford. You can rent at the store, or sign up for their video-by-mail service: I have it, it's phenomenal!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

ridge + tinseltown in jeopardy

Vancouver's cinema scene is changing
Globe and Mail | Nov 22 2010 | Updated Nov 23 2010

Vancouver’s cinema scene will change this week, as Cineplex Entertainment takes over the Cinemark Tinseltown – and the move is hardly getting rave reviews.

With Cinemark out of the picture, the operation will be re-named Cineplex Odeon International Village Cinemas, The Globe and Mail has learned. The deal has not been officially announced, but staff have been informed of the change.

Pat Marshall, vice-president of communications and investor relations for Cineplex Entertainment, said she expected a signed agreement would be in place this week, with the change of ownership – and name – to take effect on Friday.

“As part of the acquisition, we will review all elements of the theatre operation and we’ll make whatever change is necessary,” Ms. Marshall said, adding that staff have been offered – and accepted – jobs with Cineplex.

Ms. Marshall said it was unclear whether pricing will change. The difference in cost for an adult ticket in the evening is minimal ($12.99 at Cineplex’s Scotiabank Theatre in downtown Vancouver versus $12.75 at Tinseltown), but Cinemark offers discounts for matinées and also free parking for patrons during the film.

When asked whether the long-standing practice of showing less mainstream art films would continue at the theatres, Ms. Marshall was non-committal.

“I think we’ll take a look at a number of different elements in terms of programming,” she said, adding that Cineplex is looking at adding digital projectors and 3-D systems. “I think you’ll see a much expanded array of both technology and film offerings.”

Tom Charity, who programs the Vancity Theatre and also reviews films for CNN.com, called the sale cause for concern.

“I think [Tinseltown’s] booking has been really quite courageous and very diverse. ... They’ve shown a much wider range of films than you see at the Scotiabank, for example. They’ve been open to showing Canadian films and even subtitled films and they’ve been very open to the community to renting the theatre out to local festivals. And that may or may not change. The proof will be in the pudding. But if we look at what happens at the Scotiabank, that type of thing doesn’t happen very much.”

Brian McIlroy, a film studies professor at the University of British Columbia, agreed.

“On the surface, the major concern here is a diminishment of variety of cinematic offerings in the city. Tinseltown's many screens have allowed smaller films to get a screening, even if in a small auditorium. ... Cineplex is likely to think long and hard about the variety – or the risk-taking – that Tinseltown has offered in the past.

Tinseltown is the only theatre in Canada operated by Cinemark. Calls to Tinseltown and Cinemark’s corporate office were not returned by deadline on Monday.

Venerable Ridge Theatre's future in doubt
Globe and Mail | Mar 25 2010 | Updated Nov 22 2010

After 60 years and hundreds of movies, the end credits appear to be looming for the venerable Ridge Theatre, birthplace of the Vancouver International Film Festival and a neighbourhood theatre on Arbutus Street.

High rents and the challenges of making a one-screen theatre work in a multiplex age are converging to doom the Kitsilano theatre, which has tended to show independent, foreign and Canadian films – Atom Egoyan's new thriller Chloe opens there on Friday – and continues to host screenings for the Vancouver festival.

Leonard Schein, founder and president of Festival Cinemas, which runs the Ridge Theatre as well as the Park Theatre on Cambie and Fifth Avenue Cinemas multiplex on Burrard Street, says his five-year lease on the 480-seat Ridge ends on Dec. 31 of this year.

Unless our landlord reduces our rent greatly, we will not be able to renew,” Mr. Schein told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail commenting on the theatre's future.

Both photographs of the Ridge Theatre by Ron Reed

Sunday, November 21, 2010

nov 28 | the maltese falcon | cineplex classic film series

The Maltese Falcon (1941)
"A guy without a conscience! A dame without a heart!"
Directed by: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George
Plot: A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.

Wednesday, November 17, 7:00pm
Sunday, November 28, 1:00pm

Presented in HD. All tickets five dollars. SilverCity Riverport, SilverCity Coquitlam, Colossus Langley, Scotiabank Theatre. The Classic Film Series presents one great title each month on the big screen from September 2010 to August 2011: details here.

THE MALTESE FALCON is available on DVD at Videomatica

Friday, November 19, 2010

dec 3 | of gods and men | cinematheque

Sorry to be bossy, but you just can't miss this one. You're not allowed.

I happen to think the gospel is nothing but left-handed and handed-over, and this film is the essence of that gospel. And hey - when's that last time a movie about monks won the Grand Prix at Cannes, or did boffo box office in post-Catholic France? Definitely the Soul Food Movie of the year, and so far as we know, there'll only be this one showing in Vancouver, at the European Film Festival. (I'm not kidding: the last three Dardenne brothers flicks, two of which won the Palme d'Or, showed something like three nights each here. I love our city, it's an embarrassment of artistic and cinematic riches, but I swear sometimes... Philistines, we are.)

Of Gods and Men ("Des Hommes et des dieux" 2010, d. Xavier Beauvois, France)
Pacific Cinematheque
Fri Dec 3 | 6:45

A powerful, poetic work rendered with great grace and intelligence, Xavier Beauvois’s Of Gods and Men won this year’s Grand Prix at Cannes (the festival’s second-highest honour), and has just been announced as France’s official submission to the upcoming 83rd Academy Awards. “Beauvois recounts the harrowing true story of a brotherhood of French monks in the highlands of North Africa who find themselves threatened by Islamic extremists during the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s. Starring a gifted ensemble cast led by the empathetic Lambert Wilson (as resident religious scholar Brother Christian), the film begins as a bucolic chronicle of these simple men of God and their gentle relationship with their Muslim neighbours, to whom they provide much-needed medical care and other services. When the insurgents arrive, they find themselves faced with an impossible decision: to flee, or to stand their ground and fulfill their spiritual mission. Magnificently photographed by cinematographer Caroline Champetier in compositions that suggest Renaissance paintings, Of Gods and Men is a poetic, austerely beautiful triumph” (New York Film Festival). “A tour de force of ensemble acting . . . Keenly observed, empathetic and exalting” (Nick James, Sight and Sound). Colour, 35mm, in French and Arabic with English subtitles. 120 mins.

nov 26 - dec 2 | vision | vifc

Soul Food friend Graham Peat (AKA "Mr Videomatica") alerts us to this one, which looks like a Soul Food Must-See. Thanks, GP! I'm especially intrigued by one tiny element in the Hildegard story, mentioned in this New York Times review: "She was a playwright whose lyrical drama Ordo Virtutum is excerpted in a scene in which the nuns, as they were allowed to do on certain holidays, frolic in silk gowns and jewels." Check out that link: the music is gorgeous beyond belief.

VISION (Germany, 2009, 110 mins)
Vancity Theatre
Fri Nov 26 | 8:15
Sat Nov 27 | 8:15
Sun Nov 28 | 3:30 + 8:30
Mon Nov 29 | 6:30
Tue Nov 30 | 8:15
Wed Dec 1 | 6:30
Thu Dec 2 | 8:15

The 12th-century Benedictine nun, Hildegard von Bingen–today a cult figure–is luminously portrayed by Barbara Sukowa in her 5th collaboration with director Margarethe von Trotta. Hildegard, a polymath by any century's definition, was a composer of Gregorian chants, a playwright, poet, and scientific pioneer in the fields of healing, herbal medicine and botany. As an iconoclastic religious figure who insisted on separate and independent abbies for nuns, she ran up against the church's authoritarian and patriarchal hierarchy; as a mystic and visionary, she insisted on her right to preach and interpret the Gospels. Sukowa infuses Hildegard with the will of a modern feminist, but one tethered to a medieval universe. Von Trotta makes that world believable and lush, and at times as scary and alluring as a 900-year-old fairy tale.

"The film exalts in the diverse accomplishments of the 12th century Benedictine nun. Sukowa embodies her character's imposition of will with complete conviction, just as she does Hildegard's imposing intellect and bottomless devotion."–Todd McCarthy, Variety

"The sympathy of von Trotta's Vision lays in joy... Despite its title, far from showing us the exterior manifestation of Godliness of Hildegard von Bingen's life, von Trotta's film, in its contained but generous sense of the emotional tenor of each individual scene, seems to be exploring the nuances of love on this earth."–Daniel Kasman, MUBI


The Seventh Chamber, a celebrated biopic of the Jewish Catholic nun who was killed in the Holocaust, is something of a "lost classic" of Soul Food Cinema. Lost until now. The DVD is just out, with perspicacious notes by Decent Films / National Catholic Register movie commentator Steven D. Greydanus (or SDG, as he's known around these parts. I just call him "Sudge"). I've ordered me a copy of the disk: meantime, we'll all have to content ourselves with some excerpts from Steven's notes on the film, included in the Ignatius Press DVD release: the complete essay is available at his website.

Edith Stein: The Seventh Chamber premiered in 1995 at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the OCIC Prize from the International Catholic Organization for Cinema (Office Catholique International du Cinéma or OCIC, now SIGNIS), an award acknowledging achievement in “enhancing human values.” A special mention award (Elvira Notari Prize) was also given to the director, acclaimed Hungarian director Márta Mészáros, and to the star, Romanian Jewish actress Maia Morgenstern (The Passion of the Christ), who plays Edith Stein. The following year the film took top honors for cinematography at the Polish Film Festival. . .

What would a conventional biopic of Edith Stein look like? It would probably begin with vignettes from Edith’s upbringing in a large Jewish family: lighting candles on the Sabbath, celebrating Pesach or Yom Kippur, perhaps listening to the rabbi at synagogue. The figure of Edith’s mother would loom large in these early scenes, as would the absence of her father, who died when Edith was not yet two.

We would recognize early signs of Edith’s lively intelligence and assertive independence — for example, her insistence on skipping kindergarten and joining school in mid-term. We would see her capacity for empathy, but also the questioning nature that would cause her, in her teenaged years, to lose her faith in God.

We would follow Edith’s discovery of philosophy . . . and her grapplings with the philosophical problem of empathy. The First World War would make its presence felt; we might see her working as a Red Cross volunteer at the military hospitals. We would then see her rediscovery of religious questions, and above all her transformation after reading Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, in which she encounters the God of love.

After devouring a catechism and a missal and attending her first Mass, Edith would accost the pastor to baptize her, brushing aside his explanation about the usual period of formation with a request to be examined immediately. Her baptism on New Year’s Day, 1922 would follow. Still to come would be her lectures across Europe; the rise of the Nazi threat; her expulsion from the university in 1933 for her Jewish ethnicity; the diaspora of her family and her entrance into the Carmelite monastery at Cologne later that year; her taking of vows under the name Teresa Benedicta a Cruce (Teresa Blessed by the Cross); her transfer to Holland to escape the German authorities; her arrest in Holland by the Gestapo in 1942; and her arrival in Auschwitz and death in the gas chambers later that year.

Although an excellent movie about Edith Stein could be made from the above outline, it is not the outline followed by The Seventh Chamber. . . .

Rather than stick to conventional drama or realistic narrative, The Seventh Chamber verges into expressionism, with stylized, non-literal interpretive conceits offering a blatantly subjective vision of its subject matter. . . .

Instead of flashbacks, there are surreal, allegorical sequences in which memory and symbolism merge and shift — most strikingly a dreamlike masquerade party flashback that we see after she has tripped on a flight of stairs and fallen on the floor. Even more seemingly straightforward scenes are not entirely realistic; the masquerade party flashback is flagrantly stylized, but even Edith’s fall from the stairs, and the way she lies on the floor murmuring to herself about the cross instead of getting up, suggests some departure from ordinary drama. Conversations seem to reflect a dreamlike, poetic logic rather than the rhythms of ordinary discussion. Recurring images run through the film: a cross falling into a puddle; a young girl watching Edith; doors and gates closing. Even ordinary scenes are framed with careful formalism, framed in single or double arches and partly eclipsed by pillars or trees.

. . . One familiar cinematic point of comparison and contrast that may occur to some viewers is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ — and not only because Romanian Jewish actress Maia Morgenstern (who plays Edith Stein) went on to portray the Virgin Mary in Gibson’s film. That Morgenstern has played two Jewish women saints bridging the old covenant and the new is in a way not a coincidence, since it was her role in The Seventh Chamber that brought her to Gibson’s attention. It is possible, too, that The Seventh Chamber influenced Gibson’s film in other ways.

For example, consider a shot in The Passion in which Morgenstern’s Virgin Mary, supernaturally sensing the nearness of her Son, lies prone with her cheek to the pavement as the camera sinks below the pavement into the cell below where Jesus stands in chains. Compare a strikingly similar shot and camera movement in The Seventh Chamber in which Morgenstern’s Edith Stein has fallen prone and lies with her cheek to the floor as the camera sinks below the floor, transitioning to the masquerade sequence (later the camera rises back up through the floor to find Edith still lying there).

The Passion of the Christ is shot through with expressionist flourishes, from Christ trampling the serpent’s head in Gethsemane to Mary’s flashback of the boy Jesus falling as Christ falls under his cross. More generally, Gibson’s whole film displays what could be called expressionist leanings in its heightened or artificial presentation of reality: the slow-motion falls, the exaggeration of the scourging and Christ’s battered state, etc. . . .

In a similar way, The Seventh Chamber brings a level of artifice and symbolism to events in Edith Stein’s life in an effort to dramatize the inner meaning of the events and of her life as a whole. Although the imagery in The Seventh Chamber is seldom if ever as flagrantly non-literal as Gibson’s infernal infant, it does sometimes present interpretive challenges.

. . . The film is emphatic that Edith Stein embraces Catholicism without in any way rejecting Judaism. . . . Edith also embraces her fatherland, Germany, with a patriotic fervor that is almost baffling to us. . . .

Thursday, November 18, 2010

newish soul foodish movie book | roy anker

Roy Anker has a film book already in print - Catching Light: Looking For God In The Movies. I like it: he's a lit guy, so he brings substantial insights, treats the films as art not sermon illustrations, and has a pretty good eye for film as well as text. And he writes well.

The only qualm I had about the first book was that the selections were a bit dated. I share his predilection for pointing people to older films, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with the titles he chose - Tender Mercies is my favourite film, and who could gainsay The Mission, Babette's Feast, American Beauty (well, except Jeff Overstreet - heh heh heh), Grand Canyon or Kieslowski's Blue? But it did have the slightest sense of having been compiled from an archive of old "Faith And Film" lecture notes. Still, one of my top five or ten books about movies with God Stuff.

Judging from the Table Of Contents, it looks like his new volume draws on the earlier volume - American Beauty, Godfather III, Tender Mercies, The Mission, Superman, Grand Canyon, E.T. all get chapters - but there's lots new too - Magnolia, Millions, Dead Man Walking, Shawshank Redemption, Crimes & Misdemeanors, Decalogue and M. Night Shyamalan's debut Wide Awake are all interesting choices (though still opting for the tried and true over the latest and greatest. Wish he'd included, for example, his response to Carlos Reygadas's Silent Light). Hard to know if this is just a revision of the earlier volume, or a completely new book that includes further thoughts on those earlier film. But I'll be adding it to my shelf, even if just for the new bits.

Here's what IMAGE Update has to say...
Of Pilgrims and Fire by Roy Anker

In Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies, Calvin College professor Roy Anker presents a series of thoughtful vignettes on the presence of God in film, providing commentary on flicks from a wide swath of genres, from blockbusters E.T. and Superman to cult favorite The Shawshank Redemption to more obscure foreign films The Color of Paradise, Decalogue, and Babette’s Feast — several of which you will also find on the Arts and Faith Top 100 List.

The “pilgrims” of the title are the protagonists, the antagonists, the viewers, and the critics, compelled to “journey in search of a potent, magical, holy something,” for the fiery light that reveals truths about each other and about the way to live. Anker reflects on images of God and themes of splendor, the collision of morality and belief, and “the feast of love,” extracting spiritual nuggets even from deeply flawed films such as The Godfather III.

Complementing his enthusiasm are Anker’s winsome turns of phrase (once he speaks of Robert De Niro’s Mendoza in The Mission as being “mugged by love”) and a keen eye for powerful subtlety. Anker shows a deep respect for the filmmakers he discusses, and it’s plain he knows their work well. Chapters feature screen stills from each particular movie, other critics’ comments, post-viewing questions, and suggestions for checking out additional related flicks, inviting discussion and encouraging readers to round out their own impressions. Of Pilgrims and Fire throws fresh light on the oft-worn intersection of spirituality and pop culture.

Monday, November 15, 2010

nov 21 | millions

Big screen matinee of a Soul Food favourite, next Sunday only

director: Danny Boyle
Sunday, November 21, 2010 - 1:00pm
Pacific Cinematheque

MILLIONS is available on DVD at Videomatica

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

nov 17 & 28 | the maltese falcon | cineplex classic film series

The Maltese Falcon (1941)
"A guy without a conscience! A dame without a heart!"
Directed by: John Huston
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George
Plot: A private detective takes on a case that involves him with three eccentric criminals, a gorgeous liar, and their quest for a priceless statuette.

Wednesday, November 17, 7:00pm
Sunday, November 28, 1:00pm

Presented in HD. All tickets five dollars. SilverCity Riverport, SilverCity Coquitlam, Colossus Langley, Scotiabank Theatre. The Classic Film Series presents one great title each month on the big screen from September 2010 to August 2011: details here.

THE MALTESE FALCON is available on DVD at Videomatica

Sunday, November 07, 2010

of gods and men | vancouver sun

I saw this in the Vancouver Film Festival this fall, and it is as good as they say it is. The French were wrong about Jerry Lewis, but they got this one right.

UPDATE: Of Gods And Men, one showing only, Dec 3 6:45 Pacific Cinematheque!

Haunting film takes country by storm
Of Gods and Men focuses on the fate of eight monks living in fear in an Algerian abbey
by Jasper Rees, Daily Telegraph
from The Vancouver Sun | Saturday November 6, 2010
PARIS - A haunting docudrama film about a group of monks whose faith was tested in the most terrifying way has become a surprise hit in France.

One of the big hits in French cinemas this autumn has defied all known box-office rules. Of Gods and Men is an all-male film about religion or, more specifically, religions. It's set in, of all the uncinematic locations, a Cistercian monastery in North Africa, from which it derives its muted esthetic tone and careful pace. Its ultimate theme is the price of Christian faith. But, before anyone of a secular bent crosses it off their to-see list, please be advised that it is as gripping as it is heart-rending.

Of Gods and Men is based on events that took place in Algeria in the mid-1990s. This was the period in the country's history when Islamic fundamentalism had started to introduce severe instability. Among their many victims, roving militants were targeting foreign nationals.

As a result, a Cistercian abbey, a benign remnant of French colonialism in a village called Tibehirine in the Atlas Mountains about 100 kilometres from Algiers, came under threat, and for three years the small group of eight monks lived in fear of their lives.

On one level, it would be desirable not to reveal their fate. The experience of watching the narrative unfold in ignorance of its haunting denouement adds an extra layer to the film. That privilege was not vouchsafed to French audiences.

"In France, they took it as a tragedy because they knew the end," says Etienne Comar, the film's co-author and producer. Regrettably, it's impossible to discuss the reasons for the film's impact without the following spoiler.

Precisely what happened has never been established. But, in 1996, the heads of seven monks were found not far from Tibehirine. There is still no proof -- a French inquiry was inconclusive -- but their murderers are presumed to have been Islamic fundamentalists, although the film also alludes to the reality that the monks were also at loggerheads with Algerian security forces.

So the power of Of Gods and Men is located less in an opaque ending than in the intensely moving agonies of doubt endured by the monks as instinctive fear of death tests their faith to the limit. Should they give in to threats and leave? Or should they trust in God to deliver them from evil?

Comar, whose regular job in film is as a producer, began working on the script in 2006. "I was fascinated by this epic drama they were living out, which was quite universal. It was the Christ Passion but also a story about faith, humanity, politics and religion. It was evident that it could be a very powerful tragedy."

He worked on it for two years, keeping Kurosawa's Seven Samurai quietly in the back of his mind, then reworked it with the director Xavier Beauvois, who promptly excised the back-stories explaining why some of the men had chosen the monastic life.

"It was too psychological," concedes Comar, "but I was fascinated because they had had incredible lives. Some were students in '68, others were workers in Marseilles on the docks, one was a mayor in Savoie. Two were in the Algerian war."

As is revealed in an afterword, two monks managed to escape abduction. (Although the monastery had only eight residents, a visiting brother had arrived a few days before from another abbey in North Africa.)

One of them is still alive at 87. Comar visited him in his Moroccan monastery.

"He is still traumatized. We didn't discuss the subject, but it's absolutely something he can't forget. After that everybody told him he needed to come back to France, but he wanted to stay in a Muslim country as a continuation of what he had done in Tibehirine."

Not long before production started, they also met the monks' families.

"We didn't want to go and see them too early because we didn't want to mix their point of view into what we were doing, because it's not a historical piece. Some of them were quite questioning, saying that 14 years is too soon." But when they saw it, says Comar, they were "relieved."

A process of fictionalizing happens with all films based on real events. In the case of Of God and Men, it mainly meant blurring the identity of the country. The filmmakers' motives for doing so remain open to interpretation. Could it be taken as a sign of lingering French colonialism that, in dramatizing a period of turmoil that claimed 150,000 Algerian lives, the victims in this narrative are all French?

"This is a very problematic question," says Comar. "I can imagine it can be taken like that, but this is absolutely not the purpose of the film. The monks were not missionaries. It would be very difficult to tell a story about people who tried to convert. It's more a testimony of the love they had for this country. It's more a message of peace and friendship and humanity between France and Algeria than a discourse about colonialism."

Another of the imaginary elements of the film takes place near the end.

The cast members spent time in an abbey in Savoie to familiarize themselves with monastic life. They also learnt to sing the psalms that play the role of a kind of Greek chorus. Comar invented a scene, designed to illustrate the monks' spirit of community, in which they would sing Jacques Brel, as the monks did when washing dishes.

"Xavier phoned and said, 'They are tired of singing. This moment will be something more contemplative. They will be listening to something.'

He had the idea of Swan Lake but didn't say anything to the actors, and then the day of shooting he said, 'No, it's changed and we're going to put some music on that will make you laugh and cry.'"

The resulting scene, symbolically featuring bread and wine, is the moral and emotional heart of a remarkable film.

The movie was released in France in September and is to be released in English Dec. 3

Saturday, November 06, 2010

who's the guy with the comb?

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