Wednesday, December 28, 2011

jan 6-12 | the mill and the cross | vancity

A Soul Food Movie pal sends this welcome note!

The astonishing and amazing movie, "The Mill and the Cross" (which some of us saw during the Vancouver International Film Festival) is back in Vancouver for a one-week run from January 6 to 12 at the VanCity Theatre.

This movie is unlike anything I've seen; it creates a new cinematic genre. Based on Breughel's painting "Christ on the Way to Calvary," it drews the audience into that painting, into the life and vision of Breughel, into the Netherlands of his day, into the mystery of redemption.
Here's my original post about the film's VIFF screening.

super-anon online!

A few years back, several PT people (including Chy Liu and Deb Sears) were involved in making super-fun short film that's gone on to win all sorts of accolades. Now it's online! Here's a note from Deb...

Hey Super-Doopers:
I hope this finds you all well.

Guess who is turning 89 on Wed. Dec 28th? Stan Lee! Not sure who that is? Shame on you - check it out wikipedia.

We thought it would be great to help celebrate Stan's birthday by posting SUPER-ANON to YouTube! Steve created a YouTube channel for the film - check it out here.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Super-Anon website
Super-Anon on IMDb

Monday, December 05, 2011

christmas at vifc

(UK, USA, 1951, 86 mins)

International Film Centre VanCity Theatre
Tuesday, December 21st, 6:30
Thursday, December 23rd, 6:00
onstage now at Pacific Theatre
Directed By: Brian Desmond Hurst
Cast: Alastair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley

Alastair Sim offers a masterclass in comedy as Ebenezer Scrooge in this definitive black and white version of the Dickens' classic. An incomparable roster of British supporting actors fill out the supernatural morality tale, including Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley, Hattie Jacques as Mrs Fezziwig, and George Cole as the young Ebenezer.

"A trenchant and inspiring Christmas show." —Bosley Crowther, New York Times, 1951

(USA, 1946, 130 mins)
Soul Food article

International Film Centre VanCity Theatre
Tuesday, December 20th, 6:30
Thursday, December 22nd, 6;30

Directed By: Frank Capra
Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore
"This story is the lousiest cheese," Frank Capra admitted to his star after making a rotten pitch. James Stewart stuck by his favourite director. "Frank, if you want to do a movie about me committing suicide, with an angel with no wings named Clarence, I'm your boy."

Although the picture has become synonymous with homespun, small town values – values Stewart personified and Capra obviously cherished – it achieves its profound emotional resonance precisely by stressing their limitations, even to the point of suicide. This is the tragedy of a man who dreams of traveling the world, building cities, and making love to Gloria Grahame, who never leaves his hometown, works in his dad's office, and marries Donna Reed. The "unborn" sequence where Clarence shows George how things might look if he hadn't been around is chilling not because it's morbid fantasy, but because "Pottersville" was and is so much closer to contemporary society than the nostalgic gentility of Bedford Falls.

For both Capra and Stewart this was their first movie after service in WWII, and it's riven with their anxieties about coming home. Whether you believe in angels or not, it's a wonderful film.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

unholy night

Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is developing UNHOLY NIGHT. Based on a recently finished novel by Grahame-Smith (formerly titled We Three Kings), it focuses on the wandering wise men and puts an action-adventure twist on the original Christmas story.
SGS: That is a huge swords and sandals epic, and very dark, and very expensive. We’re going to have to partner with another big producer to get it off the ground, but that’s something we hope to get going. We have a big pitch on that Nov. 1. If Warner Bros. sparks to Unholy Night and really wants to do it, I’ll probably end up writing that very quickly. That one could be a prime candidate to film sometime next year. insidemovies
thanks, peter

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

nov 10-20 | vancouver jewish film festival

Only time for a hasty but timely post. Be sure and check out the link: frankly, I could have listed pretty much every title here, but this is a sampling of films that caught my eye. We've got Catholic priests, atonement and forgiveness, theatre and tv and baseball and more! What's not to like? Thanks, Rosie!

Vancouver Jewish Film Festival
Nov 10-20

The Ridge Theatre
November 15 2011 | 07:15 PM
“Can one be a Catholic priest and an Observant Jew at the same time?”

The Ridge Theatre
November 13 2011 | 12:30 PM
"During the family Passover Seder, Hanna (Kirsten Dunst) is asked to "open the front door" for the prophet Elijah. Once the door is opened, she finds herself, not unlike Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, to have entered the 1940's and has stepped into Poland and soon into the life of a prisoner in one of the German death camps." From the young adult novel.

The Ridge Theatre
November 19 2011 | 08:00 PM
"About the search for atonement, and the ability to forgive."

The Ridge Theatre
November 20 2011 | 02:00 PM
I heard a remarkable segment of This American Life dealing with the same story.

The Ridge Theatre
November 18 2011 | 02:00 PM
"A riveting portrait of the great writer whose stories became the basis of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof."

The Ridge Theatre
November 20 2011 | 12:00 PM
Narrated by Dustin Hoffman.

Monday, October 31, 2011

videomatica | final credits

Two emails this morning.

"Dear loyal subscribers of,
After many years of serving your movie needs, we have reluctantly decided that we must discontinue our rental by mail service...."


"Hello fans of Videomatica!
Videomatica Rentals is now closed except for returns, as of 10 pm Oct 30, 2011...."

So that is that. No more walking into a room where we're surrounded by movies we want to see, or hold, or read about. Alas.

A sad day. But there's comfort in the news that Cinemail will be acquiring Videomatica's movie-by-mail collection, and adding those titles to their own catalogue of titles. So even once I've viewed and returned The Island, Vision, Police Adjective and My Father My Lord - titles not available through, for example, - there's still someplace rent them.

I'm also optimistic that the Videomatica rental collection will be preserved. In my last conversation with Graham and Brian (the VM owners), it looked likely that the dvd and videotape rental collection would be acquired by a university library - as substantiated by their ongoing “Help save the Videomatica Collection, send it to University!” campaign. One hopes that the day will come when the purchase of a university library card will provide access to those vast treasures - though the likelihood that they can be carted off and viewed at home seems questionable.

Later this week I'll check out Cinemail, and almost certainly subscribe.

"Active subscribers will have limited-time access to their Rental History and Queue lists."

So, for the record...

click to enlarge

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Essential Soul Food Movie, on four of the five Arts & Faith 100 lists. Rare chance to see it on the big screen.

The Night of the Hunter
(USA, 1955, 93 mins)
Monday October 31, 6:30
Vancity Theatre
Directed By: Charles Laughton
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish

A singular masterpiece in the history of film, Charles Laughton’s version of Davis Grubb’s novel is an extraordinary artifact. In the most “out-there” performance of his career Robert Mitchum is the crazed Baptist preacher who terrorizes two young children and murders their mother to get his hands on the loot he knows is stashed somewhere in the house. Laughton cast Lillian Gish as this fiend’s antithesis and resurrects the antique visual rhetoric forged by Gish and DW Griffith in the silent era to create a beguilingly sinister fairytale mood, a mixture of menace and innocence that will stalk your dreams.


Vancity Theatre
Thu Oct 27 9pm
Sat Oct 29 6:30
Sun Oct 30 8:15

WIEBO'S WAR tells the story of a Christian Community, at war with the oil and gas industry.

Wiebo Ludwig is the prime suspect in a recent string of pipeline bombings. The bombings echo a campaign of sabotage he waged against the oil and gas industry in the 90s -- barricading roads, blowing up wells and culminating in the unsolved death of a sixteen-year-old girl on his family's farm.

VIFF write-up here

Monday, October 17, 2011

NOW ON DVD... tree of life

NOW PLAYING... machine gun preacher

Don't know nothin' much about this one, except what it says here, and that people don't seem all that impressed. Hardly a raving "Must See," is it? But it's in town, it aims to be Soul Food, and I'll let you know more once I have more to say...

Machine Gun Preacher is the inspirational true story of Sam Childers, a former drug-dealing criminal who undergoes an astonishing transformation and finds an unexpected calling as the savior of hundreds of kidnapped and orphaned children. Gerard Butler (300) delivers a searing performance as Childers, the impassioned founder of the Angels of East Africa rescue organization in Golden Globe-nominated director Marc Forster’s (Monster’s Ball, Finding Neverland) moving story of violence and redemption.

When ex-biker-gang member Sam Childers (Butler) makes the life-changing decision to go to East Africa to help repair homes destroyed by civil war, he is outraged by the unspeakable horrors faced by the region’s vulnerable populace, especially the children. Ignoring the warnings of more experienced aide workers, Sam breaks ground for an orphanage where it’s most needed—in the middle of territory controlled by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a renegade militia that forces youngsters to become soldiers before they even reach their teens.

But for Sam, it is not enough to shelter the LRA’s intended victims. Determined to save as many as possible, he leads armed missions deep into enemy territory to retrieve kidnapped children, restoring peace to their lives—and eventually his own. The explosive, real-life tale of a man who has rescued over a thousand orphans from starvation, disease and enslavement, Machine Gun Preacher also stars Michelle Monaghan (Due Date), Kathy Baker (Cold Mountain), Madeline Carroll (Mr. Popper’s Penguins), Academy Award® nominated Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) and Souleymane Sy Savane (Damages).

Sunday, October 09, 2011


Absolutely lived up to all my very high expectations. One more showing only, Thursday Oct 13 at 6:20 at the Granville 7. Tickets at the VIFF websiteHere's a link to another article which focuses on the cinematography of the film (thanks Jason) and here's the original Soul Food post...

                                   *          *          *

How strange that one writer surveying Christian themes in this year's Sundance Festival came up with a pile of what look to me like uninspiring believer-as-bad-guy throwbacks, but completely overlooked this one, which is tremendously interesting. Thanks to Peter Chattaway for this.

Joe Bendel, Libertas:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder was a truly subversive old master. Known for his paintings of the Dutch peasantry as well as Biblical episodes, his five hundred character masterwork The Way to Calvary depicted the Spanish Militia then occupying Flanders as the Roman soldiers crucifying Christ. While Bruegel’s commentary on the Spanish occupation is inescapable, the painting is rife with hidden signifiers, which the painter himself explains in Lech Majewski’s unclassifiable The Mill & the Cross, a painstakingly crafted cinematic recreation of "The Way to Cavalry," which had its world premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Employing state-of-the-art computer generation, scores of seamstresses and artisans, and an enormous 2D background recreation of Bruegel’s celebrated work painted by the director himself, Majewski brings the great tableaux to life on the big screen. Amongst those five hundred characters are Brueghel and his friend a collector, Nicholas Jonghelinck, to whom he explains his projected new painting, "The Way to Calvary."

The film completely challenges linear notions of time, incorporating Christ’s Passion and the world of 1564 Flanders, in which Bruegel and Jongelinck are simultaneous observers and active participants.

Years in the making, Mill is an extraordinarily ambitious undertaking. Majewski represents the social continuum of Sixteenth Century Flanders, recreating the mean living conditions of the peasants, the clean, unadorned quarters of the relatively middle class Bruegel, and the privileged environment of the well-to-do Jongelinck. Majewski’s visuals are often arresting, like the scenes of art director Stanislaw Porczyk’s towering mill, which resembles the enormous set pieces of Terry Gilliam films. Perhaps most stunning are the wide shots of the Calvary landscape, with the figures literally coming alive on Bruegel’s canvas. Yet, Majewski also captures moments of both tender intimacy and graphic torture, rendered with powerful immediacy.
click to enlarge
Dennis Harvey, Variety:

An extraordinary imaginative leap, Lech Majewski's The Mill and the Cross combines old and new technologies allowing the viewer to live inside the painting -- Flemish master Pieter Bruegel's 1564 "The Procession to Calvary," an epic canvas depicting both Christ's crucifixion and the artist's homeland brutalization by Spanish occupiers. Neither conventional costume drama nor abstract objet d'art, this visually ravishing, surprisingly beguiling gamble won't fit any standard arthouse niche. . . .

Opening setpiece stages the complex painting via a combination of live actors (and horses), bluescreen effects and 2D backdrops. Its crowded landscape features some 500 historical, religious, contemporary and symbolic figures, with biblical travails depicted alongside sufferings of Flemish citizens persecuted by representatives of the Spanish inquisition. We continually revisit this tableau, in whole and part, while other scenes are frequently modeled on several other paintings by Bruegel the Elder.

Representing God atop an enormous windmill tower is a miller impassively regarding various scenes from his lofty perch. They include the seizure by red-coated militia of one peasant who is tortured and killed for presumed heresy. Later, another hapless soul is literally crucified for some other crime.

Periodically commenting sorrowfully on this state of affairs -- either alone or in conversation with the artist -- is a wealthy burgher appalled by the invaders' misrule, even if he himself seems immune from harm. A mother whose son has been dragged off to slaughter delivers in voiceover lamentations that are more personal and poetic; she is also the painting's Virgin Mary model. Meanwhile, Breughel himself bemusedly explains the hidden meanings scattered throughout his masterwork, often in the form of conflated religious allegory and political protest.

Not everything is grim here, however. Indeed much of "The Mill and the Cross" delights, with episodes of rambunctious humor among some rural ne'er-do-wells and a roving pack of joyfully rowdy children. Life does go on, despite the climate of fear and cruelty. . . .

Friday, October 07, 2011

oct 14 | wiebo's war

Soul Foodie Rosie Perera points us to this VIFF-featured-flick, that "tells the story of a Christian Community at war with the oil and gas industry." It's hard not to think that whatever branch of Christianity is represented here will be pretty fringey - but there's nothing like a good documentary to change the way we think. I'm intrigued. Here's the blurbage from VIFF...

(2011, Canada, David York)

Trickle Creek Farm, 800 kms north of Calgary: the burgeoning natural gas industry vs. dedicated--and violent--Christian fundamentalists. The story of Wiebo Ludwig is familiar to most Canadians. In the 90s he and his kin came into conflict with an oil and gas company doing extractions near his property. Livestock and family members became ill, Ludwig became angry, and explosions and vandalism started happening. It's a story that played out on the evening news, with the media-savvy and cocksure patriarch providing plenty of footage with his defiant statements. The conflict produced a bitterly divided community, the death of a teenage trespasser and the conviction of Ludwig on just a few of the many crimes committed.

Director David York picks up the story in 2010, profiling the clan as they face suspicion in the contemporary bombings of oil and gas stations in northeastern BC. Cutting back and forth between 2010 and the original conflict, York's documentary has a built-in suspense and an almost uncomfortable intimacy in its close-range portrait of the subject. Ludwig and his brood cooperate, albeit guardedly, with the filming; they're forthright about their beliefs and arrogantly coy about their actions. What emerges is an honest but ambiguous portrait, with the ruthlessness of the oil and gas industry paired off against that of a defensive fanatic. This is a compelling and disturbing film.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

oct 14 | bevel up, nettie wild | homelessness awareness night

A note from Judy Graves, who works on homelessness for the City Of Vancouver.

Nettie Wild's Bevel Up - about Vancouver's street nurses, what they do, why they do it, and refection on ethics. MUST SEE.

Homeless Voices - by Les Merson - interviews done across MetroVancouver of homeless people. This short, powerful film left Karen O'Shannacery of Lookout Shelter and I in tears. Completely authentic, open, feels like working in the street and listening to the people you meet there.

I'll see you there, please bring friends, and forward this email broadly.

10th Ave Alliance is on West 10th Ave at the corner of Ontario.

Monday, September 26, 2011

new to dvd | better world, morin, cunningham, murder songs

Various soul food movies are new to dvd the past month or so, and well worth renting - if you can figure out how to do that. In Canada right now, we find ourselves in a sad no man's land between the decline of video stores and second-run movie cinemas and the rise of anything to replace them. 

Streaming? The selection Netflix offers Canadians is a joke: indeed, not one of the titles I'm recommending for appears to be on offer.  As far as I can tell, they don't offer a DVD by mail service to Canadians. is apparently the largest dvd-by-mail service in Canada - but they also bat .000 when I lob these titles over the plate. (You can, however, rent Battle: Los Angeles or Disney's Prom. So all is not lost.)

The sort-of-good news, soon to be the really bad news, is that Vancouver's beloved Videomatica is still in business, and stocks three of the four titles - only Bill Cunningham New York is unavailable. The spring rumours of its August death were greatly exaggerated. Well, slightly exaggerated: they're still advertising October acquisitions under their "Coming Soon" listings, but after that... Nothing. Nada. The void. This weekend I re-signed with (after letting my subscription lapse in the spring) in a desperate bid to see at least a few of the films that just don't seem to be anywhere else in our film-free land. Looks like October is Movie Month: not just VIFF, but cramming in as many Videomatica-only titles as I can on my home screen. Police Adjective, Ostrov, The Bang Bang Club, My Father My Lord, Vision, Noise, The Idiot (Kurosawa), Dante's Inferno, The Trap (Klopka)< Mary and Max, Sweetgrass, Choking Man... I'm only forgoing In A Better World, Leon Morin Priest, Bill Cunningham New York and Small Town Murder Songs because I either saw them in the theatre or own my own copy. 

So have I got this right? That apparently the Canadian government is using its stricter copyright laws (as well as the barrier to US mailing created by our celebrated postal service) to protect the artists and craftspersons who make movies. And the best way to guard their interests is to ensure that no one can actually watch what they create. Have the federal Conservatives figured out that film is a form of art, and therefore feel obliged to shut it down? Or have they figured out some way to tax torrenting? 

Enough. I hadn't intended to start off my week in so discouraging a fashion. I just wanted to tell people about these exciting new Soul Food movies now available on video. Only to realize that the "now available" part of that announcement is barely true - and apparently by the end of October or so, will be completely true. On with our originally scheduled post. For our American readers, stalwart Videomatica subscribers, and those of you willing to torrent...

In A Better World was directed by Susanne Bier and scripted by Anders Thomas Jensen, whose collaboration on After The Wedding was also brilliant. She's a Danish director, which accounts for the artistic sensibility, who studied arts at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which may account for the Soul Food flavour.

Leon Morin, Priest was a Criterion release this summer, set in Occupied France, in which the widow of a French Jew, herself a Communist, struggles to keep her small children out of the concentration camps with the help of a "handsome, brave, vigorous and intellectual priest" (played by French New Wave star Jean-Paul Belmondo).

Small Town Murder Songs concerns a rage-filled cop in an Ontario Mennonite community struggling to leave behind his violent past. Crank up the volume - an overpowering score makes this movie.

Unfortunately, even the hawk-eyed movie predators in the Videomatica acquisitions department missed Bill Cunningham New York, a small, soft-spoken, but utterly beguiling study of the frugal, self-reliant street photographer whose weekly fashion collages are a fixture at the New York Times. Roger Ebert: "It doesn't matter if you care nothing at all about clothing, fashion or photography. Here is a good and joyous man who leads a life that is perfect for him, and how many people do we meet like that? This movie made me happy every moment I was watching it." Looks like I'll have to buy me a copy...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

higher ground

Opened Sep 23. Sounds intriguing.

International Village
through Thu Oct 6 2:10, 4:55, 7:45, 10:30
by Rick Groen
excerpted from Globe & Mail, Sep 23 2011

In the media and pop culture, the typical portrayal of Christian fundamentalists tends to err at the extremes, treating them and their beliefs with either an excess of reverence or too much mockery. Higher Ground is refreshing precisely because it finds a middle ground – in this spiritual community, there are no saints and there are no demons, no absolute wisdom and no complete idiocy. Of course, in such a vacuum, drama is harder to generate, and the film’s quiet realism demands from us our own act of faith: We’re asked to watch closely and to listen intently in the promise of a greater reward to come. ...

Essentially, it’s the story of a woman whose life is changed by two embraced discoveries. First, she acquires religion and then, painfully, she gains something that speaks to her far more profoundly – doubt. The script doesn’t quote Tennyson, but his famous dictum – “There lives more faith in honest doubt/ Believe me, than in half the creeds” – lies at the conflicted heart of the tale. That’s the faith Corinne, an evolving skeptic among true believers, labours toward.

. . . Corinne visits a Christian therapist, a guy who in less sensitive hands would just be a lampooned figure of fun. Instead, here, his dead-on diagnosis simultaneously reflects the strength and the weakness of his beliefs. He says to her: “You are worshipping at the altar of yourself.” Of course she is, but that’s exactly the point. Corinne has ascended to that higher ground where the bigger questions are asked. And none is bigger than this: Is religion a denial of her true self, or an antidote to the curse of narcissism? Her trial continues.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

viff | soul food picks

CORPO CELESTE | Fri 30 5:30 G7 | Sat 1 9pm G7 | Mon 3 1:00 G7

FOOTNOTE | Tue Oct 4 7:00 Vogue/Visa | Tue 11 4:15 Vogue/Visa

JESUS WAS A COMMIE in WHERE THERE’S HOPE | Sat 8 6:30 G7 | Sun 9 1:15 G7

THE MILL AND THE CROSS | Sat 1 10:30am G7 | Thu 13 6:20 G7

THE PLANTING in FIRE | Tue 11 9:15pm G7 | Wed 12 3:45 Cinematheque

WAIT FOR RAIN in WATER | Sun 9 9:30pm G7 | Mon 10 4:00 Cinematheque

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

the planting + wait for rain | viff | oct 9-12

Kyle Rideout directed a memorable production of THE GREAT DIVORCE at Pacific Theatre this past spring, and Jason Goode's DANNY & THE DEEP BLUE SEA (summer 2010) was so strong we invited him to place it in our upcoming season. Now both have placed short films in VIFF 2011! Most exciting.


Wait for Rain
plays in Water
(Canada, 2011, 14 mins, HDCam)
Directed By: Kyle Rideout
In a future where water is scarce--making healthy plants the newest form of bling--James tries to get a girl's attention.

Sun, Oct 9th 9:30pm
Empire Granville 7 Th 2

Mon, Oct 10th 4:00pm
Pacific Cinematheque

The Planting
plays in Fire
(Canada, 2011, 5 mins, HDCAM)
Directed By: Jason Goode

A man reflects on a wasted life of digging holes and filling them back in.

Tue, Oct 11th 9:15pm
Empire Granville 7 Th 2

Wed, Oct 12th 3:45pm
Pacific Cinematheque

sep 14-18 | stalker | cinematheque

It's placed on all five Arts & Faith 100 lists. It's Tarkovsky. Love it or hate it - and most folks are pretty much one or the other - it's Tarkovsky. Four showings only, some nights double-featured with BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN. Russi-o-rama.

dir. Andrei Tarkovsky

Pacific Cinematheque
Wed Sep 14, Fri 16 | 7pm
Sat 17, Sun 18 | 8pm

IMPORTED 35mm PRINT! Tarkovsky’s brilliantly dense, breathtakingly textured Stalker suggests a fantastical confluence of in-the-Gulag Solzhenitsyn and post-apocalyptic science fiction, and could be an elaborate, allegorical, otherworldly illustration of that old maxim, “Be careful what you wish for ...” Guardian critic Philip French likens it to “The Wizard of Oz adapted by a disciple of Dostoevsky and Kafka” and calls it “possibly Tarkovsky’s finest work.” In a devastated post-industrial police state, two men, a writer and a scientist, engage the special mystic skills of a Stalker to guide them through the forbidden Zone, a damp, fecund, overgrown wasteland where the rules of nature no longer apply. At the centre of the Zone, it is reputed, is the Room, a place where the deepest desires of one’s heart are said to come true. The amazing journey there will test the limits and adequacy of the way each of the three protagonists makes sense of the world: through art, through science, and through faith. Distinguished by a remarkable sense of tactility, composed of stunning sepia images, and offering layer upon layer of meaning, Stalker is a haunting and unforgettable work from a visionary director whose too-few films are quite unlike anything else in world cinema. “A masterpiece ... Not an easy film, but most certainly a great one” (Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader). B&W and colour, 35mm, in Russian with English subtitles. 163 mins.


"Tarkovsky conjures images like you've never seen before; and as a journey to the heart of darkness, it's a good deal more persuasive than Coppola's."
Time Out

"Visually unforgettable and possibly Tarkovsky's finest work."

"A vast prose-poem on celluloid whose forms and ideas were to be borrowed by moviemakers like Lynch and Spielberg."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

fog of war / re:union / sep 11 / videomatica

Watched FOG OF WAR last night, having just heard Sean Devine's new play RE:UNION Wednesday. Wow - the two are like companion pieces. Not that you have to see one to appreciate the other, not one bit. But experiencing the two in proximity like that is a remarkable thing, the way Sean's play explores the things in McNamara and Morrison that are glanced at but not expanded. It's not like Errol Morris raises questions that RE"UNION answers: Sean's play is just as full of mystery. But the two mysteries combine to make something much, much richer.

If you can see FOG OF WAR before RE:UNION opens (Oct 21) at Pacific Theatre, definitely do it. I can't help but wonder if Sean's play was triggered by the documentary, that the whole piece is his deeper exploration of some of its hints and feints and teases. Who was this Quaker man who sacrificed himself in protest of the Vietnam war? And he had a daughter who almost died with him? Why does McNamara come back to that - it sounds like it shook him. And what was behind that Medal of Freedom speech? And if his heart changed - as it seems clear it did, to see the man's raw, unexplained emotion - what did he think when the plane hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and he saw a nation gearing up for another Vietnam?

And here's a bit of surprising good news: the DVD I watched last night I rented from VIDEOMATICA!!! We'd all believed their doors would be shut by August 31. But they're still very much in business - not permanently, but for a while. So that means there's still someplace to rent FOG OF WAR! Which is good news all round.

Monday, September 05, 2011


No dates and times yet - the full schedule hits the streets Sep 17 - but here's a Soul Food highlight gleaned from the Sneak Preview guide, available in print around town and as a download from the VIFF site.

Israel | Dir: Joseph Cedar

Winner, Best Screenplay, Cannes 2011

Academic egos clash to witty effect in director Joseph Cedar's (Oscar nominee for Beaufort) tale of two Talmudic scholars at each other's throats. That they are father and son adds a certain frisson to the plangent goings-on.
"A sprightly, shrewd and ingenious black comedy of middle age and disappointed ambition…" Guardian.
"Probably the Cannes Film Festival's biggest breakout, and the closest thing to a tour de force. It had the Festival's most unlikely log line by far (the uneasy relationship between father and son Talmudic scholars reaches crisis point due to a clerical mixup over prestigious lifetime achievement award), which hardly prepares you for the at times stylistically dazzling and dramatically gripping end result." Film Comment

The story of a great rivalry between a father and son, both eccentric professors in the Talmud department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The son has an addictive dependency on the embrace and accolades that the establishment provides, while his father is a stubborn purist with a fear and profound revulsion for what the establishment stands for, yet beneath his contempt lies a desperate thirst for some kind of recognition. The Israel Prize, Israel's most prestigious national award, is the jewel that brings these two to a final, bitter confrontation.

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs Sep 29 - Oct 14. Full program guides available Sep 17. Sneak Preview guide available now online.

viff | corpo celeste

Looks more like Church Bash than Soul Food, but you never know....

Italy/Switzerland/France | Dir: Alice Rohrwacher | View Trailer

Gritty, authentic, graced by superb naturalistic performances and often truly funny, Alice Rohrwacher's debut dramatic comedy focusses on 13-year-old Marta as she copes with her new life in Calabria after a decade in Switzerland. Catholic traditions are strong in her new village, but as Marta prepares to be confirmed, her growing sense of self causes her to question everything.

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs Sep 29 - Oct 14. Full program guides available Sep 17. Sneak Preview guide available now online.

Friday, August 26, 2011

the secret of the kells | ken priebe

Animator Ken Priebe has just posted an in-depth look at The Secret of the Kells at his website, Breath Of Animation.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

sep 3 | stalker | eye of newt score

When PT presented The Passion Project in the 2010 PuSh Festival, it was paired with another exploration of Dreyer's masterpiece of silent cinema, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc - a screening of the film accompanied by a new Stefan Smulovitz score, performed by the Eye Of Newt Collective, partly scored, partly improvised. Now the lizard-lensed ensemble bring us another such project, this time tackling another challenging work by another of the most celebrated Soul Food auteurs, Andrei Tarkovsky.

Join us at the Russian Hall Sept 3 to bid bon voyage to Billy Marchenski and Alison Denham as they embark the next day for the Ukraine. Billy, a Radix Associate, is lead creator on Slowpoke, a Radix project in development inspired by the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. He and co-creator Alison will be staying near the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone for a month, touring the site and developing ideas for the production.

"Not an easy film, but almost certainly a great one."
Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader

Stalker was made by Andrei Tarkovsky seven years prior to the 1986 accident and eerily fore-shadowed the event. The "stalker" is a professional guide who leads his two clients to "The Zone," an area with the supposed potential to fulfil a person's innermost desires.

Another Radix Associate, Stefan Smulovitz will revive his Eye of Newt Collective, (Silent Summer Nights, The Blinding Light!! Cinema) and gather some of Vancouver's top improvising musicians to "re-imagine" the soundtrack live, with additional work from Radix performers.

Original film rated 100% by Rotten Tomatoes film review website

Admission is $10, snacks and beverages provided.
Bring a pillow, the movie is about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Proceeds to Radix Theatre Society.

Saturday, September 3rd 8pm
Russian Hall 600 Campbell Avenue
Vancouver, BC

peter bradshaw on tree of life

Isn't the end of that first paragraph disheartening? I kind of thought maybe the planet was beyond that crap. Oh well, some things just don't change, I guess. Or they don't stay changed. We do better here in Vancouver, anyway...

Tree Of Life
Brad Pitt and Sean Penn are the stars of Terrence Malick latest film, a hugely ambitious and passionate masterpiece
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

At the premiere of Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, which I reviewed at the Cannes film festival in May, the movie's final moments were almost drowned out by the booing, jeering and giggling in the auditorium, a response widely developed into a note of balanced and wearily tolerant dismissal in print. People would repeatedly reproach me for my own laudatory notice; this film, they said, was pretentious, boring and – most culpably of all – Christian. Didn't I realise, they asked, that Malick was a Christian?

Well, that last accusation may be true, and the time I have spent since brooding on this film and revisiting others by Malick, have led me to think that The Tree of Life may well come to be seen as this decade's great Christian artwork. But I still prefer to think of it as something other than that. Just as Dietrich Bonh̦ffer called for a religionless Christianity, so the movie for me created a Christianityless metaphysics. It is a magnificent, toweringly ambitious and visionary work Рbrilliantly shot by Emmanuel Lubezki, passionately felt, and deeply serious in its address to the audience. The Tree of Life is about the inner crisis of a tormented man in his middle years and the terrible unchangeability of the past. As this man briefly forces himself to consider his own negligible place in the universe, the film gestures at the unimaginable reaches of geological and stellar time, depicting nothing less than the origins of the cosmos and man himself in a colossal Kubrickian symphony of images.

Sean Penn plays a middle-aged executive evidently in the throes of a midlife breakdown, and he is mentally carried back in time to his boyhood in 1950s west Texas, where he and his brothers were dominated by an overbearing father, superbly played by Brad Pitt – a ferocious disciplinarian who abandoned his early vocation for music to become a failed businessman.

Their mother, played by Jessica Chastain, is a gentle, religious soul who asks her sons to follow the way of divine grace, rather than be content to thrive as natural beings. Their father wants them merely to be strong. When one of the brothers dies at the age of 19 on military service, it creates a wound that promises never to heal. Penn's character comes to realise that time, so far from soothing the agonies of our past, may simply preserve and even intensify them as we come to confront our own mortality.

So we are plunged back into an ecstatically remembered childhood before this tragedy, in which their mother plants a tree that she tells her boys will grow to its maturity long after they have grown to theirs. It is a prelapsarian time, yet hardly an Eden. Pitt's formidable dad presides over them all like a pained tyrant, trying to force them to appreciate music, yet also challenging his boys to toughen up, demanding that they hit him in sparring sessions in the front yard and having no scruples about hitting them for the smallest discourtesy or disobedience. Without realising it, he has taught them to think of love and fear as the same emotion. It is an electrifying performance.

And all the time, gigantic scenes from the secret life of the cosmos endow these family dramas with something alienated, bewildering – a sense of a terrifying new perspective in which their traumas are vanishingly tiny and yet have an excruciating new spiritual magnitude. They are a vivid part of an unending universal process in which man is destroyed, renewed, destroyed, renewed again – man, who mysteriously emerged from a natural landscape that exists independently of humanity and human consciousness. One of Malick's most remarkable "prehistoric" scenes shows one dinosaur approach another, apparently wounded dinosaur, place a claw on its neck, hold it there, remove it and impassively move on. What is happening? Mere survival? Or the intuition of something other than survival?

Watching The Tree of Life took me back to Malick's Jamesian drama Days of Heaven (1978), in which the unhurried action provided for one famously haunting shot of a landscape at dusk, in which the cloud-cover dips down at the horizon in a vortex of rainfall. Human life is held up against the massive fact of nature itself, impervious and indifferent to man. Revisiting his second world war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), I now see shots in the primeval forest of a "tree of life" – shots that I didn't notice first time around – and sequences in which dinosaur-descendant reptiles are examined by Malick's camera lens.

Perhaps this is what Malick's cinema is trying to teach us: a kind of Existence 101. He looks, almost stupefied – and as if seeing it for the first time – at a tree, or a river, or a cloud, and asks: why does this exist?

And from there, he takes us to the great unanswerable question, which we will all spend our lives trying, increasingly strenuously, to avoid – why does anything exist at all? This film may not be for everyone, but it makes other movies and other movie-makers look timid and feeble. I am an evangelist for it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ebert's Ten

I'm watching The Third Man this week, and this morning I went sniffing around the internet to see what I could see. Found my way, in that circuitous web-wandering way, to Roger Ebert's list of his personal ten favourite films, c. 1991. Compiled as he prepared to vote in the 1992 Sight & Sound critics poll. (Which reminds me - the next S&S poll comes out next year! Much listing fun.)

Ebert's list is a lovely little introduction to great film, but compiled for personal rather than other reasons. What I like best is that he's the first person I've found to make a convincing case for the inclusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the Arts & Faith 100. Alphabetically, then...

Greatest Films
Roger Ebert, April 1991

If I must make a list of the Ten Greatest Films of All Time, my first vow is to make the list for myself, not for anybody else. I am sure than Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" is a great film, but it's not going on my list simply so I can impress people. Nor will I avoid "Casablanca" simply because it's so popular: I love it all the same.

If I have a criteria for choosing the greatest films, it's an emotional one. These are films that moved me deeply in one way or another. The cinema is the greatest art form ever conceived for generating emotions in its audience. That's what it does best. (If you argue instead for dance or music, drama or painting, I will reply that the cinema incorporates all of these arts).

Cinema is not very good, on the other hand, at intellectual, philosophical or political argument. That's where the Marxists were wrong. If a movie changes your vote or your mind, it does so by appealing to your emotions, not your reason. And so my greatest films must be films that had me sitting transfixed before the screen, involved, committed, and feeling.

Casablanca (1942, USA, Michael Curtiz)
It's because it makes me proud of the characters. These are not heroes: when they rise to heroism, it is so moving because heroism is not in their makeup. Their better nature simply informs them what they must do.

Citizen Kane (1941, USA, Orson Welles)
Routinely named the best film of all time, almost by default, in list after list. Maybe it is.

Floating Weeds (1959, Japan, Yasujiro Ozu)
Audiences never stop to think how they understand what a closeup is, or a reaction shot. They learned that language in childhood, and it was codified and popularized by D. W. Griffith, whose films were studied everywhere in the world - except in Japan. Ozu fashioned his style by himself, and never changed it, and to see his films is to be inside a completely alternative cinematic language.

Gates of Heaven (1978, USA, Erroll Morris)
A documentary about some people involved in a couple of pet cemeteries in Northern California. A film about life and death, pride and shame, deception and betrayal, and the stubborn quirkiness of human nature.

La Dolce Vita (1960, Italy, Federico Fellini)
Forget about its message, about the "sweet life" along Rome's Via Veneto, or about the contrasts between the sacred and the profane. Simply look at Fellini's ballet of movement and sound, the graceful way he choreographs the camera, the way the actors move.

Notorious (1946, USA, Alfred Hitchcock)
I do not have the secret of Alfred Hitchcock and neither, I am convinced, does anyone else. He made movies that do not date, that fascinate and amuse, that everybody enjoys and that shout out in every frame that they are by Hitchcock.

Raging Bull (1980, USA, Martin Scorsese)
Ten years ago, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver was on my list of the ten best films. Raging Bull addresses some of the same obsessions, and is a deeper and more confident film. Movie acting as good as any ever put on the screen.

The Third Man (1949, UK, Carol Reed)
Apart from the story, look at the visuals! The tense conversation on the giant ferris wheel. The giant, looming shadows at night. The carnivorous faces of people seen in the bombed-out streets of postwar Vienna, where the movie was shot on location. The chase through the sewers. And of course the moment when the cat rubs against a shoe in a doorway, and Orson Welles makes the most dramatic entrance in the history of the cinema. All done to the music of a single zither.

28 Up (1985, UK, Michael Apted)
The movies themselves play with time, condensing days or years into minutes or hours. Then going to old movies defies time, because we see and hear people who are now dead, sounding and looking exactly the same. Then the movies toy with our personal time, when we revisit them, by recreating for us precisely the same experience we had before. No other film I have ever seen does a better job of illustrating the mysterious and haunting way in which the cinema bridges time.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, USA, Stanley Kubrick)
a landmark of non-narrative, poetic filmmaking, in which the connections were made by images, not dialog or plot. The debates about the "meaning" of this film still go on. Surely the whole point of the film is that it is beyond meaning, that it takes its character to a place he is incapable of understanding. The movie lyrically and brutally challenges us to break out of the illusion that everyday mundane concerns are what must preoccupy us. It argues that surely man did not learn to think and dream, only to deaden himself with provincialism and selfishness. 2001 is a spiritual experience. But then all good movies are.

Read more on each of Roger Ebert's selections, and more about the Sight & Sound poll (1952-1992), here. And you can click on any of the poster images for a closer look.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

aug 28 | m*a*s*h | cineplex classic films

M*A*S*H (1970)
"M*A*S*H Gives a D*A*M*N"
Directed by: Robert Altman
Cast: Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, Tom Skerritt, Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, Rene Auberjonois
Plot: The staff of a Korean War field hospital use humor and hijinks to keep their sanity in the face of the horror of war.

Sunday, August 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.

M*A*S*H is available on DVD and Blu-ray at Videomatica

Friday, August 19, 2011

aug 19-21 | videomatica weekend

As you know, our favourite video store is closing. But they're going out in style - this weekend, they've taken over the VanCity Theatre to big-screen several of VM's most popular titles. Get the whole schedule here: I'll just underline a favourite...

The Third Man
6pm Saturday
Graham Greene screenplay, directed by Carol Reed, starring Orson Welles

...and a couple Soul Food-ish selections...

The Big Lebowski
8:15 Saturday
The keystone of Cathleen Falsani's book "The Dude Abides: The Gospel According To The Coen Brothers."

Latcho Drom
8:30 Sunday
A film Anne Lamott celebrates in her exceptional book Traveling Mercies.