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.

Anne Lamott on LATCHO DROM

"But oh, the old women dancing: the old women who shine with the incredible stirring of spirit that has kept them lit over the years, even though the winds howl all around them."

Anne Lamott says her two best prayers are "Help me, help me, help me" and "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Sometimes one leads to the other.

One time in particular, the answer to the first and the route to the second was a movie. In love with a man and suddenly, desperately self-conscious, she found herself loathing the face and body that are the legacy of four hard-lived decades on this planet. "Even though both feminism and Christianity have taught me that I am my spirit, my heart, all that I have survived over the years and all that I have given, still a funny thing happened after I started liking this guy: I looked in the mirror, and sighed, and thought to myself, I will cut my eyes out."

The still, small voice prevailed – "this little-kid voice, this Tweety-bird voice" – and she asked God for "a little help with this stupidity." And what do you know, iInside ten minutes, friends called and she was on her way to see Latcho Drom, a film about gypsies, without dialogue, filled with dancing and singing and... Faces.
"The gypsies are all born old. The men are dashingly homely, as if cars have ridden over their faces. The young girls are beautiful beyond words, and the oldest women dance. But the middle-aged mothers look just like me and my friends – tired, baggy, in need of some repair."

She doesn't want to see this movie, but it begins to draw her in, to lift her up out of whatever it was she had been sinking down into. And as the old women dance, and she feels "the rush of the life force" inside them, inside her, she begins to se them – and possible, potentially, herself? – as the younger gypsies see them: "absolutely beautiful, visibly beautiful, like movie stars."

"Gypsies" is a piece of movie writing you really must read. Just as the book it comes from, Traveling Mercies, is a work of spiritual biography you really must spend some time with. Lamott is a gifted story-teller, an acute observer, a dazzling and hilarious stylist: coming to faith later in life after an intentionally non-Christian, countercultural upbringing (not that authentic Christianity isn't countercultural, but you know what I mean) and a prodigal young adulthood, the fresh wildness of her faith is breath-taking. Just as Aslan is not a tame lion, Anne is certainly not a tame Christian.

It's no surprise to me that God would use a sensual, soulful film like Latcho Drom to speak grace into the heart of this woman: a film that's not religious in any conventional sense, that's about bodies and faces, about soul and the spirit of a people, without being in any way about spiritual things. Jesus can make wine from any water – it's astounding to see what He can concoct from such a heady brew as this!

"Coming out of the movie that night, I realized that I want what the crones have: time for all those long deep breaths, time to watch more closely, time to learn to enjoy what I've always been afraid of – the sag and the invisibility, the ease of understanding that life is not about doing. The crones understand this, and it gives them all kinds of time – time to get much less done, time for all these holy moments."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Secret Sunshine on Criterion

New Criterion release. I saw this at the VIFF a few years ago, a Korean story about a woman in desperate straits who becomes involved with evangelical / charismatic Christians. I found it a pretty grim film, and it seemed to me that the Christians, while portrayed honestly and accurately enough, were weighed in the balance and found wanting. But you can decide for yourself. It's definitely a strong film.

Here's what Criterion has to say:
For this exquisite drama about faith and the search for redemption in the face of tragedy, Jeon Do-yeon was awarded the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s easy to see why: her devastating portrayal of the widowed piano teacher Shin-ae, trying to start her life over with her young son in a new town, is a master class in subtle expressivity. Secret Sunshine is a raw, unpredictable journey, led by a filmmaker you’ll be hearing a lot more about in coming years.
And, elsewhere,
A master of intensely emotional human dramas, director Lee Chang-dong is a luminary of contemporary Korean cinema, and his place on the international stage was cemented by this stirring and unpredictable work examining grief and deliverance. An effortless mix of lightness and uncompromising darkness, Secret Sunshine (Miryang) stars Cannes best actress winner Jeon Do-yeon as a widowed piano teacher who moves with her young son from Seoul to her late husband’s provincial hometown for a fresh start. Quietly expressive, supple filmmaking and sublime, subtle performances distinguish this remarkable portrayal of the search for grace amid tragedy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

aug 17 & 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.

Wednesday, August 17, 7:00pm
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