The Gatekeepers (Netflix Canada picks)

22 May
May 22, 2015

Dror Moreh, Israel/France/Belgium/Germany, 2012, 101 minutes

The Gatekeepers has got to be the most politically important film on Netflix, but it also happens to be one of the most fascinating. The film drew plenty of media attention on the 2012 festival circuit and then in release in 2013, putting six former heads of the Israeli secret service Shin Bet on camera for the first time ever, reflecting publicly on their actions and decisions. You might well wonder what would make them agree to the project—McNamara-esque regret, or Rumsfeldian hubris? It turns out to be much more the former, but also a shared concern at the stepwise evaporation of the two-state solution. Director Dror Moreh has taken more than a few cues from Errol Morris when it comes to creating a riveting viewing experience from talking-head interviews, archival photos & videos, and minimal/expressionist re-creations. Even the most skeptical reader of the ex-chiefs’ motives has to admit that they explain extremely well where the illegal settlements came from, and why they make Netanyahu-era Israel incapable of repairing its politics.

Halifax film screening picks — May 18-24

18 May
May 18, 2015

There are not many one-off screenings in Halifax this week (and that’s quite OK, if you’re as excited about Obey Convention as I am), but The Thrillema is back with a screening of the original Poltergeist this Wednesday. With the 2015 remake dropping this Friday, the timing is basically perfect for another look at the OTT original that remains seared into the brains of 80s kids everywhere.

The one documentary screening of note this week is a Fusion Halifax screening of the highly regarded 2006 film The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil. Note that this Central Library screening takes place in room 201.

This Sunday afternoon, the William-Wyler-directed musical Funny Girl, with Streisand and Sharif, is screening at the Oxford. This is a fundraiser for the Halifax Pride Festival.

If you’re looking for some multiplex entertainment on your Victoria Day Monday off, you could do worse than to check out the brilliant Mad Max: Fury Road, which I am convinced has set a new standard against which future action films will be judged. Though the film was not shot with 3D cameras as originally planned, it is quite obviously intended to be seen in 3D—and a successful post-conversion, I’d say. But you probably weren’t depending on me to tell you that…

Here are my Halifax area screening picks for selected days this week:

  • Monday (May 18) & Tuesday (May 19) — Mad Max: Fury Road, many screenings at several Cineplex locations‎, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film likely continues through the summer and possibly in perpetuity. George Miller, Australia/USA, 2015, 120 minutes.
    — Ex Machina, Cineplex Park Lane, 1:10pm,‎ ‎3:45pm, 7:20pm & 9:50‎pm‎; Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 11:55am,‎ ‎2:35pm, 5:15pm, ‎7:50pm & 10:25pm‎, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Alex Garland, UK, 2015, 108 minutes.
    — While We’re Young, Cineplex Park Lane, 3:55pm &‎ ‎10pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). ‎The highly-regarded latest feature from Noah Baumbach stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. USA, 2014, 97 minutes.
  • Wednesday (May 20) — Poltergeist (1982), The Thrillema @ the Museum of Natural History, 8pm, free advance tickets. Tobe Hooper, USA, 1982, 114 minutes.
  • Thursday (May 21) — The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, room 201 @ Halifax Central Library, 6:30pm, free, short discussion to follow. Faith Morgan, USA, 2006, 53 minutes.
  • Sunday (May 24) — Funny Girl, Cineplex Oxford, 1pm, $5. William Wyler, USA, 1968, 155 minutes.

Honeymoon (Netflix Canada picks)

15 May
May 15, 2015

Leigh Janiak, USA, 2014, 87 minutes

Yes, this is a movie about something weird happening at a spooky, isolated cabin in the woods, but it is anything but predictable. Director Leigh Janiak’s confessed influences run from the body-horror of Cronenberg and the Alien movies to the paranoia of Rosemary’s Baby and the emotional alienation of Haneke’s Amour, and once you watch this you will know she is not kidding about any of that. It’s pretty clear that she would rather work around the deconstructive edges of genre than simply recycle its phallogocentric core, so it was galling to read that this impressive debut feature wasn’t enough to stir the same kind of offers for bigger projects that seem to magically land on the desks of young male directors with buzzy debuts in the same space. But this week it was announced that she and her screenwriter partner will be taking on a remake of The Craft, so I guess we can stop worrying about where her next pay cheque is coming from. Instead, enjoy this refreshingly creative creep-out—ideally in the comforting company of someone you trust. Or not.

Halifax film screening picks — May 11-17

11 May
May 11, 2015

Cineplex Oxford and Dartmouth Crossing are both showing Ex Machina this week—the extremely well-received directorial debut of Alex Garland, the screenwriter for Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Sunshine. One of the many four-star reviews online comes from Matt Zoller Seitz, who effuses: “real science fiction is about ideas, which means that real science fiction is rarely seen on movie screens, a commercially minded canvas that’s more at ease with sensation and spectacle… Ex Machina is a rare and welcome exception to that norm.”

This Wednesday it will be 100 years, and exactly one week, since the birth of Orson Welles, and the Dal Art Gallery film noir series will be screening the unimpeachable, but not unrevisable, classic Touch of Evil, which is famous not only for its opening eight-minute tracking shot, but also for its chicanerous release & redaction history. The UK Blu-ray release has no less than five presentations of the film, including the theatrical release version, a preview release version, and the 1998 reconstructed version, which I suspect is what we will see on Wednesday.

The Radical Imagination Project has another free Monday urban-issues doc screening, this one in association with the Mayworks Festival, and on Tuesday AFCOOP has an interesting free screening—12 aboriginal Canadian shorts from the past decade, selected by Ariel Smith. The Ottawa International Animation Festival has more information about the program here.

All of this week’s one-off screenings are crammed into three nights, but hopefully Ex Machina and/or While We’re Young will stick around and offer some filmgoing options for the rest of the week.

Here are my Halifax area screening picks for selected days this week:

  • Monday (May 11) — Portrait of Resistance: The Art and Activism of Carole Condé and Karl Beveridge (Mayworks Halifax Festival event presented by the Radical Imagination Project), Halifax Central Library, 7pm, free, details here. Roz Owen, Canada, 2011, 72 minutes.
  • Tuesday (May 12) — Ex Machina, Cineplex Oxford, 6:45‎ ‎& 9:30‎, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 11:55am,‎ ‎2:35pm,‎ ‎5:15pm,‎ ‎7:55pm, &‎ ‎10:35pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Alex Garland, UK, 2015, 108 minutes.
    — While We’re Young, Cineplex Oxford, 6:45pm &‎ ‎9:15pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). ‎The highly-regarded latest feature from Noah Baumbach stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. USA, 2014, 97 minutes.
    Welcome to Kanata,  AFCOOP – 5663 Cornwallis Street, 7pm, free. A touring package of contemporary animated films by Canadian aboriginal filmmakers, curated by Ariel Smith, award-winning filmmaker and Director of the National Indigenous Arts Coalition. 12 films, 80 minutes total running time, event details here, program details here.
  • Wednesday (May 13) — Touch of Evil, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 8pm, free. Orson Welles, USA, 1958, 110-ish minutes.
    — Oklahoma!, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Fred Zinnemann, USA, 1955, 145 minutes.
    Heritage Minutes, Cineplex Park Lane, 6:30pm, free. Historica Canada presents a selection of classic Heritage Minutes, followed by the premiere of a brand new Heritage Minute.

Like Father, Like Son (Netflix Canada picks)

08 May
May 8, 2015

Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2013, 120 minutes

It can hardly believe it’s been 10 years or so since the Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda first came to my attention with the absorbing drama Nobody Knows, in which a family of four children try to hide the fact that they have been abandoned. In Like Father, Like Son, we have a similarly improbable, yet drawn from real life, dramatic hook—two boys have been switched at birth and the error comes to light six years on. As with his other films, the delight comes not from the destination but from the sheer craft of the storytelling. There really is no Western analog for the Kore-eda way of filmmaking—so understated and careful in approach; so fulsome and satisfying in effect. At Cannes in 2013 it was nominated for the Palme d’Or and won the Jury Prize—for me it was quite simply one of the very best films of that year.

Halifax film screening picks — May 4-10

04 May
May 4, 2015

With Montage of Heck not scheduled to screen on HBO Canada at any time in the foreseeable future, the only legal way to see the Kurt Cobain documentary in this country is to go to a one-off theatre screening tonight at 7pm.

Cineplex has a number of other special event screenings this week as well, including a live Rifftrax commentary-screening of the love-to-hate-it indie The Room on Wednesday, as well as family-friendly screenings this weekend of The Wizard of Oz and Oklahoma!.

There are just 3 weeks left in the Dal Art Gallery noir series and this week’s selection is noteworthy for being in colour and directed by the Canadian-born Allan Dwan—Slightly Scarlet, with John Payne, Rhonda Fleming, and Arlene Dahl.

The Mayworks Halifax festival continues this week with an AFCOOP-presented showcase of short films—Reel Justice.

Here are my Halifax area screening picks for selected days this week:

  • Monday (May 4) — Montage of Heck, Cineplex Park Lane & Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, regular pricing. Brett Morgen, USA, 2015, 132 minutes.
  • Tuesday (May 5) — While We’re Young, Cineplex Oxford, 6:45pm &‎ ‎9:15pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). ‎The highly-regarded latest feature from Noah Baumbach stars Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts. USA, 2014, 97 minutes.
  • Wednesday (May 6) — Reel Justice (Mayworks Halifax Festival short films presented by AFCOOP), Halifax Central Library, 6:30pm, free. 11 films, 94 minutes total running time, details here.
    Slightly Scarlet, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 8pm, free. Allan Dwan, USA, 1956, 99 minutes.
    — Rifftrax Live: The Room, Scotiabank Theatre Halifax, 9pm, regular pricing. The MST3K guys give the treatment (one time broadcast via satellite) to ” the most baffling and hilarious independent film ever produced.” 120 minutes, info and trailer here.
  • Saturday (May 9) — The Wizard of Oz, Scotiabank Theatre Halifax & Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing & Cineplex Lower Sackville, 11am, $2.99. Victor Fleming, USA, 1939, 101 minutes.
  • Sunday (May 10) — Oklahoma!, Cineplex Oxford & Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 12:55pm, $6. Fred Zinnemann, USA, 1955, 145 minutes.

Noah (Netflix Canada picks)

01 May
May 1, 2015

Darren Aronofsky, 2014, USA, 139 minutes

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah was such a divider of film-opinion and religious opinion alike that I was rather surprised to notice recently that it had made back three times its production budget in global box office. But the first surprise was seeing it when it was released to theatres—the bombastic trailer (as per usual, excerpting all the trailer-ready lines… “IT BEGINS,” puh-lease) had primed me for a cynical contempt-watch, but instead I was watching something so deeply thought out at every level that I was shocked into pure enjoyment.

I often say that I love spectacle/action movies but they don’t love me back—I’m always disappointed by scripts that are about one-tenth as meticulously engineered as the visual effects. But here we have a screenplay co-written by Harvard-educated neurobiologist Ari Handel, who had been working on the script with Aronofsky for more than a decade, and who clearly has thought deeply about canonical and extra-canonical Hebrew scriptural tradition, existential and ethical philosophy, creation and evolution (bombastic polemic on both sides of that culture war is common—creative mashups of both narratives, not so much), and our present environmental crisis. Recasting the narrative as a LOTR-era fantasy spectacle seems an audacious and insightful move to me, drawing on a close contemporary equivalent to Axial-Age-era myth-making.

The much-commented-upon CGI rock-monsters, the Watchers, have a back-story mined from the obscure ancient texts of 1 & 2 Enoch (not Gnostic writings, despite complaints to that effect from the evangelical right), and the crisis of ethics that transpires on board the ark manages to incorporate the core conflict of the later biblical story of Abraham & Isaac in a way that pushes to a hard point the dire implications of the story of a deity prepared to wipe out nearly all of humanity for its sins. There’s been an onslaught of apocalyptic fictions in the last few decades, from zombie horror to science-fiction Armageddons, and pop-science books describing what our world would be like post-environmental-disaster or post-humanity. In all of them there is a sense, latent or manifest, that if humanity were extinguished, it wouldn’t be completely unjustified. It’s in that context that Noah skillfully defossilizes one of the central quandaries of monotheism, putting it to the viewer as a question of surprising immediacy.

Halifax film screening picks — April 27-May 3

27 Apr
April 27, 2015

This Wednesday is Canadian Film Day, and there are two or perhaps three screenings happening to mark it. Carbon Arc has its final screening of its spring film season with On the Trail of the Far Fur Country, a documentary that follows what happens when the 1920 (two years before Nanook of the North!) silent documentary film The Romance of the Far Fur Country is rediscovered and taken back to the communities where it was shot. The Atlantic Film Festival is presenting an afternoon screening of the Don-McKellar-helmed Newfoundland comedy The Grand Seduction, and if the Canadian Film Day website is to be believed, the Scotiabank Cinema in Bayers Lake has a 7pm screening of the Daniel-Radcliffe-starring rom-com The F Word—though this has yet to be confirmed on the Cineplex website.

The Radical Imagination Project is back with another gentrification-themed Monday documentary screening at the Central Library, this time with a local angle. This screening includes Shelagh Mackenzie’s 1991 doc Remembering Africville, along with the 2012 documentary My Brooklyn.

The Thrillema is back this week as well—with a planned screening of The Road Warrior shut down by the Warner legal department, the replacement is Streets of Fire (1984)—”a rock n’ roll fable of motorcycles, mayhem, street gangs, and Willem Dafoe.” All this and Diane Lane, too.

The latest instalment in the Dal Art Gallery noir series is 1955’s The Big Combo—an especially visual striking instance of the genre.

Last but definitely not least, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, which is screening in a number of Canadian locations as part of Canadian Film Day, is screening here the next day at the opening of the Mayworks Halifax Festival, at the Central Library. The 2013 feature is a historic-fictional story of revenge, focusing on a Mi’kmaq Indian youth thrown into a residential school. It won the Best Canadian Feature Film award at the 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Here are my Halifax area screening picks for selected days this week:

  • Monday (Apr 27) — My Brooklyn & Remember Africville, Halifax Central Library, 7pm, free. Kelly Anderson, USA, 2012, 85 minutes | Shelagh Mackenzie, Canada, 1991, 35 minutes.
  • Tuesday (Apr 28) — Streets of Fire, The Thrillema @ the Museum of Natural History, 8pm, free advance tickets. Walter Hill, USA, 1984, 93 minutes.
    —  It Follows, Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, 12:05‎pm, 2:25‎pm, 4:50pm,‎ 7:40pm,‎ 10:00pm‎, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continuing through Thursday (at least). David Robert Mitchell, USA, 2013, 97 minutes. Smart-horror sensation in the fifth week of its Halifax run.
  • Wednesday (Apr 29) — The Grand Seduction, Halifax Central Library, 2pm, free. Don McKellar, Canada, 2013, 115 minutes.
    —  On the Trail of the Far Fur Country, Carbon Arc Cinema @ the Museum of Natural History, 7pm, $7. Kevin Nikkel, Canada, 2014, 80 minutes.
    The F Word, Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, 7pm. Michael Dowse, Ireland/Canada, 2013, 101 minutes.
    — The Big Combo, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 8pm, free. Joseph H. Lewis, USA, 1955, 84 minutes.
  • Thursday (Apr 30) — Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Halifax Central Library, 7:15pm, preceded by opening address and All Nations Drummers at 6:30pm, free. Jeff Barnaby, Canada, 2013, 88 minutes.

Blu-ray diary: Roberto Rossellini—The War Trilogy (BFI limited-edition Blu-ray box set)

26 Apr
April 26, 2015

rossellini_the_war_trilogy_coverFilm disc collectors often talk guiltily, or regretfully, or occasionally scornfully, about “double-dipping”—buying a new Blu-ray edition of a film previously purchased on DVD or on an inferior Blu-ray. But if there was ever a case for it (as well as for owning a multi-region player), it’s this brilliant new Region “B” numbered edition of 3000 from the British Film Institute.

The restoration work for the films transferred here was performed, as one might expect, by the nonpareil Cineteca di Bologna, in 2013, and the image is a substantial upgrade, as you can see in the comparison screenshots in DVD Beaver’s review. What you can’t see is the even more remarkable improvement in sound. I did a little toggling between this edition and the Criterion DVD set from 2010, and the audio restoration is a massive step up in fidelity and clarity.

Because Rome, Open City is important not just to film history, but to history in general, and likely because it is more conventional than Paisan or Germany Year Zero in its construction, it has tended to overshadow the other two films. And yet the latter two are more representative of Rossellini’s particular genius. So the presentation on these discs perhaps levels the playing field, allowing all three films to be better appreciated as the masterpieces they are.

What makes the 2010 Criterion DVDs still worth having is the incredible forest of extras, several hours’ worth, which really help to illuminate the films and their context.

The BFI Blu-ray set brings forward perhaps the best of these—a half-hour visual essay about the entire trilogy by Rossellini biographer Tag Gallagher called “Into the Future.” It also has two features that the Criterion box lacks: a 2005 documentary Children of Open City in which Roma: Città Aperta lead kid actor Vito Annicchiarico, nearly six decades on from the film, goes on a surprising journey of reminiscence, and, remarkably, a freshly restored transfer of Rossellini’s Amore (1948), a two-part anthology film that showcases the incredible acting talents of the great Anna Magnani. The first part is from a play by Jean Cocteau, and the second is scripted by, and features an appearance by, Federico Fellini, complete with a remarkable blond dye-job.

While the 2010 DVD box is being target-marketed to me via Facebook for “only” $69 at amazon.ca (before tax&shipping), the new BFI box came from Amazon UK for $56 all in, thanks to the continuing relative strength of the Canadian dollar against the UK pound. (Canadian collectors note: Amazon UK is a fantastic source of Blu-ray deals, especially, but not only, if you invest in a multi-region player.)

So, the Criterion box may be the winner on extras, but if you want the most pristine presentation of these historic films, the new BFI box is a slam dunk. The time may come when Criterion releases a set that combines the best of both, but in the meantime, this is the Blu-ray release of 2015 so far.

Goodbye to Language; Film Socialisme (Netflix Canada picks)

25 Apr
April 25, 2015

Goodbye to Language / Adieu au Langage – Jean-Luc Godard, France/Switzerland, 2014, 69 minutes

Film Socialisme – Jean-Luc Godard, France, 2010, 102 minutes

When I saw recently that Goodbye to Language had been added to Netflix Canada, I wondered whether there would even be a point to a 2D viewing. Godard’s 42nd feature film is notably his first in 3D, and having seen it through the glasses at two different film festivals (incidentally using two different 3D technologies) I can confirm that it is very much about its own experimentation with the format. But it turns out that a 2D viewing is fully engaging in its own way—flattening the image makes it less disorienting, which clarifies the overall structure. That said, you’ve got to have tolerance for obliqueness if you’re to enjoy Godard’s late period in the first place, so it’s generally best not to expect to understand all the referencing on first or second viewing. And really there’s no harm or shame in seeking out an explanation of the structure of the film, any more than there is in reading the Bloomsday Book in order to figure out the plot of Ulysses. To illuminate the framework of the film is not necessarily to reduce it, but still those who prefer films with neater, more explainable puzzles are probably best served by sticking with Christopher Nolan.

Film Socialisme, on the other hand, has always struck me as a perfect Netflix film. Godard’s first HD video feature, it screens really nicely on flatscreen TV or on a tablet or laptop with headphones. I especially recommend the latter approach for appreciating the inventive/experimental sound mix. That said, what makes this film a must-see, quite apart from its pure creativity, is the unplanned aura of tragedy that hangs over the entire first part of the film—due to its having been filmed on a cruise on the Costa Concordia. Other highlights include a cameo appearance by Patti Smith and an enigmatic turn by a llama (possibly one-upped in Goodbye to Language by Roxy the dog). As a study of civilization itself, it manages to be cryptic, dogmatic, and self-deconstructing all at once, but who would expect less from the most challenging director still working?