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?

Halifax film screening picks — April 20-26

20 Apr
April 20, 2015

There is a pretty confusing event listing in The Coast that suggests there are Monday and Tuesday screenings of the documentary Highway of Tears this week—but both screenings are on Monday—6pm at Spatz Theatre, and 7PM at the Bus Stop Theatre. This documentary, which premiered at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in Toronto last year, chronicles the notorious, decades-long string of murders and disappearances of young Indigenous women along British Columbia’s Highway 16. These are fundraiser screenings for the Loretta Saunders Scholarship Fund, and there will be post-screening Q&As hosted by director Matt Smiley with Loretta’s sister, Delilah Saunders.

It’s a good week for fans of short films by emerging filmmakers.  The week kicks off with a screening of short films by NSCAD film students at Cineplex Park Lane, starting with thesis films at 6pm (see this article in The Coast), and then the Film 1&2 shorts at 7:30pm.

Then the Emerging Lens Cultural Film Festival opens Wednesday, 6:30pm at the Central Library, and continues through Saturday with free screenings at daVinci College on Thursday and the Black Cultural Centre on Friday and Saturday. Opening night features a five-film lineup that includes the notable 12-minute short “Righteous” by the estimable Cory Bowles.

The Dal Art Gallery noir series continues this week with the only classic film noir to be directed by a woman—The Bigamist (1953), directed by and starring Ida Lupino.

The Novel Tech Ethics screening of Waltz With Bashir, originally scheduled for March 19, is now happening this Thursday. The politically problematic yet widely praised animated war documentary will be followed by an expert panel discussion on the topics of post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, memory, and coping & resilience.

Carbon Arc will wrap up its spring series of Friday screenings this week with Marinoni: The Fire in the Frame, a documentary about legendary bike racer and bike builder Giuseppe Marinoni.

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

The Tempest (2010) (Netflix Canada picks)

17 Apr
April 17, 2015

Julie Taymor, France, 2010, 120 minutes

Listen, I dig a superhero CGI-fest as much as the next person, but I feel the gender imbalance when it comes to roles, scripts, writers and directors is nothing short of egregious here in 2015. I’m at least relieved that, following the exit of Michelle McLaren from the Wonder Woman film, her replacement appears to be Patty Jenkins, and not, you know, some dude. While we wait for that one to drop we still have Julie Taymor’s The Tempest, in which Helen Mirren—as you would expect—kicks ass and effortlessly carries this spectacle that looks way more expensive than its $20 million budget. The striking visual effects are by Kyle Cooper, who made his name creating title sequences (most notably Seven) but who went on from here to supervise the effects for Tron: Legacy, Prometheus, and Iron Man 3. Prospera is an appealing superhero, depending on brains and techno-magical mastery to seek redress for past wrongs to her and her family, as well as on her sidekick Ariel who with his teleportation, invisibility, telekinesis and weather control is like a bunch of X-Men rolled into one. The film has its flaws, including a jarringly genre-hopping music score by Elliot Goldenthal, and a hounds-of-hell chase sequence pitched awkwardly somewhere between Lord of the Rings and Benny Hill. But the casting is brilliant across the board (yes, even Russell Brand is an inspired choice here), and so seamlessly has the origin story been wound around Mirren’s Prospera that you would never believe that a certain previous draft of this script featured a male lead. Did I mention that that previous draft was by William Shakespeare?

Halifax film screening picks — April 13-19

13 Apr
April 13, 2015

Inescapably this week’s major film story in Halifax is the provincial Liberal government’s ruthless and shortsighted gutting of the local industry in last week’s budget. Seems like the right time to rally around and celebrate one of the classics of local production of the past two decades. Thom Fitzgerald’s docu-drama homage to mid-2oth-century muscle magazines premiered at Sundance in 1999, and this Sunday there’s an opportunity to have a fresh look—there’s a special OUTEast Film Festival benefit screening at the Company House. This is a $10/ticket fundraiser in support of a couple of local plays that will be travelling to the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival in May.

Speaking of revisiting mid-20th-century myth-making, The Radical Imagination Project has another screening at the central library in their gentrification-themed film series tonight. The well-regarded 2010 documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth seeks to unearth what really happened in the large-scale urban renewal projects of the time, specifically the titular redevelopment in St. Louis, and to reinstate its residents as worth protagonists in their drama of survival and adaptation.

Ever seen Joseph Losey’s remake of Fritz Lang’s M? Yeah, me neither, but even the concept of having Losey take a crack at that story seems pretty intriguing to me. Dal Art Gallery’s film noir series, artfully curated by Ron Foley MacDonald, offers up this 1951 version at this Wednesday’s screening.

Carbon Arc this Friday has the Zellner brothers’ English/Japanese Fargo-referencing meta-fable Kumiko: The Treasure Hunter, which I haven’t seen either but which looks thoroughly intriguing. I dig this pull-quote from Todd McCarthy: “A work of rigorously disciplined eccentricity, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is at once entirely accessible and yet appealing only to a rarified crowd ready to key into its narrow-bandwidth sense of humor.”

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

  • Monday (Apr 13) — The Pruitt-Igoe Myth, Halifax Central Library, 7pm, free, presented by the Radical Imagination Project. Chad Freidrichs, USA, 2011, 79 minutes.
  • Tuesday (Apr 14) — It Follows, Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, 2:10‎pm, 4:50pm,‎ 7:35pm,‎ 10:00pm‎, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continuing through Sunday (at least)—times changing slightly on Friday. David Robert Mitchell, USA, 2013, 97 minutes. Smart-horror sensation in the third & fourth week of its Halifax run.
  • Wednesday (Apr 15) — M, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 8pm, free. Joseph Losey, USA, 1951, 88 minutes.
  • Friday (Apr 17) — Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, 7pm, Carbon Arc Cinema @ the Museum of Natural History, $7. David Zellner, USA, 2014, 104 minutes.
  • Sunday (Apr 19) — Beefcake, 7pm, The Company House – 2202 Gottingen St, $10 advance tickets here. Thom Fitzgerald, Canada, 1999, 97 minutes.

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (Netflix Canada picks)

10 Apr
April 10, 2015

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?: An Animated Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Michel Gondry, France, 2013, 88 minutes

I like to think the world subdivides into people who think like Michel Foucault, people who think like Noam Chomsky, and, I suppose, people who don’t think in much of a structured way at all. I’m probably a natural Foucauldian but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the Chomskyian way as well. But, even more, I appreciate hand-drawn film animation—especially when it is as artful as this, illustrating a fascinating and humanizing conversation with the beloved linguistic theorist and political activist, without become overly distracting on the one hand or overly didactic on the other. All of Gondry’s films have a certain eccentric, artisanal quality but this may top them all as a transparent labour of love. I can’t think of another documentary film like it.

Halifax film screening picks — April 6-12

06 Apr
April 6, 2015

“Everyone should see Damián Szifrón’s Wild Tales… catch it as part of a crowd and you may experience an all-too-rare phenomenon when the first segment ends: a cinema full of people cheering and applauding.” That’s just a taste of Nicholas Barber’s piece in The Guardian arguing that Wild Tales could inspire the return of the anthology film, or as the Brits like to call them, portmanteaux. This Friday you can see it in Halifax at a Carbon Arc screening.

Carbon Arc also has a Wednesday screening this week of Xavier Dolan’s cathartic 2014 Cannes Jury Prize winner Mommy, co-presented with Alliance Française Halifax and Séries FICFA.

The Dal Art Gallery noir series this Wednesday has In A Lonely Place, one of the essential films by the great director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause, Bigger Than Life, Johnny Guitar). Humphrey Bogart stars in this adaptation of the novel by Dorothy Hughes.

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

  • Monday (Apr 6) — The Sound of Music, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Robert Wise, USA, 174 minutes. Final screening for this engagement.
  • Tuesday (Apr 7) — It Follows, Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, 2:10‎pm, 4:50pm,‎ 7:40pm,‎ 10:05pm‎, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continuing through Sunday. David Robert Mitchell, USA, 2013, 97 minutes. Smart-horror sensation in the second & third week of its Halifax run.
  • Wednesday (Apr 8) — In a Lonely Place, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 8pm, free. Nicholas Ray, USA, 1950, 94 minutes.
    Mommy, 7pm, Carbon Arc Cinema @ the Museum of Natural History, $5 suggested donation. Xavier Dolan, Canada, 2014, 138 minutes.
  • Friday (Apr 10) — Wild Tales, 7pm, Carbon Arc Cinema @ the Museum of Natural History, $7. Damián Szifrón, Argentina & Spain, 2014, 122 mins.

Footnote (Netflix Canada picks)

03 Apr
April 3, 2015

Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2011, 107 minutes

Some films attempt to find the epic in the marginal but few succeed better, and certainly none more literally, than this gem of a drama set in the hothouse of academia. A father-son pair of Talmudic scholars at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem share a painfully difficult relationship that threatens to melt down completely when one of them is set to receive the Israel Prize, the nation’s highest honour. A misunderstanding leads to a confrontation with the prize committee that might be the most intense verbal showdown on film since Bruce McGill’s courtroom explosion in The Insider. The movie steadfastly refuses to take sides, deconstructing both male egos from various points of view including those of their wives. A brilliantly constructed script—that deservedly won top prize at Cannes—is matched by top-notch performances by Lior Ashkenazi and stage comedian Shlomo Bar Aba.

Halifax film screening picks — March 30-April 5

30 Mar
March 30, 2015

If there is a horror film that has been more raved about in the past few months than It Follows, I don’t know what it is (ok maybe The Babadook). After successful screenings at TIFF and here at AFF this past September, the sophomore feature from David Robert Mitchell has finally made it back here through commercial distribution channels, and is playing this week at Scotiabank Cinema in Bayers Lake.

Tuesday, The Thrillema pays tribute to the recently passed, widely mourned Leonard Nimoy with a throwback screening of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, for my money still one of the most entertaining submarine-warfare dramas ever made, notwithstanding the fact that it is set in space, 270 years from now. Tickets are free but all taken as of Monday at noon so check the Facebook event listing or Twitter for availability.

The Dal Art Gallery series on Wednesday Max Ophüls’ The Reckless Moment—”A terrific noir melodrama of blackmail and self-sacrifice, with top-notch performances by Joan Bennett and James Mason,” says The Independent’s Anthony Quinn.

Carbon Arc screens the highly regarded Russian submission for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Leviathan, this Friday. Not to be confused with the equally highly regarded recent commercial fishing documentary of the same name, this fictional drama is “a modern reworking of the Book of Job… set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man who struggles against a corrupt mayor who wants his piece of land.”

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

  • Monday (Mar 30) — It Follows, Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, 1pm,‎ ‎3:35pm,‎ ‎6:25pm,‎ ‎& 9:05pm‎, regular pricing, continuing through the week but screening times change on Friday. David Robert Mitchell, USA, 2013, 97 minutes.
  • Tuesday (Mar 31) — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 8pm, The Thrillema @ the Museum of Natural History, advance tickets free, info here. Nicholas Meyer, USA, 1982, 112 minutes.
  • Wednesday (Apr 1) — The Reckless Moment, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 8pm, free. Max Ophüls, USA, 1949, 82 minutes.
    The Sound of Music, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Robert Wise, USA, 174 minutes.
  • Thursday (Apr 2) — ’71, Cineplex Park Lane, 4:10pm,‎ ‎6:50pm, &‎ ‎9:45‎‎pm, regular pricing, final day. Yann Demange, UK, 2014, 99 minutes.
  • Friday (Apr 3) — Leviathan, 7pm, Carbon Arc Cinema @ the Museum of Natural History, $7. Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2014, 142 minutes.