We Are What We Are [2010]; We Are What We Are [2013] (Netflix Canada picks)

31 Jul
July 31, 2015

We Are What We Are (Somos lo que hay) – Jorge Michel Grau, Mexico, 2010, 89 minutes

We Are What We Are – Jim Mickle, USA, 2013, 105 minutes

So many remakes, especially the most common kind—English-language versions of foreign-language horror films—seem to exist for reasons that are commercially sensible but artistically redundant. The idea of fixing something that isn’t broken generally offends me, and so I tend to avoid. What’s more, I often balk at awkwardly shallow/ill-thought attempts at transposing a story from one cultural context to another.

But Jim Mickle’s remake of We Are What We Are is a remarkable exception. He takes the general setup of the original—a family of cannibals tries to hold it together after a key member dies—and moves the setting from the slums of Mexico City to small-town America, with fascinating results. It similarly injects the story with enough social realism to make an improbable plot feel believable, but it simplifies the plot somewhat, possibly slowing down the third act a little too much, but paying off with a conclusion that has to be seen to be believed—and will still come as a surprise even if you’ve watched the original.

For its part, the 2010 original by Jorge Michel Grau is nearly as good—perhaps slightly hampered by a couple of plot points that don’t quite work, and by a couple of script passages that feel a little unsure in their character definition. But it, too, winds, with a series of rapid-fire twists, to a remarkable finish. In fact it really doesn’t matter which of the two you watch first—neither film is predictable based on its counterpart, and each has something unique to offer. Good on Netflix for offering up both.

Halifax film screening picks — July 27-Aug 2

27 Jul
July 27, 2015

There is just one special screening of note this week—the Atlantic Film Festival Summer of SuperHeroes outdoor screening series continues at the Halifax waterfront (Tall Ships Quay) with X-Men: First Class. Screening is at 9:05pm, preceded by the Siddhartha Fraser-directed short film Kona (2005).

At Cineplex screens, the Winehouse doc Amy continues at the Oxford, and the Scotiabank Theatre Halifax in Bayers Lake has the well-regarded Brit-com What We Did On Our Holiday, with Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, and Billy Connolly.

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

  • Tuesday (July 28) — Amy, Cineplex Oxford, 6:45pm &‎ ‎9:45‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Asif Kapadia, UK, 2015, 128 minutes.
    — What We Did On Our Holiday, Scotiabank Theatre Halifax, 1:10pm,‎ ‎3:30pm,‎ ‎5:50pm,‎ ‎8:10pm, &‎ ‎10:30‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Andy Hamilton & Guy Jenkin, UK, 2014, 95 minutes.
  • Friday (July 31) — X-Men: First Class, Tall Ships Quay, Halifax waterfront, 9:05pm, free, concessions & gates open at 8:05pm. Matthew Vaughn, USA, 2011, 132 minutes.

The Punk Singer (Netflix Canada picks)

24 Jul
July 24, 2015

Sini Anderson, USA, 2013, 81 minutes

Snappily edited, and brilliantly music-sequenced, this Kathleen Hanna bio-doc offers a fascinating story that is as much about a personal evolution through feminism as it is about music. Pop culture checkpoints in the film include Hanna contributing the title “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to Kurt Cobain in amusing circumstances, getting punched out by Courtney Love, and getting married to the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz; interview segments include Kim Gordon, Carrie Brownstein, and Joan Jett. Hanna went through years of declining health before finally being diagnosed with Lyme disease, and this project (born via Kickstarter) was perhaps a way for her to explain her multi-year absence from music with some message control. The penultimate section of the film explains the difficulty of getting an accurate diagnosis, perhaps attempting to avoid the perception that her health decline was a failure of self-care (the film edges up against such questions without really opening them). I’m glad she’s back, I hope she’s ok, and I will be watching The Punk Singer again.

Halifax screening picks — July 20-26

20 Jul
July 20, 2015

With Halifax Pride Week comes a number of celebratory film screenings at the Halifax Central Library, including two essential, historic documentaries.  The Times of Harvey Milk, the 1984 film about the legendary San Francisco activist (and selected by the U.S. Library of Congress in 2012 for preservation in the National Film Registry), screens on Monday, and Paris Is Burning, the 1990 doc about NYC drag balls in the 1980s, has a 25th anniversary screening on Wednesday.

Amy, the new Amy Winehouse doc that is absolutely covered in rave reviews, plays the Oxford this week.

One more strong doc screening this week, but in Liverpool—on Wednesday the Astor Theatre has Iris, about fashion icon Iris Apfel. This is the final documentary by legendary director Albert Maysles.

This week’s Atlantic Film Festival Summer of SuperHeroes outdoor screening at the Halifax waterfront (Tall Ships Quay) is my personal favourite of the bunch—1978’s Superman: The Movie. Screening is at 9:15pm, preceded by the Jason-Eisener-produced short Moving Day (2007) by John Davies.

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

  • Monday (July 20) — The Times of Harvey Milk, Halifax Central Library, 6pm, free. Rob Epstein, USA, 1984, 90 minutes.
    — Jaws, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Steven Spielberg, USA, 1975, 124 minutes.
  • Tuesday (July 21) — Amy, Cineplex Oxford, 6:45pm &‎ ‎9:45‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Asif Kapadia, 2015, UK, 128 minutes.
  • Wednesday (July 22) — Paris is Burning, Halifax Central Library, 6:30pm, free. Jennie Livingston, USA, 1990, 78 minutes.
  • Friday (July 24) — Superman, Tall Ships Quay, Halifax waterfront, 9:15pm, free, concessions & gates open at 8:15pm. Richard Donner, USA, 1978, 151 minutes.

And one South Shore screening pick this week:

  • Wednesday (July 22) — Iris, Astor Theatre (59 Gorham Street, Liverpool), 7pm, $8. Albert Maysles, USA, 2014, 80 minutes.

The Thin Blue Line (Netflix Canada picks)

17 Jul
July 17, 2015

Errol Morris, USA, 1988, 103 minutes

This documentary owes its outsized reputation not just to its groundbreaking/influential cinematic style, but more than anything to the fact that its indisputable analysis freed the wrongly-convicted Randall Adams, who had been sentenced to life in prison for a cop-killing committed by another man. I’m not sure how well the re-enactment footage has aged (and it was criticized in some quarters upon release), but I continue to be impressed at a certain level with the way that it puts forward the prosecution’s version of the case as a visual question. What’s more, the film inevitably points up the incredible dysfunction of the American justice system, but does so by raising one specific doubt after another, rather than by generalizations and pontifications. After nearly three decades, that kind of faithfulness to the viewer still pleases, as does the remarkable atmospheric score by Philip Glass.

Cinephile note: this is not an impressive transfer, with artifacting, dirt and scratches visible throughout. Those looking for a more pristine presentation might consider the recent Criterion Blu-ray edition, which as it happens is available in the bi-annual Barnes & Noble 50% off Criterion sale, currently in progress.

 

 

Halifax film screening picks — July 13-19

13 Jul
July 13, 2015

Halifax’s best film screening series—Carbon Arc Cinemacelebrates its 5th anniversary this week with the 5th annual edition of the Animation With Love showcase. The 90-minute free screening at the Museum of Natural History, at 8pm, follows on this Thursday’s Food Truck Party kicking off at 4pm on the museum grounds, so anytime during the party you’ll be able to come inside and have your name added to the attendance list, to guarantee your seat.

If you’re bummed out about this week’s announcement that Atticus Finch is about to be literarily redefined from righteous advocate to reprehensible racist, maybe tonight (Monday) you can take comfort by revisiting Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance in that role in the classic film adaptation—Cineplex has a one-off screening at Scotiabank Theatre Halifax. (Personally I still resent the fact that the Oscar went to Peck’s two-dimensional square-jawed hero instead of the three-dimensional complexity of Peter O’Toole’s T.H. Lawrence—yeah when it comes to film history, I can hold a grudge.)

The Atlantic Film Festival is bringing its Summer of SuperHeroes outdoor screening series to the Halifax waterfront (Tall Ships Quay) this week with a screening of Sam Raimi’s 2002 Spider-Man, which is so two reboots ago. The screening kicks off around 9:25pm preceded by the 2008 Namir Ahmed short Golden Age in another instalment of the AFCOOP Film 5 retrospective which is paired with the outdoor screening series.

If you’re looking for some jaw-dropping imagery that has nothing to do with action heroes, the Oxford this week has the acclaimed documentary The Salt of the Earth. Nominated for best doc at the Oscars, and winner for best doc at the Césars, the film is co-directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Salgado, the son of Sebastião Salgado, the acclaimed globetrotting photographer whose life and work it depicts.

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

  • Monday (July 13) — To Kill a Mockingbird, Scotiabank Theatre Halifax (Bayers Lake), 7pm, $6. Alan J. Pakula, USA, 1962, 129 minutes.
  • Tuesday (July 14) — The Salt of the Earth, Cineplex Oxford, 6:45pm &‎ ‎9:15‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Wim Wenders & Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, 2014, France/Brazil, 110 minutes.
  • Wednesday (July 15) — Jaws, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Steven Spielberg, USA, 1975, 124 minutes.
  • Thursday (July 16) — Animation With Love: 5 – Animated Shorts Screening, Museum of Natural History, 8pm, free, donations to the cinema welcome. Curated by Siloën Daley & Dylan Edwards, approx. 90 minutes.
  • Friday (July 17) — Spider-Man, Tall Ships Quay, Halifax waterfront, 9:25pm, free, concessions & gates open at 8:25pm. Sam Raimi, USA, 2002, 121 minutes.

Foxcatcher; Moneyball (Netflix Canada picks)

10 Jul
July 10, 2015

Foxcatcher – Bennett Miller, USA, 2014, 134 minutes

Moneyball – Bennett Miller, USA, 2011, 113 minutes

In most reviews of Foxcatcher there is very little criticism of what’s actually on screen. The few negative comments tend to focus on what’s not there—and that might be because, for a film that adopts a very linear, stepwise approach to narrating a very strange episode in American social history (no flashbacks, flash forwards, parallel storylines); there is a decided refusal to over-explain. But saying that risks selling short three completely committed performances from Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and most notably Steve Carell. I can’t praise Carell’s performance highly enough—I’m tempted to compare to other notable cases of big-box-office comedians going serious, like Robin Williams, whose comedic persona you felt was always winking at you, even with the darkest of roles, as in the Insomnia remake. Carell by contrast disappears 100% into the role of the mentally ill heir to the du Pont family fortune, John E. du Pont.

Bennett Miller’s previous film, Moneyball, is, by contrast, and by design, much easier to like. Underdogs are much more sympathetic than deluded overdogs I suppose—and if Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane has surplus cockiness and rough edges, it’s balanced out not only with a charming father-daughter interlude or two, but also by his ready recognition of what Jonah Hill’s analytics nerd Peter Brand brings to the table. Before I re-watched this film on Netflix I found myself wondering whether it would still hold up for me, or whether my warm and fuzzy memories from seeing it in initial release resulted simply from the unexpected pleasure of seeing a “sports movie” that was really about intelligence and integrity. I needn’t have feared—I’d forgotten just how much sheer art went into Moneyball‘s conception and execution. Deserving of special mention is the brilliant musical score by frequent Atom Egoyan collaborator Mychael Danna, to which the film owes much of its mastery of tone.

 

Halifax film screening picks — July 6-12

06 Jul
July 6, 2015

Hello and welcome to Halifax film picks, summer blockbuster edition. Yep, there’s not a lot of art-house action to be had in Halifax at the moment, but action-action is plentifully available. Perhaps the most fun option to be had this week (apart from treating yourself to another repeat viewing of Mad Max: Fury Road) is a free Friday night outdoor screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past at Dartmouth Crossing. Don’t get too excited, nerds—it’s not the Rogue Cut.

The Atlantic Film Festival is presenting this in their Summer of SuperHeroes outdoor screening series, kicking off the night with one of my favourite short films, Marc Almon’s The Wake of Calum MacLeod (2006)—the first Gaelic-language short dramatic film made in North America. (It’s available for viewing online here.)

This Sunday, you can catch a 40th anniversary screening of the very first summer blockbusterJaws. Yes, Jaws is 40 years old, which means I am… older. Cineplex has matinee screenings at Oxford and Dartmouth Crossing.

If you’re up for a road trip to Liverpool, the Astor has Ex Machina on Wednesday. It may not exactly be a blockbuster, but hey, until Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits, it’s your chance to see Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac doing a sci-fi team-up.

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

  • Friday (July 10) — X-Men: Days of Future Past, Pondside Amphitheatre, Dartmouth Crossing, 9:30pm, free, concessions & gates open at 8:30pm. Bryan Singer, USA, 2014, 131 minutes.
  • Sunday (July 12) — Jaws, Cineplex Oxford & Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 12:55pm, $6. Steven Spielberg, USA, 1975, 124 minutes.

And one South Shore screening pick this week:

  • Wednesday (July 8) — Ex Machina, Astor Theatre (59 Gorham Street, Liverpool), 7pm, $8. Alex Garland, UK, 2015, 108 minutes.

Girlhood [2003]; Girlhood [2014] (Netflix Canada picks)

03 Jul
July 3, 2015

Girlhood – Liz Garbus, USA, 2003, 82 minutes

Girlhood (Bande de filles) – Céline Sciamma, France, 2014, 113 minutes

It was a pretty savvy move by Netflix, if it was a conscious decision, to add these two films around the same time as Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Then again, documentarian Liz Garbus’ most recent project—a revealing Sundance-opening Nina Simone doc—hit Netflix a few days ago, and Céline Sciamma’s Bande de filles had its very low-profile post-festival US theatre run from January to May, so both films have their own reasons to be freshly available online.

Neither one was created, of course, in response to Linklater’s excellent film (and note that “bande des filles” translates more literally as “girl gang”), but both have much to say about how adolescence looks from the othered side of race, class, and indeed gender privilege lines.

Garbus’ 2003 documentary (shot on 16mm, and presented in an unimpressive SD transfer) follows two Baltimore girls for three years, one a convicted (at the age of 12) killer, as they attempt to re-integrate with society after their release from a juvenile detention facility. As it covers the years 1999-2002, it plays, in a way, as a real-life prologue to The Wire‘s depiction of Baltimore’s corners. Upon release, the doc received scattered criticism for trying too hard to find an upbeat ending. Perhaps that’s fair, but I found these parallel stories so engrossing that I began to wonder where they are now—and it turns out that both Shanae Watkins and Megan Jensen have occasionally re-emerged in the public eye.

Céline Sciamma’s fictional portrayal of life in the banlieue seems tame at times by comparison (when these characters talk about having “iced” or “wasted” other girls, they mean beating them in a more-or-less fair fistfight), but it is a satisfying coming-of-age story that moves from bleakness to adolescent joy and points between. The French social safety net is a mostly invisible failure here, and at times you wonder how the film will balance this protagonist’s lack of opportunities with the need to represent her agency. But in fact it finds a thoughtful, realistic and moving balance.

 

Halifax film screening picks — June 29-July 5

29 Jun
June 29, 2015

Folks, there are no one-off film screenings happening anywhere in or near Halifax this week. None.

Just make sure you catch Olivier Assayas’ brilliant Clouds of Sils Maria while it is still playing at Cineplex Park Lane—and have a happy Canada Day. See you next week.