Archive for month: June, 2015

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.

Carlos; Something in the Air (Netflix Canada picks)

26 Jun
June 26, 2015

Carlos – Olivier Assayas, France/Germany, 2010, 165 minutes

Something in the Air (Après Mai) – Olivier Assayas, France, 2012, 122 minutes

As tense and fascinating as any historical-political drama you’ve ever seen, Carlos follows the life of Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, a.k.a. Carlos the Jackal, from his first attacks in 1973 until his arrest in 1994. Now more than ever we are living in the midst of a cultural obsession with terrorism, but this film provides a glimpse of what a different cultural meaning the concept had pre-9/11 (all while drawing a number of a lines of connection to our moment). It occurs to me that Assayas as a director has much in common with Steven Soderbergh—bringing considerable art and incredible technique to a film that also happens to be thoroughly accessible.

At 165 minutes the version on Netflix is the shortest version available, as Carlos was also cut as a five-and-a-half hour miniseries. Both versions were showered with awards in 2010. You might think that the short version would inevitably have awkward jumps but Assayas is not above throwing name-and-description titles on the screen each time he introduces a new key historical figure, which makes it dead simple to follow the various twists and turns, and eliminates the need for unnatural expository dialogue. The result is a film that moves briskly and clearly from one chapter to the next.

In Après Mai, a.k.a. Something in the Air, Assayas also revisits the 70s—but his own experience of them. Much more languidly paced, and nowhere near as gripping as Carlos (how could it be), Assayas’ 2012 film looks good, sounds good (thanks to another well-chosen soundtrack), and has an unforced quality lent by his choice of non-professional actors for some of the youth roles (as well as a really excellent performance by Lola Créton who also had a compelling turn in Claire Denis’ Bastards). A nostalgia-infused reflection on his own days as a high-school political activist in France, it manages to touch something genuine in its portrayal of a budding film artist who finds himself simultaneously on the inside and outside of the student revolutionary movements of the times.

I do have one complaint about Netflix’s presentation of Après Mai–the only English subtitling option is SDH, which means that for several minutes of the film that feature English dialogue, there is no good way to turn off the English subtitling and descriptions of sounds. This is pretty poor by Netflix, but if you can tolerate a few minutes of slight annoyance, the film is definitely worth the watch.

Halifax film screening picks — June 22-28

22 Jun
June 22, 2015

White God! White God! White God!

Yep, it’s playing in Liverpool at the Astor Theatre this Wednesday evening. For those of you who can’t make it, I’m truly sorry.

Meanwhile in Halifax this week, Clouds of Sils Maria, the equally well-reviewed latest from the inimitable Olivier Assayas, featuring an award-winning performance by Kristen Stewart, yes, that Kristen Stewart, is playing at Park Lane this week, so that’s some compensation.

This Sunday, Halifax Pride has a fundraiser screening of the Wachowskis’ 1996 pop classic Bound, at the Oxford. Also on Sunday, if you missed While We’re Young during its Oxford run, you’ve got a second chance if you’re able to drive to Wolfville for the Fundy Film Society screening.

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

  • Monday (June 22) — The King and I, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Walter Lang, USA, 1956, 133 minutes.
  • Tuesday (June 23) — Clouds of Sils Maria, Cineplex Park Lane, 3:35pm, 6:20pm & 9:10pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Olivier Assayas, Germany/France/Switzerland, 2014, 123 minutes.
    — Love & Mercy, Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, 1pm, 3:50pm, 6:40pm & 9:50‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Brian Wilson/Beach Boys biopic with excellent performances from Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, John Cusack—not so much from Paul Giamatti’s wig. Bill Pohlad, USA, 2014, 121 minutes.
  • Sunday (June 28) — Bound, Cineplex Oxford, 1pm, $5. The Wachowskis, USA, 1996, 108 minutes.

Here are my South Shore and Annapolis Valley screening picks for selected days this week:

  • Wednesday (June 24) — White God, Astor Theatre (59 Gorham Street, Liverpool), 7pm, $8. Kornél Mundruczó, Hungary, 2014, 121 minutes.
  • Sunday (June 28) — While We’re Young, Acadia Cinema’s Al Whittle Theatre (450 Main Street, Wolfville), 8pm, $9. Noah Baumbach, USA, 2014, 97 minutes.

The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears (Netflix Canada picks)

19 Jun
June 19, 2015

Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani, Belgium/France/Luxembourg, 2013, 102 minutes

Not for everyone, and not even, necessarily, for giallo fans—even though that is precisely the genre on which this film expertly, but bafflingly, riffs for its duration—I can’t help but single this film out as one of the more unique films in the Netflix catalogue. Written and directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, the French duo behind 2009’s Amer (a similarly abstracted giallo reinterpretation), Strange Color unfolds episodically with a linking structure that can only be described as cineaste dream-logic. The soundtrack boasts some remarkable music curation including a couple of deep cuts, so to speak, from Ennio Morricone, and the end credits reveal that the film’s audio track borrows a scream from Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (a film that is rather more of a straight-up genre homage by comparison). Can images of compulsive nocturnal violence, fear, sex and gore have something to say, extracted from their typical genre context? How you answer that question is probably a pretty good indicator of whether you will appreciate this film.

Halifax film screening picks — June 15-21

15 Jun
June 15, 2015

Love & Mercy, the highly touted portrait of The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, has arrived for a run out at the Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, fuelled by incredibly positive reviews across the board.

The Thrillema returns this Wednesday with the most totemic of Italian horror films—Dario Argento’s Suspiria. The intense filtered colours and forced lighting, not to mention the pulsing music score by Goblin, give this film a unique and enduring signature.

With a fifth Terminator film on the immediate horizon (July 1), Cineplex is offering a chance this Thursday to see the original on the big screen. This is a one-time-only deal, screening simultaneously at Park Lane and Dartmouth Crossing.

This Sunday, Wolfville’s Fundy Film Society has A Brilliant Young Mind (a.k.a. X+Y), which features Rafe Spall and Sally Hawkins in its excellent cast.

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

  • Tuesday (June 16) — Love & Mercy, Scotiabank Cinema Bayers Lake, 1pm, 3:50pm, 6:40pm & 9:50‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Bill Pohlad, USA, 2014, 121 minutes.
  • Wednesday (June 17) — Suspiria, The Thrillema @ the Museum of Natural History, 8pm, free, advance tickets available at Strange Adventures.
    Trick or Treaty, Halifax Central Library, 7pm, free. The first film by an indigenous filmmaker to be selected to the Masters program at TIFF, this doc is presented by the NFB Film Club in anticipation of National Aboriginal Day (June 21). Alanis Obomsawin, Canada, 2014, 85 minutes.
    — The King and I, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Walter Lang, USA, 1956, 133 minutes.
  • Thursday (June 18) — The Terminator, Cineplex Park Lane & Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7:30pm, $6. James Cameron, USA, 1984, 107 minutes.

And one Annapolis Valley screening pick:

  • Sunday (June 21) — A Brilliant Young Mind (a.k.a. X+Y), Acadia Cinema’s Al Whittle Theatre (450 Main Street, Wolfville), 8pm, $9. Morgan Matthews, UK, 2014, 111 minutes.

The Tenant (Netflix Canada picks)

12 Jun
June 12, 2015

Roman Polanski, France, 1976, 125 minutes

Inferior, in my view, to the other two films in Roman Polanski’s “Apartment trilogy” (Repulsion and Rosemary’s Baby are a hard act to follow, it’s true), but not without its own curious charms, The Tenant has long divided opinion. Roger Ebert called it “unspeakably disappointing” upon US release but its reputation has grown over time (J. Hoberman in 2004: “it may be the director’s quintessential movie”). If transgender issues and transphobia are topical right now than so is this film—just don’t expect it to be progressive or forward-thinking, as this is 1976 and Polanski after all. The ending does verge on the ludicrous but no one does paranoia better, and there is a pretty good serving of creepiness and dark humour on offer here—and Polanski does more than serviceable acting work in the lead role. Unfortunately, the only English subtitle option is SDH, so if you don’t understand French your best bet for Netflix viewing is the English audio track, with the occasionally-jarring mismatch of audio with lip movement (and the somewhat annoying fiction of a Paris where everyone speaks English with occasional French accents). Worth a look regardless, especially in the absence of a well-produced DVD/Blu-ray release.

Blu-ray diary: The Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection (BFI box set)

09 Jun
June 9, 2015

The Carl Theodor Dreyer Collection - BFI box set coverThe BFI’s new box set, released April 20 of this year, was a blind buy for me—I hadn’t seen any of the four Dreyer masterworks featured. I came to these films via the same route that I suppose most do: blown away by The Passion of Joan of Arc every time I see it, and wanting to see more of the Danish director’s unique vision.

Master of the House was released on Blu-ray by Criterion in March, but this set is the only high-def video presentation of the other three—Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud—so if you live in North America, here is one more great reason to invest in a multi-region player, if you haven’t already.

The latter three are 2008 restorations, and Master of the House was restored in 2010. It’s taken a while for these film to see an HD release but I’m happy that it has finally happened.

I’m now convinced that Dreyer is one of the greatest yet least showy directors of psychological cinema. He’s Buñuel without the surrealism, Bergman without the archness, Bresson without the obliqueness, Von Trier without the excess of sadism, and he’s cast a long shadow of influence for which he perhaps still doesn’t get proper credit.

If there was one specific expectation I brought to my first look, it was that Ordet might at last give me some kind of context or explanation for the WTF ending of Carlos Reygadas’ Silent Light, which it famously inspired. I can now report that Ordet‘s ending is equally WTF-inducing, so I’m not sure that I’m any further ahead there (I learned from the booklet notes, though, that Dreyer saw his ending as explicable by non-miraculous means).

For me the most revelatory of the four films was his final opus, Gertrud, which has long been a divider not than a uniter of viewer opinions. With its long takes (the longest of any of Dreyer’s films), it has been criticized as “stagey,” which I guess is the sort of thing that people say about films that remind them of being bored at the theatre—when they don’t understand the differences between the way that stage drama scenes and film scenes are blocked out and shot. For me it’s about as perfectly directed as a film can be, and still carries incredible emotional power in its methodical way. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that Godard considered it one of the two best films of 1964.

  • Master of the House (1925) — This silent film is presented here in two versions, one with Danish intertitles optionally subtitled in English, and one with English intertitles. The Criterion edition, by contrast, comes with its own newly translated English intertitles, and no Danish option.
  • Day of Wrath (1943) — This film comes with alternate opening and closing sequences in English and Danish, seamlessly branched—I recommend selecting the English option as essentially all of the film’s action remains intact while the sequences in question scan vertically through vintage-type hymn lyrics in the respective languages—subtitling is more of an annoyance than anything else.
  • Ordet (1955) — My dream Dreyer box would include a widescreen framing of this film, which was shot for Academy standard but also meticulously planned so that it would crop for widescreen presentation (which you can see for yourself by paying attention to the framing). We only get the full-image 4:3 presentation here, but, OK, that’s a nitpick. Ordet is included on the same Blu-ray disc as Day of Wrath, so I suppose that a widescreen version would have required an additional disc.
  • Gertrud (1964) — The third BD comes with, in addition to the feature, a half-hour making-of doc about Gertrud, an 8-minute interview with Dreyer, and seven of his short films.

In addition to the three BDs, there is a DVD that contains My Métier, a 1995 doc about Dreyer’s life and career, along with 80 minutes of outtakes and even a trailer for the doc. Included as well are 21 minutes of interview and other archival footage, and two audio/slide presentations totally 26 minutes. This is a surprisingly deluxe set considering its unfussy, straightforward packaging. The BFI has really been delivering with excellent box releases in 2015 and this is no exception.



Halifax film screening picks — June 8-14

08 Jun
June 8, 2015

Last year the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival showed the singularly excellent doc feature Manakamana, and this year it looks to have another excellent choice in Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours. Cohen will be in attendence for a Q&A, and will also be showing a preview of his single-screen adaptation of his recent multi-screen documentary portrait of Cape Breton, We Have An Anchor.

This ninth edition of HIFF is once again taking place at the Neptune Studio Theatre, over four nights. The festival is as indie-alternative-avant as it gets in Halifax, and the name says it—the spotlight is on makers as well as films, which means Q&As galore and a chance to learn about the craft. In addition to multiple showcases of short films there is also a third feature from Polish directors Anka and Wilhlem Sasnal, the “nearly dialogue-less” Parasite, and the Halifax-shot “no-budget dramedy” Here Kitty, Kitty from Argentina’s Santiago Giralt.

After the festival, this Sunday, you can get your Anna Leonowens on at a couple of Cineplex matinee screenings of The King and I.

This is also an excellent week for a film road trip. One of last year’s very best festival films, the Irish-Troubles-set thriller ’71, is screening Wednesday at the historic Astor Theatre in Liverpool (easily my favourite place in Nova Scotia to see a movie). And this Sunday, the Fundy Film Society is screening Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, featuring raved-about performances by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

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

  • Tuesday (June 9) — Far From the Madding Crowd, Cineplex Park Lane, 3:35pm, 6:35pm & 9:20‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Thomas Vinterberg, UK, 2015, 119 minutes.
  • Wednesday (June 10) — Atlantic Auteurs #1 (Shorts), HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 7pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. 7 films, 78 minutes total film running time, screening details here.
    — Here, Kitty Kitty, HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 9pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. Santiago Giralt, Argentina, 2014, 72 minutes, screening details here.
  • Thursday (June 11) — Atlantic Auteurs #2 (Shorts), HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 7pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. 8 films, 76 minutes total film running time, screening details here.
    Parasite, HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 9pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. Anka & Wilhelm Sasnal, Poland, 2014, 66 minutes, screening details here.
  • Friday (June 12) — [Re]Program (Shorts), HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 7pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. 7 films, 83 minutes total film running time, screening details here.
    Museum Hours, HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 9pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. Jem Cohen, Austria/USA, 2012, 106 minutes, screening details here.
  • Saturday (June 13) — Danis Goulet Retrospective (Shorts), HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 7pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. 3 films, 37 minutes total film running time, screening details here.
    CFAT Artist-in-Residence Lisa Lipton (Video), HIFF @ Neptune Scotiabank Studio Theatre, 7pm, $10/$7 film workers & students, tickets here. 2 short works, 22 minutes total running time, screening details here.
  • Sunday (June 14) — The King and I, Cineplex Oxford & Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 12:55pm, $6. Walter Lang, USA, 1956, 133 minutes.

Here are my South Shore & Annapolis Valley screening picks for selected days this week:

  • Wednesday (June 10) — ’71, Astor Theatre (59 Gorham Street, Liverpool), 7pm, $8. Yann Demange, UK, 2014, 99 minutes.
  • Sunday (June 14) — Clouds of Sils Maria, Acadia Cinema’s Al Whittle Theatre (450 Main Street, Wolfville), 8pm, $9. Olivier Assayas, Germany/France/Switzerland, 2014, 123 minutes.

Life Itself (Netflix Canada picks)

05 Jun
June 5, 2015

Steve James, USA, 2014, 120 minutes

It was never likely, with Steve James at the helm, that this adaptation of film critic Roger Ebert’s memoir was going to be a straightforward bio-doc built from talking heads and archival clips and graphics—of course it has all that, but then James is known for his ability to touch something more primal in the narrative mode. But any chance that it would have been a paint-by-numbers enterprise pretty much went out the window when Ebert died five months into filming. Skeptical readings of this film are easy enough to come by—some would see an exchange where, if James owes his career to Ebert’s championing of Hoop Dreams (also viewable on Netflix), here is some hagiographic payback. That view is too reductive for me—and the film is too brutally honest to support it.  For me it’s as if, after all those years of considerately but firmly holding film to the standards of a demanding viewer, Ebert felt he had to keep faith with the viewers of his own portrayal, and allow his private life and personal suffering, and flaws, to be on view in an authentic way. He had a way of spilling too many plot details in his reviews, something that annoyed me for years until I realized that to benefit from his illuminating analyses, I simply had to watch the movies before reading. I can’t help seeing a parallel with this film, which analyses his career after the fact with the same informed directness that Ebert brought to his film criticism. To dismiss its emotional offering, I’d have to be cynical about film itself.

Halifax film screening picks — June 1-7

01 Jun
June 1, 2015

June is here, and that means that it’s road trip season—and one of my favourite Nova Scotia summer activities is getting out of town and checking out some of the excellent film series screenings around the province.  Starting this week, and through the summer, I’ll be adding Annapolis Valley and South Shore film screenings to my weekly picks.

There are a couple of excellent such opportunities this week. On Tuesday, the King’s Theatre Film Society in Annapolis Royal has Red Army, the feature doc (carrying an exec-producer credit for Werner Herzog) that tells the story of the most successful dynasty in sports history—the Soviet national hockey team, from the perspective of captain Slava Fetisov. And on Sunday, the Fundy Film Society in Wolfville has Phoenix, the 2014 festival favourite that re-teams the director (Christian Petzold) and star (Nina Hoss) of Barbara, one of my favourites from 2012.

Meanwhile in Halifax, Saturday you can check out “Incredifest – The Incredible Film Festival” which in a bit of perhaps genre-appropriate marketing overstatement, bills itself as “the best independent science fiction, fantasy and horror films from around the world” but is really just a two-hour showcase of 12 short films followed by a low-profile Japanese-ish zombie feature from 2011, Schoolgirl Apocalypse.  But with local talent like Jason Eisener (“One Last Dive”) and Angus Swantee (“Torturous”) on the short film lineup it seems like an excellent bet for genre fans. Note: the festival website refers to the venue as the “Maritime Museum of Natural History,” but it seems otherwise clear that the screenings are at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History and not the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

The Dal Art Gallery noir series wraps up this Wednesday with Robert Wise’s Odds Against Tomorrow, starring Harry Belafonte—”one of the final films in the Noir cycle, a heist-gone-wrong flick that directly addresses race issues, all to a cool Modern Jazz Quartet soundtrack.”

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

  • Tuesday (June 2) — Far From the Madding Crowd, Cineplex Oxford, 6:45pm & 9:20‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Thomas Vinterberg, UK, 2015, 119 minutes.
    Ex Machina, Cineplex Park Lane, 9:15pm‎; Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 9pm‎, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Alex Garland, UK, 2015, 108 minutes.
  • Wednesday (June 3) — Odds Against Tomorrow, Dalhousie Art Gallery, 8pm, free. Robert Wise, USA, 1959, 95 minutes.
  • Saturday (June 6) — Incredifest Short Film Screenings, Museum of Natural History, 6pm, $10 (or $15 combined with 8pm feature screening).
    Schoolgirl Apocalypse, Museum of Natural History, 8pm, $10 (or $15 combined with 6pm short films screening). John Cairns, Japan, 2011, 86 minutes.

Here are my Annapolis Valley screening picks for selected days this week:

  • Tuesday (June 2) — Red Army, King’s Theatre (209 St. George St., Annapolis Royal), 7:30pm, $8. Gabe Polsky, USA, 2014, 85 minutes.
  • Sunday (June 7) — Phoenix, Acadia Cinema’s Al Whittle Theatre (450 Main Street, Wolfville), 8pm, $9. Christian Petzold, Germany, 2014, 98 minutes.