Author Archive for: c0v3yf17m

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.

Bastards (Netflix Canada picks)

29 May
May 29, 2015

Claire Denis, France, 2013, 100 minutes

Claire Denis is the sort of director who thinks that the consequences and traces of awful actions are at least as cinematic as the acts themselves, and Bastards makes compelling evidence for that case. This post-neo-noir goes to a grim place, but does so in a way that never descends into torture-porn or indeed porn-porn (notwithstanding one sex scene and an abuse scene that somehow manages simultaneously to be coldly graphic yet circumspect). If you’ve ever seen Denis speak you know that you can feel her integrity from across a room—if there’s anyone I would trust to handle this material, it’s her.

Some abrupt edits and minimal explanation make for some confusing moments (in my case I had a little trouble at first telling the protagonist’s sister and lover apart—so that was awkward). It’s true that more than a few have found this a frustrating watch. There’s no handholding of the viewer, but the final ten minutes or so are abundantly clear, even if you haven’t followed all of the twists along the way. I don’t mind admitting that it took a second viewing for me to fit all of the pieces together, but doing so didn’t substantially shift the film’s meaning—it just made me admire it all the more.

Halifax film screening picks — May 25-31

25 May
May 25, 2015

Few films have been as raved about in the past couple of years as this year’s Oscar winner for best foreign-language film, Ida. This weekend it will feature in a two-film mini-festival of Polish films, presented by the Polish-Canadian Society of Nova Scotia, and screening at the University of King’s College.

The Sunday afternoon screening of Ida will be preceded on Saturday evening by The Death of Captain Pilecki, a 2006 made-for-TV bio-pic directed by Ryszard Bugajski, whose film Interrogation was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1990.

The Oxford this week has Thomas Vinterberg’s Far From the Madding Crowd, which you would think would be pretty near the top of any list of most unnecessary remakes—but hey, it’s getting way better reviews than the new Poltergeist, so…

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

  • Monday (May 25) — Oklahoma!, Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $6. Fred Zinnemann, USA, 1955, 145 minutes.
  • Tuesday (May 26) — Far From the Madding Crowd, Cineplex Oxford, 4:10pm, 7pm & 9:45‎pm, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Thomas Vinterberg, UK, 2015, 119 minutes.
    — Ex Machina, Cineplex Park Lane, 4:15pm, 7:20pm & 10:05‎pm‎; Cineplex Dartmouth Crossing, 2pm, 4:40pm, ‎7:20pm & 9:55pm‎, regular pricing discounted Tuesday, film continues through Thursday (at least). Alex Garland, UK, 2015, 108 minutes.
  • Saturday (May 30) — The Death of Captain Pilecki, U. King’s College: KTS Hall, New Academic Building 2nd floor, 7pm, $5 ($8 for combined ticket with Ida), event details here. Ryszard Bugajski, Poland, 2006, 85 minutes.
  • Sunday (May 31) —  Ida, U. King’s College — KTS Hall, New Academic Building 2nd floor, $5 ($8 for combined ticket with Pilecki), event details here. Paweł Pawlikowski, Poland/Denmark/France/UK, 2013, 82 minutes.

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.