Author Archive for: c0v3yf17m

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.

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.