review: Everyday (Michael Winterbottom)

09 Sep
September 9, 2012

Michael Winterbottom’s Everyday convincingly portrays five years in the life of a working class English family coping with the imprisonment of the husband and father (John Simm). Frequent Winterbottom casting choice Shirley Henderson plays the put-upon wife left alone to take care of four children (authentically played by actual siblings of the Kirk family).

Like its obvious British kitchen-sink-realism forebears, the film relies on strong performances from its professional and amateur cast to create its feeling of authenticity. But in an a twist perhaps unique to this film, in order to present the children aging naturally over five years, Winterbottom went to the trouble of re-assembling his cast annually for two weeks each year. As well, he has filmed domestic scenes with the children in their own home.

This has the expected benefit of unforced naturalism in the performances and realistic passing of time, although the filmmakers likely could not have predicted the degree to which the kids would grow to look perhaps a little too different from their actor-parents.

The other progression in the film is a noticeable improvement in the quality of the digitally-shot images. At the Q&A session after the North American premiere at TIFF yesterday, Winterbottom said that the subtle progression was not simply an accidental matter of better cameras becoming available, but rather was in the filming plan from the beginning. That said, in the earliest conception the intention had been to switch to 35mm film for the final-year sequences, but instead they were able to get a 35mm-like look with an Arriflex digital camera, and thus the entire film was shot digitally on a variety of cameras. Winterbottom says that substantial post-production work was done to make the differently-shot scenes blend together seamlessly, so that the transitions in image quality would not be distractingly obvious.

You might expect from the title that not much happens in this film, and you would be right. There are some painful separations, some moments of conflict and fear with the children, a setback in the father’s release timeline, a spot of marital infidelity. But what the film lacks in narrative interest it more than supplies in depth of feeling. This is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin, with perfectly subtle execution.

Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire (restoration preview clip)

04 Sep
September 4, 2012

Looks like someone swiped a VHS of this movie over a magnet before digitizing the “before” shots, doesn’t it?

My film agenda for TIFF 2012 (first draft)

02 Sep
September 2, 2012

Not without some difficulty, and no thanks to Microsoft technology, I can now confirm that I will be seeing at least the following at TIFF 2012:

Anything more, I’ll be deciding in days to come, or on the day…


Watch European Blu-ray discs and DVDs on the cheap (in Canada)

01 Sep
September 1, 2012

Oh, the collector joy that ensues when you find out that a $78 Blu-ray player can be quickly and easily set to play DVDs from any region and Blu-ray discs from the region of your choice.

At the time of this blog post the Seiki BD 660 Blu-ray player appears to be out of stock at but you should still be able to head on down to your local store and grab one.  The first one that I bought had a serious malfunction but I exchanged it and the second player has worked perfectly through several screenings.

Setting the region with this unit is simple.

  1. Press “Setup”.
  2. Press 8,5,2,0 in that order. This gives you the factory page with version, loader, DVD region, BD Region and Reset Password info.
  3. Using the up/down button go to DVD Region Code and set to “0” — this will allow you to play DVDs from every region.
  4. Go down to BD Region Code: It will be set to “A”.  You can set it to “B” by pressing “2” for Europe.  (If you want to play North American discs with the unit you can come back to this settings screen and set it back to “A”.  Since I already had a player for my North American discs I leave this one set to “B”.)
  5. To exit this screen just press “Setup” again.

Hey presto, you are watching the films of the world.

In praise of Mulholland Drive (and in search of David Lynch films on Blu-ray)

01 Sep
September 1, 2012

I guess I missed the train, or rather, the limo, the first time that Mulholland Drive rolled into town.

When David Lynch’s masterpiece first came to my local multiplex, I chose to avoid it. After the sheer—and unforgettable—excess of Wild at Heart it really felt to me like Lynch had run out of ideas. Twin Peaks the series had stumbled to an unfortunate demise, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me played like the most unnecessary TV sequel movie ever, and Lost Highway gave it strong competition for the title of ultimate misfire. The Straight Story, charming though it was, as a kind of aesthetic sidestep almost seemed like an admission that Lynch had fully mined out his usual vein of inspiration.

When I saw the trailer for Lynch’s latest I couldn’t have been more disappointed. I wanted to ask him why he wouldn’t just stop repeating himself, and quit.

A year or two later I attended a living-room DVD screening and experienced something more than the mere pleasantness of low expectations exceeded.

Sometimes watching a complex film—whether or not understand everything you’re seeing—you have the sudden, vitalizing knowledge that what’s on the screen is more than story, it’s art. Tarkovsky’s Mirror did that for me. Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante. And, definitively, Mulholland Drive.’s detailed 2001 dissection is still a pretty definitive interpretation of the film, but watching it again made me realize that the complexity here can only be reduced so far. I could probably write at length about why the dream qualities of the film have more to do with dream logic as an aesthetic mode than actual dreaming as a narrative device, but, maybe that’s more than I can take on in a single blog post.

The announcement of the 2012 edition of the BFI’s Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time list, a month ago, reminded me of my now decade-long crush on this film, and watching it in high def for the first time, last week, I was pleased to find that not only does the film hold up, it seems more brilliant than ever. Time, so far, has been kind to this one.

I guess it’s not a surprise, then, that in the BFI survey the film ranked #2 amongst films of the 2000’s (second only to In the Mood for Love), and #28 all-time.

What is a surprise is the continuing scarcity of Lynch’s oeuvre in Blu-ray format. Without my region-B Blu-ray player I wouldn’t have been able to watch MD in HD. Like most of Lynch’s films, it is not available in a North American edition. Fire Walk with Me and Lost Highway are only available in editions from France.  The only BDs of Eraserhead and The Straight Story are from Japan. Inland Empire has only been released in the UK. There is a disc of Wild at Heart that is region-free, so it could be distributed in North America, but for some reason it isn’t. And earlier this year there arrived a UK box set of 6 Lynch films, but let’s just say it was a bit of a debacle and seems to be already out of mainstream circulation.

It’s a drag that some of cinema’s greatest directors are without honour, or at least high-def disc availability, in their own countries. But maybe the relative scarcity of films like Mulholland Drive does bring back a bit of their original mystique; exactly what the ubiquity of most mainstream entertainment has tended to drain out of the movie experience.  Goodbye cinema but, hey, hello cinephilia.