Saturday, December 29, 2007


LONGFORD (2006, UK/USA, Tom Hooper, Peter Morgan screenplay)
If people think that makes me weak... or mad... so be it. That is the path I am committed to. To love the sinner, but hate the sins. To assume the best in people, and not the worst. To believe that anyone, no matter how evil, can be redeemed... eventually.

Here's an overlooked film that's 100% Soul Food, an HBO production that premiered at Sundance in 2007. Lord Longford (a transformative portrayal by Jim Broadbent, who also happens to have played Professor Kirke in THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE) is a British aristocrat whose outspoken Christian faith led him to champion the cause of Myra Hindley, the notorious serial killer involved with England's horrific "Moor Murders." The SF Chronicle aptly calls the film "languid but always fascinating," the story of "one man who tested his faith and his reputation by refusing to pass judgment."

Longford's Christianity is front and centre throughout. Just as with the historical events, this smart film doesn't make up our minds for us. Is he is a well-meaning but misguided Pollyanna whose "look on the bright side" religiosity makes him an easy mark for a manipulative criminal? Or is his the authentically Christlike choice, the hard way of radical obedience that follows Jesus to a shameful cross between thieves?

The title of Peter Stanford's Longford biography points up something essential in the man when it dubs him "The Outcast's Outcast": in championing the outsider - as well as other unpopular causes - this man who was at one time the leader of the House of Lords makes himself a pariah. Broadbent's thoroughly embodied performance suggests the sort of upper class softness and eccentricity lampooned in endless Monty Python sketches, at the same time as it suggests the possibility of Longford's sanctity - or at least a thoroughgoing humanity and a divine humility. At the outset, Longford plumps his latest book for one of those smarmy BBC talk show hosts;
Host: So many questions to ask you, such a long and *distinguished* career. But I'm gonna start with the book. What prompted you to write it?
Longford: As a lifelong Christian and scholar, I've always been interested in ideas of sanctity. But more than that, I think it was probably the entirely selfish desire to spend a little time with my heroes.
Host: Your "heroes"?
Longford: Yes, that's what the saints are - my heroes, friends, intercessors.
Host: Interesting! Right...

I wasn't a long way into the film before I thought, "This reminds me somehow of THE QUEEN." Sure enough, the screenplay is by Peter Morgan, for whom 2007 was a big year: LONGFORD won him the BAFTA TV Award for Best Writer, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND won him the BAFTA Film Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, the award for which THE QUEEN was nominated. Also in 2007, the stage play FROST / NIXON travelled from the West End to Broadway.

Samantha Morton's canny performance as Hindley beautifully serves the script, RSC actress Lindsay Duncan's Lady Longford is exquisite, and Andy Serkis brings fire to the film whenever he's onscreen as Hindley's psychopathic lover - a character as memorably evil as Broadbent's Longford is memorably decent. (Premise for a film: Gollum summons Digory Kirke to his prison cell...)

The fact that this is an HBO picture, as was THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, makes me wonder if there's an exec there with some sort of interest in the Christian faith. Both films are substantial studies of the faith playing itself out in unlikely ways, in unexpected people.


Available at Videomatica
See also the National Catholic Register review by Steven D. Greydanus

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Films of 2007 (Dec 28)

An update of the Movie City News tally of critic's year-end lists, with local viewing details. The MCN meta-list is a terrific tip-off about what to see as this exceptional movie year draws to a close. My particular favourites are in boldface: can't wait to see JUNO!

1. No Country For Old Men (Fifth, Scotiabank, Silvercity, etc)
2. There Will Be Blood (in Vancouver theatres Jan 11)
3. The Diving Bell & The Butterfly (Fifth)
4. Once (DVD available)
5. Atonement (TT Park SC etc)
6. Into The Wild (DVD Feb 12)
7. Juno (TT Fifth SC etc)
8. Zodiac (DVD available)
9. Sweeney Todd (SC Scotiabank etc)
10. Michael Clayton (Granville 7 - may leave soon)
10. Away From Her (DVD available)

12. I'm Not There (Granville 7)
13. Ratatouille (DVD available)
14. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (gone, don't know DVD release date)
15. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (gone, don't know DVD release date)
16. Eastern Promises (DVD available)
17. Assassination of Jesse James (DVD Feb 5)
18. Persepolis (No sign of this one yet)
19. Lives Of Others (DVD available)
20. Bourne Ultimatum (DVD available)

21. Killer of Sheep (DVD available)
22. The Savages (Fifth, TInseltown)
23. Syndromes and a Century (No sign of this one)
24. The Host (DVD available)
25. Gone Baby Gone (DVD Feb 12)
26. Knocked Up (DVD available)
27. No End In Sight (DVD available)
28. Darjeeling Limited (DVD Feb 26)
29. Superbad (DVD available)
30. 3:10 To Yuma (DVD Jan 8)
30. American Gangster (Tinseltown, Station Square)

32. Black Book (DVD available)
33. King Of Kong (Gone)
34. Control (Gone)
35. Sicko (DVD available)
36. Margot At The Wedding (Granville 7)
37. 12:08 East Of Bucharest (DVD Feb 5)
38. Grindhouse (DVD available)
39. Hairspray (DVD available)
40. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (DVD available)

41. Lust, Caution (Station Square)
42. Across The Universe (Denman Sat 2:30, DVD Feb 5)
43. Offside (DVD available)
44. Enchanted (Tinseltown, Oakridge, SC, etc)
45. Lady Chatterly (been and gone?)
46. Rescue Dawn (DVD available)
47. 300 (DVD available)
48. Breach (DVD available)
49. Southland Tales (gone?)
50. This Is England (DVD available)
50. Charlie Wilson's War (SC Dunbar Scotiabank etc) [27]

52. Lars & The Real Girl (Granville 7) [25]
52. The Kite Runner (Ridge SC Scotiabank etc) [25]

54. Lake Of Fire [24]
54. Golden Door [24]
54. In The Valley Of Elah [24]
54. Paprika [24]

58. Hot Fuzz [23]
58. Private Fears In Public Places [23]

60. After The Wedding (DVD available) [21]
60. The Great Debaters (Tinseltown) [22]
60. Bug [21]

Starting Out The Evening (not here yet)
Paranoid Park (been and gone?)
Silent Light (hasn't come yet)


And here's my own year-end list of personal favourites. Not an objective assessment, these are the films I've most enjoyed/appreciated in 2007. Amazingly strong roster, and so many yet to be seen. I think this is the strongest year for film since 1999.

My Faves of 2007
1. Adam's Apples
2. Into The Wild
3. Across The Universe
4. Assassination of Jesse James
5. I'm Not There
6. Gone Baby Gone
7. After The Wedding
8. The Lives Of Others
9. This Is England
10. Once
11. Michael Clayton
12. Amazing Grace
13. Lars & The Real Girl
14. Black Snake Moan
15. You Told Me, You Love Me
16. Ratatouille
17. Into Great Silence
18. No Country For Old Men
19. You, The Living
20. Jindabyne
21. Secret Sunshine
22. The Aura
23. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
24. Away From Her

Eager To See
Ben X
The Bothersome Man
Charlie Wilson's War
The Darjeeling Limited
The Diving Bell & The Butterfly
Dry Season (Daratt)
Kite Runner
Margot At The Wedding
Paranoid Park
Silent Light
Sweeney Todd
Syndromes & A Century
There Will Be Blood
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Movie Marquees

Here's a curious coincidence I noticed while watching one of my Christmas gifts a day after viewing one of my favourite Christmas movies. I'm wondering if the movie marquee in the second film might be a tip of the hat to the first. Recognize either one?

And speaking of movie marquees, know who put this marquee in his 2002 film?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Films of 2007 (Dec 26)

Who was that smart guy who wrote about the Dec 15 posting of this year's Movie City News tally of critic's lists that...
"There Will Be Blood will climb once more critics see it and more lists are posted. (up now from #15 to #2) "Same with Jesse James and I'm Not There..." (both up slightly, JJ from #23 to #19, and INT from #18 to #14). "Wonder if Syndromes and 4-3-2 will be viewed widely enough to climb?" (up from #23 to #21, and from #29 to #16 respectively) "I'm surprised how high Breach and 3:10 are, and 300 - I bet they all fade." (Breach drops from #25 to #43, 3:10 drops from #17 to #31, and 300 drops from #20 to #50)" "Slightly surprised and definitely pleased to see Once so high - wonder if it will sag to top 20?." (Once held its own at #5)

The MCN site compiles all the professional "Best Of" lists they can find, as well as nominations for various awards. Of course, these lists aren't a lot more significant than awards, whose worth is always questionable. But they're a terrific tip-off about what to see in the end-of-year onslaught of interesting movies.

Here's the latest iteration, ranked by total points. And what the heck, I'll boldface my particular favourites...

1. No Country For Old Men (Fifth, Silvercity, etc)
2. There Will Be Blood (In Vancouver theatres Jan 11)
3. Zodiac (DVD available)
4. Diving Bell & The Butterfly (Fifth)
5. Once (DVD available)
6. Atonement (Tinseltown, Park, Silvercity, etc.)
7. Into The Wild (Tinseltown - may leave soon)
8. Juno (Fifth, Tinseltown, Silvercity, etc.)
9. Michael Clayton (Granville 7 - may leave soon)
10. Sweeney Todd (Rio, Silvercity, Scotiabank)

11. Away From Her (DVD available)
12. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (Tinseltown)
13. Ratatouille (DVD available)
14. I'm Not There (Granville 7, Fifth Avenue)
15. Eastern Promises (Hollywood Dec 26/27)
16. 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (Had a short fall run)
17. Lives Of Others (DVD available)
18. Persepolis (No sign of this one)
19. Assassination of Jesse James (DVD Feb 5)
20. Bourne Ultimatum (DVD available)

21. Killer of Sheep (DVD available)
22. The Savages (Fifth, TInseltown)
23. Syndromes and a Century (No sign of this one)
24. The Host
25. Knocked Up (DVD available)
26. Darjeeling Limited (Tinseltown - may leave soon)
27. No End In Sight (DVD available)
28. Gone Baby Gone (DVD Feb 12)
29. Superbad (DVD available)
30. American Gangster (Tinseltown, Station Square)

31. 3:10 To Yuma (DVD Jan 8)
32. Sicko (DVD available)
33. King Of Kong (Already ran at the Vancity?)
34. Control (Had a short fall run)
35. Black Book (DVD available)
36. Hairspray (DVD available)
37. Lust, Caution (Station Square)
38. Across The Universe (DVD Feb 5)
38. 12:08 East Of Bucharest (DVD Feb 5)
38. Offside (DVD available)

41. Rescue Dawn (DVD available)
42. Margot At The Wedding (Granville 7)
43. Breach (DVD available)
44. This Is England (DVD available)
44. Charlie Wilson's War (Dunbar, Scotiabank, Silvercity, etc)
44. Lady Chatterly (been and gone?
47. Grindhouse (DVD available)
48. The Kite Runner (Ridge, Scotiabank, Silvercity)
48. The Wind That Shakes The Barley (DVD available)
48. 300 (DVD available)

51. Lars & The Real Girl (Granville 7)
55. After The Wedding (DVD available)
60. Starting Out The Evening (not here yet)
63. Paranoid Park (been and gone?)
DNR. Silent Light (hasn't come yet)


And here's my own year-end list of personal favourites. Not an objective assessment: these are the films I've most enjoyed/appreciated in 2007. Amazingly strong roster, and so many yet to be seen. I think this is the strongest year for film since 1999.

My Faves of 2007
1. Adam's Apples
2. Into The Wild
3. Across The Universe
4. Assassination of Jesse James
5. I'm Not There
6. Gone Baby Gone
7. After The Wedding
8. The Lives Of Others
9. This Is England
10. Once
11. Michael Clayton
12. Amazing Grace
13. Lars & The Real Girl
14. Black Snake Moan
15. You Told Me, You Love Me
16. Ratatouille
17. Into Great Silence
18. No Country For Old Men
19. You, The Living
20. Jindabyne
21. Secret Sunshine
22. The Aura
23. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
24. Away From Her

Eager To See
Ben X
The Bothersome Man
Charlie Wilson's War
The Darjeeling Limited
The Diving Bell & The Butterfly
Dry Season (Daratt)
Kite Runner
Margot At The Wedding
Paranoid Park
Silent Light
Sweeney Todd
Syndromes & A Century
There Will Be Blood
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Films of 2007 (Dec 23)

The top ten (or twenty, or hundred) lists start accumulating now, just in time to tip us off about what to see in the end-of-year onslaught of interesting films.

Here's the first iteration of the annual Movie City News tally, a cumulative ranking of films which appear on the Top Ten lists of (eventually) hundreds of film critics and awards. This one's from Dec 15, I think. The posted list is presently ranked by number of list appearances, which I suspect will switch over to total points once enough lists have appeared, but maybe not. In any case, my version is ranked by total points, which appear in brackets following each title.[/i]

1 No Country For Old Men (156) Fifth, Silvercity, etc
2 Zodiac (82) DVD available
3 Away From Her (73) DVD available
4 Once (67) DVD available
5 Juno (65) Fifth, Tinseltown, Silvercity, etc.
6 Michael Clayton (49) Granville 7 - may leave soon
7 Diving Bell & The Butterfly (46) Fifth
7 Lives Of Others (46) DVD available
9 Sweeney Todd (44) Rio, Scotiabank, Silvercity, etc.
10 Into The Wild (40) Tinseltown - may leave soon
11 Eastern Promises (39) Hollywood Dec 26/27
12 Atonement (36) Tinseltown, Park, Silvercity, etc.
13 Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (35) Tinseltown
14 Ratatouille (34.5) DVD available
15 There Will Be Blood (33) In Vancouver theatres Jan 11
16 Killer of Sheep (31.5) DVD available
17 3:10 To Yuma (29) DVD Jan 8
18 I'm Not There (28) Granville 7, Fifth Avenue
19 Superbad (27) DVD available
20 300 (25) DVD available
21 Syndromes and a Century (24) No sign of this one
22 Bourne Ultimatum (24) DVD available
23 Assassination of Jesse James (23) DVD Feb 5
23 Knocked Up (23) DVD available
25 Breach (22) DVD available
26 Persepolis (21.5) No sign of this one
27 Control (20) No sign of this one
27 Darjeeling Limited (20) Tinseltown - may leave soon
29 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (18) No sign of this one
29 Gone Baby Gone (18) DVD Feb 12

I bet There Will Be Blood will climb once more critics see it and more lists are posted. Same with Jesse James and I'm Not There. Wonder if Syndromes and 4-3-2 will be viewed widely enough to climb? I'm surprised how high Breach and 3:10 are, and 300 - I bet they all fade. Slightly surprised and definitely pleased to see Once so high - wonder if it will sag to top 20?.

More to come.

And here's my own year-end list of favourites. Not an objective assessment: these are the films I've most appreciated in 2007. Amazingly strong roster, and so many yet to be seen. I think this is the strongest year for film since 1999.

My Faves of 2007
1 Adam's Apples
2 Into The Wild
3 Across The Universe
4 Assassination of Jesse James
5 I'm Not There
6 Gone Baby Gone
7 After The Wedding
8 The Lives Of Others
9 This Is England
10 Once
11 Michael Clayton
12 Amazing Grace
13 Lars & The Real Girl
14 Black Snake Moan
15 You Told Me, You Love Me
16 Ratatouille
17 Into Great Silence
18 No Country For Old Men
19 You, The Living
20 Jindabyne
21 Secret Sunshine
22 The Aura
23 Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
24 Away From Her

Eager To See
Ben X
The Bothersome Man
Charlie Wilson's War
The Darjeeling Limited
The Diving Bell & The Butterfly
Dry Season (Daratt)
Kite Runner
Margot At The Wedding
Paranoid Park
Silent Light
Sweeney Todd
Syndromes & A Century
There Will Be Blood
4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Saturday, December 08, 2007

praying with lior

Opens theatrically February 1 2008. Hoping it comes to the Vancouver International Jewish Film Festival - probably the end of March.

"If there is a God, Lior is definitely closer to God than anyone else I know."
- Yoni Liebling, Lior's brother

An engrossing, wrenching and tender documentary film, PRAYING WITH LIOR introduces Lior Liebling, also called "the little rebbe." Lior has Down syndrome, and has spent his entire life praying with utter abandon. Is he a "spiritual genius" as many around him say? Or simply the vessel that contains everyone’s unfulfilled wishes and expectations? Lior – whose name means "my light" — lost his mother at age six, and her words and spirit hover over the film. While everyone agrees Lior is closer to God, he’s also a burden, a best friend, an inspiration, and an embarrassment, depending on which family member is speaking. As Lior approaches Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony different characters provides a window into life spent "praying with Lior." The movie poses difficult questions such as what is "disability" and who really talks to God? Told with intimacy and humor, PRAYING WITH LIOR is a family story, a triumph story, a grief story, a divinely-inspired story.

Official website

Press release

Praying with Lior, the profoundly moving and entertaining documentary about an extraordinary family, a “spiritual genius” (according to some), and a Bar Mitzvah will open theatrically in New York City at Cinema Village on February 1st, and around the country throughout the spring.

Ilana Trachtman's feature-length documentary had its world premiere at the 2007 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where Variety enthused: "Trachtman captures a complex family dynamic in which Lior isn't the only intriguing personality…These people are so interesting, and Trachtman's handling so intimate and involving, it would be very welcome if she revisited the family every so often, 'Up'-style."

Before its theatrical release, Praying with Lior will screen once at the Margaret Mead Festival (Sunday, November 11 at 5:15 pm) and twice at the New York Jewish Film Festival at Lincoln Center (on January 15 at 3 pm and 6:30 pm).

Shot over three years and focusing on the months leading up to Lior's Bar Mitzvah in 2004, Praying with Lior draws a riveting portrait of a high-functioning, quick-witted, friendly and sincere boy, who, as he proudly approaches manhood, is simultaneously "retarded" and, according to his many admirers, a "spiritual genius." It also offers a wonderfully illuminating window into how disability can strengthen a family and a community. In extensive media coverage in Philadelphia where the film was shot, Praying with Lior has already been hailed for encouraging greater inclusion in faith communities for persons with disabilities.

Trachtman, a producer and director of several award-winning projects for PBS, Showtime, HBO Family and A&E, had already proven adept at content-rich, character-driven cinema verité. Here she used those skills as she gained unique access into the day-to-day lives of the Lieblings, a deeply spiritual if unconventional family.

Lior's siblings figure prominently in the film, making observations about life with their "special" brother; but it is Lior's parents who stand out by demonstrating extraordinary compassion and selflessness. Mordecai Liebling, a nationally known rabbi and former director of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, is unabashedly proud of his son's embrace of spirituality, interest in “davening” (praying) and whole-hearted, off-key singing. Lior's mother, Rabbi Devorah Bartnoff -- who died of breast cancer in 1997 -- together with Lior's stepmother, Lynne Iser, lavish generous servings of love and provide the film's feminist perspective.

The soul of the film is revealed by the history of the mother. Knowing the seriousness of her illness, Rabbi Bartnoff filmed home movies of herself and her very young son Lior so that he would have a clear memory of her love for him. What is also clear from those celluloid memories is her profound appreciation of Lior’s special qualities; she expresses an unrequited wish to survive to his Bar Mitvah – a wish that Lior becomes convinced is fulfilled, at least in spirit.

# # #

Praying with Lior features a soundtrack composed by the klezmer and bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman, one of the most influential acoustic musicians of our time. The editor is the acclaimed Zelda Greenstein, and the Emmy Award-winning director/cameraman Slawomir Grunberg serves as cinematographer. This is New York-based Trachtman's independent feature film debut.

Produced and Directed by ILANA TRACHTMAN
88 minutes, color, 2007

Saturday, December 01, 2007

adam's apples TONIGHT ONLY!!!!

Oops, asleep at the switch. My favourite movie of the year so far (though quite possibly no one else's) is showing tonight at the European Film Festival, 9:15, Pacific Cinematheque.

ADAM'S APPLES is an ultra-black Danish comedy that seems to me to be about the folly of the Christian faith - whether the film thinks such serious foolishness is holy or simply foolish will be entirely up to you to decide. I see it as an admittedly bizarre partner film to Rossellini's FLOWERS OF ST FRANCIS, so you can see which side I come down on, but so far have only found one fool to agree.

In any case, don't go expecting a melancholy Danish film of great theological weight and substance. This is an "I can't believe I just saw that" / "I can't believe I'm laughing at that" European comedy. If it sounds like that might be for you, have a look!

And here's a link to my piece on the film.

tears for april: beyond the blue lens

A note from Steve Plitt, who did a bunch of tech stuff around PT a way back, and then headed into film. You've probably seen his wonderful short SUPERANON. Well...

Hello, again!

I wanted to give you the heads up to a movie that's playing this week only at
Tinseltown; Tears for April: Beyond the Blue Lens. This film was a decade in the
making, and dives into the sometimes brutal, sometimes heartwarming interactions
between the cops and the addicts on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

It has been described as "a gushing stream of turmoil, desperation, love and
hope with touches of humour."

This is the latest major project from Vancouver's Odd Squad, and some unknown
filmmaker/goomba/PT alumnus named Steve Plitt edited it.

More blurbs and promo material here

Here's the Straight review (of course, they can't help being political at the

Playing at Tinseltown Nov 30 to Dec 6

Friday, November 09, 2007

NOW PLAYING: Big & Small Screens

Soul Food and other notable movies currently onscreen in Vancouver, plus recent arrivals at the video shops
Updated Nov 9 2007 - post in progress

Big Screen

Opening tonight at Cinematheque, LYNCH, a new documentary about David Lynch. He's brilliantly strange - the stranger, the more brilliant, in my opinion, with MULHOLLAND DRIVE his masterpiece - but, apart from THE ELEPHANT MAN, why Soul Food? Well... "Shot over two years, LYNCH finds the filmmaker at work on INLAND EMPIRE; contributing to; telling tales about his days in Philadelphia; and waxing philosophical about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Transcendental Meditation (of which, it seems, Lynch has been a devotee for decades). Lynch is surprisingly hands-on in his approach to production as he prepares to film Inland Empire in several derelict and abandoned Polish factories. He describes the movie as an experiment, because he's shooting it without a script, and claims to be reading the Bible for inspiration — something, he says here, he also did with Eraserhead!" Okay, it's a stretch.

The Coen brothers new one NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN also debuts this weekend: I love the Coens, and since the pretty dark BLOOD SIMPLE is my favourite, this presumably un-jokey rendition of a Cormac McCarthy novel attracts. Just read my first McCarthy, "The Road", and yes, he's plenty bleak - though curiously enough, there's God stuff every here and there. Oh, and that latest remix of BLADE RUNNER is in town this week, as well.

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is a real treat, and Soul Food through and through. As is INTO THE WILD. Wow. I'd heard strong reviews, so I figured it would be good, but I guess I expected NEVER CRY WOLF meets GRIZZLY MAN or something. This film goes way beyond that. its shooting style is unique, using split-screen and a crazy variety of filming techniques to tell a story that ends up pure soul food. You get the sense that this was a pilgrimage of sorts for director Sean Penn. Part road movie (marvelous characters, exceptional - and exceptionally truthful - performances), part survival film, ultimately an affecting, authentically spiritual odyssey. Wow.

DAN IN REAL LIFE is pleasing, not quite as exciting as the other films Peter Hedges is known for (WHAT'S EATING GILBERT GRAPE?, ABOUT A BOY, PIECES OF APRIL) but plenty satisfying nevertheless. And, like all movies this fall, it has a falling-in-love scene in a bowling alley.

And here's one I hadn't heard anything about, but which gets raved at CT Movies: "GONE BABY GONE, the directorial debut for Ben Affleck, is a difficult-to-watch but immensely powerful morality play that asks plenty of questions—couched among plenty of profanity—about situational ethics. It doesn't offer any easy answers, but leaves the viewer to ponder these issues on his or her own. Oh, and it's one of our few four-star reviews this year."

THE DARJEELING LIMITED has Wes Anderson fans psyched, a spiritual exploration in India by three wacked-out Wes Anderson-type brothers – Bottle Rocket Goes East? NYFF: “As exquisitely poignant and emotionally nuanced as movies get. One year after the accidental death of their father, three estranged brothers (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Anderson-newcomer Adrien Brody) board the Darjeeling Limited train and travel across India on a self-proclaimed spiritual journey. They make all the appropriate stops along the way but their jealous (often hilarious) bickering and one-upmanship displace any possibility of enlightenment. And then, something happens. Anderson is, as always, surprising, prodigiously inventive, and utterly masterful in his daring modulation of tones and emotions. He has achieved something quite magical and astonishing here: a grand pageant, a vibrant portrait of a place and a people, a quietly intricate look at sibling love and rivalry. Above all, a Wes Anderson film—and a great one at that.”

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD is getting lots of crit cred – an arty movie western, running time even longer than its title, “contemplative” feel. I'm seeing it Sunday: will report.

This week at Tinseltown, DARFUR NOW, and soon at VanCity another Darfur doc THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK. I was so shaken by HOTEL RWANDA a few years back, I haven’t even been able to bring myself to view SHOOTING DOGS, but maybe I better get on that, along with the Romeo Dallaire biopic SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL, the fictionalized account of the Canadian general who headed the U.N. mission to Rwanda and watched, nearly helpless, as that country’s terrible genocide took place. (Both are on DVD now.) A committed Catholic Christian, Dallaire writes in his biography "After one of my many presentations following my return from Rwanda, a Canadian Forces padre asked me how, after all I had seen and experienced, I could still believe in God. I answered that I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a God."

MICHAEL CLAYTON may be nothing more than a John Grisham-ish legal/corporate thriller, but it’s the Platonic Ideal of John Grisham-ish legal/corporate thrillers. The screenplay is smart, smart, smart, and Tom Wilkinson steals the show as a manic-depressive lawyer who goes off his meds and decides to blow the whistle on Big Agribusiness – which gives screenwriter/director Tony Gilroy access to the kind of fiery language you’d usually only see in a stage play. George Clooney plays George Clooney, but plays him very well indeed, and Tilda Swinton astonishes as a litigator pulled way too taut – she makes the White Queen look laid back. Even the editing is exhilarating: a time-juggling sequence with the Swinton character psyching up for a video interview is nonpareil. Genre perfection.

Genius Julie Taymor’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE is outasight, an eye-candy musical that uses Beatle songs, musical theatre style, to tell a love story set against the backdrop of the late Sixties: I wish it had gone darker (I'm thinking TITUS, here), and must admit some of it’s a bit too “on the nose,” but it's wildly creative, and I'll take anything Julie dishes out. The very definition of splendiforous.

3:10 TO YUMA riffs on all the classic western motifs, has strong performances, is shot full of Bible quoting, prayers, and crosses on sixgun handles, but goes wildly stupid in its final half hour: how come bad guys who never miss can't land a single shot once they're within range of the closing credits? Darn, that bugs me. And let's just say the psychology of that home stretch is, well, a stretch. Rent UNFORGIVEN or OPEN RANGE or THE BIG COUNTRY instead, or maybe even SHANE.

Still in Vancouver theatres, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM – which roused enthusiasm at Christianity Today with its soul searching battle between cycles of vengeance and the hope of new beginnings – in among plenty of murders, people crashing through windows and only-in-the-movies car chases (Manhattan cabbies can’t get across town that fast!).

The new Cronenberg, EASTERN PROMISES, is a far more conventional film than his stylish A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE – which means many audience members will like it more, but I liked it considerably less. Russian mob expose, nice work by Viggo Mortenson and Naomi Watts.


FIDO, lensed by Vancouver cinematographer Jan Kiesser, is fresh on video shelves. Much zombie fun. RATATOUILLE is also new this week: one spiritual-movie-making friend counts it the best film of 2007!

THE BOTHERSOME MAN arrived at Videomatica October 2! This odd-sounding Norwegian release is the latest from Film Movement, the International Film Festival By Mail Order gang that brought us HAWAII OSLO. “Forty-year-old Andreas arrives in a strange city with no memory of how he got there. He is presented with a job, an apartment - even a wife. But before long, Andreas notices that something is wrong. Andreas makes an attempt to escape the city, but he discovers there's no way out. Andreas meets Hugo, who has found a crack in a wall in his cellar. Beautiful music streams out from the crack. Maybe it leads to "the other side"? A new plan for escape is hatched.”

THE CAMDEN 28 is also a recent add to the Videomatica collection, a documentary study of Catholic priests and lay people who protested the Vietnam war. Not sure how long INTO GREAT SILENCE has been on their shelves, but if you’ve got a big screen and an uninterrupted evening for contemplation, it’s straight up Soul Food to be sure.

SWEET LAND is in at the Vid. People love this one: it took the Audience Award at the Hamptons festival, the story of a German mail order bride who encounters suspicion from the Norwegian Lutheran farming community to which she travels in Minnesota, shortly after the end of the First World War. Questions of faith, love, and the true nature of marriage emerge in this gentle romance whose cinematography is compared by both The Village Voice and Entertainment Weekly to that of the masterful Days Of Heaven. Darrel Manson (Hollywood Jesus) calls it "a treasure, one of those films that keeps me going back to the art houses."

THE REAPING is more likely to be on the shelves at your local video rental shack, but seems less likely to be worth renting – though it does star the very fine Hillary Swank. A horror flick, part of the uninspired trudge of aimed-at-Christian-audiences fare spawned by Hollywood’s lust for some of those PASSION OF THE CHRIST faith-based bucks. Chattaway dubs it “a dull, plodding, cheesy apocalyptic thriller.” Variety opines “Few recent studio horror pictures have courted (or, depending on one's perspective, pandered to) a Christian audience as blatantly as THE REAPING. Revisiting the book of Exodus in a feverish Southern-gothic context, this lurid, often ludicrously entertaining slab of Biblesploitation builds an earnest case for spirituality in a skeptical age. As demonstrated by the thematically similar THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, there's an audience for this kind of faith-based sensationalism, and the chance to see righteous acts of Old Testament payback spectacularly re-enacted on the bigscreen should help Warner Bros. reap solid theatrical turnout, with an even richer ancillary harvest.” Of course, I happened to like EMILY ROSE, flaws notwithstanding, and liked quite a lot BLACK SNAKE MOAN, which might also be dubbed Biblesploitation. So maybe I ought to have a look after all...

DAYS OF HEAVEN came out a few weeks ago on Criterion. If you've got a big screen, you must see this.

EVAN ALMIGHTY (sequel to BRUCE ALMIGHTY, which I liked a lot) seems the very exemplar of Hollywood’s misguided efforts to cosy up to Christians. It’s on video now, but I can’t even muster up the enthusiasm to see it on the small screen.

Moving away from the putative Soul Food flix to just-generally-worth-watching titles, JINDABYNE is also new at Videomatica, and it’s a darn fine film. Kenny B’s direct-to-dvd AS YOU LIKE IT hit the shelves last week, with the talented Bryce Dallas Howard (Opie’s kid, who was spectacular in M. Night Shyamalan’s spectacularly bad THE VILLAGE) playing Rosalind in a 19th century Japanese setting. Don’t know if Trevor Nunn’s TWELFTH NIGHT is new to DVD, but it just arrived at Videomatica: what I do know is that my VHS copy has been viewed a lot of times, since this is tied with Julie Taymor’s TITUS as my favourite filmed Shakespeare. What do you know, a Shakespeare comedy that’s actually funny!

Not quite as fresh at the Videomat, but featuring significant Soul Food interest are summer arrivals IVAN’S CHILDHOOD (Tarkovsky), FAY GRIM (Hartley), MANON OF THE SPRING / JEAN DE FLORETTE, and Set 2 of the PBS FATHER BROWN series.

BLACK SNAKE MOAN, AFTER THE WEDDING, THE LIVES OF OTHERS, AWAY FROM HER, PERFUME (Tykwer) and WE ARE MARSHALL all reached the shelves of our local neighbourhood video stores since summer began, and all have Soul Food content of one sort or another, to one degree or another. Also notable (if not particularly, um, religious) are TAXI DRIVER, the under-celebrated CARLITO’S WAY, and ZODIAC – shaping up to be one of the top films of the year, from SEVEN / THE GAME / FIGHT CLUB director David Fincher, it puts less emphasis on the serial murders than on what happens to the cops and journos who investigate them.

And I wonder if there'll be value in ROCK HAVEN. The VM description makes it sound like Christian = repressed = bad, but one never knows; "ROCK HAVEN is a Coming (Out) of Age story with a twist of faith. Brady, an 18 year-old devout Christian, is faced with a crisis of conscience when he heads to Rock Haven with his mother and finds himself falling in love with his new neighbour, Clifford. Clifford, a free spirited athletic type, represents everything Brady has been missing in his life... and since he's 18, Brady can't help but be overwhelmed by his newly awakened sexual hunger."


Doug Cummings has pointed me to a 9 minute NFB film that he figures should be listed among the Top 100 spiritual films, commenting that "It made a big impression on Lucas, Kubrick, and others. (And me!)." It's a 1964 film by Arthur Lipsett.

The film is new to me, so I'm just starting to mull it over. Clearly it's asking questions about the uniqueness of humankind, juxtaposing images of human movement with machine movement and animal movement, human bodies relating to machines and animals, overlaid with text and sound that invokes transcendence. Fascinating.

You can view it online at the NFB website.

Nov 17-21: the devil came on horseback

The new program is out for the VIFC VanCity Theatre, with this Darfur documentary up soon. Curiously enough, it also becomes available on DVD at Videomatica Nov 20.

I don't know that I'm going to be able to bring myself to watch it: a couple years ago, I got quite pulverized / almost paralyzed over Africa (do they call it compassion fatigue? faith fatigue? I don't know), mixed in with other things, and since that I haven't managed to watch SHOOTING DOGS or
DARFUR NOW (onscreen at Tinseltown
or any of the other guided tours of misery. In the long run, not an acceptable response, I know: in the short run, it has seemed necessary. But maybe we're past the short run and it's time for me to crawl out from under that particular rock? At the risk of being driven further underneath? Not sure yet.

Over at A&F, Jeffrey Overstreet calls HORSEBACK "the Next Film About Which I Am Going to Be Unrelentingly Passionate. ... This may be the film I recommend most highly for 2007. It is extraordinary." He saw it as part of the 2007 City Of The Angels Film Festival, with its theme "Justice... For All?", where they also screened BELLA, THE TRIALS OF DARRYL HUNT, NORMA RAE, UNFORGIVEN, WATER, INVISIBLES and WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY?. (What, no Al Pacino?)

Anyhow, on to the movie...

November 17-19, 21 // 7:00, 8:45

USA 2006 // Directors: Annie Sundberg, Ricki Stern // 85 min // DigiBeta


Brutal, urgent, devastating—the documentary The Devil Came on Horseback demands to be seen as soon as possible and by as many viewers as possible. An up-close, acutely painful call to action, the movie pivots on a young American, a former Marine captain named Brian Steidle, who for six months beginning in the fall of 2004 worked for the African Union as an unarmed monitor in Darfur. What he saw in Darfur was unspeakable. And then he returned home, his arms, heart and head filled with the images of the dead. You see a lot of those images in The Devil Came on Horseback , which, in brute form, serves as a catalogue of human barbarism…At least 200,000 civilians have died, and millions have been displaced. The atrocities—rape, torture, mutilation, murder—seem endless. So too does Mr. Steidle's storehouse of graphic photographs and his documentation, which he took with him when he returned to the United States and began sharing with anyone who would pay attention… The Devil Came on Horseback is a heartfelt account of what this particular American witness saw and, just as important, what he did afterward. It's necessary, often agonizing viewing.”—Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

This film is not rated. No Children under 18.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

what would jesus buy?

Opens Nov 16

What Would Jesus Buy?
From producer Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) and director Rob VanAlkemade, “What Would Jesus Buy?” examines the commercialization of Christmas in America while following Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse (the end of humankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt.) The film also delves into issues such as the role sweatshops play in America’s mass consumerism and Big-Box Culture. From the humble beginnings of preaching at his portable pulpit on New York City subways, to having a congregation of thousands - Bill Talen (aka Rev. Billy) has become the leader of not just a church, but a national movement. Rev. Billy’s epic journey takes us to chilling exorcisms at Wal-Mart headquarters, to retail interventions at the Mall of America, and all the way to the Promised Land on Christmas Day. The Stop Shopping mission reminds us that even though we may be “hypnotized and consumerized,” we still have a chance to save ourselves this Christmas.


More later...

Saturday, November 03, 2007


COOL HAND LUKE (1967, Stuart Rosenberg, Donn Pierce / Frank Pierson screenplay from the Pierce novel)
Hey, Old Man. You home tonight? Can You spare a minute? It's beginning to look like You got things fixed so I can't never win out. Inside, outside, all of them... rules and regulations and bosses. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it's beginning to get to me. When does it end? What do You got in mind for me?

There's an energy to the camera work, peculiar editing choices that jab you awake, unexpected rhythms in the story-telling that make this distinctly American film feel foreign. The prison work gang, strangely energized by some whim of the title character, shovels dirt onto fresh-poured asphalt and the camera jostles and dodges like a brothel kid with a new point-and-shoot. A dramatically charged scene chops off mid-climax, almost mid-sentence, hard cut to another that wanders langourously, maybe tells no story at all, and ends as strangely. But it's anything but sloppy: everything feels inspired, enlivens, conspires to keep you edgy, alert, alive. Like maybe you've just found yourself in a chain gang, and you've got no idea of the rules around here, and there are a hell of a lot of them. Just like Luke, who plays his hand cool, but has to stay awake to stay alive.

Some wax nostalgic about the movies of the sixties, but I say, only if you lived in Paris. America was a cinematic dead zone, studios floundering like dying behemoths while the culture moved on. But LUKE cuts against that.

Those also happened to be years when God wasn't welcome in the movie theatre, so God-hungry folks made much of Luke as a Christ-figure. Fair enough, but a curious Christ-figure, an ironic one, a Christ-figure for a Christ-fleeing time. Sure, he gets beat like Gibson's Christ, and like Gibson's Christ keeps standing up to ask for more, he sprawls out cruciform enough times to let you know everybody making this movie had Something In Mind, and there's allegory in the way none of it touches him, in the princely, winsome, relentless way he moves toward freedom, embodies it. (Freedom was big in 1967, as was cool: rules and conformity, not so much.) Yet he confounds all that Jesus stuff with face-to-face fights with his unseen Daddy that howl "I'm the suffering servant, but there's nobody up there to serve." If he's Jesus, he moves perpetually between Gethsemane and Calvary, a pervasive "Why have you forsaken me" behind that smile. You want to make him into a Jesus, you gotta face the fact that this Messiah's message is that there ain't nobody out there, or if there is, He's mean as a prison guard, and further away. Failure to communicate, indeed.

Still. There's something in Luke's courage, his more-or-less innocence, the self-contained swagger that means nobody no harm, something that just plain transcends. Something very Jesus, all that absent Father business notwithstanding. Something about this saintly Luke that's almost gospel.


Friday, November 02, 2007

blue in green

Caught wind of this about three years ago, when it was having prelim screenings and festival appearances. Here are some scraps from various sources, including a thread at the A&F conversation board)

Using the human face as its landscape, this dogme-esque exploration of desire takes place over the course of one night, and was crafted by 'UNICA', a filmmaking collaborative that shares a group credit. Born out of a deep collaboration between the filmmakers and the highly gifted cast, this unscripted and entirely improvised story culminates in a simple and unforgettable moment of truth and beauty.

cygnet74 writes;
"I recently completed my collaboration on a feature film, Blue in Green with a group of filmmakers of varying religious backgrounds commited to three principles common to all spiritual traditions: living in the present moment, entering the mystery of the other, and transforming conflict. As a community, we support the individual with a safe environment to "go deeper" without fear of judgement.

STORY On the night of her 35th birthday, Colleen throws a party to introduce her closest friends to Dan, the man she is certain is the love of her life. None of them have met Dan, and everybody eagerly anticipates his arrival. Dan's conspicous absence begins to have an unexpected effect on her friends, as truths unfold.

THEME Blue in Green examines suffering caused by desire, and reveals for Colleen over the course of one night’s event, a path to confronting the truth of her essential incompleteness."
There's a website for the film, which includes a couple trailers. The website includes an interesting description of the filmmaking process;

Here's the L.A. Weekly write-up;

Jeffrey Overstreet writes;
"I had the privilege of seeing this film over the weekend, and was both moved and impressed. Brilliant improvisational work from a large cast of talented actors. Effective cinematography. It's more powerful in all the things the characters don't say than it is in what they do.

Imagine CLOSER or WE DON'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE, but with a lot more hope for redemption, and with characters that have a stronger sense of conscience. It still amounts to 90 minutes of flawed characters mistreating each other, but you care about these characters, and you can sense God reaching out to them through light, through color, through quiet, through each other.

But more than those two films, it reminds me of THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY, with Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kevin Kline, which made the rounds a few years ago. It's similar in structure, tone, and subject matter, but I think this is a better film. It's more subtle, more communicative through imagery, and more hopeful.

There's a Dogme feel to the film, even though it has a improvisational "smooth jazz" soundtrack that runs through almost the entire film (the only real drawback to the production, in my opinion). At times, it's discomforting to feel so close to voyeurism as we listen in on private conversations. That speaks to the power of the actors' work.

The film ends on an admirably restrained note, all loose ends and questions, but that makes it stand out as one of the most thoroughly discuss-able movies of the year. I hope this finds a larger audience soon, because I'd love to hear what you all think.

...but this (in Image Update) is the first I've heard of the film in some time....
Blue in Green Film Screening with Ron Austin
November 26, 2007, 7:00 p.m., Seattle Pacific University Library Seminar Room

Join Image for an evening with renowned film writer and producer Ron Austin on Monday, November 26 at 7:00 p.m., in the Library Seminar Room at Seattle Pacific University. The evening will feature a screening of the film Blue in Green, created by the Unica collective Austin helped to found, followed by a question-and-answer session. Blue in Green is a funny, accessible, real, and moving exploration of desire and its subtle but devastating effects on our lives. Ron Austin was born in 1934, and was raised in Hollywood. At age 12 he became a child actor, initially working under the direction of Charlie Chaplin and noted teacher Viola Spolin. A graduate of the UCLA film school in 1956, he is a veteran writer and producer in the Hollywood industry, with over a hundred credits in film and television. He is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and has won two lifetime achievement awards from the Writers Guild of America for his service to writers and the Hollywood community. Over the years, Austin has written episodes of Mission Impossible, produced powerful documentaries on the war in Sudan, and spoken before Vatican officials at large international events. Through all the hubbub, he has preserved a spiritual equanimity that conveys profound thought, openness and curiosity, and a grounding in the timeless. Most recently, he published In a New Light: Spirituality and the Media Arts, chock full of wisdom for budding filmmakers (and film-watchers) interested in linking the cinema with faith.

For more information contact Julie Mullins at (206) 281-2988.
Must see if I can't track me down a copy, love to put it in my book. The title has me intrigued - it must reference my current favourite track off my all-time favourite album, "Kind Of Blue" - though Jeffrey's reference to a "smooth jazz" soundtrack has me nervous - I'm thinking Grover Washington? But the whole thing has me utterly intrigued, even if it turns out somebody like Bob James does mount an assault on Miles...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Nov 7: The Ark, VanCity

I know nothing about this one, except that it's mentioned in today's VIFC email. 8 minute film about Noah's boat...

The Ark: inspiration, experimentation and production
with Grzegorz Jonkajtys, Director & Lead Animator, Café FX and Marcin Kobylecki, Producer, Platige Image
Nov 7, 7:30

Tickets are $15 in advance, $20/$15 non-members/members at the door.

Please join us for this special evening with the creators of The Ark, this year’s winner of the Best of Show from SIGGRAPH’s Electronic Theater program. The presenters will talk about their inspiration, concept development and creative influences, then go into a breakdown of production on this 8 minute film that combines 3D computer graphics with practical sets. In addition to The Ark, a series of short films produced by Platige Image will also be screened: The Great Escape, Moloch, The Cathedral, and Fallen Art.


Grzegorz Jonkajtys
Animation Artist, Director. Graduated from the Faculty of Graphic Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He received an honourable mention from the dean of the Academy. His debut short animated film entitled “Mantis” (2001) gained widespread acclaim winning numerous prizes at Polish as well as international film festivals. For many years now he has been working in an American company, CafeFX ( It specializes in special effects for big Hollywood productions. He took part in creating special effects to such films as “The League of Gentlemen”, “Gothika”, “Hellboy”, “Sin City” or “Pan's Labyrinth”. At the moment Grzegorz Jonkajtys has completed work on his second animated film entitled “Ark”.

Marcin Kobylecki
Executive Producer at Platige Image (, the biggest CG animation and special effects studio in Poland. He is the Executive Producer of the short films “The Cathedral”,“Fallen Art”.

If you would like to pick up your online order early, the Vancity Theatre box office will be open for will call Fri Nov 2 - Mon Nov 5, 7:15pm-8:30pm.

Monday, October 22, 2007


THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002, USA, Doug Liman, Tony Gilroy / W. Blake Herron screenplay from Robert Ludlum novel)
THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004, USA, Paul Greengrass, Tony Gilroy screenplay from Robert Ludlum novel)
THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007, Paul Greengrass, Tony Gilroy / Scott Z. Burns screenplay from Robert Ludlum novel)

You start down this path, where does it end?

Pretty much just government paranoia playing out in a never-ending chase – "The Fugitive Goes To Europe," only Jason Bourne is tougher and not so innocent, and the one-armed man he's chasing is more or less himself. Lots of shooting, hand-to-hand fights with amped-up SFX, all sorts of people crashing through glass and falling, and car chases of ever-increasing complexity and improbability. (New York cabbies can't get across town that fast. And he didn't lean on the horn, not even once!). And lots of water.

But if you go for that kind of thing, you may find more here than meets the adrenaline gland. Matt Damon plays a government assassin whose memory has been wiped as part of his top secret programming. He's not sure who he is or where he comes from. He knows he's done wrong, but he doesn't know why, or exactly what. He keeps killing to survive, it seems inevitable, but increasingly he loathes it. So he searches out his origins, and as understanding slowly dawns he yearns for peace, strives to leave behind an old life that clings so close.

Sound familiar? Sound like the set-up for a sermon? Think Saint Paul deserves a story credit? The "Bourne Again" trilogy?

Side note. What's this spate of movies about our inability to remember? MEMENTO, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, even FINDING NEMO and 50 FIRST DATES. David Mamet says that public stories like these are the waking dreams of our culture. So what are our dreams telling us? What do we think we've forgotten? And why does that frighten us so? Peter Chattaway suggests that "most amnesia movies are ultimately about redemption: someone's slate is wiped clean so that he or she can start afresh. But they are also often about atonement: one must retrieve one's memory in order to make right the wrongs of the past."

The Bourne movies aren't deep, but they come from someplace deep. With lots of fights. And, more to the point, lots of water.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


THE CAMDEN 28 (2007, USA, Anthony Giacchino)
What do you do when a child's on fire? We saw children on fire. What do you do when a child's on fire in a war that was a mistake? What do you do? Write a letter?

Cinematically straightforward documentary of Catholic Vietnam protesters surprises us with skillfully structured story developments, bringing not only unexpected drama but also considerable complexity to a story of conscience that's both political and personal.

I came to the film dutifully, imagining a guided tour of late-Sixties moral high ground rendered overly familiar by forty years' retrospection. It's regrettable, but once history has deemed their cause noble, the agitators of the past don't agitate us any more, whether they fought slavery or segregation or apartheid or a war that common consensus has decreed immoral: they're too obviously "the good guys," and we too glibly take their side. This film goes some distance toward reminding us of the difficulty and potential price for those moral decisions, and adds depth by revisiting not only the conscientious objectors but also the snitches, feds and prosecutors who also, as it turns out, acted from conscience.

What begins as a compelling enough story of political activism motivated by religious belief – twenty-seven of the activists were Catholic priests and lay people, one a Lutheran minister – becomes more personal when unanticipated betrayal and tragedy challenges their commitment not only to peace and justice, but also to the sometimes harder work of reconciliation and community. War-makers and peace-makers alike assume that God is on their side: here we're reminded that following Christ isn't only a matter of which road you decide to go down, but how you choose to walk it.

The emotional punch of the film comes when the white-haired mother of one of the protesters reads her testimony, mourning another son killed in the war. "We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. I know that I was. I am ashamed of the day I took my son to that airplane and put him on. Can anybody stand here and tell me that he was fighting for his country? I can't understand what we're doing over there. We should get out of this. But not one of us raised our hands to do anything about it. We left it up to these people to do it, and now we're prosecuting them for it. God help us."

Earlier Soul Food Movies post here

Available at Videomatica

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

2007 Favourites

I didn't notice before this, but 2007 has been a great year at the movies! I often don't have this long a list of notable titles until February of the next year, but her we are in mid-October and I've got me sixteen real favourites already to tally. And, as usual at this time of year, lots of great stuff coming our way!

2007 Favourites
Adam's Apples
Into The Wild
Across The Universe
After The Wedding
The Lives Of Others
This Is England
Black Snake Moan
Into Great Silence
You Told Me, You Love Me
Michael Clayton
Amazing Grace
You, The Living
Secret Sunshine
The Aura
Away From Her

Need To See
Dry Season (Daratt)
Lars & The Real Girl
No Country For Old Men
Silent Light
Sweet Land
There Will Be Blood

COMING SOON: Big & Small Screens

Soul Food(ish) and other notable films on their way (sooner or later) to your local cine 'matheque or 'plex, or your very own living room!
Updated Oct 16 2007

Here are upcoming big screen releases I’m glad we’ll get to see before too long...
THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Vancouver: January 11)

And no word about when Vancouverites will get to see the following but, like the truth, they’re out there somewhere, and Soul Food is on the case!
THE TEN (limited release Aug 3)
SEPTEMBER DAWN (limited release Aug 24)

And here’s what’s we’re waiting for, Soul Food-wise, at the local video emporia...
Now (subcribers only): ADAM’S APPLES
Nov 13: AMAZING GRACE at Videomatica
Nov 27: WAITRESS at Videomatica
Dec 18: ONCE released, BLADE RUNNER FINAL CUT at Videomatica



Blackest possible, utterly droll Scandanavian comedy either taunts or exults in the folly of the Christian faith, might even be my favorite film this year. Available from Film Movement, but only (so far) to subscribers! As soon as we the great unwashed get access, I’ll letcha know.

Oct 5: LA/NY Limited Release
Dec 18: Fancy schmancy DVD box sets
Lots of hoohaw over the years about the various edits of this film. Ignoring the detail, let it be said there’s much excitement among BLADE RUNNER fans over a special limited release big screen run and follow-up DVD package of the new “Final Cut” of this eighties sci fi landmark, which is loaded with God Stuff. I personally don’t find the religious bits compelling in this one, but many do, and what I do love is the kinetic cyber-punk-meets-Raymond-Chandler milieu – great looking, great energy.

Doug Cummings: "Ron, you simply have to see DARATT (DRY SEASON) if it comes your way. Think of it as a Chadian LE FILS ... The one film I saw at the Los Angeles Film Festival this week I would unequivocally recommend to everyone here is a film from Chad called "Daratt" ("Dry Season"). It won the Jury Prize at Venice last year, and it's part of the excellent New Crowned Hope series commissioned for Mozart's 250th anniversary. Building off the theme of vengeance and forgiveness in the composer's "La clemenza di Tito," the film is set immediately after the civil war when official amnesty was declared...taking the law into his own hands, an elderly man who lost his son in the war asks his grandson to avenge his death, and the determined teenager travels to a nearby village to assassinate the murderer. As the boy is devising his plan, the murderer--now a 60 year old baker--offers him a job.
“I don't want to say more, because this is a highly nuanced story that focuses on this strangely volatile, yet potentially positive relationship, and its myriad details and tensions in a way that is highly reminiscent (and I say that complimentary-wise) of the Dardenne's "The Son." The filmmaker, Mahamat Saleh Haroun, has said he was inspired by Mozart's violin concertos to make a make a film that evoked their minimalist power, resulting in a film with strong visual rhythms, a highly observant camera, and terrifically underplayed, simmering performances. I loved it."

Hollywood Reporter: "A love story set against the 19th century massacre of a wagon train of settlers in Utah at the hands of a renegade Mormon group. Voight plays the leader of the renegade Mormon faction, while Davidovich is a member of the wagon train who stands up to Voight's threats." Check the Soul Food post for excerpts from (and links to) responses from Mark Moring and Peter Chattaway.

Wow. Not for the faithful who are filmically faint of heart, director Carlos Reygada is fascinated with both Christianity and sex. (I mean, lots of us are, but we don’t necessarily put them both in the same movie. Which presents problems for some.) His third picture is set among old order Mennonites in northern Mexico. NYFF: “The world’s first talking picture in the medieval German dialect called Plautdietsch. SILENT LIGHT is set in Northern Mexico’s ascetic, self-contained Mennonite community and cast almost entirely with Mennonite non-actors. Building in emotional intensity, this elemental tale of love and betrayal is at once an ethnographic documentary and a quasi-remake of Carl-Theodore Dreyer’s Ordet. Reygadas too makes spirituality seem material, not least in the extraordinary, wide-screen landscape shots that bracket the action. With this, his third feature, he has secured a place in the forefront of contemporary film artists.” I had hoped it would be at the VIFF, but alas.

Aug 3: Limited release
An episodic comedy, ten short pieces each riffing on one of the commandments. Not exactly Kieslowski or deMille, but it could be funny. Tagline, “If He'd meant the commandments literally, He'd have written them in stone.” Cute. The trailer features way too many body part gags – is this for grade eights or grown-ups? - but I still reckon I’ll give it a try if it ever opens in Vancouver. (Even if I never see it, I’m glad it was made, if only for this headline at Christianity Today: “Christian ventriloquists say no to THE TEN.” Linking to this at the New York Times:
The Kid Quits the Picture
July 29, 2007, Sunday
by Allen Salkin
CLAPPY'S people decided to pass. After seeing a synopsis of a film script for ''The Ten,'' a comedy based on the Ten Commandments, they decided the part he was up for was not right for him. They did not think Clappy ought to appear in a sex scene...”

Can’t believe THIS IS ENGLAND left the theatres so fast. It’s really something: autobiographically inspired, 1983 setting, about a 12 year old working class English boy who falls in with a gang of skinheads after his dad's killed in the Falklands: you'll be on edge, and yes there's some violence that's tough to watch - not so much because it's grisly or gratuitous, but because you believe it, and it happens among characters you care about - but it's loaded with brilliant unexpected turns, heart-breakingly true characters. One of my favorite films of 2007.

"Martin Scorsese directs this 90-minute documentary on Val Lewton, the versatile and prolific writer of novels, nonfiction and poetry who entered the film business as a protégé of David O. Selznick in the early 1930s. Lewton went on to produce a number of stylish, low- budget horror films for RKO, notably the atmospheric CAT PEOPLE (1942), the engagingly macabre
(1943) and the chilling BEDLAM (1946)."

lars and the real girl

Saw this, and it's certified Soul Food. Folks have said "the LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE of 2007," but that really is misleading: the tone is less boisterously comic, it feels more authentically indie, not trying to be a Hollywood feel-good film on a lower budget. Ryan Gosling and Patricia Clarkson are as fine as you'd expect them to be (which is very fine indeed - they are two of the finest actors working today), and yet they don't dominate the picture: Emily Mortimer (who's played great moms before - once in claymation, once in DEAR FRANKIE - as well as a standout turn in MATCH POINT), Paul Schneider as her husband (having acted in ALL THE REAL GIRLS, I guess he was an obvious casting choice) and Kelli Garner (as the real real girl) are really, really fine. Authentic, unshowy performances that are far more emotionally complex than the star turns generating Oscar buzz for something like AMERICAN GANGSTER, f'rinstance. And how pleasing to see a church community onscreen that actually feels like the church communities I've been part of, with a pastor who's decent and intelligent, in a small town that feels like the small towns I've known.

Movie Miracle: 'Lars' Is a Smart, Tender Comedy
Ryan Gosling Shines In the Oddball Love Tale

Joe Morgenstern
Wall Street Journal, October 12 2007

When a movie turns out well, the achievement may border on the miraculous; such are the forces arrayed against filmmakers who want to work as unfettered artists. But "Lars and the Real Girl" crosses the border. It's nothing less than a miracle that the director, Craig Gillespie, and the writer, Nancy Oliver, have been able to make such an endearing, intelligent and tender comedy from a premise that, in other hands, might sustain a five-minute sketch on TV.

The premise is straightforward: A likable but withdrawn young man named Lars Lindstrom (played brilliantly by Ryan Gosling) buys a life-size sex doll on the Internet and falls in love with it. Or, rather, with her, since he endows his silicone beauty with a vivid personality. Her name is Bianca, she's a missionary from a Brazilian-Danish family and she doesn't believe in pre-marital sex, so their relationship will be chaste at the outset.

We're glad to go along with the gag, and we're not the only ones. Lars's sister-in-law, then his brother, then the people of his midwestern town -- somewhere up north, maybe in Minnesota -- go along with it too, albeit cautiously at first. That's the wonder of this story, which moves from the cheerfully ludicrous to the quietly momentous. People go along with it, and are changed by it, as they realize that Lars is not a hopeless nut job but a good soul in distress. Delightful as the business about Bianca may be, it's only a catalyst for the community's effort to help heal one of its own. Of all the unfashionable things in our crass day and age, "Lars and the Real Girl" is a movie about kindness.

It is also, on its own modest terms, an almost perfect movie with flawless performances. Ryan Gosling has done extraordinary work before -- most notably in "The Believer" and "Half Nelson" -- but the comic sensibility he unleashes here still comes as a surprise. The leash is short, and taut. You can't even call what he does deadpan, for that would suggest some hint of self-comment. His Lars is simply rooted in every moment, though that doesn't quite get at the actor's art either. There's nothing simple about Lars's fantasy life with Bianca, or his response to being touched by a therapist, physically and emotionally, in one of the best therapy sequences you've ever seen. Just as that life with Bianca grows out of need, as the therapist explains to his family (with hardly a syllable of psychobabble), Mr. Gosling's portrayal grows out of judgment-free revelation; he lets us in on the safe, sweet pleasure Lars takes from his ostensibly inanimate inamorata.

Every other performance in the film is of a piece -- not a false note to be seen or heard. Paul Schneider, as Lars's older brother, Gus, fulfills the promise he first showed in David Gordon Green's "All the Real Girls." (Will his next movie have a "real girl" title, too?) While Gus has managed, barely, to escape his family's dire destiny, his emotional range remains constrained. Within that range, though, Mr. Schneider rings witty changes on his character's obtuseness, his skepticism -- Gus is our surrogate in all of this goofiness -- his verbal contortions, buried guilt and essential decency.

Gus's wife, Karin, played with exquisite ardor by Emily Mortimer, is much easier to decode. Pregnant and immensely pleased about it, she's an earth-mother-to-be. Karin's first impulse is to open herself to the lives of others, so she leads the charge, after some brief hesitation, to embrace Bianca as a palpable creature of Lars's inner life. Kelli Garner's Margo is a smaller role -- the ingénue who must compete with Bianca for Lars's affection -- but Ms. Garner fills it with an unaffected sweetness that recalls the early films of Shelley Duvall.

Then there's the divine Patricia Clarkson -- droll, dry and precise, yet mysteriously intense -- as Dagmar, the town's physician, who is also a psychologist. An actor's actor, Ms. Clarkson possesses, among so many other gifts, a peerless talent for listening, which is perfect for Dagmar's sessions with Lars. One of the movie's most delicious lines is also the most understated. It comes after Dagmar first meets Bianca and listens to Lars extolling her virtues, "He appears," the psychologist says, "to have a delusion."

Remarkably, Nancy Oliver's original script for "Lars and the Real Girl" is her feature debut; some writers spend whole careers learning to write as concisely and evocatively -- and hilariously -- as she's done the first time out. Though other films have turned on romance between a guy and a literal doll, this one turns the notion into a classic comic parable with stirring scenes: Karin replying with furious hurt to Lars's accusation that people don't care about him; Gus answering Lars's question about how and when someone becomes a man; a pastor's heartfelt eulogy for a much loved member of the congregation.

I've held off on discussing the director, Craig Gillespie, only because the results of his work in this film are so impressive that they deserve to be appreciated fully, in the context of his cast and crew. But that's easier said than done. When I was starting out as a young critic, I would read other critics asserting, with great authority, that the direction in this film or that was good or bad, and I'd wonder, with great anxiety, "How do they know, since direction is intangible? How can you tell what a director does, let alone pass judgment on it?" The answer, of course, is you can never tell, exactly, but the director always leaves his mark, for better or worse, in the movie's tone, and in an accumulation of details and choices.

In this film it's for better at every turn. The tone is consistently delicate. One of the first details I noticed about the film's physical production was the paint on the front of the garage where Lars sleeps -- not insistently disreputable, to make a point about his sad status in the world, just peeling normally, plausibly. A nice choice, if a small one, grounded in reality, but was it made by the director, or by the production designer, Arv Greywal? No way to know. Still, it was consonant with other nice choices, small and large: Lars's grounded, laconic comment on Bianca's silence -- "She's shy. Everything's so new"; Adam Kimmel's clear-sighted cinematography, constantly showing without being showy; Tatiana S. Riegel's deft editing, which cuts quickly from, rather than lingers on, the whimsical spectacle of a child sitting on Bianca's lap in the doctor's waiting room; Karin's throwaway explanation of why Dr. Dagmar is also a psychologist -- "She says you have to be, this far north."

A common denominator of these choices is trust -- in the material, and in the audience's intelligence. Some may have been made by Craig Gillespie, others by his collaborators, including Ms. Oliver, but all of them were made within a stylistic climate that the director established and sustained. The climate is funny, breezy and warm.

DVD TIP: As I tried to recall another film with a comic tone as delicate as that of "Lars And the Real Girl," I got nowhere until I thought of Lars as the product of a Scandinavian family. Bingo. "Kitchen Stories" (2003), in Norwegian with English subtitles, starts in post-World War II Sweden, where time-and-motion scientists dispatch a researcher to rural Norway to study the kitchen routines of single men. It's an absurd premise, but this is an absurdist comedy par excellence. And, very much like "Lars," it ramifies into something more--a parable of friendship, devotion to duty and the basic human need for social intercourse.

Lars and the Real Girl
The movie centers a delightful, Capra-esque story around a most prurient prop

Kenneth Turan
Los Angeles Times, Oct 12 2007

Lars and the Real Girl" is the darndest thing. Starring Ryan Gosling as the romantically challenged Lars, this is a film whose daring and delicate blend of apparent irreconcilables will sweep you off your feet if you're not careful.

For what screenwriter Nancy Oliver, director Craig Gillespie and a top cast have done is construct a Frank Capra-style fable, a throwback tribute to the joys of friendship and community, around a sex toy. Taking one of the most salacious items modern culture can provide as their centerpiece, they've created the sweetest, most innocent, most completely enjoyable film around.

What makes this implausible feat of sustained imagination possible is how exactly calibrated "Lars' " emotional effects are. The creators of this film were fiercely determined not to go so much as a millimeter over the line into sentiment, tawdriness or mockery. It's the rare film that is the best possible version of itself, but "Lars" fits that bill.

Credit goes first to Oliver, a "Six Feet Under" writer doing her initial feature script, who, having noticed that a lot of contemporary movies were "dark, edgy, sarcastic and sometimes mean-spirited," determined to do something different without sacrificing intelligence, wit or unexpectedness.

Filmmaker Gillespie, a top commercial creator who is the director of record on the completely dissimilar "Mr. Woodcock," understood this script in a way no one but the original writer usually does. His decision to shoot in the Canadian winter, substituting for the frigid upper Midwest of the script, helps give the film its deadpan, almost Scandinavian humor.

Gillespie has also ensured that the "Lars" performers are all on the same wavelength. First among equals is Gosling, who plays the sweet, guileless and very much removed Lars with unwavering, unblinking sincerity.

The always involving Emily Mortimer conveys generosity and intelligent sprightliness as Lars' sister-in-law Karin, Paul Schneider is very much the guy's guy as Lars' brother Gus, and Kelli Garner wins us over as Margo, Lars' awkward but sincere coworker who is more willing than most to get to know the young man.

That takes some doing, because what Lars does best is what he's doing as the film begins, which is hiding from the other people in his small town. In this case, he's hiding from the pregnant Karin, who lives with Gus in the family house while Lars by choice makes do with an apartment in the garage.

Karin simply wants him to come over for the occasional meal, but though Lars has the habits and disposition of a grown-up choir boy he is pathologically shy, terrified enough at even the thought of human contact to literally run when he sees it coming.

That doesn't stop Margo at work from trying to chat him up and other folks from trying to set him up. That pressure, combined with nervousness about Karin's pregnancy and a coworker who watches too much pornography, leads to the arrival at Lars' home of an enormous crate.

That evening, Lars knocks at Karin and Gus' door. "I have a visitor," he says, proud as can be. But when he produces his friend, she turns out to be not what anyone expected. "This is Bianca," he says, introducing a fully dressed, anatomically correct, life-size silicone doll. "She's not from here."

As Karin and Gus look on astonished, Lars explains that Bianca is a Brazilian/Danish missionary he met online who has to get around in a wheelchair and, because she is as religious as Lars, will have to sleep in the big house.

For Lars, who treats Bianca like an actual person and holds conversations only he can hear, is not thinking of sex. Bianca, it turns out, is the only kind of companion he can tolerate. As Dr. Dagmar, a convenient physician/psychologist (a terrific Patricia Clarkson) says, "Bianca's in town for a reason," and everyone who cares about Lars is going to have to deal with that.

It is the charming conceit of "Lars and the Real Girl" that the group includes not just Karin, Gus and Dr. Dagmar but almost everyone in this mythical hamlet, some of whom turn out to have inanimate objects of their own that they treasure. Because people genuinely like Lars, because they want the best for him, they take Bianca as seriously as he does, which leads to any number of strangely comic and surprisingly poignant situations.

And the truth is, Bianca is good for both Lars and the town. She contributes to changes in his personality, giving him the courage to be the best person he can be. And she makes the townspeople around her reconsider their own lives and begin to value what matters over what does not.

Though it was produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, "Lars and the Real Girl" is being distributed by MGM, complete with the studio's venerable roaring lion logo. It makes one wonder what Louis B. Mayer of MGM's wholesome golden era would think of his company being associated with a film bizarre enough to employ a "Bianca wrangler." If the idea itself didn't give him a heart attack, he would probably like it just fine. It's that kind of a film.

I can't wait!