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!

NOW PLAYING: Big & Small Screens

Soul Food and other notable movies currently onscreen in Vancouver, plus recent arrivals at the video shops
Updated Oct 20 2007

Big Screen

I saw INTO THE WILD yesterday, and wow. 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. I seriously considered going to see it again today. Wow.

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."

Now a week old, 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 lost my tingle about moon landings around 1970, but a VIFF viewing of IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON brought it all back – edited down from about a zillion hours of previously unavailable archived NASA footage, it actually inspires a certain awe, even gets metaphysical. Practically launched the Christianity Today reviewer into orbit.

I was so shaken by HOTEL RWANDA a few years back, I haven’t been able to bring myself to view SHOOTING DOGS, which is now on dvd, but maybe I better get on that, with the Romeo Dallaire biopic on our local big screens. SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL is 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. 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.

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.


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...

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.

Oct 11 - Nov 10: Driving Miss Daisy at PT

Be sure not to miss the Opening Mainstage show of Pacific Theatre's Blockbuster Season, "PT Goes to the Movies"


starring Tom PIckett, Erla Faye Forsyth and Paul Moniz da Sa


Pacific Theatre
1440 West 12th Avenue, Vancouver

October 11 - November 10

Ron Reed: "This really is one you don't want to miss, a finely detailed portrait perfectly scaled for our intimate theatre. These roles were made for PT regulars Erla Faye Forsyth and Tom Pickett, and Paul Moniz da Sa ("The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe") matches them step for step in a marvelously crafted characterization. And I can't say enough about Sarah Rodgers' precise and heartful direction, making the most of Kevin McAllister's simply elegant set. Understated theatricality, gentle humour, warm humanity. Jessie-awarded cast, Pulitzer-prized script - pure Pacific Theatre."

Book your tickets by calling the Box Office at 604.731.5518
or e-mail

You can also book online!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

jan 11: there will be blood

I was worried about Paul Thomas Anderson.
1996, HARD EIGHT (aka SYDNEY).
Late 1999, MAGNOLIA.
Then... Nothing for five years. Oh well, better to burn out than fade out.

But he's back! Or at least, he will be soon. Opening December 26 in New York and Los Angeles (Vancouver, Jan11)...

Check out the high quality trailer (or the YouTube version) and you'll get things like...

Folks singing “There is power, power, wonderworking power
In the precious blood of the lamb...”

Daniel Day Lewis saying “I look at people and I see nothing worth liking.”

Another man saying “My son is a healer and a vessel for the Holy Spirit. He has a church.”

Oil wells gushing and blowing up, people praying and fighting, and a good old-fashioned tagline hook...

There will be greed...
There will be vengeance...
There Will Be Blood.

Based on Upton Sinclair's "Oil!", Anderson reports that his screenplay draws from only "about the first 150 pages of the novel." According to Scott Weinberg at cinematical, “The 160-minute film covers Daniel Plainview's (Daniel Day Lewis) journey from rock-scratcher to oil tycoon as it runs over the course of 29 years. His main combatant comes in the form of a young preacher named Eli Sunday (Paul Dano). The young man seems to be well aware of Plainview's rather mercenary approach to the oil game, so when the two butt heads over the oil beneath the Sundays' soil their battle of wills becomes some sort of epic clash: The rise of wealth and industry versus the sanctity of religion and faith.”

The only public showing so far was Sep 27, the secret closing-night film of Fantastic Fest 3 in Austin, Texas (the story is set in that state).'s Marjorie Baumgarten reports: “Essential to the success of the movie is the original score by Jonny Greenwood, the Radiohead guitarist and BBC composer in residence. In addition to some uniquely haunting orchestral arrangements, there's this insistent string motif that sounds like the buzzing of an insect inside one's head, a sound that grows louder and more unavoidably distressing whenever soulless events are about to occur. Greenwood's astonishing score is sure to be one of the most remarked-on aspects of the movie. . . .”

Look for regular updates on the fansite Cigarettes & Red Vines. Thanks, Jason, for the tip!


PS Here's a link to the Charlie Rose interview with Daniel Day Lewis