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.