Tuesday, April 29, 2008

SF Notes: Sight & Sound, Mar 2008

Soul Food movies?

Report on Sundance by Tom Charity; "The high-profile disappointments came thick and fast: Mark Pellington's egregious HENRY POOLE IS HERE found God in a waterstain...."

Other films of interest

Report on Sundance by Tom Charity; "Jonathan Levine's THE WACKNESS is a superior example...of the quirky, dysfunctional family/coming-of-age comedy with which Sundance has become synonymous.... Two dramatic competition entries stood out in sharp relief from the rest. BALLAST and SUGAR both draw inspiration from European realist cinema - the Dardennes and Ken Loach - to focus on marginalised figures coping with the prospect of continued poverty and struggle. SUGAR is no more a conventional sports movie than HALF NELSON was a typical tribute to an inspirational teacher. Young Dominican hopeful Miguel Santo is brought to the US for a tryout with the (fictional) Kansas City Knights, an induction that involves a spell in the minor leagues in rural Iowa. Even tempo and quiet observational style... BALLAST is even better. Explores the after-effects of the death of a storekeeper on his twin brother, who ran the store with him, his estranged wife and teenage son. The movie is constantly unexpected, starting with its pared-down dialogue and tight, Bressonian performance.... "


Sunday, April 27, 2008

Apr 18: Ben X

BEN X is at the Granville 7 through May 1.

Darrell Manson is a fellow FFCC writer, who was part of the Ecumenical Jury at the Montreal Film Festival. They selected BEN X for their prize, and Darrell lists it as his favourite - and if I'm not mistaken, his "most spiritually significant" - film of 2007. It opens here in late April. Here's part of Darrel's Hollywood Jesus review;
At the World Film Festival in Montreal, this film was seen by an audience for the first time. That screening was followed by a very exuberant standing ovation—far more enthusiastic than the applause that followed other films. This is indeed a rare film that combines all the elements that can make a film great—an engaging story, interesting twists and shifts, insight into the human condition and deeper meanings of life. The festival jury recognized Ben X by giving it a share of the top prize, the Grand Prix of the Americas. It was also voted the most popular film by the public.
And here's the PSA;
BEN X, Belgian director Nic Balthazar's portrait of a mildly autistic boy bullied at school, received standing ovations at both of its screenings at the 2007 Montreal World Film Festival, where it received the Audience Award, the Ecumenical Prize and shared the juried Grand Prix of Americas. It also received the Black Pearl Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film at Abu Dhabi, and it was Belgium's official contender for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Ben (newcomer Greg Timmermans) is different. He never speaks, except to his mother and to his little brother. He gets high grades, but is viewed as “Frankenstein” and “the Martian” by classmates at the high school he attends. Ben’s only solace is the time he spends playing his favourite online computer game Archlord, where he can be the fearless hero slaying enemies left and right. Ben tries hard to train himself for the real world he lives in. The harsh world of a technical school is for him a daily kind of living hell.

Ben X is a powerful figure in the world of ArchLord. He is everything that the teenage Ben is not. As the horror of being a daily subject to bullying grows, Ben devises a plan. Then Scarlite (Laura Verlinden), the girl he has met in his on-line game, appears in the real-world to point the way. That wasn’t part of the plan... Together, they concoct the ultimate end-game.

Using an exciting mixture of virtual reality, live-action and docudrama, Balthazar creates a riveting portrait of autism and its deep impact on both the autistic person and their families and community.

BEN X marks Nic Balthazar’s film directorial debut. It is adapted from his 2002 novel ‘Niets was alles wat hij zei’ (‘Nothing Was All He Said’) and his hugely successful stage play, which were both inspired by actual events – the suicide of a mildly autistic Belgian student who was virtually harassed to death.

BEN X also includes an example of technological innovation. It is the first film in which a director works in cyberspace with virtual actors. In the role-playing computer game ArchLord by Codemasters, a number of scenes were shot online with several gamers playing entire scenes with virtual characters on the basis of directives given by the director. These scenes were subsequently integrated into the live-action film images.

*

BEN X, Belgian director Nic Balthazar's portrait of a mildly autistic boy bullied at school, received standing ovations at both of its screenings at the 2007 Montreal World Film Festival, where it received the Audience Award, the Ecumenical Prize and shared the juried Grand Prix of Americas. It also received the Black Pearl Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film at Abu Dhabi, and it was Belgium's official contender for a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

Ben (newcomer Greg Timmermans) is different. He never speaks, except to his mother and to his little brother. He gets high grades, but is viewed as “Frankenstein” and “the Martian” by classmates at the high school he attends. Ben’s only solace is the time he spends playing his favourite online computer game Archlord, where he can be the fearless hero slaying enemies left and right. Ben tries hard to train himself for the real world he lives in. The harsh world of a technical school is for him a daily kind of living hell.

Ben X is a powerful figure in the world of ArchLord. He is everything that the teenage Ben is not. As the horror of being a daily subject to bullying grows, Ben devises a plan. Then Scarlite (Laura Verlinden), the girl he has met in his on-line game, appears in the real-world to point the way. That wasn’t part of the plan... Together, they concoct the ultimate end-game.

Using an exciting mixture of virtual reality, live-action and docudrama, Balthazar creates a riveting portrait of autism and its deep impact on both the autistic person and their families and community.

BEN X marks Nic Balthazar’s film directorial debut. It is adapted from his 2002 novel ‘Niets was alles wat hij zei’ (‘Nothing Was All He Said’) and his hugely successful stage play, which were both inspired by actual events – the suicide of a mildly autistic Belgian student who was virtually harassed to death.

BEN X also includes an example of technological innovation. It is the first film in which a director works in cyberspace with virtual actors. In the role-playing computer game ArchLord by Codemasters, a number of scenes were shot online with several gamers playing entire scenes with virtual characters on the basis of directives given by the director. These scenes were subsequently integrated into the live-action film images.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A&F 100 Nominees, 2008

Over at the Arts & Faith discussion board back in 2004 we created a list of 100 Spiritually Significant Films. In 2005 Alan Thomas took that over from me, then repeated the process in 2006. He skipped 2007, but now the nominations are open for another run at the whole process.

Folks at A&F have put forward an immense number of nominees to be considered in this year's voting. It's a fascinating compendium of films that some (probably Christian) film buff somewhere finds "spiritually significant." I'm going to flag the ones that, on first pass through, would be most likely to get my votes. See how close we come to a hundred.

And if all this is something you want to get in on, just hop over to Arts & Faith, become a member (it's ultra-cheap), and cast your votes!

2008 Nominees
(my first-round picks in bold, my "nah" titles in italics)

Adam's Apples

The Addiction

After Life

Amadeus

Amistad

Andrei Rublev

The Apostle

The Apu Trilogy

L'Argent

Autumn in New York

Babel

Babette's Feast

Au Hasard Balthazar

Becket

Being There
Sure a guy walks on water, but that doesn't make him a Christ figure. Faith is the target, not the point.

The Believer

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Bicycle Thief

The Big Kahuna
Tackles spiritual things, and I could add it to my list. But at the moment, the fact that I think the film doesn't play fair keeps it from being a first round pick for me.

Black Narcissus

Black Robe

Blade Runner
I'm closer to considering this than I used to be. Certainly has lots of religious references layered in.

The Blood of Jesus (aka The Glory Road)

Breaking The Waves

Bruce Almighty

Chariots of Fire

Children of Men
People find Nativity resonances, but that falls so far short of the spiritual significance of the novel it's based on, I just can't get excited. Would The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe seem quite so spiritually significant if you took out that lion character?

A Christmas Carol

Citizen Kane
Greatest film ever made, many say. I have yet to succumb to its glories, but intend to give it another run. S'pose it could be considered a cinematic gloss on "What profiteth a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul."  So maybe I'll come around.

Close-Up (aka Nema-ye Nazdik)

The Color of Paradise

Cries and Whispers

Crimes And Misdemeanors

Cry, the Beloved Country

The Da Vinci Code
Can't take the ideas seriously, can't take the film seriously.

Day of Wrath

The Day the Earth Stood Still
Definite Christ symbolism, but - for all its rep - really cheesy fifties sci-fi corn.

Days of Heaven

Dead Man Walking

Death: A Love Story

The Decalogue

Dersu Uzala

Devil's Playground

The Diary of a Country Priest

Distant (aka Uzak)

Dogma

Dogville

La Dolce Vita
Have tried watching it twice, don't get too far.  Jesus hanging from the copter is potent. Need to see the whole thing to know if it oughta rank, though, or if the fuss about it as a religious film is just because there was such slim pickin's back in the sixties.

Donnie Darko

Downfall

Dream of Light

East of Eden

The Elephant Man

Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
This keeps getting nominated, even voted for, but nobody anywhere's even tried to reply to my request that they make the case that there's something distinctly spiritual about the film. Clever film about either the persistence or impermanence of romantic love, but where's the God stuff, or even ethical stuff?

Europa '51
Probably belongs on my list, but I've not yet seen it.

The Exorcist
Believe it or not, the book was a significant influence on my early Christian life.  But it's been 25 years, and I've not yet seen the film, so for now...

Faust

Fearless

Fiddler on the Roof

Field of Dreams

Fight Club
Maybe almost. I think the ending diminishes the film, but even that is reaching for something spiritual, maybe Pauline?

Le Fils (aka The Son)
Absolutely. But where's L'Enfant?!?!?!!!!!  Guess I needed to have nominated it.  Too bad this year's noms came along when my attention was demanded elsewhere.

The Fisher King
At one time, I would have said so.  But rewatching it more recently, the film didn't wear well for me.

Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus

The Flowers of St. Francis (aka Francesco, giullare di Dio)

Forgiveness

The Fountain

The Godfather (trilogy)
Under consideration. Not for the Catholicism, which I'm afraid just feels cultural to me. But certainly a powerful, even mythic tale of the compromise and loss of a human soul.

Godspell

Golgotha

The Good Son

The Gospel According to Matthew (aka Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo)

The Gospel of John

The Grapes of Wrath

Grave of the Fireflies (aka Hotaru no haka)

The Green Mile

Groundhog Day

Hannah and Her Sisters

He Who Must Die (aka Celui qui doit mourir)
Sure want to see this.

Heaven

Hell House
Basically an "Aren't Those Christians Freaks?" show, though the glimpses of real faith (and maybe even a miracle?) are fascinating.

The Hiding Place

Hotel Rwanda
Very fine movie, but I don't see the specifically spiritual referent. And if we list all the films that have a conscience about atrocities as being spiritually significant...

I Heart Huckabees
Sophomoric philosophical goofing around.

Ikiru (aka To Live)

In America
Half of a terrific movie, but it loses its nerve and therefore its significance.

In Your Hands (aka Forbrydelser)

The Iron Giant

It's A Wonderful Life

Jalsaghar (aka The Music Room)

Jean de Florette / Manon of the Spring

Jesus Christ Superstar

Jesus of Montreal

Jesus of Nazareth

The Jeweller's Shop (aka La Bottega dell'orefice)

Joyeux Noel (aka Merry Christmas)

Koyaanisqatsi (aka Life Out of Balance)
Need to see this.

Kundun

The Last Temptation Of Christ

Late Spring (aka Banshun)

Life is Beautiful
I know this is deeply affecting and spiritual to many. But I find it maudlin, way too far across the line into sentiment and wishful thinking. 

Life of Brian

Lilies of the Field

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Lost in Translation
Good film. A moral choice is made - or an immoral one not made - but that's not enough to put it into this category for me.

Luther

Magnolia
As spiritually significant as they get.  My #2 favourite film.

Make Way for Tomorrow

A Man Escaped (aka Un condamne a mort s'est echappe ou Le vent souffle ou il veut)

A Man for All Seasons

The Man Who Planted Trees (aka L'Homme qui plantait des arbres)

The Man Without A Past (aka Mies vailla menneisyytta)

The Matrix
I know, it ends up salvation by violent mayhem, which doesn't sit so well with this pacifist. But the first half potently evoked my own experience of spiritual awakening.

Meet John Doe

Millions

The Miracle Maker 

The Mirror (aka Zerkalo)

Les Miserables

Les Miserables du vingtieme siecle

The Mission

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien

A Moment of Innocence (aka Nun va Goldoon)

Mosquito Coast
Another film that makes obvious attacks on Christians. So how is it, then, spiritual?

Most (aka The Bridge)

The Motorcycle Diaries (aka Diarios de motocicleta)
The first steps in a young man's journey toward militant atheist Marxism?  I don't get it. Sure he liked lepers, but am I the only person who found the whole swim across the river climax kind of melodramatic and dumb?

My Night at Maud's (aka Ma nuit chez Maud)
A near miss for me. Definite spiritual conundrum, embodied in a believable human experience. And faith front and centre, in a way that was especially rare in the film's time period.  Ultimately, I think it only misses my first round nod because it doesn't particularly engage or affect me.

Nazarin

The New World
Jeffrey Overstreet almost persuades me: the second half is certainly all about authentic Christian faith, about conversion, all sorts of good stuff.  And what feels like gross film-making ineptitude to me (but transcendent artistry to Jeff) grated on me less my last time through. Closer to making the cut than previously.

The Night Of The Hunter
A classic. But the style held me at arm's length, and I bailed out not all that far in.  Deserves repeated tries.

The Night (aka La Notte)

Nights of Cabiria (aka Le Notti di Cabiria)
Need to see it.  By rep, quite possible candidate.

Nostalghia

Not of This World (aka Fuori dal mondo)

Not One Less (aka Yi ge dou bu neng shao)

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

On The Waterfront

Open City (aka Roma, citta aperta)

Ordet (aka The Word)

Pan's Labyrinth (aka El Laberinto del fauno)
Huge spiritual impact, for me.

Paradise Road

The Passion of Joan of Arc (aka La Passion De Jeanne D'arc)

The Passion Of The Christ

Perceval (aka Perceval le Gallois)

The Perfect Stranger

Peter and Paul

Pickpocket
Need to see this. Definite contender, I suspect.

Places in the Heart
That final scene is spiritually significant, 100%.  But I'm not sure that ought to haul the whole film into contention.

Ponette

The Prince Of Egypt

La Promesse
Terrific film. Just doesn't have quite the direct connection to things I would consider quite so directly spiritual as L'Enfant or The Son.

The Purple Rose of Cairo

Quiz Show
Huh?  Ethical stuff, I guess? 

Rashomon

Red Beard (aka Akahige)

Repentance (aka Monanieba)
Really curious to see this glasnost flick. Rare for a Russian film to deal directly with Christian elements.

Requiem for a Dream

The River

Romero

Rosetta
See La Promesse.

The Sacrifice (aka Offret - Sacrificatio)

Saints and Soldiers

Sansho the Bailiff (aka Sansh├┤ day├╗)

Saved!

Say Amen, Somebody

Schindler's List

Secrets & Lies
Need to see this again.  It was a top twenty favourite when I saw it when it was released, but I don't remember a specifically spiritual/religious angle.  Probably just my blurry memory.

The Seventh Seal (aka Det Sjunde Inseglet)

Shadowlands

The Shawshank Redemption

Shoah

Signs
Definitely tackles spiritual themes, but in such a dumb way.

The Silence (aka Tystnaden)

The Sixth Sense

Sling Blade

Solaris (aka Solyaris)
Need to see this.  Very likely for my list, unless I have the averse reaction I had to STALKER. 

The Song of Bernadette

Songs From the Second Floor 

Sophie's Choice
One of the great, devastating moral conundrums. But not quite exactly spiritual, to me.

The Sound of Music
A nuns on the run does not a spiritual classic make.

Spirited Away (aka Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi)

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring

Stalker

Stars in My Crown

Stevie

The Straight Story

Stromboli

Summer / The Green Ray (aka Le Rayon vert)
Need to see this.  A likely contender.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

The Sweet Hereafter

Tales of Ugetsu (aka Ugetsu monogatari)
Mythic for sure. Religious to some, yes. But it's not a religion I'm attuned to, so for me, makes no spiritual connection

A Taste of Cherry 

The Ten Commandments

Tender Mercies
As spiritually significant as they get. My #1 favourite film.

Therese

The Third Miracle

13 Conversations About One Thing
Its detractors say not, but I can't see how one can overlook the Ecclesiastes themes - and Ecclesiastes is these days pretty much my Number One Bible Book.  But I think if you order the splintered narratives and look real carefully at the choice/action/consequence logic of the story, it goes well beyond that to assert some pretty powerful things about grace, providence, and the life of faith. 

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Three Colors Trilogy 

To End All Wars
Decidedly religious.  Too religious, there's the problem. It's all message, all worldview assertion.  

To Kill a Mockingbird

Tokyo Story (aka Tokyo Monogatari)
Sublime film, and I don't doubt that it is spiritual.  But its spirituality is unknown to me, and I don't pick up the resonances with my own faith.  Not that it would have to toe the Christian line, but what it evokes in me I don't specifically connect with my spiritualit.
 
Touching the Void
Gripping story.  Spiritual?

The Tree of Wooden Clogs

Trial of Joan of Arc (aka Proces de Jeanne d'Arc)

The Trip to Bountiful

The Truman Show
I can make the argument about it spiritual facets, but truth be told, it still doesn't powerfully connect with me.  A little too head-oriented, a little too commercial a gloss.

2001: A Space Odyssey
Awe and wonder are evoked, sure - but they're distinctly meant NOT to be religious awe and wonder.  Jeez, Arthur C. Clarke was the Richard Dawkin of his day - he figures we Christian types are deluded, for goodness sake!  And 2001 is a bit of a manifesto along those lines.  You see this a spiritual, you need to know you're reading very much against the grain.  

Unforgiven

The United States of Leland

Vanya on 42nd Street

The Virgin Spring

Waking Life

Werckmeister Harmonies

The Wicker Man
Number One is serious about spirituality, sure enough. But it ain't no spirituality I can celebrate, I must say.  The whole human sacrifice thing I find just a bit problematic.

Wild Strawberries 

The Wind Will Carry Us

Wings of Desire

Winter Light

Wit

Witness

The Year Of Living Dangerously

Yi Yi: A One and a Two

Zelig
Very funny. And it's got a rabbi in it...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Apr 23: Opening, Henry Poole Is Here

As Soul Food Movie pal Jason points out, bit of a "Halo" vibe to this one...

Monday, April 21, 2008

May 6 - Jun 12: Bruce Marchfelder, History Of Cinema

Bruce Marchfelder is offering a film history course at Corpus Christi on the UBC campus, May 6 - June 12. Highly recommended. Click here for details.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jun 5-12: SILENT LIGHT Plays VanCity!


At last! The Carlos Reygadas film we've been awaiting for months is on its way. (Here's a link to the earlier post. SILENT LIGHT will play the Vancity Theatre June 5-12.

Here's the VanCity blurb;

SILENT LIGHT
Mexico, France, Germany, Netherlands, 2007, 126 min, 35mm
Directed By: Carlos Reygadas
Cast: Elizabeth Fehr, Jacobo Klassen, Maria Pankratz, Miriam Toews, Cornelio Wall, Peter Wall
This film is not rated. No children under 18.
VANCOUVER PREMIERE // VANCITY THEATRE EXCLUSIVE FIRST RUN

Winner of the 2007 Cannes Jury Prize and five Golden Ariels (the Mexican film awards) including best film and director, Carlos Reygadas’ controversial opus opens our eyes to a world never seen before on film: the Mexican Mennonite community in the northern Chihuahua province. The story is human interaction at its most elemental: devoted father Johan, happily married to Esther (Winnipeg Mennonite author Miriam Toews, one of a cast of non-professionals) has a crisis of faith when he is attracted to another woman. Reygadas situates his film square in the transcendental tradition of Bresson and Dreyer, and doesn’t compromise an inch in offering up a haunting, visionary work that cements him as one of contemporary cinema’s most unique artists.

“Stunningly beautiful…the admirably unpredictable Reygadas has made the world’s first talking picture in the medieval German Plautdietsch dialect. Even more than the director’s previous films, including his 2005 black comedy Battle in Heaven, Silent Light is a behavioral experiment. Everything is monumentally deliberate, from the human interactions to the stolidly bucolic representation of Mennonite domesticity to the extraordinary, widescreen landscape shots that bracket the action. Oscillating between the sacred and the profane, Reygadas’ elemental tale of love and betrayal is part ethnographic documentary and part 16th-century psychodrama, with an obvious debt to Carl Theodor Dreyer. Was Reygadas looking for the appropriate environment for a Dreyer remake—or did Dreyer’s Ordet present the most ‘natural’ scenario for a Mennonite passion play?”  J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

THE VISITOR: New film from STATION AGENT director!

Thomas McCarthy directed THE STATION AGENT, which is much loved around these parts.  His new film, THE VISITOR, opened in limited release April 11, and goes into wider release in the States April 18.  We'll keep our eyes open for its Vancouver run. 

Definitely avoid viewing the trailer. Looks like it tells at least three quarters of the story. Darn I hate that.