Thursday, July 30, 2009


"I'm poison, Swede, to myself and everybody around me!"

"My, my, my! Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains!"

"I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me."

"Listen, I'm no cop now. I'm a husband! What did you do with her? Where's my wife? My wife!"

The Killers, The Big Sleep, In A Lonely Place, Touch Of Evil
Film Noir series, Pacific Cinematheque
All available at Videomatica


POP SWITCH won Special Jury Mention at its world premiere at the In The Palace International Short Film Festival (Bulgaria)! Congrats to Jason Goode, Lucia Frangione, Michael Kopsa, Jan Keisser and all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Did Leigh Film Trigger U.S. Drug Legislation?

Film-makers Shaping The Course Of History

Trusted sources speculate that the 2008 hit film Happy-Go-Lucky may have triggered recent FDA approval of ground-breaking new medication, placing director Mike Leigh among a small but influential group of film-makers that includes such luminaries as Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Errol Morris, and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

The landmark Errol Morris documentary The Thin Blue Line (1988) challenged the capital murder conviction of Randall Adams, and led to Adams' release from prison in March 1989 (Texas Monthly). A Short Film About Killing ("Krótki film o zabijaniu" Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988) contributed to Poland's 1989 moratorium on executions (The Guardian), and the Dardenne brothers' 1999 Palme d'Or recipient Rosetta inspired Belgium's "Rosetta Plan," reforming youth employment legislation in that country (European Industrial Relations Observatory).

Now it appears that Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) may have provided the impetus for U.S. lawmakers to approve new medication which offers the hope of a normal life to an estimated 20 million Americans, and relief to their long-suffering families, friends and co-workers.

All available at Videomatica

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Jul 24-30: REVANCHE has all the right influences

Coming late July to the Cinematheque, the Vancouver premiere of an Austrian film that's getting compared to all the right directors...

REVANCHE ("Revenge" (2008, Austria, Götz Spielmann)
Pacific Cinematheque
Friday, July 24, 2009 - 7:00pm
Friday, July 24, 2009 - 9:20pm
Saturday, July 25, 2009 - 7:00pm
Saturday, July 25, 2009 - 9:20pm
Sunday, July 26, 2009 - 7:00pm
Sunday, July 26, 2009 - 9:20pm
Monday, July 27, 2009 - 7:00pm
Monday, July 27, 2009 - 9:20pm
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 7:00pm
Wednesday, July 29, 2009 - 9:20pm
Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 7:00pm
Thursday, July 30, 2009 - 9:20pm
"Revanche, a ravishing, masterfully restrained, unusually intelligent neo-noir revenge tale from talented Austrian director Götz Spielmann, was nominated for the foreign-language Oscar this year — "and it’s a better movie than most of the films in the main race" (Wesley Morris, Boston Globe). "A suspense-filled thriller, full of jarring angularities, perfectly composed scenes and dollops of steamy sex...Alex (a stellar Johannes Krisch) is a disgruntled, tightly wound ex-con working in a Viennese brothel. His only respite is his love for Ukrainian prostitute Tamara (Irina Potapenko) who reluctantly plies her trade in the same brothel. Out in the sun-dappled countryside, couple Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and inexperienced cop Robert (Andreas Lust) have just moved into their new home. Two couples in seemingly diametrical opposition are brought into one another’s spheres after a deadly botched robbery sets Spielmann’s taut tale in motion" (Vancouver I.F.F.). The film has been widely praised — and drawn comparisons to the lofty likes of Hitchcock, Haneke, Tarkovsky, Kieslowski, and Bresson — for its emotional and moral depth, life-affirming humanism, beautiful formal qualities, eloquent economy of means, and firm sense of place and purpose. "Directed with terrific control...Revanche gets its hooks into you early and leaves them there" (Scott Foundas, Village Voice). Colour, 35mm, in German with English subtitles. 121 mins." Pacific Cinematheque
At Twitch, fellow Filmwell writer Jason Morehead calls the film "the unexpected discovery and delight of the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival," and points out the double-entendre of the title: "'Revanche' means not only 'revenge' but something like 'a second chance.'" And if you watch the trailer at the auteurs (full screen!), you'll read Soul Food-friend Darren Hughes' quote that "Revanche is the kind of taut, thinking-adult's drama that America stopped producing 30 years ago." Here's what else Darren had to say at "
I've developed a lazy habit of saying that I don't particularly care what a film is about; I care what it does formally. But, while well-directed and wonderfully performed, the standout feature of Gotz Spielmann's Revanche is the story, which, particularly over the last 80 minutes, is perfectly constructed. Borrowing from scattershot genre conventions (lovers on the run, an escape to the country, the Madonna whore), Revanche is the kind of taut, thinking-adult's drama that America stopped producing 30 years ago. Although his film maybe lacks so neat a moral dilemma as that posed by The Son, Spielmann matches the Dardennes at the level of execution. Or, more to the point, I was tense and curious for the entire length of the film, and I was completely satisfied by its resolution. (Also, what the Dardennes did for the lumberyard, Spielmann has done for the wood pile.) Highly recommended."
And here's more of what they had to say at
Revanche shows just how successfully one can transpose the plot and character based drama of Hollywood to the refined style of European art-house cinema without hampering it with a sense self-importance. The film’s story of an unhappy Ukrainian prostitute (Irina Potapenko) and her boyfriend (Johannes Krisch) who works at her brothel essentially has all the ingredients of a sordid American narrative: exploitative setting, crime, a botched armed robbery, and an accidental murder. It is this last element that sparks the title and the film’s focus on contemplating vengeance. But Götz Spielmann’s film is far from the exploitative thrill ride this description would suggest. His approach is respectful and measured, as if wanting to give what would normally be considered a B-plot its due. There is no pretension in his scenes, each usually made up of longer takes and only one or two shots, all from a cool, respectful distance. Patience is the key, the film noticeably lacking any additional, deep-seeded psychological tumult that this divergent, far more brooding approach to such a story might bring to the robber’s boiling desire, while hiding out, to find and kill the murderer who upset the robbery.
Revanche takes the kind of story usually compressed into a taut, 90-minute film and carefully elongates it, drawing out relationships always given the short shrift in a more compacted versions—the attachment between the robber and his girl, between the cop (Andreas Lust) who ends up killing one of them and his wife (Ursula Strauss), between the robber’s father and the survivor, the cop’s wife and everyone else. Although coincidence connects everyone's relationship to one another just a bit too much, it also allows each character to settle into their tragedy by developing relationships with those similarly, but unknowingly affected by the very same events. The cop tears himself up over the murder, the robber over the lost loved one, and both the wife and father on the outside, one trying to push her way in deeper, the other trying to pull himself out, distance himself from this world and leave it for a better place. The idea seems too simple but the results speak for themselves: deliberation clearly can turn the regular into the accomplished. Revanche does just that, taking the time not to imbue its story with anything new or different, but rather giving a clichéd story room to breath, to settle down and admit its emotions, and to find its own tempo and tragedy on its own terms, in its own time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Until Aug 2: Criterion, DeepDiscount

Criterion Sale at Barnes & Noble
50% off until August 2
I'm not entirely clear if this includes every one of the 360 Criterion titles listed at the Barnes & Noble website, but it may.
Soul Food titles include Au Hasard Balthazar, Ikiru, Andrei Rublev, The Seventh Seal, Metropolitan, Days Of Heaven, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc, Pickpocket, The Diary of a Country Priest, The Last Wave, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Flowers of St Francis, Through A Glass Darkly / Winter Light / The Silence, The King Of Kings, Ma Nuit Chez Maude (in "Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales), La Strada, Solaris, Wild Strawberries. The Virgin Spring. There's also lots of quasi-Soul Food, like By Brakhage, The Life Of Brian, Black Narcissus, Magnificent Obsession, Wise Blood, Picnic At Hanging Rock, Simon Of The Desert, Ugetsu Monogatari, Ivan's Childhood, Sullivan's Travels, The Ice Storm, Salesman, Yi-Yi, Mouchette, Il Posto, The 49th Parallel.
Save 50% Off on Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-ray discs. Offer ends 8/2/2009 at 2:59 a.m. ET or while supplies last. Look for the "50% Off Criterion DVDs & Blu-rays" icon on select DVDs online at Barnes & Barnes & Noble Member program discounts will apply. Shipping charges may also apply. Additional discount if you use coupon codes (like 10% off highest item), AAA discount (10% entire order), or visa discount (5% off and free shipping).

DVD & BluRay Sale at DeepDiscount
25% off already discounted prices until August 2, free shipping: Enter Promo Code SUPERSALE at checkout
They've got tons of DVDs, so I won't try to be exhaustive, but here are some Soul Food titles they've got that have been on my mind lately: Godspell, Jesus Of Nazareth, Magnolia, In Bruges, Smoke, Rivers And Tides, American Beauty, Ten (Kiarostami), Into The Wild, and tons more.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SILENT LIGHT photography

Between 1909 and 1915, photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky traveled throughout Russia recording scenes of Russian life in vivid colour. The images seem anachronistic: we're used to seeing the early twentieth century in monochrome, and - apart from the clothing and machinery - many of these arresting pictures could come from last month's National Geographic. R.J. Evans provides an overview of the photographs (including the only known colour portrait of Leo Tolstoy), as well as a description of the innovative color process devised and used by Prokudin-Gorsky, at

There's a similar feeling of anachronism to sections of Carlos Reygadas' SILENT LIGHT ("Stillet Licht" 2007, Mexico), filmed among the Old Order Mennonites of Mexico - many of whom emigrated from Russia via Manitoba, Canada. One almost wonders whether Reygadas had the historical pictures in mind when one compares images such as this from his film...

...with this photo of Russian settlers from the archival collection...

An extensive selection of the Prokudin-Gorsky photographs is displayed on

SILENT LIGHT available at Videomatica

Friday, July 10, 2009

Roy Anker: SILENT LIGHT / "Catching Light"

Thanks to Mike Leary at Filmwell for spotting the Books & Culture piece. Ankers' title comes from Emily Dickinson, "The truth must dazzle gradually," but I wonder if he's been reading Jeffrey Overstreet, who makes much of that expression in his book Through A Screen Darkly and at his website, Looking Closer. (Heck, maybe Roy IS Jeff - all this obsession with looking and light - I bet O-Street had to split himself in two to get everything done...)

Dazzle Gradually: Mexican Filmmaker Carlos Reygadas
by Roy Anker
Books & Culture | July 6 2009

Young Mexican writer-director Carlos Reygadas remains, even after three films, a rather large puzzle—and a hotly controversial one at that. He says he left his lawyer-diplomat career after viewing films by Andrei Tarkovsky, the great Russian mystic filmmaker (Andrei Rublev), and he also claims the hefty influence of France's arch-Catholic Robert Bresson (The Diary of a Country Priest, The Pickpocket), the fellow who, more than anyone else, put on the cinematic map "transcendental style in film," as Paul Schrader titled it for his classic book. That bodes well for both seriousness and style, unless taken too far, and for that, an over-the-top artsiness, Reygadas has gotten huge flack. In one sequence he may well deliver long splendorous takes of a numinous nature, enough to make the jaded gasp and kneel right there in the theater. And in the next, well, porn—meaning fully graphic sexual display, stark and transgressive, especially in its lack of eroticism. . . .

Reygadas displays the whole of his tale within an effulgent, circumambient radiance whose quiet majesty seems to bestow meaningfulness of some kind on all that happens. Call it, if you wish, the loving eye of God, which goes everywhere, attending and transfiguring, even into dankest corners of woe and evil. What stood out, remarkably, in Reygadas' first film, Japón, was his camera work, even though that was done in 16 millimeter adapted to a very grainy widescreen. Throughout a somewhat cryptic, disjointed narrative, the camera glides and watches, always relishing what it sees. In Silent Light, the camera is pretty much stationary, but the marvel of light, landscape, and people is all the more entrancing for that. The long rhapsodic opening shot of the sun rising over the farms of Chihuahua sounds sure-to-be draggy, clichéd, and artsy, but in fact, it's quite the opposite: it dazzles, as more than a few jaded reviewers have admitted. The same is true for the long scene in which Johan and family bathe and swim about in an irrigation sluice. And throughout, a purity and whiteness of light in which there is hardly shadow at all adorns people, young and aged alike—especially near the end, as they all sit in funeral vigil.

For Reygadas, that arresting, transfiguring light falls on everything and everyone, and especially on the ordinary and the unlovely. Very ordinary-looking people inhabit his films. The married couple in Battle in Heaven—one portly, the other morbidly obese—parade nude and make love, minutely inspected by Reygadas' go-everywhere camera, and none of it, even in their love-making, panders. So also with the ancient Ascen in Japón, eighty if she's a day, her face a map of wrinkles upon creases; she too appears naked when giving herself to a younger man (that film is an amped-up retelling of Solzhenitsyn's luminous short story "Matryona's Home"). Nor does the mistress Marianne in Silent Light come close to any notion of Hollywood prettiness, and when we do meet her, the unprettiness, at least in conventional terms, comes as a jolt, so inured are we to axioms of attractiveness, and, lo, how little we understand of people and souls.

To see the world this way, as if through a pair of Vermeer-tinged eyeglasses, is, frankly, startling. Perhaps this is Reygadas' foremost gift: his "eye," his luminous apprehension of the physical world. Whether it be the stolid, intractable fleshliness of humanity in Battle in Heaven, or here, among the Mennonites in Mexico, the palpable radiance of the sun on the high plains of Chihuahua and of the plain people in the plain, white interiors of their simple farmhouses, Reygadas imbues the full amplitude of being with just enough "whatever" to inspire awe—what he calls "contemplation." And he does this without recourse to the cheesy devices that Hollywood uses to signal the portentous.

Reygadas seems fully aware of what he's after, confessing in an interview, "In reality, I do not believe in miracles, but I think reality is a miracle." So when the "wow" of the conclusion does come round, it seems a logical extension of the irreducible glory already contained in every sort of thing. Near the end, Marianne tells Johan that "peace is stronger than love," at least of the romantic sort, and it is the fullness of peace, wrought by agapic love, that in the end accomplishes all. Indeed, that old Mennonite banner of peace seems to win the day, celebrating the quiet, grateful heart over the psycho-blitzes of passion and romance. In all of this, loss is perhaps the severest teacher. Reygadas cops his ending from a famous film by a famous Danish filmmaker, though he says his point is different. And so it is.

With Silent Light Reygadas has come to look like the real thing, a filmmaker of enormous visual talent who has something to say, though he tends to scorn the necessity of stories. One reason he left Europe, he says, was that he found it insensible spiritually, and he adds that, while for a long time he wanted to be an atheist because it was cool, he finally couldn't pull it off. He's beginning to sound very much like an orthodox Catholic, talking about love, sacrifice, redemption, and God's own cross-dying. And there's also that profound wonder and reverence for all that is. Indeed, he seems all of a piece, displaying in breathtaking fullness the gift of what Esther at one point calls "the pure feeling of being alive" and the coming of Light itself—all of that, to borrow from Emily Dickinson, a knowledge "Too bright for our infirm delight." Indeed, with "Truth's superb surprise," Reygadas does "dazzle gradually," but dazzle he does, opening eyes and, just maybe, a soul or two.
Anker pays attention to light. That's appropriate here, of course, given both the film’s aesthetic and its title, but light is an ongoing theme in Ankers' film writing. In the introduction to "Catching Light: Looking for God in the Movies” (2004) the author considers human veneration of light, and the ways that films reflect both light and Light.
“One of the more surprising turns in the contemporary cinema of North America and Europe has been the regularity and maturity with which it has cast cinematic light on those ‘animating mysteries of the world,’ as Clarissa Vaughn in Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours (1998) puts it. Like other characters in that novel, Clarissa ponders the origin and significance of the majesty she feels all around her: the possibility that ordinary physical light in fact emanates from Light, that ours is a radiant world made so by a Love that transfigures the material into resplendent glory.”
Anker carries that focus through the rest of "Catching Light," as seen in his section headings:
Part One: Darkness Visible | The Godfather Saga (1972/74/90), Chinatown (1974), The Deer Hunter (1978)
Part Two: Light Shines In The Darkness | Tender Mercies (1983), Places In The Heart (1984), The Mission (1986), Babette’s Feast (1987)
Part Three: Fables Of Light | The Star Wars Saga (1977/80/83/etc.), Superman (1978), Close Encounters (1977), E.T. (1982), A.I. (2001)
Part Four: Found | Grand Canyon (1991), American Beauty (1999), Three Colors: Blue (1993)

It’s great to see Anker writing about current film. Though his book was published five years ago, it grows out of a Calvin College course he initiated in 1988, and while he has continued teaching and refining the syllabus, it is clearly rooted in the quasi-canon of spiritually engaged films of the seventies and eighties. Anker is an English professor, but he does a very good job engaging with film as film - the continued attention to his theme of light, and a good eye, make him a real film writer, not just a lit guy slumming it at the movies.

SILENT LIGHT available at Videomatica

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

"Revisiting Tarkovsky": Lincoln Center, July 7-14

Extraordinary images.

The video originates at the Lincoln Centre Film Society website, where they've just launched a retrospective of films by the Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky, running from July 7 - 14. (I really do need to move to New York.)

I saw THE SACRIFICE during its original run at The Ridge. I had little idea what I was in for, went in knowing nothing about the story I was about to see, and I'm glad of that: every moment I was leaning into the film, "What's that?", "Why is he doing that?", "What's at the end of the hallway?" and "Who is she?" About half an hour worth of story crammed into a 148 minute running time, the film could be excruciating or mesmerizing: I saw it on the right night, in the right frame of mind, and was gripped from beginning to end. My three words of advice: 1) Read nothing about the film, not even the DVD cover or the blurb at the Lincoln Film Centre website. 2) Don't see it if you're tired, impatient or distractable, or looking for action. 3) DO go see it; go contemplative, go visually hungry, go for mystery, but go. Even if you have to go to New York.

It was a decade or more later that I met Peter, my movie-list-making twin, and found out ANDREI RUBLEV is his Number One Film Of All Time. Around the same time as I learned that another film-loving buddy (Mel) also counted the iconographer biopic his Top Flick. So I watched it, and found it an endurance test. Watched it again, admired the visuals, still struggled to get hold of it. Then viewed it a third time, in the company of both Mel and Peter, and it started to click. Worked my way through the film scene by scene on my own over the space of several weeks, transcribing the dialogue, immersing in the film contemplating it, and it became one of my own personal favourites. Showed the film to people at Regent College, and marveled that it hadn't gripped me the first time out. All the questions of art-making in the face of suffering have been my questions, one time or another, and once I grew accustomed to the film, it has become a place I can go to contemplate those troubling things.

I've only attempted one other Tarko flick to date, the sci-fi-ish STALKER. Infuriating! As much as I was in the right frame of mind for THE SACRIFICE, I was in the wrong one for STALKER, and it was torment. I watched it with two other buddies, both new to the film as I was, and it didn't take long for the room to be filled with a silent vibe of antagonism. But I take my share of the responsibility for that, and new even as I viewed the thing that I'd need to give it another chance. Viewing the video clip above makes me wonder if maybe that time has come.

See you in The Zone. Or in New York City. Or both, at the Walter Reade.

PS Looks like I may need to watch THE MIRROR next. This next clip is justifiably titled "Best Sequence Shot Ever" on YouTube...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Soul Food Trailers

Tim Dixon points us to and their 50 Greatest Trailers of All Time. (Thanks, Mr D). Here are three of my great Soul Food favourites...


The Lord Of The Rings

The Matrix

All available at Videomatica

MAGNOLIA (1999, USA, P.T. Anderson)

A favourite piece of movie writing, an early piece by one of my favourite cinephiles, Doug Cummings. This was posted at back where there was a, but now that there isn't, I think it deserves a new home....
Magnolia: Spirituality in Film

And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just "something that happened." This cannot be "one of those things..." This, please, cannot be that. These strange things happen all the time.

These words, spoken in the beginning of Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, inaugurate the movie's unpredictable narrative that many reviewers claim is a comment on "chance" as a part of life. However, careful viewers will note an ongoing obsession with the numbers 8 and 2 that reveal a different message. "82" appears attached to a hanged man, on an airplane's fuselage, and on a rooftop beside a suicidal jumper. It provides an 82% chance of rain, an unlucky combination of playing cards, and appears in everything from apartment numbers to answering machines to public meetings at 8:20. Eventually, the motif refers to Exodus 8:2, a verse citing a plague God used to deliver the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. The verse lurks on signs and posters in the background of the film's present day Los Angeles, but it's not until well into the movie that its significance becomes clear when the Divine enters human affairs late one night on Magnolia Avenue.

Magnolia is a creative frenzy of a movie, highlighting the intensely spiritual struggles of its characters caught in contemporary emotional conflicts. It hops from character to character tying them together in a web of loneliness, rage and guilt that builds to a crescendo until brokenness ultimately yields confession, grace and forgiveness. It's a movie that holds the depths and heights of humanity in perfect tension and it does so by overtly suggesting the work of God, making it something of a miracle in itself.

And it's a good thing, too, because the characters in this movie are in dire need of a miracle. And like the Children of Israel, the children in the movie are the ones most in need of liberation. The film's wounded characters come in pairs: TV executive Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) and TV personality Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall) are dying of cancer; their distraught wives Rose (Melinda Dillon) and Linda (Julienne Moore) respectively respond through emotional suppression and drug addiction; their prodigal children Frank (Tom Cruise) and Claudia (Melora Walters) escape their troubled pasts through misogyny, denial and drugs. Two other characters provide separate views of exploitation, quiz show kid Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) and middle-aged, ex-quiz kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), who reminds everyone that he used to be smart. Finally, two characters of compassion, LAPD officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) and male nurse Phil Parma (Philip Seymour Hoffman) attempt to traverse the lives of these characters with grace and sensitivity.

The film sees relatedness in people, not so much in blood relationships, but by their spiritual and emotional struggles. All of the characters in the film begin the movie in crisis and the drama rises and falls in an universal arc emphasizing their common humanity. And most of the characters' lives revolve around the television, which both empowers and oppresses them. The TV studio ultimately appears as a microcosm of the larger world with its many narratives teeming beneath one roof.

Anderson's flashy visual style is at times fast and furious (like the brilliant opening sequence depicting some urban legends) and at other times is fluid and graceful. Grounded in a world of cluttered apartments, professional offices, darkened bedrooms, TV back stages, and dilapidated streets, the sets provide a sense of realism that reinforce the raw emotions exhibited by their inhabitants. The film's narrative is finally graced with a collection of soulful Aimee Mann tunes that regularly appear throughout, much like Simon and Garfunkel's work in The Graduate.

Magnolia is Anderson's third feature after Hard 8 and Boogie Nights, and the 29-year-old writer/director is trying hard to establish himself as America's brightest young star on the filmmaking scene. In many ways, he's succeeding. While Magnolia sometimes seems like a never-ending sequence of explosive acting monologues (Anderson has written his stock ensemble plenty of showy material), the film gradually reveals a larger view of humanity and its potential for redemption-- the sort of thematic material one rarely expects from today's Hollywood. (Or those familiar with Andersons previous work, for that matter.)

Through an abundance of profanity and anguish, the movie's characters reveal the fears, dishonesties, and delusions that define their hopelessness. TV executive Earl Partridge is on his deathbed and speaks in painful gasps: "Now I'll die and I'll tell you the biggest regret of my life: I let my love go... Mistakes like this are not okay. You know that you should do better... I'm 65 years old and... don't let anyone tell you that you shouldn't regret anything. You regret what you want... use that...use that." He asks his nurse Phil to contact his long lost son, Frank.

Phil develops a genuine compassion for Earl and decides to do whatever it will take to find Frank. Phil is one of the few characters in the film who isn't obviously struggling with his past, and uses his balanced persona to offer compassion to the people around him. Even in a hurried phone conversation based on a lead, a stranger mentions his mother had cancer and Phil's train of thought is quickly interrupted as he consoles, "I'm sorry. Did she make it? It's a terrible disease."

Frank, as played by Tom Cruise in the first truly inspired performance of his career, hides a disappointment from years past by leading male-empowerment seminars promoting women as sexual conquests: "I'm in charge. I'm the one who says yes, now, no or here... That is not to say that we don't all need women as friends, cause we're gonna learn later in Chapter 23 that having a couple of them laying around can come in real handy in setting Jealousy Traps." Frank lives in a sexually-charged present and bristles at any mention of his past. "The most useless thing in the world is that which is behind me," he repeatedly intones.

Earl's wife, Linda, finds herself in a perpetual state of drug-induced emotional turmoil as she attempts to escape the pain of Earl's death and her inadequate role as his wife: "I don't want him to die, I didn't love him when we met, and I've done so many bad things to him that he doesn't know, but now I do: I love him." Like many of the film's characters, she's convinced she's unlovable, and tries desperately to remove herself from Earl's will because of the guilt she feels from cheating on him.

The other line of characters begins with Jimmy Gator, the no-nonsense game show host who wants to reconcile his daughter Claudia, but refuses to confess the truth about their relationship. His life is one of moral denial and surface facade. One of the film's great moments occurs when Jimmy's inner turmoil builds to a climax and he finds himself stumbling over his questions on live TV, his denied emotions breaking free from their entrapment.

Jimmy's wife Rose is a determinedly pleasant person who continually subjugates her emotions. Upon hearing a confession from Jimmy regarding marital infidelities, she replies calmly, "I'm not mad... I am, but I'm not. Y'know?" Unfortunately, it takes a more severe accusation to awaken her to her need for moral judgment and action.

Claudia is the movie's key figure, who highlights the tragic position of children and the universal need for love and self-love. She hopes to bury the past through a flurry of escapist activity: cocaine hits, one-night stands, and deafening music. She's convinced salvation is beyond her grasp, and though she desires a healthy relationship, she fears one as well. "You wanna make a deal with me?" she says on a first serious date, "I'll tell you everything and you tell me everything and maybe we can get through all the lies that kill other people." But when she's given the opportunity, she admits fearfully, "I'm really nervous that you're going to hate me soon. That you're gonna find stuff out about me and you're gonna hate me." Claudia's story provides the dramatic paradigm for all the other stories in the movie.

The figure of compassion in Claudia's life is LAPD officer Jim Kurring, who the movie makes clear is a Christian who prays so God will enable him to "do good." Like Phil, Jim seems to have dealt with his past and is ready to help others. "In this life and in this world, I want to do well," he says to himself in his police car, "And I may get twenty bad calls a day. But one time I help someone-- I make a save. I correct a wrong or right a situation. Then I'm a happy cop." It's refreshing to see a Christian represented by the media in a non-stereotypical fashion in these days of WASP deconstruction. (He's no judgmental Bible-basher.) Jim is an ordinary person who struggles with his reputation as a mediocre law enforcer and habitually prays for guidance as well as thanksgiving for what he perceives are the blessings God gives him.

Donnie Smith, the ex-quiz kid, suffers from an inability to find love and acceptance in a world that tossed him aside after winning thousands of dollars on a game show when he was a kid. His parents stole his winnings and he now works as an appliance salesman and hangs out in bars hoping to find romance. He also delivers two of the movie's most profound lines: "We may be through with the past, but the past is not through with us," and "No, it's not dangerous to confuse children with angels." After one emotional eruption, Donnie even quotes from Exodus 34 about the sins of the fathers being placed upon their children and their children's children, thus reinforcing one of the movie's prime concerns.

Finally, Stanley Spector is a younger version of Donnie who finds himself being forced to exhibit his mental faculties on Jimmy Gator's game show "What Do Kids Know?" so that his unloving, domineering father can become rich. Stanley spends his school days sitting alone in a library surrounded by stacks of books so he can perform for the amusement of television audiences everywhere. At a critical point, he says, "I'm sick of being (the winner). The one who always has to do everything." Stanley's future is set on a course that will mimic Donnie's life and he must somehow find a way out before it's too late.

All of these struggles build up to a moment that transcends Hollywood formulas and elevates the movie to a new level. First one character begins softly singing to an Aimee Mann song, then the scene cuts across town as another character picks up where the last one let off, and the film continues to jump from person to person until the song is completed. "It's not going to stop," they sing, "Until you wise up." The characters sing of being trapped by choices they made in the past that seemed right at the time but have only brought misery to themselves and those around them. The inspired sequence emphasizes their need to redirect the course of their lives in a moment of spiritual awareness. It's a moment that affords the audience a larger perspective, a Divine perspective, of the troubles and hurts that pervade the story of humanity and its need for redemption.

Not long after the universal recognition of their need for repentance comes what must be the most startling and unexpected sequence in the movies this year. The distraught lives of the film's characters brush momentarily with the supernatural as the full impact of Exodus 8:2 reveals itself. In the chance that readers have not yet heard what exactly transpires, this review will not give anything away. But suffice it to say that the movie's ongoing references to urban legends and biblical stories rises to the fore in a manner that suggests strange things do happen and offer meaning to our daily lives. The Judeo-Christian tradition teaches that God entered human history at specific points in time, and the movie illustrates this truth in its ultra-contemporary setting.

Fortunately, Anderson plays the miracle out in a mysterious fashion that affects his characters in various ways. To some, it teaches humility and brings about a recognition of false ambitions. To others it forces personal reconciliation. And for some, it hardly has much of an effect at all. But it's primarily the impetus for change that underscores God's supernatural work affording people the opportunity for repentance and forgiveness. There is no simple formula for happiness here, but through the mysterious work of grace, salvation is offered.

In the end, officer Kurring reflects on his life (and unknowingly comments on the many characters in the film): "A lot of people think this is just a job that you go to. Take a lunch hour, the job's over, something like that. But it's a 24 hour deal. No two ways about it.. And what most people don't see: just how hard it is to do the right thing. Sometimes people need a little help. Sometimes people need to be forgiven. And sometimes they need to go to jail. And that's a very tricky thing on my part... making that call. The law is the law and heck if I'm gonna break it. But can you forgive someone? Tough part of the job... tough part of walking down the street."

Magnolia is a magnificent film with startling energy, rage, compassion, and an inventive visual style that offers a unique look at the real-life despairs people often suffer through. On the eve of the 20th century, and in contrast to the sort of cartoon-like religious imagery Hollywood has been dishing out lately, the movie provides a sense of spiritual direction for present day humanity immersed in its own exodus into the next millennium. More than any other film this year, it stands as a testimony to God's hope offered to people who need it.

In interviews, Anderson is wary of delving too deeply into the film's message, hoping the film can be self-explanatory and conducive for personal interpretation. Fair enough, for from a Christian perspective, the movie conveys humanity's depravity and need for salvation through the process of confession and forgiveness and an abiding sense of divine purpose. Intentionally or not, Anderson has stumbled upon Truth with a piercing immediacy. And it is in the humble opinion of this reviewer that this is not just "something that happened." This cannot be "one of those things..." This, please, cannot be that. These strange things happen all the time.

Friday, July 03, 2009


I'm a terrible one for whining about the cinematic silly season of summer, but 2009 is proving me wrong, at least here in Vancouver. First-run fare includes UP (which I've seen twice, and will see again), AWAY WE GO (looks charming), NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 (if only because it's got Kerry Vander Griend as a neanderthal), and even STAR TREK is a lot of fun.

But the real action is at Cinematheque, VanCity and Videomatica - quel surprise!

Pacific Cinematheque
July 3-6, 8
One of the "34 Films"

July 9
Wonder how it differs from BUS 174?

Pacific Cinemathequ
Double Bill July 10-13
Two of the unquestionable film masterpieces.

July 15
Creepy early Polanski.

July 18, 19, 21
Another of the "34 Films," and certified Soul Food to boot

Pacific Cinematheque
Friday, July 24-27, 29-30

On small screens, there's plenty of new Soul Food on Videomatica shelves, including brand new DVD releases of THE SEVENTH SEAL and MY DINNER WITH ANDRE. DEFIANCE and GRAN TORINO are other recent additions with SF content.

And then there's the Film Noir series in August at Cinematheque. Highlights include a pair of Chandlers with THE BIG SLEEP and THE BLUE DAHLIA, NIGHTMARE ALLEY (penned by C.S. Lewis's wife's first husband, with the creepiest sideshow outside Bradbury), Jacques Tourneur's NIGHTFALL, and A TOUCH OF EVIL - yet another of the "34 Films".

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Auteurs |

The Auteurs is a new film site that aims to be an online cinematheque / film festival, making foreign, independent and art film available on demand in high quality, full screen streaming video. In addition to a growing catalogue of films that can be screened for three bucks ($1 for shorts), there is a new "Film Festival" of specially curated films which rotates month by month. The May/June selection was extraordinary - a selection of cinematic masterpieces which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival - and the films were offered FREE, sponsored by IFC. Since it's July 1 and the films are still available, I'll highlight a few...

L'Avventura (1960, Italy, Antonioni)
A girl mysteriously disappears on a yachting trip. While her lover and her best friend search for her across Italy, they begin an affair. Antonioni’s penetrating study of the idle upper class offers stinging observations on spiritual isolation and the many meanings of love. The Criterion Collection. FREE

Cleo From 5 To 7 (1962, France, Varda)
Agnès Varda eloquently captures Paris in the sixties with this real-time portrait of a singer (Corinne Marchand) set adrift in the city as she awaits test results of a biopsy. A chronicle of the minutes of one woman’s life, Cléo from 5 to 7 is a spirited mix of vivid vérité and melodrama, featuring a score by Michel Legrand (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina. The Criterion Collection. FREE

Black Orpheus (1959, Brazil, Camus)
1960 Academy Award Winner and winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus retells the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice against the madness of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. With its magnificent color photography and lively soundtrack, this film brought the infectious bossa nova beat to the United States. The Criterion Collection. FREE

Also The Cranes Are Flying, Harakiri, Cria Cuervos, Dry Summer, The Housemaid

One of my all-time favourite films, a documentary on artist Andy Goldsworthy whose life embodies Robert Farrar Capon's idea of Oblation.

Rivers & Tides (2001, Germany/UK, Riedelsheimer)
Landscape sculptor Andy Goldsworthy is renowned throughout the world for his work in ice, stone, leaves, wood. His own remarkable still photographs are Goldsworthy’s way of talking about his often ephemeral works, of fixing them in time. With this film shot in four countries and across four seasons, and the first major film he has allowed to be made, the elusive element of time adheres to his sculpture.
Director Thomas Riedelsheimer worked with Andy Goldsworthy for over a year. What Riedelsheimer found was a profound sense of breathless discovery and uncertainty in Goldsworthy’s work, in contrast to the stability of conventional sculpture. There is risk in everything that Goldsworthy does. He takes his fragile work – and it can be as fragile in stone as in ice or twigs – right to the edge of its collapse, a very beautiful balance and a very dramatic edge within the film. The film captures the essential unpredictability of working with rivers and with tides, feels into a sense of liquidity in stone, travels with Goldsworthy underneath the skin of the earth and reveals colour and energy flowing through all things.
Riedelsheimer’s film, like Goldsworthy’s sculpture, grows into something beyond the simple the making of a object. It touches the heart of what Goldsworthy does and who he is, in much the same way that Goldworthy touches the heart of a place when he works in it and leaves his mark on it.In this film, which is Goldworthy’s work as much as Riedelsheimer’s, “you see something you never saw before; that was always there but you were blind to”. $3

Scanning the rest of their catalogue, I've dug out a batch of potential Soul Food movies, none of which I've seen yet.

Sea Of Silence (2009, Belgium/Netherlands, Coninx)
In 1969, nine-year-old Caro lives on a pig farm with her 5 siblings in a small town in Holland. She is determined to understand the mysteries around her but her Catholic father can’t explain the modern world and her mother is too busy for philosophy so Caro engages in direct conversation with God. After the heartache brought on by her father’s drinking Caro eventually learns she cannot worry about the things beyond her control. A bittersweet film on the universal quest for personal meanings in life against the self-assured dominance of wealth and science. $3

Fragments Sur La Grace (2006, France/Belgium, Dieutre)
A filmmaker and his crew try to enter the passionate world of Port-Royal and of Jansenism. Another Age of Louis XIV comes to life, the age of Pascal, Racine and of the “Friends of Truth”. An age much darker and deeper than the splendors of Versailles. Through the landscapes of Port-Royal and Paris, thanks to the reading of texts in the French language of the time, thanks to interviews with specialists and to notes, the historical quest changes into a philosophical and historical vertigo. The film itself turns into something else while it comes up against the unanswerable question of grace. $3

Kedma (2002, Israel, Gittai)
May 1948. Battles are raging in Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. In two weeks, the British mandate will come to an end and they will leave the country. A rusty cargo ship, the Kedma, is on its way to the Promised Land. Hundreds of Holocaust survivors from all over Europe are packed aboard. On a beach in Palestine, soldiers of the Palmach – the clandestine Jewish army – wait to welcome them, whilst British soldiers intend to stop them disembarking. Nevertheless, a small group of men and women manages to escape to the hills and finds itself in the midst of the battle for the road to Jerusalem. An unconventional epic from celebrated director Amos Gitai. $3

Sacred Hearts (2005, Italy, Oztepek)
In Irene’s unscrupulous hands, the profits from the family business have grown immensely. But when two of her friends commit suicide after her buy-out of their company, her self-confidence begins to crack. She retreats to Rome, to her family residence and learns the secrets of the last years of her mother’s life. She meets Benny, a street smart little girl, who is a challenge to her life and values. Captivated by her, Irene starts to perceive the world and people around her in a new light. When she is hit by a new tragedy, Irene throws herself into charity work turning her palatial villa into a shelter for the homeless, taking this new vocation to the very limits of madness. But to find peace, she will have to harmonize her materialistic life with her humanitarian calling. $3

And this. My movie-buddy Peter is a fan of Jań Švankmajer, whose work I've not yet seen, and The Auteurs offers me the chance to tick off four titles on Peter's All Time Faves list for a total of six bucks...

Faust (1995, Czech Republic, Svankmajer)
Goethe’s classic story, Christian Dietrich Grabbe’s novel and Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’ combine in the phantasmagoric world of famed Czech animator Jań Švankmajer. In Švankmajer’s version, Faust is solicited by the devil’s assistants at a Prague subway exit. He agrees to sell his soul directly to Mephistopheles in exchange for 24 pleasure-filled years. The deal is done, but Faust gets more than he bargained for, as he is first turned into an actor and then into a puppet. This most unusual of adaptations is a highly inventive surrealist fantasy featuring surprising and imaginative clay animation combined with live-action and grotesque life-size marionettes. It is a modern myth, offering illusions within illusions that illustrate the ordinary corruption, miseries and vanities of the human soul. $3
And there are some Švankmajer shorts for a buck apiece: Flora, Food, Meat Love.