Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Singular Documentary Series

Shot over 42 years, the documentary series that began with 7 Up returned to follow the lives of people in England every seven years. I first saw 28 Up and have watched the other films since then, which means that I’ve been following the series for 21 years now. By seeing how a group of people age and change over a period of time provides a unique perspective on their lives and how things have changed for them. It also provides a parallel with my own life, which has changed a lot over the past 21 years. While the context outside of the documentary has changed with the contrived situations of reality television, the latest instalment is a bit more self-reflexive with most of the participants much more settled and content than in earlier instalments. Director Michael Apted has been with the series since the beginning and took over the directorial duties beginning with 14 Up. It’s a fascinating and somewhat voyeuristic look into how things change over time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


John and I went for a walk downtown today and I pointed the phone down while I walked.

The Story of a Troubled Artist

by Jeff Feuerzeig

I heard someone talking about The Devil and Daniel Johnston on the radio and they played a bit of one of his early songs. It was haunting and I mentally added it to the list of films that I wanted to see. When I started watching the film it was fascinating and as it progresses it becomes an amazing journey with a person who has a unique, difficult and different life. A distinctive visual artist as well as a songwriter, Daniel Johnston is quite singular and my attempts at describing this film and the man to people usually consists of recounting many of the events that are described in the film. So I won’t do that here. It’s fascinating music and a compelling story that is surprising and told through tape recordings, music, short films, archival footage and interviews. While Johnston’s range of songs can be uneven, the best are great and unforgettable.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Dreamlike Story of Love and Myth

I rented _Tropical Malady” knowing very little about it and it is a remarkable film in how it follows distinct and different rhythms. With a simple plot the film slowly unfolds as a simple love story, but then shifts into a version of a folk tale. As things progress it becomes gradually stranger and more dreamlike. It’s a haunting film from Thailand that is difficult to describe as it feels more like music or poetry than a narrative film.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Deliberate Film About Chance and Choices (rated 4 stars)

by Woody Allen

Match Point is a simple, beautifully shot film that intellectually examines chance and how that affects the choices that we make. While covering a lot of the same ground as Louis Malle’s Damage and Allen’s own Crimes and Misdemeanors, this time Allen has a more focused and concise story that is deliberately paced as one thing logically leads to another with an element of chance thrown in. I liked it on a intellectual level and admired the control as it unfolded.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A Fascinating Look at Design Without Thinking

by Jane Fulton Suri

I heard about Thoughtless Acts when I read about one of the images in the book, which shows how you can wrap the string of a tea bag around the handle of a mug to stop it from falling in to the cup when water is poured in. I started doing that with tea bags and then bought the book. It’s a beautiful and small hardcover book that is made up of a series of photos without captions, but each image speaks volumes about the design of things and how people interact with the environment that they are within. At the end of the book you can read descriptions of the photos, but it’s not necessary. It’s great to browse through it or to randomly look at the images and think about how things work and how we adapt to our environment or how we change it to suit our own needs.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Happy Music

by The Boy Least Likely To

Another musical suggestion from one of my coffee shop pals and another hit. I don’t know if I’d have discovered this on my own, but The Boy Least Likely To have a relentlessly happy tone that instantly cheers me up. From the xylophone at the beginning of The Best Party Ever it is catchy pop music with clever lyrics and a hint of 70 nostalgia. I don’t know why it feels like that to me, but it does and I love it.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A New Look at Mr. Bond

by Martin Campbell

I’m a lapsed James Bond fan who stopped watching the films after Timothy Dalton left, so I wasn’t really that interested in the latest 007 until I started reading some of the reviews and then I decided to see it after talking with a few people who saw it and loved it. Right from the opening sequence I loved it and the way it was faithful to Ian Fleming’s Bond while following and undermining the conventions of the films. It skillfully weaves through the plot with Daniel Craig as a fantastic Bond. In the opening credit sequence we only see men (with the one exception being the Queen on playing cards) and in an odd way Craig almost performs the function of the “Bond Girl” with the lovingly photographed shots of him in various states of undress.
It brings fun and danger back to Bond and somehow manages to capture the spirit and feeling of the early Connery Bond films while also being contemporary and bold.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Review of Heaven: Beautiful Meditation on Fate

by Tom Tykwer

Heaven combines a project that Krzysztof Kieślowski was planning on shooting before his death with German director Tom Tykwer. I wasn’t sure what to expect and it was a quiet, contemplative film that glides along as we see coincidences and consequences of decisions that we make. With just enough detail revealed it is a beautiful and poetic film that is a lot more than simply a plot. A great film with solid performances by Giovanni Ribisi and Cate Blanchett in a visually and emotionally stunning film.

Clever Crime Thriller About Identity

by Siu Fai Mak

While I’d seen lots of writing about Infernal Affairs and the resurgence in interest in it when Martin Scorsese decided to remake it, I didn’t really know a lot about the film. It grabbed me right from the beginning and I could see why Scorsese was interested in it as well. Infernal Affairs starts out simply with parallel characters who make moral choices, but as they live within their lies it all get blurry. With great visual motifs and a breezy pace the film cruises along in a very enjoyable way. I loved the melodramatic tone and coincidences that kept the focus on the characters and their struggle to figure out who they really are. Lots of fun. Now I have to see Scorsese’s re envisioning of film that may not have been possible without the influence of Scorsese on the crime drama. A neat cinematic exchange.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Metafictional Drama

by Marc Forster

I was pleasantly surprised by Stranger Than Fiction as it took a more dramatic and sentimental tone than a comedic one and it worked very well. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film filled with loving details in the characters, writing and performances. Will Ferrell is understated as a man who is a character in a novel being written by Emma Thompson. With a relatively simple story that often makes difficult choices, it was also fun. One unexpected highlight was Dustin Hoffman’s great supporting performance as a literature professor. Hoffman steals the scenes with strange actions and a rich character. Structurally the film works well as narrative traditions are played with in a self-conscious way. While I would have been happy with a light and slightly intellectual comedy it was very nice to have something that was a bit deeper and more meaningful than I was expecting which was a very good thing.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Review of Spectres of the Spectrum: Oddly Compelling Mixture of Footage, Drama and History

by Craig Baldwin

Craig Baldwin created the great documentary “Sonic Outlaws” which gives a great overview of the broken nature of copyright law and the struggles that artists face with it. In Spectres of the Spectrum he takes original and archival footage and constructs a science fiction story set in the future. But within the story there is also a healthy (and accurate) dose of the history of the development of technology and the media landscape. While not for everyone, if you are interested in the copyfight it is a fascinating film to watch.

Musical Collage of Popular Music

by People Like Us

Vicki Bennett creates quirky and skillful musical collages out of disparate sources but usually there are many recognizable elements from popular music. Creating under the name People Like Us, she’s a key figure in the copyfight and has also been involved with creating the Creative Commons licenses related to sampling. While many of her wonderful audio creations are available online, I jumped at the chance to pay for her latest CD, which is called “All Together Now”. Only available on CD, it’s a neat collection of some beautifully-constructed sonic gems. There is something special about having a physical artifact with digital information shipped across the ocean.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Review of Suddenly It All Went Dark: Pixel Revolt Live to 2-Track: Intimate Live Performance of a CD

by John Vanderslice

One of my favourite recent albums is John Vanderslice’s Pixel Revolt and I was very happy to find the limited-edition CD Suddenly It All Went Dark which was recorded live to 2-Track by JV himself. It’s intimate and personal with quieter interpretations of the tracks. A perfect complement to a great album and there is something neat about still distributing music on shiny disks that you receive in the mail.

Review of Brothers of the Head: Musical Mockumentary The Blurs Many Lines

by Keith Fulton

One of the most harrowing and fascinating looks at a film never made was Lost in La Mancha which was directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. So when I heard about their first dramatic feature, I was intrigued. I hadn’t realized that it was a mockumentary at first and with the brilliant structure of the film I became confused about the reality of the story since there are so many believable elements combined together it constructs a quite believable reality. With the real author of the novel (Brian Aldiss) and a real director (Ken Russell) of a fake fictional film and a fake documentary director of a fake documentary all within another documentary it presents a seamless world. With solid music and remarkable performances and casting, it works on many levels with stories that became apparent after I started talking about the film with a friend. A unique film that reworks the mockumentary form by leaning towards the dramatic instead of the comedic.

Review of The Sunlandic Twins: Catchy Indie Pop Music

by Of Montreal

I found of Montreal via m-c turgeon’s Vu d’Ici / Seen From Here podcast when she played the song, “Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games”, which I loved. I forgot about the song and then discovered Neutral Milk Hotel and found out about the Elephant Six Collective and started exploring the music of the members and listened to “The Sunlandic Twins” and found the song that I liked so much. I also like the other tracks with their synthesizers, infectious lyrics and beats. Now I have to explore more of the music from the other members of the collective.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Review of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: Satire on the Edge of Tastelessness

by Larry Charles

With a loose documentary frame we follow Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional character Borat as he travels across the United States. While on the surface it’s broad and often low humour, there is a brilliant core of social satire delivered by a naive sexist, racist, homophobic and anti-semitic main character. It seems to be the standard shocking real people with a fictional character, but the targets and approaches are anything by accidental with some of the most revealing glimpses into the socio-economic structure of contemporary culture. But it’s still very funny in a very inappropriate way. I laughed a lot, but at times I was horrified at the revelations that Borat’s victims made about prejudice. Sacha Baron Cohen is a gifted satirist who has a rock-solid grasp on his characters that never wavers. Within the film he manages to make his points as he travels and meets real people as well tying together the fictional narrative arc where he wants to travel to California to marry Pamela Anderson. It’s amazing to see how well it ties everything together to make a coherent story. With direction by Larry Charles of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm the structure contains and amplifies the antics of a character from short sketches into something that becomes much more.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Review of Underdog Victorious: Quirky Folky Songs

by Jill Sobule

I heard Jill Sobule for the first time on a live Billy Bragg recording where she was the opening act. I found out a bit more about her and found Underdog Victorious which is a collection of upbeat songs that are a bit on the happy and personal side. She’s a storyteller who tells her stories with simple music and clear thinking. The catchy lyrics and music stick in my head and make me smile.

Review of Stella - Season One: Brilliant Comedy on the Edge Between Sitcom and Sketch

I’m very glad that I discovered Stella since they created a tv series. It’s hard to describe, but I think that they’ve created some of the funniest comedy of the past few years. I would put them in a continuum for me that would begin with Monty Python’s Flying Circus, then to The Kids in the Hall, and Mr. Show. What links them all (aside from being comedy) is that they all have a keen awareness of how they are operating within their medium and to push the boundaries. The brilliant twist with Stella is that instead of the members of the troupe playing different characters each episode, they always play the same characters always wearing suits. The framing device is the sitcom where there will be an incident that sets up the episode and then they would all learn a valuable lesson. A unique hybrid of standup with sitcom and sketch, it’s hard to describe, but what works well is that the generic style and lack of dated references adds to the longevity of the humour. Very funny and one of my favourite shows. Hopefully they will somehow be given the chance for a second series.

Review of The Machinist: A Disturbing Exploration of Conscience

by Brad Anderson (II)

A little guilt goes a long way.

It’s a bit horrifying to see Christian Bale in The Machinist after he lost more than 60 pounds for the role. But after you accept his look (which is hard to ever forget), the film becomes more of a meditation on how we treat people and how we see the world. Precisely constructed with careful shooting and editing, it lays all of the elements of the story out and then things begin to click together. While it’s a story that is somewhat familiar, the visual treatment and performances make it stand out from more conventional treatments of the same topics.

Review of Volver: Almodovar's Story of a Woman

by Pedro Almodóvar

During the recent Atlantic Film Festival I was able to see Pedro Almodovar’s Volver and I was very glad that I did. The theatre was packed to capacity and it was a lot of fun. With solid performances all around and confident, playful direction, it’s about women, family and struggle. It’s more about the characters than a tightly constructed plot and when I realized that it was very fun as I watch Penelope Cruz struggle to survive with the women in her life. Almodovar manages to fill the film with joy and love even though there are darker and more serious parts. It’s also a great film to see on a big screen.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Review of Le Confessionnal: Carefully Constructed Drama Connected to Hitchcock

by Robert Lepage

Sprawling, theatrical and entertaining, Robert Lepage’s Le Confessionnal weaves tidbits of the making of Hitchcock’s I Confess with the history of a family in Quebec city. Seamlessly weaving past and present and beautifully staged and shot, it’s a clever film that is quite enjoyable to watch. It’s one of those films that I’ve been wanting to see for a long time and I’m glad that I finally was able to see it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Review of The American Astronaut: A Unique SF Musical

I like to talk about films and while at my favourite cafe, Amanda mentioned the film The American Astronaut, which I hadn’t heard of. So I saw it without knowing very much about it. Completely unique with a great late night film festival screening feeling, it is a lot of fun. It’s a science fiction film with music and in a strange way it reminded me of Godard’s Alphaville in that it is science fiction without elaborate special effects. Gorgeously shot in black & white with a killer rock & roll soundtrack it’s a unique achievement.

Review of Set Yourself on Fire: Beautiful Music

by Stars

One day in my favourite coffee shop I was talking with Erin and she suggested that I listen to Star and I did and loved them. Instantly Set Yourself On Fire has become one of my favourite albums. With complex and playful orchestration along with clever and honest lyrics, it’s a joy to listen to and I keep listening again and again. I don’t know a lot about them, but I know that they’re from Montreal and they’re becoming one of my favourite bands. I love discovering new music.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Review of The Bad and the Beautiful: Portrait of a Producer

by Vincente Minnelli

I found out about The Bad and the Beautiful from Martin Scorsese’s documentary about American Movies. Director Vincente Minnelli has a gift for staging elaborate shots to complement the story which is a sometimes funny, sometimes dark look behind-the-scenes look at the Hollywood film industry. With an energetic performance by Kirk Douglas at the core, it has some honest insight into the filmmaking business along with some melodrama. It was interesting to see a film about film that focussed on a producer and to have a main character who wasn’t completely sympathetic as well. Fun for those who are interested in the history of film and the self-reflexive films about making films.

Review of The Prestige: A Clever Trick

by Christopher Nolan

Are you watching closely?

Christopher Nolan is a talented filmmaker, so I was looking forward to “The Prestige”. I was expecting a film that was showy, but it surprised me with subtlety. It was like a good magic trick that is confident and subtle and classy. With solid performances from Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman and the always watchable Michael Caine, it’s a study of magic and illusion and obsession. While it seemed slow to me at the start (maybe because of my expectations) it gradually drew me in until I was completely absorbed. It seems more complicated than it is and it works on several levels with a complicated, yet elegant structure.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Godard's Elegy for Hollywood

Contempt is a film by Godard that didn’t even register on my radar before someone mentioned it to me. It was a pleasant surprise and a glimpse at Godard working with what seemed to be his largest crew and a more linear and narrative structure.
The cast is wonderful with surprises from Fritz Lang (as himself) and Jack Palance as a Hollywood producer, but the film is built around Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot. The breakdown of their relationship is the core of the film and it’s also a metaphor for the end of the big old-Hollywood model of filmmaking. But with Godard it’s never that simple or clear and he manages to cram a lot into the frame and it keeps you thinking about it for days afterwards.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

OK Computer as Reggae

by Easy Star All-Stars

It’s an interesting idea to transpose songs into different musical genres and the results can be unpredictable. Radiohead’s OK Computer is one of my all-time favourite albums, so I was intrigued by the idea of a reggae version of the recording by the Easy Star All-Stars. I was surprised at how well it worked for me. While every track isn’t a good fit, overall it makes a strange sort of sense to take songs of existential dread and alienation and give them reggae versions. I don’t think that this is for everyone, but I like it.

Surreal and Influential Vision

When I watched the short surrealist film Un Chien Andalou I was constantly surprised at how much I recognized. Pretty much every image in the film is recognizable in many other films. It’s the definitive surrealist film and it’s a haunting vision that has helped to expand the possibilities of cinema. The most fascinating connection for me is how much of the film is referenced in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth as Jim Emerson explains in Birth of a Brunuelian Notion . Un Chien Andalou is important, entertaining and endlessly fascinating.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Beautiful Dream World

by Michel Gondry

I went in to The Science of Sleep with a bit of nervousness based on the trailer and all of the other work that I’d seen from Michel Gondry. There seemed to be a lot of imagery and situations repeated from his music videos and it seemed a bit light. Once the film started I was pleasantly surprised that it was a very different film from the one that I had constructed from the trailer and I was completely drawn into the world that was created.
Gondry’s two previous dramatic features were written by Charlie Kaufman and I was very curious to see what Gondry would do on his own both writing and directing The Science of Sleep. Gondry has a much looser structure and it gradually erases the lines between dreams and reality.
The performances of Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg are wonderful to watch as they play complex and sometimes frustrating characters. There are magical moments between them and I relaxed into the film like sliding into a warm bath. When the film was over it was a bit strange walking out into the world and it almost seemed as if I had not completely left the film. It took me a while to become grounded again which is one of the signs of a great film as it changes the way that you see the world. That’s why I love seeing films.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Portrait of a Rennaisance Man

by Joe Angio

My knowledge of Melvin Van Peebles consisted mainly of thinking of him as the father of the “blaxploitation” film genre and the maker of Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song (which I haven’t seen yet). With a provocative title such as How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It), I wanted to check out the film at the Atlantic Film Festival and to find out more about Van Peebles. I was very glad that I did since Joe Angio, the director of the documentary, introduced it and was around for the question & answer session afterwards.
The film paints a very entertaining portrait of a no-nonsense artist and person who just goes and does whatever he decides to do. I was constantly amazed as I learned more and more about a man who seems to be able to do just about anything that he sets his mind to. A lot of fun, fascinating and an important contribution to the history of film and art in the 20th century.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

West Coast Morality Tale

by paul fox

In Everything’s Gone Green Paul Fox directs a script by Douglas Coupland where a man realizes that he’s stuck in a dead end in his life. Funny and beautifully shot, it had a good balance between the humorous and the serious as what it’s really about at the core is personal ethics and how we live our lives. I like the performances, the quirky characters and situations and seeing a film that was unashamedly set in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Historical End of an Era

by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen tells the story of an Inuit shaman and is drawn from the writings of a member of a Danish scientific team. While the source material is Danish, the film is told from the point of view of Avva, the shaman and his daughter Apak. Set in 1922, it shows the transition from shamanism to Christianity from a perspective that I’ve never seen before. Beautifully shot in HD with a documentary feeling, it’s a film with unfamiliar rhythms. After about 15 minutes it all started to click together and I was completely engrossed. It’s a great way to kick off a festival.

Monday, September 04, 2006

26th Atlantic Film Festival

The Atlantic Film Festival for 2006 kicks off in a couple of weeks and I’ve gone through the schedule to plan out the films that I’m going to see and that will be part of school for the Screen Arts learners. If I make it to everything I should be able to see a combination of at least 43 feature and short films during the week and a half of the festival. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Carefully Crafted Music

by Snailhouse

Snailhouse is the name that Mike Feuerstack uses to collect a series of recordings with him at the centre. Collaborative and talented as a singer / songwriter / musician, I saw him perform as Sappyfest and his CDs sold out, so I had to buy The Silence Show online. It’s a collection of simple songs with personal lyrics and great music that are not really folk, not really rock, but very good. He’s currently working on a new Snailhouse project which is eagerly awaited.

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Saturday, August 26, 2006

Dickson Falls in Fundy National Park

Looking up at Dickson Falls in Fundy National Park. It's a very beautiful place along the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick.
Formats available: Quicktime (.mov)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Extraordinary Look at the Ordinary

by Edward Yang

Yi Yi (A One and A Two) is a film from Taiwan by Edward Yang that is bold on every level, but never seems to show off. In the film we follow a family through a year with glimpses of moments from their lives. While it seemed a bit slow at first, I realized about a third of the way through that everything was being set up and it all just clicked and I was completely entranced. There isn’t a wasted frame in the entire film and the connections within the film become surprising and completely natural as it all starts to make sense. An amazing film that everyone who has an interest in filmmaking should see.

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Looking Around at the Lower Part of Dickson Falls

A glimpse along the Dickson Falls trail in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. While hiking towards Dickson Falls I paused to look around and shoot a little video with my still camera. It's a very beautiful trail and I didn't know that just a little further up the trail were the real and more impressive waterfall.
Formats available: Quicktime (.mov)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lower Dickson Falls in Fundy National Park

Below the main falls along the Dickson Falls trail in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. It was a beautiful day for a walk through a tree-lined trail to a stream that leads to a waterfall. John was walking ahead and you can see him walking up the stairs at the end the clip.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Stream From Wooden Bridge on Coppermine Trail

A lovely stream as seen from a bridge along the Coppermine trail close to Point Wolfe in Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. John and I went hiking and I wanted to give more of the sense of how it looked. It's a great place to hike and is very peaceful.

Beautiful and Passionate Film From Africa

by Ousmane Sembene

I have to admit that I delayed watching this film because I knew there was a message to it and that it was an “important” film. I wish that I hadn’t waited as it wasn’t what I expected. Shot with an almost startling beauty, Moolaadé tells the story of a small African village, the people who live there and their traditions. The story unfolds in a deceptively simple way with the characters and conflicts becoming more complex as the story progresses. It’s a remarkable film that has given me a glimpse of a world that is fascinating to watch. The film is even more remarkable considering that Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene directed the film when he was 80 years old.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Solo Folk Singer Songwriter

by Abigail Lapell

Abigail Lapell is a singer / songwriter from Montreal who works within the folk genre with a guitar and a wonderful voice. At Sappyfest she performed a few times and I also was able to chat with her a bit too. She has a solid voice with a good live presence as well. Her EP Love Songs is a great collection of simple and personal songs. It's also one of my recent CD purchases and it comes in a beautiful silkscreened cardboard case.

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