Sunday, April 30, 2006

Updated Noir in a High School

by Rian Johnson

A common problem with many updated films noir is that they mistake the look and dialogue as the most important elements. While noir is about crime, it’s a genre that was formed out of the angst and uncertainty of post World War II America. Unlike other genres, the classic film noir was made as a crime thriller with largely european directors working in a visually stylized way within financial constraints. Updated film noir often substitutes surface for substance. But in Brick Rian Johnson treats the source material with respect and by setting the story in a high school he maintains the connection to the dark heart of film noir, which is existential dread. Instead of seeing the story unfold in the closed world of the criminal world, we see things within the insular world of high school. It works brilliantly and it’s a film that instantly has jumped onto my top ten list of films for 2006.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

True Story with a Great Performance

by Richard Kwietniowski

Owning Mahowny is based on the true story of a man who took money from the bank where he worked to support his gambling addiction. It’s an interesting story, but in the film adaptation it’s just ok. What really saves the film and makes it worth watching is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who gives a fantastic performance (once again) along with John Hurt in a great supporting role. But overall it’s a film that never really takes off, it’s technically competent and there isn’t anything really wrong with it, but the only amazing thing is Hoffman as the man who we watch as his luck runs out.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Romantic Dramedy

The first film that I saw by Yvan Attal was My Wife is an Actress and Happily Ever After has the same leads, who are Attal and his real life spouse, the stunningly beautiful Charlotte Gainsbourg, and they once again play a husband and wife (along with their real son playing their son). It’s a film that careens joyously at times between happiness and sadness as we follow the couple and their relationship. Filled with music that I loved and with great performances, it’s a fairly unique, almost feel-good film about adultery and love in France. An unromantic look at romance that secretly believes that love conquers all.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Interesting Photography and Buggy Story

by Claude Nuridsany

There are small stories in Microcosmos, but the real fascination of the film is the photography of the insects and tiny worlds that they live within. The challenge in any documentary, especially one about animals or insects, is finding a way to establish some sort of connection or organizing principle to make it interesting. Unfortunately I never really connected on an emotional level with this film, but the images are great. If you are into bugs or macro photography, it’s interesting, but overall I wanted more of a story .

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Politics Through the Eyes of Teens

by Andrés Wood

The beautiful film Machuca tells a story of friendship set against the background of Chile in 1970s when Allende was overthrown. It’s not about the politics, but they form a constant background and work their way into everything. The subtlety of the story is what makes it work along with great art direction and wonderful performances from the young cast. A complicated story that humanizes a time and part of the world that I know little about.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

Gorgeous Revisionist Western

by Robert Altman

Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a hauntingly beautiful portrait of a man and a woman and a small frontier town. The look and feel of the film is amazing as we watch the town develop and the seasons change as the story unfolds. Altman gives the world that he creates a casual, accidental feeling as the plot emerges. But it’s not accidental and the threads all converge into a very memorable conclusion set against deep snow in the town. Altman revises the Western by bringing a realism to the characters, pace and location of the small town within a tragic story.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A Weekend With JLG

by Jean-Luc Godard

No matter what you think of Jean-Luc Godard’s films, his influence and challenges to cinematic conventions are undeniable. In Week End Godard takes aim at politics and society in a film that still can be shocking and powerful after nearly 40 years. It has an exhausting range of emotions and techniques. At times it feels arbitrary and thrown together, but the film never lets you be complacent and I don’t know if anyone will enjoy the whole thing. But there is a good chance you’ll see some of the most memorable, horrifying, or thought provoking images. From a cinematic point of view the extended tracking shot along a traffic jam and a sequence where camera pans around a large area twice are some of the most remarkable things I’ve seen in a film.
It’s an important work that is filled with and embraces contradictions and is a surreal political statement by the filmmaker who constantly pushes the limits.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The NB Filmmakers' Co-op

A bit over two decades ago I walked into the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-operative in Fredericton. It started me on the path that gave me my career as a filmmaker and a teacher. While many people think of the coop as a place where they can get equipment and finish films, the important thing is the community and support from the people who are members. I’ve met some of my best friends through the coop and learned a lot about filmmaking and life.
I haven’t lived in Fredericton for over 5 years now, but I’ve still maintained my membership in the NB Filmmakers’ Co-op and they’ve recently moved from their home of two decades into a newly renovated Charlotte Street Arts Centre, which is a great facility filled with other artists.
Last weekend I was back in Fredericton and was able to stop in and see the new location and see some friends. It’s still a wonderful place that helps people tell their stories through film.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Classic and Gripping Bank Heist

by Sidney Lumet

Al Pacino is a great actor to watch, and it doesn’t get any better than his performance in Dog Day Afternoon. It’s a superbly written and directed film that breezes by as we watch a bank heist that doesn’t unfold as it was intended. Some films don’t age very well, but this one holds up as a wonderful example of the possibilities of great filmmaking when everyone is doing their best work. Pacino is mesmerizing to watch as the standoff wears on and we find out more about him and how things got to where they are in the film. It’s also a glimpse at another time with an odd innocence in the way that the police and the bank robbers interact along with the media and the public. It’s a great film that makes a statement and is also very entertaining.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Cool and Vaguely Nostalgic Pop

by Feist

I love Leslie Feist’s voice and when combined with the quirky lyrics and clean arrangements of Let it Die it is a somewhat melancholy, but poppy recording that I very much enjoy listening to. I first listened to Feist when I saw a great short film directed by Renuka Jeyapalan called Big Girl. There were two songs on the soundtrack and I jotted down a note when I saw “Feist” in the credits. One of the songs, “Mushaboom” is one of my new favourite songs. It’s good to chill out to and will also put you into a more contemplative mood if you listen to the lyrics.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Darkly Funny Chat Show Parody

by Dominic Brigstocke

Steve Coogan is a talented performer and to see him in the “live” chat show parody, Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge is a treat. The 6 episode series, written by Coogan, Armando Iannucci, and Patrick Marber, has a host who is clueless and guests that become increasingly more contemptuous of the host. The series conclusion is both inevitable and surprising. It’s probably a very acquired taste, but if you like dark, uncomfortable comedy (like the original The Office), then this bit of mid 90s comedy may work for you. Otherwise, it may be a bit too much to take. I quite liked it.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Mixing Oil and Drama

by Stephen Gaghan

In a similar way that Stephen Gaghan adapted a British miniseries into Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, he does a similar thing with the complicated political story of Syriana. It strikes a balance between a rant about politics and oil and a thriller, and it worked for me. But it’s probably a personal thing, but I enjoyed it and was even surprised by it. It’s very well-shot and wisely avoids large chunks of exposition and focuses on the characters and the gaps where we can fill in the blanks. A solid film, but not something to see if you don’t want to think or pay close attention.

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Documentary on the Rebirth of American Cinema

by Richard LaGravenese

A Decade Under the Influence tells the story of the American directors who challenged the conventions of Hollywood and reinvigorated storytelling and established the tone for many films that followed. It’s fascinating to trace the paths of the young filmmakers who were influenced by European directors who drew their inspiration from classic Hollywood films. Divided into three tv hours and filled with clips, it gives a great overview of a critical time in the development of the art of film that shares a lot with how things are developing now. While it’s nearly 3 hours long, it zips by and left me wanting more, but I guess a lot of the stories and insight can come from watching the amazing films that came out of the fertile period in the 1970s.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Fascinating Woman

by François Truffaut

While the film is called Jules et Jim, it’s very much built around Jeanne Moreau’s character, Catherine, who is at the apex of a love triangle. Like other French New Wave films, there is running, location shooting and a joy in cinema that runs through the film. While it is a period piece, Truffaut cleverly establishes the time through archival footage combined with voice-over. It keeps the film feeling like a novel while we focus on the interesting things, which are the three main characters. It’s fun and has one of the most fascinating female leads in any film. I saw echoes in Arnaud Desplechin’s Kings and Queen as well as in many other films. Jules et Jim is a fascinating exploration of love and friendship.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Historic Battle Personalized

by Peter Weir

Peter Weir’s Gallipoli is a powerful, but human portrait of friendship that culminates in going to war. Understated, respectful and subtle, it tells the story in a simple and beautiful way. Well shot and with a strong early performance by Mel Gibson and a remarkable performance by Mark Lee, it manages to show the complexity of war from the perspective of the young men who go to fight. Weir efficiently and effectively stages the scenes and keeps it to exactly the right length.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

My Favourite Coffee Shop in Halifax


I’m very much a creature of habit and just about every day I have a cup of coffee (and sometimes a muffin or cherry cheesecake swirl) around the corner from the office at The Mud Room. They have the best coffee (Fair Trade and Organic, of course), good food and great people there. When I don’t bring my lunch my fallback is the excellent Veggie Chili that they have or one of the soups or sandwiches.
One odd fact is that even though the building is on an adjacent block and up one street, it has the same address as the office. I thought that blocks were supposed to be consistent in cities…
The Mud Room is a small, but comfortable place crammed in the lobby area of an older building. When I come in I don’t even have to say what coffee I want in my mug (but I do, even though they know) as I always get the dark roast. Mmmm. Dark and strong and delicious.

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Beautiful Adaptation

by Sally Potter

I haven’t read Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, but from what I’ve read of her work, Sally Potter’s adaptation is probably the best of all possible adaptations. The entire film seems to be constructed around Tilda Swinton’s remarkable face as we follow the journey of Orlando from Man to Woman over the course of two centuries. It’s very carefully structured and shot and may be a bit dry for some, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Potter’s later film, Yes, has similar themes, but packs more of an emotional punch, but Orlando is very much worth seeing.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

Character-Driven Heist Joint

by Spike Lee

Inside Man is a solid heist film with great performances from the whole cast. Spike Lee knows how to shoot a film and he wisely focusses on the characters as more details of the story are revealed. The heist film is a well-trodden path and Lee injects some of his visual style and themes into the genre. Very enjoyable without being flashy or over-the-top, just a film for grownups with the sensibility of a 70s crime film.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Classic Scorsese

Mean Streets was Martin Scorsese’s breakout film that also established a lot of his themes and techniques that he’s used in all of his films. It’s still a powerful film that has a breathless energy with a wide range of shots and styles incorporated in. The French New Wave is a strong influence and it is combined with the “method” acting of Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro to create a loosely plotted portrait of men in Little Italy struggling to find out who they are. It’s filled with memorable scenes and performances and was a major influence on many filmmakers.
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