Saturday, February 27, 2010

Anonymous Ten Great Films of the 00's, On Ottawa Film Review

This is a 10 favorite films list of the 00’s from my friend and local Ottawa film type A&W. My friend, who would like to be credited as A&W, accompanied his list with “If I were able to have seen Dying at Grace it would probably be on there as well”.

A&W’s Ten Favorite Films of the 00’s
1. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
2. The Intruder (Claire Denis, 2004)
3. Life Without Death (Frank Cole, 2000)
4. Inland Empire (Davie Lynch, 2006)
5. A Certain Kind of Death (Grover Babcock & Blue Hadaegh, 2003)
6. Following Sean (Ralph Arlyck, 2005)
7. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)
8. Memories of Murder (Joon-ho Bong, 2003)
9. Billy The Kid (Jennifer Venditti, 2007)
10. Nathan Barley (Christopher Morris, 2005) "TV series"


On Ottawa Film Review

This overt shift from a film listing or review to a submitted top ten list – hopefully I can get a few others – is part of the new direction for Ottawa Film Review. This online film editorial, for me, provides a diary-like tally of the films I see in Ottawa film theatres. In the future, I might have to reevaluate the title as I am planning to move to Montreal, Toronto, or Paris in the upcoming September or October. What I really want to do from now on with this space is to engage in a greater discourse of the experiences of being a cinephile in Ottawa – the nations capital – and expose a certain grain of worthwhile Canadian cinema. This is being accentuated by now working for the Canadian Film Institute. Thanks again, Scott.

I do not include my personal video consumption and I purposely avoid writing about each week new Hollywood releases as (1) I am usually disappointed by most of Hollywood’s sup-par escapism output - I tend to prefer a select handful of filmmakers who usually imprint their personality onto their material and that generally have a humanistic and generous world view, with exceptions - and (2) most major distributed films are already so publicized that anything said about them is overshadowed by the vast writing, critical and non-critical, already available.

What to expect in the upcoming month of March, potentially a few interviews and I plan on writing about Allan King; his film Dying at Grace is playing at the Library and Achieves Canada March 14th at 7PM, Donigan Cumming; whose recent work will be projected at the Cinémathèque Québécoise in Montreal March 17th at 6:30PM, and Atom Egoyan; his new film Chloe which will be premiering at the Bytowne Cinema March 26th.-David Davidson

Monday, February 22, 2010

Old and New Canadian Films in March

March Film Listings

Canadian Film Institute
Dying At Grace (Allan King, 2003) 14/03.

Bytowne Cinema
J’ai Tué Ma Mère (Xavier Dolan, 2009) 19/03 - 25/03.
Inferno of Henri-Georges Clouzot (Serge Bromberg & Ruxandra Medrea, 2009) 17/03 & 18/03.
Chloe (Atom Egoyan, 2009) 26/03 - 8/04.

The Mayfair Theatre
Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987) 12/03.
eXistenZ (David Cronenberg, 1999) 23/03.
The Frighteners (Peter Jackson, 1996) 26/03.

Cinémathèque Québécoise (Montreal, QC)
Donigan Cumming: Oeuvres Récentes (Donigan Cumming, 2003 - 2009) 17/03, 6:30PM.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some New Auteur Films

The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke, 2009)
* (Has redeeming facets)

Dave Kehr writes about Michael Haneke as being a “finger-wagging sensationalist” and Richard Combs calls him the “pious admonisher”. These labels sum up my feelings towards Haneke and his misanthropy and distaste for humanity, specifically in his latest Palme d’Or winning film The White Ribbon. In it Haneke presents people: a priest; who can not fathom the cruelty in his own community even though he violently disciplines his own children, a father; who condescends and insults his non-marital lover and has pedophilic relations with his daughter, and children; who devastate their community by torturing their neighbors rich and the mentally disabled offspring. Haneke hypocritically looks down on these people, as if saying: look at you people (i.e., the characters, viewers, and humanity), you make me sick! This unearned air of superiority consistently leaves a sense of distaste, the viewing experience felt unnecessarily masochistic.

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 19/02 - 28/02)


Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)
* (Has redeeming facets)

Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, can be seen as being some-what inspired by Jacques Tourneur The Cat People (1942). I see it, as an alternative path Oliver Reed and Irena Dubrovna could have gone. Shutter Island also has the Tourneur-like quality of abstaining from violence while maximizing frights. It is interesting to see Mr. Scorsese finally make a film that addresses the Holocaust since he was originally supposed to direct Schindler’s list (1993) before trading projects with Steven Spielberg for Cape Fear (1991). And whatever happened to Martin Scorsese’s past collaborator Paul Schrader’s film Adam Resurrected (2008)? That seemed like another good film, also set in a post-WWII mental institute, which got lost finding distribution.

One of my criticisms is that one of the inspirations for the Teddy Daniels character was supposedly Dana Andrews from Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944). I do not really see any acting comparisons since Preminger’s long takes accentuated attention to gestures and small details, while Scorsese’s camera work and fast editing do not. All in all, Shutter Island leaves a lot to be desired but at times it is enjoyable.

(World Exchange Plaza, Empire 7 Cinema, 111 Albert Street, Opening 19/02)


Invictus (Clint Eastwood, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

Clint Eastwood’s 32nd film Invictus (2009) is a stimulating political drama about the true story of the president of the Republic of South Africa Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (Morgan Freeman) uniting the post-apartheid country for the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The title of the film derives from a Wiliam Ernest Henly poem from 1888, Nelson Mandela used the poem for inspiration during his 27 year jail sentence as a political prisoner.

Clint Eastwood latest output has been historical revisionism. Invictus, Changeling (2008), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), and Flags of Our Fathers (2006) are all about moments in time grounded in a precise place and where the events and communities surpass any one individual and the focus is that of social movements and political change. Invictus is about the blacks and whites of South Africa coming together - overcoming prejudices – for an international sport event, which becomes a catalyst for peace and unison.

Invictus obfuscates social realities and it does not address issues such as racisms, poverty, and the necessary political challenges Nelson Mandela had to overcome in achieving what he did for the country. Everything appears to be really simple for the president except for when he faints from being overworked and when he talks about being detached from his immediate family. And some scenes seem easy and unsubstantial including when the rugby coach Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) “generously” gives a world cup final match ticket to his family's black house keeper or when the black and white presidential security officers make amends in the empty stadium. These are just a few minor squabbles in a story about an exceptional man that is well worth being told.

One reoccurring Eastwoodian theme is that of revenge. Clint Eastwood has been in the revenge business since early in his career with the Man with No Name and the Dirty Harrys’ onwards to Josey Wales and the Walt Kowalskis’. There has been a shift from his youthful vigilante justice to a more mature peaceful vocation. Nelson Mandela prevents the sports council decision of revamping the South African Springboks - a symbol of white power for the Afrikaans- rugby team early on in the film, as he believes it would cause more strife between ethnicities. Nelson Mandela as his new hero brings peace and understanding while promoting nationalism.

Drama is created out of the ordinary (i.e. a fast approaching van creates uneasy suspense), computer generated imagery fills a stadium to the rafters, and aerial views of Cape Town are breathless. All of these qualities and many others are proof that the 80-year-old director is a serious and artful chronicler and that his vast talent and energy has yet to be depleted. As Invictus shows, his best has yet to come.-David Davidson

(The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 19/02 - 21/02, 24/02 & 25/02.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Rural Agronomy

All Fall Down (Philip Hoffman, 2009)
**** (Masterpiece)

Philip Hoffman’s 94-minute All Fall Down - his first excavation in full-length features - is a lot of things. It is virtuoso exploration of a southern Ontario farmhouse, a meditation on the damaging effects of imperialism on Nahneebahweequa; a 18th century Canadian aboriginal land activist, as well as for George Lachlan Brown; Phil’s daughters biological father, and it is a diary film of experiences with his wife Janine Marchessault and step-daughter Jessie Marchessault. Though not a traditional documentary, the film incorporates the filmmaking process into it with shots of e-mails with correspondents and the behind-the-scenes activity involved in making All Fall Down.

Scott Birdwise writes in Rivers of Time: The films of Philip Hoffman (Edited by Tom McSorley. Canadian Film Institute Press, 2008) “I think that if we refer to Hoffman’s oeuvre as a kind of “first person cinema,” we can do so in the (implicit) terms of Agamben’s discussion of the melancholic and the schizophrenic, the obsessive neurotic and the epileptic”. All Fall Down expresses Gorgio Arcamben’s three different modalities of temporality: the past tense, the present tense, and the future tense. The past is being explored, the present is being lived, and the future after the exploration being suggested through his daughter Jessie.

Two indelible scenes in the film involve the Canadian landscape. One is long take of a personal skating rink in the back of a farmhouse. It is dusk and the sun is setting in the background. Phil takes a garbage can of water and throws it onto the ice. The surface glimmers as the sunset is projected and lights up the freezing water. The second scene is haunting drift on a river. Previously the film revealed Nahneebahweequa is now buried under a golf course and that her land has been surrendered to the government. George Lachlan Brown's car with all his belongings has been towed and he is left with almost nothing. The drift on the river is a haunting black and white shot where the camera originally jerks to the left, where the river would keep going, but then shifts to the right coming to a halt. This shot repeats itself. For me, it is representative of the two victims of a larger overbearing bureaucratic social system and their inability to cope within it. These are only two examples of meticulous visual scenes with interesting insight woven throughout the film.-David Davidson

(Canadian Film Institute, Library and Archives Canada, 395 Wellington Street, 13/02, 7PM)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blaxploitation Williamson

Black Caesar (Larry Cohen, 1973)
*** (A Must-See)

(The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 06/02)

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Cold and Cruel World

Antichrist (Lars Von Trier, 2009)
*** (A Must-See)

Grief, Pain, Despair. The films divided chapter titles perfectly describe the mood of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist staring Charlotte Gainsbourg (who won a best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for her performance) and Willem Dafoe (The Spider Man Series, Wild At Heart). The story follows a married couple who go to their woodland cottage “Eden” to bereave the death of their son. The isolated shack, its surrounding forestscape, and the superstitious bad weather do not become a retreat of solace but instead an unsuspecting battleground, his psychotherapist "rational thought” is put against her occult mysticism.

The Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier is one the most daring and cutting edge world filmmakers. The films handheld shots (hawking back to the Dogme95 movement), image distortions, incorporation of digital technology, uncanny editing, and the overall creativity and originality of the film can be both exasperating and stunning.

Though primarily chilling and atmospheric the interlaced irony provides moments of levity. After arriving to Eden the couple is kept up by the comic clanking of fallings acorns on the roof of the cabin. When the mother overcomes one of her first psychiatric challenges a dead bird infested with ants falls from a tree and then is torn apart by a crow. Everything culminates into a devastating self-sacrifice.

This is not your typical horror film. Though there are some surface similarities between it and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) including; the continental secluded setting and the eroding consciousness shown through a journal, it is the spellbinding mixture of misanthropy, sarcasm, and sadomasochism that makes Antichrist so hard to forget.-David Davidson

(Bytowne Cinema, 324 Rideau Street, 05/02 - 09/02) & (The Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank Street, 24/02 & 25/02)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Toronto Experimental Cinema

The World Viewed (Chris Kennedy, 2003-2006)
**** (Masterpiece)

(Club SAW, Café Ex, 67 Nicholas Street, February 4th 7:30PM)

Great Films of the 00's

Passing Time
by David Davidson

The films on my top twelve of the 00’s list are serious, original and daring works of art. They are not necessarily non-fiction but they are all somehow are drenched in reality, whether that means being based on actual historical events or newspaper headlines, being city symposiums, history revisionism, or just grass root stories of people and their daily realities. These films layer fiction with non-fiction to come up with a piece of work that is evocative of the first decade of the third millennium. These films take place in the present-day or in the historical film genre and through them contemporary film-artist emphasize the importance of geography and history. The list is a good accumulation of moods and experiences of the first decade of the 21st century.

The decade of the 00’s in North America for Canadians meant living under the Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin (2003-2006) and the Conservative Primer Minister Stephen Harper (2006-?) government and south of the border in the United States of America there was the George W. Bush (2001-2009) administration. The films made in both those countries are social documents and they reflect zeitgeist issues prominent of our times by addressing how people are relating to the world. The foreign films on the list are interesting for a greater understanding of world developments from an insider point of view. They are about social realities and hardships, globalization, living with the consequences of an unfavorable history, the effects of government policy etc. Essentially these films are a humanizing experience that present a different world then ours, creating sympathy for characters that we might not otherwise thing of. Some films achieve what Howard Zinn would advise to people that is to “learn a different history that will make them skeptical of what they hear from authority”. These works are the antithesis of the “authority” which consists of the dominant media portrayal of North-American culture and the abroad. The films emphasis on the life of the working class and the details surrounding them are a testament to the great possibilities of what can be accomplished with a video camera.

The Canadian director David Cronenberg’s A History Of Violence (2005) has marked the top ten film list of the decade for both Film Comment (#7 on their list) and Cahiers du Cinema (#5 on their list) and the film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum included in his personal top ten list the Canadian experimental filmmaker Michael Snow’s *Corpus Callosum (2002), a film which I regrettably have not yet seen. These are two isolated exceptions in what is a non-Canadian dominant international film community recounting of the decade. A History of Violence is a thrilling action film and also a complex critique of the action genre and American society (i.e. violence and war is a passed down trait from one generation to the next. Probably the closest thematic adaptation of the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm’s On Empire: America, War and Global Supremacy). It is also a radical departure from the typical Canadian social-realist films. My problem with A History of Violence is that it is complicated to assess how the film is actually Canadian other then the criteria that the birthplace of David Cronenberg is Toronto. The inclusion of this film creates an overarching blanket that reduces and removes other national filmmakers, who are engaging in a discourse of local issues, from the international film community. Other important Canadian filmmakers include the prairie fabulist Guy Maddin, the Armenian assimilationist Atom Egoyan, and the Inuktitut speaking Zacharias Kunuk. I have not yet seen any films by John Greyson or Philip Hoffman, two other Canadians filmmakers that have been recommended to me. The Canadian films on my list My Winnipeg (2007), Atanarjuat (2001), Ararat (2002) and Adoration (2008) are works whose settings remain within our ten provinces and three territories. They are bold and innovative narratives that showcase our national artistry. I have not included Frank Cole’s magnum opus Life Without Death (2000) about his solitary excursion through the Sahara desert as it does not deal with societal issues which is the criteria for my list.

The films on the list take place around the world and back. This includes: Poland during WWII following a Jewish pianist who is in hiding from the death camps (The Pianist); Los Angeles, California during the 1920’s with an investigation of police and psychological institution corruption (Changeling); New York and in a few other American states and cities during WWII with a intricate meditation on the war and its current and later effects on American society (Flags of our Fathers); Paris, France in 1936 with a tale of a crisscrossing Russian agent in one of Eric Rhomer’s last and more political films (Triple Agent); Winnipeg, Manitoba with a meditation on the lack of substance that comes with the demolishing of cultural heritage which includes tearing down the cities old Hockey Arena and Eaton Center (My Winnipeg); A meditation on the Armenian genocide that took place in the beginning of the 20th century (Ararat), a tour de force guide through Russian history in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (A Russian Ark); a compelling narrative of people searching for former lovers as well as an examination of the effects of the Three Gorges Dam in China (Still Life); a look at London’s working class and the area around their housing complex (All or Nothing); a modern day reworking of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment in Belgium (L’Enfant); a presentation of the effects of the glass ceiling on a Senegalese taxicab driver in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Goodbye Solo); a devastating critique of American arrogance in New Jersey (Storytelling); a tale about the effects of living in an inextricable digital age set in Toronto, ON (Adoration); and finally set in the Canadian North a recounting of an Inuit legend (Atanarjuat).

Truthfully the majority of these films were only watched later after their initial release on video, some did not even have a theatrical distribution here. I have not yet seen the 2000 output of all the film festival circuit favorites including Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Jean-Luc Godard, Roy Andersson, Corneliu Porumboiu; filmmakers who have gathered much praise and critical attention. This just shows there is much richness in contemporary filmmaking and I continue to look forward to watch new movies.

The Top Twelve Films of the 00’s
1. Still Life (Jia Zhang-Ke, 2006)
2. Russian Ark (Aleksandr Sokurov, 2002)
3. My Winnipeg (Guy Maddin, 2007)
4. L’Enfant (Dardenne Brothers, 2005)
5. Changeling (Clint Eastwood, 2008) & Flags of Our Fathers (Clint Eastwood, 2006)
6. Triple Agent (Eric Rhomer, 2004)
7. The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002)
8. Adoration (Atom Egoyan, 2008) & Ararat (Atom Egoyan, 2002)
9. Storytelling (Todd Solondz, 2001)
10. Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani, 2008)
11. All or Nothing (Mike Leigh, 2002)
12. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Zacharias Kunuk, 2001)

Monday, February 1, 2010

French Thirties Film Noir

Pépé le Moko (Julien Duvivier, 1937)
**** (Masterpiece)

(Cinémathèque Québécoise, 335 boul. De Maisonneuve Est, Montreal, QC, 31/01)