Dir.: Dror Moreh
On Netflix

Post-birthday and post-trail-race-day found me stranded on the couch yesterday afternoon and searching for something on Netflix to sink into. Fortunately, there's a healthy documentary section including this gripping Oscar nominee by cinematographer and director Dror Moreh. Those of you who know me know I am a big Errol Morris fan, and this film really put me in mind of that great documentarian. Interviewing six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli intelligence service, the film outlines the struggles of the young country and some notable operations. Each man speaks candidly about making decisions that ended lives, about planning assassinations, about being haunted by their responsibility. It is a fascinating glimpse into the world of intelligence in one of the most volatile regions in the world.

Director Moreh incorporates the expected talking heads, newsreel footage, and still images, but most interestingly, adds subtle yet effective computer animation sequences that beautifully reenact several events. An intense cinematic music score ratchets up the tension, but the words of what each man says are where the real drama is. Reflecting and reminiscing, they talk about their best and worst days on the job. Decisions needed to be made in the matter of seconds, and those decisions would save some lives and end others. It's a powerful film, regardless of whether or not you understand this part of the world (I'm not sure I do). Highly recommended.


I, Anna (2012)

Continuing with the theme of film festival intrigues that I missed, is I, Anna, a noir thriller starring Charlotte Rampling and Gabriel Byrne.  It's directed by Rampling's son, Barnaby Southcombe (great name!), an accomplished television director who adapted the story from Elsa Lewin's novel of the same name.  I'm not as familiar with Rampling's career as I probably should be, but she is quite recognizable.  And Gabriel Byrne is always great to watch.  In this film, they both bring a lonely world-weariness, perfect for a film noir.  Their faces are so complex, so many emotions tied up in subtle movements: mystery, sadness, repressed aggression and sexuality, a dark past -- all hallmarks of the classic noir characters.  Byrne plays a detective investigating a murder with possible links to Rampling's femme fatale.  Like so many detectives before him, he seems to fall for her, getting closer than he should -- surely it will obscure his judgment and complicate the investigation.  And is she genuine in her interest of him, or is it all just a facade?  Looking forward to see this neo-noir too.


Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

The Coen Brothers' latest film debuts at Cannes this week.  It stars Oscar Isaac, Carrie Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Justin Timberlake, and Coen regular John Goodman.  Isaac and Mulligan previously acted together alongside Ryan Gosling in 2011's Drive.  It follows folk singer Llewyn Davis as he tries to make his name in the 1960s New York folk scene.  I love the colour palette of the trailer.  It also has that soft focus look that makes it impossibly nostalgic.  The trailer seems interesting, but the end of it left me thinking about the film in a whole new light!  We assume he is a folk singer, I mean he is carrying a guitar around the whole time and telling people what he does.  The end makes it seem as though he might be a fraudster?  I could be wrong and this is not the at all the direction the film goes, but it does make it seem more interesting then just a problematic singer-songwriter trying to make a go of it.  I guess I will have to see it!  Knowing the Coens, there is surely some bizarre angle to the whole thing.  See how the trailer leaves you:


The Hunt (2012)

Another film that took the Film Festival circuit by storm last year was The Hunt (2012), directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) and starring Mads Mikkelsen (Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, among others).  I really wanted to see this at VIFF last fall, but all the shows were extremely busy and hard to get tickets to.  At the time I reassured myself that this would be making the rounds in a more general sense so I'm glad to see that it is!  It looks like a very fascinating and difficult film about a man who is falsely accused of "interfering" with one of his kindergarten students.  Obviously quite dark, and considering Thomas Vinterberg is behind it I am sure it will not pull any punches.  Vinterberg previously was involved with his fellow Dane, the controversial Lars Von Trier as a co-founder of the revolutionary, innovative, and ultimately contradictory Dogma 95 film movement.  So Vinterberg is not unfamiliar with challenging his audiences.  As I say, I'm sure this will be a difficult film, but Mads Mikkelsen is such an interesting actor that I'm sure it will be a worthwhile watch. 


Stories We Tell (2012)

This was one of the biggest buzzed about films in the (Canadian) film festival circuit last year!  And it is Canadian!  Sarah Polley is rapidly becoming one of the country's most talented filmmakers. She follows up Take This Waltz (2011), a sometimes emotionally difficult romantic-drama about love, lust, and infidelity, with a documentary touching on some of the same topics.  Polley's new film attempts to delve deep into her own recent family history, posing difficult questions, and figuring out some startling truths about her own identity.  The trailer points us towards what these issues may be, but I am intrigued to see the film and how it all plays out!  I have heard nothing but praise for this so I am glad it is getting the wider attention it appears to deserve. 


Beginners (2010)


Directed by: Mike Mills

This is one the best films I have seen in a very long time.  I know, I know, "best" is such a vague and subjective word -- okay, it is one of my favorite films I have seen recently.  I watched it in 2010 when it was released, but recently, for whatever reason, I felt compelled to watch it again. I loved it even more.  It is such a nice, patient film, full of genuine moments, delicate relationships, and filled with gentle and loveable performances from a group of fabulous actors.  There is no huge explosive crisis.  There are problems, there are sad moments, there are conflicts, but there are no villains.  Maybe I'm getting mellower as I mature, but I have come to really appreciate this in a story.  Films like Wonder Boys and Happy-Go-Lucky also come to mind.  Ebert puts it so nicely: "They begin by wanting to be happier and end by succeeding."  What more does a story need?  

The cast is so charming:  Our fellow Canadian Christopher Plummer won a well-deserved Supporting Actor Oscar for this role.  Ewan MacGregor, as Oliver, plays a lost soul of sorts, saddened and confused by his father's death.  His sidekick, his father's dog Arthur, is full of profound thoughts communicated through subtitles.  Melanie Laurent plays another lost soul, whom Oliver meets at a costume party.  Their meeting is so delightful.  She has laryngitis and cannot speak so she communicates back to Oliver by writing on a notepad.  She recognizes that Oliver is hurting; one note she writes early on is "Why did you come to a party if you are so sad?"  They "get" each other, but have to learn to take risks and communicate what's on their minds. 

It is a great film.  Funny, touching, and full of ideas.  Recommended!



GRAVITY (2013?)

So the first teaser trailer for Alfonso Cuaron's film Gravity, starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, came out this week to much buzz.  The film has been steeped in anticipation as the original release date was to be some time in 2012.  The much-delayed film is Cuaron's follow up to the sensational Children of Men (2006) (a personal favorite) -- a film that gained film-nerd cred for containing a handful of phenomenal and incredibly sophisticated long take shots (i.e. no cuts).  Rumor had it, a year or two ago, that Gravity would open with a 17-minute shot.  It appears as though the first teaser trailer for the film may be, ironically, a series of shots cut from that 17-minute shot.

Now.  A word.  I reserve the right to be corrected in the future, but doing a 17-minute long take today does not involve as much as it used it.  For example, an original film magazine, if I'm not mistaken, used to run for about 8-9 minutes, therefore, logistically, shooting longer than that was impossible.  Hitchcock, while shooting his fantastic film Rope (1948), billed basically as an unbroken 90-minute scene, disguised his cuts with people moving in front of the camera and blacking it out -- enabling a magazine change.  But today, we are able to shoot digitally, and basically for as long as our actors are willing to stand on their feet.  Russian Ark (2002), the film that famously actually is a 90-minute steadicam shot taking us through The Hermitage in St. Petersburg (and Russian history), was shot digitally, but involved hundreds of actors whose choreography was critical to the shot (imagine getting 65 minutes into it and having to restart because someone screwed up?).  So despite my love for Cuaron and Children of Men and long-takes in general, I'm slightly skeptical, because surely Clooney and Bullock were not in actual outer space, and there were no logistical difficulties, because really, when you're shooting in front of a green screen there are endless possibilities to sew the seams of two different shots together.  With that proviso... I am still extremely excited for this film!  I mean, good god, it looks terrifying, and I have heard/read the words "science fiction game-changer" been thrown around so we shall see.  I hope we will be blown away! (I'm sure I will be.)


Roger Ebert on "Groundhog Day"

'"Groundhog Day" is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable.'  -Roger Ebert

For those still unable to see the brilliance in Harold Ramis' Groundhog Day (1993), maybe this essay from Ebert's book "Great Movies 3" will sway you!  I think it's also a great example of Ebert's talent as a writer.  He discusses both the entertaining aspects as well as the more profound elements of a film that is too often passed over as merely an offbeat comedy.  He brings the wisdom of a man with life experience, and applies his knowledge gleaned from viewing countless films.  Ebert also goes on to describe Bill Murray's persona so accurately ("The world is too much with him, he is a little smarter than everyone else, he has a detached melancholy, he is deeply suspicious of joy..."), as well as how the film simply could not have worked without him.  I have always been a huge Bill Murray and Groundhog Day fan, and having Ebert wax poetically about its bigger ideas is a pleasure to read.

Ebert on Groundhog Day


"Coffee is for closers."

So I understand some of you have seen Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), and I understand some of you might never see it, which would be a shame because it is packed to the gunwales with raw acting talent!  That being said, I have no problem showing you what is likely the most famous scene from the film.  It comes early in the film, Alec Baldwin shows up (his only scene) from Downtown to whip the flagging sales of this suburban office into shape by giving the salesmen some tough love.  In what is certainly one of Baldwin's greatest scenes, and he delivers a late night ego-crushing monologue to a room of bewildered salesmen.  If anyone has seen Boiler Room (2000), Ben Affleck's character certainly must be the spiritual successor to Baldwin's, and I'm sure Affleck had him in mind when delivering his own famous speech from that film.  Anyways, enjoy, and remember, Always Be Closing.  (Note:  It is David Mamet written: coarse but smart language ahead!)

Jay's Favorite Movie Scenes - Glengarry Glen Ross from Jay Deal on Vimeo.



Everyone should see this.  Canadian environmentalist and filmmaker Rob Stewart (SHARKWATER) has created an important documentary that is at the same time a plea for action to save the human race.  I saw this at VIFF last year and Stewart was at the screening and hearing him speak was very inspiring.  Here is a man who is desperate to spark a change, and ultimately a revolution, about how we live our lives.  Fundamental shifts in perception need to be made for humans to go on living the lifestyles that we want.  And even that has to change.  Our dependence on fossil fuels, on consuming material goods, and chasing the so-called (North) "American Dream" of having a house with a picket fence and a car and a family and a dog need to be re-examined.  And it is urgent.

Stewart's film is beautiful.  It follows him around the world as he examines certain case studies of how climate change, deforestification, and the acidification of the oceans is affecting certain species, and also highlighting how it will affect us humans.  (The lemurs in Madagascar are incredible!) This film is about saving us.  Stewart realized that he had to bring it home to the humans, because the only way people will react is by realizing themselves how these issues will directly impact them.  His goal is to have 1 billion people see this film.  No matter what your stance is on climate change, you should see this film.  What is the worst that can happen?