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?


TO THE WONDER (2012/2013)

Terrence Malick is on a roll!  Both in the quality of films, but almost more importantly, in his output!  Malick is a renowned recluse, and in the past has gone for years, decades even, between releasing films.  He is a perfectionist, and Hollywood seems to have realized that it needs to give the man the time and space to create his art.  Since the release of TREE OF LIFE, which baffled some and dazzled many, most notable most of the celebrated critics, Malick has stepped up his production, and in fact already has this film, TO THE WONDER, coming out in wide release this year.  A quick search on IMDb shows that along with TO THE WONDER, 2013 will also bring KNIGHT OF CUPS and an "Unnamed Terence Malick project," as well as in 2014's VOYAGE IN TIME.  So here's hoping that with Malick's newfound productivity, the quality will remain on par!  I'm not sure what I can add to this powerful and moving trailer.  It is full of beautiful imagery, transcendental music and words, and featuring characters experiencing passion, love, and existential crises. In other words, a Terence Malick film.  Sign me up.



While I'm posting about Ryan Gosling, I may as well post this trailer.  Looks interesting!  Lots of great talent involved.  The trailer just keeps on revealing talented people!  Gosling is re-teaming with writer/director Derek Cianfrance (BLUE VALENTINE), who is a very talented filmmaker.  I'm sure this will be gut-wrenchingly emotional, beautiful, and slightly dreamy.  Wouldn't be surprised if Grizzly Bear showed up on the soundtrack either.  What more can I say?  Looks good!  I'm hearing good buzz about it too.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) Trailer

"A Bangkok police lieutenant and a gangster settle their differences in a Thai-boxing match."

Drive 2?  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  I'm in!



Directed by: Ben Wheatley.
Written by: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, and Amy Jump.  
Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram

Dark, dark, dark.  But quite funny.  But soooo dark.  Those are the two adjectives I would use to describe Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS, a black comedy about two seemingly normal people on holiday that takes a dark turn.  Chris and Tina, who after being together for a few months, decide to go caravanning and see the endless tourist traps of middle England.  The mood is set eerily when Chris, a pleasant enough man with a massive ginger beard picks up Tina from her mother's house.  The mother, a woman who is either desperate for attention, or suffering from dementia, or perhaps a little of both, is immediately suspicious of Chris.  Does she get a strange feeling from him or is she just angry that he is taking her daughter away from her?  But off they go anyways, and we quickly realize that Chris has a temper, and there is something much more profound and menacing going on beneath his cold eyes and red Gortex jacket.  Despite his temper, we never fear for Tina.  She has an innocence and a naivety that will protect her through the whole trip.  They're also "in love" and Chris will do anything to "protect" her.  Even a random murder.  And so goes SIGHTSEERS.  If you watch the trailer you will realize I am not spoiling the film by telling you that Chris and Tina commit a few casual murders as they make their way from historic Tram line to Druid stone circle to Pencil Museum, along the way meeting unfriendly and callous people who only stoke the dark furnace that burns within Chris.

If pressed for more adjectives I would add beautiful, melancholy, eerie, moving, and sad.  Firstly, the cinematography is gorgeous.  The landscape, as manicured as rural England is, is beautifully shot with many cutaways to geological features, weather, streams, and plants.  Much of it reflects how our characters feel; lonely, lost, confused.  Roiling storm clouds reflect their inner minds.  They stare down into the swirling foam of a slowly moving stream before Chris says he can't look at it anymore, why?  Because it reminds him how lost and confused he is?  Because he can't make sense of what he sees?  By the time we reach the climax, they have made their way through lush southern England up into the northern Highlands and park their caravan precariously on the edge of a shale cliff.  They've truly gone into a cold and hostile place, far from any other human contact.  And this is why the film is melancholy.  Despite their normal exteriors, both Chris and Tina are deeply problematic.  Both, surely, have undiagnosed issues, and have dangerously found enablers in each other.  Chris says he is taking a sabbatical and wants to write a book, and Tina is his muse.  But what form of inspiration will this muse inspire in him?  On top of being misunderstood, Chris seems to be an anachronism, a man out of his own time.  A slow motion shot of him yelling and holding a wooden club above his head seems to be a direct reference to a shot from the prologue of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: apes discover they can use tools to conquer their enemies, and one screams victoriously upon vanquishing a rival.  Chris, big red beard and all, either belongs in prehistoric or middle ages as some sort of primal brute, both for his nonchalant use of violence, but also his simple and undeveloped mind, which swings between moods as much as a young child's does who does not get what he wants.

Ben Wheatley previously directed the critically acclaimed KILL LIST (2011), which I have never worked up the courage to see.  Apparently, it is quite the mystery story, but with splashes of terrifying violence, and a twist ending to give you nightmares for weeks.  I was apprehensive about watching SIGHTSEERS, but if you have seen any of Edgar Wright's films (who is an executive producer on this film) such as SHAUN OF THE DEAD or HOT FUZZ it is more along those lines of humour and violence, with an extra layer of eeriness.

On the whole, I'm not sure I would recommend this film to everyone, but I think most people can take some enjoyment from it.  It certainly is a very dark comedy, and if you have the stomach for some flashes of DRIVE-style gore, then the payoff is a strange, often funny, and beautiful holiday around the countryside with two in-love misfits with a penchant for a bit of the ultraviolence.


One Man's Opinion: Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

I was incredibly saddened to hear of Roger Ebert's death today. It's a strange feeling to be upset about the death of someone I have never met. Like many others, I'm sure, I felt I had a connection with Ebert. I had never personally interacted with the man, but I felt his voice was mine, that he was able to say the things I wasn't able to articulate. Ironic, considering he was no longer able to physically speak. But that tragedy on his part was a boon for many online readers such as myself. Before cancer took his lower jaw, I followed him casually. I enjoyed his review show with Richard Roeper. But after losing his voice, Ebert took to the Internet with passion and intensity. He found new ways to connect to an even wider audience through his website and blog, Facebook, and Twitter. Not only was he able to publish film reviews on his site, he commented, reblogged, and posted links to a myriad of subjects that interested him. And this allowed a further look into the mind of a man who spoke his opinion, who was unapologetic about his views, and who had interesting things to say about film, modern media, and the world in general.

The true connection I formed came through his writing. Ebert found a balance between educated journalist and blue-collar commentator. His writing is accessible, funny, informed, and honest. He did not hesitate to praise or trash a film, and always had evidence and an informed opinion to back it up. One thing I learned was to write about how a movie makes you feel. His writing also taught me to see movies as they were. It is obviously pointless to compare an action-adventure film with an art-house picture. Instead, consider: was a film able to add or say something new, or was it just following a formula? Does it give you something? Does it, if temporarily, allow you to forget about the world outside the movie theatre? Does it hold a mirror up to your own life? To society? I have tried to apply some of these ideas to this very blog. I have also learned a lot from his books, from both his extremely earnest and enlightening memoir "Life Itself," as well as his "Great Movies" collection, which are packed with essays about movies he has loved over the years. Prolific writing like his, about how great and transformative movie medium can be, is an inspiration for my own writing. A few months before he died, I wrote him an email thanking him for his work. I will never know if he ever read that message, but I am glad I tried. I will truly miss this man's perspective.