Screening Room: The New Canadian Wave

My article “Les Auteurs: Quebec Directors Make Their Mark in World Cinema” was published in Film Journal International:

Excepting Toronto’s avant-horror maestro David Cronenberg, the Canadian directors making waves outside their home provinces have tended to be art-house auteurs like Sarah Polley (Toronto), Guy Maddin (Winnipeg) and Atom Egoyan (British Columbia).

That is starting to change now, however, with a growing cadre of filmmakers from Montreal making their marks in world cinema as well as Hollywood, while retaining their identity as Quebecois directors. Montreal has deep film roots, after all, boasting the nation’s first movie theatre (1896) and serving as an epicenter for the “Direct Cinema” documentary movement in the 1950s and ’60s. But since the international success of Denys Arcand’s work in the 1980s, it has taken the comparatively recent emergence of directors like Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallée, Xavier Dolan and Philippe Falardeau to put the city back on the film world’s map…

Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘Eyes Wide Open: 2015’

Since there just isn’t enough opinionating about film out there, yours truly reviews them on occasion for the odd website and magazine. Come each January for the past several years, with awards buzz percolating and everybody catching up on seeing the films they missed last fall, I have been publishing the Eyes Wide Open guide.

 

It’s most one of those thumbs-up (the 25 best) and thumbs-down (the 5 most mediocre) collections, with the odd DVD review and other miscellany tossed in for good measure, as well a look at why every other film out there seems to be a sequel.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the book is a handy thing to keep around when you’re looking at what’s playing in the local theater or browsing the new selections on Netflix, iTunes, or VOD.

Eyes Wide Open 2015-cover 1st

What made the cut? Films you’ve all heard of, like The RevenantSpotlight, and The Big Short, plus a few not everyone has, like Experimenter and Mustang.

What didn’t make the cut? Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Bridge of Spies, to name a couple.

You can get Eyes Wide Open in ebook (Kindle, Nook, or other) or paperback.

Also, if you’re feeling Powerball lucky, you can enter here for the chance to win a free copy of the book.

Department of Shameless Self-Promotion: Here Come the Robots

More artificial futures in 'Ex Machina' (A24)
More artificial futures in ‘Ex Machina’ (A24)

Last Friday’s Wall Street Journal featured in its arts and culture section an article by Don Steinberg about the prevalence of robots and artificial intelligence in movies coming soon to a multiplex near you. It’s a subject that filmmakers just don’t seem able to stay away from.

Don very nicely included a few quotes from myself on the subject in the story: “Invasion of the Friendly Movie Robots.” Check it out.

Now Playing: ‘The Unknown Known’

Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in 'The Unknown Known'
Don Rumsfeld faces the past (or not) in ‘The Unknown Known’

Late last year, possibly in an attempt to garner an Oscar nomination, the Weinsteins’ Radius-TWC outfit gave Errol Morris’ newest documentary The Unknown Known a short pre-holiday run. Now, this riveting, feature-length interview with the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld, is getting a proper release.

The Unknown Known is playing in limited release again starting this week. My review is at Short Ends & Leader:

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…

Here’s the trailer:

 

Coming Soon: ‘The Unknown Known’

Rumsfeld: 'The only things that are lasting are conflict, blackmail, and killing.'
Rumsfeld: ‘The only things that are lasting are conflict, blackmail, and killing.’

The_Unknown_Known_posterErrol Morris’ riveting new documentary is a feature-length interview with none other than the Bush era’s greatest poetic dissembler, Donald Rumsfeld. The Unknown Known has been playing festival dates recently and is going to hit theaters on December 13.

My early review is at Short Ends & Leader:

In The Unknown Known, Rumsfeld shows time and again why he’s a perfect subject for another of Morris’s documentary investigations into American military adventurism and hubris. For one, he’s the sharpest verbalist of the three. For another, he’s willing to tangle with other points of view; though not necessarily concede an inch of ground. If the film can’t compare in the end to 2003’s The Fog of War, that’s because Rumsfeld doesn’t appear to have had the come-to-Jesus moment about Iraq that Robert McNamara had about his role in the disaster that was the Vietnam War. Given the placidly combative figure presented here, that moment will probably never come…

Here’s a look at the trailer:

 

Screening Room: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’

hobbit_desolation_of_smaug_poster

So, granted, the first installment of The Hobbit was something of a letdown even for those who weren’t a little exhausted with Peter Jackson by the time The Return of the King ground to an end. But, the trailer for Jackson’s second—and most likely just as bloated episode—has thrills and beauty aplenty.

In the plus column: Benedict Cumberbatch voicing Smaug, and a Mirkwood that looks as much of a thrilling mythological darkland as Tolkien described it.

In the minus: romance for Legolas, the fact that there is still one more film to come.

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Books: A Documentary’

booksdoc

This is the killer Kickstarter pitch for a new proposed film project with the can’t-go-wrong title of Books: A Documentary:

This past August over 300,000 antiquarian books from Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up were sold at auction: This is the story of those Books.

Color us intrigued.

For those not already in awe of the man, Lonesome Dove and Brokeback Mountain author McMurtry also owns one of the nation’s great used-book emporiums. He told the tale of last fall’s great blowout sale at the New York Review of Books.

booksdoc2

According to Publishers Weekly, the filmmakers (husband-and-wife Sara Ossana and Mathew Provost) have already shot about half of the doc and need $50,000 to finish it up. Ossana notes that the film, which uses McMurtry’s sale to explore the modern book landscape, might be expected to be a downbeat tale about an industry and way of life in decline:

“We weren’t sure if the film would be a moratorium, or more uplifting,” Ossana said. “It’s turning out to be more uplifting.” That, she thinks, is due to a larger cultural shift afoot in America—brought on by the country’s economic need to develop a stronger foothold in the production of goods and in manufacturing—that is driving more people to ask where the objects they have come from, whether it’s the food on their table, or the hardcover novel on their shelf. “There is a cultural awakening happening now,” Ossana explained, “around what people find valuable. I think the book is a large part of that,” she said. And, with that, Ossana thinks physical bookstores are becoming more important as “cultural centers” on the community level.

Here’s to hoping that she’s right.