Recommended reading: WIRED briefly explores the science behind Interstellar

The one and only stargate: The black hole at the centre of Nolan’s latest, Interstellar

If for no other reason than its fully working model of a black hole (that required 800 terabytes of data to capture), Nolan’s Interstellar will undoubtedly secure a vaunted space in the realm of science-fiction (or is it now more appropriate to label it as science-fact?):

http://www.wired.com/2014/10/astrophysics-interstellar-black-hole/

I am certainly looking forward to the scientific articles that Kip Thorne, the movie’s scientific consultant, is set to write after seeing the fruit of thirty years of work modeled before his keen and scrutinizing eyes. Whether I’ll understand any of it is a different subject to anticipate.

Darren Aronofsky Ought to Make an Oil Sands Documentary

Cenovus’ Christina Lake oil sands operation

Darren Aronofsky’s been making the rounds on the internet recently more for a piece of environmental writing published on The Daily Beast than for one of his films, so it seems to me the only logical next step would be to combine the two. Did anyone else notice that an incredible story readily discloses itself in Aronofsky’s diary? It reads almost like an environmentalist version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, with environmental violations taking the place of slavery, the oil-profiteering Suncor dutifully filling in for the tyrannical slave-dealing Company, and things looking bleaker and grimmer for the human race as Aronofsky and his team travel upriver.

Not only does Aronofsky expose the root of the problem in Alberta clearly in his account, but he also demonstrates a need for heightened attention to the issue when he writes “It’s funny [that the situation in Alberta is so extreme] because as an American you somehow always think Canada is on the right side of the issues”. The vast majority of Canadians have willfully deluded themselves to this same conclusion. Even with the lengthening litany of environmental, legal and social abuses the Canadian government has left in its wake, many still refuse to acknowledge that there might be something amiss in Canada. They casually wave away the mounting odour of a jingoistic conservative minority that believes Canada’s resources to be the sole property of a select few. They see no problem with suborning a whole country to strip-mine its environment for a temporary gain which spares no thought for the future.

Other than the constant drone of journalists reporting back some new fresh hell about the oil sands, not much of a fuss has been made in the popular consciousness about the situation in Alberta. Sure, there’s one documentary on Youtube about it, but Youtube is hardly the source for authoritative information. There’s another documentary on Netflix featuring forty-five minutes of aerial flybys of the Alberta oil sands. But with no music, no facts, and no Al Gore (it is otherwise silent save for some abstract sounds) it’s rather useless as a documentary. Aronofsky and DiCaprio could give us that ole’ time religion, Sodom and Gomorrah apocalyptic agitprop cinema that seems sorely needed to wake up these dumb statues and breathing stones in society.

According to the National Post, DiCaprio is already at work on his own environmental documentary, but I see no harm in Aronofsky doing his own. Or why not a collaboration between the two? What better pair for this material could there be between Aronofsky, energized by his recent, eco-toned apocalyptic visions in Noah, and DiCaprio, longtime defender and proselytizer of environmentalism?

“Someone else says it doesn’t feel like Canada,” Aronofsky writes, “feels more like Russia”. The suggestion is not far removed from the reality since both countries are ruled by political thuggery and oligarchical monopoly (the Ford Dynasty in Toronto being the most recent, ruinous and failed example). Indeed, Russia’s claim for the Arctic follows roughly the same logic as the Harper government: if nobody else is going to use it for profit then we might as well. A similar argument can be traced back to the Dawes Act of 1887, enacted so that the US Congress could appropriate land from Native Americans, whom the Congress felt weren’t using the resource-rich land to its fullest potential. As a Canadian I’m not so much embarrassed by this current situation as I am enraged by it, and I’m quite happy to let Aronofsky and DiCaprio be the ones to radicalize me.

The Cancer of Canada: The Alberta oil sands. Notice the stark division between the “developed” area and the undeveloped side. I’ll leave you to determine what Suncorp and the Canadian government call each side.

The Calls are Coming from Inside the House: Adam Wingard’s “The Guest”

After establishing himself amongst horror lovers as a quirky, smart and genre-literate director with You’re Next, Adam Wingard resists the easy request to imitate himself and instead makes an action thriller that blasts open the horror film highlights of the 70s and 80s to extract a post-modern glimmer of what made those films so cool. Continue reading

Film Recommendation: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Catherine Deneuve at the train station, begging her lover to stay, promising she would wait for him, knowing it couldn’t possibly be true: Jacques Demy’s fantastically grand musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg broke my heart. An ambitious musical on a limited budget, Cherbourg covers a half-decade span of time in the lives of two young lovers separated by time. Entirely sung, with lyrics that range from the inessential to the unforgettable, Cherbourg is an intimately scaled epic.

Here’s an English version of the song, covered innumerable times by numerous artists, sung here by the gorgeous Connie Francis (Futurama fans might already be familiar with this song from a rather appropriate appropriation). But don’t forget it was Michel Legrand who created its original French incarnation, a devastating duet between a teary-eyed Deneuve and a stoic Nino Castelnuovo in Cherbourg‘s most emotionally climactic scene. Deneuve was never more lovely or more beautiful.

Rodgers and Hammerstein Collection on sale today only

Click the image to be taken to Amazon.ca

The Rodgers & Hammerstein Collection (Amazon Exclusive Box Set) (State Fair / Oklahoma! / The King and I / Carousel / South Pacific / The Sound of Music) [Blu-ray] (Bilingual)

If it’s your cup of fine Earl Grey, Rodgers and Hammerstein are on sale today only at Amazon.ca for the bargain rate price of $56 CAD. Even if you’re only interested in two of the included 6 films, at this cost its cheaper than buying them individually. And from what I’ve read and seen the transfers are terrific.

V for Vicissitude, V for Vendetta


Though today is not the fifth of November, one still would be well served to remember the importance of the nursery rhyme which bears this date. Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder treason and plot; the sentiment of these simple lines is pushed to its utmost in Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s incendiary agitprop anarchistic graphic novelism in the form of the anarchistic terrorist-cum-ideologue V.

Though published in the internecine political warfare between the Labour and Conservative parties from 1982 to 1989, it was not until the equally fraught period of British society in 2005 that the material was eventually adapted into a film starring Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving, directed by James McTeigue. Or rather, 2005 would have been the release year of the film, on the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Treason Plot no less, had WB Studios decided not to delay the release in the wake of London’s horrific 7/7 bombings.

Though the missed opportunity to have the film premiere on this precipitous and propitious date is regrettable, more regrettable still is that the film does little to engage with the very brand of ideological violence which provoked the bombings and which the graphic novel examines (hereafter referred to by the less pretentious designation of “book”). Had it done so, perhaps the film might have retained its original date, or at least the filmmakers and studio could have embarked on a much needed and undoubtedly valuable discourse on the politics of this century. Instead, those involved squandered their chance, as the film squandered its full potential. Though perhaps my criticism is unwarranted, since the book answers questions the film doesn’t dare to ask: What is the measure of villainy? Of heroism? The depths of compassion and the heights of our capacity for cruelty? But then, ought any text dealing with the political strive to grapple with just this dimension of our humanity? Continue reading

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

(95% spoiler free)

What is the nature of ape politics? What historical material would a simian Shakespeare cull to craft his best tragic drama? Director Matt Reeves and his writers have crafted a narrative sustained by the answers to such intrigues.

A decade after a man-made virus has almost wiped out the human species, a small city of survivors, led by beleaguered former police chief Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), struggle to make contact with whatever might remain of humanity. In their search they encounter a different group of survivors, a tribe of super intelligent apes led by Caesar (Andy Serkis in typically photorealistic garb), and a new struggle for survival begins.

Apart from being one of the most intelligent and emotionally compelling films this year, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is, I submit in the same heady breath it takes to say the portentous title, one of the best films designed as pop culture entertainment ever. The plot is the best bits of Shakespeare’s Plantagenet tetralogy, chief among them Henry IV and his son and successor Henry V (with even an Orangutan named Maurice fulfilling a more benign and mentoring Falstaff to Caesar’s son–Henry V–role), delivered with the cinematic vivacity that big-budget films revel in. Continue reading

#SavetheAlamo

Film preservation remains as interesting to me as it does dear; film restoration equally so. As such, the storied history of John Wayne’s The Alamo (1960) intrigues me more than the actual content of the film itself could ever manage: a tale of loss and folly, savage studio interference and incompetent indifference. Saving me the effort of recounting the precarious state of The Alamo‘s existence, Bud Elder has summed the matter succinctly over at the Digital Bits:

http://www.digitalbits.com/columns/view-from-the-cheap-seats/the-alamo-under-siege

There may be perhaps more worthwhile causes, but none perhaps quite so easily remedied as this. Perhaps ironically, this problem requires only that a formerly meddling studio stop interfering in the affairs of this film and leave the professionals to their work. Readers who wish to keep the fight going for this film can do so by supporting the call for a restoration through various media using the hashtag #SavetheAlamo.

A Note on Criterion’s edition of “Scanners”

David Cronenberg’s Scanners, more accessible than Videodrome, less refined than The Fly, remains along with The Brood one of the Canadian director’s most accessible of his bodily mortification films. What a pity that it had long languished in a subpar DVD edition in North America, what joy when Criterion announced it as one of its July titles, and what disappointment when early reviews from otherwise reputable review sites such as DVDBeaver and Bluray.com noted and provided screen captures of a director approved video transfer that appeared something on the cooler side. The transfer reported by these sites was a wash of blue, distinctly different than any previous incarnation of the film’s transfer, without any presence of accurate white balance. And yet it was director approved. Hesitant to purchase what I assumed would be an aberrant transfer from what remains an otherwise impeccable roster from Criterion, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the transfer lacking any of the aberrant blue. The colour palette of the film was instead accurately balanced. I must surmise, in the absence of corroborative evidence, that the screener copies sent to these reviewers were defective, and that Criterion has since addressed the issue. In short, ignore any concerns of a blue wash to this picture and feel confident that this film is indeed presented in a lush and brilliant transfer.

I don’t have access to my BD-ROM drive presently, but when I do I’ll be sure to post screen captures for comparison and evidence.

Fincher’s Necrophilia

When it comes to the work of David Fincher, many seem content to just tow the party line that he is a great artist because his films look great. I don’t intend to dispute that; I do intend to add, however, that Fincher’s work remains fixed in our cultural consciousness for more than just his unique visual sensibility. While there are any number of points from which one could map out a worthwhile case for Fincher’s artistic merit, I want to focus on what I consider a theme that runs throughout Fincher’s work. Continue reading