Monday, October 13, 2014

RIP Subtitle Literate

Hello all, and welcome to the final post of Subtitle Literate (2008-2014). I've had a lot of fun with my first blog over the years, and I surely hope you have as well. But now the time has come for me to put it to bed, methinks, take a break, recharge, and reevaluate a few things, including my perceptions and motivations as both a writer and a person. I'll reemerge in some fresh form of creative expression eventually while in the meantime likely turning out the odd piece here and there, but at this moment, for the most part, I feel like the whats and hows and, most importantly, whys of who I am and why I write are still mysterious to me. In short, I feel like I have some soul searching to do - but I am very excited about the adventures that await me still.

But for now, I again thank everyone who has taken interest in my scribbles, notes, and ramblings both here and elsewhere, and wish you all the best. Cheers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

On "Café de Flore" for Toronto Film Review

Hello all. I'm happy to report that a new film piece of mine is now available for your reading pleasure over at my good friend David Davidson's blog Toronto Film Review. It is on Quebecois director Jean-Marc Vallée's 2001 film Café de Flore - and thus is a natural fit for David's site, since he is easily one of the most passionate and knowledgeable admirers of Vallée's work that I've ever met. If you too love Vallée and his films, I highly recommend taking a peek at the literature David has written about them.

In other news, I am currently at work preparing a brand new endeavor in film writing that I'm quite excited about. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kaurismäki + Kurosawa!

Hello all! It's been a good few months since I last had some new writing to share, which was when an essay I wrote about Aki Kaurismäki was published in the 92nd issue of the Toronto-based film journal CineAction. I have been keeping up with my exploration and admiration of Kaurismäki, whom I now consider to be possibly my absolute favourite filmmaker, and now I have a new piece to my name that examines his work! In my latest essay, which is included in the 71st issue of the online film journal Senses of Cinema, I pair the Finnish master of conscientious deadpan comedy up with an at-first unlikely counterpart: Akira Kurosawa, that fabled maker of samurai epics, nail-biting Tokyo noirs, and humanist dramas. It is within the last category where I find common ground between Kurosawa and Kaurismäki, particularly in the context of Kurosawa's One Wonderful Sunday and Dodes'ka-den and Kaurismäki's Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past.

Intrigued? Please check out the whole essay here - and feel free to let me know what you think! Also, take the time to sift through the other contents of the issue (tackling Alfonso Cuarón, David Lynch, The Hunger Games and Romanian cinema, to name just a few of the subjects!). As I so often am, I am very proud to be included amongst such talented soldiers of cinema.

As always, thanks for reading!

Friday, January 31, 2014

On Aki Kaurismäki in CineAction Issue #92

Hello all. In this post, I am very pleased to announce the publication of a new essay of mine in the 92nd issue of the Toronto-based film journal CineAction, which has just hit the stands. The piece focuses on one of my absolute favourite filmmakers and an artist whose work has come to mean a lot to me over the past few years: Aki Kaurismäki. I wrote the essay last summer when I was in a particularly uncertain period in my life. Unemployed, living at home in Windsor, desperate to get back to Toronto, and discouraged by meager job prospects, I found myself newly responsive to politically conscientious films and filmmakers that I could relate to in terms of my situation. Of them all, Kaurismäki stood out as a reassuring beacon of hope and truth, and I drew immense measures of comfort and insight from his tales of underdogs, part-timers, and scrappy survivors. Thus, writing the essay served as a way for me to express my thoughts and views regarding the social and economic factors that I, like so many others, was directly confronted with while also allowing me to pay tribute to one of my heroes. Even though I eventually managed to find a new job and make my way back to Toronto, I am still very much concerned about and affected by the social problems explored by Kaurismäki, whose films continue to be as meaningful, relevant, and inspiring as ever.

Many thanks to Scott Forsyth of York University for expressing interest in my piece and including it in the issue. Those interested in checking out my essay, entitled "It's All About Mercy": Aki Kaurismäki and the Art of Getting By, can find it in the current "Politics + Cinema" issue of CineAction, which will be available in stores for the next few months. Thank you for reading!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Announcing "Riches Upon Riches: A Personal Journey Through French Cinema"

Hello all. Once again, much time has elapsed since I last updated this blog, and for that I apologize. The past few months have been especially busy for me, as my life has undergone quite a few significant changes since the dog days of summer. In late August, I finally broke my spell of unemployment limbo and, fulfilling a long-treasured dream of mine, started living and working in downtown Toronto. I am very happy to finally consider myself a fully-fledged Torontonian and am greatly enjoying this newest chapter of my life.

Even before this latest transition, some may have noticed the dramatic drop in my writing output over the past little while - and indeed, as of this moment I haven't posted or had anything of mine published for some time. Which is not to say I haven't been writing - on the contrary, writing has remained more important to me than ever, especially with the all too precious allotment of time that my busy schedule leaves for it. My efforts have simply been directed toward a personal project of mine I first started in the summer of 2012 that I haven't mentioned to too many people before now. Considering both the point of progress I have reached with it and the place I currently occupy in terms of my life and ambitions, I felt it was a good time to finally share what I've been up to.

Basically, I've been working on a book: a collection of essays on certain French films and filmmakers from various eras of film history that I adore. I have some previous experience studying and writing about French cinema for other publications, not least of all Intellect Books' Directory of World Cinema: France, which includes an essay of mine on the French New Wave. With this newest adventure, I simply wanted to try out a longer, freer form of film writing than the film reviews and blog posts I am so used to, to really explore and put into words what fascinates me about these films and the wider legacy of art and culture they are a part of that has gripped my heart and imagination for so long. As I go along, I'm certainly discussing their historical contexts and special places in cinema history, but I'm also taking a more philosophical approach and reflecting the things about life, love, work, history, travel, and more that they communicate. I hope that, as a result, the essays are appealing to readers who lie beyond the cinephile crowd, perhaps intriguing them to discover some of the films for themselves.

As of right now, five of the essays are more or less complete (the one I'm now in the process of wrapping up is about the life and work of Jean Vigo); I'm expecting to wind up with twelve in total when I'm finished. When that will be, I'm not exactly sure. This is definitely something that I know will take a fair amount of time, which is how I want it to be. I want to make sure each essay reflects the point I am at with my current writing ability, but at the same time, I simply want to have fun with the whole process - researching, thinking, watching, writing, editing. This is very much a labor of love for me, and I intend to enjoy every moment of it. When, one day, I do reach the point where I think this thing is complete and polished enough to put out in the world, I think I'll call it Riches Upon Riches: A Personal Journey Through French Cinema. As of right now, I have absolutely no idea which avenues I'll be taking in terms of publication (if you have any ideas, I'm open to hearing them!), but I'll certainly work towards making something that folks will appreciate and enjoy as they read what I've written.

I have shown some of the pieces in varying states of progress or talked about the overall project to a few of my friends so far - you know who you are, are I am most thankful for the advice and feedback you've given me. And for those who might offer their interest, support, or input further along the road that I'm treading with this thing, I offer in advance my thanks to you as well. And now, as I leave you with these behind-the-curtain shots of the notebooks I've been using to write the essays, please wish me luck as I continue onwards!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Feminist Frequencies

Hello all. I wanted to use this latest break between writing projects and personal commitments to promote some fascinating and important projects I have been enjoying recently that look at certain aspects of pop culture through feminist and female-centric angles. While many of them discuss serious problems in the representation and treatment of women in films, television shows, and video games that sadly persist in wide (sometimes suffocating) abundance even now, in 2013, the very existence of these conversations and analyses provide welcome measures of hope - hope that more challenges and alternatives to damaging mainstream works will keep surfacing and shaking things up. At the very least, these pieces do a fantastic job of "taking the temperature" of the contemporary pop culture landscape in terms of feminist values, thus prompting readers to think a little more carefully when sitting down to the latest Marvel blockbuster, video game, or indie hit.

· Matt Brown of the excellent movie and pop culture podcast Mamo! (co-hosted with Matt Price) has been doing some fine work as a columnist for the film site Twitch. For two pieces in a row in his column, Destroy All Monsters, he has spoken up about the male-centric slant of two significant zones of contemporary nerd-dom: the first one discusses the troubling reasoning explaining why it is unlikely we will be seeing a Wonder Woman movie in the near future even though superhero movies of (nearly) all stripes have perhaps never been hotter while the second one explains the factors that prevent the patriarchal realm of Doctor Who from accommodating a female Doctor. Both are well worth a gander.

· Despite a vile outpouring of hateful and sexist comments from its earliest beginnings as a Kickstarter campaign, pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs. Women in Video Games video series has been going strong since its launch earlier this year with its feminist analysis of popular video game conventions. Having just recently posted its third episode, which continues the previous two's multi-faceted exploration of the "damsel in distress" character, Sarkeesian provides an impressively thorough, intelligent, and entertaining breakdown of the various ways in which feminist values are hindered and neglected in the video game world. Even though (or, perhaps, because) I'm not all that well-acquainted with that world, I find Sarkeesian's work here to be extremely illuminating, and I eagerly await the future episodes of her series. For now, included below are the first three entries, which tackle the various incarnations of the "damsel in distress" trope.

· Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the newly launched feminist film journal cléo, which recently posted its second issue. Each issue of this quarterly online publication is focused on a specific theme, the first two featuring articles inspired by the subjects of "flesh" and "home." So far, cléo has been showcasing some terrific talent in recent film criticism via pieces on films as varied as Zero Dark Thirty, Vagabond, Holy Motors, Wuthering Heights, and Oblivion - and these are still early days for this fantastic new haven for smart and creative feminist film criticism.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Duncan Field's "Softcover"

"Softcover" logo illustration by Victoria Louise Egan

Hello, all. I know it has been a while since I last posted here - I have been fairly busy tackling a number of commitments in writing, job hunting, and matters regarding family and friends. In this post, I'd like to highlight another tremendously talented friend of mine who has been producing some fascinating work. Duncan Field and I used to work together at Chapters Oakville, and since then have kept in touch as friends and fellow writers. He runs his own blog, Softcover, which showcases his thought-provoking opinion pieces and stunning photography as well as pieces from guest contributors. I am proud to have been one of those guest contributors, having submitted to the site a little piece that describes my personal motivations as a writer (illustrated, of course, by examples plucked from cinema). More recently, Duncan has posted the first part of a free-spirited exploration of the internet that touches upon a troubling (and down-right imbecilic) sub-culture of sexual typecasting and a marvellous short story of his, "Dog Days in the Kibble Krisis," that was distinguished with an Award of Excellence for the Stephen Leacock Association's student competition for humour writing in 2011.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Debt and Gratitude to Roger

To me, Roger Ebert was always, first and foremost, a great writer. To this day, I have only ever seen a handful of clips of his famous televised critiques with Gene Siskel, and have not yet listened to the audio commentaries he recorded for such films as Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and Floating Weeds. His greatest influence upon me as a growing film viewer and critic was made through his invaluable collections of Great Movies essays, which for me still represent a high watermark of clear and intelligent writing. They exemplify that ideal goal of doing proper justice to what you observe in writing by grasping the various aspects and nuances of a noteworthy film and examining what makes it “great” with enthusiasm, insight, and eloquence. Those essays made me first curious, then excited to seek out films like Belle de Jour, Dr. Strangelove, Fargo, M, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Pulp Fiction, Raging Bull, and so many others, so compelling were the words Ebert wrote about them. But far more importantly, he taught me with those essays how to properly study, process, and look at a film, then communicate my thoughts on it in a readable, down-to-Earth manner. Ebert’s writing is always inherently accessible and unpretentious, the ideal counterpoint to stuffy, over-analytical, dense academic writing. Ebert was certainly someone who had a keen understanding and appreciation of cinema’s unique qualities as an art form, but always strove to share his insights on the medium with the average reader, so that they may easily gain a better appreciation or understanding of a given film or filmmaker. He certainly had that effect on me, and it was through him that I learned to pick up on and savor certain things like the rich flavor of Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue or the strategies of directors like Krzysztof Kieslowski, Yasujiro Ozu, and Martin Scorsese or the subtleties at work in films like Fargo, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, The Rules of the Game, and The Music Room. As a result, I grew in both my film tastes and my confidence in writing about what I saw. Ebert’s razor-sharp senses of perception and generous willingness to share his findings helped me and countless others better understand the mechanics of cinema, and the simple, straight-forward, yet incredibly wise writing style he used to communicate his thoughts has been a lasting and irreplaceable source of inspiration for virtually everything I’ve ever written.
Simply through the incredible voice of his writing, which, poignantly, continued loud and clear for years after his real voice was cruelly stolen from him, Ebert became one of the best teachers I ever had – and I still very much feel that I have so much more to learn from him. While it is with a heavy heart that I accept that there will be no more new reviews or Great Movies essays, I am so looking forward to catching up with the wealth of material Ebert left behind. I can’t wait to read those Great Movies essays that I haven’t yet read. I’m about to order his book on Martin Scorsese, one of his favorite filmmakers, and I can’t wait to read that. I want to read and use his rice cooker cookbook, The Pot and How to Use It, which looks positively delightful. And most of all, I want to read his praise-lauded autobiography, Life Itself, and more of the pieces he wrote that venture beyond the movies into bigger, more philosophical topics like youth, memory, and the various things he believed makes life meaningful and special. And with every page turned, there will be my deep gratitude for all that he left behind for us to take pleasure in, learn from, and incorporate into our own lives. He was quite right to use the term “leave of presence” in his final blog post before his death, for he’ll never really go away – he’ll still be with us in the words he wrote and the lessons they will continue to impart. For all that we’ve learned and have yet to learn from you, Roger, thank you. Thank you.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Case for a Gentler Cinema

“Art imitates life, and life imitates art. I don’t think you have to choose between the two, and I think…I think we’re a violent people.” James Gillham says this to his co-host Matt Gamble about an hour into a recent episode (4.3 – “At the Movies”) of their podcast High & Low (Brow) in which they discuss, among other things, the role violence plays in contemporary media. It is a very wise statement, and it neatly sums up a few things that have been on my mind for some time now – especially recently, what with the increased discussion of gun control in the USA following such horrific incidents as the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my personal tastes in films and how they have changed over the years, but also about peculiar little things I’m taking greater stock of – like how, in the midst of the talks and debates about gun control, while the abovementioned incidents are still fresh in people’s memories, films like A Good Day to Die Hard, Olympus Has Fallen, and G.I. Joe: Retaliation keep filling the multiplexes.
Now, to be clear, this is not one of those pieces that places the blame for violent incidents on violent films. In the High & Low (Brow) episode, Matt is quite right when he explains that focusing exclusively on violent films and other entertainments does not help the situation at all and only takes critical attention away from the real key factors of the problem: gun accessibility and mental health. Getting help to those who need it and making it tougher for ill or dangerous individuals to get their hands on and keep weapons and ammunition are absolutely the most important areas to focus on. However, I can also see where James is coming from when he questions the proliferation of violent entertainment and its impact on consumers amidst such troubling times. As he indicates in the quote above and his additional comments in the discussion, it is worth considering just what kind of role violent media does play and reevaluating what the abundance and endorsement of so much violent entertainment really means nowadays.
For me, I think the matter boils down to two words: healthy intake. Instead of debating whether media violence should be labeled as cause or symptom of real violence, I think it is much more productive to think about how media violence affects us as both people (individuals) and a people (society). And personally, I don’t really think it’s all that healthy. Now sure, a great many of my favorite films contain and, in some cases, focus in great detail on screen violence, and, similarly, a great many of my favorite filmmakers have relied on violence to express their views on bigger themes in their work. More on that later, but for now, isn’t it a little funny just how much violence has been fixated upon and worshipped for so long in cinema – particularly North American cinema? Back in 2007, Tom Carson wrote an especially illuminating piece for GQ on this matter entitled “In Violence We Trust” which explores how the vast majority of American filmmakers have largely avoided mature takes on sex and romance out of fear, embarrassment, or disinterest while going the opposite route and devising ever more lavish, over the top, shock-inducing, and gravely serious portrayals of blood, gore, death, and destruction. He’s right on the money too – from Taxi Driver’s orange-tinted climactic shootout and Raging Bull’s geysers of blood to the messy massacres in such recent films as Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, violence and artistic merit have long been the closest of bedfellows when it has come to films permeating the pop culture current and becoming identified as exemplary specimens of cinematic craftsmanship.
In the past, I’ve been just as involved as anybody else in this area. Tarantino was one of the very first filmmakers whom I identified as an auteur, and Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Kill Bill were among the first films I looked at from an artistic perspective, from a perspective besides the one that regards films as entertainments and nothing more. To this day I still enjoy Tarantino’s work, and have lapped up Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained with just as much enthusiasm as I did for his earlier works. But I will admit: lately, I have been getting tired of Quentin. Part of it simply has to do with the annoying egoism and smugness he emanates (yes, he’s got talent as a filmmaker, but he’s the kind of guy who wants to be absolutely sure you know it, who wants to be sure you see that big, juicy Written and Directed by credit over his name at the end of his film, who wants you to be keeping track at home of how many films he has under his belt to date, etc.), but a part of it also has to do with how he continues to use screen violence to a fetishistic degree in his filmmaking, leaning on it like a crutch even when digging into such big historical subjects as World War II and the American slave trade (which, granted, are topics mired in violence). That, as well as certain other qualities of his work (specifically the countless references to and precious emulations of his favorite films and genres) at times make it somewhat difficult to take him and his work seriously. I do admire Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained for providing fresh insights into their respective topics (e.g. Basterds’ depiction of the cultural and linguistic diversity in WWII-era Europe; Django’s commendable, bravely confrontational exploration of the slave trade), but as they coast along and hit their B-movie beats, there are times when they simply can’t be taken all that seriously and are in fact pretty embarrassing to behold. This is because the films are strictly set in Quentinland, and thus are chiefly designed to offer up highly entertaining and visceral cinematic experiences via Tarantino’s now well-established tools of choice: flowery dialogue, flamboyant characters, impeccable fusions of music and imagery, and, of course, elaborate displays of violence. I perfectly understand that these traits are what Tarantino’s films are all about – they’re simply what defines his distinctive voice, making him the filmmaker I and many others know and love. And yet, I’m growing increasingly weary and agitated by both the public adoration that violent works like Django (which recently snagged two Oscars, including one for Tarantino for Best Original Screenplay) continue to attract and, especially, the nature of many filmmakers’ relationships with violence as a part of their storytelling vocabulary, which I’d argue is a little too over-dependent for comfort.
While people frequently seek out films for entertainment and escape, I have long felt that a main goal of cinema should be to chronicle and explore universal human experiences. After all, what better way to connect with an audience and provide further insight into the human condition than to pick apart the stuff of everyday life in all of its beauty and complexity? Through this lens, the abundance of violence in film becomes unspeakably perverse – exactly how essential is violence to illuminating the human condition if so few of us have actually encountered serious forms of it with our own eyes? For how long have we been tricked into thinking that murder is a useful tool for examining so-called universal truths – that murder is, in fact, one of those universal truths? On a few occasions, I have spoken with my close friend Chris MaGee about the use of violence in cinema and its relationship to real-life violence. The last time we had a discussion on the topic, we both agreed that the average North American will fortunately pass through his or her life without ever having to kill anybody. Shortly afterwards, Chris showed me a documentary on Youtube that featured Vietnam veterans talking about their experiences in the war – specifically, the extreme trauma they went through as a result of killing other human beings years ago. That documentary plainly illustrated the real effects of violence – the true nature of violence. To hear those veterans’ stories, then contemplate how Tarantino and other filmmakers use violence in their work is more than a little off-putting, to say the least – in some cases, it simply feels wrong. To see a detached, obsessive fanboy like Tarantino orchestrate his gleeful killing sprees set to pop or rap music behind the argument that “it’s only movie violence” feels wrong and irresponsible – again, not because having so much violence in a film will turn viewers into killers, but instead because it doesn’t afford any respect to those who have actually had to face murder and death in their own lives. That’s why you would never want to see Inglourious Basterds sitting next to a World War II veteran – a situation like that makes the insulting nature of the film clear as day. Chris has also convinced me how a man like Samuel Fuller is infinitely more entitled to make a film about war than Tarantino simply because of how much life the man has seen. Fuller lived a truly extraordinary life in which he not only served as an infantryman in World War II, but also worked as a crime reporter and novelist before making a name for himself in filmmaking. Fuller constantly drew from his own life when making his raw, honest films – he had a rich field of experience he could consult to inform the stories he told. Next to him, people like Tarantino who seemingly learned everything they know about the world just from watching movies are simply too detached from real life, and as a result come across as pitiful phonies.
I’m not saying that in order for a film to have any credibility or meaning to it, it has to be based on actual experiences lived by one or more of its key authors. However, after not only observing Tarantino and other filmmakers flush away human life onscreen in such a flippant manner, but also seeing how ubiquitous and commonplace such films have become, I think it would only be a good thing to see a) more work that is based on something thoughtful and genuine (like actual experiences) rather than detached, adolescent fantasy, b) violence handled in a more serious light more often in cinema, and c) more filmmakers do away with violence altogether in their storytelling. Regarding point b), I not only think of Tarantino (who has long been a favorite punching bag for arguments like the ones presented here), but also other filmmakers whose use of violence comes across as childish, grotesque, and stupid. Many have commented on the increasingly nihilistic worldview of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy; I myself can’t help but think of the video game-like anonymity of the gun-wielding goons who threaten Inception’s team of dream hackers – yes, they’re only dream figments, but it’s still unsettling to see how casually they are first conjured, then eliminated throughout the film. Then there are the Robert Rodriguezes and Michael Bays of the world – true juveniles whose fascination with noisy, obnoxious destruction serves no constructive purpose and leaves no room for anything resembling a responsible or positive worldview. Sure, these directors are clearly invested in providing escapism, not contemplation, but is this really the kind of escapism people want? Are they really so eager to lose themselves in films that are so sorely lacking in conscience?
And really, that’s what it boils down to for me. I’m just so weary and tired of filmmaking that lacks a conscience, and utilizes death so thoughtlessly and frequently, positioning it as the ideal way to resolve conflict. Just to get away from the nastiness and cynicism that saturates so much of film culture, I have been taking more comfort in filmmakers who in fact don’t feel they need to rely on screen violence to tell interesting stories in interesting ways, and I feel so much better for it. They have meaningful things to say about the world that are grounded in easily relatable experiences and come across as so much more positive and compassionate than the majority of the messages I’d be likely to find in a heavily violent film. Along these lines, I’m specifically thinking of filmmakers like Jean Renoir, the humanist par excellence; Jacques Tati, the gentle clown of French cinema; and François Truffaut, whose relatively rare uses of violence in his films often, significantly, come across as rather clumsy – sometimes to great effect, as in Shoot the Piano Player; sometimes to poor effect, as in The Bride Wore Black. In any case, he is better remembered for sunnier, stronger films like Stolen Kisses, Day For Night, The Wild Child, and Small Change. More recent efforts from Asian cinema have created an interesting dichotomy: while Park Chan-wook has been lavished with praise for his prettily framed studies of violence and its harmful consequences right up to Stoker, others like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Hirokazu Kore-eda have been at work making some of the most peaceful and light-hearted films you could hope to find. If there is a cinematic father figure for these modern masters, it is surely Yasujiro Ozu, whose calm, orderly family dramas say so much without resorting to outlandish scenarios – indeed, they hardly ever leave the households, office buildings, bars, and train platforms of a bygone – yet still familiar – Tokyo. A number of his contemporaries in the Japanese film industry – Hiroshi Shimizu, Mikio Naruse – likewise remained quite content with the stuff of everyday life. As for Akira Kurosawa, while he is well known for creating some of the most striking scenes of violence in all of cinema, one need only think of films like Rashomon, Seven Samurai, or Ran to understand that Kurosawa’s violence is nearly always in service to his critiques of mankind’s stupidity and savagery. Kurosawa did not use violence lightly, and made sure to put it to some constructive purpose in his films.
Kurosawa was another big gateway filmmaker for me, but these days I’m more likely to turn to Ozu. It’s not that I have lost sight of Kurosawa’s greatness, nor have I grown scared of or extra-sensitive to screen violence – hell, if anything, I’ve developed a pretty high tolerance level of all manner of movie gore. But that’s part of the point I’m making here – how did it reach that point where I and so many other viewers are unshaken by the carnage we see in so many films? How wide is the disconnect between the seemingly harmless, fantastical violence of the movies and the real thing? I’m not passing any judgments on anyone’s tastes, nor am I saying that I’m done with violent films forever. I’d just like to take a bit of a break and lessen my intake of violent cinema for a bit – and why not? The way I see it, having more playful, compassionate, and conscientious films in my viewing intake can only be a good thing.
Yet while this is a personal choice in the way I watch and think about film, it would be interesting to see more filmmakers follow this route as well – to see them challenge themselves by turning away from violence and murder and towards more relatable and commonplace subject matter for their stories. There is a delightful documentary tribute to Ozu called Talking with Ozu (available on the Criterion edition of Tokyo Story as well as on Youtube in separate parts) in which such filmmakers as Hou, Claire Denis, Wim Wenders, and Lindsay Anderson share their personal connections to the Japanese master. In it, Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki offers up his words of gratitude and affection, at one point voicing his admiration for Ozu’s aversion to violence: “What I respect most is that Ozu never needed to use murder or violence to tell everything that’s essential about human life.” While he admits in his typically self-deprecating manner that he will never reach Ozu’s level, Kaurismäki can rest easy: a deeply conscientious filmmaker in his own right, he rarely resorts to violence, and only ever lets it play a small part in his nourishing humanist tales. 


But what about other filmmakers? Are there any who would be willing to take up the Ozu challenge and ease off of the bloodshed in their own films? Pedro Costa voices a similar wish at the end of a recent interview for’s Notebook in which he imagines a version of David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo devoid of any violence: “Let’s avoid every single murder, killing, weapon. That’s the challenge.” It’s challenges in cinematic storytelling like that that I’d be very happy to see more of. After all, there’s something to be said for the filmmaker whose idea of an essential prop is a red teapot rather than a human skull.

Yasujiro Ozu's Equinox Flower

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Early 2013 Activity: Rotterdam, Picks of 2012, RIP Donald Richie, Shinsedai

Hello all. I come to you today with a gathering of pieces, most of which I wrote, that have been recently posted:

· My report on the 42nd International Film Festival Rotterdam, which I attended in January and February, has just been posted in Senses of Cinema's 66th issue. In it, I talk about a healthy portion of the films I saw, from The Master, Stoker, and the Kaurismäki-Costa-Erice-de Oliveira-directed omnibus film Centro Histórico to such pleasant surprises as Manuela Morgaine's Foudre, Carlos Lechuga's Melaza, Alex Pitstra's Die Welt, Sebastián Hofmann's Halley, and Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus.

Sebastián Hofmann's Halley
Anand Gandhi's Ship of Theseus
Aki Kaurismäki's segment from Centro Histórico

· I was kindly invited to join a few of my other colleagues in Japanese cinema studies, including Chris MaGee and Julian Ross, in sharing my thoughts on the passing of Donald Richie, who was truly legendary for his contributions to writing on Japanese film and culture. Click here to view the group obit.

· The 2013 edition of the Shinsedai Cinema Festival, which has been showcasing independent Japanese films in Toronto every summer for the past four years, and which I have been personally involved with for just as long, has been officially cancelled due to a shortage of funds and sponsors. Read the announcement from Chris, the festival director, here.

· Finally, at both Senses of Cinema and Midnight Eye, I listed and wrote about my favourite films of 2012.

Thanks for reading - and happy first day of spring!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book Plug: Directory of World Cinema: France

Hello all. Today, I'd just like to mention another film book project I've contributed to that will be arriving in bookstores shortly*: the Directory of World Cinema: France, edited by Tim Palmer and Charlie Michael. This is the latest in Intellect Books' Directory of World Cinema series, which consists of volumes of essays and reviews that cover cinema from countries as diverse as Italy, Spain, Finland, Germany, Iran, China, and the USA (I have previously contributed to the Japan and Japan 2 volumes, and will have an essay on Hirokazu Kore-eda in the upcoming Japan 3 - all of which edited by John Berra).

This volume provides a pretty far-ranging look at the rich body of work that makes up French cinema. With chapters that cover such areas as horror, comedy, the avant-garde, and documentaries and reviews tackling films as diverse as Last Year at Marienbad, Port of Shadows, Rififi, Amélie, The 400 Blows, The Beaches of Agnès, Zero for Conduct, and Un Chien Andalou, lots of ground is covered while room is still left for future volumes to explore.


As for my contributions, I wrote the framing essay on the chapter that tackles one of French cinema's most well-known phenomena, the French New Wave, as well as the effects that it had on the French film industry. I also wrote three of the book's film reviews - the ones covering Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A Very Long Engagement, François Truffaut's The Last Metro, and Jacques Tati's Play Time, all films that are very close to my heart.

All in all, I'm very happy with how the book turned out, and I'm extremely thankful and flattered that Tim and Charlie included me in the project. Thanks guys, and for any film folk who choose to pick up the book, thank you as well and happy reading.

* lists the release date as April 15th, and pegs the release a little earlier on April 3rd.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bryan Dickie Photography

Hello all. In this post, I'd like to shed some light on another friend of mine - one whom I haven't seen since our high school days, save for some random meetings here and there (the last one far too briefly taking place on a GO train between Toronto and Oakville). Over the past few years, Bryan Dickie slipped off my radar, and for a time I didn't really know what he was up to.

Well, now I do, and it seems he has been quite busy not only travelling the world with his camera, but venturing into some of the most incredible, harrowing, and haunting places on the globe. A peek at his online portfolio provides a taste of his adventures as well as his formidable talents when it comes to capturing those perfect observational moments within the blur of everyday life. Among the topics he has covered are the Karen ethnic group's ongoing fight against the Myanmar military regime's agenda of abuse and eradication (which Bryan addressed in a story for VICE Canada), the small Asian nation's steady crawl towards democracy, the Arctic Ocean's shrinking quantities of ice, the Inuit community of Pond Inlet, and the turbulent, Toronto-situated G20 summit of June 2010 marked by its overblown police presence and the destruction dealt out to businesses and property.

Bryan has some truly fantastic work to show for all of his globetrotting, and it is clear that he has both the skill and the sheer guts to venture into and document those far-flung places that many of us (definitely including myself) wouldn't dare to tread. I very much look forward to seeing where his adventurous spirit will take him next.

I wholeheartedly recommend everyone check out Bryan and his photography at:

· His main website, where a healthy selection of his photo essays can be found
· His Tumblr blog
· His Twitter account, @Dickiephoto

To close out this post, have a gander at this short trailer for his work:

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"MOTE" - A New Film from Chris MaGee

Hello all. A short while ago, I posted about NOXLUX, an experimental film my buddy Chris MaGee created. Since then, he has been busy tinkering with fresh ideas for other works. He has released a second film, MOTE, which you can view below, and currently has a third one in the works. Personally, I'm really enjoying these small, soothing films, and it's always a pleasant surprise to see what Chris has come up with.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Marc's Reads of 2012

Hello all. In this most recent post, I wanted to list the books I read throughout 2012. While I attempted to fulfill my personal "50 Book Pledge," I sadly still came up woefully short at just twenty-four - an improvement over 2011's seventeen, but I still could have picked up the pace a bit with my reading habits. Still, the past year in books was a very enjoyable one for me, as I kept hitting one satisfying volume after the next (I love it when you hit a chain of good reads like that) - overall, a fantastic selection of talented authors and compelling subjects.

Since so many of my reading experiences this year were positive ones, I thought I'd present them here not in any ordered list, but instead in special categories that both compliment the books themselves and illuminate some of the thematic and stylistic similarities certain books shared with each other.

So, without further ado...

Peering Across History and Lifetimes
· The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa
· Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky
· Touch by Alexi Zentner
· The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Worthwhile Rereads
· A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
· A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Film Books
· Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer
· Robert Bresson (Revised) edited by James Quandt
· Olivier Assayas edited by Kent Jones

*For a more detailed write-up on these film books, head over to my guest post at Toronto Film Review.

Most Disappointing Film Book
· Jean Renoir: Projections of Paradise by Ronald Bergan

Japanese Literature
· Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima
· 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (read my capsule review at

Existential Literature
· Point Omega by Don DeLillo

· The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton
· The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home by Pico Iyer

D.H. Lawrence 101
· Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
· Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Literary Paris
· The Emperor of Paris by C.S. Richardson
· The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola

Ecstatic Wordcraft
· Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem
· Lisey's Story by Stephen King
· Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon (read my capsule review at

Most Life-Affirming
· Looking for Alaska by John Green
· The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Experimental Film by Chris MaGee

One of the highlights of my final year as an undergrad at the University of Toronto was Professor Bart Testa's course on avant-garde and experimental cinema. Every week, he would take us a few steps further into a strange yet incredible realm of cinema that felt rich with possibility and imagination. Sure, I loved my Truffaut, Bergman, Fellini, and Wong (I still do), but those artists who decided to leave the frameworks of narrative behind completely did things that seemed to really dig into the true capabilities of cinema, taking their viewers to remarkable places where the contrivances of character and plot would only get in the way of the pure psychological experiences they achieved.

Sadly, in recent years I've somewhat neglected to keep exploring avant-garde cinema as I had promised myself I would do after finishing Professor Testa's course, but last night I saw a film that made me want to catch up on my Brakhage, Baillie, Anger, and Frampton. Entitled NOXLUX, it is a ten minute-long minimalist piece that slowly, mesmerizingly shifts from one pattern to the next, all of which viewed through a vertically striped frame that, as the image swells and flows, plays strange tricks on the eyes not unlike those old 3D posters we all had as kids. The film was made by none other than my good friend Chris MaGee, editor-in-chief of the Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow and programmer of the Shinsedai Cinema Festival. I think he has made something pretty cool here - not to mention refreshingly different from his other substantial pursuits in the world of film - and I really hope he continues to forge ahead in this new direction.

For now, though, you can enjoy the film below - which, I'd recommend, works best with the video switched to full screen, the lights turned off, and the headphones on. Settle in and enjoy...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

November / December 2012 Activity

Hello all. In this post, I thought I'd bring you up to date on my recent goings-on in film writing. Firstly, a few months ago I announced the start of a new column over at Row Three called Cinephilia Française that, I'll freely admit, has recently been somewhat dormant. This is due to a few things, namely my family's move away from the Greater Toronto Area and the emergence of some new writing projects. Right now, between those new projects, related travel plans for 2013, and a readjustment of a few personal goals of mine for the new year, I'm thinking that French film column may continue to remain dormant - sorry if I got anyone's hopes up. I'll still certainly be writing about and maintaining my interest in French cinema; just not in the form of that weekly column.

Now, as for what I have been up to recently:

· Issue 65 of Senses of Cinema is now online. Among the impressive selection of fresh pieces on filmmakers like Michael Haneke, Marcel Hanoun, Nicolas Rey, James Gray, and the late Koji Wakamatsu, there is my essay on one of my favourite films, Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, written in honor of its thirtieth anniversary (it was first released theatrically in Sweden on December 17th, 1982). Now's probably the best time of the year to revisit this fantastic masterpiece (which boasts one of the best Christmas sequences ever filmed) - I know I'll be re-watching it within the week.

· Over at my friend David Davidson's blog Toronto Film Review, I talk about the film books I read this past year, including James Quandt's impressive Robert Bresson (Revised).

· At Row Three, I posted my dream triple bill of European arthouse classics dedicated to the Nazi Occupation of Italy and France.

· Finally, I've been busy tending to some other business for Senses of Cinema: come January and February, I will be traveling to the Netherlands to cover for them the 42nd International Film Festival Rotterdam. I'm pretty excited about both the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands for the first time and the festival itself, which has a great reputation. Stay tuned for my report after the festival, which should be included in the journal's first issue of the new year.

Until then, cheers and happy holidays!