Escape To Canada
The Disinformation Company Ltd.
Who'd have thought that Canada, the clean, quiet neighbor to the north of the motherfuckin' U.S. of A. — the only country in the world that totally knows how to kick serious ass and do everything right — who'd have thought that sweet little Canada had so much going for it?
Legalized marijuana? Same-sex marriage? No thanks to the war in Iraq? A haven for American war refugees? Check, check and double check. Oh, yes, the land of beavers, lumberjacks and bad SCTV sketches about hosers is actually a progressive country abundant in personal freedom, which is the premise of this compelling doc by director Albert Nerenberg.
The piece begins seemingly as more of a mockumentary, with found footage of beavers and Mounties and various man-on-the-street interviewees standing slack-jawed when asked what they think of Canada. Things take a serious turn as Nerenberg digs into the issues of same-sex marriage and legal weed, the two main tent poles of his film (the two were legalized within weeks of each another in 2003).
It all points to Canada being well, cool. A lot cooler than its increasingly conservative southern neighbor, but, as the doc points out, it couldn't last forever. The loophole marijuana law was tightened, the gay marriage ruling faced the country's newly elected conservative government, and many Americans looking for Canadian citizenship have been shut down.
What happened? Did the country bow to pressure from the United States? Stateside powers certainly had a hand in clamping down on the freewheeling good times. In short, while not all the talking heads are supremely convincing (especially the stoned ones), Escape raises thought-provoking points and is well worth the trip. —Peter Gilstrap
Dream Works Home Entertainment
Not many sci-fi flicks can rival the visual smorgasbord of Japanese director Kazuaki Kiriya's Casshern. His postapocalyptic landscape's a stunning blend of live action and CGI that borrows imagery from pulp novel covers — sort of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow meets Blade Runner. As if the surreal visuals weren't enough, Casshern bursts with quick-jump sequences as if Michael "Summer Action Blockbuster" Bay were an on-set consultant.
But this isn't one of those flicks where you can simply switch off your brain. Uncomfortably squished between 117 minutes of ocular acrobatics is a plot that's as confounding as it is Shakespearean. Points of interest include a 50-year war that has left the world in ruins, a genetic scientist who accidentally creates a race of super-powered "neo-humans," a prophecy that predicts the coming of a "guardian of spirit and humanity" as well as a dead soldier who's brought back to life and becomes the aforementioned guardian — called Casshern. It all sounds a bit corny, sure. But there's deeper psychological stuff, lots of familial drama, oodles of social commentary as well as some confusing political sub-plots. (Yes, the film soars to hysterical levels of operatic storytelling.) Casshern's message isn't much different from the sci-fi flicks of decades past — technology is to be feared, our world is heading for the crapper, make love not war, blah, blah, blah. Thankfully it's told with an epic-style grandeur that must be seen to be believed. —Paul Knoll
I Am Cuba: The Ultimate Edition
This 43-year-old, black-and-white, subtitled, socialist-propagandizing curiosity is a totalizing account of prerevolutionary Cuba and the Castro uprising. It envelops the viewer like few films before or since — the filmmakers hoped to create a new cinematic language but only forged an anomalous footnote in film history. With footage captured by a customized handheld camera that seemed to defy physical laws, not to mention the prevailing technology of the time, I Am Cuba's images are at once devastating and beautiful, the acrobatic, never-ending verses comprising an agitprop poem.
The movie has always been one of the great feathers in the cap of Milestone, and the small distributor went all-out in its belated DVD release, from the supplements to the packaging. The box art is fashioned after a cigar box, and three discs plus a booklet provide in-depth analysis of the film's production.
First, there's the movie itself: A high-def transfer from the original 35mm fine-grain master, this edition's enhanced subtitles are a positive improvement, providing clarity for what little dialogue is actually spoken. When I Am Cuba debuted at New York's Film Forum 30 years after it was made, it played without subtitles, which apparently did nothing to dilute the experience. The movie is a quintessential example of dazzling wizardry prioritized over content and story. You don't need to be Cuban or speak Spanish — most of the film crew were Russian, hot off the success of the Soviet classic The Cranes Are Flying — to understand the universal conflicts that are played out as a series of autonomous vignettes.
We open during Batista's regime, with shots of a nightclub populated by bourgeois American tourists juxtaposed with Cuba's lower-class laborers. A woman bridges the class gap, working miserably as a prostitute for wealthy Americans under the nose of her poor but jovial fruit-seller husband. Capitalist encroachment is given an even harsher treatment in the next segment, when a peasant farmer is steamrolled out of his land and home by a private entity; he decides to torch it. Next, we confront the activist student movement that has had enough of Batista. But when the government realizes they've been spreading pro-Castro propaganda, the students face certain death or imprisonment at the hands of riot squads. Finally, we see firsthand how a peaceful peasant is transformed into a gun-wielding revolutionary guerrilla after his land is bombed.
No plot description could do justice to the film's staggering visual canvas. Many films are notable for having one or two bravura long takes — The Player, Goodfellas, The Passenger — but I Am Cuba has countless. Director Mikhail Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky shot nearly every sequence in one take, making it impossible for their labor of love to be diced apart on an editor's whims.
The film obviously has an ideology. It's a blueprint for a revolution, with Castro representing less a person than a state of mind, a philosophy to live and die by. This is why, as a co-production by not one but two socialist-communist nations, it was never shown in America until the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Milestone Films, along with Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, fervent admirers of the movie who agreed to put their names on the picture, revitalized it in 1995.
Scorsese provides a new 26-minute "introduction" to the film that makes for the best supplement in the collection. He is expectedly passionate and articulate about the subject, touching on his personal relationship to the movie and its ability to inspire future filmmakers from a technical standpoint.
The set also includes Vicente Ferraz's informative and even amusing 2005 documentary, The Siberian Mammoth, which revisits the production of I Am Cuba and talks to many of the still-living principal figures. The only weak link is the 2006 documentary A Film About Mikhail Kalatozov, which doesn't reveal much about the underrated director aside from gushing sound bites from his obsequious admirers intercut with film clips.
Any film that can blow Scorsese's mind (surely not an easy thing to do) is an experience cinephiles owe themselves. This "Ultimate Edition" is the best available format to discover what will become one of your favorite movies. —John Thomason
In Between Days
The first narrative feature from South Korean émigré So Yong Kim, In Between Days is an endearing movie about youth. Set in the Korean community of an unnamed North American city, the film quietly studies the relationship between two platonic friends (Jiseon Kim and nonactor Taegu Andy Kang) and their awkward sexual awakenings. They idly flirt with potential rivals while trying to ignore the omnipresent sexual tension between them, leaving their relationship and the movie's narrative, like life, messily unresolved. Thanks to Kim's patient direction, there's a lot said in the movie's unspoken conversation gaps, creating a vérité sense of authentic discomfort. The frosty winter settings and general feeling of outsider malaise that Jiseon Kim's Aimie finds in her largely English-speaking peers add more texture to this remarkable mood piece. Akin to Unknown Pleasures, another profound youth film Kim mentions as an influence in the supplementary interview, In Between Days is a wise and beautiful study of yearning and repression. —John Thomason