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Film review: Side by Side and Killing Them Softly

Documentary outlines 30 years of digital film making
The documentary Side By Side takes a look at the last 30 years of digital filmaking.

Lights! Camera! Controversy!


At the beginning of the Side By Side documentary, Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan defiantly declares: “I’m not going to trade in my oil paints for a set of crayons.” He’s announcing his preference for celluloid over digital, and his is the first of many passionate voices to be heard in the debate about which is the better recording medium for making movies. If you come up to Cinecenta to see this fascinating film, you’ll be watching it on a digital projection system – further proof that digital is quickly erasing a beloved technology that had remained mostly unchanged for a century.

Side outlines the 30-year history of digital filmmaking, starting from the technically crass images of the first Star Wars movies on through to the newest generation of digital cameras. These small, feather-light beauties have inspired creativity at the same time as delivering performance nearly equal to that of celluloid. (The 2009 Oscars were a watershed moment for digital when Slumdog Millionaire won for best cinematography.)

But there is still a lot to debate. Digital technology requires its users to be both artists and technicians. And the cheapness of shooting on digital has radically altered both the craft and the rhythm of filmmaking – and not always for the better, in some people’s eyes. We get a few dozen talking heads making informed and provocative comments here: directors such as Martin Scorsese, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, and Danny Boyle along side legendary cinematographers Vittorio Storaro and Michael Ballhaus.

Digital has become its own aesthetic and seems poised to consign celluloid to the museum of dead technology. But in a final irony, celluloid is also an archival system. There are hundreds of different digital formats and many are already moribund: the data exists in limbo, with no way to read it. Could it be that celluloid will be the best way to preserve this year’s Oscar winners for posterity?

Side by Side ★★★½

Directed by Christopher Kenneally

Starring James Cameron, Dion Beebe

NR - 90 minutes • Plays Wed. and Thurs.

Dec. 12 and 13 at UVic’s Cinecenta

Mobsters, Inc.

From The Godfather to Goodfellas, gangster flicks are a major Hollywood export. The newest is Killing Them Softly, a mobbed-up movie so desperate to get noticed that it combines shocking levels of violence and sleaze with a heavy-handed “message” that gangsters fit ever-so-neatly into the paradigm of American capitalism. It’s not exactly a new insight, but writer-director Andres Dominik excitedly beats the audience over the head with it – in between killing off an assortment of on-screen losers.

The plot involves two incredibly scuzzy lowlifes who foolishly knock over a Mob-protected poker game. Enter a low-key hitman named Jackie (Brad Pitt), flown in to restore confidence in the Mob’s local brand. Jackie combines the long-range vision of a CEO with a complete lack of compunction about murder. He quickly realizes that the local hood (Ray Liotta) who ran the card game needs to be killed even though he’s innocent – it’s all about image, and local criminal enterprises need to feel confident. And that vicious execution is just a prelude to turning the real thieves into dog food.

Enter, a bit implausibly, a second hitman named Mickey (James Gandolfini), a washed-up drunk roiling with ego, self-pity, and a hatred of women. It’s an impressive bit of character acting, but you’ll feel like getting deloused after 10 minutes with this creep. Mickey further complicates the plot, mostly to allow director Dominik to further belabour the insight that, as Jackie puts it at the end of the film, “America’s not a country, it’s just a business.” M


Killing Them Softly ★★½

Directed by Andrew Dominik

Starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini

R - 100 minutes

Continues at the Capitol and SilverCity




Victoria Film Listings Dec. 6-12




PLAYING FOR KEEPS -(Capitol/SilverCity) Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel star in a romcom about a faded sports star who is attempting to get his life back together while coaching his son's soccer team. And suddenly, all those perky soccer moms are messing with his head. Poor man! Starts Fri.

★★ THE MASTER -(Caprice) The latest from Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia) stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as the charismatic leader of a cult religion who has an intense relationship with an emotionally damaged man (Joaquin Phoenix). Despite powerful performances and a lush filming style, this drama is a dull and very disappointing misstep from a great director. Starts Fri.

★★★½ FRANKENWEENIE -(Caprice) Tim Burton, master of the amusingly morbid, is in fine form in this darkly droll animated tale of a boy who uses lightning to bring his beloved pooch back from the dead. Not surprisingly, there are unexpected consequences. Starts Fri.


★★★ ANNA KARENINA -(Odeon) English director Joe Wright reunites with Keira Knightley (Pride and Prejudice) to present a glossy and intriguingly stylized version of Tolstoy's classic tale of doomed, adulterous love affair set amidst the aristocracy of 1870s Russia. With Jude Law and Emily Watson.

★★★½ ARGO -(SilverCity/Caprice) Despite some liberties taken with the facts, this account of a CIA agent who managed to smuggle six Americans to safety from Iran during the famed 1979-'80 hostage crisis is surprisingly even-handed, very suspenseful and truly entertaining. Directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

★★½ CLOUD ATLAS -(Odeon/Caprice) German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) combines forces with Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix) to take us on an exotic, wildly ambitious trip as characters lead parallel and contrasting lives in six different storylines in the past, present, and future. Starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Hugh Grant.

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: DOG DAYS -(Caprice) Greg is totally ready for summer when suddenly his plans all fall apart. What's the poor guy gonna do now?

★★★ FLIGHT -(Odeon/SilverCity) Denzel Washington is excellent in a morally complex drama about a heroic pilot who "impossibly" saves an airliner from certain destruction, only to find himself in a world of trouble for unexpected reasons.

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA -(Caprice) A hotel where vampires and sundry other monsters hide out from humans gets a big scare when a backpacking dude shows up looking for a room. This animated comedy features the voices of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and Andy Samberg.

★★½ KILLING THEM SOFTLY -(Capitol/SilverCity) Brad Pitt plays a hitman who gets called in after some dumb guys rob a Mob-protected card game and an example has to be made. Co-starring Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, and James Gandolfini. Despite some fine performances, this is a nasty and overly violent film with a very heavy-handed "message" about how gangsters are just another variant of American business. See review.

★★★½ LIFE OF PI -(Odeon/SilverCity) Oscar winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) helms this visually gorgeous adaptation of Yann Martel's magical and spiritual novel about a young man's epic adventures while lost at sea -- most of which are shared with a terrifying Bengal tiger.

★★★★ LINCOLN -(Odeon) Stephen Spielberg directs award-winning playwright Tony (Angels in America) Kushner's account of Abraham Lincoln's darkest days as he fights the Civil War and also fights political battles in his cabinet over plans to free America's black slaves. The superb cast includes Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field.

★★★½ LOOPER -(Caprice) This trippy, noir-tinged sci-fi thriller is a stylish mash-up of hitmen and time travel. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush), Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.

★★½ MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN -(Odeon) Deepa Mehta (Water) directs a competent but less-than-engaging adaptation of Salman Rushdie's award-winning novel, a sprawling and epic account of 60 years of recent East Indian history.

★★ RED DAWN -(SilverCity/Westshore) In the 1984 original, Soviet soldiers invade a mid-western town and its up to the teen militia to kick ass. In this even loonier remake, the good guys are the local footabll team, North Koreans are the invaders, and their target is . . . Spokane! Silly, jingoist nonsense, but should entertain the hard of thinking.

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS -(Capitol/SilverCity/Westshore) Jack Frost, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and other magical icons come together to save the Earth after it is targeted by a very evil spirit named Pitch. This animated lark is voiced by Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin.

★★★★ SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN -(Capitol) This musical documentary, a big Sundance winner, features the incredible quest of two South African men to discover whatever happened to a Bob Dylan-style troubadour from the early '70s who never amounted to anything in his native America but became a huge superstar -- and revolutionary influence -- in South Africa at the height of the Apartheid era.

★★★½ THE SESSIONS -(Odeon) Deservedly rave reviews have greeted this frank and funny account of a man in an iron lung who who wants to lose his viriginity and decides to have several sessions with a sex surrogate. At heart, this is a surprisingly tender look at sexuality, and a moving love story. Starring John Hawkes, William H. Macy, and Helen Hunt. Based on a true story.

★★★ SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK -(Odeon) A bi-polar man (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) is trying to put his life -- and his marriage -- back together when he meets a fascinating woman (Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games) with problems of her own. This quirky romantic comedy is directed by David O. Russell (Three Kings, The Fighter).

★★★★ SKYFALL -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) The latest James Bond spy thriller features cool gadgets, exotic locales . . . and a villain with a vendetta against poor old M. Easily one of the best Bonds ever, this has all the usual thrills but also an elegiacal tone and some unexpected drama that will leave the audience shaken and stirred. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, and Ralph Fiennes.

★★½ TAKEN 2 -(Caprice) Liam Neeson reprises his role as a retired CIA tough guy who has to use his nastiest skills when his wife gets kidnapped by the vengeful father of the goon that Neeson killed in the last movie. Well-directed if rather soulless action porn that benefits from its Istanbul setting.

★★½ TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PART 2 -(Capitol/SilverCity/Uni 4/Westshore) This most underwhelming vampire-werewolf soap opera finally comes to an end. The good news, such as it is, is that this is the best of a lame series, mostly because droopy emo-girl Bella has now transformed into a kick-ass vampire.

★★★ WRECK­–IT RALPH -(SilverCity/Westshore) John C. Reilly provides the voice for a video-game villain who tires of being a bad guy and sets out on a quest that throws an entire video arcade into chaos. This occasionally-inspired animation lark includes the voices of Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch.


Leaving Thurs.

★★½ PITCH PERFECT -(Caprice)





AIR RACERS -(1 pm, 5 pm & 8 pm, Sun.-Wed.) Paul Walker narrates this pulse-pounding documentary about the world's fastest race, as amazingly nimble planes negotiate a tricky course at 500 MPH.

HUBBLE -(10 am, Mon. Dec. 10 only)

THE LAST REEF: BENEATH THE SEA -(11 am, 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm [but not on Dec. 10])

MYSTERIES OF EGYPT -(10 am, Fri.-Thurs. [but not Dec. 10], & 3 pm daily)

★★½ POLAR EXPRESS -(7 pm, Fri.-Sat.)

TO THE ARCTIC -(noon, & 7 pm -- Sun. & Tues.-Thurs.)




MOVIE MONDAY - Is screening Smokin' Fish Movie, a wry and appealing story of a Tlingit businessman in Alaska who mixes traditional and new ways as he smokes salmon at his family's fish camp while trying to pay his bills and keep the IRS off his back. By donation. 6:30pm MONDAY in the 1900-block Fort. 595FLIC.

NOTE: -There is a second screening of Fish on TUESDAY, 6:30 pm, at the Victoria Friendship Centre, 231 Regina Ave.

OPEN CINEMA -is screening Occupy Love.  This latest award-winning documentary from progressive director Velcrow Ripper riffs on everything from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement as it analyzes the recent global impulse towards increased democracy, activism, and equality. WEDNESDAY, 7 pm, Victoria Event Centre, 1415 Broad Street.

AWARENESS FILM NIGHT -screens Genetic Roulette, the latest doc from the author of Seeds of Destruction. This film explores the serious health threats posed by genetically engineered foods, as well as the bullying and deceit of the biotech industry. WEDNESDAY, Dec. 12, 7 pm, at Edward Milne Community School theatre, 6218 Sooke Road.




Cinecenta at UVic screens its films in the Student Union Building. Info: 721-8365.

may i be frank? -(Wed.-Thurs., Dec. 5-6: 7:30 only) This remarkable documentary about personal transformation depicts how a morbidly obese man with Hep C hooked up with good samaritans at a vegan/raw food restaurant and, with lots of encouragement and his own will power, was able to totally change his life. The slim new Frank will be in attendance!

★★★½ LOOPER -(Fri.-Sat., Dec. 7-8: 7:00, 9:20) This trippy, noir-tinged sci-fi thriller is a stylish mash-up of hitmen and time travel. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Premium Rush), Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.

★★½ SAMSARA -(Sun.-Mon., Dec. 9-10: 7:00, 9:00) This exotic, award-winning documentary spans five continents as it visits sacred spots, diaster zones, natural wonders, and industrial complexes -- all the geographic marvels and contradictions of our planet.

★★★ THE BIRDS -(Tues., Dec. 11: 7:00, 9:15) I'm not a huge fan, but there's no denying that this "nature runs amok" thriller by Alfred Hitchcock has moments of real terror (and was ahead of its time).

★★★½ SIDE BY SIDE -(Wed.-Thurs., Dec. 12-13: 7:00, 9:00) You don't have to be a film nerd to be fascinated by this documentary examining the aesthetics -- and conflicts -- as moviemmaking makes a paradigm shift from celluloid to digital. With great pro-and-con commentary from the likes of Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan, and many other master directors and cinematographers. See review.