Rent It: Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” is an even richer experience on DVD

dvdka_300dpi

A few months ago, I discussed Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” and after having the chance to re-watch the film on DVD (Lionsgate), I stand by my initial declaration: It’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

In fact, watching it again made for an even richer experience. Once one knows the “truth” — of Polley’s parentage, and about her filmmaking style — it is a bit easier to focus on what is actually being said, shown, and shared.

Here is what I said after seeing the film in July:

“I can say with some certainty that ‘Stories We Tell’ is the best film I’ve seen in 2013, and, I think, one of the finest works about family and memory in recent years.

“Yet it’s a difficult film to discuss, as every detail seems like a spoiler. I noticed, in the time between the film’s TIFF 2012 premiere and my seeing it, that almost every review or piece about the film referenced ‘spoilers’ or included a ‘spoiler alert.’ I found that rather obnoxious, but now I see why that was so important.

“I think it’s imperative that one enter ‘Stories We Tell’ cold — spoiler-free, if you will. But I say that not only because of the film’s central ‘secret,’ which is alluded to in the film’s trailer, but because of … the rest of it. There was a moment that left me confused, breathless, and exhilarated, and that is the feeling that has lingered for me. Even discussing what Polley is actually up to here as a storyteller feels like a reveal.”

That is all true, undoubtedly. But I hate to focus too much on “the secret.” There is so much more to the film than that, truly.

Sheila O’Malley wrote an insightful review of the film for RogerEbert.com that summarizes what I love so much about it:

“Life is messy and Diane Polley’s narrative is messy. Stories told again and again have a way of neatening things up. Stories have a way of ironing out the wrinkles. Polley lets the wrinkles remain. By the end of ‘Stories We Tell,’ I am left with the feeling that there’s still so much I don’t know about Diane Polley. And what a fitting eulogy that is.”

Indeed, the story does not feel finished; how could it? It will never end, really. Polley implies that statement with the film’s final scene, a return to one of her interview subjects. The individual finally says something we’ve all been waiting to hear, reminding us that assuming we are being told the truth is quite silly.

As O’Malley asks, “Can the truth ever actually be known about anything?”

It seems fitting to discuss “Stories We Tell” now, days before the start of the Toronto International Film Festival. I was mostly unaware of the film until I was in Toronto last year. As my weekend progressed, however, there was noticeable buzz: Sarah Polley’s film is a TIFF treasure. It took me almost a year to see it, but my goodness, it was worth the wait.

DVD art courtesy of Lionsgate

“Stories We Tell” is Sarah Polley’s Greatest Achievement Yet — and Perhaps the Year’s Best Film

STORIES-WE-TELL---SP-with-Super8cam-flatscreen

It has been a little over a week since I finally saw Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell,” the actor-director’s documentary exploration of her family and lineage, and I still cannot get it out of my head. That is not always a sign of greatness — there have been movies I couldn’t shake because of how awful they were — but it is this time.

I can say with some certainty that “Stories We Tell” is the best film I’ve seen in 2013, and, I think, one of the finest works about family and memory in recent years.

Yet it’s a difficult film to discuss, as every detail seems like a spoiler. I noticed, in the time between the film’s TIFF 2012 premiere and my seeing it, that almost every review or piece about the film referenced “spoilers” or included a “spoiler alert.” I found that rather obnoxious, but now I see why that was so important.

I think it’s imperative that one enter “Stories We Tell” cold — spoiler-free, if you will. But I say that not only because of the film’s central “secret,” which is alluded to in the film’s trailer, but because of … the rest of it. There was a moment that left me confused, breathless, and exhilarated, and that is the feeling that has lingered for me. Even discussing what Polley is actually up to here as a storyteller feels like a reveal.

Something I CAN discuss is Polley herself. Consider some of her acting resume — Atom Egoyan’s “Exotica” and “The Sweet Hereafter,” Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ,” not to mention “Last Night,” “Go,” “The Claim,” “My Life Without Me,” “Dawn of the Dead,” even “Splice,” which I despised — and then ponder her films as a director (“Away From Her,” “Take This Waltz,” “Stories”), and try to find another actor with that level of range, stylistic variety, and sheer ambition.

Personally, I have always found her unique, especially after her directorial debut, the emotional sucker-punch that was “Away From Her.” My experience with “Waltz,” however, was far different.

I saw the film at a critic’s screening on a weekend morning at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, and I was quite excited considering my love of “Away.” The movie started, and … I hated it. I mean, really, truly hated it. I did not buy it, I found the lead played by Michelle Williams to be obnoxious to the point of outrage, despised Seth Rogen’s character’s job (cookbook author), and about 45 minutes in felt I could not take any more.

So I left. It is easy to do at TIFF; generally, there is another movie across the hall. In this case, that movie was “Burning Man,” which I have called the worst film I ever sat at TIFF. Anyway …

Eight or nine months later, I noticed “Take This Waltz,” that received some real raves at TIFF, was airing on HDNet, a cable channel that often shows Magnolia Pictures’ films as “sneak previews.” (HDNet used to do this, at least; such films have disappeared from its schedule.)

I was determined to watch it again. Could I have been mistaken? Was I in a bad mood that morning? Was it possible I misread everything?

And so I did. And guess what? I was wrong. This time, I adored “Take This Waltz” — was gob-smacked by it. Things that I found obnoxious were still there, but they were obnoxious by design. The central character was a bit annoying, but annoying by design. And its central conflict — whether or not Margot would sleep with Daniel (Luke Kirby) — suddenly seemed remarkably profound.

There was also a scene I had missed by walking out — in my defense, I was not reviewing the film; obviously, if I had been, I would have stayed — that, to me, was one of the simplest, finest distillations of the rush of new love and its inevitable comedown ever.

It’s set in some kind of indoor carnival in Toronto, and Margot and Daniel laugh and hold on for dear life in a ride as “Video Killed the Radio Star” plays in the background. They are young, and in love, and life is beautiful, and then — boom. The ride stops, the music is gone, and harsh light fills the room. Beautiful.

Sarah Polley is, then, someone with real insight on love and life. Watching “Stories We Tell,” her finest creation to date, it is easy to see why.

The film comes to DVD etc. in September, and I urge you to see it — and to not read any reviews first.

 

Director Sarah Polley in a scene from “STORIES WE TELL.” Credit: Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Weekend Preview: Sarah Polley Explores Her Family’s “Stories” and Channing and Jamie Blow Stuff Up REAL Good

STORIES-WE-TELL---Iris-Ng-and-Sarah-Polley-ProdâÇÖn-shot

Walking out of “Godzilla” at Blasdell’s McKinley Mall cinema on May 20, 1998, I made a solemn vow: I would never again pay to see a movie directed by Roland Emmerich on the big screen. In the years that followed, I rented virtually every one of his films — “The Patriot,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “10,000 B.C.,” “2012,” even the interesting but dopey “Anonymous” — and found all but “10,000” a major improvement over the sinfully dreary “Godzilla.”

It is not that Emmerich is untalented, or his work offensive. He is simply irrelevant, anonymous. I give him credit for finding new ways to blow up Washington, but if one is seeking something new, he is not the man to look toward.

His latest, “White House Down,” looks like a preposterous blast, but I can guarantee I will not be racing to see it at the theater. Sure, I’ll rent the Channing Tatum-Jamie Foxx “Die Hard”-at-White-House romp, but if I’m going to pay my hard-earned cash, there are plenty of other options, such as …

“The Heat,” for one. For starters, it is directed by Paul Feig, the hilarious director of “Bridesmaids” and one of the minds behind the beloved “Freaks and Geeks.” Then there is the smart pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, one of the more novel buddy-cop duos in recent memory. The trailers look funny, and in a summer of weak-kneed comedy, this could prove a keeper.

In terms of box office, “White House Down” should have no trouble coming in at number one, although I would expect it to open below last week’s number two film, “World War Z.” “The Heat” should follow in the second spot, with “Monsters University” up next. It will be especially interesting to see if “Man of Steel” or “World War Z” slots in fourth. If it is “Z,” then the Brad Pitt-starrer, which opened with more money than expected, can safely be called a lasting success. (Let’s not discuss how much it cost.)

In the world of indies, there are two very different, very interesting films hitting WNY this weekend: Sarah Polley’s “Stories We Tell” and Ronald F. Maxwell’s “Copperhead.”

Polley, of course, is the fine actress who moved into directing with the stunning “Away From Her” and the flawed but wonderful “Take This Waltz,” a film I despised at TIFF and adored months later. “Stories We Tell,” which debuted in Toronto last September, is a documentary on her mother, and the rumors that surrounded her own birth. It has received a rapturous response, pretty much across the board, and qualifies as a must-see.

Here is a wonderful segment of a Guardian piece on Polley and her acclaimed film:

“Sarah grew up with a family joke that she did not look anything like her siblings. Where did the reddish hair come from? Her mother used to laugh about it. There were other things she did not share with her siblings either. ‘I am highly strung, neurotic about responsibility and punctuality. I am compulsively early –I get to airports three hours early.’ In the film she determines to find out whether the joke has substance, a quest that will eventually lead to a ‘sick feeling of responsibility and an enormous crushing guilt that laid me out for a few weeks. I got really, really ill. It took a friend to clarify for me that finding a story is not the same as creating one.’ George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.’ In the film, that is what Sarah does.”

Meanwhile, “Copperhead” is the latest Civil War drama from Maxwell, the director of the great “Gettysburg” and the longgg “Gods and Generals.” I have a very personal connection to “Gettysburg” — my father was one of many reenactors who participated in the making of the film, and he can be glimpsed onscreen — but even without that link, I’d call it a very good film, with one of Jeff Daniels’ best performances. I never caught up with the less well-received “Gods,” but “Copperhead” seems an interesting follow-up.

It tells a much less-well-known story from the war between the states, focusing on opposition to the war in an upstate New York town. The cast includes “The Rocketeer” himself, Billy Campbell (who replaced Jason Patric during filming” and Peter Fonda, and it is worth noting that the film’s screenwriter, Bill Kauffman, is a Batavia, New York, native. (Incidentally, I wrote a piece on Civil War films that touches on “Coppherhead” for The Film Stage.)

One other note on “Copperhead”: Kauffman is set for a Q-and-A after screenings of the film this weekend.

Also opening this week, at the Elmwood Regal, is “Raanjhanaa,” a new Indian romantic drama that I must admit I am unfamiliar with. (Here is a Hollywood Reporter review.)

The Screening Room is once again showing Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday; it is again followed at 9:20 on Saturday with the noir classic “D.O.A.”

Bacchus takes a few weeks off, returning with “Anchorman” on July 10, while the UB North Campus shows “Despicable Me” on Friday and “Forrest Gump” on Tuesday (July 2), both at 9:15, and the UB South Campus offers my friend Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day” on Wednesday (July 3).

Coming down the pike is “Despicable Me 2,” which I reviewed for the Buffalo News — look for it next Thursday— and Johnny Depp’s wow-this-looks-unappealing “The Lone Ranger.” Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go ponder why “The Bling Ring” is already disappearing from Buffalo screens …
Photo: Director of Cinematography Iris Ng (left) with Director Sarah Polley (right) in STORIES WE TELL. Credit: Ken Worone.