Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 4

Yesterday’s first film was Jacques Doillon’s Le Mariage À Trois (The Three-Way Wedding) a terrific if complex story about love, lust, marriage, self-absorption and the acting trade, and what Woody Allen once said “the heart wants what it wants.” Or does it? This story has stage written all over it. But it doesn’t matter because, with a twist on Shakespeare’s words, “the story’s the thing”.....Next Taxiphone (d. Mohammed Soudani, Switzerland). Mona Petri is the best thing about this road movie set in the desert wastes of southern Algeria. This extraordinarily photogenic and expressive actress has natural written all over her. Unfortunately the rest of the movie, despite its exotic location, tends to be a series of tedious little scenes. We can just imagine how all these have been set up as the director says, “now for this one you go here and for the next one you go there”.....Next film: Run if You Can, from Germany’s Dietrich Brüggemann, a demolish-the-cliches piece about the disabled. Robert Gwisdek as Ben is at turns a funny, arrogant, bullying and angry paraplegic who slowly falls in love with Annika (Anna Brüggemann) who has her own issues as an aspiring classical cellist. Good performances and a strong story from usually reliable German cinema.....Next, Miss Mouche (Bernard Halut from Belgium). This is a searing portrayal of middle class shallowness and hypocrisy told from the videos captured on her cell phone by daughter Nina (Mona Jabé), a more-than-precocious tween. The story – much of it largely seemingly filmed from a cellphone camera – is a fresh filmmaking approach. Jabé is excellent. The film is so good it made me unfairly dislike it – because of its despicable story not because of the way it was made.....I didn’t intentionally plan it this way but my last film was also about cameras, appropriately called The Cameramurderer (Austrian/Swiss, d. Robert Adrian Pejo). A trendy upper-class couple living in their Bauhaus-inspired home on what used to be the border of Hungary and Austria (old rusted guard towers still abound) invite friends from Vienna for the weekend to their idyllic country retreat amidst the backdrop of the disappearance of three local boys. This psychological thriller tautly plays itself out.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 3

It was three for three at the fest Sunday.....First up, Ivory (U.S., Andrew W. Chan in his feature directorial debut). This story about a student pianist at Oberlin Conservatory competing in the prestigious Liszt Competition in Budapest is at once about artistic ambition, a love triangle, and the ethics that overlap both. Tight directing and a compelling story make this an absorbing film. Next was Limbo (d. Maria Sødahl), a Scandinavian film set in the 1970s’ Caribbean. The movie is about the wives of men who are senior managers in the oil industry and travel the world on five-year contracts. Constantly on the move they never set down roots. And, since this is 40 years ago, these women – who may have a good lifestyle but don’t work and have limited friends – tend to lead vacuous lives with sometimes unhappy consequences. Finally, The Sentiment of the Flesh, a world premiere for director Roberto Garzelli (France), who apprenticed under Polanski. This tale of attraction between a young physician and a student in anatomical drawing approaches the quest for intimacy by literally exploring the realms of the flesh. “If I could I’d dive inside of you," Héléna (Annabelle Hettmann) says to her lover Benôit (Thibault Vinçon). There are overtones of Cronenberg here, though the film is more mainstream, with good performances and a fresh if offbeat approach to the age old question of mind and body attraction.

The MWFF or FFM (Festival des Films du Monde) has some 430 films from 80 countries - 277 are feature-length, 113 are world or international premieres. There are nine categories such as Official Competition and Focus on World Cinema, plus tributes to European stars Nathalie Baye and Stefania Sandrelli, as well as the late, great Quebec filmmaker Gilles Carle. Among other stars at the fest Gerard Depardieu will hold a master class in acting on the final day Sept 6.

I’ve been struck this year by just how old the festival audience is. Forget about the average age being in their 40s or 50s the average age here seems well into their 60s! This is shocking, and raises questions about the audience for film festivals or for this one anyway. Many of these filmgoers, of course, are children of the Sixties who are now well into their retirement years. But where are the younger generations?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 2

 My first screening was Tehran Tehran. This in fact was two movies about life in Iran’s capital city. The first was Days of Acquaintance (d. Dariush Mehrjui), about a family whose roof collapses during a rainstorm on the eve of the new year. They’re taken in by a wealthy family and go on a tour of Tehran’s major sites. This is a heart-warming story told in a straight forward manner with nothing particularly exceptional about it. But Toronto’s CN Tower comes in for mention when the family takes the elevator up the city’s similarly-shaped Milad Tower! The second film was The Last String (d. Mehdi Karampour) A rock band is about to give a concert when their permit is cancelled. This film is definitely the edgier, and has things to say about the state of cultural freedom and stifling opportunities for young people in Iran today.....The next screening was Freedom on Parole by Denmark’s Eric Clausen. John, played by the director, is released on parole and travels to remote Jutland to help his son. His adjustment is anything but smooth. The Danish Muhammad cartoon controversy also makes an appearance.....Finally, Short Films in Competition, Program Two. Two Iranian films Only Sound Remains and Underwater Banquet are laden with themes about Iranian repression and the 1980s’ Iran-Iraq war. Colette from the UK is about a young woman’s ambivalence about love. September and The Highway, from Georgia, are two films about the brutal Russian invasion of that country in 2008. From Spain, Salesman of the Year, is a send-up of corporate politics in the Great Recession. Monster Butler (U.S.) stars Malcolm McDowell depicting real life serial killer Roy Fontaine. Sexting (U.S., d. Neil LaBute) has Julia Stiles explaining an affair in a rather compromising situation. And Licked (New Zealand) is about the revenge of a couple of astute nine-year olds. The best were Sexting (love Julia Stiles!), followed by Monster Butler (love Malcolm McDowell!) and Salesman of the Year.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 1

It is the greatest time of year! I’m now at the Montreal World Film Festival which runs until Sept 6....Yesterday – the first scheduled full day - I caught four films – or rather three movies and a collection of short films at one screening....My choices were dictated by the fact I had just arrived in Montreal and didn’t have time to look at the film catalogue. And the Imperial Cinema was right next to where I had to pick up my pass. So I decided to park myself all day in one of the restored vaudeville theatre’s luxurious seats.....The first film was Confucius by Mei Hu with Chow Yun-fat in a convincing title role performance of sagacity and toughness. There are some stunning battle scenes in this epic drama with panoramic shots of vast armies, making the proverbial Ben Hur cast of thousands seem like a town gathering. The problem: sub-titles whizzed by and it was difficult for about the film’s first half to get a bead on this rather complex story....Next, Route 132 (in competition for best festival film). This is the big Quebec film which screened at the opening ceremony Thursday night. It’s a road movie with Francois Papineau as Gilles, the despondent father of a five-year-old who died suddenly from meningitis. Drowning his sorrows in a bar he runs into old buddy Bob (Alexis Martin) whose life might not be sad but is going nowhere fast. They decide to leave Montreal and take a trip along Quebec’s longest highway. The movie is at turns funny and poignantly sad with lots of images of death along with the themes of loss and what-might-have-been. It is a considerably better film than Belanger’s 2003 Gaz Bar Blues.....Next up: In the Electric Mist, directed by France’s Bertrand Tavanier. The movie is set in Louisiana’s bayou country. Tommy Lee Jones, in another great performance (he’s proving an actor who’s always interesting) plays a small town cop trying to chase down the despicable murder of a hooker. Tavanier captures the louche and decadent world of Louisiana reminiscent of Tennessee Williams. The cast includes John Goodman, Peter Sargaard, Mary Steenburgen, Ned Beatty, Levon Helm (my favourite performance as a Civil War general's ghost) and blues artist Buddy Guy. The movie is a bit meandering but performances are strong with a script featuring a voiceover that is a poetic and meditative look at the South and of life generally.....Finally, a series of seven shorts, all in competition. The theatre was only a third full for these screenings. Audiences tend to avoid shorts. They are definitely missing out. Shorts can be some of the best of all films. That’s because directing is tight so a lot gets packed into seven or 15 or 20 minutes, much of it considerably more imaginative than what’s in regular features. My faves were Doll Factory (Spain) about not fitting in when you have to work for someone else, Southbound (United States) a humourous and magical realistic take on foreign workers, and Attention! (Mexico) about the pains that are a soldier’s lot during an official ceremony....You can follow the fest by going to its web site http://www.ffm-montreal.org/en_index.html  and click on Program.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Let there be...the Lightbox

It’s called the TIFF Bell Lightbox. TIFF being the Toronto International Film Festival of course. Bell being one of Canada’s major phone companies and an obvious sponsor. Lightbox? Well, use your imagination. But it’s a great name. And it’s the new home for the Toronto International Film Festival. The building opens Sept. 12 when the fest in the midst of all its glory. This building is unique. The five-storey block-long complex will operate 365 days a year. Located at the corner of John and King streets in Toronto’s downtown west side the venue seems like nothing else in the history of film. The Lightbox has five cinemas, three learning studios, a bistro and restaurant. Everything about the complex exudes cinema. The design has a three-storey atrium and glass panels where, from the street, people inside the building can be seen as if they are shadows, creating a distinct cinematic effect. The building will host education programs about film as well as TIFF’s year-round  cinematic series. Kicking off the building’s programming will be a presentation of the world’s 100 most influential films, along with a free exhibition of objects and art that celebrate these movies. You might guess some of these - everything from City Lights to City of God, Persona to Pulp Fiction. Special guests and live concerts will round out some of the films. The Lightbox will be the epicentre of the festival (Sept. 9 - 19) itself. But it also will be a venue lovingly devoted to film year-round. And that’s a reason in itself to make the four-hour trip to Toronto. Personally, I can’t wait to see it. For more info go to  http://www.tiff08.ca/tiffbelllightbox

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dueling film festivals

Detroiters are familiar with the Toronto International Film Festival. My preference is the Montreal World Film Festival, which I head off to next week for 10 glorious days. Montreal and Toronto started their fests back around the same time – the late 70s. At first there was a big rivalry between them, as each sought to trump the other with more premieres of prestigious films and visits by leading actors and directors. Montreal eventually was overtaken by Toronto. It was easy to see why. Toronto is an English city and Hollywood speaks Anglais. If you want to do film deals – which is the big business side of film festivals – you prefer to do it in your own language. The rivalry continued to simmer and occasionally peeks out from below the surface. Montreal may not get as many premieres and visits by big name actors as Toronto but it prides itself on being more of an independent and art house festival with a huge selection of films from around the world. Toronto, it sneers, has more Hollywood films, which is true but doesn’t tell the whole story; Toronto has great movies from around the world too......Nevertheless I’ve always preferred Montreal to Toronto. Partly it’s because I’m a native of the city, I like the “layout” of the festival better (it’s easier to navigate among cinemas) and it seems more professionally run. Both festivals last about 10 days and have roughly the same number of films though in some years Montreal I believe has had more......Which brings me to two things: Last week the old ugly rivalry raised its head when the Toronto fest (acronym TIFF – tiff, get it?) held a news conference on the same day as Montreal. It seemed a deliberate attempt to one-up Montreal by announcing, ironically, all the Quebec films it’s showing this year that are bypassing Montreal. These days everyone understands Toronto is the more prestigious fest (rightly or wrongly) so it seemed that TIFF was unnecessarily rubbing salt in Montreal’s wounds. As a writer for Canada’s National Post newspaper admonished Toronto, “Show a little class next time, guys.”  (http://www.nationalpost.com/Filmfest+fisticuffs/3406862/story.html)

.....Having said that I’d like to tell you about a trip organized by the Detroit Film Theatre to TIFF. The Friends of the DFT and curator Elliot Wilhelm head to Toronto Sept. 9 – 12 with two travel packages. The Director’s package ($450) includes pre-trip dinner, welcome dinner in Toronto, private chats with Elliot Wilhelm in Toronto, eight film tickets, tickets to a private industry party on Saturday night and post-trip party. The Producer’s package ($1,175) includes all the above with train travel between Windsor & Toronto, three night hotel stay at Marriott Eaton Centre (double occupancy). Call 313.833.4025 or email tburns@dia.org

.....And as they say in, ahem, Montreal, “Bon Cinema!”

Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday mini reviews

I ended up seeing The Kids Are All Right. My gut feeling was this would be a half decent film though I wasn’t crazy about the topic – lesbian parenting – fearing a trite message movie. But this film (d. Lisa Cholodenko) transcends that topic and in fact pokes fun at Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules’s (Julianne Moore) lifestyle while upholding the value of same sex relationships. The performances all-around are great including that of Mark Ruffalo as Paul and as the kids Mia Wasikowska as Joni and Josh Hutcherson as Laser.....Alain Renais’s Wild Grass has a superb cast: Andre Dussollier, Sabine Azema, Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) and the extraordinary Emmanuelle Devos. All are among the top stars working in France today. Based on Christian Gailly’s novel this movie about coincidence and the power of attraction starts well enough but, two-third’s of the way through, becomes badly sidetracked and has a predictable ending.....It’s been, yup, 24 years since David Lynch’s instant cult classic Blue Velvet debuted on the silver screen. I never understood the film’s allure then and after a midnight viewing at Landmark’s Main still don't. The movie plods along with a ho-hum noirish story but there are decent performances from Kyle MacLahlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, and wonderful over-the-top moments from Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Flick picks for the weekend

Wild Grass, the latest from Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour and a certified member of the French New Wave) is at the Detroit Film Theatre. The plot seems intriguing. A man finds a woman’s purse. The woman was the victim of a robbery. The finder becomes infatuated with the purse’s owner though he hasn’t met her. The DFT says the film is a “playful meditation” on coincidence and desire......The City of Your Final Destination (at the Landmark Maple), has a great cast with Anthony Hopkins, Laura Linney and Charlotte Gainsbourg, about an academic seeking to write a biography of a deceased famous writer, with conflicting answers from family members agreeing to the project. The movie is by well-known James Ivory (The Remains of the Day, Room with a View) and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala based on the novel by Peter Cameron. The topic – books - the cast, the director and screenwriter creds, all make for an interesting pick.....And a couple of passes: Eat Pray Love. Based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller this is sure to appeal to all the romantically lost and narcissistic women who also fantasize about exotic travel and food though less so prayer unless it’s in a Buddhist ashram. I suppose Julia Roberts is the perfect pick. She has long held artistic pretensions, no doubt still trying to shed her earlier very superficial Runaway Bride and Lady in Red images. There are also gargantuan product tie-ins. No wonder: the movie has spinoff sales galore written all over it given its targeted demographic that likes to spend spend spend.....Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. I have a real problem with Canadian (except Quebec) movies of any sort because, well, they’re usually quite crappily made. This, plus another rock/slacker/teen story based on a comic book is a little too much. Enough with t-shirt wearing, pimply-faced, immature guy flicks already.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Short takes

Someone of this stature’s passing shouldn’t go unmentioned, at least by me. He is Robert F. Boyle. Who? He was none other than perhaps Hollywood’s greatest art director. Boyle had a role in some of the greatest pictures in the golden age of Hollywood such as the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Norman Jewison. He created the Mt. Rushmore and crop duster scenes in North by Northwest, the bird’s eye view of a seagull attack in The Birds. He worked with Jewison on pictures like The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming and Fiddler on the Roof. He described his job as “being responsible for the space in which a film takes place”. He died at the great age of 100.... That was a superb performance by Toni Servillo in 2008’s Il Divo (dir. Paolo Sorrentino) as Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who served seven terms through a period of unprecedented post-war domestic violence and corruption inspired by terrorists, the Mafia and – who knows – possibly even the Vatican. Yet despite scores of judicial and political killings from the late 1970s through early 1990s, and Andreotti put on trial for being part of a conspiracy to kill a journalist and being tied to the Mafia itself, nothing stuck and he walked away a free and even more legendary man. Servillo, born only in 1959, himself seems legendary in Italian theatre and film. Meanwhile Il Divo’s depiction of political tumult attempts to be a fast-paced thriller to the beat of Eighties’ rock but doesn’t always succeed. Still, it’s worth a view (it won Cannes’ Prix du Jury) if only because of Servillo’s performance.....Finally, D. A. Pennebaker’s 1968 doc Monterey Pop comes across as a fresh look at the innocence of the Flower Children before Woodstock was even conceived. Monterey, in 1967, was the world’s first rock festival. Everyone from Ravi Shankar to Janis Joplin to The Who was there, most playing for charity. It’s rather charming to look at all those fair-skinned early Baby Boomers - now well into their Sixties - so young and even innocent, if a bit dazed, in that Summer of Love.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mich Film Office appointment raises questions

That is rather strange about Carrie Jones being appointed the new commissioner of the Michigan Film Office. She replaces Janet Lockwood who served 18 years....The Free Press carried a story today about her appointment.....There is nothing posted on the Film Office’s web site about the appointment which took effect July 26, or her background.....Jones started working at the film office last February as deputy director, no doubt being groomed for the top job. As the Freep reports, “Though she has no movie industry experience, the East Lansing resident has spent the last few months learning all she can about one of Michigan’s fastest ¬growing new industries”.....What’s strange about this is that Jones has absolutely no background in film. Instead she seems a purely patronage (as we call it in Canada, aka “political”) appointment. In other words Jones was a dutiful operative in the Granholm Democrat machine.....The Free Press makes this clear for all to see, calling her a “former fund-raiser” for the guv. Other previous experience: she grew up in Fenton and since 2007 was executive director of the Granholm Leadership Fund. She was also finance director for Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s 2006 re-election campaign and previously worked for U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin....In other words Jones has been justly awarded with this state government plum.....Even her taste in films gives slight pause. Her favourites are Grease II, American Beauty, and Milk.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Movie for schmucks, including me

What was that I said about “syrupy” Hollywood movies (July 30 post)? I went to see Dinner for Schmucks. The film opens with the soundtrack of The Beatles’ Fool On The Hill. Okay, that makes sense. This movie is about fools, idiots, imbeciles - whatever. Or of fools being taken advantage of. And of course the main fool is Barry (Steve Carell) a taxidermist who makes exquisite dioramas featuring dead mice. The movie’s original French version (The Dinner Game) was about how a group of people hold parties and each tries to outdo the other by bringing a guest who is some sort of freak. The object is to have fun at their expense. Dinner for Schmucks is the movie’s American version. Which should have raised a red flag. But, hey, I have to admit (do I?) that I can get sucked in by hype as much as anyone, especially when I see respected critics praising a film. (Shame on them.) In any case, the movie is passable though there were a couple of times I was ready to a) take a nap or b) walk out. And I did check my watch a few times......The real problem with this pic is there is no momentum building to the ultimate dining scene. That’s where I thought the real action would be. Don’t get me wrong, the dinner – finally – arrives, and with it a fair bit of amusement. But three-quarters of the picture is centred on Tim (Paul Rudd) and his strivings for higher rank in his distressed assets investment firm and his unlikely budding friendship with Barry. There are also Tim’s dilemmas over his relationship with his love interest Julie (Stefanie Szostak)......Barry, of course, is the klutz who brings life lessons to his confused friend. Oh, how heart-warming! As is the ultimate “message” of the dinner party which Barry attends as Tim’s guest.....So, the movie may be described as edgy but be prepared for a fair dose of saccharin......I’ve now rented the original French film, expecting to see a movie – a real comedy of manners - that cuts to the chase depicting how people can treat one another. If that's cruel so be it. That’s reality. This film, by contrast, is - yawn - Hollywood.