Tuesday, September 28, 2010

French master Claude Chabrol dead at 80

Claude Chabrol, one of the masters of the French New Wave, has died. The way he was making movies I thought he would live forever. Chabrol was more than a prolific filmmaker whose most recent movie was last year’s Inspector Bellamy with Gerard Depardieu. If there’s any justice in the world (but of course there isn’t) there should be a film festival devoted to his works. He made 72 films for big screen and TV, specializing in the psychological crime genre. He brought to prominence stars like Isabelle Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire. Huppert is especially memorable in the 2000 film Merci pour le Chocolat where she plays a respectable upper class maven who no one would suspect of malevolent intent. Chabrol’s pictures play on themes of evil and madness with seemingly normal characters who often tip over the edge. People say Hitchcock is dark but Chabrol is darker. (In fact Chabrol and fellow new waver Eric Rohmer wrote a book about Hitchcock.) Chabrol, along with Rohmer, Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard (Chabrol was technical advisor on Godard’s Breathless) all started in film criticism at the famed journal Cahiers du Cinema. Chabrol in person was a gregarious bon vivant, a raconteur and wit, delighting in sumptuous meals, with humour pervading movie sets and very much one of the gang with actors and crew. This of course is in stark contrast to the themes of his films. But why not? It’s like Yin and Yang. Claude Chabrol, one of the truly great ones – and my overall favourite director – has succumbed, no doubt moving on to a splendid banquet in the sky with great conversation and not a little dark humour about his new circumstances. (Photo credit: movie.idv.tw)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

My Elizabeth Hurley moment

Elizabeth Hurley? You mean Hugh Grant’s girlfriend? Or former girlfriend? Or embarrassed girlfriend, after Grant was picked-up soliciting a prostitute off the Sunset Strip in 1995? Other than the notoriety arising from that incident – and her sticking with the louse through the scandal – I never really gave much thought to the Brit actor and Estee Lauder model. As far as I was concerned she was just another gossip press personality. Then I watched Kathryn Bigelow’s The Weight of Water (2000). Hurley was stunning in it. And I don’t mean just in looks. Excuse me for stereotyping but in the opening scenes of the film, when the characters (including Catherine McCormack, Sean Penn and John Lucas), meet for a short sailing expedition to islands off the New Hampshire coast (the movie was shot in Nova Scotia) she is the unexpected bombshell of a girlfriend along for the ride. Until, that is, she opens her mouth. This woman is a manifestation of brains and beauty. In fact she was the most fascinating character of the entire film even though playing a secondary role. She came across as the most intellectual and deepest of the bunch. Hurley’s Adaline Gunn weighed her words with precision, insight and gravitas from a mind rich in general knowledge and of the vissicitudes of human nature. As the characters embark on their brief ocean sojourn, as you could imagine, the close knit group ends up spending hours talking about everything from the arts (the Penn character is a writer) to people’s hidden motivations, particularly in relation a local double murder that McCormack’s Jean Janes is investigating. For her part Adaline reaches heights of intimidating braininess only to retreat into a kind of self-aware warmth and understanding. Had I not seen this in Hurley before? Well, my only real exposure to her was in the Austin Powers movies where her Vanessa role opposite Mike Myers was, well, rather cartoonish - she was a “fembot” after all! This Elizabeth seems more like the - real - deal.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Detroit 1-8-7 too smart for stereotypes

I watched the opening episode of Detroit 1-8-7, the first prime time crime show (on ABC) shot (hmm, bad pun) in the Motor City. Of course there have been gobs of anticipation for this. Detroit in a starring role on a national TV show? Would this be another example of the big media showing the worst of a city with an already horrendous reputation? Detroiters were anxious yet basking in the glow of television’s big time.....I’m not a TV crime show watcher (not much of a TV watcher at all, in fact). But Detroit 1-8-7 refreshingly portrayed Detroit not at its worse but in a somewhat refreshing way. Detroit is Detroit, and it’s not one of the prettiest urban landscapes (despite my love for it). That said, the outdoor scenes (and there were a lot of them shot largely by hand held camera and quick cuts  reminiscent of Hill Street Blues) showed off various dimensions of the city. I even commented to a friend: “This makes Detroit look pretty good.” There were many scenes of relatively decent neighbourhoods and one in an a trendy coffee shop (which “used to be a porno shop” commented Det. Louis Fitch (Michael Imperioli - The Sopranos, Law & Order, Goodfellas, The Basketball Diaries)). The fact much of the pilot was shot in Atlanta accounted for some of the places I clearly did not recognize. The police staff was multi-racial and ethnic, again dispelling stereotypes. One got the sense that not everyone in Detroit is poor, a criminal or destitute – that people actually work and play and enjoy living in the urban surroundings. In fact, the 11 pm news afterwards – with crime-laden stories – brought me back to the “real” Detroit. Hopefully this wasn’t a first episode attempt to mollify a skeptical home town audience and the show in future will depict only the worst of the worst. But I think the production team is too smart for that.....Acting was also pretty good with Natalie Martinez as Det. Ariana Sanchez and Aisha Hinds as Lt. Maureen Mason.

Monday, September 20, 2010

TIFF (boo hoo), and The Last Station

TIFFed-off: Poor Torontonians. And – especially – poor Toronto media. They’ll have no “stars” to drool over at their local film festival, since TIFF bit the dust for another year Sunday. It is all quite hilarious the amount of ink and broadcast time devoted to the festival’s red carpet and star spotting reports. A sure sign of small town insecurity.

The Last Station – I had been wanting to see this film (d. Michael Hoffman), hearing one commentator go so far as to describe the movie as the best of 2009. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this tale of the last days of Russia’s Czarist-era and civil patron saint, writer Leo Tolstoy, played well by Christopher Plummer. Helen Mirren puts in a good performance as Tolstoy’s rather dismissed wife Sofya. There is also Paul Giamatti (a personal fave) as Vladimir Chertkov, guardian of Tolstoy’s organization known as the Tolstoyans and enemy of Sofya......But rather than the movie built around Tolstoy, as one might expect, it really circulates around James McAvoy’s character Valentin Bulgakov, a young Tolstoy secretary, and his seduction by free-love advocate Masha (Kerry Condon).....The film is nowhere as dramatic or multi-dimensional as I’d been led to believe, nor quite as funny. But it works as a straight ahead period piece and will appeal to those who like standard Merchant-Ivory fair or who are devotees of History Television.

Friday, September 17, 2010

More glitter, less film

More headlines today from the Toronto International Gittter (or should that be Film?) Festival. In fact there is such an abundance of stars you can't see the films (or should that be 'can't see the films for the stars' or 'the stars are so bright they obliterate the films'). Okay, I'm having fun and continuing to mock the Toronto fest. (Yes, yes, I know it’s a good fest – perhaps the greatest ever – better than Cannes.) Here goes:

* Canadian Malin Akerman delivers on red carpet
Leave it to a Toronto-bred star to bring some much-needed glamour to the Toronto International Film Festival red carpet.

* TIFF’s hottest couples includes a bromance
Love (or in Josh Brolin’s case, smoke – read on for more) is in the air at the 35th annual Film Fest. The GGP counts down TIFF’s hottest twosomes so far.

* Gemma Arterton’s ‘ugly duckling’ spreads her wings
It’s nearly impossible to imagine Gemma Arterton as a gawky and unattractive youth, ignored and taunted by boys.

* Where’s the glamour at Hollywood North?
If you’ve been following the red carpet, you may be wondering if this year’s festival has been dubbed the Toronto International Dull Fashion Festival.

* Autograph hounds share tweets on getting the ink

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Red carpet or film festival?

What did I tell you? Just a sampling of recent headlines or lead sentences of stories coming out of the Toronto Intl. Film Fest:

* The "Tamara Drewe" actress trades in her little black dress for a jumper. It's refreshing to see an actress that's not in a gown for once. Jumpers can be hard to pull off but Gemma has the look down pat with a matching wide belt, an embellishment at the top and a wider leg. It definitely makes a statement. September 12, 2010: Gemma Arterton at the TIFF premiere of 'Tamara Drewe' in Toronto, Canada.
* Did Nelly get entangled in some fishing net on the way to the TIFF peremiere of "Score: A Hockey Musical"?
* Kidman ‘very nervous’ about new film
* Winona Ryder ? There She Is!
* Fans swarm Natalie Portman on the red carpet
* Keanu Reeves doesn’t disappoint at TIFF

Toronto's celebrity orgy

This is the reason I don’t like – or should I be more polite and say, I’m not really enamoured of – the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). If you take a look at the coverage of the fest (now underway until, mercifully, this weekend) in virtually any Toronto-based media outlet (for Yank fiends, Toronto is the equivalent of New York and controls much of the Canadian media) virtually all of it is focussed on celebrities attending the event. Very little is on coverage of the actual films. Of course, I suppose, this isn’t TIFF’s fault. But then again perhaps the festival is a colossal enabler, don’t you think? One of my other beefs with the festival is its large selection of Hollywood films. The number of H’wood flicks is because Toronto is a mammoth business festival, and film wheelers and dealers use it to broker distribution deals. But why would I want to go to a festival that screens Hollywood films when those same films will open in local cinemas two, three months from now?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Classics at Cineplex Devonshire

It’s a great idea and helps, if a bit, compensate for the lack of alternative cinema in Windsor. Cineplex Odeon theatres have launches its first Classic Film Series. Tonight is the first evening. Appropriately enough it begins with perhaps the classic of all time Casablanca (d. Michael Curtiz, 1942) with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains at Devonshire Mall cinemas. The movie also screens Sept. 26 (check times)....Next up: Psycho (d. Alfred Hitchcock) Oct. 13 & 31, then The Maltese Falcon Nov. 17 & 28 and for Christmas It’s a Wonderful Life Dec. 8 and 12. The series continues with eight other films through August. For more info go to http://www.cineplex.com/Events/ClassicFilmSeries/Home.aspx

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 11

And now for the final day.....The first movie was the television epic La Très Excellente et Divertissante Histoire de François Rabelais (roughly The Very Excellent and Entertaining Adventures of François Rabelais (d. Hervė Baslė). Rabelais was a 16th century writer, scientist and doctor, perhaps France’s most famous Renaissance man. This four-hour drama may give one pause because of its intimidating length. But like last year’s festival’s similar four-hour epic from French television, L’ėcole du Pouvoir (d. Raoul Peck) - about a French finishing school for the country’s elites and a group of idealistic students’ influence on the socialist revolution of President François Mitterand in the 1980s - four hours need not be a burden if the movie is well put together. Though not as dramatic and complex as last year’s L’ėcole, Rabelais’s script is relatively spare and what’s in it is humourous and informative.....This happens to me every fest: I land in a screening that is entirely en Français. Sometimes it’s a result of the schedule having the wrong info about whether the movie has English subtitles (most do) and sometimes it’s my fault for not reading the program correctly. Yesterday it was my fault. I ended up in Michel Rodde’s Impasse du Dėsir (Swiss), sort of a black or tragic-comedy about a psychiatrist engaged in professional abuse for personal reasons. From just watching the film visually it struck me as rather silly and focussed on characters I didn’t really care about. But this may be unfair since I didn’t have the script to help elucidate.....Gianfrancesco Lazotti’s From the Waist On is yet another movie in this year's fest that dealt with disabilities or severe health issues, all of which shatter clichés about those who have them without being dry didactic message pictures. (Other films of the genre include Run if You Can, Oxygen and Stricken). This film is better than I thought but hardly of the calibre suggested in the official catalogue’s quote from the Hollywood Reporter that this is “one of those unexpected pleasures that festivals often promise but rarely deliver”.....Finally, the closing ceremonies and the heralded film - the second in the festival from France’s Bertrand Tavernier, The Princess of Montpensier. Excuse me, but my reading of this picture is that it took more than two hours to tell the story of the doomed love between Marie de Mèziėres and Henri de Guise in 16th Century France. The film's problem is: once we know of the romance essentially no new information is provided over a mind-numbing 120 minutes. Too bad this was the closure although obviously Tavernier is a big name. But the beforehand ceremonies, at which awards were presented (Oxygen by Hans Van Nuffel (Belgian-Netherlands) took top prize), were quite enjoyable.....For more on the prizes go to http://digital.montrealgazette.com/epaper/viewer.aspx

Monday, September 6, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 10

Horror thriller director Hideo Nakata’s (Japan) twist on Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians might be the best film I’ve seen so far. In The Incite Mill, ten participants are told they can earn as much as $1200 an hour for a job being offered – actually an “experiment” by a “foundation” - that lasts just seven days. They arrive at a remote bunker-like building and, descending a spiral staircase, are welcomed to a sumptuous feast. But things grow darker from there, as these innocents soon descend into rapacious creatures, fighting for survival, all shown live on the worldwide web. This is the only movie of 38 I've seen so far where I was glued to the screen every second.....Russia’s Casual Connection (d. Olga Stolpovskaya) is supposed to be a kind of surreal take on modern Russian. The lead character, a young woman (Sofia Kashtanova), wakes up every morning in a different location as if in a dream, and is seemingly the victim during the day of random unfortunate events. This disturbing movie is an allegory for the dysfunction of modern Russia and worth taking a look at.....The Last 56 Hours (d. Claudio Fragasso) is a well-made Italian drama about a rather bizarre hostage-taking. Luca Lionello as Paolo, a sort of renegade cop and looking uncannily like Al Pacino in Serpico, saves the day when a band of Italian army troops take as hostages staff and patients at a hospital. Their action is all for a good cause of course: Italian soldiers returned from fighting in Kosovo suffering the effects of radiation from depleted uranium in NATO ammunition. While the plot clearly depicts the soldiers as bad guys threatening innocent civilians, the film ultimately seems to treat them as heroes for bringing attention to their fellow servicemen’s plight. It's action-packed and very much like a Pacino film of an earlier era.....Meeting with an Angel (co-directed by France’s Yves Thomas and Sophie de Daruvar) is at once a story about dominance, disconnectedness and voyeurism between lovers Judith (Isabelle Carré) and Roland (Sergi Lopez). It is subtly told and almost under-the-surface in its revelations about the characters’ (especially Judith’s) motives. But, besides an only somewhat interesting story it’s hard to see what the film adds up to.....Bjarnfredarson (d. Ragnar Bragason, Iceland), based on a hugely popular Icelandic television series, has a cast of misfits led by none other than the lead himself. Just out of prison this social activist and what in America would have been called a red diaper baby (as in being brought up by Communist parents) Georg (Jón Gnarr) can’t seem to catch a break despite his best intentions. Perhaps if you’re Icelandic and liked the TV series you’ll love the film. But the characters didn’t win me over. One thing the movie does show, however, is that even in the tiny North Atlantic island, when it comes to the Sixties and left wing politics, nothing was different there from what occurred in North America.....Finally, a German film I actually didn’t like. Snowman’s Land (d. Thomasz Thompson) has a rag tag group of incompetent thugs meet in a remote forest villa. Needless to say nothing good comes of it. It would have been an easy film to have taken a pass on.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 9

Thelma, Louise and Chantal is what you might expect from the title – a road movie comedy from France’s Benoît Pétré. Three middle aged women whose lives are listless hit the road to attend the wedding of a former husband. The story is rife with jokes about everything from body image to sex (or lack thereof) to loser men. This could have been overly clichéd but the story is funny and charming enough to stand out on its own.....It Begins with the End has director Michaél Cohen opposite Emmanuelle Béart in this story of attraction, repulsion and ultimately passion between lovers who are torn by the idiosyncrasies of their relationship. I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t particularly care about the movie. The acting was good enough, the film was well put together. But somehow these characters’ story just didn’t engage me. Perhaps the plot needed more of an edge....Another great Scandinavian film in A Family, Pernille Fischer Christensen’s story about a young woman torn between career as an art dealer and taking over her family’s legendary bakery business, a purveyor to the royal court. Good performances from everyone especially Lene Maria Christensen as Ditte and Jesper Christensen as the dominating patriarch in this story about how life plans aren’t always as easy to execute as imagined.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 8

When people ask me what I like about European film, a film like Holland’s Stricken (or A Woman Goes to the Doctor) comes pretty close to hitting the mark. The film by Reinout Oerlemans has got it all. It’s slickly-made, has a pace that doesn’t let up, a more-than-absorbing storyline and, contrary to what one might think about a topic with cliché written all over it – breast cancer – delivers in a completely unconventional way. With an electronica soundtrack this story (from the Dutch novel Love Life by Ray Kluun) chronicles the lives of hip professionals Stijn (Barry Atsma) and wife Carmen (Carice van Houten). The movie places the disease at the centre of what is otherwise a trendy, cutting edge lifestyle in Amsterdam’s advertising and party scenes, where the central characters’ relationship is defined on more than one level. If Hollywood had made this the movie would have been sappy and message-driven. You can find messages in this, I suppose, but they’re subtle and come at you in numerous indirect ways. This is first-rate filmmaking.....Spanish film Plans for Tomorrow (d. Juana Macías) might be considered a “women’s film” by a female director (there are other films in the festival like this). It explores the characters of a couple of women where on one day their lives coincidentally become intertwined. These women are struggling against the limitations of age, the balancing of careers, and the desire for freedom from limiting or dominating men. It’s not as slick as Stricken but features strong performances, characters and stories we care about.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 7

Thursday it was almost six for six at the festival, the flaw - darn! - being Chantrapas (d. Otar Iosseliani, France-Georgia), my first walk-out. Why? Meandering story-lines in all too typical Eastern European ensemble film.....The day also marked my first “early” (10 am) festival screening (in past years I was routinely at a theatre for the first morning screenings but, hey, I’m doing MWFF/FFM “lite” this year.....First up: Ella (d. Francisco J. Lombardi, Mexico). This tale of an artist and his young wife doesn’t have much to say about art (contrary to the fest catalogue’s description) but is more a probe into how an individual deals with love, betrayal and the criminality surrounding a sudden loss. The film rolls out in an understated and tense manner and there are no scenes wasted.....Living on Love Alone’s theme is about being young and struggling professionally (most of us have been there) but in this case resulting ultimately in the rejection of bourgeois life (a theme in a number of films) where the main character (Anaïs Demoustier) is unable fill the void with a suitable alternative. It’s a good flick from France’s Isabelle Czajka.....In Gold We Trust, also from France and directed by Éric Besnard is an old-fashioned and slickly-produced adventure-crime story straight from the jungles of Guiana. It’s also a tale about corruption in the gold industry and ultimately that there is no honour among thieves. A good fun adventure.....Germany’s Peter Timm’s Beloved Berlin Wall is kind of a screwball comedy about the romance between a West Berlin student and an East German border guard in the days just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The student (Felicitas Woll) finds a cheap apartment just metres form the Wall and begins flirting with a guard (Maxim Mehmet) in the nearby watch tower. Their romance becomes the focus of Cold War intrigue with lots of classic mix-ups reminiscent of 1950s’ Hollywood comedies.....Young Girls in Black (France) is a story of two tight knit high school friends. You know the type: they dress Goth-like, read the deepest literature, and reject the shallow world around them. Good performances, and directing from Jean-Paul Civeyrac.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 6

Some days very little goes right at the festival. Yesterday was a case in point. I showed up for the 2.40 pm screening of La Très Excellente et Divertissante Histoire de François Rabelais, Hervé Baslé’s four-hour epic for French television about the life of the Renaissance writer, doctor and humanist. I arrived a few minutes late thinking there would be no problem getting in. Only one other theatre had been sold out since I’ve been here and the overall festival attendance seems less than in other years. And what masochists would want to sit through a four-hour movie, right? But the theatre was “complet” or full. Wow! Perhaps people were attending for movie endurance bragging rights. I had chosen this film because only it and another period piece, René Féret’s Nannerl, Mozart’s Sister, held any interest for me on Wednesday’s schedule.....With hours now my hand I settled for the movie I Heart Regina, 13 vignettes about the otherwise undistinguished prairie city whose only claim to fame seems to be that it is geographically located in the centre of North America. Most of the short films by 14 Saskatchewan-based directors were amusing in this take off of movies like Paris Je T’aime and New York, I Love You, with lots of jokes about surviving the city’s winter Arctic conditions and its bland flat terrain. But of course charm can be found anywhere, right?.....Killing some more time I went to see Venice, Polish director Jan Jakub Kolski’s meditation on Poland’s 1939 invasion by the Nazis. Eleven-year-old Marek’s family trip to Venice is interrupted. So he concocts a fantasy of his beloved Italian city as his family takes refuge with the war going on around them. This type of picture (a boy, the countryside, the focus on only one or two characters at a time, the locations all shot in one area) has been done umpteen times. It’s boring. When I first read the movie’s description I thought the reason for the plot line was that it was cheaper to film in Poland than Venice. I wonder how many in the well-attended screening actually thought they would see images of the Italian city.....Finally, the second period piece of the day I actually wanted to see, Nannerl. Now this was a picture one could sink one's teeth into. It’s about not the famous Mozart, Wolfgang, but his older sister, Nannerl, also a prodigy as musician and composer, perhaps more talented than Wolfgang. She came across as charming and more intellectually astute than her child brother who at one point is described as a genius in the music department but an idiot in every other aspect of life. So why don't we know about her? Check the gender. Marie Féret, the director’s daughter, plays in the starring role.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Montreal World Film Festival - Day 5

Yesterday was ho-hum day at the fest.....I returned to see Le Mariage À Trois, Jacques Doillon’s take on artsy communal lust and love, because the film is so dense with “deep” dialogue that, while enjoyable, I wasn’t sure I had fully understood it. Sure enough, I had. (It's that kind of film.) And, once again, I held on to every line of dialogue. This audience, smaller than the one the day previously, also seemed to get the film more than the first audience, who seemed to write it off if they understood it at all. There was even a round of applause from people other than me! The picture has made me a real Doillon fan and I’ve already reserved two of his earlier films for DVD rental: Raja and Petits Freres.....The next film was With Love...from the Age of Reason (d. Yann Samuell) starring Sophie Marceau as Margaret, a fast-rising careerist who one day receives letters she wrote on her seventh birthday, seven being the age of reason. The letters reveal how Margaret, who also changed her name from Marguerite, has strayed from her idealistic youthful values. This is a slick film which ultimately is heart-warming. It will have a strong appeal to middle brow audiences, nothing more......Next was The Singularity is Near, A True Story about the Future (d. Anthony Waller). It’s a documentary about American futurist Ray Kurzweil and his predictions for the coming age of advanced artificial intelligence, where avatars will become so human-like they’ll demand equal rights with their biological counterparts. The film leaves one thinking we’re still living in the Dark Ages.....Finally, Tannöd (The Murder Farm) from Bettina Oberli (German & Swiss co-production). Based on Andrea Maria Schenkel’s novel this film is a whodunit set in rural Bavaria. There’s nothing technically wrong about the movie and Julia Jentsch as Kathrin gives an appealing performance. But the film has the look and feel of been-there, done-that. We know the rural landscapes, we know the dark forebodings and religious imagery. To improve the film the director needed to somehow approach the material from a fresh perspective.