Thursday, October 28, 2010

WIFF 2010 - a trove of treats

Former WIFF programmer Otto Buj’s reported comments that management of the festival has got “boring” may or may not be true. I have no idea.....But what I will say is this year’s line-up (Nov 4–7) is anything but. Virtually everything on offer over the four days looks appetizing. The problem, as I thought with last year’s fest, is that screenings are limited. Most films don't repeat. So if you’ve missed one (perhaps because another overlapped with it) you’re out of luck. Also, all films are screened at the Capitol. Fine and dandy but, again, with the huge crowds the fest attracted last year, some additional screens (i.e., at the nearby Palace) would have been welcomed. But maybe it’s all part of a plan, right? In other words, hold the event at one complex, have only one screening per film, and generate demand. With this festival still in its growing stage (though in its sixth year) and perhaps still insecure that does make sense....From the schedule here is some of what caught my attention.....Louis Bélanger’s Route 132 is a classic road movie Quebec-style. I wrote about it in my reports from the Montreal World Film Festival this year. It’s much better than his earlier Gas Bar Blues.....I just caught Mike Leigh’s Another Year with a very strong cast headed by Jim Broadbent, Lesley Manville and Ruth Sheen. A great character study of a tight knit family that focuses on the beginning of the – yes - twilight years of the Baby Boom generation..... Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Howl is about beat poet Allen Ginsburg’s iconic poem and the infamous 1950s obscenity trial over its publication. (I’m planning to see it tomorrow in Montreal.).....Stephen Frears’s Tamara Drewe (picture above) is a comedy of modern manners that looks deliciously fun about a country retreat,  writers, lust, a clash of characters, with unexpected plot lines and of course witty dialogue.....It’s Kind of a Funny Story with rising star Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover; he’s the stout bearded guy) seems to be the mental hospital version of Fast Times at Ridgemont High......I wouldn’t want to miss My Afternoons with Marguerite simply because Gérard Depardieu is in it.....A Film Unfinished looks like a terrific doc about the Nazis’ making a film about life in the Warsaw Ghetto, a glossed over version of course, for propaganda purposes. Some of the original footage is extraordinary.....Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol has been receiving some stunning reviews as well as a laundry list of awards. At first glance it doesn’t strike me as that interesting – the subtext is how America treats its mentally ill – but it may be one of those films that’s an undiscovered gem..... Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy starring Juliette Binoche (a reason itself to see it) seems a nuanced journey through the Italian countryside and has been compared to films by Antonioni. If that’s the case, I’m in.....For those who loved The Triplets of Belleville Sylvain Chomet is back with The Illusionist, an animation about a struggling French illusionist in the late 1950s as his star declines amidst the rise of rock and roll. Based on a script by Jacques Tati it’s undoubtedly charming and bittersweet.....I’ve been intrigued by Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton, for a little while. The story is about an upper class Italian family whose surface veneer cannot hold.....Susanne Bier’s In a Better World looks like a typically crisp Scandinavian drama about family and, interestingly, coming to terms with the meaning of maleness.....And don’t forget this year’s spotlight on locally-made films with screenings of Tim Swaddling's The Arrow and The String; Ken Amlin's Moonlight Sonata and Jayme LaForest's Gods of Accident..... The kicker: many of this year’s films have won a string of awards. The selection is rich. We’re in for numerous treats.....(The Windsor International Film Festival's web site is

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

FNC Montreal wrap - too much chaff

The Festival of New Cinema (FNC) is over and I’m disappointed. Partly this is of my own making. I arrived late and missed screenings such as Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void and Miguel Coyula’s Memories of Overdevelopment. And admittedly this fest is more experimental and less mainstream than my tastes. Nevertheless only about 50 per cent of what I saw I enjoyed. My faves were the Bollywood Raavanan and Mike Leigh’s Another Year. Other notables were mentioned in my Oct. 23 post. Add to these the retrospective of films by Pierre Étaix, perhaps alone worth attending the festival for. The FNC had screened newly restored prints of this amazing French comic, whose films spanned the Sixties. Movies like Rupture, Le Soupirant and Tant Qu’on a La Santé are absurd takes on the frustrations of daily life or small events, and uproariously funny…..This was the festival wheat. There was a lot of chaff.....Wang Bing’s The Ditch was as expected an all too slow study of life circa 1960 of a Communist Chinese labour camp in the Gobi Dessert. Bing, who started making feature films in 2003, had several other flics in the festival and also held a master class. ....Pepperminta (Pipilotti Rist – Swiss-Austria) (above photo) is a dazzling psychedelic take on Pippi Longstocking and the subversive power of colour to undermine an authoritarian black and white world. Great idea. And tonnes of effort obviously went into making it judging by the fast-cut gazillion shots of talented actress Ewalina Guzik in any number of contortions with her comic book/fairytale friends. But the film was all frosting and no cake.....Quebec documentary DATA attempts to be a subversive polemic against oppressive capitalist employers. I do understand it was part of the FNC’s “lab” or experimental section. But it was physically hard to watch. The sound was over modulated pulsating static, which was a turnoff from the first minute. Yes, I got the huge headlines continually splashed across the screen. But it was all a little much. Converting the workers? You won’t with this.....Doman Seman (Go Shibata) attacks capitalism (what else?) by grafting a bizarre assortment of everyday characters on to the cosmology of Japan’s Heian period (8th to 12th centuries). Again, lots of energy went into the film’s shooting. But this “experimental” effort left me underwhelmed not least because it looked so contrived......Then there was Danish film Submarino (Thomas Vinterberg). Yet another film about down-and-outers (aka losers) from a contemporary director. Spare me. Or, I spared myself and walked out.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Festival of New Cinema, Montreal - highlights

Okay, so I’m in Montreal or the Festival of New Cinema ( I arrived late this year owing to work projects back home. But this is not that important a fest to me anyway. For many years I have never attended it. It is my “second” Montreal fest (after the Montreal World Film Festival in August). This is a smaller fest anyway with fewer movies and screens. But it has kept true to its 1971 roots – an edgy, avant garde, slightly underground event.....To my taste there is less to choose from. I’m not particularly into avant garde that goes over the edge and there’s a quantity of films here that do just that. But there is also stuff that is more mainstream.....Here are some notable mentions: Shit Year starring Ellen Barkin (above) (d. Cam Archer), a surreal black and white portrait of a retired actress (Colleen West) whose life is spiralling downhill fast. This is a good performance by Barkin but the pic suffers from the same plague it’s trying to portray – ennui – and is a little too abstractly drawn.....Preludio (d. Eduardo Lucatero). This is an impressive all-in-one-take 72 minute talking heads flic of a “prelude” to romance by a chance encounter of guy and girl who are early guests at a party.....La Belle Endormie (The Sleeping Beauty) (d. Catherine Breillat), a contemporary take on the children’s fairy tale. It’s inventive fun, mysterious, playful and feminist.....Raavanan (d. (Mani Ratnam). I’ve avoided Bollywood up to now. But I came across this my accident (it was the only available picture after I’d walked out on another). Tremendous – perhaps my fave so far! This 137-minute dramatic epic is larger than life with good and bad guys (no nuance here), thrills and spills (a la James Bond), fantastic landscapes, singing and dancing amidst looming violence. This is the kind of big scope picture Americans used to make. Bollywood is still serving it up – and pushing the genre.....Rammbock (d. Marvin Kren). What happens when zombies infiltrate your apartment complex in contemporary Berlin? Nothing much different than when zombies set about victimizing you anywhere (and we’re getting close to Halloween), though this is a fun thriller as the still unbitten try to outwit their mad assailants in apartment nooks and crannies.....Similar in a way to The Intruder (d. Thanadol Nuansuth). This Thai film has unlucky denizens of an apartment building fending off an attack of hordes of vicious cobras. A few scary bite scenes with of course (horror films usually have this) a lesson on human ethics.....All right, I’m off to another afternoon and evening of bon cinema.....J'espère!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Alan Sklar - voice extroardinaire

And here I thought I was about to praise how a movie had found a whole new way of presenting its story. I happened to catch the last 20 minutes of Ridley Scott’s 2001 Black Hawk Down last night on The Accessibility Channel. I had never seen the movie before (but have now rented it). What struck me was the continual voiceover narration. Coming across the movie while channel surfing I didn’t know if this was a drama or documentary. The images and acting looked pretty damn real with performances by the likes of Ewan McGregor, Josh Hartnett, Tom Sizemore and others. But the narration had me troubled. Was this to provide more drama or immediacy to the story? I couldn’t figure it out. Then the credits rolled and the same voice – that of renowned New York voice actor Alan Sklar ( – started reading the credits, his voice controlled with meticulous and authoritative pronunciation. Wow – what a concept, having the credits announced! Filmmakers generally try to outdo each other on their inventiveness in credit rolls. But this was unique indeed, right up to announcing the film companies at the very end – “Revolution Studios, Henry Bruckheimer Films.” It made me want to watch – er, listen – to the very last spoken word. Sklar's voice was transfixing. Then it occurred to me. This was the “Accessibility” network (which I had never watched nor even heard of before; I’m currently in Montreal). And that voice wasn’t there because of any invention of Ridley Scott. It was there so that sight-impaired people could more closely follow the action as Sklar described it (“he walks into the supply tent,” “one soldier vomits running down the street”). So the joke is on me. But I must say the narration provided a dramatic effect indeed. And award-winning Sklar is extraordinary. (To hear him go to

Friday, October 15, 2010

If it's October it must be FNC time

I’m off – almost – to this year’s edition of the Festival of New Cinema (FNC) in Montreal. This festival goes back a lot longer than most film festivals – to 1971 to be exact. It’s more cutting edge than the Montreal World Film festival, which I attend every August. Ditto for the Toronto International Film Festival. (You can see my reviews from FNC’s 2009 edition posted in October of last year.)....This has been a much “smaller” festival if venues are a consideration. Screenings used to take place on almost hole-in-the-wall locations along Montreal’s great central street, Blvd Saint-Laurent also known as the Main. Over the years it has expanded and in 1999 a luxurious futuristic complex (complete with abstract box office windows) called Ex-Centris became its headquarters. This year I notice the festival has also migrated south and east to the main cinema used by the Montreal World Film Festival, Quartier Latin, a multiplex run by Cineplex Odeon. Cinema du Parc (a favourite repertory of mine) located further west on Park Avenue is no longer taking part....The festival is held in high regard as an auteur fest and has showcased (with the directors present) the likes of Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Wim Wenders, Jane Campion, Atom Egoyan and  Léa Pool......In 2003 I attended an extroardinary master class with Brit filmmaker Peter Greenaway......I’ll of course be reporting more from FNC next week. Meanwhile you can check out the festival’s site at

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Two treats in one night

A year after it opened I finally made it to Detroit’s Burton Theatre (3420 Cass Ave. just south of Martin Luther King Blvd.) The Burton is an art house cinema created in an auditorium of the former Burton International School (picture at left, web site link at right). And it truly specializes in art house cinema, more so than, say, Landmark’s Main or Maple (which I’ll politely describe as showing mainstream art house). My first post about the cinema was Jan. 11. In that post, a reference to a NY Times story about Detroit entrepreneurs developing businesses in the largely abandoned city, the Burton’s Nathan Faustyn said investors wanted to do something to help make Detroit a more liveable place.....So it was appropriate that the first film I saw there was this weekend’s Detroit Wild City by French director Florent Tillon.....Tillon’s picture is a kind of meditative documentary about the ruins of Detroit, the abandoned city against the backdrop of the industrial powerhouse it was and, towards the film’s end, thoughts on what it could become......There is something in the film of the clichéd outsider’s take on Detroit – the fascination with urban ruins or “urban ruin porn” as it’s been called. But the picture stands on its own as an absorbing piece of filmmaking, as we follow denizens of the city who find a way to live in it and indeed embrace their corners of it whether as an urban gardener or everyday handyman. A sombre piano score helps give meaning to these starkly beautiful shots of burned out buildings, deserted streets and urban prairie, places at once familiar yet filmed from perspectives that make you wonder exactly where that is.....A Q & A with the director (who attended the screening Saturday night) had most in the audience praise the beautiful images of juxtaposed ruins against nature or sunsets though one man found the movie “empty.” I think he meant devoid of life because the Detroit he knows, as physically eviscerated as it is, still has people who bring any place some normality. Regardless, Detroit Wild City is a beautiful look at a stunningly decayed urban environment.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Local teacher opposite Stormare, Plimpton

Alan Penner loved the experience of acting in a feature film.....It was also great that some of the people he was acting with were fairly well-known Hollywood names – like Martha Plimpton (TV’s Weeds and Entourage), Peter Stormare (Armageddon, The Big Lebowski) and Jill Hennessy (TV’s Las Vegas and Law & Order)......The Leamington teacher and musician also got to see his face in close-up on the big screen at last month’s Toronto International Film Festival when the movie Small Town Murder Songs had three screenings. (picture) .....The movie by Toronto’s Ed Gass-Donnelly of Three Legged Dog Films (This Beautiful City) was shot in Listowel, Ont.....Penner was asked to act in the film as a result of a family connection. His brother Andrew Penner, also a musician,  helped with the film’s music. He had also done scoring on the director’s last film. Andrew’s wife Erin was a personal assistant and scout locator. Wanting someone who knew of rural life she “just called us because we grew up in a farm in Leamington”.....Variety describes the murder mystery as “vaguely suggesting a Canadian Insomnia...wedded to its provincial setting, Mennonite ambience and Germanic accents...(a) modestly made but cosmically profound drama”.....Gass-Donnelly is shopping the films at festivals but no word on a distribution deal yet. Penner says it will be available on the DVD rental market.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

No to The Social Network, yes to Catfish

I’m not inclined to see The Social Network (d. David Fincher), despite how stupendous the reviews says the movie is. I’ve been watching trailers for this for the past month and I have not a modicum of interest. Maybe it’s because I can’t stand facebook. I’ll be honest. I have a facebook account. But I opened it because it seemed the only way to correspond with friends who insisted on communicating with me through it (good bye old-fashioned e-mail!). Then I discovered that through facebook's Groups section I could promote stories on my companion newspaper site But even there my “friends” remain static and I’ve discovered Twitter a much more effective way to expand audience. And, yes, I’ll admit it, I really don’t get facebook. It looks hideously complicated. Perhaps someone (likely 30 years younger) will one day take me in hand and instruct me on the marvellous ways of connecting on this fantastic site and I’ll be hooked. For the time being it leaves me cold.....But I did go to see Catfish, the indie film about what can happen when someone deceives another on facebook. But this is a story (documentary) that could be about Internet deception anywhere, such as through a personals or dating site. And despite the movie’s critical acclaim it’s not a particularly a new story. But the film (by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost) is put together well. It seemingly captures the reality of New York photographer and cohort (and Ariel’s brother) Nev Schulman  from start to finish as he gets sucked-in big time in romantic infatuation by a distant admirer from the boonies of northern Michigan. In an age where people seem to want to reveal everything about themselves on sites like facebook the fact Schulman let the camera capture his entire experience also seems to suggest that the embarrassment factor in any medium has been severely eroded.