Sunday, November 28, 2010

Enter the Void doesn't fully deliver

Go with the gut. My gut feeling was I would be disappointed. My stomach didn’t let me down as I was hungry for another magnificent Gaspar Noé film and didn’t get it. Nonetheless  in certain ways Enter the Void, Noé’s latest, is brilliant. First off, the opening credits, This rapid pulsating strobe light show could be played off the wall at any dance club. Second, the camera work and special effects. No doubt about it this film is pretty dazzling, a kaleidoscope of manic colour shot in the dreamlike neon of contemporary Tokyo. And it takes film to places it previously has not been – overhead angled shots, floating and speeding scenes that glide the viewer above rooftops and streets of the dense and maze-like city. But the story, which lasts roughly two-and-a-half hours, is very simple. And that’s part of the movie’s problem. Oscar (Nathaniel Brown in his first major movie role) is a young American drug dealer. He finally makes enough cash that he can afford to fly his sister from the US to join him. The two are exceptionally close having made a blood pact when kids never to leave one another, which ends up occurring anyway after their parents are killed. She (Linda played exceptionally by Paz de la Huerta, Boardwalk Empire) soon finds work as an exotic dancer. In one of the early scenes Oscar and his drug-dealing pal Alex (Cyril Roy) wander to a club called, appropriately, The Void, where Oscar is to make a drug deal. The club is raided. Oscar locks himself in the bathroom flushing  drugs down the toilet. He tells police he has a gun. They shoot him through the bathroom door. He falls to the floor and dies. For the next two or so hours the movie is about Oscar post-mortem as his spirit is released from his body but his consciousness lives in a supernatural form as it swoops or hovers above Tokyo rooftops or inside buildings. He visits and revisits those once important to him – people like Linda and Alex – as well as returning to the scene of the crime as he watches police finish their investigation, put his body in an ambulance, and his later identification at the morgue. There are flashbacks to his earlier life. These are some of the film’s more interesting scenes. We see him and his sister being coddled as babies and joyfully loved as children by their middle class Manhattan parents. There’s a cherished scene at the beach followed by a horrific car crash – witnessed from the kids in the car’s back seat – that instantly kills their parents. That scene, repeated a number of times throughout the film, is jarringly, sickeningly authentic. So, even in the afterlife, Oscar never “leaves” his sister, true to their earlier pact. But Linda, of course, doesn’t know this. Oscar’s spirit has no way of communicating with her, which seems a flaw in the story’s premise. The film, even during when Oscar is alive, is shot from his perspective, as we literally look out through his eyes. Post-mortem that’s also the case. Oscar’s disembodied spirit’s view is ours as it hovers above people or moves through walls or indeed zooms through objects, usually bright lights or hole-like cavities. While sometimes dazzling, the movie is repetitive, even boring at times. And there is no real developing plot. Two-thirds of the film is either Oscar revisiting people who he had dealings with – and how his death plays out in their lives, usually miserably - or flashbacks to his childhood. The “Void,” of course, is death. And his death is exactly like a book he had been reading, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, said it would be. Besides the film’s monotony and weak plot there are some clichéd "hey-man-what-a-cool-acid-trip" scenes. Nevertheless you have to applaud Noé’s exceptionally ambitious cinematography and his efforts, once again, to take film to a new level, as he did with comparatively standard efforts like Irreversible (2002) and I Stand Alone (1998). Even if you see Enter the Void once (you probably won’t want to see it a second time!) if you’re interested in the outer boundaries of filmmaking today, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Montreal festivals continue: They don’t call Montreal festival city for nothing. The Brazilian film festival is currently on. It’s in its fourth year and features 10 films......And from Dec. 10-23, 17 Charlie Chaplin movies in restored prints from Janus Films will be screened including less well known ones like The Idle Class and A King in New York. Alas, I will be back in Windsor by that time.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Trois nuits, trois films, en Montréal

Three nights, three movies, as I continue my late autumn sojourn in Canada’s most interesting city.....On Monday I took in Woody Allen’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger (with French sub-titles, a first!), a movie generally disliked by critics, who called it a retread of all-too-familiar Allen themes of life and love by oh-so-modern characters. Particular complaints were that it was “joyless,” (one reviewer) and “empty, soulless” (another). So I was geared to be a little underwhelmed. But, after all, this is Allen. And even his worst efforts have some redeeming qualities. But the surprise was that I thoroughly enjoyed the film, hanging on to every moment. No, it was hardly Woody’s best. And, yes, the story is familiar. But did I care? Allen’s topics of love and romance have been favourites with all sorts of directors and writers down through time. But more important was that this movie dealt with the idea of illusion. In fact it’s a modern morality tale. There were good performances by British stalwart Gemma Jones (the film is another by Allen set in London), Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and Antonio Banderas. And I even laughed at Anthony Hopkins’s rather stock Alfie character.....On Tuesday I visited the former home of the Montreal Canadiens, the Forum. And, yes, it is to shed a tear over what has become of the hockey shrine. Several years ago it was converted to make way for AMC’s 20-screen behemoth cineplex. Now the Habs play at the Bell Centre further downtown. Nothing against AMC. And the developers took some pains to preserve a few sections of old Forum seats outside the cinemas. There’s even a faceoff circle presumably where centre ice used to be, now used by neighbourhood break dancers. In any case, there I watched Copacabana (Marc Fitoussi) starring Isabelle Huppert as mom Babou and Lolita Chammah as daughter Esméralda. Much has been made about the usually dramatic Huppert putting a smile on her face and acting in a comedy. But, as is obvious in this film, she’s so talented she could be in any role. In fact I’d argue the film well captures her personality which is offbeat, irreverent and, yes, funny. But Copacabana is more dramatic than how it’s been portrayed. Babou is a Sixties flower child who remains a free spirit to her Gen X daughter’s conformity. Yes, the story has been done before. But the interaction between mother and daughter isn’t the highpoint. It’s more the film's character study of Babou herself.....Last night I returned to the AMC Forum to see Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Alex Gibney, Who Killed the Electric Car?). This film has great effects sometimes seeming like a drama. And it was a surprise to see Spitzer cooperate in the making of it. I liked the fact the movie wasn’t overly politically partisan and showed Spitzer’s good points (caped crusader against Wall Street corruption as New York State’s Attorney General) and bad (deceiving his family by seeking out liaisons with a high-priced call girl). The most interesting part of it, though, were the questions raised about who put government investigators on to Spitzer, suggesting it was his Republican political enemies..... I’ll see no movie tonight as I have a family dinner out on the town.....But tomorrow I return to Cinema du Parc to catch the highly anticipated (for me) Enter the Void,  Gaspar Noé’s latest. I think Noé is the most interesting director working today as evidenced by his mesmerizing films I Stand Alone and Irreversible. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Film Notes - more Montreal (and Ottawa)

As a columnist for the Montreal Mirror alternative weekly newspaper put it, and I paraphrase, “Okay a week has gone by, time for another film festival.” It sure is like that in this city. First there was the Montreal World Film Festival (MWFF) or (FFM to my en francais politically correct friends) in August. Then there was the Festival of New Cinema which I attended last month. Following that there was the Arab film festival, the Greek film festival, and Cinemania, Montreal's big fest celebrating French films (all with English subtitles). Going home to Windsor for a week-and-a-half (and catching the Windsor Intl Film Festival) I arrived back in Montreal for the dwindling days of the 16th annual Cinemania. And I caught Un Soir au Club (A Night at the Club) (Jean Achache) starring Thierry Hancisse as Simon, a former great jazz musician who rediscovers the keyboard magic and a personal transformation. I had wanted to see the big new film from France, Copacabana (Marc Fitoussi) (photo top left), starring fave Isabelle Huppert in a mother-daughter rivalry comedy about the garishly past-her-prime Babou (Huppert) being an embarrassment to her sophisticated daughter Esméralda (Lolita Chammah) ..... But not to fear, this being Montreal, the flic is now screening in general release at the AMC (the renovated old Forum where the Canadiens once played). Only about 50 people attended Un Soir au Club. So on that basis – and thinking there would be tickets aplenty - I took myself downtown to catch the closing movie Potiche (François Ozon), an ensemble farce with the grande dame of French cinema the iconically beautiful Catherine Deneuve, and timeless Gérard Depardieu.  I was astonished to see a line of people outside the theatre and around the block that went on and on and on and on and on and on... In other words the film was sold out!  No matter, it was a nice crisp evening to avail myself of the beauty and bright lights of downtown Montréal.....Overlaid with Cinemania was the documentary film fest, Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal (RIDM)......At this point I was starting to feel filmed-out (I know, unbelievable, but true.) Plus, I had a lot of work to do so tucked myself indoors for most of last week. Finally, with cabin (or should that be apartment) fever setting in, I got out Friday eve and saw D. A. Pennebaker (of Sixties doc fame Don’t Look Back about Bob Dylan) and Chris  Hegedus’s Kings of Pastry about France’s top pastry chefs competing for the Meilleur Ouvrier de France, the top award. The film wouldn’t have been my first choice but the others at that time slot were sold out. Nevertheless this doc was engrossing and very human.....Meanwhile, on a side trip to Ottawa over the weekend I picked up a flyer for Ottawa’s Bytowne Cinema, operated by the folks who used to operate the original Towne repertory, dating from when I lived in Ottawa (whoops, I’m showing my age) in the early and mid-1970s. That repertory seems timeless.....There may be no film festival (that I know of) this week in Montreal.  But there is plenty on offer at regular and rep theatres. Tonight I’ll (finally) get down to see Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, at Cinéma du Parc; tomorrow likely Copacabana at AMC. I’m also interested in the new doc about former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer that is generating great  reviews, Client 9, (Alex Gibney) another evening this week.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Burton Theatre's music-themed series

Detroit’s repertory Burton Theatre is screening what it’s calling its Urban ScreenPlay Film Series this month at the former elementary school turned funky art house on the city’s venerable Cass Avenue..... (Alert to Windsorites – despite the belief that Cass is the most dangerous street in Detroit, it isn’t. Far from it. You might see people who are down-and-out begging for money but it’s hardly a place you’re likely to get mugged. In fact, with some of the bars and restos along Cass’s several blocks, the street makes for a rather colourful thoroughfare.)......The series started last weekend. This weekend it features a double bill called The Psychedelic Experience with Coming Back for More: The Search for Sly Stone, and Space Is the Place, about the late great avant-gardist Sun Ra.....On Nov. 27 & 28 the theme is Challenging the Status Quo. The first film is Keep on Walking: Joshua Nelson, the Jewish Gospel Singer, followed by Am I Black Enough for You.....The Burton is at 3420 Cass, just south of Martin Luther King Blvd. Its web site is

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Media myths about WIFF's sixth edition

Peter Coady (left) would like to set a few things straight. Yes, the attendance was up at this year’s Windsor Intl Film Festival (WIFF). But there was no – repeat no - rift with the casino.....And, yes, maybe there is room for more screenings and comfortable seats at the good ol’ Capitol Theatre for future fests.....Coady said some 5900 people attended the four-day event “an improvement over last year” though he didn’t have a percentage. That included 600 high schoolers attending a special screening and live interactive broadcast with Colm Feore, formerly of  Windsor. They also loved watching a special screening of last year’s The Trotsky (Jason Tierney) – in which Feore starred -  a great film for high school kids planning a revolution during their spare periods.....Media coverage of this year’s WIFF got off to kind of a bad start (do ya’ think so?!), what with the reported split between long time programmer Otto Buj and the festival, and the fact WIFF was no longer holding the gala opening at Caesars.....I didn’t get into the Buj-festival split with Coady because that would have meant interviewing Buj and I didn’t have the time. Perhaps in the future.....Meanwhile, Coady said there was no bad blood with Caesars. But it was solely WIFF that ended the tie.  “It was s big step for our board to take to move from the casino,” he said. “And basically we were being honest with the casino. The casino wanted more screenings...and for us it’s technically difficult. I mean moving a 35 millimetre projector after our opening night back to the Capitol for our regular programming, our guys were up to three in the morning, and then you start the festival with guys who are already bagged.” He didn’t think a film fest “belongs in a casino.” That’s despite Caesars making a “good offer of support” including use of the 5,000-seat Colosseum.....Media reports also suggested it was a bad move that WIFF was scheduled the same weekend as BookFest Windsor. But, according to Coady, it didn’t matter. “The big fact is they had great crowds, we had great crowds.” BookFest was held at the Art Gallery of Windsor, a few blocks away. So why did the fest move up a week? Simple, he says. Remembrance Day fell on the second Thursday – usually WIFF’s opening night. “And that’s why we felt we couldn’t have an opening – a big gala – on Remembrance Day.” Makes sense. And which suggests the media should loosen up. It’s only a frickin’ film fest  not Armageddon and this is Windsor where we’re even lucky to have a festival.....WIFF sold out five of the six screenings of the three locally-made films in the smaller Joy theatre with 125 seats though chairs were added. It also sold out It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck) Saturday night......But, yes, there are still a few bugs that need to be worked out in this, WIFF’s, sixth edition. (Actually it seems that once one problem is nailed down a new one springs up.). The audio vastly improved in the large Pentatsar theatre (one of the Capitol’s three rooms) thanks in part to a new screen purchased from the Detroit Film theatre (DFT) which has a brand new screen of its own. (WIFF has a relationship with the DFT and also screened films there.).....But there were problems at the Kelly theatre. Watching Stephen Frears’s Tamara Drewe was like watching a foreign movie sans sous-titres. Coady acknowledged it was a problem – “that may have been attributable to some electrical problems up in the booth” - but I also blame the various English dialects in this film now playing at Landmark Detroit’s Main. As much as Windsorites love the Capitol (the latest news is that the years-long impasse was broken with the building’s receiver, and the City of Windsor has gained control of the venerable building) there are problems. Despite a mid-Nineties restoration these are the original seats, and they’re not comfortable. Less so when temporary banquet seats had to be brought in at the Joy theatre, where the locally-made  and some other films were screened. “I can’t deny that,” Coady said. He even agreed the more modern Palace complex – just over a block away – would have been a more comfortable alternative but says it looks like the Capitol will be WIFF’s permanent home....As well, the whole issue of the box office moved to the cold confines of University Ave. will have to be addressed. The box office used to be in the warm comfort of the Capitol lobby. This year people in line had to freeze their buns waiting to buy tickets from a box office that didn’t even offer credit card sales, only cash purchases, though many tickets were sold thu WIFF's web site.

Monday, November 8, 2010

WIFF - that's a wrap

I caught Another Year (Mike Leigh) for a second time (having seen it in Montreal earlier this fall) and it was as satisfying to watch as at the first go round. This character study of aging Baby Boomers focuses on Mary (Lesley Manville) as the frail, ditzy friend of rock solid and nurturing couple Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen) (and yes they joke about their cutesy names!) (picture left). In competition for the top prize at Cannes this year the film didn’t win anything, though it garnered the best reviews of any movie. Go figure. This picture unfolds slowly but absorbingly in a nuanced way that juxtaposes marital contentment with the desperation of those who have somehow not found meaningful lives, in a story both sombre and light, with realistic performances throughout.....The Concert (Radu Mihaileanu) is about a former conductor Andrei Simoniovich Filipov (Aleksei Guskov) of Russia’s Bolshoi orchestra who, 30 years earlier, was stripped of his title after hiring Jewish musicians and being declared an enemy of the people. Despite the serious topic this is mostly a light hearted, even zany, ensemble film characteristic of eastern European cinema.

WIFF notes & wrap: Here are some observations from others and myself about this year’s fest, the sixth annual.

- Yes, we all love the old Capitol Theatre. But, despite the building’s mid-Nineties renovation there are still obvious deficiencies. Take seating. These are the original seats and, yes, they’re uncomfortable. I heard numerous people complaining about their sore backsides. This was even truer in the smaller Kelly room (the theatre on the right) where people had to squeeze in to narrow rows. There likely are obvious reasons the Capitol was chosen. But a venue like the Palace complex around the corner - and with ownership that has embraced independent films – would have been a more comfortable venue. The WIFF did screen films at the Palace in the past, as it did at the even more comfortable Lakeshore, but last year consolidated all screenings at the Capitol. Also, the temporary seats in the Joy theatre - often used as a reception room - were even more uncomfortable.

- Another problem was sound, especially in the Kelly. It was all but impossible to make out dialogue during Saturday evening’s screening of Stephen Frears’s Tamara Drewe. I’ll admit to my own denseness. But the loud sound of the projector coupled with some kind of muffled audio from the movie itself (just my imagination?) and some heavy English dialect made watching it seem almost like a foreign movie without sub-titles.

- The marketing. Yes, we know the WIFF acts as an incentive to bring people downtown. That’s great. (And obviously many of the fest-goers were newbies judging by the number of comments along the lines of  “not being in this theatre since I can’t remember when” or “I remember coming here way back in high school!”) But why not promote the festival better? You would never know the WIFF was at the Capitol unless you were a pedestrian happening to take a hard look at the posters in the theatre’s window showcases. Motorists driving by looked puzzled by what was going on. How about next year putting a banner across University Ave. – and at other street locations downtown - advertising the festival big?

- On the plus side, it was good to see that the screens were raised from stage floor level, making them quite visible from pretty well all the seats.

- Finally, it seems unreasonable for some film goers – well, one woman in particular - to complain about others who were munching on snacks. After all, the festival sells popcorn expressly for the purpose of eating while watching the movie. It’s a time-honoured tradition. So to this woman - grossly annoyed about the people down the aisle who were only doing what moviegoers have done forever - I say, lighten up!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

WIFF - Day 1

Certified Copy by Abbas Kiarostami has Juliette Binoche and English opera star William Shimell (he doesn’t sing) in this tale of attraction, introspection, philosophy and meditation on life and relationships. Reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, a man and woman – seemingly strangers - meet and spend several hours walking the bucolic landscape and timeless villages of Tuscany. As the movie progresses the identity of the two changes in terms of what each means to the other. Or does it? This movie was utterly absorbing.....Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love has Tilda Swinton as Emma Recchi, wife of the inherited owner of a huge Milan linen factory. Her character breaks out of her bourgeois family through a personal romantic obsession, a story paralleling the fall of the company’s fortunes. This is an elegantly-made film with strong studied visual shots and a fantastic music score which underlines the film’s sophisticated look. But it’s a weak story that seems less than convincing.

WIFF notes: There seemed fewer people Friday night compared to the almost-couldn’t-move crowds in the Capitol Theatre lobby last year, and neither of the two performances I attended were sold out. Many people seemed to order tickets online and one volunteer had a big stack of Will Call envelopes, mingling among the crowd on the street and handing them out – a nice touch. But if you didn’t buy online, you were reduced to lining up on University Ave. – in a cold bitter wind – and purchasing from a couple of box office staff. A further inconvenience was that tickets could only be purchased with cash; no credit cards. For some reason the inside ticket booth in the Capitol’s lobby was not used.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Look back in whimsy

Kingsville’s Tim Swaddling’s first feature The Arrow and the String will have two screenings at this weekend's Windsor International Film Festival.....Swaddling, who has a few short films under his belt, came up with the idea of the film because it’s somewhat reflective of his age.....He grew up in Kingsville and graduated from the University of Windsor with a combined major in communications and visual arts. But recently he started to realize he was getting to an age - 30 - when you start to look back on your youth. “I was already starting to gain perspective on the guy I was when I first entered university or moved out of my parents’ home,” he said. “I had friends who were all commenting on the same thing...about these issues dealing with how you reconcile your past with your future".....The film’s main character Jerry (Noah Davis) is in a rut with his career and his girlfriend. One day he runs into an old acquaintance who appears as vibrant as Jerry felt years earlier. The acquaintance gives him a card for a Detective Brown (Jeff Williams) who specializes in finding past lives. Jerry is sceptical.....Swaddling was able to obtain equipment to make the film through the support of the U of Windsor's Studio 5. Swaddling, also a musician and visual artist, is thrilled that WIFF picked up the flic, with two screenings followed by question and answer sessions with the director.....“It’s quite a big honour for me, just getting into the festival.”

Film Notes: Jean-Luc Godard an anti-Semite? There's an uproar in the American Jewish community about famed New Waver Godard being honoured at an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences banquet Nov. 13. Godard is sharply critical of Israel and at one time claimed to be a Maoist. Godard, among other things, made a statement in 1985 and reported in a 2008 biography by Richard Brody: "What I find interesting in the cinema is that, from the beginning, there is the idea of debt. The real producer is, all the same, the image of a Central European Jew"......I just returned from two weeks in Montreal where it seems quite possible to simply roll through the months going from film festival to film festival. After attending the Festival of New Cinema, Cinemania the French film festival (wth English sub-titles) has opened. There is also the Greek and Arab film fests, not to mention the gay and lesbian fest.