Friday, January 28, 2011

Casino Royale, colour blind, and movie card!

Casino Royale – I have seen this 1967 spy send-up many times (not to be confused with the 2006 James Bond flic with Daniel Craig) but it has been a long, long time. This, boys and girls, was probably the greatest inspiration for the Austin Powers movies (“shag me”, “do behave”). There’s even a scene of Peter Sellers and Ursula Andress on a revolving bed, reprised by Mike Myers some 30 years later. This film was a mammoth hit in early 1967, caught up in the mod-psychedelia of the era, and with a huge cast of some of the biggest talents then working, combining Old Hollywood with some of the new (David Niven, William Holden, Charles Boyer, Peter Sellers, and Jean-Paul Belmondo). The song, by Burt Bacharach (natch) and played by Herb Alpert, was a Top 30 hit. All this to say it was very much of its era. But amazing what people found funny then. This is a dead-on-arrival two-hour bore, with wooden slapstick and a stupefying plot, and I’m being kind. But – and here’s the but – the last half hour is worth watching. If only because of the fantastical technological netherworld that entraps our heroes. It’s a huge template for spy films – serious and fun – for years to come. One thing’s for certain. Woody Allen hasn’t changed. In one of his first roles, he’s as sarcastically nebbish as ever: “We will run amok,” he says to a romantic interest. “If you’re tired we will walk amok.”

White Oscars? People are raising questions about the fact there are no notable people of colour nominated – none at all, in fact - for an Oscar this season. I never noticed. You see, I’m colour blind. Isn’t this the “post racial” era we’re supposed to be in, especially with the election of Barack Obama?

Scene card: I finally received my Scene card in the mail and can now take part in one of the best deals going. Show your card at Cineplex theatres and you accrue points. You get 250 points for just signing up and 100 points for each movie ticket you buy thereafter. After 1000 points you’re entitled to a free movie and there are other “rewards.” Sign-up now!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oscar! Not Madison (but we can wish)

I’m all with The King’s Speech (Tom Hooper, The Damned United) nominated for 12 awards. I think Colin Firth is a fine actor for one thing, Hooper got down 1930s ambience and costumes for another, and this was a picture with many close-ups requiring fairly convincing roles from Firth and Geoffrey Rush (Supporting). I also like the fact it isn’t a dump-on or send-up of a former era, which seems refreshing in a way.....I also loved True Grit and think its worthy of best pic status though I would probably choose The King’s Speech over it. Hailee Steinfeld is a knockout and Jeff Bridges is at his lovingly gruff best....Let’s hear it for Portman in The Black Swan – yes, Best Actress!.....The Kids Are All Right was a charming and at times delightfully acerbic comedy-drama about lesbian family life....Have ignored The Social Network (I know I know, most stupendous pic of decade etc. etc. But I have a problem with facebook. I know, I know, the movie’s “not about” facebook.).....I walked out on Inception, remember? (and that was only after the first half hour).....I see Another Year (Mike Leigh) is nominated for Best Writing (Screenplay). I loved this movie, have seen it twice, and would probably sit through it one or three more times.....From the land of the big freeze, Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies for best foreign-langauge film. I’ve been avoiding it, not that I haven’t had plenty of opportunities having spent most of the fall in Montreal where it was showing nightly. But somehow a downer about the Middle East doesn’t excite me. Maybe I’ll have to push myself to see it, maybe.....I had no interest in seeing The Fighter despite the critics’ raves. Why? Well, because it’s about fighters – er, boxers.....Will I watch Feb. 27? I usually don’t. But have been getting into it more in recent years. It might be good for an extended snooze.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Capsule reviews of three Windsor films

Planting Vines is the most accomplished film I have seen from Windsor-Essex filmmakers. It screened this past weekend at the WEx3 film fest- a collaborative mini festival put together by directors Nicholas Shields of the above film, Chris Pickle of Saving Grace, and Otto Buj of Primordial Ties.....Planting Vines was shot both in Montreal and Windsor, with glorious exterior shots of downtown Montreal and Montreal’s old city, and with mainly interior shots made here in Canada’s motor capital. Christopher Lawrence-Menard is in the lead role as coming-of-age architect Daniel who seeks the ideal among the crass in his sometimes debauched profession. Amy Rivard, who has had turns in North American touring theatre, plays his girlfriend Sonya. Of the three films shown over the weekend this has the best narrative structure and scene flow with some imaginative technical effects rarely seen in any movie. Lawrence-Menard and Rivard are maturing in their acting and have solid foundations to build on for future film roles. As does definitely Shields as a director.....Saving Grace seems both a serious psychological thriller and a send-up of 1970s-era psycho/horror dramas. Mandy Bo (Grace) is a drug addict trying to get custody of her daughter. Recovering from an overdose in hospital she’s kidnapped by a janitor, Clayton (played by Jason Barbeck), and awakens in a dungeon-like room in an abandoned building. Clayton tries to convince Grace that his intentions are honourable as he rescues her from the apocalyptic events happening all around them. “I don’t have any bad intentions, I’m just not good with people,” he says. She of course thinks it’s all bunk. Bo and Barbeck have their characters’ fundamentals down pat but the acting could have been a little more polished and the script could have moved more away from cliché (i.e., the close up of dripping blood from the hook that impales the not-so-well-intentioned Hank (Peter Coady)).....Otto Buj’s Primordial Ties is another coming of age story about a young woman which seems a throwback to a 1950s noir. Stephanie Sobocan plays Marjorie, a beautiful ingénue who seems out of place and time, obsessed with her long-deceased father (Mark Lefebvre), a possible occultist or bizarre scientist. She escapes from the world around her to listen to old reel-to-reel tapes of her father’s philosophical musings. This is Sobocan’s first film, and she’s good in evoking the innocence and mysteriousness of her character. In the film Buj seems to want to separate the idealist wheat from the materialist and conventional chaff as his story aims for the ideal and pure. But the directing is at times heavy handed and can jump confusingly between scenes, as it goes back and forth in time to unfold the enigma at the story’s heart.....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Local and online fests

Just a reminder....the WEx3 mini-fest runs Friday through Sunday at Windsor’s downtown Capitol Theatre and Arts Centre, 121 University Ave. W. This is a chance to catch-up on the state of filmmaking in southwestern Ontario. Three films by Windsor-Essex County filmmakers will be screened.....Nick Shields and Cameron Hucker’s Planting Vines is scheduled Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 1 pm, Chris Pickle’s Saving Grace Friday at 9.15 pm and Sunday at 5 pm, Otto Buj’s Primordial Ties Friday at 7 pm and Saturday at 5 pm.....Tickets are $10 per screening with a portion going to the Windsor Essex Cancer Centre Foundation. The films are also being shown in memory and to recognize the talents of Kevin Couvillon “for his invaluable technical contribution” to all three films. Kevin passed away last year....Tickets can also be purchased online at  and picked-up at Will Call....Finally there will be a panel discussion, free to the public, Sunday at 3 pm .....

There was a report last week in a Canadian newspaper that for a small fee people can log on to a new Internet film festival to watch 10 feature length French films, 10 short films, and three films out of competition. Most of the films showcase contemporary young French filmmakers. The festival,, seems like a great idea. After all, why fly to France for a film festival (okay, fresh baguettes are great!) when recently-made films can be brought to your computer? .....The online festival runs Jan. 14 - 29 and you can vote on your favourites. There are also interviews with directors and actors. The winning films will be screened on Air France flights this April.....A problem: I signed into the site but every film I clicked on said, “The film you are trying to watch does not have the broadcast rights in your country.” I’m in Canada. Maybe Americans will have more luck.....

Monday, January 17, 2011

Entertaining, yes, but what's the point?

Barney’s Version is a generally well-made film from a Canadian director with a cast of international stars, set in Montreal and well, not seeming at all like the dreary Canadian films we’ve come to expect. Interestingly, films based on the books of Mordecai Richler tend to be fairly well made, exuding any evidence of Canadian art house dreariness. I’m thinking of the Richard Dreyfuss–led The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974, Ted Kotcheff). In Barney’s Version, Richard J. Lewis (Whale Music, 1994) is at the helm as director. But Lewis has been so immersed in directing American TV series he brings forth a movie shed of the narrow and pretentious bleakness of indie Canadian film. This movie has a look and feel of Hollywood, and that’s a good thing......Paul Giamatti in the lead role as Barney Panofsky also provides big time cred as does Dustin Hoffman as Barney’s father Izzy. Minnie Driver also takes a turn as Barney’s second wife.  This is an entertaining film based on Richler’s last novel (1997), a story about a curmudgeon TV producer and his life and times.....There’s nothing particularly special about Panofsky. The film starts with him as a young man in Rome hanging with some of his artsy friends. There he meets wife number one, a self-obsessed poet. Returning to Montreal he marries wife number two, a classic Jewish-Canadian princess. Wife number three Mariam (Rosamund Pike) turns out to be the love of his life. But Barney, being Barney, tends to mess even that up. You see, Barney, a man of some intellectual depth despite his schlocky production company and boozing lifestyle, yearns for a woman of class and intelligence. The problem is, he can’t ultimately control his self-destructive urges. He is by turns cynical, caustic, funny and, well, a jerk. Or, this film being Jewish, a perfect schmuck......Which led to a friend of mine’s question about what the point of this movie was anyway. Enjoyable entertainment? Sometimes that’s all something needs to be. But don’t expect any life lessons, or moral answers, from Barney’s Version. Nor does the film capture more of the complexity of Panofsky’s character that’s apparently in the novel, such as his self-loathing as someone who yearns for beauty in all of its manifestations, as represented by Miriam. So, score one for an entertaining two-hour flic. But when you think about it there’s really not much more here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grittier than ever

I finally took myself to see True Grit, the Coens’ latest and another example of their mastery of yet another genre of filmmaking, the tried and true Western. I was expecting True Grit, while keeping mainly to the authenticity of Charles Portis’s book (the original movie, 1969, starred John Wayne as Marshall “Rooster” Cogburn and Glen Campbell as La Boeuf) to carry a pall of the dark humour the co-directing brothers are so famous for. The surprise is there is no irony. This is a genuine Western and done as well as any great Western prior to this. Jeff Bridges is in a logical extension of his role as The Dude in the Coens’ The Big Lebowski (1998) as the gnarly, grizzled Cogburn, hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (played by the stunningly-talented Hailee Steinfeld) to track down Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), her father's murderer. As with all Coen period movies, there is exactingness to the filmmaking, with authentic (if at times not always understandable!) 19th Century dialogue (amazingly stilted and formal even for the roughest characters) to costumes and sets. (Most of the film was shot in central Texas). Bridges is terrific slipping effortlessly into what seems a difficult role requiring personal toughness, alcoholic debauchery, and archaic speech. But the standout is Steinfeld, whose sense of conviction, ethics and intelligence, would be impressive in an adult, let alone a young teen....If mass audiences haven’t discovered the offbeat Coens (No Country for Old Men, Fargo, A Serious Man, Barton Fink, Miller’s Crossing) before this, they have now. The film is number one at the US box office, though probably a lot of paying customers are going for the sake of seeing a remake of the John Wayne classic (d. Henry Hathaway) not for the latest film from Joel and Ethan, the smart-aleck edgy ironists.

And I have started to watch all of the Sixties-era James Bond movies beginning with 1962’s Dr. No. – which could parlay into me watching all of the Bond movies, period. Sean Connery of course is in this Terence Young-directed first of the Ian Fleming classics, which hopefully will have a franchise that will go on and on forever. Also on board is Sixties sex symbol Ursula Andress in her most famous scene, emerging in white bikini from the Caribbean surf. It’s been a long time since I saw this and I was surprised that the film held together as well as it did. Often in Sixties comedy-dramas there are huge gaps in the plot and certain elements of disbelief that filmmakers couldn’t get away with nowadays. But the movie - given that Bond films require an imaginative leap anyway - moves along well, with wonderful shots of an early-1960s Jamaica that paints an elegant and sophisticated island paradise. A surprise was the absence of many special effects. Those are saved for last, unlike the last few Bonds which seem all over-the-top action and threadbare plot.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cross-border treats for Canucks, Yanks

Americans and Canadians – take note of the following films coming soon to a country next door to you....Canadians (since they have less access to US media) might be interested in checking out the Detroit Film Theatre’s (DFT) new winter and spring schedule. Let’s look at the most high-profile event first. The ABC crime series Detroit 1-8-7’s Michael Imperioli, who heads the cast of the filmed-in-Detroit first season show, will be in attendance Jan. 30 at the gorgeously-restored theatre connected to the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). He’ll take part in a discussion of his written and directed 2009 film The Hungry Ghosts. The film will have its local premiere that afternoon at 5.30. The film is described as “an unusual and provocative drama of interconnecting stories set over one 36-hour period”.....Meanwhile  on Jan. 27 acclaimed film editor Richard Chew will be in attendance at the DFT to discuss the “invisible art” of his trade. He has been co-editor on such films as Star Wars. And his work includes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Conversation and My Favourite Year. A series of clips from his films will be shown followed by an onstage discussion and then a screening of one of the films he says has been most influential, Michael Roemer's 1964 Nothing But a Man......Meanwhile Orson Welles’s F for Fake, a picture made later in the master’s career, is a doc that examines “the invisible line between art and illusion.” It dovetails nicely with the DIA’s current art exhibit Fakes, Forgeries, and Mysteries.  The film will be shown Jan. 15.....Other films this season of note are Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (Alex Gibney) Jan. 21-23, and Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (Michèle Hozer and Peter Raymont) Jan. 22.  For the complete DFT schedule go to

Now, for Americans seeking out not only some Canadian fare but  LOCAL Canadian fare, look no further than the WEx3 mini-festival Jan. 21-23 at Windsor’s downtown Capitol Theatre ( It features films by three Windsor directors: Nick Shields and Cameron Hucker’s Planting Vines, Otto Buj’s Primordial Ties and Chris Pickle's Saving Grace. The fest is described as a “hands-on collaborative” effort among the filmmakers, “celebrating the independent spirit, craftsmanship and diversity of their productions.” Each film will be screened twice. There will also be a panel discussion Sunday at 3 pm free to the public. This is the first of its kind festival and provides some profile to Windsor’s burgeoning filmmaking scene. And, oh by the way, Canadians can attend too!