Sunday, July 24, 2011

Traverse City: my picks & more

I’m surprised by how quickly films have been selling out at the Traverse City Film Festival (TCFF). By early last week there were already a substantial number of screenings sold out. And a tally today found more than 65 sell outs of the more than 175 screenings (some repeats) in the festival that opens tomorrow and runs until Sunday. This seems to be Michigan’s film fest alright! Perhaps I could venture to say it’s also Detroit’s film festival as southeastern Michigan doesn’t have a mainstream festival of this type. So let's all head north! (or "Up North" in the Michigan colloquial).....In any case, this isn’t necessarily a criticism. But there are few premiers at the TCFF. Rather this a collection of mostly recently made films many of which have been screened at art houses over the past 12 months. These include the Princess of Montpensier (Bertrand Tavernier), Made in Dagenham (Nigel Cole), Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog), Incendies (Denis Villeneuve), Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press). The Trip (Michael Winterbottom), In a Better World (Susanne Bier) – well, you get the idea. But the festival’s original aim is “to bring often-undistributed national and international films to film lovers”..... There will in fact be world premieres of Habanastation (Ian Padron) and Brothers on the Line (Sasha Reuther) and there are a smattering of Michigan and “Midwest” premieres.....Several classics have been thrown into the mix including To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962), Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936) and The Front (Martin Ritt, 1976).....Here are my festival picks: Young Goethe in Love (Philipp Stölz, 2010), Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog 2010), The Swell Season (Nick August-Perna, Chris Dapkins, Carlo Mirabella-Davis 2011), All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki 2010), The Women on the 6th Floor (Philippe Le Guay 2010), Project Nim (James Marsh 2011), Romantics Anonymous (Jean-Pierre Améris 2010),
Queen to Play (Caroline Bottaro 2009), My Piece of the Pie (Cédric Klapisch 2011).....And several documentaries  warrant attention: Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'
(Mary Murphy 2010), An Encounter with Simone Weil (Julia Haslett 2010), PressPausePlay (David Dworsky, Victor Köhler 2011) and Visionaries (Chuck Workman 2010).....For more details on these films as well as assorted general info and – if you're thinking of attending – to purchase tickets go to

Monday, July 18, 2011

Traverse City announces films

The seventh annual Traverse City Film Festival has announced its list of films, and it looks wide-ranging with a strong mix of domestic, foreign, classic, documentaries, shorts and animations. This will be my first visit to the festival running July 26 - 31 in Michigan’s vacation heartland the beautiful Traverse City and environs.....There will be a solid 150 films screened, the most ever. New this year is an experimental film venue in the Dutmers Theatre. This will also be the first of five TC festivals in which a 100-year-old film will be shown, an Italian feature L’Inferno (1911) based on Dante’s Divine Comedy. There will be a special tribute to Roy Rogers who would have turned 100 years old this year. Some of his family have been invited and two of his classics Under Western Stars and Don’t Fence Me In will be screened.....This fest is Michigan native and filmmaker Michael Moore’s baby so expect some degree of films veering to the political. Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi will be honorary chair and perhaps his most famous film The White Balloon will be screened. Panahi is under house arrest in Iran so couldn’t attend Traverse City......This is the silver anniversary of the Great Flint Sit Down Strike and there will be tributes including the documentary Brothers on the Line about the Reuther Brothers and the UAW. And organizers have literally doubled the outdoor screen in the Open Space to 100 feet (about ten stories high and wide) where there will be free nightly screenings on Grand Traverse Bay and up to 15,000 can attend. I can’t think of a better outdoor location - talk about starry nights in more ways than one. The screenings include a rare outdoor showing of George Lucas’s The Empire Strikes Back.....Otherwise there are five theatres and a shuttle bus system to carry you from one to another.....The entire event looks like a well-oiled logistical machine located in a great vacation city and served-up in a general feel good atmosphere. I can’t wait to attend if only for a few days.....I’ll have more about the festival in coming days. Meanwhile check out TCFF’s web site

Monday, July 11, 2011

Winterbottom, Spacey, Kelly, and a rat

I’m dying to see The Trip (at Landmark’s Main), Michael Winterbottom’s new project with some of his favourite actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, both of Winterbottom’s 2002 24 Hour Party People. That film was about the making of Manchester England’s Factory Records in the late 1970s and the famed post-punk group Joy Division (which became New Order) and its timeless single Love Will Tear Us Apart. Winterbottom’s new film The Trip looks for all the world like a British version of Sideways, Alexander Payne’s 2004 delightful but tart road movie with Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. Only this time the back roads of the U. K. are pursued by these two lost lads on their gastronomic journey. Winterbottom himself is a highly versatile director, with a catalogue of films ranging from A Mighty Heart – about the death of American journalist Daniel Pearl at the hands of Al-Qaeda - to In This World, about Pakistani refugees escaping to England.  When you consider these films – and numerous others - they are often of vastly different themes and story lines – from the sober and poignant to the uproariously funny.

Meanwhile, is Kevin Spacey starting to look like Jack Lemmon? Publicity stills for his new flic Horrible Bosses (Seth Gordon) could almost fool you into thinking you are looking at the great Lemmon, who died in 2001. And, by the way, I’m waiting for the sequel to this film, Horrible Employees, though it will never get made, if you get my drift.

I know it’s Toronto and all. But whenever I see an article about someone trying to rescue an old repertory cinema it makes me hope that this once highly popular way of seeing independent and classic movies will still be around for some time to come. Of course Windsor had the venerable and lamented Windsor Film Theatre, which lasted about a decade during the 1990s, on Wynadotte St. West. But in Toronto the Bloor Cinema in the Annex has recently been given new life. It will be managed by the group that puts on the city’s annual Hot Docs festival. The theatre will continue to host the Jewish Film Festival and the After Dark Film Festival. But most of its screenings will now be documentaries.

If you are truly in love with Grace Kelly, as I am, then you will want to go to Toronto this fall for another reason. The city’s fabulous TIFF Bell Lightbox will present an exclusive look at Kelly the star Nov. 4 – 22. ( Kelly was probably best known for her films with Alfred Hitchcock, which will also be shown in a new series there called Icy Fire: The Hitchcock Blonde.

The Windsor International Film Festival has put its monthly screenings on hiatus of late. But come back in August when three movies will be shown at the Capitol Theatre, a triple-header, if you will, on Saturday August 6. The first at 2 pm is Ratatouille (Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava, 2007) an animation about a rat with culinary ambitions. Next at 5 pm is Grown in Detroit (Manfred & Mascha Poppenk, 2009) about teen moms in Detroit becoming urban farmers. And then at 7 pm the documentary Kings of Pastry (D.A. Pennebaker & Chris Hegedus, 2009), which I caught last year at the Montreal International Documentary Festival, will be screened. It’s about an extraordinarily tense three-day competition to win recognition as France’s top pastry chef. Engrossing and heart-rending when you see the chances these chefs – at the top of their games – take with their amazingly intricate creations.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Biggest enabler movie in some time

Anyone who knows me knows I’m interested in art. But not graffiti. Or as it’s called in this movie, street art. Yes, I’m aware of the fine distinctions. Or so they say. To me, it’s all graffiti, illegal and immoral. When the opening credits first began in this film, Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), accompanied by scenes of graffiti "artists” vandalizing the sides of buildings, public transit cars, freeway overpasses, etc. – all to the sound (quite lovely if its topic wasn’t so vile) of Richard Hawley’s Tonight the Streets Are Ours – I was ready to switch it off. So this is what the “Banksy” movie was all about. Banksy is a notorious graffiti scrawler (oh, excuse me, artist) who is notorious for remaining anonymous and manages to do so even in this film, wearing a hoodie (what else?) with his voice electronically modified.....But I decided to watch it if only as a piece of sociology about the corrupt era in which we live. And, of course, to write a scathing review.....The film is really about French immigrant Thierry Guetta. Guetta, who ran a vintage clothing store in LA, developed an obsession with videotaping virtually everything around him. He eventually discovers street "artists" and is consumed by their images and the exciting “danger” in which they place themselves – perched high atop buildings, working in the middle of the night, fleeing from police. Through a cousin and graffiti-maker named Invader he meets Shepard Fairey, designer of Barack Obama's 2008 election poster. So, now it can be told, Obama’s iconic image (above) was done by a graffiti artist who spray paints on private and public property. That’s a pretty low level of “hope and change” to aim for.....But Thierry’s ultimate goal is meeting the Big Kuhana himself, Banksy, a self-described "art terrorist”.....So obsessed does Thierry eventually become with graffiti that he decides to engage in it himself. And he has remarkable success. He stages a mammoth exhibition in Hollywood and attracts thousands in what would become possibly the "art" happening of the decade. Thierry’s "art" – twists mostly on existing iconic pop culture images like Warhol, Madonna, Elvis and the Beatles – draws incredible enthusiasm and he comes out of it selling $1 million of the stuff. His legacy now seems firmly in place.....Artists metaphorically have sometimes been referred to as outlaws because their visions challenge existing images, indeed ways of looking at the world. But in the case of those portrayed in this film they really are outlaws. And the picture – nominated for Oscar as Best Documentary Feature – is simply an enabler.