Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cohen's hilarious grossness continues

The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest, isn’t quite as funny as Cohen's Borat (2006) and Brüno (2009) because it’s scripted whereas the former were spontaneous “mockumentaries” directed at unsuspecting victims. It takes awhile for this movie, also directed by Larry Charles, to get going. But after that, the film is almost as good as its predecessors. In fact it’s uncanny – or maybe not – how the movie spoofs the real world standoff between the United Nations and government of Iran. Cohen’s character Admiral General Aladeen of the Republic of Wadiya refuses to let weapons inspectors determine whether his scientists are making weapon grade uranium. His character is a composite of the excesses of every maniacal dictator out there, complete with the gold-lined palaces and pathological temper, ordering executions on the slightest whim. But Aladeen comes closest in looks and personality – with the over the top uniforms minus the beard – to ill-fated Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. (The film is dedicated to North Korean’s deceased “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il!) Overlay Cohen’s Borat and Brüno characters’ cross-cultural stupidity and general outrageousness and you have Aladeen. The film, like the two earlier ones, is filled with sight gags – often of the very gross variety - as Aladeen comes to New York to make a speech to the UN. Improbably he falls in love with the manager of a Brooklyn natural foods store Zoey (Anna Farris) whose political views are diametrically opposed to his. All this takes place against the backdrop of his plotting uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) who wants him rid of so Tamir can democratize Wadiya and skim the oil profits. The movie suffers because, unlike Borat and Brüno, it’s not spontaneous. It’s also a bit of a tired theme, as per Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) and Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971).  Cohen however loves to take on extreme archetypes – Borat as the Eastern European dork, Brüno as the gay Austrian fashion journalist, and now an over-the-top dictator. What will his next character be? I can’t image but I’m sure we’ll immediately recognize it. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

You don't have to be of a certain age

I had to laugh when showing up for a noon time screening of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the Maple (also at Devonshire and Lakeshore). Virtually everybody in the theatre was women of a certain age – and the men they dragged there of course - mirroring the aged or elderly characters in this comedy-drama from Bill Madden (Shakespeare in Love).  Marigold has a stellar cast of some of England’s top actors – of a senior age – and that is what has drawn in this crowd of PBS and British costume drama (Downton Abbey, anyone?) fans. The characters include Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Ronald Pickup. The film is all about retirees and their search for a little meaning, if a bit of fun, in the waning years of their lives. The group meets while in transit from London to Jaipur, India to retire to the Marigold Hotel, which is a little down at the heels compared to what the brochures said. It’s run by super enthusiastic Sonny (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire) who’s never at a loss for talking up the positive when there is negative all around. Each person in this ensemble has their own story of course. Dench (Evelyn) has sold off her English home to pay her late husband’s debts and finds work as a call centre consultant. Smith (Muriel) is a former housekeeper, released from employment and who ironically must go to India for a cheap hip replacement among people she, a racist, looks down on. Wilkinson (Graham) is a retired high court judge who returns to India, his boyhood home, in part to find his long lost homosexual lover. Nighy (Douglas) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are a long married couple whose relationship is coming apart at the seams. Norman (Pickup) and Madge (Celia Imrie) are both on the make except not for each other. This movie is more fun than I expected with plenty of good lines from a cast that mocks themselves as much as anything. (Madge: “single by choice just not my choice”; Muriel: ”if I can’t pronounce I can’t eat it”). But there is enough gravity to create well-rounded stories with the underlying levity of Sonny’s eternal off-kilter optimism. You don’t have to be of an advanced age to enjoy this.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Film festivals upon us, and a closure

Get ready for almost a couple of back to back film festivals in our region. The first is Media City, the well-established (since 1994) festival specializing in edgier more experimental films. Opening night, as is usually the case, will be at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts on Tuesday May 22 8 pm with the film Differently, Molussia by Nicolas Rey from France. "A film in nine chapters, shown in random order and based on fragments from the novel Günther Anders (“Differently”) wrote between 1932 and 1936: The Molussian Catacomb. Prisoners sitting in the pits of an imaginary fascist state, Molussia, tell each other stories about the outside world, as so many philosophical fables," says the festival guide. The fest then reverts to Windsor with most films shown at the Capitol Theatre and nearby venues. It runs until Saturday. Check out the web site at

Meanwhile Ann Arbor’s first Cinetopia Film Festival gets underway May 31st and runs until June 3rd at four venues including the beautiful State Theatre smack in the middle of downtown. More than 30 films will be screened. For more go to

Very sad to read the Cumberland 4 in Toronto is closing to make way for – what else - a real estate development in trendy Yorkville. The Cumberland, run by Cineplex, has been a fixture in Toronto’s independent film scene for decades and its closure means another venue in what is supposed to be one of the top film-going cities in the world, bites the dust. The building will be turned into a Nespresso (pod coffee makers) outlet and possibly a condo development (I’ve read both).

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Pope as human? Amazing

We Have a Pope, which opened last week at The Main in Royal Oak, is nowhere near the hilarious comedy that might have been expected at least from the trailer. But we know how trailers can be! Yes, it’s billed as a comedy. But the humour comes in brief moments and at unexpected times. Director Nanni Moretti (this year’s Cannes jury president, by the way) has welded together a slightly surreal comedy with a serious meditation on individual psychology and choice. The scene is the College of Cardinals to elect a new pope. The movie opens humorously enough, with a doofus TV reporter trying to grab a comment from one of the passing procession of solemn cardinals, and then asking the Vatican PR guy if his cameraman can catch a “long shot of the Sistine Chapel.” As the cardinals take their seats the lights unexplainably go out. (The movie is full of these unexpected whimsical moments.) When they come back on it’s time to vote, and various conclave members' thoughts are revealed, hoping they are not the one chosen as the pontiff. As a former seminarian told me, “That’s probably true.” When Cardinal Melville (Michel Piccoli, one of France’s most seasoned elite actors) is chosen, he walks to the ceremonial balcony where he will greet the world. At the last minute he can’t go further and turns away, to the shock of the entourage. What follows is an attempt by the Vatican to delay the announcement, telling the public that Il Papa needs time for reflection before the grand announcement. His name is still under wraps. The Vatican spokesman is played to a T by Polish actor and director Jerzy Stuhr, who turns out to be more concerned for his own credibility with the media than resolving Melville’s psychological crisis. On a jaunt out of Vatican City to see another therapist Melville disappears and goes on a several-day wander, walking incognito through the city, eventually meeting up with a group of actors, with whom he most identifies. Meanwhile, back at the Vatican the cardinals kill time by playing cards and, bizarrely (and this is where a touch of the surreal comes in) engage in a volleyball tournament organized by their psychiatrist-for-hire and played by the film’s director. Another surreal scene takes place when Il Papa is discovered. He then returns to the Vatican... The film has good performances all around. The scenes of the conclave are magnificent for setting and capturing the physical demeanor of these elders of the church. This movie really isn’t mockery of the Catholic Church unless you consider deconstructing the pope’s image to that of a human being to be. The film really shouldn't offend anyone.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Just a little over the top

Delicacy, the new French film by David & Stephane Foenkinos, is one of the sillier films I’ve seen of late. Audrey Tautou (Amélie 2001, The Da Vinci Code and Priceless 2006, and Coco Before Chanel 2009) was one of the draws, simply because she's such a big name who adds a kind of offbeat charm to the movies she's in. But that's hardly the reason I wanted to see it. What interested me more was that the film seemed to have an interesting take on relationships. The pixieish Tautou – many find her irresistibly beautiful and the embodiment of contemporary French feminine charm – has been not much more than adequate in films since her startingly whimsical debut in Amélie. In Delicacy Tautou plays Nathalie, happily in love with her husband  François (Pio Marmaï) until tragedy strikes one day and he dies while out jogging.  His death affects her deeply and she buries herself in her work. The film is fine up to this point, at least in terms of it's story. Then things start to get a bit weird. When an office colleague Markus (François Damiens) visits her to give a report she spontaneously gets up from her desk and kisses him. The guy doesn't know what hit him but is utterly convinced this beautiful woman is attracted to him. But when next he encounters her Nathalie doesn’t remember the event at all, apologises, and says he should forget it. Markus is devastated. But as the film (based on the novel by David Foenkinos and this is his directorial debut with brother Stephane) moves along the relationship takes on increasingly bizarre turns. Markus’s humour and offbeat handsomeness actually begin to appeal to Nathalie. Now she's the one truly interested. But just as she tries to get closer to Markus he starts to back away. Self-protectiveness and all that. Okay, uhat's understandable enough. But his behaviour starts becoming off the wall and just doesn't seem believable. This marred whatever more realistic storyline the movie could have had. I’m sure those who liked the film probably found this quality in Markus the real endearing thing about it. In that case, I say, God bless 'ya.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Theater with an ER, please

That would be theater with an ER, please! No wonder it’s been so difficult logging in to the new Maple Theater (left) website. Efforts over the past several weeks have seen log on attempts default to some Go Daddy aggregation page. Turns out The Maple doesn’t spell theater the same way virtually all other theatres do. At first I thought this was just a Canadian or British-spelling thing. But, no, The Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak spells theatre “re” as does the Detroit Film Theatre at the DIA. Ditto for Metro Detroit-based MJR Theatres and Emagine Entertainment. So the Yanks like the “re” thing as well. But The Maple spells theatre with an “er.” It’s probably easier to just save the website as a Favourite (excuse the “u” spelling, American friends). Better yet you can connect directly from the Local film links column on this page.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sellout at Jewish film fest

Organizers of this year’s Windsor Jewish Film Festival felt “terrible” that they couldn’t seat everyone for last Wednesday’s 8 pm screening of Sarah’s Key starring Kristin Scott Thomas (left). I showed up a few minutes before the screening and found about 30 people in a line that was going nowhere fast. Turned out the movie was sold out. I hadn’t been too concerned about showing up so close to screen time because the fest’s movies never seemed to sell out though some of the evening ones drew good crowds. In fact, “this was the first time in 10 years that a film sold out,” organizer Stuart Selby said.....Good for them. I hope the festival also continues to draw a more mainstream audience because I think many Windsorites hardly know this event exists. Selby said organizers “all feel terrible” they had to turn people away. Nevertheless, organizers scrambled and got cooperation from Cineplex at Devonshire Mall for a bigger theatre the next night for the festival’s finale, In Darkness. “Though attendance was up, everyone could get a seat,” that last evening, Selby said.....The organizing committee will now deal with “questions we never dealt with before” including possibly having more than one screening for better known film titles. This was the festival’s 10th season and Selby said it was its “best ever.”

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Maple Theater transition seamless

I hadn’t been to the Maple Theater since new ownership acquired the former Landmark Cinemas theater in West Bloomfield earlier this year. I must say the transition is seamless. Art films remain in good standing in this long time threeplex at Telegraph & Maple roads. In fact the only thing different is The Maple Theater logo (left) flashed on the screen prior to a feature presentation.....According to owner Jon Goldstein of Cloud Nine Theater Productions, who took over the lease when it came up for renewal (essentially convincing the landlord he would put more investment into the building, creating more value, than Los Angeles-based Landmark), the theater was originally due for some renovations this spring. But staff I spoke with on the weekend said those renos will be done in late summer and completed in September, though there have been some technical upgrades, such as in the projection rooms, already.....Otherwise the theatre is exactly how it was, and that in a way, is reassuring. The concession stand, the restrooms, everything remains the same – at least for now – and of course the films are all art house and independent worthy. This week, for example, the Maple is screening Footnote (Joseph Cedar) from Israel, Delicacy (David & Stephane Foenkinos) from France and Bully (Lee Hirsch) from the USA.....It will be interesting to see the changes after the renovation in the fall. Look for new seats, a new lobby and a bar. Goldstein is bringing some of the state of the art amenities of the Emagine Entertainment chain, which has several Detroit locations. (He’s a shareholder in Emagine.) The theater building is owned by the same firm that owns the adjoining shopping plaza, Bloomfield Plaza Shopping LLC, in the affluent northwestern section of Metro Detroit.....But it’s sad to see that Crust Pizza and Wine Bar is closed in the same plaza. It was a perfect stop before or after a film. Crust’s only other location in Rochester Hills remains open......The Maple Theater's website is