Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My new indie film It Girl

Can I say I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with Greta Gerwig, (left) right here, in public? It didn’t take much, just a screening of her role in Whit Stillman’s recent Damsels in Distress. Who, I wondered, was this brainy if slightly sardonic femme, who looked like she just graduated from an Ivy League college, which in fact she has, Barnard, the traditional female equivalent. In Damsels, also set in an east coast university (natch) Gerwig plays Violet Wister, who leads a group of co-eds in an effort to undermine the crude and boorish values of the male students in their midst. Yes, I thought at that moment, I want to see more of this actress – more & more! And, as if someone was answering my prayers, along comes the new movie Lola Versus (Daryl Wein) which has opened in Toronto and I await it in Detroit (hopefully). True to form, Gerwig plays a late-20s weary of the world young woman who, when her fiancé dumps her, descends into an existential crisis (what else?). But this movie, like Damsels, is a comedy, and a smart knowing one at that. Set in New York City (natch) I can imagine the acerbic barbs Gerwig’s Lola shoots at contemporary bourgeois bohemian life in the Big Apple......Up to now my favourite Indie It Girl has been Parker Posey (right), aka Queen of the Indies as she’s known in the industry. Posey, smart, offbeat, sexy and simply beautiful, had long been living in a kind of indie film ghetto since the early 1990s but has poked her head into a few roles in bigger films like 1998’s You’ve Got Mail (Nora Ephron) and 2006’s Superman Returns (Bryan Singer). But she is much more famous for her roles in small independent movies such as the Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries Waiting for Guffman (1996) and Best in Show (2000). Posey’s first big role was in 1992’s Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater). Her latest was in last month’s HBO’s Hemingway & Gellhorn (Philip Kaufman) as journalist Martha Gellhorn playing opposite Clive Owen as husband Ernest Hemingway.....I still love Posey, so maybe I have two indie It Girls now. What a harem!

The Detroit Film Theatre’s summer series has moved from its namesake home at the DIA to the DIA’s smaller but also beautiful Lecture Hall. The 1927 DFT (left), one of Detroit’s most beautiful theatres, underwent major renovations a few years ago which both modernized it and returned it to its original elegance. But this time the work is on the marble staircase and windows in the upstairs Crystal Gallery, where the cafe is located, both of which needed renovations and repairs.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

From Mussolini to Woody Allen

Cinecittà, the acclaimed 99-acre Italian studio that has seen a recent revival (see Windsor Detroit Film, May 2, 2011) and has been home to some of the late 20th centuries’ most famous movies – Ben Hur (William Wyler 1959), La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini 1960) and Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1963), even Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002) – may be a revered cinematic gem. But few in the film industry would pay respect, and rightly so, to its origins. It was founded by none other than 1930s Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, believe it or not, had a passion for the arts and not simply as propaganda tool for the Fascists. But in this case the production of movies was very much a vehicle for his political cause. In fact the studio was given the slogan “Cinema is the most powerful weapon.” Cinecittà was partly destroyed by Allied bombings during the Second World War. After the war it was used as a giant refugee camp. The lack of studio facilities forced filmmakers out on the streets, creating the famed Italian neorealist cinema, “which amounted to a complete rebirth of the medium,” says art critic Robert Hughes in his recent book Rome, A Cultural, Visual and Personal History. Neorealist directors include Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini. In fact, Hughes says, great Italian art in the form of painting, sculpture and architecture, pretty much ended in the 20th century, to be replaced by the country’s genius in film.....All this simply heightens my interest in Woody Allen’s new movie, due out July 6 (at the Main and presumably in Windsor theatres), To Rome with Love, a romantic comedy (picture above left) in both English and Italian. Following on his other European pictures set in London, Barcelona and Paris, it will be interesting to see Allen’s take on the Eternal City. The cast includes Penélope Cruz, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni, Judy Davis, Ellen Page and Allen himself in his first acting role since his Scoop in 2006.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Windsor festival grows (and grows again?)

Good news for Windsor cinephiles (and our friends in Detroit of course). The Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF) is adding an extra day to its schedule this November. And WIFF is also looking at filling the gap – at least a little bit - after the loss of Windsor’s only downtown movie theatre, the Palace, earlier this year. WIFF director Peter Coady says people have been approaching him about launching additional monthly screenings at the Capitol Theatre, WIFF’s home. Up to now WIFF has been screening usually once-a-month films in addition to the November festival. Those screenings have been interrupted of late because of renovations to the Capitol. The city took over the theatre and the Windsor Symphony Orchestra is managing it. But renovations need to be made before the theatre can be re-opened this fall. Coady says he’s heard from people asking WIFF if it can “step up to the plate” and show at least another monthly screening. There wouldn’t be mainstream fare (thank goodness!) but WIFF would stick to its “mandate” of showing independent, art house and foreign films.....Meanwhile WIFF is expanding to another day with the gala opening night being Wednesday Nov. 7 rather than the usual Thursday with the fest closing the following Sunday. The premiere, as usual, will be a Canadian film which features the director and/or actor(s) in attendance. The reason for the extra day also owes to the Palace closure (to make way for The Windsor Star’s new offices). “We’re going to open a day earlier because we needed another day or so to fill the void left by losing the four screens at the Palace,” Coady says. Prior to the main festival there are nights devoted to showcasing local filmmakers’ and students’ works, and  screenings of two Canadian and two US films in cooperation with the Detroit Film Theatre.....One of the last screenings at the Capitol was a series of short films in February which sold out. Coincidentally Coady was about to leave for this week’s Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival ( “I couldn’t believe there’d be that much interest in short film,” he says. “The irony is I’m leaving to to go down to Toronto for this short film festival that starts tonight. I figure that if there’s that much interest in short film, here we go. If I can find some good short films I’m going to include (them) in our regular program.”

Monday, June 4, 2012

Uninspired and uninspiring

The Detroit Film Theatre’s summer schedule is out and it’s all classics. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles 1941) (left) opens the series June 23, with All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone 1930) closing it Aug. 25. Seems rather ho-hum to me and it’s not that I’m not interested in classic films. But how many times have we been exposed to Citizen Kane? Moreover all these films can be rented on DVD. To see the entire schedule click on the link at right.

In April The Globe and Mail ran an article reporting Toronto’s new TIFF Bell Lightbox was not drawing big enough audience.  “People have come. But not, it seems, in the numbers (management) might have been hoping,” the story said. The article doesn’t mention a reason why this might be so: the uninspired programming. I raised this in a post last Dec. 5. The Lightbox is an amazing building, with five cinemas (1400 seats), two restaurants and a film museum. But the movies screened, at least when I’ve checked the schedule, don’t vary a whole heck of a lot from what any other art house cinema would show. For example, tonight’s schedule is We Have a Pope (Nanni Moretti 2011), Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki 2011) and Marley (Kevin MacDonald 2012), all films that have already or soon will be screened in Detroit. No problem with that of course. But the Bell Lightbox, which is headquarters to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), by its very nature aspires to be a significant outlet for film. So why isn’t there more imaginative programming? Why not have at least one or two cinemas every night screening more obscure international films, or movies by unheralded directors or fantastic films that hardly see the light of day? Otherwise the Lightbox is simply a glorified neighbourhood repertory theatre.