Thursday, August 30, 2012

Montreal fest at midway point

I think I may have found my favourite film yet at this year’s Montreal film festival. It’s the Dutch film Hemel (Sacha Polak) (picture at left), a searing character study of a young woman’s travels through the world of one night stands counterbalanced by the emotional – and almost physical – loving she has for her father, who himself is something of a womanizer. Each of several vignettes or chapters in Hemel’s life are visually and audibly riveting in their intensity. Something Freudian here? Hmm. The film closed Sundance.....I guess my next favorite film is Two Jacks (Bernard Rose), a send up of contemporary Hollywood. The two Jacks in this case are Jack Hussar Sr. & Jr. Senior is a Seventies-era washed-out director form the old school, a bull in a china shop who stops at nothing as he saunters through Hollywood parties, grabbing any babe he fancies and willing to physically fight any man who stands in his way. His son, representing today’s H’wood, is, as someone says, “a chip off the old block.” It’s filmed, depending on whose story is being told, in lush black and white and later colour. And there are some terrific Hollywood party scenes.....I was also impressed with The Words (Brian Klugman), also from the US, about a contemporary novelist, down on his luck, who ends up stealing someone else’s novel and publishes it as his own. The movie moves backs and forth among three stories. Ostensibly set in New York most of the scenes were shot in Montreal. The cast includes Jeremy Irons and Dennis Quaid......A mind-bender noirish Italian film called Clara’s Innocence (Toni D’Angelo) is based on a true murder case that rocked that country. The plot involves an affair and a love triangle with, you might guess, tragedy ensuing. It bears a resemblance to The Postman Always Rings Twice.....Other notable films: The Weekend (Nina Grosse), a homecoming party - of sorts! - for a released former 1970s German terrorist; Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir (Laurent Bouzereau), the first biopic about the renowned director whose life has been marked by tremendous highs as well as extraordinary lows. It takes us from the Krakow Nazi-enforced Jewish ghetto of Polanski’s childhood, through his early triumphs in film behind the Iron Curtain to the Sharon Tate massacre and the notorious sex with a minor scandal which saw judicial corruption and the director’s fleeing to Paris, a case which haunts him still as his recent house arrest in Switzerland attests. Admiral Yamamoto (Izuru Narushima) from Japan is based on a true story about how Japan’s popular politics played a major role in that country’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the admiral who reluctantly oversaw the invasion - a great study in character with visually stunning war scenes thanks to the gods of modern film technology.....And the festival continues. Bon Cinema!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Montreal's (still) fiesty festival director

I had to laugh when reading the Montreal Gazette’s coverage of the opening of that city’s international film festival (program left, website  ), which takes place Thursday and runs until Sept. 3. Festival founder and director Serge Losique, now 81, is full of spunk and vinegar as he hails his festival as still one of the top ones in the world and a little snidely dismisses the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which also released its lineup yesterday (it runs Sept. 6 – 16).....The Montreal and Toronto festivals are old rivals and started within one year of each other (Toronto started first) back in the late 70s. I attended the first Mtl fest and have been there almost every year since; Toronto only a few times and for limited durations.....There’s no question that Toronto started pulling away from Montreal in the 1980s as it became Hollywood’s “go to” fest as a place to release major blockbusters. No one, at this date, is arguing that. But here’s Losique in The Gazette: “I have nothing to say about Toronto. Good luck to them. We are completely different. We don’t have American junkets. For us, a festival has to be independent of all junkets. You can talk about that with Toronto.” Indeed, today’s Toronto media not only reported on the release of admittedly a diverse and prestigious line up of films from some of the world’s top directors including Bernardo Bertolucci and Michaels Haneke and Winterbottom, Deepa Mehta, Neil Jordan, Barry Levinson, Costa-Gavras and Dustin Hoffman. But it also fell all over itself – as it always does - noting the long lineup of H’wood celebs making their way to good ol’ Hogtown (to American readers, an old slang term for Toronto, also known colloquially as TO - tee oh), among them Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan, Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Bill Murray, Robert Redford, Ryan Gosling, Robert De Niro, Dennis Quaid, Jennifer Connelly, Billy Bob Thornton, Penelope Cruz and Colin Firth.....Said Losique: “You can talk of big names and commercial films. What interest is there in presenting an American film with big commercial interests that comes out the next week and anyone can go see?” Nice little shot. And it’s true. I’ve also found it a bit of a contradiction between TIFF’s self regard as an important festival on a critical basis and its gaga Hollywood glitz. After all, to most serious cineastes Hollywood is a rather disparaging word. But having said that Toronto is much more than the stars. Just look at the filmmakers this year attending  In any case, Montreal’s fest, having given up trying to woo, admittedly, Hollywood filmmakers (though there are still lots of American films) now lauds itself as a showplace for world cinema. It’s a nice alternative position and arguably there might be credibility to it being as good or better than Toronto. And, it’s true, Montreal doesn’t mimic so many other festivals in showing the same old films, non-mainstream or not. You will find films from the furthest corners of the world – Romania, Iran, Turkey, Asia, South America and Africa.  “For example, we have a film from Sri Lanka (Suba Sivakumaran’s I Too Have a Name),” said Losique. “Sri Lankan film is not distributed at all, ever. It may be your only chance to see a Sri Lankan film this year. There are lots of (kinds of) cinema like that, that are present (in Montreal) but otherwise are invisible.” In all the years I've attended it I've never had a bad year and have seen numerous wonderful films, obscure or without certain critical acclaim, or not. I've never felt deprived or envious of Toronto....And in a final jab at TO, “We are truly unique — we’re the only competitive festival in North America. I wish Toronto lots of luck. That’s it.”.....For the record, in sheer numbers here is how the two festivals compare: Montreal will have 432 films from 80 countries including 212 features, 110 of which are world or international premieres (shown outside their native countries), 144 short films. Toronto will have 372 films (features — 289, shorts — 83), 270 features that are world, international, or North American premieres from 72 countries.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Film notes: what city am I in again?

Attending at the opening night of Woody Allen’s To Rome With Love earlier this summer I realized Windsor wasn’t alone in having a miniscule audience for this kind of movie. I was staying in Providence, RI, a well-known “Ivy League” college town – home of Brown University and a significant art college, no less – and the screening I attended opening night had perhaps a dozen people at it. I had to scratch my head: was I at Silver City or Devonshire?

Another hilarious story about French actor Gérard Depardieu. Poor Gérard. This time he was in trouble with the law for a road rage incident en Paris. Last time we looked it was for him, a notorious drinker, urinating in the aisle of an airplane. Well, at least the actor is true to his garrulous and bull in a china shop roles....Speaking of M. Depardieu, a new film Small World, has the actor as a kind of can’t-get-rid-of-him old friend of the family, a bit mentally off, who brings up embarrassing memories at all the wrong times. The Montreal Gazette’s film critic calls the move a “predictable psycho-drama” but “worth seeing” just for Depardieu. I can bet.

The Maple Theater is finally closed for renovations after a new company took the Bloomfield Hills threeplex over from Landmark Theatres over the past year. Virtually everyone I speak to says the good ol’ Maple is in need of a facelift. I won’t argue. But my expectations are never that high. I’m just happy that there’s another art house/independent theatre showing largely non-mainstream films.

Canada’s Financial Post seems to have started an “At the Movies” column on its opinion page. Yesterday Philip Cross took aim at the political subtext of The Hunger Games, yet another Hollywood left wing stab at the hand that feeds it – the capitalist system. (And Hollywood has got to be one of greatest examples of "dog-eat-dog" capitalism around!) Cross describes the film as class warfare and having an underwhelming interpretation of economics – Third World exploitation and all that. “The film demonstrates an adolescent’s understanding of how life and markets work.” Sounds fitting.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The "who knew?" Detroit artist

For all who call ourselves long time devotees of the Detroit music scene I guess we can collectively stop and let out a great big sigh, "Who knew?!?!" Such is the case with this outstanding film Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) which just opened at the Main.....The film is about the highly obscure Detroit-based musician Rodriguez. Back circa early 1970s - the heyday of Detroit’s psychedilc rock and roll movement - southwestern Detroit’s Rodriguez played out-of-the-way Motor City bars and managed to record some albums, notably his best known (and that’s a relative term) Cold Fact. Perhaps there were people in Detroit’s underground counter cultural cognoscenti who knew of this performer with the clear-as-a-bell and angst-laden voice whose lyrics spoke of dispossession and striving against any power that would grind a human soul to dust,  a theme that could resonate in downriver Detroit as much as in South Africa. Well, Rodriguez didn’t  become known much at all in Motown - perhaps because of the amazing smorgasbord of other rock ‘n roll artists on the Detroit scene at that time (the MC5, Rationals, Mitch Rider, Grand Funk Railroad, Stooges, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, SRC, Frost, Teagarden and Van Winkle – you get the picture). Maybe if Detroit was a less fecund music town, Rodriguez would have found more of an audience. But, yes, somehow he did find an audience, and it was half way around the world in South Africa, along with some equally removed corners like New Zealand and Australia.....This film by documentarist Bendjelloul (whose made films about other obscure but fascinating rock musicians and one about the urban legend of Paul McCartney’s death – largely started by Detroit DJ Russ Gibb, didn’t ya know?) brings Rodriguez out of obscurity and gives the artist (who still works in construction and lives in the home he's been in for 40 years) the credit he’s more than due.....The film’s images contrast bucolic South Africa with - what else? - dystopic Detroit. The hyper real photography is terrific. But the best of the film is non-visual: actually listening to Rodriguez’s incredibly - in the best way - piercing, plaintive voice. Rodriguez was a classic from the get go. Now the world – including people literally in his own backyard - can appreciate him.

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Rhode Island state of mind

Moonrise Kingdom (at the Landmark Main; dir. Wes Anderson) may not have been my favourite flick so far this year – I have a problem with movies about kids, even ones who act like grown-ups – but it was kind of neat for a special reason. I watched it while vacationing in Rhode Island. You see, MK was actually shot in the renowned “Ocean State,” which, for those who keep track of such things, is the smallest state in the Union and the last of the 13 Colonies to sign the Declaration of Independence. Yes, even RI’ers joke about how small their state is (as I actually heard people doing in a movie theatre corridor), roughly about the size of Essex, Kent and Lambton counties combined.....In any case, what was fun about the film were the various locations where Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) try to evade the grown-ups, who are, after all, rather more childlike than them - natch.....The setting is a fictitious place called New Penzance and the year is 1965, exactly when I was Boy Scout, so I should identify, right? The stellar cast features Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton....RI was a new experience for me and after almost six weeks there I started to become somewhat familiar with the place names. Most of the film is shot around Narragansett Bay, which forms the centre of the state pushed up from Rhode Island Sound and was two blocks from where I stayed in leafy Cranston. Narragansett is also the name of a great traditional RI lager!  The movie’s original site for a scout camp was Block Island, RI’s version of Martha’s Vineyard, but director Anderson never made the fact-finding trip because of choppy seas, according to the Providence Phoenix weekly.....If you have kids you’ll probably like this movie a lot, or so a friend of mine, who has one, said. I don’t but still like kids. Still, you’ve got to wonder why Anderson made this. Reviving childhood memories even though he didn't exist then? More likely because his stuff is generally way offbeat.....The best part were the final credits, where Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, played in background. It introduces the myriad symphonic instruments as each makes its way into the piece of music. Now, that, for a kid as well as adult, is almost hypnotic.