Thursday, January 31, 2013

DFT's winter season of delights

The Detroit Institute of Arts’ Detroit Film Theatre (DFT) winter series has been running a full month. There are several screenings of the many films that remain - the series runs until late April - that interest me. One of the DFT’s most popular annual events is the screenings of the Academy Awards nominations for short films. The DFT has turned over the first three weekends in February for repeat showings. There are five animated films and a similar number of live action shorts. There will also be one evening when the DFT shows documentary nominated shorts – Feb. 21.....Barbara (Christian Petzold), the German film set in former East Germany about a physician exiled to a desolate rural hospital, will also be screened in February. This was shown at the Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF) in November.....One of my favourite jazz musicians saxophonist Ornette Coleman is profiled in Ornette: Made in America (Shirley Clarke) screening Feb. 23....A 1965 Czech film, Daisies (Vera Chytilov√°), looks like an absurdist delight as two young women, gazing at the bizarre and “spoiled” world around them, go on a spree of pranks mocking everything around. That’s March 9.....One of my most anticipated films is Jay Bulger’s Beware of Mr. Baker (picture above), a doc about, you guessed it, that wild drummer Ginger Baker, formerly of Cream and Blind Faith. Apparently he’s notoriously outrageous, crazed, perhaps even cruel. Who knew? Not me. Time to haul out my Wheels of Fire album!.....In terms of avant garde cinema France’s Jacques Rivette is perhaps the greatest exponent. His classic 1974 film Celine and Julie Go Boating will be shown in April.....And rounding things out is Max et Les Ferrailleurs (Claude Sautet, 1971), a seedy noirish crime drama. That’s in late April.....For the complete schedule go to http://www.dia.org/detroitfilmtheatre/14/100/DFT/winter-2013-schedule.aspx

Friday, January 25, 2013

The joys of U.S. moviegoing

I’ve been seeing a lot more movies in the States lately and I must say the experience is much better than in the Great White North (make that South since Windsor is below Detroit). There are more matinees (at considerable discounts) and more late night screenings. For example, tomorrow I plan to see the new Dustin Hoffman-directed film Quartet at the Uptown Birmingham. The latest start is 11.15 pm. How perfect for a Saturday night! Then there are the deals. Regardless of when you go you can be entitled to free concession refills. For example, at MJR Partridge Creek, at a matinee, upon ordering two substantial pops (“soda” in the U.S.) and a large popcorn, we were entitled for free refills for each – not that we needed them! And when buying the tickets we were given a coupon to a restaurant in the mall: buy one entree get the second one free. Marketing, marketing – works wonders. But this is the U.S., of course, where they know how to do business and make consumers happy.....It seems all major U.S. (MJR, AMC) chains feature announcements or graphics on the screen advising the audience not to use cell phones or talk, and it seems to work. Not so for Cineplex, Canada’s major chain, where a spokesman told me the chain didn’t feel it was necessary.
 
I had a curious experience this week watching a DVD of French actress & director Julie Delpy’s 2007 film 2 Days in Paris, the prequel to her 2 Days in New York, which came out last year. The film is actually better than the second one (starring Chris Rock). The camera work and scene cutting is better and the script was funnier and more imaginative. Her dad Albert Delpy stars in both. The problem: there are several long narratives where we listen to Delpy’s thoughts about what is going on around her. While the rest of the movie is appropriately subtitled when French is spoken, her thoughts are not, which leaves a non-French speaker out of many critical junctures as the story moves along, including the all important last one. (Picture shows Delpy with co-star Adam Goldberg)
 
A German friend told me about a New Year’s Eve classic that has been shown for decades on TV in European countries. It’s a 1963 British sketch called Dinner for One. It’s a lark about an old matron who sits down to dinner with her four “friends” – whom she thinks are there but are all dead - and butler James. For each course there is an obligatory toast and James, pretending to be each of the diners, has to down the guests’ drinks, with predictable results. You can catch it on You Tube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lzQxjGL9S0


Friday, January 18, 2013

PG up ends modern parenting

I wasn’t expecting much more than a light comedy to kill an afternoon at the cineplex. It’s a light comedy alright. But what’s great about Parental Guidance (Andy Fickman) starring Billy Crystal (who co-produced it) and Bette Midler, is how subversive it is to the whole notion of modern parenting. The movie is actually a send up of pretty much all things modern – from child self esteem to healthy foods to recycling to fake egalitarianism. Crystal (Artie) and Midler (Diane) are grandparents who get the call to come babysit their daughter’s three kids for a week. They are the “other” not-so-loved grandparents because of Artie’s warped sense of humour, basically not the greatest role model for the oh-so-delicate children. Artie is an old school baseball announcer. He’s pretty much an old school everything. When he and Diane fly into Atlanta to take care of the three youngins, Artie keeps stepping in it over and over and over again. He tries – he really tries – to put his best foot forward. But he can’t help it when he sees the bubble in which parents Alice (Marisa Tomei) and Phil (Tom Everett Scott) are raising Harper, Turner and Barker. He accompanies one child to a self expression class where the only self expression is through movement and no talk, and does a great send-up of mimes. He and Diane go to a Chinese restaurant only to discover its healthy pan-Asian food (no MSG) – to which Artie says what’s the fun in that. The kids seem allergic to playing outdoors and when he introduces the old kick the can game the first thing out of their mouths is the can should be recycled. The best bit is when Artie accompanies Turner to a little league game and Turner throws out a bully at the bat in three straight pitches. Artie jumps up and down for joy. Only to observe that the kid is still at bat. Because, the umpire politely explains, kids keep batting until their hit. There are no outs and all games end in a tie - to protect the precious ones' self esteem of course. Artie can’t believe it and gives a lecture about how baseball is the game of life. Without victory and defeat there is no sense of accomplishment and real self esteem. Parental Guidance challenges so many current clich√©s about modern child rearing and contemporary attitudes generally it’s almost surprising it made it out of the can, this being liberal Hollywood and all. Crystal is always great to see and Midler isn’t bad either. But the real bonus in this movie is the social commentary.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow's best?

Zero Dark Thirty is a thriller all right. But whether it beats the searing intensity of director Kathryn Bigelow’s 2008 The Hurt Locker is another matter. This film about a CIA agent (Jessica Chastain as Maya) almost single-minded hunt for Osama bin Laden has enough suspense over its more than two and a half hours to keep us interested – particularly the last 45 minutes or so during the preparations and Navy Seal assault on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. That military assault is most like the authentic war scenes of The Hurt Locker – a highly realistic film about the Iraq War – and shows Bigelow’s genius for capturing the reality of contemporary warfare. Most of the film leading up to the assault on bin Laden consists of two aspects: a character-driven story about Maya’s – recruited 12 years ago straight out of high school – quest, mainly as an operative at CIA Islamabad station. Her kick ass no nonsense cut-through-the red-tape persona drives the film. The other aspect is the torture scenes – waterboarding – of terrorist detainees. The film depicts controversial waterboarding unapologetically. Or should that be simply realistically, and makes no comment on the moral nature of the technique, which has been credited and discredited (depending what U.S. official you ask) in being effective in capturing various terrorist suspects, high value intelligence, and Osama bin Laden himself. It seems unfair for critics to dump on Bigelow for depicting such scenes. Is this any different from Quentin Tarantino’s having his characters say the N-word dozens of times or showing how slaves were despicably treated? Don’t think so. But waterboarding has a super charged element in the wake of the War on Terrorism so sensitivities are a bit raw. Nevertheless, the torture scenes in this movie are too often and too long, and don’t add – cinematically anyway – a whole lot to driving the plot. Will Zero Dark Thirty capture best picture at this year’s Academy Awards? Hmmm. May be a tad too controversial, especially when you have such iconoclastic hagiography as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln in competition. Ditto for Best Original Screenplay. And, besides, the The Hurt Locker won Best Picture in 2009. But Best Actress (Chastain), Best Film Editing, and Best Sound Editing – three out of five ain’t bad.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Quentin unchained

Poor Quentin Tarantino. The master of uberviolence has been challenged a bit lately over his latest film Django Unchained and he hasn’t taken it all that well. First there was the conservative news aggregation website, Drudge Report, which lead off its headlines with a pic of Quentin and the N-word written below it seven times. The point? It wasn't explained but probably because the N-word is used repeatedly throughout Quentin's film of the slave era pre-Civil War..... "I think it's kind of ridiculous, because no one can actually say with a straight face that we use the word more than it was used in 1858 in Mississippi. So since they can't say that, what they're basically [saying] is I should lie," a peeved director told MTVNews.  "I should pretty it up. I should lie, and I don't lie when it comes to my characters and the stories I tell." He also said to "consider the source" meaning conservatives would go out of their way attacking him for the use of this kind of language. I rather agree with Tarantino. His movie is trying to depict historical reality. On the other hand I like to see someone like Tarantino and other Hollywood and music artists brought up on the use of the N-word, at least to provoke discussion. Let's count the number of rappers who use the N-word. It's like there's one rule for everyone else - and another for artists and various racial subcultures. Another example is the up and coming author - and current toast of the literary scene - Junot Diaz and his new book This is How You Lose Her, where the N-word is spiced liberally throughout the first chapter (I didn't get any further).....Then poor Quentin was taken to task by Terry Gross, host of NPR's Fresh Air, in what I understand was a bit of testy interview last week. Gross asked how appropriate the sort of wall to wall violence there is in films like Django and Tarantino's other movies are in light of the recent  mass murder of school children in Newtown, Ct. From the interview's transcript: TARANTINO: (reacting to Gross's questioning) Yeah, I'm really annoyed (by you). I think it's disrespectful. I think it's disrespectful to their memory, actually. GROSS: With whose memory? TARANTINO: The memory of the people who died to talk about movies. I think it's totally disrespectful to their memory. Obviously, the issue is gun control and mental health (not movie violence)....Now I'm hardly one for censoring movies and I have been a - limited - fan of Tarantino (sometime I'll tell you my personal Tarantino story). But I have absolutely no problem with a director like him being grilled on the topic of violence and its alleged connection to real life events. Tarantino, a liberal (as is Gross) categorically says movie violence has nothing to do with real life crime and gun violence. Well, perhaps. Perhaps the cause is a number of things - access to guns, and a media culture drenched in violence from movies to video games. But, please Quentin, why so defensive?