Thursday, February 28, 2013

Film notes

It's always great when the mainstream theatres - in Windsor and the county that's all of them - break from the screen routine and show a movie that's just a lttle bit different. That will happen at Silver City on Walker Rd. in Windsor, the week beginning March 22, when a new documentary, Burn (Tom Putnam) opens. Burn follows a fire company in the Detroit Fire Dept., in a city notorious for fires. Having seen it - an interview and more details will be coming - I can vouch this is a film packed with action (how couldn't it be given the subject, but still...) with a great rock and roll score. It should be checked out. Tickets can be ordered from

I bumped into Stuart Selby, coordinator of the annual Windsor Jewish Film Festival, at a recent event. He told me the fest will be coming up April 29 - May 2 at Cineplex Devonshire, its usual location. More details coming. This is a great festival with films - often with recognizable stars - that have wide appeal beyond strictly the Jewish community. 

And further in May its Windsor's long running (since 1994) experimental film extravaganza,  Media City Film Festival, May 21 - 25. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

It's Oscar time. What a bore!

Here we go again. It’s Oscar time. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Oscars, or even much of a fan. I usually hate award shows. And even though I love films I can’t tolerate the glitter and glitz – and phony introductions and reception speeches – that go with such high profile events honoring the Hollywood elite, the closest America gets to, uh, royalty. And this year there’s a further reason not to watch. Low life animation creator Seth MacFarlane is MCing the production. Johnny Carson or Billy Crystal, where are you when we need you most!?....I would be a hypocrite to say I’ve never watched the Oscars or have never tried to work up excitement about them, work up being the operable term. But it’s rare. By and large I can’t be bothered.....Woody Allen had it right. He wouldn’t give this phony ceremony the time of day, even when he was a recipient of the golden statue in all its nude unadorned glory. You see, Allen would rather spend “quality time” doing things he loves rather than dressed in a penguin suit and fake gratitude to an Academy he has almost zilch respect for.....So why do the mass of people tune in, the vast majority of whom probably have seen very few of these movies? Of the nine competing for Best Picture - Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Amour, Django Unchained, Argo - how many of your average Oscar night viewers have seen even three, as I (almost embarrassed to say because I've also seen so few though had little desire to see more) have? But that’s not what motivates people to watch. The masses love watching the Oscars because it’s a chance to see the stars and, of course, to judge Hollywood’s female elite’s fashion (non)sense - sorry guys. It’s also, I suppose, to get a glimpse of their personalities. And to anticipate verbal and physical stumblings by presenters and winners alike......As for Oscar buzz, Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell) has been coming up strong, like a racehorse about to move in the homestretch from the middle of the pack to finish first. As I’ve earlier posted I hated (or should is say strongly disliked, “hate” being such a strong word, you know - ha ha) that movie. Yes I walked out on it. The story is ho-hum and the characters grating. Yuck!.....Zero Dark Thirty, which I did like a lot though it wasn’t perfect, is apparently out of major contention because of its depiction of torture. This all has to do with politics of course. Director Kathryn Bigelow is being condemned because she’s depicting a reality (water boarding) that took place in the War on Terror. If Bigelow is to be dropped from major contention then what about dear old Quentin Tarantino for depicting the “reality” of the brutal violence against slaves in pre-Civil war America in Django Unchained? Not a chance he’ll be dropped. This is entirely about political correctness, folks, hardly about good film-making.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Side Effects: Soderbergh channels Hitch

Side Effects (Steven Soderbergh) has an intricate plot and all the twists and turns of Hitchcock’s best, not that I’m necessarily comparing it with Hitch’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and Vertico (1958). But the comparisons are there for all to see. Even the opening and closing scenes have a Hitch quality, in this case to Rear Window (1954). The movie opens with a very slow pan on to a Manhattan apartment house, and closes with the camera moving in the opposite direction from an equally imposing building, a psychiatric hospital on New York’s Wards Island. The first scene is especially memorable for a kind of haunting serenity. Instead of James Stewart being set up as in those earlier Hitchcock classics we have Jude Law as Dr. Jonathan Banks, a court-appointed psychiatrist to work with a very troubled woman, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), who apparently has attempted to kill herself. Without giving too much away – and the plot weaves tightly innumerable times over the next hour and a half – Banks becomes a patsy, is disgraced, assumes the role of investigator, and ultimately is vindicated (I fear I’ve given away too much already) – in a story about perception, fakery, high finance, and – you’ve surely heard by now – the effect of psychiatric drugs as per, duh, the film's title. Law is terrific as an intelligent but not pretentious physician who remains clear of vision throughout his predicament. Rooney Mara (Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is a convincing enough deceiver (I was deceived) and Catherine Zeta-Jones as fellow shrink Dr. Victoria Siebert is a cool customer. One might conclude the movie is a slam at the big moneyed drug industry. We all know the pharmaceutical industry is powerful and for Soderbergh to pursue that line would have been a cliché. Instead, this film is about evil, pure evil, just as Hitchcock’s were.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Film notes

Five Oscar animated shorts, five live action flicks, which I saw at the DFT over the weekend. Normally not a great fan of animation, of this crop of 10 films I thought the cartoons were better than the real life shorts. My favourite was Fresh Guacamole (picture left), about the – who knows – quagmire of gambling, or nothing at all. This film has some hilarious fast cuts – technically and literally. It’s by a guy named PES, Adam Pesapane, a renowned maker of short films – many available online including this - who takes everyday objects and transforms them into entirely new somethings, and mesmerizingly so.....Next best was Paperman, John Kahrs’s charming black and white romantic take on  the 1950ish world of two Manhattan office workers. It's appropriately produced by Disney.....On the live action side my favourite was Curfew (Shawn Christensen) about a suicidal druggie whose forced out of his misery to take care of his haranguing young niece. That was followed by Henry, the Quebec film directed by Yan England, about the cruelties of Alzheimer’s disease.....The DFT repeats the screenings four times this coming weekend and the price is more than worth it - 10 Oscar-nominated short films for under $10 – all in one sitting.

Dustin Hoffman has done respectably enough  in his directorial debut Quartet (at Devonshire Cineplex and the Uptown Birmingham). In this film he’s amassed all the senior standouts of British stage and movies (of course they got to meet the great Hoffman as well!). These actors include Maggie Smith, Michael Gambon, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay. Quartet is a comedy about aging musicians tucked away in a seniors home for, well, aging musicians. Old is no place for sissies, quoth the august Bette Davis. But if you have a wicked sense of humour – as the characters in this film do – it helps out a lot.

The horror film Mama has been in the top 10 at the box office and is turning excellent revenue. It’s directed by Andres Muchietti, and filmed extensively in Canada, and the executive producer is Guillermo del Toro, who directed the critically acclaimed 2006 dark fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth. Jessica Chastain stars. There are a lot of good things about this movie – the acting of the two very young children, the special effects, the mood, the cinematography. I wish I could give it more credit. The problem: it’s a horror film that doesn’t frighten enough.