Thursday, September 26, 2013

What's with 'Lee Daniels' in Lee Daniels' The Butler?

So now I know…..It was kind of bugging me why the movie’s called 'Lee Daniels’ The Butler, as opposed to, you know, just The Butler, a film which I saw earlier this week. According to The Hollywood Reporter Daniels, who earlier directed 2009's Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (another long-winded title to say the least) and producer of Monster’s Ball, had to call it that because of a copyright issue. In fact Daniels says he didn’t “feel so good” about his name being in the title, and one can sort of sympathize unless you're an egomaniac, which I was wondering if he was. What happened was that Warner Bros., wouldn't you know it, had made a short film named The Butler, ah, way back in 1916 (did the world exist then?)  and, wouldn't you know it, protested the new film using this title. (Guess now people will be knocking the doors down to see the 1916 film!).....The new Butler is a solid enough feature, based on the true story of Eugene Allen, who served in the White House under eight presidents, and therefore saw close-up the modern civil rights era unfold. The movie of course stars Forest Whitaker who plays butler Cecil Gaines and Oprah Winfrey who plays his wife Gloria. It has done well at the box office (in sevenh place this week) after opening in mid-August, and hits most of the presidential tropes of the post-war era, from Eisenhower (Robin Williams) sending troops to Little Rock to integrate schools, to the attack on the Freedom Riders  (young activists who sought to integrate the South and which just so happens to include Gaines’s son), to President Kennedy’s famous ailing back problems, Lyndon Johnson’s boorish bathroom diplomacy, Richard Nixon’s connivance, and Ronnie Reagan’s civil rights two-facedness (fair-minded in person yet opposed to South African apartheid sanctions). The film is a bit clichéd this way but what are you going to do? I have to admit I was surprised that the White House had/has so many butlers. The film's weakest aspect? Casting. None of the presidential figures looks the least like the real people. The best casting by far is Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. She even has Nancy’s famous walk down solid.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Netflix vs

So I decided to finally sign up for Netflix’s free one month trial. Ironically I tried to watch it on my TV but the HDMI cable interfered with the streaming. But I can watch it seamlessly on my laptop. Meanwhile I’ve been a member of Canadian-based since January 2005. The Ottawa company seamlessly (snail) mails DVDs with self-addressed stamped envelopes to mail back after the films have been viewed. The question: is Netflix so much better than Here are my views after two days of watching…..Netflix is amazingly easy to use and it’s a real joy being able to choose on a whim, and in seconds have a movie’s opening credits rolling on your screen. And at $7.99 a month (after the freebee trial) this is a deal. But I’m uncertain whether I should give up my account where I can have two DVDs out at any one time (monthly amount unlimited) for $19.95 (other plans vary in price)…..The problem, in short, is one of selection. Netflix is surprisingly mainstream. Sure, it has dozens of films classed as independents. It even has a wide selection of foreign films. But upon closer look those choices aren’t that great, at least for foreign. For example, the French section has 108 titles. But you won’t be able to find French New Wave classics from Godard, Chabrol or Truffaut. I only spotted one Godard made in 2010. Contrast this with which has 942 films from France. Netflix’s Italian choices are laughable. There are only 11, all but one made since 2000. There is absolutely no Fellini! has 361 Italian films. also digs
deep for films for serious movie aficionados such as a couple of dozen from the esteemed Criterion Collection. Even Netflix’s classics list is wanting. There are only 83. Meanwhile a popular film like Goodfellas simply is “unavailable to steam”….Still, at the price and ease of use Netflix isn’t bad. There are scores of independent films ( has many more of course) and a fairly healthy selection of documentaries, and probably enough films from across genres (drama to comedy and especially TV (though The Wire wasn’t available) to keep a person quite satisfied, especially if you want to call up a film at moment’s notice….But the jury is still out on whether I’ll pull my subscription…..(, by the way, has investigated streaming but still hasn’t been able to seal a deal. Says its website: "We have been working with potential content providers to come to an agreement that will allow us to offer a streaming service that not only meets, but exceeds our members’ expectations. Unfortunately, this is proving more difficult than we originally expected.")

Friday, September 13, 2013

Disgusting film, short flick hit, & Windsor sci-fi romp

On the closing night of the Montreal World Film Festival this month I had the distinct displeasure to watch one of the worst movies I’ve come across in some time, Adore by French director Anne Fontaine starring Naomi Watts and Robin Wright. Poor writing, stilted acting, a slower-than-molasses pace - but most of all the subject matter - I came away thinking this movie will never get out of the can, even though films aren’t made with celluloid anymore. The subject matter, based on a novella by esteemed writer Doris Lessing, is about two mothers who have affairs with each other’s sons. Call me prudish but I almost choked. Then, lo and behold, I arrive back home and open the newspaper only to find the movie has opened in regular release throughout North America including in Detroit. Star power must count for something!
I must congratulate a young filmmaker, Richard Stark, whom I met in Montreal. His 17-minute flick, 30-Love, was the public’s choice for best Canadian short film. The movie is, you guessed it, about a tennis match. But there’s more than one sport being played here, such as snobbery, social climbing, and the class system.
Back home, recently I interviewed budding filmmaker Sean O’Neill (a well-known Windsor optometrist) who just completed his first movie, Rex Kyro: Mission to Marry (picture above left), a screwball sci-fi comedy. O’Neill, who wrote and stars (as two characters) in the movie, is now trying to figure out a way to distribute it. It might even be shown as this fall’s Windsor International Film Festival. To read the interview and see excerpts go to the Arts & Entertainment page of my other website May the farce be with you.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Montreal fest wrap

Following are some highlights from the back half of the Montreal World Film Festival, which ended Labour Day:

Le Bonheur (Happiness) – one of the two best films of the fest (the other The Don Juans), this was an astonishing first feature from Fabrice Grange. Filmed in grainy black and white (picture left) it has all the appearance of the French New Wave circa 1960. Set in modern Paris both its look and theme (a searing romance) transcend time lines, with ever so subtle references to French film and literature, from Godard to Lelouch’s A Man and a Woman to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Story of O.

Monica Z – Unless you’re a real diehard jazz fan you’ve probably never heard of Sweden’s Monica Zetterlund, who became the country’s premier jazz singer of the 50s and 60s and also sang with some of America’s greatest jazz artists. A nice biopic from Per Fly.

Domestic Life (Isabelle Czajka) stars the great Emmanuelle Devos in a film about, you guessed it, suburbia. Not necessarily a condescending put down of the burbs the film is more about the anxiety of relationships among couples in the land of backyards and cul de sacs. One wonders whether these women will ever escape domestic chores and the mall but by the film’s end the ennui, it seems, will continue.

The Farmer and His Prince – a small documentary by Bertram Verhaaag provides a surprising inside look at Prince Charles and his dedication to organic farming and the Duchy Home Farm, a sprawling farm that tests, grows, and markets a huge variety of organic products. Who knew?

Jeunesse (Youth) - This is Justine Malle’s (daughter of director Louis Malle) first feature and it’s a pretty good effort. The subject: young people attending college for the first time with a set of idealistic views, often unconventional yet mature, in a refreshing portrait of the start of adult life.

A Thousand Times Goodnight (Erik Poppe) – Juliette Binoche plays Rebecca, a photojournalist who is driven to the world’s hot spots, usually war zones. But her family wants her home in Ireland, and she’s torn between the two. This film won a sustained standing ovation and I couldn’t figure out why. Yes, it’s dramatic in parts, but hardly more. In fact it could be described as misogynist. My particular beef was that it didn’t question Rebecca’s role as a journalist who embedded herself with suicide bombers and didn’t try to warn their victims.

3X3D: Three films by avant garde directors in 3-D. Peter Greenaway and Jean-Luc Godard’s are the best with Edgar Pêra’s a disappointing splotch of images (and it wasn’t because of the glasses!). Greenaway’s Just in Time takes us through the history of the 2000-year-old Portuguese city of Guimaraes, where the films were made, in labyrinthine style. But it is Godard’s The Three Disasters which is an exhilarating and subversive take on cinema through the ages that is the best here.

Brasserie Romantiek – Another strong directorial debut – and a crowd favourite – by Belgium’s Joël Vanhoebrouck. This is essentially a play about a restaurant staff preparing Valentine’s night dinner, with, as you can imagine, romantic intrigue among kitchen staff and diners out front, in situations mostly but not all funny.