Friday, March 28, 2014

Cerebral intimacy

Love can be so destructive. Breathe In, opening today at the Uptown Birmingham 8, directed and co-written by Drake Doremus (Spooner 2009 and Like Crazy 2011) is typically, for him, an intimate portrait of emotions. Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) is by day a music teacher but at night and weekends an aspiring cellist. But unfortunately he's living in a stale marriage with Megan (Amy Ryan) and one daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), who is about to leave home. Then, during the final school semester, the family takes in a British exchange student, Sophie (Felicity Jones), a beautiful and cerebral young woman. Sophie develops a crush on Keith and the feeling is mutual, especially after she gives an extraordinary performance of Chopin after being coaxed to play something in front of his music class. But dreamy eyed Sophie is also deep minded. Keith asks why with such talent she doesn’t play more. “I want to choose to play not do it because I can,” she responds. Sophie tells him she doesn’t want to live a life “where I’m not choosing” and asks if he’s trapped in his. “One day you’ll be free,” she offers as solace. She then performs a piece for him and while they’re at the piano they touch hands. Megan and Lauren abruptly come home and Keith and Sophie part quickly. Suspicions arise when Lauren sees Sophie’s shadow beneath the bathroom door and Megan discovers four empty beer bottles in the trash. At school, Sophie is quickly labelled a “slut” after a rumour of having slept with classmate Aaron (Matthew Daddario), who’d had a fling with Lauren, even though Sophie had rejected Aaron’s advances. But Lauren happens upon a scene of Sophie and her dad romantically engaged. She confronts Sophie at night in her bedroom. Sophie and Keith decide to make plans to run away. They agree to meet that night after his concert performance. While this story of an everyday affair has been told a million times there’s always fascination in the retelling, especially when the director – as per his technique of repeated takes to constantly wring out the least that is true - creates a story this emotionally taut. But more than simply about romance Breathe In strikes an introspective chord by questioning what it means to be free, whether one’s trapped in a played-out marriage or not.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

So many festivals, so little time

Not only did I not go to the first annual Freep Film Festival this past weekend but I also missed a current festival in Montreal called the Festival of Films on Art, in its 32nd year – but new to me! - on until the end of the month. This was the first year for the Freep event, put on by the Detroit Free Press with screenings mainly at the Detroit Film Theatre. It was docs, heavily Detroit-centric, which was the point. Normally this would be my catnip. I am nothing if not a huge Detroitphile. There were films about the largest industrial ruin in Detroit, the Packard factory; about the history of the DIA, about famed New Journalist George Plimpton and his iconic Paper Lion book about the once great - a long time ago! - Detroit Lions; there was a film made right after the 1967 riots which examined the city’s lousy economy and raised the same questions people are raising today - hmmm. I missed the festival because, frankly, I’m a bit wearied of Detroit-centred topics and personally spent a lot of time criss-crossing the border in recent weeks for personal issues. I needed a weekend break.…As for the Montreal festival the stars just didn’t line up for travel. |But it’s really an extraordinary festival in what I call film festival city. There are 266 films – again largely or all documentaries – about the creative process and usually but not exclusively about the visual arts. One, for example, is about the complex authentication of Andy Warhol’s work – who knew? Another a biography of Brigitte Bardot. There’s a German film about Canada’s great and recently-dceased painter Alex Colville. There’s even a film about, yes, Detroit’s rich contribution to “the cream” of pop, soul and rock. Another is about poet Jean Cocteau’s influence on film and art. You get the idea. For more got to then there’s yet another upcoming festival, the venerable Ann Arbor Film Festival March 25 – 30, the oldest experimental film fest in the United States, which started in 1963. I’ve never been but experimental films aren’t my forte. I doubt I will make it this year. BTW Windsor’s Jeremy Rigsby and Oona Mosna, who host the Media City Film Festival - also experimental – in July, will present one film, Archaic Beasts, God's Asshole and Other Ideas of the Previous Century. Well, it’s an experimental festival, folks!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Lost woman doesn't have to be

Emmanuelle Bercot’s On My Way (opening Friday at The Maple Theater) isn’t an entirely new theme for a film. It’s about age and in particular aging women. Still, it’s worth another take. And this time with the top French female actress of the late 20th century Catherine Deneuve. Deneuve as Bettie is down on her luck. Her family restaurant is not making enough money (puzzling because it always seems busy). Her lover has jilted her. She’s early 60-something and kind of washed-up in society’s view and possibly her own. (Deneuve is actually 70.) To clear her mind she drives into the countryside. But the trip doesn’t end, as her quest for cigarettes turns into a drive across France to reunite her grandson with her daughter. The odyssey, though, constantly reinforces her loss of control, low self-esteem, and penurious state. And she’s treated to the stereotypical catcalls for an aging woman. “Move your fat ass” says an enraged man when Bettie tries to aid his beaten wife. And later, at a photo shoot of former beauty queens of which she's one, the 30-something male photographer tells the women to “hold your tummies’s the 60-sexy look.” But there’s praise too. Bettie one night ends up at a roadhouse, gets drunk, and wakes up in bed with a young buck who tells her that in her youth “you must have been stunning.” Deneuve in fact is still a supremely good looking woman and in her seventh decade has a great face, reminding me a little of Adele owing to her minor weight gain. So, is this a movie about how older women are treated? Probably, though it seems a bit clich├ęd. Deneuve acts with a cast of largely non-actors and the director’s son Nemo Schiffman plays pre-teen Charly, whom Bettie takes on the trip to meet her bratty daughter Muriel (Camille), the latter who despises her mom for caring more about her “marinades” than her family. Ironically Bettie is the focus of a lot of people’s anger yet she seems innocent, suitably well-intentioned, and simply trying to figure things out. Deneuve has always been great with for displaying subtle mood shifts. The cast comes off as pro even though they're amateurs. But I’m tired of road movies and of women trying to find themselves. I’m also tired of out of control kids, and the village reunion at the end of the film is as hackneyed a French scene as you can imagine, though I guiltily loved it. The story line I would have preferred? Bettie goes back to the restaurant, puts the books in order, harangs her staff, and kicks the restaurant up a notch, falling in love with the great guy at the same time. Now that’s a woman finding herself.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Film notes from a boring week

Nothing much to report on this week so in the best tradition of journalism, when there’s nothing to report on - you make it up – no, just kidding. Actually in the best tradition, you simply comment on whatever strikes your fancy. So here are a few things mildly interesting from the world of film over the past week:

* Much ado about Wes Anderson’s latest The Grand Budapest Hotel, which opens Friday at the Main. Never been music of a Wes Anderson fan, whose movies are so bizarre, separating time and place into fantasy worlds - as to be silly. Not everyone’s cuppa tea as they say. Though this one might have more potential as a send up of a fictitious 1930s European hotel with all the period archetypes, and a stellar cast with people like Ralph Fiennes, Jason Schwartzman, and everyone’s favourite, Bill Murray.

* Then there was this piece in The New York Times Sunday magazine The Ethicist column. A reader asked if it was okay to boycott Woody Allen’s films in light of the latest allegations about him actually abusing his step-daughter Dylan Farrow many many years ago. What I got from the piece is that the allegations still haven’t been proven in court, and/or that regardless of your views, a person can separate the artist from the art. Read for yourself at

* The first ever Detroit Free Press film festival takes place this week with films pretty much all Detroit-related. We’re talking docs, folks. But it’s interesting so many docs have been made about Detroit and this is the venue in which to see them. March 20-23 at the Detroit Film Theatre (DIA) and at Fillmore Detroit – 12 films altogether. A Detroitophile’s delight. Go to

* Speaking of fests, the 16th annual Detroit Jewish film festival runs April 27 – May 7, and you can see the schedule at The Windsor (unrelated) Jewish festival should be coming up soon.

* And I almost fell over when I saw that Devonshire Cinemas is screening art house fave Quebec director Denis Villeneuve’s intriguing Enemy, a psychological thriller par excellence. Now I wonder if I will be the only person in the theatre!

Monday, March 3, 2014

While you were watching the Oscars

I was, as usual, blissfully not. Instead I had a marathon four movie afternoon and evening..…Let’s start with the last going backwards.....The best of the two more recent movies was Our Idiot Brother (2011 Jesse Peretz) starring a great cast headed by Paul Rudd. This was a hoot. Rudd as Ned is brother to three sisters and unwittingly a nuisance to all. Problem is, he’s a nice guy, a New Age hippie who just wants to get along. You’ve met the type. They’re kind of innocent, a little too honest for their own good - which spells triple trouble here - and only want peace and love forever and ever. But except for his mom, also a daffy character, Ned just gets in the way of everyone, such as his neurotic sisters,’ business. This movie is a great send up of New Ageism, contemporary East Coast lifestyles, and New York urban angst….Next was Beautiful Girls (1996 Ted Demme), a mistitled movie if ever there was one. It should have been called Down Home Jerks. Timothy Hutton as Willie takes the Greyhound from NYC back home to Massachusetts and meets up with old friends, virtually all colossal, shall we say, jerks. The movie is formulaic with one structured scene after another – all kind of reminiscent of the TV sitcom Cheers - where there are the usual clich├ęd storylines taking place in roadhouse bars, where characters drink too much, do their women wrong, and generally act like, well, jerks. It’s all wasted on a good cast such as Matt Dillon, Martha Plimpton, Uma Thurman, Mira Sorvino, and a young typically edgy Natalie Portman, with Rosie O’Donnell getting the best lines. But the real star is the ubiquitous pickup truck with snow shovel attached, plowing people’s driveways, in this winter in nowhere New England…..Earlier I watched a couple of classics. There was Don’t Trust Your Husband aka An Innocent Affair (1949 Lloyd Bacon) with Fred MacMurray and Madeleine Carroll. It’s a screwball comedy of misunderstandings over a husband’s whereabouts as he tries to nail down a big account. His wife sets a spy on him. The miscues snowball into a crescendo until the very end. These kind of movies are always delightful…..Born Yesterday (1950 George Cuckor) with Judy Holliday and William Holden is the female version of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and the political version of Pygmalion. Holden, a journalist, meets Holliday, a crime syndicate’s supposedly dimwit broad, and proceeds to educate her. Holliday’s performance is glistening.