Friday, July 31, 2015

Short takes on a shorts film festival

My evening at Media City’s 21st festival at downtown Windsor’s Capitol Theatre last night consisted of watching three programs - one featuring regional film artists and two international filmmakers...…In the regional category my fave was London’s Josh Romphf’s Void. Here the viewer is sucked into a grid like alternate universe or the emptiness that defines another existence underlying or surrounding our own. There is a metaphysical context, of course, for grids underlying and empowering consciousness and experience. Romphf, including with his grunting otherworldly score, seems to nail it here…..Local and Toronto filmmaker Annie MacDonell’s The Fortune Teller, a depiction of an art restorer reconstructing a broken sculptured hand, is notable for its narrator’s abstracted monotone meticulous description of the sculpture’s damage and requirements for rebuilding, straight out of an art restoration text or like a coroner’s description of a corpse’s wounds. The finished rebuild joins the inanimate object with a real life painted hand and in the end seems to embody it….Windsor filmmaker and musician Scotty Hughes’s The Strait (Le Détroit), a multi-media project where Hughes innovatively plays synth to an 8 mm long lost film of the Windsor riverfront, may surprise and even shock about what the city’s now splendid riverfront used to look like - an industrial scar filled with boxcars about to be loaded on to railway ferries. Nostalgia can be good and bad…..In the first international program, virtually all seven films address landscape and nature in some way, usually in contrast to co-existing human built structures, detritus, or threats. Fern Silva’s Wayward Fronds looks at the peculiar natural and tourist facets of the Everglades subject to human intervention - including touristy Mermaids! - and how nature, with snakes invading a motel room, can reclaim it. Robert Todd’s Falling features rapid fire shots of, well, falling leaves in an urban setting. The beautiful patterns are sometimes marred by the ugliness of things like fast food wrappers. Or as the filmmaker called it, “a beautiful pile of dead leaves but who the hell cares” and “the world is falling around us”.....In Thomas Kneubühler’s Forward Looking Statements the camera moves closely over a vast tract of land in northern Canada with a voice over of a conference call between multinational iron ore company officials and business analysts discussing the area’s huge investment mining potential. The last scene shows an aboriginal with a rifle turning and pointing to the camera with his finger. Regardless of artistic merit (Falling is the best in terms of deft camera work and soundtrack) all three films repeat standard environmentalist credo of which the indie film world is replete…..The second international program was more interesting. Johann Lurf’s Embargo is a slick superrealistic visual survey of an armaments factory at night, with a glistening syncopated soundtrack. Beep from Kim Kyung-man is a send-up of patriotic South Korean lore. Who knew? And while the jingoistic nationalism is over the top it’s ironic that the filmmaker’s mockumentary is of a country juxtaposed with perhaps the world’s most repressive regime…..Basma Alsharif’s O, Persecuted employs grainy historical imagery in the service of the Palestinian cause. Will there be a film putting forward the Israeli view next?.....And John Smith’s Dark Light is a short meditation on visiting Poland during the Solidarity movement and the rise of Thatcherism. Graphically his enlarging dark tunnel is arresting. Smith despises Thatcher and finds the lack of commercialism in the Communist country refreshing, with visits to nondescript shops intriguing, and warns that capitalist liberation isn't all it's cracked up to be. Beats the Red version.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Starting to feel like the dog days

It’s mid-July. There hasn’t been a whole lot in the cinemas. Not quite the dog days but… So I turn to Netflix, which still amazes me in that I can switch on my tablet and watch a film. How luxuriously convenient in the early 21st century…..But it’s been a pretty mixed bag in terms of what I’ve seen.

Barefoot in the Park (Gene Saks, 1967) starring for the ages Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. I should always be suspicious of Neil Simon, since he wrote this and the earlier Broadway play, with his predictable saccharine romantic stories. But, believe it or not, I’d never see the movie, let alone the play, and wanted to give it a twirl. Silly me. What we get is basically a filmed version of a static play, with 90 per cent of it shot in the sixth floor Greenwich Village walk-up of the newlyweds first home. Listen folks, if you’re going to see a movie, make it a movie. Let’s have something shot on a bit of a wider canvas, as in more scenes in more indoor - and outdoor - locations. It was claustrophobic just watching this thing. Regardless, Fonda as Corie (opposite Redford’s Paul) is as natural they come and shows for all the world why she’s been such an outstanding actress.

Unforgiveable (André Téchiné, 2011), based on the Philippe Djian novel, is a bit of a brain tease. It stars the always engaging André Dussollier as Francis, a crime novelist seeking a reprieve on the island of Sant'Erasmo in the Venice Lagoon. He falls in love with the realtor, Judith (Carole Bouquet), who sets him up with the house, and they rather improbably marry. Then his visiting daughter Alice (Mélanie Thierry) disappears. He hires a private detective, the flamboyant Anna Maria (Adriana Asti). Turns out she and Judith - who seems promiscuous - had been lovers. Francis eventually fears Judith is cheating on him and hires, of all people, Anna Maria’s son Jérémie, an ex-con, to spy on her. Yup, Judith seduces him. Jérémie in turn gets into a physical confrontation with a gay man. While the film has its moments depicting human introspection (Francis) and character (Anna Maria), to believe all these storylines within the context of a few close knit people is to render the viewer a bit of a fool.

Gemma Bovery (Anne Fontaine, 2014), based on Posy Simmonds’ graphic novel, got some positive media buzz when it was released. How delightfully intriguing - have a character named Gemma Bovery whose name sounds almost like Flaubert’s famous Emma Bovary. Only this Bovery is English though beautiful and sophisticated. Her neighbour across the street Martin (Fabrice Luchini) develops an immediate crush. And yes Gemma’s life does follow, loosely, that of the 19th century heroine. Some people might think this is cute and original but to me the story simply seemed contrived just to create those very reactions. 

The Art of Getting By (Gavin Wiesen, 2011) is a slacker film extraordinaire and a kind of millennial The Cather in the Rye. It was the best of this Netflix lot. The film opens with George (Freddie Highmore) doodling away oblivious to his high school class and teacher. The world is meaningless to George and he casts off studies, family and the entire conventional world around him into a psychological dustbin. But one of his clasmates, Sally (Emma Roberts, whose a dead ringer for another Emma - Stone) sees a certain integrity in his misanthrophic personality and they become friends. A third character Dustin (Michael Angarano), a rising young artist, also finds much talent in George’s art and mentors him. He gets romantically involved with Sally, to George’s (who’s professed only platonic friendship) chagrin. My one disappointment: the movie ends in a kind of pat way with George tying up all the pieces. I would have preferred he remained in rebellion always and everywhere.

More Netflix films, unless there’s something else to write about, in the next post…

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Film festival notes

Film festival time - already? Yup, The Traverse City Film Festival, filmmaker Michael Moore’s contribution to culture and tourism in northern Michigan, is set to run July 28th to Aug. 2nd. But if you don’t want to make the more than four hour trek “Up North” (as they say in Michigan) you can stay in town and stop by the Media City Film Festival, the world-renowned Windsor-based experimental film festival, starting on the 28th and wrapping up Aug. 1st. Traverse City has its schedule published at A couple of docs immediately stand out - Asif Kapadia’s 2015 Amy (picture above) about the late great Amy Winehouse, and Robert Cohen’s 2015’s Being Canadian, about well, just what makes Canucks different from Yanks, beside the fact we (well, most of us anyway) say “eh.” Paul Weitz’s 2015 Grandma stars Lily Tomlin being both down and out in LA and having a senior moment in this intergenerational mother-daughter story. Patrick Brice’s 2015 The Overnight features Adam Scott (“Parks and Recreation”) and Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black”) along with Jason Schwartzman in what's been described as a kind of updated Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Paul Mazursky, 1969). Meanwhile along with the array of films - some released within the last few years and a number of classics - the fest celebrates the 100th anniversary of its glorious main theatre, the State. Acclaimed star Geraldine Chaplin will dedicate the new cornerstone. She’ll talk to the audience and introduce her dad, Charlie’s, The Great Dictator on its 75th anniversary. As well, Roger Corman (didn’t know he was a Detroit native but then just about everybody is, right?) will be on hand, and some of his 400-plus oeuvre screened, which shows just how he became the “King of B Movies”…..Meanwhile back home, Media City still hasn’t released its schedule. But the event always offers a smorgasbord of the esoteric, poetic and eccentric, for films that can last barely minutes to longer pieces, grouped by themes or in separate programs…..And one final note. The Windsor International Film Festival (WIFF), after celebrating a spectacular 10th anniversary last year - is returning to six days for this November’s showcase - Nov. 3 - 8. “Our decision was always to keep with a six-day festival, expanding to nine days only for major anniversaries,” executive director Vincent Georgie said in a release. The festival has grown remarkably since 2005 - from 16 films that year to 111 last with some 15,000 tickets sold.