Thursday, September 29, 2016

Film clips from the East Coast

My working sojourn on the US East Coast continues with, of course, attendance at as many films – and art house theatres – as I can squeeze in. In Providence, Rhode Island this has meant the Cable Car Cinema, where I took in Wim Wenders’s Lo & Behold: Reveries of the Connected World, an exploration of the wonder and dark side of the Internet. In the film we get to visit the private room where the first version of the Internet, or ARPANET, was created in the 1960s, and learn that no science fiction writer ever gets the future right, since even The Jetsons didn’t have the Internet…..Then there was The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (2016) at New York’s Film Forum. Scheduling had me skip out during the third short but the best of what I saw was the first, featuring Tilda Swinton and her 30-year friendship with the art historian and philosopher. The almost 90-year-old Berger is as mentally alert and intellectually inquisitive as ever, still brimming with a rage at what he views as the material corruption (aka capitalism) all around him. I’d like to have seen more on his interpretations of art, frankly…..There were French New Wave revivals of Claude Chabrol’s Betty (1992) and Eric Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse (1967) at New York’s Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Film Society of New York, respectively, comments about which are in the Sept. 19 post above……Back in Providence at the Avon Cinema,  in the heart of the Brown University student ghetto, I caught Ira Sachs’s Little Men (2016), a film with potential but ultimately unfulfilling, about family and Brooklyn’s gentrification wars…..Also at the Avon I saw Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre (2015) (photo above left), a film about a mother-daughter relationship that never quite hits its mark…..Then last Sunday, at New York’s Film Forum, another revival, Louis Malle’s 1958 Elevator to the Gallows. Funny how so many of these classics seem almost amateurish, as Elevator does, from a hardly plausible plot to some pretty dumb dialogue. Yet the film was absorbing all the same.

A politically correct The Magnificent Seven.....Remember the original 1960 version (John Sturges, director) of this movie? The bad guy was a Mexican bandit (Calvera played by Eli Wallach). The villagers at his mercy were Mexican villagers. In the newly released 2016 remake by Antoine Fuqua the bad guy is mine owner Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) who slaughters and otherwise exploits the locals. Given the politics of the day surrounding immigration and capitalism, the film’s plot makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Idiots abound everywhere

So here I am in New York City, at some of the most sophisticated art house cinemas in the country, and the same boobs are sitting around me as I’d find on cheap night at the multiplex back home. How is this possible? Aren’t New York art houses the discriminating home for true cineastes? This is New York after all, America’s culture capital...... Here’s a little diary of my misadventures with boors, who obviously and sadly exist everywhere and anywhere, Sunday afternoon. I purchase a 3.45 pm ticket at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas for a revival of famed New Wave director Claude Cabrol’s 1992 Betty starring Marie Trintignant. Almost from the start there is a couple in the row behind where the guy proceeds to talk throughout the movie. This isn’t a whisper – bad enough – but a low tone of talk. When he does this the second time I turn around and sharply stare at him. He catches my glance and stops. For awhile I think my tactic worked because I don’t hear anything out of him. But, after about another 15 minutes he starts up, in a lower tone so it isn’t quite as annoying. Then he stops but periodically starts up, not quite loud enough for me to make the effort to tell him to stop or leave the theatre if he wants to yak. Then there’s the couple sitting to my immediate left. Every once in awhile the guy clicks on his smart phone to check ESPN Sunday football scores. The second time he does this, I turn to look at it and his wife waves her hand at him to turn the screen off……So what was the film itself like? It’s the story of a sociopath who always gets her own way despite ruining the lives of people around her. At first we are sympathetic to Betty because of some of her brutal and exploitative life experiences starting form childhood. But we see how this character charms and sucks in people around her, using them for who own ends. Did I say sociopath? An alcoholic, which she is, also fits the bill.....A few hours later and just a few blocks away, I catch another New Wave revival, Eric Rohmer and his 1967 La Collectionneuse (the Film Society of Lincoln Center is featuring all Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales). Here, I don’t have any annoying audience neighbors. Though I did note that the guy at the next ticket window was with The New York Times and seeking a Times employee discount. And, an audience member in the row ahead and several seats to the right was speaking loudly about “why is no one in the theatre talking to one another,” among other things. And the couple in front me of seemed to be playing games. First they sat side by side and then she moved one seat left, seemingly to his chagrin, but still reached out her hand to hold his. Some minutes later, after several grimaces on his part, she moved back…...As for the film? It’s an interesting depiction of desire and power, with a young woman Haydée (Haydée Politoff) the object of attention by two older men who are both repelled and attracted to her in a comedy of their own self-delusions.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sad end of the Montreal film festival?

The Montreal World Film festival (Festival des Films du Monde) concludes tomorrow. It marked its 40th anniversary this year but it was hardly a celebration, more a mad scramble to even get the festival up and running after a financial catastrophe that saw theatres pull the rug out from under after the event after the festival could not make payment. Add to this a major staff resignation over lack of confidence in cash flow, and the loss of its long-running partner Hyatt Regency to put actors up (there were rumors actors were bunking wherever and paying out of pocket), and it all amounts to a huge black eye and major red-faced embarrassment for the festival’s founder and still director Serge Losique, now 85. There are rumours, Losique, a kind of Quixote figure who seems oblivious to the swirls of controversy around him, will organize a 41st festival next year. After all, he owns one major theatre, Cinéma Impérial – where most of the films this year ended up being shown – so doesn’t have to worry about paying rent. But is his reputation in tatters among film distributors, directors and actors, around the world, who might balk at any request to show their films next year? I heard there were at least two major directors who arrived in Montreal and were promptly told their films would not be shown. Other directors and actors quickly moved to find alternative spaces, including the Goethe-Institut and the Cinéma du Parc for German and student films. The art house Theatre Outremont, in an entirely different part of the city, also came on board. But the current situation is untenable and indeed intolerable. Losique has long been advised he should surrender his role to someone new, lose his autocratic style, and open up the books, at least for the festival to once again be considered for government funding.  The FFM deserves to be saved, not only because of its rich legacy (at one time on par with the Toronto film festival, and I have attended all but about five editions) but for it’s unique presentation of international films, the likes a filmgoer would be hard-pressed to see at any other North American festival. Moreover, the festival is more mainstream than Montreal’s other much-lauded festivals, which are either too avant-garde or narrow in focus. Ironically, Losique is the boulder in the way of perpetuating his own legacy. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Montreal fest: film reviews, part two

The second half of the festival – for me, since I’ve now left Montreal and the Festival des Film du Monde (FFM) continues until Monday – was less impressive compared to the films I wrote about in my last (Aug. 29) post. Here are my capsule reviews.

#Selfie69 (Cristina Iacob, Romania): It’s unfortunate that so much spectacular directorial talent has to be wasted on a frivolous ditty about three young women wagering on who will be the first to get married. Sexist stereotypes notwithstanding the film’s best attribute is in how the director combined vivid graphics – largely from the social media world – with regular cinematography.

Center of My World (Jakob M. Erwa, Germany/Austria): This well-acted, well-nuanced piece takes a look at the many dimensions of friendship – gay and straight. There's no difference, really.

Ariana Forever! (Katharina Rivilis, Germany) (photo above): This well-paced student dramatic short film centers on a summer camp rape where the victim and perpetrators are all tweens and bound to childhood oaths of loyalty.

Black Widow Business (Gosaigyo No Onna, Japan): As per #Selfie69 what wasted time and talent. This overly long comedy-drama focusses on the thriving Japanese illegal enterprises that set up wealthy older men with fake wives to extract money upon death. It’s a topic worthy of exploration but this almost slapstick drama undermines any social intent.

Tiger Theory (Radek Bajgar, Czech Republic): If you were always skeptical when hearing statistics that married men live happier, more fulfilling, lives than single men, this is the film for you. It’s a one note comedy, with an underlying – if misogynist – message, that wives control marriages to husbands’ despair. The director says his next film, for equality sake, will be a dart at men.