Woodshock

I find that the worse films are not the overblown Hollywood blockbusters, but the pretentious independent films.Additionally, Woodshock is boring and confusing. It stars Kirsten Dunst as Theresa, a woman with a profound depressive (and depressing), blank stare. In early scenes we witness Theresa as she put a few drops of a mysterious liquid from a mysterious vial into a bag of marijuana, rolls a joint and gives it to her sick mother. Mother smokes it and then dies. Since then, Theresa has been walking around the house in a near-vegetative state. Her boyfriend, Nick (Joe Cole), tries to help her, but he is unable to pull her out of her depression. They live in a house next to the woods. Theresa works at a marijuana store. It is confusing because everything around them (sets, costume, music, cars) seems to say they live in the 70s or 80s. Unless there were marijuana stores back then and did not know about it. Whatever was in that vial kills two more people, but when Theresa smokes it, she gets psychedelic visions, the likes I haven’t seen since the good old days of hippies movies. And she also goes to the woods to levitate. If bad movies makes you laugh, then go. It just did not do anything for me. Boring and annoying.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 6 – 12
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/woodshock

Woodshock

Directed by:
Kate Mulleavy
Laura Mulleavy

Screenplay by:
Kate Mulleavy
Laura Mulleavy

Starring:
Kirsten Dunst
Pilou Asbæk
Joe Cole

100 min.

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The midwife (Sage femme)

At 73, Catherine Deneuve is still stunning us with those gutsy performances film after film. In Sage femme, Deneuve co-stars alongside Catherine Frot. Frot plays Claire, a compassionate and devoted midwife. Warm and emotionally invested when she’s helping women giving birth, Claire is cold and distant in private. Then one day she gets a phone call from Béatrice (Deneuve). Béatrice was Claire’s stepmom more than 30 years ago. But Béatrice is the last person Claire wants to see. Béatrice caused a great pain to Claire’s dad when she left him without warning or explanations, so Claire is understandably resentful. At the first meeting, Claire tells Béatrice to leave her alone, she does not want her back in her life. But Béatrice won’t be so easily dismissed. Then Claire learns that Béatrice has a brain cancer. Now Claire feels she has to help Béatrice. But Béatrice is a mess. She smokes too much, drinks too much and should not eat red meat, according to Claire. Beside that, Béatrice is a compulsive gambler. You see her going to some seedy poker game, actually winning a lot of money. When Claire disapproves, Béatrice tells her to leave her be, she wants to live. And Béatrice starts rubbing off on Claire, who finds something she had denied herself for far too long : love. Claire boyfriend’s name is Paul (Olivier Gourmet). The fun of a film like Sage femme is to watch those two brilliant French actresses together. Catherine Frot’s precise, almost clinical acting, contrasts Deneuve’s impulsiveness. Every thing her character does seem to happen suddenly, as if Deneuve was improvising. It is real, she’s the real deal. Sage femme is also notable for beautiful, most realistic births I have ever seen in a fiction film. It makes you want to live life to the fullest.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from September 29 – October 5
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-midwife

The midwife (Sage femme)

Directed by:
Martin Provost

Screenplay by:
Martin Provost

Starring:
Catherine Deneuve
Catherine Frot
Olivier Gourmet
Quentin Dolmaire
Mylène Demongeot

117 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Tulip fever

There was a time in the Netherlands during the 17th-century when tulips bulbs were the most priced items. Especially the bulbs with a tulip breaking virus that could produce a multicolored tulip. Those were traded at auction to the highest bidder. Tulip fever, set during that period, is a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and a Moliere comedy. But Tulip fever is more sensual. It stars Alicia Vikander as Sofia Sandvoort, the beautiful wife of rich tulip trader Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sofia, who is much younger than her husband, is desperately trying to get pregnant and give Cornelis an heir, meaning a baby boy. And although there is no doubt that Cornelis loves his wife, he needs an heir and claims that in six month, if Sofia is not pregnant, he’ll have to find another wife. Still, he commissions young portraitist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint her portrait. At first van Loos is such a professional that he fails to notice the beautiful woman posing for him. He also does not see that Sofia would do anything to be noticed by him. And then it happens. Dane DeHaan’s blue-eyed piercing stares is what gives Tulip fever its most potent sensual moments. There is very little nudity in the film, and instead we get more of a romantic love-making than in most films. So they make love and wants to elope together. To make money van Loos goes into the tulip trading business. Meanwhile, Sofia’s maid and confidante, Maria (Holliday Grainger, who also narrates), gets pregnant from the fish monger (Jack O’Connell). The fish monger also went into the tulip trade shortly before he disappeared. And of course, Cornelis is totally unaware that any of this is happening. We are treated here to a fast paced film with enough plots to fill several films. None of these Masterpiece theatre lengthy conversations while sipping tea. The set and costume department have not tried to beautified the 1600s narrow streets of Amsterdam lounging some canals. They are dirty, full of fruits and fish sellers and unsavoury characters. You can almost smell the stench. Tulip fever is not what you would expect from a period comedy/drama. It’s so unusual that some reviewers have completely dismissed it. But to compare it to other period films would be a mistake. Yes, some of the plot is farfetched, but only if you judge it by a modern standard. I saw the film as a 17th-century saucy comedy, or an homage at the very least. It was not meant to be taken literally in a realistic way. There’s a character played by American comedian Zach Galifianakis. He’s a bizarre fit in that type of film, but he knows how to spread himself thin and doesn’t get in the way for most of the film. Dame Judi Dench has a small part as the Mother superior of an orphanage who also likes to grow tulips as a side business. Even when she is under playing, Dench reads her comic lines with a knife-like cutting edge. We’re then taken aback that so much snap can come out unannounced with such ease. That’s what you call perfect timing. I found Tulip fever amusing and beautiful to look at. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from September 29 – October 9
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/tulip-fever

Tulip fever

Directed by:
Justin Chadwick

Screenplay by:
Tom Stoppard
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach

Starring:
Alicia Vikander
Christoph Waltz
Dane DeHaan
Holliday Grainger
Judi Dench
Zach Galifianakis

105 min.

Rated 14A

The women’s balcony (Ismach Hatani)

At an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Jerusalem, the congregation have gathered to celebrate the Bar Mitzvah for Etti and Zion’s grandson. Suddenly, the section where the women sit, a balcony, collapses. No one is hurt, except for the rabbi’s wife who is in a coma. But the rabbi himself is so disturbed by the accident that he has not visited his wife yet and spends his days reading and praying. The congregation can meet in a schoolroom. but they need a new rabbi. Enter Rabbi David (Aviv Alush), a young manipulative rabbi. Trouble starts when Rabbi David has the synagogue repaired, but without the woman’s balcony. The women have to stand outside. He claims a lack of funds. Furthermore, Rabbi David tells the men that their wives should wear the traditional head scarves. Most women refuse. One of them is Etti (Evelin Hagoel). Etti and her husband Zion (Igal Naor), are still very much in love with each other. But now Etti is at odds with Zion and some of her best friends, who have now started to cover their heads. But the women put their differences aside to raise the money to build a new women’s balcony. But first Rabbi David says he wants to replace the Torah scroll destroyed in the collapse. Evelin Hagoel and Aviv Alush give the best performances of the film playing antagonistic polar opposites for much of our, and their, pleasures. This is a charming little film about the power each of us have, either to fight for injustice, or to control and manipulate others.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The women’s balcony (Ismach Hatani)

 

Directed by:
Emil Ben-Shimon

Screenplay by:
Shlomit Nehama

Starring:
Evelin Hagoel
Igal Naor
Aviv Alush
Orna Banai
Itzik Cohen
Einat Sarouf
Yafit Asulin

100 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Hebrew and English with English subtitles

Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world

Here’s a story that’s never been told. Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world is a new exciting documentary about the influence of Native Americans and Canadians in pop music. The film gets his tittle from Rumble, an 1958 rock instrumental piece by Link Wray & his Ray men. Rumble is one of the only instrumentals to be banned from radios. The sound was so raw for the period, with distortions, feedback and pulsating guitar playing, that some radio stations in New York and Boston were afraid that it might incite violence. Robbie Robertson, from The band, was born and raised in Toronto on the Six Nations Reservation. Like other rock guitar players, he was greatly influenced by Link Wray. Throughout the film we hear of other musicians and singers from Native descent. Charley Patton, an early recording artist, plays the guitar by hitting on it like a drum. Historians points out that people from the Reserves were not allowed to have drums, a very important outlet of their creativity as well as an instrument of communication. So Patton, and others, learned to play guitar. Mildred Bailey, a blues/jazz singer from the 30s and 40s, has been influential for singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, who is interviewed for this film. African-American legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix is part Cherokee. And it was wonderful to see Canadian musician-songwriter-singer Buffy Sainte-Marie again. Her voice is as powerful and vibrant today as it has always been. The history lessons are important of course. But in Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world the music is taking the front row. It is time that we pay attention, listen and learn.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world

 

Directed by:
Catherine Bainbridge
Alfonso Maiorana

90 min.

Menashe

“When I thought about making a film in Borough Park, in Yiddish, with real Hasidic Jews, to me it was just as interesting as any documentary I ever made.”, said director Joshua Z. Weinstein. Set in the Borough Park district of Brooklyn, is the story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a recently widowed Hasidic Jewish man. Menashe has had his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), taken away to live with his brother-in-law, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus). Rieven needs a mother, says the Rabbi (Meyer Schwartz). But Menashe is fat, and with his low wage job at a supermarket, it’s very unlikely he’ll find a wife. Still, Rabbi insists, he must marry. He constantly fights with Eizik to be more involved in his son’s life. It is clear that Rieven loves his dad and would rather live with him. Menashe’s life is a mess. He can’t pay his rent, he’s always late for work and his boss is losing patience. But Menashe loves his son and does not care about Rabbi or Eizik. This film is loosely based on Menashe Lustig’s life. And Lustig’s touching scenes with Ruben Niborski seemed so real that you feel that you are indeed watching a documentary. Menashe is slow-moving, but there is also an effective tension and suspense that involves us. The unusual setting of an American film in Yiddish that was shot in the Hasidic community, makes it even more compelling.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Menashe

 

Directed by:
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Alex Lipschultz
Musa Syeed
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Starring:
Menashe Lustig
Ruben Niborski
Yoel Weisshaus
Meyer Schwartz

81 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Yiddish and English with English subtitles.

The only living boy in New York

When Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) sees his father kissing another woman, he decides to follow her… and then happens whatever happens in those types of films. Thomas, is a recent college graduate, lives in New York in a Lower East Side apartment when he is not spending the night at his parents’ Upper West Side house. One night while he’s out with his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), he sees his father, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), a successful publisher, making out with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). He’s so intrigued by this, and her that he starts to stalk her. Either he wants to stick it to his dad, who is always very critical of his son’s choices, or he wants to break up the relationship before Judith, his mom, finds out. It’s probably both of those. Judith (Cynthia Nixon) has suffered from depression and alcoholism. It is clear that Thomas loves his mom and that he has a rather tense relationship with hid dad. After a few days of playing detective, Thomas is confronted by Johanna. She knows she’s been followed and she knows who he is. And then, as expecting, they start having sex. Meanwhile, Thomas befriends one of his neighbor, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges, who also narrates the film), a whisky-guzzling, chain-smoking novelist on the decline. Thomas confides to Gerald about Johanna, his dad and the whole mess. I found The only living boy in New York unexciting and boring. I would have thought that a film about a young man having an affair with his father’s mistress would, and should be sexy and a bit dirty. There is no sex! All that’s left is the acting. Jeff Bridges is good but the character he plays is such a cliché. Brosnan is better in avoiding the traps. Composer Rob Simonsen’s joyful and clever score is everything the film should be, but isn’t.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The only living boy in New York

 

Directed by:
Marc Webb

Screenplay by:
Allan Loeb

Starring:
Callum Turner
Kate Beckinsale
Pierce Brosnan
Cynthia Nixon
Jeff Bridges
Kiersey Clemons

88 min.

Viceroy’s house

Viceroy’s house is a historical drama about Lord Louis Mountbatten’s attempt to oversee the transition of India under a British rule to independent country. Mountbatten (Downton abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville) arrived in 1947 with his wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson from The X-files) and their teenage daughter Pamela, to be India’s last Viceroy and to assure that the transition would go smoothly. But it is more complex than he had envision. Within India there was several nationalities, religions and political opinions. That was also true of the 500 servants working in the Viceroy’s house. And tensions mount, in and outside the house. Mountbatten’s valet, Jeet (Manish Dayal), is an Hindu. He is in love with secretary Aalia (Huma Qureshi) who is a Muslim. That is not a problem, except that a marriage to another man has been arranged by her father, Ali (the late Om Puri). There is many historical figures, both British and Indian, including Mahatma Gandhi (Neeraj Kabi) and General Hastings Ismay (Michael Gambon), who has an 11th hour surprise for Lord Mountbatten. I don’t know if Viceroy’s house is historically factual. I will leave that to the historians. This is as lavish a production as you could find. Mentions should be made of the incredible work of casting directors Michelle Guish and Seher Latif, who populated the screen with a great variety of interesting faces and good actors. Gillian Anderson is particularly good as the compassionate and dutiful Lady Mountbatten. The only is problem is the fictionalized love story between the two servants. Some of it is OK, but the over-the-top syrupy ending goes too far. What passes for good drama these days, is actually laughable. But the A. R. Rahman string score is subtle and sparse, as it should be.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 26 – 28
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/viceroys-house

Viceroy’s house

Directed by:
Gurinder Chadha

Screenplay by:
Paul Mayeda Berges
Moira Buffini
Gurinder Chadha

Starring:
Hugh Bonneville
Gillian Anderson
Manish Dayal
Huma Qureshi
Michael Gambon
Om Puri
Neeraj Kabi

106 min.

Lost In Paris (Paris pieds nus)

Paris pieds nus is one of the most charming and inventive comedy I have ever seen. It’s certainly this year’s funniest film. It stars the husband-and-wife clown-like comedy duo Abel and Gordon. Fiona Gordon (who would be physically perfect as Olive Oyl, the character from the old Popeye cartoons) is an Australian-born Canadian, and her partner, Dominique Abel is from Belgium. Gordon plays a Canadian named Fiona who leaves her cold and snowy Canadian town to go help her aunt Martha in Paris. Aunt Martha (Emmanuelle Riva, who died this year, a few weeks before her 90th birthday) is afraid that soon, at 88, she’ll be sent to a retirement home. But once Fiona arrives at her aunt’s apartment, she’s not there. That leaves Fiona with no place to stay. And then it gets worst when the accident-prone Fiona falls into the Seine and looses her backpack, her money, her passport and her cell phone. But nothing is ever lost in Paris pieds nus. Everything is re-used for maximum comedy effect. The backpack (with the money and the passport inside) are found by homeless man Dom (Dominique Abel). Later there is a chance meeting between the two and we also discover what happened to Martha. Paris pieds nus is full of little physical-comedy bits that might recall Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Jacques Tati. And it also the clever turns, the esthetics and the French charm akin to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films. I laughed out loud at the scenes of Martha French-kissing her much younger neighbour. Another moment shows Fiona and Dom sleeping in their respective beds, in split-screens, having an erotic dream about each other. His movements are choreographed with hers, at times her mouth is juxtaposed with his feet, and so forth. It manages to be very funny and poetic. But the whole film is like that. It’s all perfectly performed by Abel and Gordon, who not only play the leads but, have directed, written and co-produced the film. It certainly seems as if the late Emmanuelle Riva had a great time. It was a rare comedy appearance for the French cinema legend and she is wonderful. And as an added bonus, we get another legend: Pierre Richard playing an old friend/lover. Riva and Richard dance a soft-shoe routine together. But long before that I had already fallen in love with Paris pieds nus. And I hope you will as well.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Lost In Paris (Paris pieds nus)

 

Directed by:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon

Screenplay by:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon

Starring:
Dominique Abel
Fiona Gordon
Emmanuelle Riva
Pierre Richard

83 min.

In English and French with English subtitles.

Pop Aye

The first image is quite striking and quirky. We see middle-aged Thana (Taneth Warakulnukroh) on a Thai road trying to hitch a ride for him and his elephant. Thana was depressed when he found Pop Aye the elephant (Bong, the elephant/actor, if such a thing exists). A prominent architect in Bangkok, Thana has been demoted by the firm’s young new owner. And his wife, Bo (Penpak Sirikul), has replaced Thana in the bedroom with a sex toy. Then Thana sees Pop Aye, the elephant he was playing with when he was a child back on his family farm. Thana sees that Pop Aye is mistreated by his owner and decides to buy the elephant. Thana’s plan is to bring back Pop Aye to the rural village where they grew up. The farm is now owned by Thana’s uncle Peak (Narong Pongpab). On the road with Pop Aye, Thana whistles the I’m Popeye the sailor man song from the old animated series. Along the way Thana gets arrested by two cops who say he’s not allowed to have an elephant as a pet. They somehow all finish the night at a karaoke bar where Thana befriends Jenni (the intriguing and mysterious Yukontorn Sukkijja), a transgender prostitute. Thana even sings a song with Jenni. This is an unusual absurdist comedy-drama with lots of charm. The only problem might be some of the flashbacks. They make the film more confusing than it needs to be. Singaporean filmmaker Kirsten Tan’s début feature is full of nostalgia and characters who feel the passage of time weigh on them. Excellent actor Taneth Warakulnukroh is better known in Thailand as popular rock star. And Bong the elephant does everything that is expected from an elephant.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Pop Aye

 

Directed by:
Kirsten Tan

Screenplay by:
Kirsten Tan

Starring:
Taneth Warakulnukroh
Penpak SIrkul
Bong
Yukontorn Sukkijja

104 min.

In Thai with English subtitles.