The wrecking crew

The group of musicians called `The wrecking crew`, are today considered the most influential musicians. But beside Glen Campbell, who became a big hit as a country singer, they are mostly unknown to the public (they sometimes are uncredited). People like drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Tommy Tedesco and bassist Carol Kaye, among others, recorded some of the most memorable songs of the 60s and 70s. About the songs Good vibrations and California girls from The Beach Boys, you learn that producer and arranger Brian Wilson was the only Beach Boys present. The voices from the other Beach Boys were added once the session musicians did the work. That is one example, but chances are that if you hear a song from that era, ‘The wrecking crew’ was involved. They were involved with Phil Spector and in perfecting the innovative ‘Wall of sound’. Songs like Da doo ron ron by The Crystals, and Ike and Tina Turner’s River deep, mountain high. They played on albums from artists like The Monkees, Sonny & Cher, Simon & Garfunkel, The Mamas & the Papas and Frank and Nancy Sinatra, but also movie music and TV themes like Mannix, Batman, Mission impossible, Bullitt, The way we were and Our man Flint. The film was directed by Denny Tedesco, son of the late Tommy Tedesco. Although The wrecking crew was made in 2008, Tedesco Jr needed money to cover the music’s licensing fee. The director had interviewed his father before his death, but you also see Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson, Cher, Micky Dolenz (The Monkees), the late Dick Clark and Glen Campbell, who is now suffering from Alzheimer. It is so much fun to see, for instance, Carol Kaye play the bass line she created for Nancy Sinatra’s These boots are made for walking. And the music is great.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The wrecking crew

Directed by:
Denny Tedesco
101 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

The salt of the earth

The salt of the earth is a documentary-portrait of Sebastião Salgado’s many years spent traveling the globe. Partly directed by his son, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, who followed his father on some of his trips. Later, German director Wim Wenders interviewed Sebastião. Stunningly, Sebastião was an economist before he switched his career to photojournalism in 1973. With him and his son we meet tribes like the Yali people of New Guinea, where the men have what looks like a bamboo extending the penis. Or the Zo’e of the Brazilian Amazonia, who have wooden plugs piercing their bottom lips. He also goes to the Arctic to take photos of walruses. But most of the photos are of displaced populations. Troubling pictures of children dying of starvation. The Rwandan and Congolese genocides, and others. Sebastião Salgado’s photos are breathtaking. They show us a world we have all heard exists, through the news, but now we have no choice than to face the truth of “man’s inhumanity to man”. Photos (all in black and white) about workers around the world, including beautiful shots of the workers of the Serra Pelada gold mine, and a series of photos called Genesis is a showcase of his talent and his humanity. Now, with his wife, Leila, he has worked on the restoration of a small part of the Atlantic forest in Brazil, and have created Instituto Terra (http://www.institutoterra.org/eng/#.VTm3wmdFBok), dedicated to reforestation, conservation and environmental education.

And the Oscar went to… The salt of the earth was nominated as Documentary feature, along with Finding Vivian Maier, about another photographer. Both films lost to CitizenFour, a documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The salt of the earth

Directed by:
Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
and Wim Wenders
Screenplay by:
Juliano Ribeiro Salgado
Wim Wenders
David Rosier
Camille Delafon
110 min.
Rated Parental Guidance
In French, English,
and Portuguese
with English subtitles.

Boychoir

There are enough clichés in Boychoir to fill several films. They’re all piling up on top of one another. Here is the synopsis. All you have to do is check them off. Stet (Garrett Wareing), is an 11-year-old boy who lives alone with his alcoholic mom. After his mother dies in a car accident, Stet meets his dad for the first time. Stet’s father (Josh Lucas) is married and does not want his wife or his daughters to know about his illegitimate son. Stet is gifted with a beautiful pre-pubescent voice, but also has lots of issues. He can be quite aggressive. The school’s principal (Debra Winger) is convinced that the American boychoir school in New Jersey is the right place for Stet. Of course, all the other boys at the school are snobbish rich kids. Dustin Hoffman plays Carvelle, the head conductor. Carvelle is an old curmudgeon who does not think at first that Stet belongs at the school, but soon softens up to become his supporter. And we must not forget the school bully who wants to cause some harm to our hero. (Insert dramatic ominous music) Here, the bully is a cute blond boy with glasses. I’ve seen these clichés so many times before. Instead of originality, we are offered rehash of things we’ve seen previously. One example is when Stet pours his mother’s booze down the sink. I’ve seen that in countless movies and TV shows. Also, a film like Boychoir is always about a boy, never about a girl. And if there is a choir, it will sing religious music, if there is a chapel (and there is always a chapel), there will be stained glass windows. And everyone will cry and be moved and think it is a great film because they cried and they were moved. Amazingly, Boychoir is the latest film from internationally acclaimed Quebec director François Girard. He previously directed award-winning films like Thirty two short films about Glenn Gould and The red violin. Why did he decide to direct such an ordinary film with such a lousy screenplay? OK! So Boychoir is not the most original movie ever made. Actually, it is not original at all. That’s the bad news. Now, here’s the good news! The quartet of adult actors playing the school’s staff is making the film watchable. You feel that Dustin Hoffman could do anything here and it would be effective. In a part that threatens to become the most corny thing you saw in years. Heck, Boychoir is corny. It is like watching a film made in 1943. But Hoffman plays with such restraint and distinction that he makes the ordinary seem extraordinary and special. And there is a ripple effect happening with his co-stars. British actor Eddie Izzard plays Carvelle’s rival without his usual mannerism. Wooly, Stet’s young music teacher, is played by Kevin McHale (just graduated from TV show Glee). He is even more restrained than Hoffman, and uses exactly the right tone to strengthen this paper-thin character and make him likeable. But the best performance belongs to Kathy Bates, who plays the head mistress. In the few scenes she appears, Bates easily steals the film from them all, including Hoffman. Of course the music (performed by The American boychoir) is beautiful. And Garrett Wareing as Stet is more convincing showing the quiet and emotional side of the boy than his violent side. So, certainly not a great film, but it is still enjoyable to watch Hoffman, Bates and company and because of the music.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Boychoir

Directed by:
François Girard
Screenplay by:
Ben Ripley
Starring:
Dustin Hoffman
Garrett Wareing
Kathy Bates
Debra Winger
Kevin McHale
Eddie Izzard
Josh Lucas
103 min.
Rating Parental Guidance

Merchants of doubt

“The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.”

Edmund Burke

Merchants of doubt begins with magician Ian Swiss doing some card trick and also giving us his theories about the techniques of magicians. Merchants of doubt is about American companies and politicians, who like the illusionist, are trying to perform tricks to sell just about anything to Americans. Take the tobacco companies’ decades of lies about the harm caused by cigarettes, when they were hiding the studies that proved cigarettes were lethal since the 1950s. Those companies had so-called scientists on their payrolls also denying the truth. In this documentary, we meet people on both side of the debate. It is about more than tobacco. It also deals with the science of climate change and the deniers. It’s disconcerting to see how many conservatives just don’t care that the data are proving global warming is happening. There is Marc Morano, a jerk who brags about sending threatening e-mails to journalists and scientists because he doesn’t like what they wrote. The ray of hope comes from people like Micheal Shermer. The editor of Skepticmagazine read the findings in 2006, and has since joined the fight against global warming. North Carolina Republican Congressman Bob Inglis lost his long-held seat in 2010, when he started to talk about a carbon tax. Inglis now travels the country speaking about the environmental issues. There is hope. Merchants of doubt is fun to watch too. It comments the subject with clips from The twilight zone old TV show and others. Graphics are also first-rate.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Merchants of doubt

Directed by:
Robert Kenner
Based on the book by Naomi
Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
96 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Clouds of Sils Maria

In Clouds of Sils Maria Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a renown stage and screen actress. She is traveling to Sils Maria in the Swiss Alps to accept an award on behalf of her mentor, author Wilhelm Melchior, when she learns that Melchior died of an apparent suicide. Traveling with Maria is her devoted assistant, Valentine (César winner for best supporting actress Kristen Stewart). The part that made Maria famous was Sigrid in Melchior’s play Maloja snake’. In the play, Sigrid seduces then abandons her older female boss, Helena. A revival of the play is planned, and the young director would like Maria to now play Helena. Maria is reluctant to take on the part, but eventually accept. Staying at Melchior’s house in the Swiss Alps, she start rehearsing her lines with Valentine. They also talk a lot about the play, while hiking and walking on the mountains. Maria questions the validity of a revival. She thinks the play is outdated and that Sigrid was a better part for her than Helena. And young American actress (and paparazzi magnet) Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) who has been cast as Sigrid, does not meet her approval. Valentine loves Ellis’ acting even when she plays in action or sci-fi movies. Maria and Valentine are very close at first, but with time we can perceive some sexual tensions. Maria and Valentine’s relationship mirrors the fictional Helena and Sigrid’s. This is a very intellectual, and I found a very unsatisfying film. The characters are cold and dry. The acting from Juliette Binoche is bellow what she usually offers her fans. The real surprise is Kristen Stewart. From the film’s opening, we know Stewart’s Valentine is a most competent personal assistant to Maria, and Stewart remains quietly effective throughout. She is the only reason to see Clouds of Sils Maria.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Clouds of Sils Maria

Directed by:
Olivier Assayas
Screenplay by:
Olivier Assayas
Starring:
Juliette Binoche
Kristen Stewart
Chloë Grace Moretz
124 min.
Rated 14A
In English, French and German with English subtitles

Miss Julie

Why would you do another film version of August Strindberg’s play Miss Julie? And why would you go see it? The last version (an aversion?) I saw was an excruciating film by Mike Figgis starring Saffron Burrows and Peter Mullan. The reason to film Miss Julie may be because your name is Liv Ullmann. The Ingmar Bergman actress and sometime director has assemble, I think, a good cast. Written in 1888, Miss Julie was what Strindberg called naturalist theatre. The play takes place during one afternoon in the kitchen of a Swedish Count’s estate. Ullmann has opened the play a bit and transposed it to Ireland. While the Count is away, his daughter, Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain), has set out to seduce her father’s valet, John (Colin Farrell). The other character is the cook and John’s fiancée, Kathleen (Samantha Morton), who quietly witnesses what is happening. John resentfully follows Julie’s order to drink with him or to dance with him, but can also be very protective of her, until they go too far and have to live with the consequences. Ullmann follows the text without unnecessary stylish embellishments. Chastain paints a harsh portrait of a spoiled aristocrat, who later becomes so vulnerable and fragile. I found Colin Farrell flawless as valet John. John is a labyrinth of emotions and motivations. The character can go from shy and sweet to angry, to manipulative and uncaring. It’s all clearly articulated without ever been overstated by Farrell. And Samantha Morton is instinctively intense and nervous as Kathleen. Unless you are a theatre historian, Miss Julie does not have the same meaning for today’s film audiences as it did when it was created, and Strindberg’s intentions can, I think, be put aside for a new appreciation of this masterpiece.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Miss Julie

Directed by:
Liv Ullmann
Screenplay by:
Liv Ullmann
Based on the play by August Strindberg
Starring:
Jessica Chastain
Colin Farrell
Samantha Morton
129 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Kumiko, The treasure hunter

In the film Fargo, Steve Buscemi’s character, Carl Showalter, buries a briefcase full of money in the snow alongside a North Dakota highway. In Kumiko, The treasure hunter, Japanese office worker Kumiko (Academy nominated Babel actress Rinko Kikuchi) finds a VHS cassette of Fargo in a hole under some rocks. “This is a true story” claims Fargo as it opens. So Kumiko believes the money is still where Carl Showalter/Steve Buscemi buried it. Her boss (Nobuyuki Katsube) treats her like a servant, asking her to make coffee or get him donuts or to pick up his dry cleaning. Her mother calls her and nags her to come back to live with her, since Kumiko is not married. All that makes Kumiko depressed. So she becomes obsessed about going to Fargo, North Dakota, to find the hidden money. She steals the company credit card, and boards a plane for the US. It is cold in North Dakota, she’s certainly not dressed for winter, and her limited command of English will become a problem. This is a slow-moving fable, but once Kumiko gets to the US, the clash of cultures makes things funnier. It is rather the clash between a weird character like Kumiko and the Americans that brings out the humour. Although it may not appeal to everyone, Kumiko, The treasure hunter is a charming fantasy with an amusing performance by Rinko Kikuchi.

You should know… Kumiko, The treasure hunter is based on Takako Konishi, an office worker from Tokyo who was found dead in a field outside Detroit lakes, Minnesota in 2001. Although her death was ruled a suicide, it was insinuated by the media that she had died trying to locate the missing money hidden in the Coen brothers’ film Fargo. There is also a documentary called This is a true story, directed by Paul Berczeller. As for Fargo, it is not a true story.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 Kumiko, The treasure hunter

Directed by:
David Zellner
Screenplay by:
David Zellner
Nathan Zellner
Starring:
Rinko Kikuchi
Nobuyuki Katsube
Shirley Venard
David Zellner
105 min.
Rated General
In English and Japanese
with English subtitles

Woman in gold

Helen Mirren could play Maria Altmann in her sleep. Woman in gold tells the true story of Altmann’s legal fight to reclaim the artworks that was taken from her family by the Nazis. The film’s main focus is on Gustav Klimt’s painting The woman in gold (real title: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I), so-called because of Klimt’s use of oil and gold on canvas. The model was Maria’s aunt. Now living in California, Maria contact lawyer Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), to see if she can get back what rightly belongs to her. Schoenberg accept mainly because of the fact that his grandfather was Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, and a friend of Maria’s family. Traveling to Austria for the first time since she escaped from the Nazis, brings back bad memories for Maria. Young Maria is played very effectively by Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany. And there is a peculiar cameo from American actress Elizabeth McGovern as a judge. She is married to the director. You think that with such a poignant topic and a performance by a great British leading lady, Woman in gold might be better. It should have been. But the screenplay is full of clichés and riddled with corny sentimentality and even failed attempts at humour. Of course people will be moved, but even though she still a joy to watch, Mirren should have better material to work with.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Woman in gold

Directed by:
Simon Curtis
Screenplay by:
Alexi Kaye Campbell
Starring:
Helen Mirren
Ryan Reynolds
Katie Holmes
Daniel Brühl
Elizabeth McGovern
Tatiana Maslany
Charles Dance
Jonathan Pryce
111 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

The Duke of Burgundy

I am naming Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy my “WTF?” film for 2015. It is not because of a lack of qualities, but it is so bizarre that it is hard to define and hard to figure out if The Duke of Burgundy will find an audience. But I’ve seen worst. It begins with Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) going to work for Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) as a maid/cleaning lady. Judging by what the women are wearing, along with the usual accessories, including corsets, girdles, nylon stockings and garter belts, we are obviously in the 60s. First Evelyn is asked to clean Cynthia’s butterfly collection, and then to wash Cynthia’s underwear. But Evelyn forgets to wash an item, and Cynthia punishes her by urinating on her (unseen). It’s then that you find out that the two women are lesbian lovers playing S&M and bondage games. They live and work together as lepidopterists (The study of moths and butterflies). When Evelyn is not playing the maid, the couple spend their evening with Cynthia sitting on Evelyn’s face. And instead of sleeping in their bed with Cynthia, Evelyn prefers to sleep in a wooden chest in their room. Locked inside! Evelyn seems to love those games, to be enthralled by them. But Cynthia is bored and annoyed and only plays along to please her lover. If some of you are thinking “Ooo, kink!”, think again. It’s too minimalist, too artsy to be that kind of kinky. If you want to be titillated, go see something else. There is no nudity, no spanking or whipping scenes, nothing shocking happening on-screen. The Duke of Burgundy is mainly an “exercise de style”. The two women speak softly, almost whispering, everything is unemotional. That is in turn reflected in the color palette used by director Peter Strickland. It’s all earth tones like browns and grays. And Strickland has created an unusual world populated only by women, all dressed in the same style, with only one interest: moths and butterflies. WTF, indeed.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 The Duke of Burgundy

Directed by:
Peter Strickland
Screenplay by:
Peter Strickland
Starring:
Sidse Babett Knudsen
Chiara D’Anna
Monica Swinn
105 min.
Rated 14A