The dead lands

The dead lands is a very unusual action film. Set in pre-colonial New Zealand, it is a tale of revenge. When young Hongi (James Rolleston), sees his tribe, including his father who was the chief, slaughtered by Wirepa (Te Kohe Tuhaka) and his men. Hongi knows that the only way to relieve the souls of the murdered people, is to kill Wirepa. With the Wirepa still trying to find him, Hongi goes into the dreaded “dead lands” to seek help from the “warrior” (powerful Lawrence Makoare), who lives in there, threatening anyone who dares to go into the forbidden zone. This Shakespearean in scope. Young Hongi is visited by his grandmother’s ghost (Rena Owen) while he is sleeping. The battle of traditional Maori martial art are impressively choreographed. For sure, the savageness of the violence will be a turn off for some, but there is so much beauty in this film, like the score by Don McGlashan and Leon Narbey’s cinematography. Enjoy!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The dead lands

Directed by:
Toa Fraser
Screenplay by:
Glenn Standring
Starring:
JamesRolleston
Lawrence Makoare
Te Kohe Tuhaka
Xavier Horan
Raukura Turei
George Henare
Rena Owen
107 min.
Rated 14A
In Maori with English subtitles
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White God (Fehér isten)

“Makes you want to kick the next pigeon you come across.”

Judith Crist, On Alfred Hitchcock’s The birds

White God is a mess. But you got to be careful when you say that, because you’re going to anger dog lovers and they might send their dogs after you. The film is about 13-year-old Lili (Zsófia Psotta) and her dog Hagen. Lili and Hagen have to live with Lili’s dad for a few months. For sure Hagen is a beautiful dog, but dad (Sándor Zsótér) does not like Hagen, especially since he’ll have to pay a mixed-breed tax and a license. Actually, no adults in the film likes Hagen. The landlady does not like Hagen. Lili plays the trumpet in a youth orchestra. They are rehearsing for an upcoming performance of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. Well, the conductor does not like Hagen. So dad decides to abandon Hagen and Lili looks out the car window crying and Hagen runs after the car and cue in the overly dramatic music (Tannhäuser?). Besides the clichés, we understand the attachment that Lili feels for Hagen. How when she plays the trumpet, he howls. Heck, I was just about to howl too. While Lili is looking for him, Hagen is having a hard time. After befriending other dogs, escaping dog-catchers and other dangers, Hagen is captured and sold for underground dog-fighting. I understand why some people would be uneasy watching scenes where Hagen gets trained to kill. These are terrible scenes of torture. Very exploitative. From a nice heartfelt story about a girl and her dog, to a hard-hitting social drama about animal cruelty. What else? How about a horror movie about dogs seeking revenge? Hagen and his friends escape the dog shelter and go on a ridiculous attack. Ridiculous because Hagen is now their ruler. They follow his orders. The pack of dogs are running down the street. Hagen stops. They stop. Hagen advances. They do the same. And they are going to find Hagen’s enemies and kill them. The landlady, the man who sold him off to be tortured and others. Yes, Hagen knows where they live. Maybe he got their addresses from the computer. And throughout, Tannhäuser is on the soundtrack, to make the whole thing even more laughable than it is. Makes you want to kick the next Hungarian director you come across.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

White God (Fehér isten) 

Directed by:
Kornél Mundruczó
Screenplay by:
Kornél Mundruczó
Viktória Petrányi
Kata Wéber
Starring:
Zsófia Psotta
Sándor Zsótér
Lili Horváth
Szabolcs Thuróczy
Lili Monori
Gergely Bánki
Tamás Polgár
121 min.
Rated 14A
In Hungarian with
English subtitles

Iris

L’été, quand il fait beau soleil,
Je vois souvent passer deux vieilles
Qui marchent en se tenant le bras,
Elles s’arrêtent à tous les dix pas
Quand j’entends leur éclat de rire
J’ai un peu moins peur de vieillir

Clémence Desrochers, Deux vieilles

You can’t miss Iris Apfel. Those enormous glasses, extravagant clothes and a classy, get-out-of-my-way attitude. Oh! Yes. I forgot. She’s 93 years old. Iris is a fashion icon who is celebrated for her sense style. She loves to dress on the fly, improvise, adding tons of necklaces and bracelets. Actually so much necklaces and bracelets that you feel she will collapse under the weight. But if someone can carry it off, it’s Iris. The love of her life is her husband Carl, who celebrated his 100th birthday during filming. In 1950, Iris and Carl launched a textile business and worked on White house restoration projects for nine presidents from Truman to Clinton. In 2005, her collection of clothes were the focus of an exhibition by the Costume Institute at New York City’s Metropolitan museum of art. And what a collection! Every manners of kitsch and styles, every era, every cultures and countries are represented. One of their apartments is full of weird and fun stuff like stuffed monkeys and circus accessories. Director Albert Maysles, who died last March at 88 years old, follows Iris wherever she goes. She has a very busy schedule. At some point she gives a masterclass at a university. She talks about the importance of history, about learning as much about other cultures and not being afraid to experiment. The students seem to be mesmerised by everything Iris says. “It’s better to be happy than to be well-dressed.”, she says. I may have started with a WTF impression, but Iris Apfel won my admiration.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 Iris

Directed by:
Albert Maysles
83 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Lambert & Stamp

This is a documentary about Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, the managers of the British rock band The Who. Roger Daltrey calls them “the fifth and sixth members of the Who”. It all started with their plan to make a film about the British rock scene. The year is 1963 and Lambert and Stamp see The Who (then called The High Numbers) playing at a hotel in London. Lambert and Stamp is an overview of their careers and their lives. The Who were together from 1964 to 1982 (Keith Moon died in 1978 at 32). Their most famous album is the rock opera Tommy. And we remember videos of Townshend breaking his guitars during concerts. The film interviewed Chris Stamp before he died in 2012. There are also interviews with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey.  Although it is an interesting film, I would have liked to hear more music. The music is a soundtrack playing in the background during the interviews. I would have liked to hear more. As for the film Tommy, we only see the trailer. Those who wanted to hear their hits will be disappointed.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Lambert & Stamp

Directed by:
James D. Cooper
117 min.
Rated 14A

Going clear: Scientology and the prison of belief

After he left the church of scientology, Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis said, “I was in a cult for thirty-four years. Everyone else could see it. I don’t know why I couldn’t.” Going clear: Scientology and the prison of belief is a new HBO documentary. The church’s founder L. Ron Hubbard may have started with good intentions, but as seen in the film it soon became a money grab as he fought the IRS to obtain tax reliefs through a religious organization status. A science fiction writer, Hubbard created what he said was a new cure for mental illness and a self-improvement tool called Dianetics. Then came scientology, the religion that came with a promise of wealth and richness. There is a series exercise called “auditing”, with technical details and rules so complex that it is difficult to comprehend why some got so caught up in it. Some people who have left the church, now call it “Brainwashing”. They lured famous celebrities like actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta. Hubbard is now dead and the church’s new ruler is now David Miscavige and he is a man with a strong presence. Miscavige has obtained a religious organization status from the IRS. He has, the film alleges, successfully kill the rumors about John Travolta’s sexual orientation. Another story is that following Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s divorce, scientology turned their children against Kidman. But most of the film consists of interviews with ex-scientologists. Beside Paul Haggis, there is Chicago P.D. actor Jason Beghe. Some left because they were troubled by their own actions. Some very prominent scientologists, men and women, were sent to a compound called “the hole”, where they had to live in sub-human conditions, humiliated and beaten, sometimes by David Miscavige himself. And some left when the church ask them to cut off all ties with family members the church deemed “suppressive person” (believed to be working against the church and not to be associated with). But their stories does not end there. According to the filmmakers, once they left, the church started to follow and harass them. There is an internet site attacking director Alex Gibney, the author of the book Lawrence Wright, and everyone interviewed in Going clear: Scientology and the prison of belief. It is a documentary, and like all documentaries (and films, news article, work of art, ect) it is biased, it has a point of view. But I found it credible, and scary. Of course, David Miscavige, Tom Cruise and John Travolta all refused to be interviewed.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Going clear: Scientology and the prison of belief

Directed by:
Alex Gibney
Screenplay by:
Alex Gibney
Based on the book
by Lawrence Wright
119 min.
Rated 14A

Hunting elephants

Israeli absurdist comedy Hunting elephants is about 12 year-old Yonatan (Gil Blank), who along with his grandfather, Eliyahu (Sasson Gabai), and Eliyahu’s best friend, Nick (Moni Moshonov), and their plan to rob a bank. One of the reason they need the money is to pay for Eliyahu’s comatose wife, Roda’s lengthy hospitalization. Eliyahu, Rosa and Nick are living in a retirement home. Roda’s brother, Michael Simpson (Patrick Stewart), arrives from England. Michael is an actor on the decline. He is reduced to play in a Star wars version of Hamlet called Hamlet: Revenge of the Sith (Hamlet’s ghostly father is Darth Vader, of course). Michael does not get along with his brother-in-law and calls all Jewish people terrorists. Hunting elephants is not very good. The best you can say is that it has a certain charm. But Nick is a dirty old man who looks at young nurses while making the most sexist comments. I found that most offensive. The only reason to recommend Hunting elephants, is for Stewart. The Star trek and X-Men actor is having fun singing, dancing and milking every bit of comedy he can from a weak script. Avoid if you can.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Hunting elephants

Directed by:
Reshef Levi
Screenplay by:
Reshef Levi
Regev Levi
Starring:
Sasson Gabai
Moni Moshonov
Patrick Stewart
Gil Blank
Yaël Abecassis
Moshe Igvy
Zvika Hadar
107 min.
Rated 14A
In English and Hebrew
with English subtitles

Dior and I

I have seen quite a lot of fashion documentaries over the years, and although it is not a world that appeals to me, I found it fascinating and the people I meet are always interesting. Dior and I is particularly good. It is not really about fashion legend Christian Dior who died in 1957 at the age of 52. The film is rather about the first haute couture collection by ready-to-wear Belgian designer Raf Simons, appointed designer in 2012. The House of Dior granted what seems like complete access to director-screenwriter Frédéric Tcheng’s cameras and he is recording the whole creative process. We are told that a new creative director is usually given about seven months to create his first collection. But Simons did it in seven weeks. I fell in love with the staff and the dedication to their work. Everyone at the House of Dior works very hard to meet the deadline. As I was watching the tensions mounting, I was hooked by the suspense, climaxing with the big day when they will unveil the collection. This is the day where famous women will come to see the new collection : Anna Wintour, Sharon Stone, Natalie Portman and Marion Cotillard are all present. And that collection is a real beauty. Raf Simons wanted to bring back the glamour and the emotions he felt was present in the past with just enough of his own innovative style. As a fashion documentary, Dior and I is first class.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Dior and I

Directed by:
Frédéric Tcheng
Screenplay by:
Frédéric Tcheng
90 min.
In English, French, and
Italian with English subtitles

All the time in the world

You just wish you could do what Suzanne Crocker and her family did. Suzanne, her husband Gerard and their three kids (a boy age 10, two girls 8 and 4), a dog and two cats, left city life for 9 months, to stay in a cabin in the Yukon. “In the bush”, they call it. In Dawson City. No phone, no electricity or running water, no internet, clocks or watches and no neighbours for miles. The only thing Suzanne brought was her camera to record the whole thing. Their journey start as they arrive at the cabin through the river on a boat carrying everything they will need. Before winter start, they have to build things (like an out house, a storage cabin built up a tree) and get ready for a cold, long winter. Everyone works hard. Every day they have to go to the river to get the water and boil it before they can use it. To cook and to heat the cabin, they have to shop wood. The film is narrated by the members of the family, each taking turns telling their side of the story. This brilliant concept makes the family even more endearing. Their time “in the bush” is not all fun. Gerard almost freezes to death, when the ski-doo breaks down hours from the cabin. And there is also a scary visit from a bear who won’t go away. Suzanne thought that after a while her children would “drive each other crazy”. On the contrary. The children are having fun, cooking, baking bread, picking berries and did all kind of work around the house. You will love this film. The images and colors are breathtaking. Canada is such a beautiful country. I am sure you will love this family.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

All the time in the world

Directed by:
Suzanne Crocker
Screenplay by:
Suzanne Crocker
Nettie Wild
87 min.

Adult beginners

As it is, the synopsis for Adult beginners would be perfect for a sitcom…just not a very good sitcom. Here it is: Having seen a promising business venue suddenly tank, Jake (co-author and SNL alum Jon Lovitz look-alike Nick Kroll), finds refuge back home. His pregnant sister Justine (Rose Byrne), kept the family home after their mother died from cancer, and now lives there with her husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale), and their son, Teddy (twins Caleb and Matthew Paddock). Accustomed to a fast track life, Jake is not really happy to be begging for charity. And Justine is at first reluctant to help him, but proposes that he acts as a baby-sitter and takes care of Teddy, while she and Danny are at work. Typical trappings of those dramedy films. It has pathos, estranged family members, a spouse with a double life, the most annoying three-year-old boy you can find and an unlikable main character who learns to love his nephew and who gets to be a better person. That sounds corny? It is, but the pathos in Adult beginners strangely more effective than the comedy. Nobody is going to beat down the doors for that one, that’s for sure!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 Adult beginners

Directed by:
Ross Katz
Screenplay by:
Jeff Cox
Liz Flahive
Nick Kroll
Starring:
Nick Kroll
Rose Byrne
Bobby Cannavale
Caleb Paddock
Matthew Paddock
Joel McHale
90 min.
Rated 14A

Seymour: An introduction

It’s no wonder Ethan Hawke fell in love with Seymour. 88 Year old piano teacher Seymour Bernstein is quite an unusual subject for a documentary. A well-regarded concert pianist in the 50s and 60s, Bernstein stop performing because of his stage fright. Now, he lives alone in a small Manhattan apartment and takes great joy in teaching and being a mentor. We meet some of his former students. The relationship the affable, soft-spoken Bernstein maintains with his pupils, whether they are sitting at a restaurant reminiscing about the past or during a lesson, tell us millions about artists and the connections they have with their art and their instruments. For Seymour, music is everything. So the close contacts he has with those pupils, who see in music the same things he does, helps him a great deal in life. We know next to nothing about his private life. We know that he was traumatized by his time fighting at the Korean war, but not much else. I felt privileged being allowed to watch Seymour during a master class, where we see his respect, immense love for his students, plus the relentless attention to details that is the sure sign of a great mentor, a master. And then, there is the scene of Seymour Bernstein playing Schubert and Schumann at a comeback concert that is closing the film. All we can say is “Wow!”. A great artist indeed. A lesson in life, art and cinema.

Rémi-SergeGratton

 Seymour: An introduction

Directed by:
Ethan Hawke
82 min.
Rated General