Truth

Mary Mapes has quite a story to tell. In her 2005 memoirs she tells us that investigating journalism is dead. With everyone having access to internet, it is now possible to install doubt and destroy the work of serious hard-line journalists. In 2004 Mapes (Cate Blanchett) was a reporter and producer for CBS 60 Minutes. Two months before the 2004 Presidential Election, Dan Rather (Robert Redford) aired a story about President George w. Bush’s military records and how through preferential treatment he avoided the draft to Vietnam. But the minute it was aired, right-wing bloggers started putting their own spins on things and tried to disprove the report. It worked. And CBS did nothing to protect Mapes, Rather or anyone connected to the broadcast. Instead the matters were investigated by a legal panel committee filled to the rim with republicans. This is a compelling story and first time director James Vanderbilt does a fine job keeping things moving. But most of the excitement comes from Cate Blanchett. It is such a dry subject but watching Blanchett is fun. She is the one who boosts the cast, who gives the right rhythm and energy to the scenes. Blanchett and Robert Redford work particularly well together. This happened 11 years ago, but I think it is still relevant today.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Truth

Directed by:
James Vanderbilt

Screenplay by:
James Vanderbilt
Based on the book by Mary
Mapes, Truth and duty:
the press, the President
and the privilege of power

Starring:
Cate Blanchett
Robert Redford
Topher Grace
Elisabeth Moss
Dennis Quaid

121 Min.

 

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Coming home (Gui lai)

Zhang Yimou’s Coming home is set in the 70s during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Feng Wanyu (Gong Li) is a teacher who lives alone with her daughter, Dandan (Zhang Huiwen). One day, Yu (Wanyu’s short name) learns that Lu Yanshi (Chen Daoming), her husband and Dandan’s father, has escaped from the labor camp where he was sent for “re-education”. The authorities are now trying to find him and order Yu and Dandan to inform them should Lu try to get in contact with them. Dandan is a ballet student seeking a main part in The red detachment of women, one of those political dances that were performed at the time, and she blames her father for her lack of success. She will surely go to the police if Lu shows up. But Yu is not indoctrinated like her daughter and still loves her husband. Not wanting to spoil the film, I am going to jump to the second part of Coming home. We are now after the revolution and Lu has been released from the camps. But Lu only finds despair when he comes home and his wife does not recognize him. She is suffering from some form of amnesia. Yu still believe that her husband will soon come home, so she regularly goes to the train station to wait for him, but every time Lu comes to see her, she takes him for someone else. This is exquisite storytelling. Coming home is a melodrama, a tearjerker, but Yimou’s direction is so delicate, and the three leads are so precise and subtle that you tiptoe through the film discovering every scenes as if it was some priced and rare treasure. In the first part of the film, Gong Li keeps us on the edge of our seat. What a performance! Coming home is a moving film about the resilience of love.

Rémi- Serge Gratton

Coming home (Gui lai)

Directed by:
Zhang Yimou

Screenplay by:
Zou Jingzhi
Based on the novel by Yan Geling

Starring:
Chen Daoming
Gong Li
Zhang Huiwen

111 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Mandarin with English subtitles

 

Unbranded

In the United States there are 50,000 wild horses running free on government holding facilities. These horses have gotten a bad reputation as untamed, unmanageable and therefore unwanted. In Phillip Baribeau’s documentary Unbranded, we see young Texas cowboy Ben Masters and three of his friends set out to ride sixteen mustangs from the Mexican border to Canada through 3,000 miles of the most treacherous roads and mountains. Those guys are not what you would expect from wild west types. They read books while they ride, embrace the horses as if they were lovers and hugs and say “I love you” to each other. Not your father’s cowboys. Val Geissler, an older rancher who is helping them, says they remind him of his dead son and that makes him cry. We get emotionally attached to the horses. I found it hard to watch when they met danger on the roads and they risked being injured. They are such beautiful creatures. But there are also some fun to be had. There is a campfire scene that recalls Blazing saddles. And the comic relief is provided by Donquita, a donkey who does what you’d expect from a donkey. It is stubborn and it brays. The soaring score by Noah Sorora channels both Ennio Morricone and Elmer Bernstein. The cinematographer is Baribeau himself. The beauty of the landscape is enough to recommend Unbranded. Stunning!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Unbranded

Directed by:
Phillip Baribeau

105 min.

 

Labyrinth of lies (Im labyrinth des schweigens)

Although based on the real Frankfurt Auschwitz trials (1963 to 1965), Labyrinth of lies rearranges some of the facts. During that trial 22 defendants were charged under German criminal law for their roles in the Holocaust. The main character is fictitious prosecutor Johann Radmann (Alexander Fehling). The writers created Radmann from three of the real prosecutors who worked on the trial. It all starts in 1958 when journalist Thomas Gnielka (André Szymanski) gets Radmann in touch with Jewish concentration camp survivor Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch). Simon Kirsch is convinced he has found one of his persecutors now working as a teacher. Radmann’s boss is District Attorney Fritz Bauer who was the real DA in charge of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials. Bauer is played by late German actor Gert Voss who died in 2014 at 72. Labyrinth of lies is his last film. German authorities are no help and they refuse to reveal their lists of former SS officers. From an American officer Radmann gets a list of 8,000 names. After hundreds of gruelling interviews with camp survivors, Radmann, his secretary (Hansi Jochmann) and Gnielka have to find the whereabouts of the guilty. With no computers, they have to go through pages and pages of phone books from all over Germany. understandably, not everyone are happy as the trial is bound to dig up secrets and skeletons. At some point the lawyer thinks he might be able to get Dr. Josef Mengele, but with no success. Radmann finds that even in his family and some people very close to him there were SS officers. In fact, the whole country is in denial even twenty-years after the end of the war. Labyrinth of lies is director Giulio Ricciarelli’s first film, and it is interesting because it tells a story that has never been told from this particular angle. But I find it is too conventional and its narrative style too cold to be really compelling. I am happy I saw it, but would not see it a second time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Labyrinth of lies (Im labyrinth des schweigens)

Directed by:

Giulio Ricciarelli

Screenplay by:

Elisabeth Bartel

Giulio Ricciarelli

Amelie Syberberg

Starring:

Alexander Fehling

Gert Voss

André Szymanski

Johannes Krisch

Friederike Becht

124 min.

In German with English subtitles

 

Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (Going to war with Guibord or My internship in Canada)

Just when you thought you had enough of this long election, here comes Philippe Falardeau’s Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre to put a smile on your face. Everything aspects of Canadian political life is parodied. Patrick Huard is Steve Guibord, an independent MP for the Quebec riding of Prescot-Makadewà-Rapides-aux-Outardes. Steve is introduced through the character of Souverain Pascal (Irdens Exantus), a young Haitian student coming to Canada for an internship. Souverain is in awe as he witnesses Guibord trying to navigate between unions demands, local mayors and Aboriginal protests and roadblocks. When the Prime Minister (Paul Doucet) announces that he plans to go to war in a foreign country, Guibord finds out that he holds the balance of power and that his vote will be the deciding one. Guibord is against it and even if the PM is offering him the ministry of Aboriginal affairs, Guibord wants to ask his constituents what they think. This is the kind of guy he is. But it’s not that easy. Even in his household. His wife Suzanne (Suzanne Clément) is for war, while his daughter Lune (Clémence Dufresne-Deslières) is against it. Town hall consultations are held and it soon goes crazy as any nuts in the country are coming to the riding to give their opinions. A mayor claims that war is good because it will bring jobs. Others are pleading Guibord with forced emotions, peppered with ridiculous flowery language, to vote against war. And Souverain’s enthusiasm shines a new light on the cynicism that prevails in among Canadians about politicians. He does video streams with Haitians about his experience with Canadian politics. For the People of Port-au-prince, Steve Guibord is a hero of democracy. Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre is Gatineau born Falardeau’s finest screenplay. Funny and surprising, with great attention to details and a willingness to laugh at ourselves as Canadians. Exantus is Huard’s co-star here, not a mere supporting player. Souverain is the heart of the film and with that smile you can’t help falling in love with him. Paul Doucet’s portrait of a Harper-like Prime Minister is hillarious. He plays the piano and he has a drum set in the living room of 24 Sussex. Only problem with Doucet is that this Anglophone PM speaks English with a French accent. What makes up for it is the fun Doucet is having parodying our Prime Minister. Quebec comedian Patrick Huard sails through the film as if it was the easiest thing. A piece of cake. But it’s far from easy. Beside playing a demanding starring role, hitting every notes correctly without ever overplaying, Huard has to make sure that he always let’s the other actors shine. This is that kind of film. The more effective each actors are in their parts, the better the film will be. And it is among the best film this year. I must not forget masterful composer Martin Léon, who cleverly waves Aboriginal voices throughout his score. It is beautiful. As is Ronald Plante’s photography. What a great country we have. Don’t forget to vote on October 19th.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Guibord s’en va-t-en guerre (Going to war with Guibord or My internship in Canada)

Directed by:
Philippe Falardeau

Screenplay by:
Philippe Falardeau

Starring:
Patrick Huard
Suzanne Clément
Irdens Exantus
Clémence Dufresne-Deslières
Sonia Cordeau
Paul Doucet
Micheline Lanctôt

108 min.

In French, English and Creole with English subtitles

 

The Stanford prison experiment

The Stanford prison experiment is based a real experiment that was conducted in August 1971 at Stanford University, California. Psychology professor Philip Zimbardo’s aim was to prove that the traits of prisoners and guards were the main causes of abuse of power in prisons. Zimbardo’s team selected twenty-four young students from good middle class upbringing with no criminal or mental health history. Twelve participants were picked to be prisoners, and twelve to be guards. They were paid fifteen dollars a day. (A lot of money in 1971) Zimbardo (Billy Crudup) was surprise by what he witnessed. Although the guards showed no previous abusive tendencies, some showed cruel and sadistic behaviors towards the prisoners. Mind games were played on the prisoners, to the point that they thought this was a real prison and that they would never get out. Some of them became hysterical and others rebelled. Even Zimbardo himself became so absorbed that he also acted like it was really a prison. The Stanford prison experiment is a re-creation of what transpired with actors playing the participants and the staff. From what I can tell from archival films, the film is mostly accurate about the events. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has put together one of the strongest ensemble cast of mostly young new faces. Beside Crudup, there are some standouts. Ezra Miller is Prisoner 8612, who is becoming increasingly intense and distraught. As he’s shown previously, Miller is one of the best actor of his generation and he makes 8612 the character with which we can most identify. Then there is Michael Angarano who plays the most sadistic guard. Nicknamed “John Wayne” by the prisoners, he takes charge of the jails and the prisoners from the minutes he gets there. Angarano’s assured bravado performance is impressive as is the whole cast. Because of that and it’s topic this a worthy independent film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The Stanford prison experiment

Directed by:
Kyle Patrick Alvarez

Screenplay by:
Tim Talbott

Starring:
Billy Crudup
Logan Miller
Ezra Miller
Nelsan Ellis
Tye Sheridan
Michael Angarano
Olivia Thirlby
James Wolk
James Frecheville
Johnny Simmons
Ki Hong Lee
Matt Bennett
Matt Bennett
Nicholas Braun
Brett Davern
Jesse Carere
Thomas Mann

122 min.

Rated14A

 

Grandma

I don’t think that Lily Tomlin has ever played a character like Elle Reid. Without having followed her whole career, I can bet that Tomlin has never been as good that she is in Grandma. Elle is an author of feminist poetry who has lost her inspiration two years ago when Violet, her partner of 40 years, died. The story starts as Elle breaks up with her current girlfriend, Olivia (Judy Greer). At that moment Elle’s granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) comes to seek help from her Grandma. Sage is pregnant and wants an abortion. They have only a few dollars between them and so they take off in Elle’s old Dodge Royal, that needs rebooting once in a while, to find the rest of the money before the appointment later on that day. They make an odd pair. Blond, with curly hair, 18-year-old Sage is a sweet angel, and a rugged, foul-mouthed, acid-tongued septuagenarian lesbian who would probably throw the first punch in a bar brawl. Garner and Tomlin work very well together, but the film’s best scene is with veteran actor Sam Elliott as Karl, Elle’s ex-husband. He still sees the young woman he fell in love with forty years ago and it is clear that he is still in love with her. But Elle is there to ask him for money and she won’t tell Karl what it’s for. It’s a moment of intense emotions and hurt and it couldn’t have been done better. Elliott usually plays tough guys in second-rate TV cop or cowboy shows and in movies, so it is a surprise to see him in Grandma giving the full measure of his talent. Later on we meet Elle’s estranged daughter and Sage’s mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden). Workaholic Judy is such a control freak monster that her mother and daughter are afraid of her. On the surface Judy seems cold, controlling and Gay Harden tampers that by playing her as true and genuine as possible, not as a caricature. At the end Elle and Judy have come to finally understand each others. In all road movies what the characters discover about themselves are often more important than what they are trying to find. And Grandma is also very funny. I should mention actress Elizabeth Peña in her last film. She passed away a year ago. With Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Sam Elliott and Marcia Gay Harden this film is sure to entertain.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Grandma

Directed by:
Paul Weitz

Screenplay by:
Paul Weitz

Starring:
Lily Tomlin
Julia Garner
Marcia Gay Harden
Judy Greer
Laverne Cox
Sam Elliott
Nat Wolff
Elizabeth Peña

79 min.