Born to be blue

Although Born to be blue is a biopic about jazz legendary trumpeter, flugelhornist and singer Chet Baker, it is not a factual account of his life. We are at the end of the 60’s and Baker (Ethan Hawke) is in love with an actress named Jane (Carmen Ejogo). Jane is a fictional composite of several women in Baker’s life. A heroin addict, Baker is beaten by drug dealers. His jaw and teeth are so damaged that doctors predict that he will never play again. But, through excruciating pain, Baker is back playing in a few months. Meanwhile, he has to answer to a strict probation officer (Tony Nappo) and go though a methadone treatment. With Jane by his side, Baker asks his old producer, Dick (Callum Keith Rennie), who had given up on him, to take him back again. Everything seems to be going well for Baker. But you know the saying: Once an addict… Ethan Hawke shows a tremendous virtuosity by always playing with nuances. Hawke’s intense gaze while he breathlessly whispers every lines, showing the life, the danger boiling inside a genius like Chet Baker. Ethan Hawke is a master of subtlety. Restraint is also evident everywhere in this Canadian film (shot in Sudbury, Ontario). Carmen Ejogo is an apt partner to Hawke. Ejogo is the heart of the film, the emotions, Hawke is the raw instinct. Cinematographer Steve Cosens also gave me the subtleties I saw elsewhere. An odd choice was made not to use Baker’s original recordings. Vocals are provided by Hawke, who powerfully sings My funny Valentine. Kevin Turcotte plays the trumpet. purist might dislike it, but I enjoyed the music a great deal. A feast for the ears, the eyes and the heart.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Born to be blue

Directed by:
Robert Budreau

Screenplay by:
Robert Budreau

Starring:
Ethan Hawke
Carmen Ejogo
Callum Keith Rennie
Stephen McHattie

97 min.

Rated 14A

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Knight of cups

In Terence Malick’s Knight of cups, Christian Bale plays Hollywood screenwriter Rick who is suffering from some kind of existential and spiritual crisis. We are never told why because there are no dialogues, only voiceovers. We know he has problems with his brother (Wes Bentley), a street social worker, and his father (Brian Dennehy), who commited suicide. Rick has numerous affairs with women. Among them are his wife, doctor Nancy (Cate Blanchett), and a married woman called Elizabeth (Natalie Portman). Malick filmed without a script. His actors had to improvise. But improvise what? There is no dialogue. All you see is Bale walking on beaches, or the streets, or in the desert. He is by himself or with the newest babe, his brother and/or his dead father. And since the camera follows them, we mostly see the back of the head. And those voiceovers. Sometimes he’s at a Hollywood party. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves, but Rick just looks bored, grimly staring at the ground. Babes in various degrees of nakedness run around in Rick’s home, or jump on beds, or are thrown in swimming pools. This goes on for two hours. No story. Utterly pointless film. Just like the last Terence Malick film (To the wonders). Avoid.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Knight of cups

Directed by:

Terrence Malick

Screenplay by:

Terrence Malick

Starring:

Christian Bale

Cate Blanchett

Natalie Portman

Brian Dennehy

Antonio Banderas

Wes Bentley

Isabel Lucas

Imogen Poots

Freida Pinto

118 min.

Rated 14A

In English, German and Spanish with English subtitles

Coconut hero

We’ve seen Coconut hero before. The main character, 16-year-old Mike Tyson (“not the boxer, a different one,” he reminds us in a voiceover narration), just like Harold in Hal Ashby’s 1971 classic film  Harold and Maude, wants to die. Before he puts a rifle to his head, he makes sure that there is an obituary published in the local newspaper, and he leaves a note for his mom (Krista Bridges) telling her not to forget to feed the fish. The suicide attempt fails, and his (hysterical) mom insists that he goes back to school the next day, where he is bullied by all, including the youngest kids. And then the doctor tells him that they found a brain tumor. Mike is happy about the news, but he keeps the secret from his mom and plans to build his own coffin. The ray of hope comes when Mike meets young social worker Miranda (Bea Santos) and he falls in love with her. She’s too old for him, of course, but they become friends. The late arrival of his estranged father (Sebastian Schipper) complicate matters. The film navigates between a quirky, dark comedy and a predictable melodrama. I prefer the dark comedy. Fresh faced Alex Ozerov effectively plays Mike as an awkward, wide-eyed, suicidal teenager, and Ozerov reads very high on the likeability meter. Is that enough to recommend Coconut hero? You decide.
Rémi-Serge Gratton
Coconut hero
Directed by:
Florian Cossen
Screenplay by:
Elena von Saucken
Daniel Schachter
Starring:
Alex Ozerov
Bea Santos
Krista Bridges
Sebastian Schipper
Udo Kier97 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The club (El club)

The residents of a small beach-house in a Chilean fishing village are four Catholic priests and their guardian angel, Sister Monica (Antonia Zegers). They are leading a quiet life. They get busy training their greyhound, getting it ready for races. The dog often win. Father Vidal (Alfredo Castro) is particularly fond of the dog. Then one day there is a new arrival: Father Lazcano. But Lazcano has not been there very long, when a man named Sandokan (Roberto Farías) stands in front of the house and, in very graphic details, loudly accuses Lazcano of past sexual abuses and rape. Inside the house there is total panic. Of course, now we know that those priests have been sent there because they are pedophiles. After Father Lazcano kills himself, Father García (Marcelo Alonso) is sent to investigate what caused the suicide. Instead of getting to the truth, García is met with a wall of denial. All the priests say they are innocent – they never did anything wrong, why are they there, they’re not criminals, it’s a mistake. Father García threatens to close the house, but Sister Monica is there to protect the priests at any costs. Director Pablo Larraín (No) and his co-screenwiters have developed a devilish parable in which the characters will stop at nothing to save themselves and their beloved church. It is cynic and provocative. Larraín gets some help from a great ensemble cast. There are some disturbing scenes. This not your mother’s Catholic church.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The club (El club)

Directed by:
Pablo Larraín

Screenplay by:
Guillermo Calderón
Pablo Larraín
Daniel Villalobos

Starring:
Roberto Farías
Antonia Zegers
Alfredo Castro
Alejandro Goic
Alejandro Sieveking

97 min.

Rated 14A

In Spanish with English subtitles.

The messenger

Ne tuons pas la beauté du monde
Faisons de la terre un grand jardin
Pour ceux qui viendront après nous

Luc Plamondon, Hymne à la beauté du monde

I thought I was going to see a documentary about messenger pigeon. But the “messengers” of the title are the songbirds. The study of their migrations, their slow decline is telling us a lot about the state of the planet’s ecosystem. Director Su Rynard visits ornithologists, ecologists, biologists and bird lovers from all over the globe. In Toronto, for instance, high-rises with mirror-like windows are the causes of many fatal accidents among songbirds. Domestic cats are also a cause (“I thought I saw a pussy cat”, I kept thinking). With amazing technological advances it is now possible to put tracking devices on birds and by computer, have a precise record of their travels. We go to France where we meet a lover of ‘haute cuisine’ is refusing to stop hunting and eating ortolans. In Germany, DJ Dominik Eulberg samples the sound of songbirds in his composition. Eulberg also reminds us that one of Wagner’s inspiration for Siegfried was songbirds. The greatest pleasures of The messenger is the work of cinematographers Daniel Grant and Amar Arhab. The beauty of the images carries the message of the film very well.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The messenger

Directed by:
Su Rynard

Screenplay by:
Sally Blake
Su Rynard

90 min.

Rated General.

In English, French, German, and Dutch with English subtitles.

Requiem for the American dream

In 1988 Noam Chomsky was the subject of the highly regarded documentary Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. 28 Years later, here comes Requiem for the American dream. We are seeing Chomsky in what we are told is his ‘final long-form documentary interviews’. It took several years for the film to be finalized. For those who don’t know, Noam Chomsky is a left-leaning political analyst, activist and writer. He is also a master communicator, as I can attest after seeing this film. The topic? How financial inequalities has eroded democracy in the US. Can you even call it democracy? What happened is what Chomsky calls ‘10 Principles of concentration of wealth and power’. For instance, one of the principle is ‘Run the regulators’. Chomsky explain that the same bankers who caused the financial crisis of 2008 were asked to draft the new rules and regulations by the Federal government. So instead of being prosecuted for their reckless behavior and filling their pockets, while the US economy (heck, the whole world’s economy) was destroyed – those bankers got cushy appointments so that they could help their banker friends do it again. The American constitution that was supposed to protect the people, Chomsky tells us, has been misused by politicians and their friends in high places to deny them democracy. The three director use of archival footage is effective. And the titles, based on the American dollar and its image of George Washington, are simple, fun and never overwhelming. But what is important here is Noam Chomsky who is 87 years old. He is so precise and knowing in the details of his analysis it is jarring, scary and I have no doubt it will be hard to change things. This is why we have to listen now.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Requiem for the American dream

Directed by:

Peter D. Hutchinson

Kelly Nyks

Jared P. Scott

Screenplay by:

Peter D. Hutchinson

Kelly Nyks

Jared P. Scott

Starring:

Noam Chomsky

73 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

One floor below (Un etaj mai jos)

Patrascu is a middle-aged man who lives in an apartment building with his wife and their teenage son. Every day Patrascu (Teodor Corban) walks his dog to the park. Coming back from one of these walks, he overhears what sounds like an argument between two lovers from a downstairs flat. It is violent enough for Patrascu to stop and listen, wondering if he should intervene. At this moment a young man is coming out of the apartment. As Patrascu awkwardly proceeds up the stairs to his apartment, the young man follows him. Later that week, Patrascu learns that the young woman from that apartment was murdered. When he is questioned by the police, Patrascu tells them he did not see anything suspicious. Then there is a weird I-know-that-you-know game played between Patrascu and the young man, who Patrascu knows as Vali. Patrascu and his wife are in the vehicle registration business. They are hired by clients who don’t want to deal with what looks like a complex labyrinth of bureaucratic paperwork. When Vali asks Patrascu to help with his car, Patrascu is concerned but agrees. Patrascu’s worries are confirmed when he finds out that Vali has befriended his son and his wife and is helping his son with his computer. As a thriller, One floor below is a slow burner. Nothing technical, like a Hitchcock or de Palma. There are no big climatic scenes. What is important are the characters and their moral dilemmas. With very little dialogue, Corban is very effective at showing us what Patrascu is feeling and thinking. Conversely, Iulian Postelnicu as Vali is, with even less dialogue, obscure and scary. We never know what Vali is thinking. A quiet menace. One floor below is about the paralysis of guilt.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

One floor below (Un etaj mai jos)

Directed by:

Radu Muntean

Screenplay by:

Alexandru Baciu

Radu Mantean

Razvan Radulescu

Starring:

Teodor Corban

Iulian Postelnicu

Oxana Moravec

Ionut Bora

Tatiana Iekel

Vlad Ivanov

Mihaela Sirbu

93 min.

Rated 14A

In Romanian with English subtitles.

 

Where to invade next

With Where to invade next Michael Moore is having a great time poking fun at (what else?) the United States. The idea is not to invade countries, but their policies, their ideas and bring them to the US. Those social policies seems to be much more efficient than the ones they have back home. The director arrives in every countries he visits with an American flag, ready to plant it in the ground and say “I’m invading your ideas!”. We are very aware that those countries are far from perfect. They have their own insurmountable problems. But Moore wants to “invade” the ideas that will make things better in the US. For instance, in Italy all workers are given at least 8 weeks of paid holidays. No matter where or for who you work, this is the law. Yeah, but does it work? Yes. Productivity has increased and companies are making money. The employers are pro union. I can hear Republicans calling Moore a ‘commie’, or even worse, a ‘socialist’. Finland’s education system is amongst the best in the world. Why? Well, students don’t get any homework, there are fewer school hours and no standardised testing. And at all level, tuition is free. Some American University students go to Finland to study because they already have too much debts in the States. He then goes to France where schoolchildren are served (literally!) gourmet three course meals. Free. Every day. None of this hamburgers and fries stuff. Moore compares those countries with the United States. For instance, in America the prison system is oppressive and systematic, and in Norway it is humane and rehabilitative. Say what you want, Moore says, but Norway has the lowest recidivism rate and the US one of the highest. As a documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore is the master of manipulation. Yes, but his films are fun to watch, even if they are as subtle as a ton of bricks hitting you in the face. As an interviewer, Moore’s comic timing is priceless. Often, we see Moore blankly staring into empty space as a reaction to something he just heard. It says it all. And I also like the way he effectively uses film archives and news items to hammer his points across. I can’t wait to see what Michael Moore has to say about the present American election, and about the Donald.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Where to invade next

Directed by:

Michael Moore

110 min.

Rated 14A