Sleeping giant

Sleeping giant is certainly not your typical teenage coming-of-age movie. Canadian director Andrew Cividino’s debut feature was filmed in a small Ontario resort town. Shy and reserved 15-year-old Adam (Jackson Martin) is spending his summer vacation with his two new friends, cousins Nate and Riley (real life cousins Nick Serino and Reece Moffett). Those boys are decidedly less shy and tougher than Adam. Nate is particularly nasty, he is foul-mouthed, he seems angry most of the time, and both cousins challenge Adam to come out of his shell by playing rough and dangerous games. They smoke pot and steal beer from a store. Adam seems confused about his feelings. Although it he may still like girls, it looks as if he has also developed a crush on Riley. One night, Riley sees Adam’s dad (David Disher) kissing another woman. Adam finds out and confronts his dad, but does not tell him mom. When Riley starts dating Adam’s best friend, Taylor (Katelyn McKerracher), both Nate and Adam become jealous. This damning look at the cruelty of youth is totally believable and seems accurate because of the three young leads. The mostly improvised conversations are so real that it is a total surprise to find out that Sleeping giant is Serino and Moffett’s first feature film. (Trivia: Their grandmother is player by Serino and Moffett’s real life grandmother, Rita Serino) There are a few moments in the film that are predictable, but for the most part, it is exactly right and fresh.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Sleeping giant

Directed by:
Andrew Cividino

Screenplay by:
Andrew Cividino
Blain Watters
Aaron Yeger

Starring:
Jackson Martin
Reece Moffett
Nick Serino
David Disher
Katelyn McKerracher

89 min.

Rated 14A

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Miles ahead

Miles ahead is a film about Miles Davis, one of the most influential and innovative musician of the 20th century. Actor Don Cheadle plays Miles Davis. He is also the director, co-producer and co-screenwriter, and the composer of some of the music. The film is set in 1979 and it starts with self-described Rolling stone journalist Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor) dropping in unexpectedly at the jazzman’s New York apartment for an interview. Davis does not do interviews, but the studio sent Braden, he claims. At that time in his career, Davis was planing a comeback, but did not want the studio executives to have any control over his music. So Davis goes to confront them and when the arguments gets heated, pulls a gun on them. Still, executive Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) demands to hear his latest recording, which Davis has on reel-to-reel tapes (hey, this is 1979!). Of course, Davis refuses. That evening, during a party at his apartment, Hamilton manages to find and steal the tapes. The rest of the film has Davis and Braden trying to get the tapes back. There are car chases and shootings. All through that, Miles ahead flashbacks to 1956-66 and his troubled relationship with his first wife, dancer Frances Taylor (Emayatzy Corinealdi). Davis wants her to stop dancing and stay at home. That does not stop him from sleeping around with other women. Cheadle’s film is an impression of Miles, his music and his art. Davis cannot be pinned easily into neat little boxes. And his estate refused to allow a standard biopic to be made. The film is like his music: Sudden frantic bursts of electric energy, unexpectedly surprising us with violent, impulsive sensuality. People may find this aproach problematic, but Cheadle and Corinealdi have real chemistry, they are attuned to each other. Corinealdi plays Frances Taylor as a goddess rather than a mere woman. That’s how good she is. I am not an expert on Miles Davis, so I can’t tell if Cheadle got it right. But the cool, the hip, the voice and the energy is right. Miles ahead in not your usual biopic, but rather like variations on Miles Davis.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Miles ahead

Directed by:
Don Cheadle

Screenplay by:
Steven Baigelman
Don Cheadle
Stephen J. Rivele
Christopher Wilkinson

Starring:
Don Cheadle
Emayatzy Corinealdi
Ewan McGregor
Michael Stuhlbarg

100 min.

Rated 18A

Francofonia

Thirteen years ago Aleksandr Sokurov’s Russian ark came out. It was a single-take film, but it was not much of a technical challenge. It is an elongated visit to the Russian Hermitage Museum with historical characters coming in and out of the frame while a narrator (Sokurov) is telling us- we, poor, uneducated souls- what it all means. After seeing it, I observed friends having what I could only describe as artsy-fartsy orgasms. Me? If I want a visit to a museum, I’ll go to a museum. Well, Sokurov is back with another museum film, this time about Le Louvre in Paris. Francofonia is for the most part a documentary, but also uses actors to stand in for historical figures. Napoléon Bonaparte (Vincent Nemeth), who claims that Le Louvre was his creation is there roaming among the paintings, while the symbol of the French republic, Marianne (Johanna Korthals Altes), keeps repeating, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity’. But the film is mostly concerned with what happened during the German occupation and the meeting between museum director Jacques Jaujard (Louis-Do De Lencquesaing) and Franz Wolff-Metternich (Benjamin Utzerath), the German officer put in charge by the Nazi. Their relationship was agreeable as they seem to have shared a common love for art. Scenes between the two actors are made up to look like old films, and when they walk in Paris, they walk among the modern cars and people dressed in modern clothes. A man narrates in Russian (Sokurov again) while the characters speak French or German. The whole thing had very little interest for me and most of the time, I was bored. Artsy-fartsy? No, not me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Francofonia

Directed by:

Aleksandr Sokurov

Screenplay by:

Aleksandr Sokurov

Starring:

Louis-Do de Lencquesaing

Benjamin Utzerath

Vincent Nemeth

Johanna Korthals Altes

Andrey Chelpanov

Jean-Claude Caër

88 min.

Rated General

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

Song of Lahore

In Song of Lahore, the Pakistani musicians from Sachal studios in the capital city of Lahore are trying their hands at improvisational jazz. Although there are traditional instruments, like the tabla, the sitar, a flute and other less well-known instruments, the group is augmented by a string section and a guitar. They have recorded their own version of Dave Brubeck’s Take five, which has created a buzz around the world. Most of Sachal studios musicians are coming from a long tradition of  Pakistani music that dates back several generations. After a golden era in the 50s, the arrival of the Taliban made playing music almost impossible. Although things are better now, traditional musical instruments have been threatened to disappear because younger musicians are now into rock and electronic music. Izzat Majeed has founded Sachal studios so that they can keep the tradition alive. The decision to do jazz has paid off. They are invited by Wynton Marsalis to play with his Jazz ensemble at a concert at Lincoln Center. They arrive in New York (minus the string section) and the cultural clash is evident. Majeed sings John Denver’s Country roads with a street musician wearing only a cowboy hat and a bikini. During rehearsals, things don’t go as smoothly as conductor Nijat Ali would  have liked. They have to hire another sitar player. Directors Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Andy Schocken keep building up the suspense. There’s no need to worry. Not only is it a success with the audience but Marsalis and the other players from his Big band are happy. Song of Lahore should be seen mostly for the music and those Pakistani musicians and their love and passion for their art.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Song of Lahore

Directed by:
Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
Andy Schocken

82 min.

Rated 14A

In Urdu  and English with English subtitles.

The dark horse

The dark horse is based on the real story of Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis), a Maori man with bipolar disorder who overcomes this disorder by coaching underprivileged kids to play chess. His brother Ariki (Wayne Hapi) is the leader of a scary bike gang. Caught in the middle is Mana (James Rolleston), Ariki’s son. At only 14, he is being violently beaten up in order to join the gang. Mana develops a trusting relationship with his uncle, Genesis, who wants the boy to join the Eastern Knights youth chess club. Genesis is so confident about his pupils that he enrolls them into a competition. But there’s no way that Ariki is going to let Mana go. The worst thing you could say about a film is that it is predictable, and, unfortunately, The dark horse is. The saying “I saw that coming a mile ahead” is certainly true here. Especially towards the end where we are fed a bunch of clichés. The best part about the film were those scenes at the competition. The children’s love for the game is clearly and effectively shown. Although Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston give powerful performances, the heart the film are the kids from the chess club.

Quote… “Most of all I want chess to help them think about how they are behaving to be able to look at themselves the way they are looking at the chess board, and to make the correct adjustments.” Genesis Potini (1963 – 2011)

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The dark horse

Directed by:
James Napier Robertson

Screenplay by:
James Napier Robertson

Starring:
Cliff Curtis
James Rolleston
Kirk Torrance
Wayne Hapi

124 min.

Rated 14A

The lobster

In the fictional universe made up by director Yorgos Lanthimos for his film The lobster, people are not allowed to be single. They have to find a partner. For instance, when David’s wife leaves him for another man, he is taken to a seaside hotel/resort. The manager (Olivia Colman) informs David that he has 45 days to find a proper match. Since he is short-sighted, David will have to find a lady who is also short-sighted. People with nosebleed, have to match with people who have nosebleed, people with lisp have to find a partner who lisp. If after 45 days you aren’t matched, you are turned into the animal of your choice. David tells the manager he wants to become a lobster. The tenants are constantly lectured about the virtues of married life. Sometimes they go into the woods, where they hunt escapees (called ‘loners’) with tranquilizer guns. A captured loner gets you an extra day to find a partner. At the resort David befriends a lisping man (John C. Reilly) and limping man (Ben Whishaw). But David eventually escapes to the woods where he joins a colony of loners. Their leader is played by Léa Seydoux. He meets and falls in love with a short-sighted woman (Rachel Weisz). The lobster is an allegorical comedy that tries to tell us somethings about the world we live in. That is fine, but it is slow-moving and inaccessible (but more accessible than other Lanthimos films). One thing is sure, not everyone will like. The best I can say is that it is ‘interesting’. No more.
And the Oscar went to… Original screenplay rightly went to Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea.
Rémi-Serge Gratton
The lobster
Directed by:
Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenplay by:
Yorgos Lanthimos
Efthymys Filippou

 

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Colin Farrell
Jessica Barden
Olivia Colman
Ashley Jensen
John C. Reilly
Léa Seydoux
Ben Whishaw
Anjeliki Papoulia

118 min.
Rated 14A

I saw the light

Hank Williams has such a reputation as an influential singer-songwriter, that you are surprised to find out that he was only 29 when he died. Tom Hiddleston plays Williams as a seemingly simple and straightforward man. But Hank Williams died from alcoholism and addiction to morphine and the painkillers he was taking for a back ache. I saw the light is mostly about his relationship with his first wife, Audrey Mae Sheppard (a very strong turn by Elizabeth Olsen). Sheppard used her marriage to Williams to launch her own career as a singer. That frustrated both Williams and his mother, Lillie (Cherry Jones). Friends and producers tell Hank that Audrey’s talent is limited, but she’s adamant: She wants to sing with him at his concerts. That insistence will eventually break up the marriage. After the divorce, Williams falls in love and marries Billie Jean (Maddie Hasson). That  marriage is short-lived as Hank Williams dies on his way to a concert. Beside dealings with his personal life, the film is uneventful. Williams cancelled several concerts because of his drinking. Although I certainly am not a Hank Williams expert, I found Hiddleston’s vocals impressive. Country music star Rodney Crowell is producing the music and it is the best reason to see I saw the light.
Rémi-Serge Gratton
I saw the light
Directed by:
Marc Abraham
Screenplay by:
Marc Abraham
Based on Hank Williams: The biography by Colin Escott
Starring:
Tom Hiddleston
Elizabeth Olsen
David Krumholtz
Maddie Hasson
Bradley Whitford

123 min.

Rated 14A

L’hermine (Courted)

Let’s start with the good news first: L’hermine is a procedural film about a French murder trial. A young father, Martial (Victor Pontecorvo), is accused of killing his 7-month-old baby. Court President Racine (Fabrice Luchini) has caught the flu and that makes him seem even more crabby than usual. From what we ear from the lawyers and his staff, Racine has a bad reputation as an unfair, expeditious and taciturn judge. The jurors are chosen in a kind of lottery when the President picks those who will be in the jury and those who will be alternates. The trial is intriguing because the accused refuses to talk except to say that he did not kill the baby. His partner, Jessica (Miss Ming) seems to be at lost about what happened and does not contribute much. We start thinking, as does everybody in the film, that Martial is not guilty. But what happened? Now, here’s the bad news: We never find out. This is a Fabrice Luchini film, and L’hermine‘s intrigue got sidetracked when President Racine picked Ditte Lorensen-Coteret (Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen) to sit on the jury. Instantly he recognizes her. She is an anesthetist and he was her patient some years earlier. They unethically meet at a café, where he tells her that he’s been thinking about her all those years. Why? Well, she touched his hand. She touches all her patient, she tells him. And he answers, that maybe it is like that in Denmark, but this is France. Yes indeed, and in France they have Fabrice Luchini, dirty old man par excellence, who always has a much younger leading lady in every one of his films. To his credit, Luchini is good and effective as Court President Racine, The judge’s reputation is not confirmed by what we see. I found him to be fair and impartial. And although he never smiles, he is nice to everyone and assures that the court proceedings are running smoothly. In short: Very professional. The problem with L’hermine is that I found the murder and trial more compelling than the masturbatory fantasies of a 65-year-old teenager in love with a woman who is 20 years younger. Instead of finding out who killed the child, we get to see vieux cochon Luchini get the girl. Yet again. Enough already! C’est assez!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

L’hermine (Courted)

Directed by:
Christian Vincent

Screenplay by:
Christian Vincent

Starring:
Fabrice Luchini
Sidse Babett Knudsen
Evan Lallier
Corinne Masiero
Miss Ming
Victor Pontecorvo

98 min.

In French and English with English subtitles.