Radical grace

The stars of the new documentary Radical grace are Simone Campbell, Chris Schenk, and Jean Hughes. three outspoken nuns. It all started with the Vatican attempt to censure American nuns. They called the problem “radical feminism” or “radical ideology”. Sister Jean Hughes is livid. “I have been a Sister for longer than most of those guys have been alive!”, she says. Sister Jean works with ex-convict, trying to encourage them to have confidence in their abilities, to have hope. When one man tells her he killed his best friend, Jean tells him that he deserves a second chance. Lately, Jean has had health problems, and spent some time in the hospital. As for the accusation of being a feminist, Sister Chris Schenk’s reaction is “If that’s a sin, guilty as charged!”. Chris would like women to be ordained. We see her trying to find proof of the presence of women, even as priests, from the very beginning of the Catholic movement. If you ask Sister Simone Campbell what really irks the Vatican is that Simone and her organization, NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, “was that we did better politicking than they did.”. When Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget cuts for Social Services would pay for tax cuts for the rich, Sister Simone goes on the road, despite the Vatican censure. The 2012 “Nuns on the bus” protest had Simone and her sisters go across the US to talk about what Ryan was doing in Washington and to the power of Catholic activism. Powerful film. Touching! When Pope Benedict resigns, Sister Chris Schenk goes to Rome for the election of Pope Francis. She’s hopeful that this new progressive Pope will maybe make a difference. Maybe! During the “Nuns on the bus” tour, one counter protestor does not agree with the political stance of the Sisters. “Those nuns are worst than pedophile priests!” I have the feeling that the inmates are still running the asylum.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Radical grace

Directed by:

Rebecca Parrish

Screenplay by:

Rebecca Parrish

96 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

 

Dark horse: The incredible true story of Dream alliance

You can’t help yourself. You just fall in love with the people in Dark horse: The incredible true story of Dream alliance. Part of it is their South Wales accent. Usually, I’m not one to go crazy over accents. The documentary tells the story of Jan Vokes, a barmaid from Cefn fforest, a former mining village in Wales. In 2000, Jan had an idea that she would love to breed a racehorse. Why not? In the past she did breed pigeons and whippets dogs. With the help of her husband, Brian, Jan comes up with a plan to finance this costly project. They’re going to form Alliance partnership, a co-op made of interested villagers and friends. Each co-op member is to give £10 a week. The horse that is bred from a £1000 mare is named Dream alliance. Dream Alliance is then handed over to a trainer and subsequently entered in some races. Seems that there is a prejudice when it comes to racehorse. A horse is not considered a possible winner unless it is owned by a wealthy family. This kind of snobbish attitude is thrown out the window when Dream alliance proves a winner. It is with pride and teary eyes that the members of the partnership talk about those times. There was an accident at the Aintree racetrack, and Dream alliance was almost put down. But the co-op decided to keep him alive. An experimental costly recovery treatment was paid for by the partnership. They were told that Dream alliance could never race again. Well, he surprised them all by winning the Welsh National. This is a charming film. You are won over from the moment that Jan Vokes speaks. Her voice, her accent is music to my ear. The language is the same as mine, but the way they speak is poetry to me. And the horses, the love of horses. The way director Louise Osmond films them. I loved that film. I just can’t help myself.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Dark horse: The incredible true story of Dream alliance

Directed by:

Louise Osmond

Screenplay by:

Louise Osmond

85 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

High-Rise

The poster for Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise looks like one of those cheesy, big budget all-star cast American movies that used to be made in the 60s and 70s. (Things like Hotel in 1967 or the Airpot movies.) But High-Rise is much better than that. Based on J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel, it is set in a 40-story high-rise apartment building. It is such an ugly concrete monster, a creation of production designer Mark Tildesley. The main character is handsome Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston). We first meet him just as he’s about to cook his German shepherd for consumption. Yes, High-Rise is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned! What went wrong? Flashback three months. Laing moves in his new apartment on the 25th floor. Soon he meets Charlotte Melville (Sienna Miller), a single mother with whom he soon starts having sex. He then becomes a friend with Richard Wilder (Luke Evans), a violent and unpredictable TV producer, and Helen (Elisabeth Moss), Richard’s pregnant wife. One day, Laing is invited to visit the architect Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) in his 40th floor domain. It has a spacious rooftop garden (or is it a park?). There is a tennis court and Royal’s wife riding on her white horse (everything is white. She’s dressed in white, sleeps in a white bed and has a maid, also dressed in white, who bitterly cleans the poop the wife’s white dog left on the white carpet). At some point things start falling apart. The elevator stop working, and Laing himself is caught in between two floors. The garbage chute is overflowing and is not being cleaned. Neighbours are getting obsessed with the garbage chute. Power failure? Time to throw a party in the hallways. Did you say a party? Why not orgies in the hallways. Dr. Laing tells a resident, Munrow (Augustus Prew), that he’s dying. But it’s a cruel lie that the doctor told for revenge. Later, during one of those orgies, Munrow jumps from a 37th floor balcony and lands on a car in the parking lot (in what must be one of the slowest slow-motion I’ve ever seen in a film). The suicide is not reported to the police and his body is later found in the garbage pile. The high-rise is becoming a danger zone. People and animals are getting killed. There is literally blood in the aisle at the grocery store where you they beat you up for a can of paint. This hellish film is being orchestrated matter-of-factly by director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump, whose snappy one-liners makes easier for us to swallow all this violence and depravity. I must admit that I enjoyed the first half better than the second. But Wheatley has quite an appealing sence of style and fun. It’s something he does quite well in the editing room. And Hiddleston is happy to play along. There is that one moment when Laing is asleep and dreams he is dancing with a bunch of stewardesses. He’s having a grand old-time rolling those hips to the beat of the music. But I have to talk about Luke Evans giving what could be described as an over-the-top/take-no-prisonner performance. You may not agree with his approach, but it fits the command and the film perfectly. I think that High-Rise is best summed up by Toby, Charlotte Melville’s young son. As he looks into a kaleidoscope, Laing ask him “What can you see through that thing?”. He answers, “The future”. Scary thoughts!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

High-Rise

Directed by:

Ben Wheatley

Screenplay by:

Amy Jump

Based on the novel by J.G. Ballard

Starring:

Tom Hiddleston

Jeremy Irons

Elisabeth Moss

James Purefoy

Sienna Miller

Luke Evans

123 min.

Rating 18A

Dheepan

Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan tells the powerful of Sivadhasan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan), a Sri Lankan man who was engaged as a Tamil Tiger soldier in the Sri Lankan civil war. As the end of the conflict is getting and his side is about to lose, he decides to escape and winds up at a refugee camp. But to find asylum in France, Sivadhasan is given a pretend wife, Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan), and a pretend daughter, Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) to pass as a family. He is also given a dead man’s passport. His name is now Dheepan. They find an apartment at a housing project (in France called HLM) in the suburb of Paris. While Illayaal tries to adapt the best to a new culture, a new language and a new school, Dheepan and Yalini are given employment. Dheepan, as a janitor, tries to clean the rooms and buildings he’s assigned, but he has to wait until the gangs have ended their meetings. Yalini works as a caretaker. Her client’s nephew, Brahim (Vincent Rottiers), is under house arrest and wears an ankle bracelet. He is nice to Yalini, but, by his dead-serious attitude, we can guess that he can be a violent man. Ankle bracelet or not, crime boss Brahim is still meeting his goons in his living room. Yalini senses that violence may erupt at any time and she wants to go to London where she has family. Dheepan/Sivadhasan is a soldier, a warrior. So violence and war is part of who he is. But for Dheepan, being at war is not very far from being crazy. Dheepan and become lovers. Audiard’s technical direction cannot be faulted. He deftly uses small moments of impressionistic poetry and humor. Let’s note the cinematography by Eponine Momenceau, who manage to find beauty in the most ordinary and ugly part of this urban setting. Antonythasan Jesuthasan’s acting experience is minimal as he’s got only one other film to his credit. But his life experience is quite appropriate. He was a Sri Lankan child soldier in his country’s civil war and, now he is a successful writer who lives in France. Aided by the support of stage actress Kalieaswari Srinivasan as his extraordinary partner, Jesuthasan gives a brilliant performance. Although I know not everyone will like Dheepan, I recommend the film because of its tremendous artistic and technical qualities, as is often the case with Jacques Audiard’s films.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Dheepan

Directed by:

Jacques Audiard

Screenplay by:

Jacques Audiard

Thomas Bidegain

Noé Debré

Starring:

Antonythasan Jesuthasan

Kalieaswari Srinivasan

Claudine Vinasithamby

Vincent Rottiers

115 min.

In Tamil, French and English with English subtitles.

Viva

When Mama is on the stage, it does not look like lip-sync, but as if she was really singing. Backstage at the nightclub, her hairdresser, Jesús (Héctor Medina), is looking intently at Mama (Luis Alberto García). His dream is to be like Mama, a drag performer. Young Jesús has not had an easy life. His father was sent to prison when Jesús was a child, and his mom died years ago. Mama agrees to let him perform. His stage name will be Viva. Jesús likes the same singers his mother used to like. Cuban torch song singers like Maggie Carles and Rosita Fornes. One night, while Jesús is performing, his father Angel (Jorge Perugorría), shows up. Freshly released from prison, Angel insists on coming to live with in his son’s small apartment. Beside of the fact that they hardly know each other, Angel is an alcoholic with a violent temper who wants Jesús to stop performing in drag and does not hide his disgust for his son’s homosexuality. And Jesús, like a good son, quit performing. Or at least at first, he is resigned. So since he needs to make money, he becomes a prostitute. But Angel has a secret, the very reason why he reunites with Jesús. Many in the gay community will have recognized themselves in the character of Jesús, a young gay man who has to find his own place in the world. Doing so, Jesús has the courage to fight the prejudices of those he loves and made himself more valuable to them than he ever thought possible. Similarly, like a lot of people in the LGBTQ community, he had to find a network of support among friends: We’ll call that his chosen family. Viva shows us a world we never see in movies. It is harsh and dark at times, but it also occasionally let some sun shine in.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Viva

Directed by:

Paddy Breathnach

Screenplay by:

Mark O’Halloran

Starring:

Héctor Medina

Jorge Perugorría

Luis Alberto Garcia

100 min.

Rated 14A.

In Spanish with English subtitles

Sing street

Fun at the movies? Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet, it may happen. Let’s say we go back in time. It is 1985 in Dublin, Ireland. Young 14-year-old Conor “Cosmo” (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is sent from private school to a public school because his parents have fallen on hard times. So it’ll be the Christian brothers. Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), the tyrannical headmaster gives Cosmo a hard time for not wearing the regulatory black shoes. Next, Cosmo meets the school bully, Barry (Ian Kenny), who slaps him around a few times. But that bully is not your usual movie bully. Not the usual cliché anyway. At home, Cosmo’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), shows him the new musical sensation: music videos. Groups like Duran Duran, The cure, The clash… Cosmo, who plays guitar, decide to form a band, especially to impress a girl he met. Raphinia (Lucy Boynton) looks older than him, and probably is. Cosmo asks Raphinia if she would model in the videos they’re planning for the band. Cosmo enrolls other boys from school. Darren (Ben Carolan) will act as a producer and video technician. Then there is multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna). Cosmo and Eamon will get together and write new original songs. There are five musicians with Cosmo being the lead singer. The name of their band: Sing street! There is a series of scenes when they first get together to play where you can measure the level of acting of this young cast. One line after another, perfect timing. Could you say perfect pitch? And then for the remainder of the film I was awestruck. Watching Sing street is like listening to someone sing on key for two hours. It is not all perfect, but when it is, it’s because of this young cast and the music they do. It is because of the young lovers. Forget about the adults. Forget about the older brother (Boring!). Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is a wonderful singer and actor, and he literally carries Sing street. John Carney, who previously directed musical dramas Once and Begin again, knows a thing or two about how important music can be in someone’s life. It is an autobiographical film on Carney’s upbringing in Dublin. The soundtrack is full of wonderful songs from the era, but also new ones for the Sing street band. Some were written by John Carney himself. Sing street is about music, of course, but about the 80s too. And nostalgia (Boy, those costumes, the hairs!). And romanticism.  And, yes, fun!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Sing street

Directed by:
John Carney

Screenplay by:
John Carney

Starring:
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo
Lucy Boynton
Aiden Gillen
Jack Reynor
Maria Doyle-Kennedy

106 min.

Disorder (Maryland)

It would be impossible not to like Disorder. Matthias Schoenaerts stars as Vincent, a soldier with PTSD, awaiting doctor’s order to return to combat, who in the meantime makes a living as security to the rich and famous. The company where Vincent works is contracted to watch over a party at the Côte d’Azur villa of a Lebanese businessman, Whalid (Percy Kemp). From the first time he sees her, Vincent is attracted to Whalid’s beautiful wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger). But he remains professional and keeps his distance. It seems that Vincent’s work ethics has pleased Whalid, because the next day he hires Vincent to be Jessie and their son’s bodyguard and chauffeur while he is away on a business trip. The premise is simple, but perfect for variations on paranoia and danger. After all Vincent suffers from a condition that may include delusion, and director Alice Winocour let us enter into his very busy mind. But it’s all simply done, without much technical tricks or gimmicks, just good direction and editing. If Disorder is effective as a thriller/action film, it is also an excellent character study. Schoenaerts and Kruger build the characters from their physical presence rather than the dialogue. The sexual chemistry here is sizzling. Similarly, the suspense is build from the waiting and the pulsating suspicions. And the longer the waiting, the bigger the impact will be when violence strike. You don’t mess around with someone on PTSD. Disorder is very tense. Disorder is probably the best thriller I saw in years.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Disorder (Maryland)

Directed by:
Alice Winocour

Screenplay by:
Alice Winocour
Jean-Stéphane Bron

Starring:
Matthias Schoenaerts
Diane Kruger
Paul Hamy
Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant,
Percy Kemp

98 min.

Rated 14A

In French with English subtitles.

Cemetery of splendour (Rak ti Khon Kaen)

So far, I’ve seen two of his films by Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The first film was Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives, a Palme d’or winner at the 2010 Cannes film festival. Movie reviewers and artsy-fartsy types are expected to say that every Palme d’or winners are masterpieces, a must. But I don’t. I have seen enough Palme d’or winners to know that they are slow and boring. That’s how the jury picks them. They find the most boring film in competition and it gets the Palme d’or. Cemetery of splendour is a bit better. It is set in a hospital where the patients are all soldiers struck by a sleeping virus. They are all connected to anti-snoring machines. Middle-aged volunteer Jenjira (Jenjira Pongpas) comes regularly to look after her favorite patient, a young soldier called Itt (Banlop Lomnoi). There is also a medium called Keng (Jarinpattra Rueangram) who communicate with the sleeping soldiers. Or is she a government spy? The weird, dreamlike atmosphere prevails throughout the film. It is livelier than Uncle Boonmee who can recall his past lives, but still, there is too many excruciatingly long shots of inanimate objects for its own good. So you may need one of those anti-snoring machines.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Cemetery of splendour (Rak ti Khon Kaen)

Directed by:
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Screenplay by:
Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Starring:
Banlop Lomnoi
Jenjira Pongpas
Jarinpattra Rueangram
Petcharat Chaiburi

122 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Thai with English subtitles

Mountains may depart (Shan he gu ren)

Jia Zhangke’s Mountains may depart starts in China in 1999, leaps to 2014, then into the future in Australia in 2025. The main character is a young woman called Shen Tao (Zhao Tao). Shen who lives in a small mining town, is being courted by two men : working-class Liangzi (Liang Jindong), and Zhang (Zhang Yi), a young business man from a well-to-do family. Shen is innocently smiling through, while the two men are jealously fighting for her attention. She chooses money but still wants to remain friend with Liangzi. In 2014 Zhang, now married and with a kid, has to borrow money from his old flame, Shen. He is suffering from cancer and needs the money to pay for the treatments. By then Shen is divorced and she gets another blow when her father dies. Dollar, her young son, comes to stay with her for the funeral. It does not seems like they have a good relationship. Jump to 2025. Dollar is living in Australia with his dad. Dollar (Dong Zijian), is a university student who has an affair with his much older teacher, Mia (Sylvia Chang). Dollar is thinking of going back to China to see his mother again. I like those types of structured screenplays, even though its meaning may not be evident to all. Nevertheless I still found the film compelling. Mountains may depart is about the state things in China then, now and in years to come. Zhangke films the early scenes with a smaller screen ratio than we’re used to, and then uses a wider ratio for the later time periods. And in the end, we take some comfort in seeing that some things will never change, no matter what happens.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Mountains may depart (Shan he gu ren)

Directed by:

Jia Zhangke

Screenplay by:

Jia Zhangke

Starring:

Zhao Tao

Zhang Yi

Liang Jingdong

Dong Zijian

Sylvia Chang

127 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Mandarian, English and Cantonese with English subtitles.