Our kind of traitor

The last film adapted from a John le Carré novel I saw was the exquisite A most wanted man with Philip Seymour Hoffman in his last great performance. Our kind of traitor is another fine example of excellent filmmaking. John le Carré’s novels are full with complex international intrigues and maneuvers. But le Carré is not making up that stuff, it is only mirroring what is happening in the political world, past and present. Our kind of traitor is about Perry and Gail (Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris), a London couple vacationing in Marrakesh. At the hotel bar Perry meets Russian mafioso Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) along with his wife and children. Dima is loud, boisterous and very intimidating to the young couple. Gail, a lawyer, does not trust him. It gets even worse when Dima asks Perry to do something for him. Dima wants Perry to bring information on a USB drive to the British intelligence. The information is about which British politicians are helping the Russian mafia launder money. In exchange, Dima hopes he and his family can defect to England. But British intelligence agent Hector (Homeland‘s Damian Lewis) is having trouble selling the idea to his boss, so he has to act quickly without the ‘go ahead’ from the head office. Although she was reluctant to help at first, Gail eventually sides with Perry to help Dima and his family. I liked that film. I was swept by the ingenuity of  le Carré’s plot and its labyrinthine complexity. It is a difficult weave to work with. But director Susanna White works tirelessly with many attention to details. Every part has been cast with care. From Dima’s children and Government officials to mafia goons. Damian Lewis is perfect as a disturbing man walking on a tightrope without ever showing what card he will deal next. Skarsgård has never been so good as he is here and he knows it. He is having a great time. And so was I. This is an exciting political thriller.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Our kind of traitor

Directed by:
Susanna White

Screenplay by:
Hossein Amani
Based on the novel by John le Carré

Starring:
Ewan McGregor
Naomie Harris
Stellan Skarsgård
Damian Lewis

107 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Russian and French with English subtitles.

I am the blues

Soon we won’t be able the music heard in the new documentary I am the blues. The blues musicians featured in the film are all seniors, and what they know about the blues is so valuable to the younger generations of music makers. I know next to nothing about blues, but that does not mean that I can’t recognize talent when I see it. The blues musicians in I am the blues are legends. All of them. Director Daniel Cross travels to places like the Louisiana Bayou, the Mississippi Delta or the Mississippi North Hill Country. He films them playing guitar or harmonica in their kitchen, front lawn, front porch. Musicians like Lazy Lester, RL Boyce, Henry Gray, and blues singer Carol Fran are happy to show us what they know. With her steel guitar Barbara Lynn is so funky, she probably invented the word. The central figures is Bobby Rush who seems to be traveling with the film crew. It is hard not to notice that those black entertainers are living in very poor conditions. We should not be so surprised, this is the South of the good old USA. But you hear no complaint from the musicians, as long as they have the music. One of the reasons to see I am the blues is the wonderful finger snapping music. You can’t get more real than that. I am the blues is aptly titled. The music legends featured in the film can proudly make that claim with their heads held way up high.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I am the blues

Directed by:

Daniel Cross

Screenplay by:

Daniel Cross

106 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The daughter

Adapted from Henrik Ibsen’s The wild duck, Australian melodrama The daughter‘s beginning shows all the signs of a class warfare film. It soon becomes clear that this is not director/writer Simon Stone’s plan. Set in a small town where the wealthy Henry Neilson (Geoffrey Rush), announces that he is forced to close down the timber mill that, until now, has been the town’s main employer. Henry seems unfazed by that as he soon will marry Anna (Anna Torv), his former housekeeper. Coming for the wedding is Henry’s son Christian (Paul Schneider). Christian is not happy with his father’s choice a bride. While in town, Christian visits his old friend, Oliver (Ewen Leslie), who works at the mill and will be soon jobless. Oliver is also invited to the wedding because his father, Walter (Sam Neill), was Henry’s closest friend. When he meets Oliver’s wife, Charlotte (Miranda Otto), Christian recognizes her as another of his father’s housekeeper, and, of course, Henry’s mistress. In case you want to know, the daughter of the title is Hedwig, Oliver and Charlotte’s teenage daughter played by Odessa Young. This is the type of thing that passes for good drama these days. There is enough plot to last a year on Eastenders. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating: 6 months! Christian is a robot who acts the way he does to advance the plot. And The daughter becomes an overdone film with loads of bad acting. Paul Schneider cannot be credible as Christian. Who could? Sam Neill gives the best performance of the film, but he can’t save it. There ain’t nothing like a good melodrama. Unfortunately, this ain’t it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The daughter

Directed by:

Simon Stone

Screenplay by:

Simon Stone

Inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s play The wild duck

Starring:

Geoffrey Rush

Ewen Leslie

Anna Torv

Miranda Otto

Paul Schneider

Odessa Young

Sam Neill

96 min.

Rated 14A

Chevalier

The six Greek men are on a yacht in the Aegean sea. There is no mention why they are there. A leisure trip without the wives/girlfriends? The oldest among them is ‘the Doctor’, who seems to be the captain. The others are handsome and coquettish Christos, the clownish Dimitris and his older brother Yannis, colleagues Josef and Yorgos, who looks confused and frazzled most of the time. Tired of playing card games, they decide to start a competition. In order to choose whom among them is the best in all things, they grade each other on everything from the way they dress, the cleaning of the yacht or the size of their penis. Whatever they can do to prove their worthiness and their superior manhood, they do with great enthusiasm and with increasing craziness. I found Chevalier to be a uninvolving, cold affair. Maybe it is the tone that I could not comprehend. In the second half of the film, the yacht is harboured at an armada. There are other boats harboured at the armada. Yet, the whole place seemed empty, lifeless. Why spend so much time with such uninteresting people? There is nothing wrong with the acting or the technical aspects. It’s just not for me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Chevalier

Directed by:

Athina Rachel Tsangari

Screenplay by:

Efthymis Filippou

Athina Rachel Tsangari

Starring:

Panos Koronis

Vangelis Mourikis

Yorgos Kendros

Makis Papadimitriou

Yorgos Pirpasspoulos

Sakis Rouvas

99 min.

Rated 14A

In Greek with English susbtitles.

After the last river

Victoria Lean’s After the last river is documentary that lays out the insurmountable problems the Attawapiskat First Nation has been facing over the years. Starting with De Beers diamond company who in 2008 opened a mine close to the reserve. It came with the company promising great economic opportunities and jobs for the people of Attawapiskat. There was actually very little. But the mercury from the mines was everywhere. In the water, the fishes they caught, in the soil, along with homes infested with black mold and diseases. After the last river tells the whole history of Canada’s troubled relationship with our First Nations, from the painful past of residential schools to the Idle No More movement, the housing crisis, Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike and Stephen Harper’s refusal to meet with her. Victoria Lean goes to Attawapiskat to meet with the people most affected with health issues. She also interviews NDP MP Charlie Angus, a relentless champion of their causes. To be fair, those problems existed long before the Conservatives formed Government. It may prove a problem too big to solve for any Government. Victoria Lean’s After the last river is a good place to start if you want to know more.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

After the last river

Directed by:

Victoria Lean

Screenplay by:

Victoria Lean

90 min.

Rated 14A.

Sunset song

The veteran British director Terence Davies’s usual nostalgic attachment to the past is present in this adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s beloved 1932 novel. It is set in rural Scotland at the start of the 20th century. The Guthrie farm is where Chris Guthrie (Agyness Deyn), the young farmer’s daughter lives under the rules of her strict father (Peter Mullan). Chris has witnessed mother’s health deteriorate from regular childbirth and overwork, and her brother Will (Jack Greenlees) being subjected to their father’s physical abuse. After the death of his mother, leaves the family farm never to be seen again. It’s a shame because I thought that one of the most effective aspect of Sunset song was the touching, supportive relations between the two siblings. Soon after Will leaves, the father dies and Chris inherit the farm. She is free now and decides to take care of the farm. She falls for young Ewan Tavendale (Kevin Guthrie) and they get married. Ewan is a sweet man who’s in love with his wife. It looks as if they are set for a good life together. But the start of the First World War changes everything. Ewan enlists. On leave, Ewan comes back for a visit and he has changed terribly. He is now angry, aggressive and violent. Sunset song is a slow-moving film. It is also quite depressing as life is hard for young Chris. Although there are good acting from Agyness Deyn and Peter Mullan, young actors Jack Greenlees and Kevin Guthrie. Guthrie is so great at playing the perfect lover, that it is heartbreaking to watch him later where his character has taken a turn for the worse. As always in Davies’s films, there are many old songs to be heard. One of the joy is of course the beautiful Scottish landscape. Cinematographer Michael McDonough’s images are so stunning, it takes your breath away.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Sunset song

Directed by:

Terence Davis

Screenplay by:

Terence Davis

Based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon

Starring:

Agyness Deyn

Peter Mullan

Kevin Guthrie

Jack Greenlees

Daniela Nardini

135 min.

Rated 14A

In English with Scottish accents with ENGLISH subtitles.

Maggie’s plan

I am not going to spoil it by telling you when or how it happens, but there is a brilliant association made between artificial insemination and pickles. It is brilliant because screenwriter-director Rebecca Miller does not write any naughty lines. She know that anything her characters say at that moment will have double entendre. She just let us, the audience, decide if we get the joke or not. Maggie is played by Greta Gerwig, and her plan is to have a child. Unlucky in love, Maggie decides that the best way is to find a sperm donor. She just found the suitable candidate, when she meets professor and novelist John (Ethan Hawke). John is married to Georgette who, according to everyone Maggie talks to, is a cold-hearted bitch. Soon Maggie and John fall in each other’s arms. Three years later, John left Georgette and married Maggie. John and Maggie now have a daughter. Between taking care of her daughter and John and Georgette’s kids on weekends, Maggie realizes that her relationship with John was a mistake. Georgette and Maggie finally meet and Maggie finds out that Georgette is not that bad after all, once you get to know her. I would say that Maggie’s plan‘s overall tone is pleasant. There are funny moments and performances. I liked Saturday night live‘s alumni Bill Hader and Maya Rudolph as Maggie’s best friends, Tony and Felicia. Rudolph in particular will stand on her head, if needs be, to make a line funny. And Bill Hader’s Tony feels real and human. Georgette is played by Julianne Moore in one of her rare comedy performance. It’s a great comic creation. From the costume,- a shaggy-carpet-like ugly fur coat, platform shoes -the thick german (?) accent and those piercing, cold stares meant to scare off anyone who angers Georgette, Moore seems to be having the time of her life. But Georgette also has heart and Julianne Moore is making sure that see that. There is plenty here to like.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maggie’s plan

Directed by:

Rebecca Miller

Screenplay by:

Rebeccca Miller

Karen Rinaldi

Starring:

Greta Gerwig

Ethan Hawke

Julianne Moore

Bill Hader

Maya Rudolph

Travis Fimmel

Wallace Shawn

92 min.

Rated 14A

Into the forest

It goes off. Just like that. No explanations. No reasons given. No more electricity. No more phones or internet. And when it happens Nell (Ellen Page) is on the computer talking with her boyfriend, Eli (Max Minghella). Eva (Evan Rachel Wood), a dancer, is rehearsing for an upcoming audition. And the computer and the music goes off. The sisters are living with their father, Robert (Callum Keith Rennie), in an ultra modern house in the middle of the forest, far away from the nearest village. In that house, if you want the light on, you say ‘light’, and the light goes on. But there is none of that now. They have a car and they drive to the village to stack up on gasoline and food. From what they hear, the shut down has hit the whole North American continent. Shortly after they come back, Robert has an accident and dies. So, after the burial, they are left mostly alone. Eli, Nell’s boyfriend comes to see how they’re doing. They make love inside a tree in the forest. Soon he leaves to find a place where the power is back. It does not look as if things will come to normal anytime soon. Nell looks through books to find out which berries are safe and can be prepared for consumption. And Eva is still rehearsing her dance, even though all she has is the sound of her metronome. Nell agrees to put gasoline in the generator for one evening so Eva can rehearse to music. An intruder shows up suddenly and rapes Eva. Rozema’s choice to focus her camera on Eva’s reactions throughout the ordeal, rather than on what is done to her, completely surprised me, but was the exact thing to do. In that key moment, Evan Rachel Wood’s Eva becomes the strongest of the two sisters. In the first half of the film, Nell is the more assertive of the two sisters, giving Ellen Page the more fleshed out character. But in the second half, Evan Rachel Wood has a wider range to play. But, no matter how you look at it, both actresses are so good here that it would be impossible to choose one over the other. They have both found the perfect partner. And cinematographer Daniel Grant is not afraid to go in the forest, to show that in both light and darkness there is beauty to be found. And beauty, in a film about nature, is most important. You can tell that Patricia Rozema’s Into the forest is a deeply personal film. Its themes, the emotions portrayed are of the greatest importance, not only for Rozema but for her cast and crew as well. And they should be to the audience members.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Into the forest

Directed by:
Patricia Rozema

Screenplay by:
Patricia Rozema
Based on the novel by Jean Hegland

Starring:
Ellen Page
Evan Rachel Wood
Callum Keith Rennie
Max Minghella
Michael Eklund

101 min.

Rated 14A

A bigger splash

I think that A bigger splash is an excellent film. But even if it was not, I would still recommend that you see it. That is because of Ralph Fiennes. You’ve never seen him like that before. This is loosely based on a Jacques Deray 1969 classic French film La piscine (The swimming pool) starring Alain Delon, Romy Schneider, Maurice Ronet and Jane Birkin. A bigger splash stars Tilda Swinton as Marianne Lane, a rock star recovering from a throat operation. Marianne Lane is a female David Bowie and Swinton’s transformation is effective. Marianne has to rest her voice and she and her partner, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are hiding from media scrutiny on a gorgeous Mediterranean island. They get disrupted when Harry (Fiennes), Marianne’s former lover and record producer, come for a visit. We can tell that this does not please Paul and although he keeps quiet about it, the atmosphere is tense. As if that wasn’t enough, Harry brings his newly discovered daughter, Penelope (Dakota Johnson). From the moment we see her, we can tell that she’s trouble. There is certainly sexual tension between her and Paul. And that does not go unnoticed by Marianne. Actually, there is sexual vibes between them all, even the two men and the father and daughter. If it was only for this cast, I would say that it was worth your money. But what makes even better, is director Luca Guadagnino’s willingness to let the tensions stir the pot. There is not much of a story. But Guadagnino let things simmer until it is too late and violence erupt. And this cast is perfection. Schoenaerts is never better than when he plays men who are about to blow up. Dakota Johnson’s is disturbing. But this is done without using tricks. Johnson never smiles and we can’t see any emotions. Just a cold blank stare. Seems that the starting point for all that tension is Marianne’s forced silence. Even though Marianne says very little, Swinton eyes says it all, and it’s with those eyes that Marianne says she loves you. And Ralph Fiennes. Harry is a loud, motor mouth. if the other characters don’t speak much, it is maybe because Harry never stop talking. But this no–holds–barred performance is priceless. When he’s not jumping in the pool naked ( yes, frontal nudity), Harry plays old vinyl record and dance and sings and goes crazy. I hope they remember Ralph Fiennes at Oscar time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A bigger splash

Directed by:

Luca Guadagnino

Screenplay by:

David Kajganich

Based on a short by Alain Page

Starring:

Tilda Swinton

Ralph Fiennes

Matthias Schoenaerts

Tilda Swinton

124 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Italian with English subtitles.

Love & friendship

From the outset Love & friendship is just like every Jane Austen film adaptations. A talkative piece that either delights or bore some audience members, depending on one’s liking. Adapted from the posthumously published Lady Susan, Love & friendship start with so much exposition, new characters and situations at such a fast pace that there’s no time for the material to breathe. That leaves the audience on unsure ground. Are we really going to grasp all the nuances of this complex plot? Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a scheming young widow, seeks refuge at her brother-in-law’s house. There have been rumors about her affair with a married man. While Lady Susan is waiting out the rumors, she plans to find a husband to her teenage daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). It’s no wonder that Frederica is a nervous wreck as Lady Susan treats her in a terrible way, calling her stupid and showing her no love or affection. But Lady Susan’s real aim, is to find herself a husband. She set her sights on young (much younger than her actually) and rich gentleman Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel). But when the suitor that Lady Susan has chosen for her daughter is the buffoon Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), Frederica asks Reginald to intervene. Lady Susan’s American friend, Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) is delighted by her manipulative ways. American director Whit Stillman ‘s great force here is the casting of Beckinsale and Samuel. Beckinsale seems happy to have landed this jewel of a part, but instead of chewing the scenery, she paints Lady Susan with subtle little details. A smile here to show her joy at having fooled everyone, a whispered remark for contempt and a slightly raised voice when Lady Susan is lying. Lady Susan is calculating, yes. But Beckinsale is making sure she’s also likable and fun. Australian actor Xavier Samuel plays Reginald DeCourcy as if it was not acting but something he does everyday. Isn’t that what good actors do? Yes, but it’s Samuel’s casual ease that we find attractive and sexy. But the tour de force comic performance comes from Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin. A undescribable creation. Such a character has never existed in films or in life. He speaks with half uttered, incomprehensible phrases or words, and then he finds it funny and laughs at his own silliness, sometimes with loud guffaws coming out, leaving the people in the room speechless. During a dance, he is so happy to be dancing, he’s jumping up and clapping hands completely out of control. It took some time for Love & friendship to find the right rhythm, but I must say that when it did, the film was quite funny and delightful.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Love & friendship

Directed by:

Whit Stillman

Screenplay by:

Whit Stillman

Based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan

Starring:

Kate Beckinsale

Chloë Sevigny

Xavier Samuel

Morfydd Clark

Emma Greenwell

Justin Edwards

Tom Bennett

92 min.