Wiener-Dog

Todd Solondz’s 1998 film Happiness was such a great film that never got its fair share of awards because it was too controversial. The topic was pedophilia. Now here comes Solondz’s latest film. Wiener-Dog, a multi-storied film. The only thing tying the stories together is the dachshund (in French we say “chien-saucisse“) that travels from owner to owner. The first owner is a boy called Remi. Remi is a cancer survivor who gets the dachshund from his father. His mother Dina (Julie Delpy) is not happy about this gift and tells her son a sick, twisted tale. This story comes with a warning: Don’t feed granolla bar to your dog. The second owner is young veterinarian’s assistant Dawn (Greta Gerwig) who goes on a road trip with Brandon (Kieran Culkin), a high school friend. The third story stars Danny DeVito as screenwriting professor Dave Schmerz. Schmerz’s career is in the dumps and he’s just been voted the school’s worse teacher. With the help of his dachshund he plans his revenge. The fourth and best story is about Nana (Ellen Burstyn), an elderly woman who is visited by her estranged granddaughter (Zosia Mamet). Burstyn is a stone-faced masterpiece and she steals the film from everyone, including the dog. Solondz is back in fine form. If you like cynicism, like I do, this is the film for you. But dog lovers beware.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Wiener-Dog

Directed by:

Todd Solondz

 

Screenplay by:

Todd Solondz

 

Starring:

Charlie Tahan

Greta Gerwig

Zosia Mamet

Danny DeVito

Ellen Burstyn

Kieran Culkin

Julie Delpy

90 min.

Rated 14A

 

 

 

 

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Angry Indian Goddesses

Angry Indian Goddesses could be subtitled ‘Girl power Indian style’. In the film’s opener director Pan Nalin shows the various women who are the film’s central characters. Each has to deal with the sexist male attitude in the workplace, and each are aggressive in their response. There is no may they are going to accept such BS. There’s Bollywood actress Joanna (Amrit Maghera), housewife Pam (Pavleen Gujral), singer Mad (Anushka Manchanda) and Suranjana (Sandhya Mridul), a businesswoman. The four of them are invited to spend a few days with their friend fashion photographer Freida (Sarah-Jane Dias) and her maid Laxmi (Rajshri Deshpande). Freida announces her upcoming wedding but refuses to say with whom. It was not hard for me to figure it out, but even when there are such conventions it does not always diminish a film likability. The late arrival of activist Nargis (Tannishtha Chatterjee) causes some friction. Nargis organized a protest at Suranjana’s factory. After that conflict is resolved, the women have bold discussions. No topic is taboo: sex, violence, suicide, sexual harassment. When tragedy and violence hit’s the group, the ladies are steadfast in their solidarity. All members of this ensemble female cast are uniformly excellent. Although I would have preferred more women with different body types, this is still a joyous celebration of Indian women. Angry Indian Goddesses is also a courageous denunciation of the double standard, sexism and the violence that women face in India. Bravo! A must.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Angry Indian Goddesses

Directed by:

Pan Nalin

Screenplay by:

Pan Nalin

Dilip Shankar

Starring:

Sandhya Mridul

Tannishtha Chatterjee

Sarah-Jane Dias

Anushka Manchanda

Amrit Maghera

Rajshri Deshpande

115 min.

Rated 14A

In Hindi and English with English subtitles.

 

Mia Madre

Margherita (Margherita Buy) finds her life coming apart. The film she is directing is a mess. She does not seem to know what the film is about anymore, and that puts the whole set in confused WTF state. That is probably because her private life is in shambles as well. Margherita just broke up with her boyfriend and, if that wasn’t enough, her mother is dying. It must be terrible for Margherita to see her mother Ada (Giulia Lazzarini), a retired professor of classical literature, gradually losing her voice, her memory and her mind. To play the main part in the film, the producers have hired American popular actor Barry Huggins (played by American actor John Turturro). She is hoping that his arrival will be the boost the cast and the crew needs. But unfortunately, Huggins is unable to remember his lines, won’t take direction from Margherita. It gets worse when they start screaming at each other during a the shooting of a key scene. As Ada’s condition is getting worse, Margherita and her brother, Giovanni (Mia Madre director Nanni Moretti), are there to help and support each other. Then Margherita start dreaming about her mother. Dreams that seems so real, even though the settings are surreal. It is almost as if those were scenes from her next film. If Moretti directs without any pyrotechnics or technical wizardry, it may be because this a character study that demands a slow and realistic evolution of the people he writes about. The cast is excellent. Although I did like Margherita Buy’s acting, I must admit that I was blown away by Giulia Lazzarini. With almost no dialogue, the veteran actress shines in every scene she is in. What a haunting presence. The hardest thing about death is not death itself, but accepting the absence of the person we loved.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Mia Madre

 

Directed by:

Nanni Moretti

Screenplay by:

Nanni Moretti

Valia Santella

Gaia Manzini

Chiara Valerio

 

Starring:

Margherita Buy

John Turturro

Giulia Lazzarini

Nanni Moretti

Beatrice Mancini

Stefano Abbati

Enrice Ianniello

 

106 min.

Rated 14A

In Italian and English.with English subtitles.

Last cab to Darwin

Last cab to Darwin is what I would describe as a road movie about euthanasia. I know it does not sound very appealing, but the film is not as morbid as it sounds. It stars veteran Australian actor Michael Caton as Rex Macrae, an aging taxi driver who learns that he has stomach cancer and that he has at most only three months to live. Beside his dog (Rex named his dog ‘Dog’ because ‘Rex’ was already taken) and a few drinking buddies, he has nobody left. But there’s also Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf), Rex’s aboriginal neighbour and occasional lover. Rex wants nothing to do with hospitals as he hopes to end his life with dignity. That’s when he hears about Dr. Nicole Farmer (the great Jacki Weaver). Reg Cribb’s play Last cab to Darwin is based on the true story of taxi driver Max Bell, and upon the Rights of the terminally ill Act 1995. The Act was passed by the Northern Territory legislative assembly of Australia in 1995, making assisted suicide legal only in said Northern Territory. The Federal parliament repealed it two years later. In the film, if he wants to meet Dr. Farmer, Rex Macrae has to travel 3000 km from his small village of Broken Hill to the Northern Territory capital of Darwin. Along the road there is a lot of drinking. And Rex meets and befriends young indigenous hitchhiker Tilly (Mark Coles Smith). Without spoiling it, I can say that they have many adventures. And then Julie (Emma Hamilton) joins them for the last leg of the trip. Julie happens to be an English nurse seeking a new life in Australia. The corny thing to say about that type of films is that ‘ it is not a film about death, but about life’, or some such BS. In  reality the topic does not matter. What matters is Last cab to Darwin has a good cast, young and old. Michael Caton is the big draw here. He and Ningali Lawford-Wolf are an endearing couple. In addition there is the beautiful Australian desert landscapes provided by Steve Arnold’s photography. The sunsets and sunrise are particularly effective. The lively, twangy bluegrass Ed Kuepper score puts us in the right mood. Not a masterpiece, but still pretty good. As for euthanasia, a film is not going to change anyone’s opinion, including mine.

Quote: “If I were to keep a pet animal in the same condition I am in, I would be prosecuted. If you disagree with voluntary euthanasia, then don’t use it, but don’t deny the right to me to use it.” Bob Dent, 66. He ended his life by physician assisted suicide under the Rights of the terminally ill Act 1995 legislation. Dent suffered from Prostate cancer for five years in what he called “a rollercoaster of pain”.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Last cab to Darwin

Directed by:
Jeremy Sims

Screenplay by:
Reg Cribb
Jeremy Sims
Based on Cribb’s play

Starring:
Michael Caton
Nigali Lawford-Wolf
Jacki Weaver
Emma Hamilton
Mark Coles Smith
David Field
John Howard
Alan Dukes

123 min.

Rated 14A

Un homme à la hauteur (Up for love)

Oh no! Not again. There I am going to see a French movie, unsuspecting, and yet again, there it is. Un homme à la hauteur is what you could call an ordinary romantic comedy. The story is simple: Diane (Virginie Efira), a successful lawyer has lost her cell phone. When she gets home she receives a call from the man who found it. They have a nice conversation. He has a nice voice with a playful, seductive tone. It’s only the next day when she meets Alexandre (The artist Oscar winner Jean Dujardin) that she sees how short he is. 4’6”. They start dating and that creates a barrage of reactions. From her family, her law firm partner and jalous ex-husband. But mostly, the real problem is Diane being self conscious about his height. The film is fine and funny with good special effects and performances from Efira and Dujardin. But like it happens with many French films, the producers have wallpapered the film with songs in English. Exclusively. I see that ANNOYING pattern in almost every French films. For Un homme à la hauteur an Australian songwriter composed a series of songs. All of them in English. What is it? There are no French songwriters in France? Do they still sing in French in France? It seems that there is a French culture since Un homme à la hauteur is in French, with French actors who speak French. I just give up!!!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Un homme à la hauteur (Up for love)

Directed by:
Laurent Tirard

Screenplay by:
Laurent Tirard
Grégoire Vigneron
Based on Marcos Carnevale’s film Corazón de león

Starring:
Jean Dujardin
Virginie Efira
Cédric Kahn
Stéphanie Papanian

98 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In French with English subtitles

Florence Foster Jenkins

Those who thought that Meryl Streep’s bag of tricks was empty, will have to reconsider. Florence Foster Jenkins is about to challenge her staunchest critics. Florence Foster Jenkins was a New York socialite who liked to sing opera. Despite her total lack of talents, she performed at private recitals, recorded 78rpms and ended her career with a concert at Carnegie Hall. Nicholas Martin’s screenplay is very faithful to the real events n her life, although it is doubtful that Florence was as clueless about her singing as she is in the film. It is well-known that her life partner, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), took all the necessary steps to avoid the inconvenient bad reviews when Florence performed at private recitals, and if reviews appeared he made sure they were written by friends. Once Florence announces to St. Clair that she wants to do a recital, they have to find an accompanist. Cosmé McMoon (The big bang theory‘s Simon Helberg) is at first ecstatic about getting the job. And comes the first reheasal. This the first time Cosmé hears Florence’s voice. He is in shock. And so are we. Streep’s face expressions are fascinating to watch. As Florence’s vocal coach (a petulant David Haig) is instructing her on the art of singing and falsely telling her she is good, her face twitches terribly. The scene is an instant classic. Cosmé, who thought that the gig would do wonders for his career, is now thinking of quitting, but is convinced by St. Clair to stay as Florence’s accompanist. We learn about Florence’s difficult life and that she is still suffering from the syphilis she got from her first husband on their wedding night when she was eighteen. She is now in her seventies. As a result of the disease, St. Clair Bayfield took a mistress. There is so much to like in Florence Foster Jenkins. The screenplay goes from campy comedy (if you like camp, this is the film to see) to the most effective tearjerker. Half way through of the film, I was surprised to find myself right in the middle of a classic comedy routine. The most touching moment happens at Cosmé’s apartment where Florence washes the dishes and she Cosmé play the piano. I think this is the best acting we’ve seen from both Streep and Grant. Grant shows the kind of range here we’ve rarely seen. St. Clair Bayfield’s character is like a master of ceremony. A little comedy bit here, a magic trick, oh! there you go, the bad man from the newspaper has disappeared, smile at the audience, a dance number here and a then dramatic scene, and another comedy routine and don’t forget to wink at your audience. Hugh Grant makes it look easy, no sweat. Some credit should go to costume designer Consolata Boyle and makeup artist J. Roy Helland (Streep’s personal makeup artist and an Oscar winner for her Margaret Thatcher makeup on The iron lady) for the creation of a unforgetable character. In every aspect Florence Foster Jenkins is the most accomplished film this year.

And the Oscar went to… Streep’s 20th nomination. A record. But she lost to Emma Stone in La la land. Costume designer Consolata Boyle lost to the great Colleen Atwood for Fantastic beasts and where to find them.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Florence Foster Jenkins

Directed by:
Stephen Frears

Screenplay by:
Nicholas Martin

Starring:
Meryl Streep
Hugh Grant
Simon Helberg
Rebecca Ferguson

110 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Our little sister (Umimachi)

Our little sister is adapted from the popular Japanese manga comic book series Umimachi diary. This is the story of the three Kōda sisters. Sachi (Haruka Ayase) is 29 years old and works as a nurse in a hospital. 22 Years old Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) works in a bank. Chika (Kaho) is 19 years old and works in a sport articles store. They all live together in the family home in Kamakura. One day, they get the news of their father’s death. Years ago, he divorced their mother to marry another woman. At the funeral they meet their half-sister, 13 years old Suzu Asano (Suzu Hirose) for the first time. They create such a bond with Suzu, that it is decided that she is coming to live with them in Kamakura. The rest of the film is very episodic as it chronicles their daily lives. It is easy for Suzu to make friends in her new school and she is a great soccer player. She often rides on the back of a bicycle with a young boy (her first boyfriend?) from her class. Sachi has an affair with a married who gets a job promotion to Boston and he wants her to come with him. Yoshino becomes one of the loan officer at the bank. And they eat. I mean a lot. They eat at home at the family table, at restaurants. They either eat, cook and prepare food or talk about food. At their grandmother’s funeral the three sister get an unexpected visitor. The mother who abandoned them after the divorce. There is a lot of resentments, especially from the eldest, Sachi, who was left alone to raise her sisters. Director Hirokazu Koreeda has carefully woven an intimate and delicate film that is as powerful for its portrayal of the four female characters, has it is for its aesthetics. The four actresses are careful not to evercome each other. This is ensemble acting at its best. Yoko Kanno’s piano and string score is sparse but effective. You don’t always pay attention to Mikiya Takimoto’s cinematography because most of the scenes take place in naturalistic settings: the sister’s walk on a beach or a country road, Sachi and her mother walking with umbrellas under a slight rain. The most beautiful scene has Suzu and her boyfriend riding the bike one sunny day. On both side of the road are cherry blossom trees with pink and white petals. The music soars as the camera zooms in on Suzu’s smiling, happy face. Our little sister is a bit slow at times, and, like a lot of Japanese films, it is too long. But otherwise, I highly recommend it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Our little sister (Umimachi)

Directed by:

Hirokazu Koreeda

Screenplay by:

Hirokazu Koreeda

Based on Umimachi diary by Akimi Yoshida

Starring:

Haruka Ayase

Masami Nagasawa

Kaho

Suzu Hirose

128 min.

Rated Parental Guidance.

In Japanese with English subtitles.