Oh Lucy!

Oh Lucy! is a quirky Japanese-American comedy. It stars Shinobu Terajima as Setsuko, a lonely, loveless middle-aged Japanese woman who lives in a messy apartment in Tokyo. On her niece’s advice, Setsuko signs up for English lessons. John (Josh Hartnett) is the handsome American English teacher, who uses some weird teaching methods. He gives every pupils English names. So Setsuko is renamed “Lucy”, and she has to wear a blond wig during the class. And John likes to give hugs to his pupils. It doesn’t take long before Setsuko/Lucy falls for John. But John soon flies back to California with Setsuko/Lucy’s niece, Mika (Shiori Kutsuna). When Setsuko/Lucy’s estranged sister, Ayako (Kaho Minami) comes to asks her where is Mika, her daughter, both Setsuko/Lucy and Ayako decide to go look for her in California. During the trip one things becomes clear: the sisters will never get along. In California they easily find John, but Mika has already left him. That gives more time for Setsuko/Lucy to get to know John. But she may find happiness in the most unexpected place. The thing with this type of cute quirky film is that it soon gets tiresome. Oh Lucy! is helped a lot by the performances of Terajima and Minami, who seems to be having a great time playing dueling sisters. Although this is far from a perfect film, it is still enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oh Lucy!

 

Directed by:
Atsuko Hirayanagi

Screenplay by:
Atsuko Hirayanagi

Starring:
Shinobu Terajima
Josh Hartnett
Kaho Minami
Shiori Kutsuna
Megan Mullally
Reiko Aylesworth

95 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Japanese with English subtitles.

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A Syrian family (AKA Insyriated)

A Syrian family is the most intense film I have seen in a while. Yet what happens is confined to the apartment where Oum Yazan (Hiam Abbass) live with her extended family. There’s her three children (two teenage daughters and a young son), one of the daughter’s boyfriend, her father-in-law Mustafa (Mohsen Abbas), a young couple, Halima (Diamand Abou Abboud) and Selim (Moustapha Al Kar) and their baby, and their maid Delhani (Juliette Navis). They are the only residents of an abandoned apartment building in the Syrian capital Damascus. Around them there is only ruins and desolation. They have barricaded the door, and they rarely venture out. Halima and Selim are planning to leave for Lebanon. When Selim goes to meet the man who is supposed help them, he is shot by a bullet while crossing the parking lot. This is witnessed by Delhani who tells Oum. But Oum wants the maid to wait until night to tell Halima. Nobody must know they live there, as it might put them in danger. During the day there are rockets attacks that causes the apartment to shake and the family take shelter in the kitchen. Then there is a bang on the door. Two men are outside demanding to be let in. Oum refuses and the men leave. Later on they come back and get in through the balcony. Most of the family lock themselves in the kitchen, but Halima and her baby are left in the hall with the two violent intruders. In an almost unbearable scene, Halima is beaten and raped, but Oum and the others do nothing to help her. It’s an impossible situation. Should Oum go help Halima and thus put the whole family in danger? I found the film gripping for several reasons. The simple setting is not really easy to direct effectively. Belgium director Philippe Van Leeuw may have been lucky with his cast. The most familiar face is Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (The visitor, Lemon tree, Blade runner 2049) who, as always, is marvelous here, But there is one heck of a gutsy performance by Diamand Abou Abboud as Halima that is worth seeing the film. Yes it is not an easy film to watch, but in times of war nothing is easy.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A Syrian family (AKA Insyriated)

 

Directed by:
Philippe Van Leeuw

Screenplay by:
Philippe Van Leeuw

Starring:
Hiam Abass
Diamand Bou Abboud
Juliette Navis
Mohsen Abbas
Moustapha Al Kar
Mohammad Jihad Sleik
Alissar Kaghadou
Ninar Halabi
Elias Khatter

85 min.

Rated 14A

In Arabic with English subtitles.

Hochelaga, Land of souls (Hochelaga, Terre des âmes)

Quebec writer-director François Girard’s Hochelaga, Land of souls is a spectacular film about Montréal’s history. The story starts in modern-day during a football game at Percival Molson stadium (located at the feet of Mount Royal), where a sinkhole opens in the middle of the field. It’s up to Mohawk archaeology student Baptiste (popular Algonquin rapper Samian) to start the archaeological dig. Six years later, Baptiste’s findings are unveiled during his doctoral thesis presentation. With each new discoveries, Baptiste tells the story of how it was found, its provenance and its meaning, and Girard (Thirty two short films about Glenn Gould, The red violin) flashbacks to a related historical event. A piece of metal from a stove goes back to an outbreak of typhus fever that killed 150 people in 1687, among them French trapper Étienne Maltais (Emmanuel Schwartz). During the Lower Canada patriot revolt of 1837, two men fleeing British soldiers seek refuge with supporter Lady Sarah Walker (Siân Phillips). But she’s unable to protect them from Captain Philip Thomas (Law & order‘s Linus Roache). But Baptiste greatest discovery is a crucifix, proof of a 1535 meeting between Jacques Cartier (French actor Vincent Perez) and Chief Tennawake (Wahiakeron Gilbert) at the Hochelaga Iroquois village. The whole thing could be too much, too big and too much of a history class. (and for some, maybe it is), but I found the experience profoundly moving. There are three moments towards the end that makes it gel: as Baptiste finds the crucifix, the figures from the past are standing up from the seats in the stadium, looking at him. Then later as the names of the ancestors are called out (Maltais, Thomas, Tennawake, Lacroix, Walker), their modern-day descendants are revealed. We are all linked together. Nicolas Bolduc’s award-winning cinematography and Terry and Gyan Riley’s score, and the importance given to First nations makes Hochelaga, Land of souls a must.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Hochelaga, Land of souls (Hochelaga, Terre des âmes)

 

Directed by:
François Girard

Screenplay by:
François Girard

Starring:
Samian
Vincent Perez
Gilles Renaud
Raoul Trujillo
Wahiakeron Gilbert
Emmanuel Schwartz
Tanaya Beatty
David La Haye
Sébastien Ricard
Siân Phillips
Linus Roache
Naïade Aoun
Tony Nardi
Karelle Tremblay
Paul Doucet

100 min.

Rated 14A

In French, Mohawk, Algonquin and English with English subtitles.

Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

When Daphna Feldman (Sarah Adler) opens the door of her apartment, she understands and faints. From the living room her husband, Michael Feldman (Lior Ashkenazi), watch as soldiers from the Israeli defence forces (IDF) come in the apartment, sedate his wife and carry her to bed. They have bad news for them: their son Jonathan was “killed in action”. The soldiers are quick to instruct Michael that he has to remain calm. They give him some pills. They tell him that he has to drink water. One of the soldier even sets up an alert on Michael’s phone to remind him when he should drink water. But during the day Michael goes crazy. No amount of water is going to change that. He calls his brother, tries to reach his daughter, kicks the family dog, visits his mother at the retirement home to tell her the news, but he’s not sure if she even knows who he is. Foxtrot, a near perfect film from Israel, has a three-part structure, playing around with time and space. At the end of the first segment, the soldier come back with another devastating news. In the second segment, we find Jonathan (Yonatan Shiray) with three other soldiers manning a roadblock situated to the north of Israel. This is boring work. There are some cars passing on the road, but most of the time they raise the barrier for camels. Their conditions are terrible: They sleep in a container that seem to be slowly sinking into the ground. To get there they have to cross a pond of muddy water. And they eat food directly from boiled cans. There’s a great moment at the beginning of this second segment where Jonathan shows his fellow soldiers how you dance a Foxtrot. But a tragedy comes to disrupt their quiet life. In the third segment we are back at the Feldman apartment. It’s a year later and the house is in disarray, with Michael and Daphna’s marriage almost on the brink of divorce. Foxtrot has been controversial in Israel, mostly for the less than stellar depiction of the Israeli defence forces. If I love that film so much it’s not only because of the structured screenplay. It’s Samuel Maoz’s visually compelling direction. The unusual angles, overhead shots, the close up. Every beautiful shots contribute to the story and create a tension of its own. This is the most fun I had at the movies in a long time. During the first segment Lior Ashkenazi gives a tense, fierce and hysterical performance. So far this is my favorite film this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט)

 

Directed by:
Samuel Maoz

Screenplay by:
Samuel Maoz

Starring:
Lior Ashkenazi
Sarah Adler
Yonatan Shiray
Shira Haas

108 min.

Rated 14A

In Hebrew with English subtitles.

Finding your feet

I don’t know how many British films like Finding your feet I’ve seen. The formula is easy: you take a respectable middle-age/elderly British actress, she’ll play a woman with a dramatic situation who copes by doing something that takes her out of her comfort zone, but makes them feel that they have accomplish a lot. The cynic in me calls that the “embracing life” or “climb every mountain” films. How do you like them clichés? In Calendar girls you had Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Julie Walters posing in a nude calendar to raise money for cancer, Song for Marion starred Dame Vanessa Redgrave as a cancer patient joining a choir. There are many other examples. There is a lot of laughs and pathos. That is why the those films are a big hit. But it has to be British. If Americans tried to do a film like that, it would be called corny, and it would be snubbed and laughed at. If it sounds as if I did not like Finding your feet, it is wrong. Well, I liked it more than I expected. It’s probably because of the three main actors. Imelda Staunton plays Lady Sandra Abbott, who finds out that Mike (John Sessions), her husband of 40 years, has been having an affair with her best friend. Ashamed and hurt she goes to live with her estranged sister, Bif (Celia Imrie, who was one of the Calendar girls). Bif lives on an inner-city apartment building, and the “Lady” lived in a rich mansion. Sandra is snobbish, doesn’t like anyone or anything, especially her life. Meanwhile, Bif is an “embracing life”, “climb every mountain” person. While Bif is going to community dance class for seniors, Sandra mopes around the apartment all day, drinking too much and feeling sorry for herself. It takes time, but with the influence of her older sister, Sandra is slowly getting out of her near comatose state. One of Sandra’s childhood dreams was to be a dancer, so Bif invites Sandra to join the dance class. There Sandra meets Charlie (Timothy Spall) and Jackie (Joanna Lumley). At first Sandra does not like Charlie very much, but he’s a very good dancer, and slowly they become closer. But Sandra ignores that Charlie is married, but his wife is suffering from advance stage Alzheimer, and does not recognize him. It is too much for Charlie and it may cause her more damage than good, so he stops visiting her. When a video of a dance that the group performed as a street celebration has gone viral, they are invited to go to Rome to perform at a festival. But Mike wants her to come back home. A lot of people will like Finding your feet. And so did I. Yes, the actors are good. This is a great part for Celia Imrie, who usually plays the best friend, the ex-wife or the mother. Here she is funny and touching. And so is Timothy Spall. The scenes where Charlie visits his wife are particularly effective and hard to watch. And Imelda Staunton is a great performer. She made me laugh and touched me. She is the main reason to go see Finding your feet. There is one small problem. The dance number in Rome is a big letdown. The expectations were raised quite high, but instead of having something that was extraordinary, we get something that doesn’t even match the quality of the rest of the film. The dance in Rome was such a disappointment. But if you wanna laugh and have a good cry… And it is British!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Finding your feet

 

Directed by:
Richard Loncraine

Screenplay by:
Meg Leonard & Nick Moorcroft

Starring:
Imelda Staunton
Celia Imrie
Timothy Spall
Joanna Lumley
David Hayman
John Sessions
Josie Lawrence

111 min.

Never steady, never still

Judy (Shirley Henderson) suffered from advanced Parkinson’s disease. She lives with her husband Ed (Nicholas Campbell) and their 18-year-old son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin) in a house on the edge of Stuart Lake in British Columbia. It has been twenty years since Judy was diagnose with the disease and now she can’t even button her jeans. Ed will do it. It’s clear that they love and understand each other. Ed wants Jamie to go work in the oil fields of Alberta, to earn money of course, but also to give him some responsibilities. Once there though he has to deal the violence of his co-workers. When Ed dies, Jamie goes back home for the funerals. Although Jamie would like to stay to help her mother, she insists that he goes back to Alberta. Life is hard for Judy, but she manages without much problems for now. Jamie’s orientation is unclear. In the shower he is daydreaming being kissed by his best friend. During winter life gets harder for Judy who befriends the grocery’s delivery girl (Mary Galloway). It is actually very hard to watch Scottish actress Shirley Henderson and believe she does not have Parkinson’s. Her body is terribly bent and deformed. It must have been hard on her body.And she’s so thin. She looks like a fragile little bird. Physically Henderson has been perfectly cast. Pellerin, who is a popular actor on Quebec TV and film, is compelling to watch here as a confused, lost teen. Kathleen Hepburn’s film is based on her mother’s life. It is well photographed by Norm Li, who never let’s us forget the harshness of the Canadian winters. Never steady, never still can be depressing and slow, but it may be worth it for certain moviegoers simply because of the great cast. Henderson, Pellerin, Campbell and Galloway.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Never steady, never still

 

Directed by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Screenplay by:
Kathleen Hepburn

Starring:
Shirley Henderson
Théodore Pellerin
Nicholas Campbell
Mary Galloway
Lorne Cardinal

112 min.

Rated 14A

In English.

In between (Bar bahar)

In between is about three young Israeli-Palestinian women sharing a flat in Tel Aviv: At first only two of them are living together. Layla (Mouna Hawa) is a lawyer, and Salma (Sana Jammelieh) works in a restaurant. Oh yes, she’s a lesbian. They’re like all the other young people their age. They hang around a liberal crowd of women and men. There are drugs and booze. Then Nour (Shaden Kanboura) moves in. Nour is a traditional Muslim who wears a hijab and is committed to her fiancé. She’s from another city and she’s coming to live in Tel Aviv to finish her studies. At first, Layla and Salma don’t have much in common with her. Nour’s fiancé is very strict with her. He would like Nour to come back to their city, even if it takes a few hours to drive to school. On one of his visits, he brutally rapes her. That’s when the three women band together to make sure that Nour can get out of this marriage. Layla has met Ziad, a man she thinks will be her soul mate. But soon Ziad start to want to control her. She’ll have none of that, and she’s quick to break off with him. As for Salma, situations get tense in her Christian family when her parents finds out she has a girlfriend. Being afraid for her safety, Salma makes the decision to move to another country. As Palestinians, the daily lives of those women are fraught with danger. A suspicious look at the grocery or when they are buying clothes. But the danger (or the possible dangers) is also coming from their own community. Maysaloun Hamoud has put a much-needed a spotllight on them. Those three actresses are nothing short of amazing. Shaden Kanboura as Nour has the most difficult scenes in the film. The French title is Je danserai si je veux (I’ll dance if I want). And at the end they dance indeed, to celebrate their friendship and their liberty.

Rémi-SergeGratton

In between (Bar bahar)

 

Directed by:
Maysaloun Hamoud

Screenplay by:
Maysaloun Hamoud

Starring:
Mouna Hawa
Sana Jammelieh
Shaden Kanboura

103 min.

Rated 14A

In Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles.

Mountain

Australian director Jennifer Peedom’s new documentary Mountain starts with an anonymous quote: “Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music”. Throughout the film we are indeed witnessing how insane those mountain climbers seem to us, mere ordinary, boring people. It’s not only climbers, but skydivers, parachuting off a mountain or free flying (wearing a costume with wings they are amazingly flying like birds), the skiers and snowboarders. Or tempting fate biking in the mountains. It’s all very perilous. We see the bloody noses, fingers, frostbite, climbers freezing in a tent during a snow storm and avalanches. To us it’s foolishness, to them excitement. In one spectacular stunt, a man is walking on a tightrope in the Grand Canyon. When I gasped it was more than the stunt. It was the grandeur, the beauty. As cinematographer, Peedom has asked mountain climber and photographer Renan Ozturk. Some of the footage come from mountain climbers with either their cellphones or cameras. There is one section with old archive films in black-and-white. But most of the footage is from Ozturk. The mountains are majestic, scary and it’s almost impossible to describe their hold on people. The only narration is an homage to mountains from Willem Dafoe (perfect really) reading excerpts from Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the mind: A history of a fascination. There is a score by Richard Tognetti, but also music from Vivaldi and Beethoven and modern composers like Arvo Pärt, making it the best soundtrack in a long time. On film it seems all the elements are there. A feast for eyes, a feast for the ears, as they say.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mountain

 

Directed by:
Jennifer Peedom

Screenplay by:
Robert Macfarlane
Jennifer Peedom

Narrated by Willem Dafoe

74 min.