American chaos

Six months before the 2016 Presidential Election, Jim Stern took his camera across the USA with the aim to understand Donald Trump’s appeal to some of his supporters. They look friendly enough, except that they only trust Trump, even when they know he’s lying, and they hate Hillary Clinton with a passion. Among the people who Stern meets are some descendants of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys, except that they are now friends. The closer he gets to election day, Stern gets more and more depressed. Of course we remember the outcome. There’s nothing new that we don’t see it every weeks on cable TV. Maybe some people might find it to their liking, but there’s not much interest from me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 21 – 25
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/american-chaos

 

American chaos

 

Directed by:
James D. Stern

90 min.

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Lizzie

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Skipping-rope rhyme of uncertain origin

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Andrew Borden (Jamey Sheriden) and his second wife Abby (Fiona Shaw) were found dead. They were axed in two separate rooms of their house in Fall river, Massachusetts, and it seems, at two separate times. Around the house but outside, according to their testimonies, were Andrew’s youngest daughter, Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny), and the maid Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart). Later on, Lizzie Borden was arrested and accused. There was a trial, but she was found not guilty. These are the facts and part of the Lizzie Borden legend. In the 125 years since the murders there has been many theories on who killed the Bordens, or, if it was Lizzie, how she did it and why. In the film’s opening scene Lizzie finds her father dead, then we flashback 6 month before the murder. Every theories are explored: Lizzie and her elder sister Emma (Kim Dickens) had a terrible relationship with their father and hated Abby, their stepmother, the rumor that Lizzie was epileptic, another rumor was that she was a lesbian and that she and Bridget were lovers, uncle John Morse (a particularly snake-like Denis O’Hare), who was visiting the Bordens at the time, was considered a suspect by police, and other facts that were made up for the sake the film, as some real facts are conveniently tossed aside. All those things are piled up and hammered with very little subtlety as Lizzie becomes a “whowilldoit” rather than a “whodoneit”. There is enough here for several Lizzie Borden movies. We understand that Lizzie, an adult of 32 years old, was rather repressed by her parents as was the custom in 1892. Understandably Lizzie Borden rebelled against that repression. Too bad that such talented actresses like Sevigny (one of the producers) and Stewart don’t have a better screenplay to work with.

You should know… Despite what the rhyme says, Abby Borden was hit by the axe 19 times and Andrew 11 times.

Good read… In his 1984 novel Lizzie, Evan Hunter (AKA Ed McBain) mixes fiction and facts by taking the real court transcripts and Lizzie’s trip to Europe, of which we know next to nothing about, and inventing what happened there.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 19 – 28
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/lizzie

 

Lizzie

 

Directed by:
Craig William Macneill

Screenplay by:
Bryce Kass

Starring:
Chloë Sevigny
Kristen Stewart
Kim Dickens
Fiona Shaw
Jamey Sheriden
Denis O’Hare

105 min.

The wife

In The wife Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce are Joan and Joe Castleman. In the film’s opening scene, they receive the news that Joe has been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. As we look into Close’s piercing blue eyes, we’re not quite sure what Joan feels when she gets the news. Is Joan happy, angry, sad or just plain mad? All of the above at once and more. Soon the Castleman fly to Stockholm accompanied by their adult son David (Max Irons). David who has a highly dysfunctional relationship with his father, is also a writer. Journalist Nathaniel Bone (a miscast Christian Slater) is traveling on the same plane. Nathaniel wants to write Joe Castleman’s unauthorized biography in which reveal that all of Joe’s novel were the work of a ghostwriter. With that cloud, true or not, hanging over their heads, David’s temper tantrums, Joe’s attempt to cheat on his wife again for the nth time by seducing a young Swedish photographer (Karin Franz Korlof) and Joan seeking more independence, things are about to explode. There are some misguided flashbacks to their earlier years, but the only thing that we want and need is Close and Pryce together. Pryce hasn’t been a leading man in a long time and now he has found the right part and the right partner. Close and Pryce enjoy sinking their teeth into those juicy parts. And the moviegoers should also enjoy it!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays ta Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 12 – 23
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-wife

The wife

Directed by:
Björn Runge

Screenplay by:
Jane Anderson
Based on the novel by Meg Wolitzer

Starring:
Glenn Close
Jonathan Pryce
Annie Starke
Harry Lloyd
Christian Slater
Max Irons
Elizabeth McGovern

101 min.

Rated 14A

The Sisters brothers

In the 1850s gold rush, Eli and Charlie Sisters have been hired as hitmen to kill gold prospector Hermann Warm. The two brothers (John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix) travel from Oregon City to San Francisco killing a few people along the route. Meanwhile, Hermann Warm has met detective John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is looking for Eli and Charlie. Rather than becoming enemies, they work together to find the brothers. Warm has invented an intriguing liquid formula that makes it easy to see gold at night. But it is highly toxic. French film author Jacques Audiard has adapted the award-winning novel from Canadian writer Patrick deWitt. The Sisters brothers is a more introspective western than we usually see. But the character study seems to be more successful than then the confused labyrinthine plot. We don’t care where the characters are, what they’re doing there or why. And after a while, we don’t care. The only thing that keeps this affair together is John C. Reilly (also one of the producer), who manages to create a real person amid all the noise. Still Audiard is carefully holding back on the violence. He rarely shows the aftermath of the gunshot even when he shows us the pain. There is a particularly gross moment when a spider enters Eli’s mouth as he is sleeping. And I’m not talking about a small spider, not a tarantula, but still a big enough mother. The cinematography is by Benoît Debie. An inspired score by Alexandre Desplat has metallic rhythmic sounds that reverts back to Jerry Goldsmith or Ennio Morricone’s music for 60s and 70s westerns. It’s as if Desplat understood that it’s all about nostalgia. Like the Sisters brothers eventually seeking something familiar and warm.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from October 12 – 22
https://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-sisters-brothers

The Sisters brothers

Directed by:
Jacques Audiard

Screenplay by:
Jacques Audiard
Thomas Bidegain
Based on the novel by Patrick deWitt

Starring:
John C. Reilly
Joaquin Phoenix
Jake Gyllenhaal
Riz Ahmed
Rutger Hauer
Carol Kane

121 min.

Rated 14A

Colette

Gabrielle Colette (1873 – 1954) was one of the most important female writer. Wash Westmoreland’s exquisite Colette smartly sticks to the facts. She was born in the small country village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, Burgundy. Gabrielle’s father was a war hero who lost one of his leg in battle. At the time she marries Henry Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West) the family is so poor that they can’t give him a dowry. Fourteen years older, Gauthier-Villars was a publisher/author. In truth, published under the pseudonym of “Willy”, his novels were mostly all ghostwritten. This enterprise is not a great success until he asks Gabrielle (Keira Knightley) to write. She writes Claudine à l’école (Claudine in school) was loosely based on her own life as a schoolgirl. It is published in 1900 under Willy’s name and becomes very popular but creates a scandal because of the lesbian themes which further boosts its popularity. It is so popular that Willy locks Gabrielle in her room until she writes a follow-up: Claudine à Paris (Claudine in Paris). Again Willy takes all the credits and squander all the money gambling or on other women. When Colette tells her husband that she’s attracted to women, Willy does not seemed concerned in the least. She doesn’t know that one of her female lover is also Willy’s lover. Over the years Colette gained more independence, became an actress, fell in love with female-to-male cross-dresser Mathilde de Morny (Denise Gough) and divorced Willy. Wash Westmoreland has a great production team (costumes, sets, score, cinematography…). It is beautiful. And Keira Knightley as strong female icon Colette has never looked better and nuanced. Bravo! Colette is much fun to watch.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Colette

 

Directed by:
Wash Westmoreland

Screenplay by:
Richard Glatzer
Wash Westmoreland
Rebecca Lenkiewicz

Starring:
Keira Knightley
Dominic West
Denise Gough
Eleanor Tomlinson
Fiona Shaw

111 min.

Rated 14A

My generation

Michael Caine goes back in time to the 1960s when everything British was popular. It was called “The British invasion”, The Beatles and its “Beatlemania” being the earliest manifestation of the invasion. But My generation is about every aspect of the British counterculture. Caine interviews fashion model Twiggy and photographer David Bailey, film producer David Putnam, actress Joan Collins, singers like Lulu and Marianne Faithfull, The who’s Roger Daltrey, and Paul McCartney from The Beatles. The unusual decision was made to only play the audio of their conversations while on the screen we see their younger images from film archives. Lots of them, sometimes at too fast a psychedelic pace that will annoy some. But a soundtrack of great songs from the era will please many. Among the songs (I can’t get no) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones and Strawberry fields forever by The Beatles with its brilliant arrangements. My generation is a fun documentary. For the lovers of British culture.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

My generation

 

Directed by:
David Batty

Screenplay by:
Dick Clement
Ian La Frenais

Documentary featuring Michael Caine

85 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

1945

August 1945 in a small Hungarian village. It’s a special day for town clerk István (Péter Rudolf), who’s marrying his son, pharmacy owner Arpad (Bence Tasnádi). But Arpad’s drug-addicted mother, Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy), is not happy about the marriage. Anna knows that the bride, peasant girl Kisrózsi (Dóra Sztarenki), is only marrying her son for the money, and that Kisrózsi is still having sex with her ex-fiancé, handsome hunk Jancsi (Tamás Szabó Kimmel). In the middle of all this drama and the wedding preparations, István gets news from the train station master of the arrival of two Orthodox Jews. The whole village goes into a state of paranoid panic. There were Jewish families before the war, but the Nazi send them to the concentration camps. Some of the villagers were quick to grab their properties and everything else they could. The pharmacy doesn’t really belong to István or his son Arpad, it belonged to one of the Jewish family. And now everyone is afraid that the two men, who arrived by train with two wooden boxes, are survivors there to claim what was stolen from their families. A defying István seems ready to do anything to keep the things he says are his. Village drunk Bandi (Jozsef Szarvas) feels so guilty he wants to give everything back. Not so with his wife (Ági Szirtes) who starts hiding things in the basement. This is a very good film with a seldom told story about collective guilt and shame. Ferenc Török doesn’t make the mistake of political correctness, because political correctness did not exist in 1945. So the general discourse is anti-semitic. Török keeps up the tension and the suspense, as he keeps the villagers, and us, guessing. It was shot in beautiful black-and-white, and the ensemble cast of unknown is excellent.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

1945

 

Directed by:
Ferenc Török

Screenplay by:
Gábor T. Szántó
Ferenc Török
Adapyed from The homecoming, a short story by Gabor T. Szanto

Starring:
Péter Rudolf
Bence Tasnádi
Tamás Szabó Kimmel
Dóra Sztarenki
Eszter Nagy-Kálózy
Ági Szirtes
József Szarvas

91 min.

Rated 14A.

In Hungarian and some Russian with English subtitles

The last suit (El Último Traje)

When ailing retired  tailor Abraham Bursztein (Miguel Ángel Solá) sees his children sell his house and make plans to place him in a retirement home, Abraham takes a plane to leave Buenos Aires and go to Poland. That’s where he was living during the Nazi occupation. He was Jewish, and young Abraham barely survive the horrors of the concentration camps. The only help he got was from his friend Piotrek, who literally saved his life. Now, Abraham wants to go back to Poland (although he refuses to say Poland or to hear the word) to deliver a suit to Piotrek, who also was a tailor. Abraham doesn’t even know if Piotrek is still alive. Abraham is an unlikable character. He seems to be fighting with everyone. There’s that Poland thing and he won’t take a train that travels through Germany. There is one daughter he has not talked to in years. He did not even know she had a daughter. But maybe that’s how we will all be in our old age. I hope not but maybe. Along the way he meets people trying to help him. Nice people. Some might enjoy this type of film. Apart for Solá who gives it a good try, I did not find the film interesting. It was not awful, but just not good enough.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The last suit (El Último Traje)

 

Directed by:
Pablo Solarz

Screenplay by:
Pablo Solarz

Starring:
Miguel Ángel Solá
Ángela Molina
Natalia Verbeke

92 min.

Rated 14A.

In Spanish and other languages with English subtitles.

The children act

Judge Fiona Maye of the British High court of justice specializing in family law, has some very difficult cases to review. As the film opens, Fiona is writing a decision about conjoined twins. The hospital wants to separate the babies, claiming that both are going to die if they don’t. If separated, only one will survive. The parents refuse to separate, so it’s up to Judge Maye (Emma Thompson) to decide. She’s a total professional, emotionally detached from the cases that are brought to her. What’s important to her is the law. While preparing for her next case, Fiona’s husband Jack (Stanley Tucci) tells her that she’s working too much. He complains that they never have time to be together, they haven’t had sex in 11 months, so he announces he’s going to have an affair. She’s stunned and angry, of course. She cuts of their conversation, and Jack packs up and goes to have an affair. Her next case is about 17-year-old Adam who has leukemia. Adam (Fionn Whitehead) and his parents are Jehovah’s witnesses and they refuse the blood transfusion that would save the boy. The doctors want to save Adam’s life. After hearing the arguments from both side, Fiona makes the unusual decision to visit Adam at hospital. What makes The children act stand out from other similar British drama is Emma Thompson’s cutting performance. It is precise, cold, calculated, and eventually emotionally draining. When Thompson’s expressive cold stare meets Fionn Whitehead (as Adam), it’s a magical moment. Whitehead’s passion is somehow nothing out of the ordinary. It’s the later obsession that is compelling. Enough said. Thompson, Whitehead and Tucci are a dream cast. The soundtrack has traditional songs performed by Thompson. And a beautiful score by Stephen Warbeck has piano (Judge Maye plays the piano) and guitar (Adam is seen playing guitar). Cinematographer Andrew Dunn seemed to have taken a cue from Judge Maye. He uses a small sample of greys and blacks. Why? Maybe it’s because you won’t foresee the sudden emotions that will grab you. Just like Judge Fiona Maye. Maybe.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The children act

 

Directed by:
Richard Eyre

Screenplay by:
Ian McEwan
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Emma Thompson
Fionn Whitehead
Stanley Tucci
Ben Chaplin

105 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Juliet, Naked

Duncan claims to be Tucker Crowe’s No. 1 fan. He has set up a website about Crowe, with lengthy pretentious discussions analyzing every guitar plucks on Crowe’s only vinyl called “Juliet”, recorded thirty years ago. There are also many speculations on what happened to Tucker Crowe since then. Duncan Thomson (Chris O’Dowd) is British and lives in England with his girlfriend Annie Platt (Rose Byrne). For years Annie has silently endured Duncan’s obsession about Crowe. She keeps it in until one day she mistakenly opens a package addressed to Duncan. It’s a new demo CD from Crowe, another mainly acoustic affair called “Juliet, Naked”. She automatically knows that Duncan will be angry, not because she opened the package, but because it was from Crowe. Then she decides to listen to it. Duncan is livid. He calms down once he listens to it and falls in love with the new album. But Annie hates it. After reading Duncan’s piece on the new CD on his Crowe website, she decides to post her own dislike of “Juliet, Naked”, ripping apart Duncan ‘s corny article. Duncan is angry and he starts looking elsewhere for support. He finds it in the arm of another woman. As a result of her post, Annie receives an email supporting her views from a man who claims to be Tucker Crowe. Annie believes it is Crowe, and without telling Duncan she starts corresponding with him.. Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) lives in the US with his ex-wife. Actually he lives in the shed behind the house so he can be near to his young son Jackson (Azhy Robertson). His life is kind of mess. Besides Jackson, Crowe has several children from other relations, some he almost never sees, others he has never met. Through emails, Annie and Tucker develop a friendship where they share everything. When Duncan tells Annie he has been cheating on her, she kicks him out. When Lizzie (Ayoola Smart), one of Tucker’s daughter is about to give birth, he plans to come to England to be near her. Perfect moment for Annie and Tucker to finally meet. But upon arriving in England, Tucker suddenly feels sick. From the first scene with Chris O’Dowd perfect (during the whole film really) at parodying Duncan’s fan website. Juliet, Naked is an excellent romantic comedy. It takes a very funny look at fandom (with Duncan it should be called “fandoom”). Snappy dialogues delivered by a near perfect cast (Hawke and Byrne have very good chemistry, and young Azhy Robertson is a great find). A really charming film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Juliet, Naked

 

Directed by:
Jesse Peretz

Screenplay by:
Evgenia Peretz
Jim Taylor
Tamara Jenkins
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby

Starring:
Rose Byrne
Ethan Hawke
Chris O’Dowd
Azhy Robertson
Ayoola Smart
Lily Brazier

105 min.

Rated 14A