The big sick

The big sick is about Kumail, (Kumail Nanjiani playing himself) a stand-up comic who moonlights as a Uber driver. In his comedy routines Kumail talks about his Pakistani heritage and his Pakistani family. One evening, while performing at the comedy club, Kumail is interrupted by an audience member. It’s Emily (Zoe Kazan), a beautiful young woman. After the show, they connect and soon they are dating. But Kumail is hiding something from her. He does not tell her that, according to his traditional Muslim upbringing, his parents are hoping to arrange a marriage for Kumail. His parents don’t even know he is dating a non-Pakistani girl. When Emily, who thought they might have a future together, finds out the truth, she feels betrayed and angrily breaks off with him. A few weeks later, Kumail gets a phone call. Emily has become very ill and has been transported to hospital. He goes to the hospital and although he’s not her boyfriend anymore the doctors need him to authorize an urgent medically induced coma in order to save Emily’s life, while they investigate what is wrong with her. The arrival of Emily’s parents makes things a bit awkward. Beth and Terry (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano) know all about the break up and how much Emily suffered as a result. But he sticks around and the relationships between him and Emily’s parents grows as they get know each other. Meanwhile, Kumail’s parents have no knowledge of what is happening in their son’s life. His mother, Sharmeen (the hilariously deadpan Zenobia Shroff), invites a new Pakistani girl every time he comes for super. This is such an unusual film. What sets The big sick apart from other romantic comedies is that it is based on the real life romance between Kumail Nanjiani and his now wife Emily V. Gordon. They wrote the screenplay together. Some of the facts have changed, except that the real Emily really spent a few days in a coma. Yes, a romantic comedy about a comatose girlfriend. But this is such a great film on so many levels. First: It has a screenplay that sparkle with witty, intelligent dialogues. The evolution of the characters and their stories feels real, not forced. It flows. And if it manages to be both funny and touching that’s because of its excellent ensemble cast. The early lively banter between Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan deceptively seems so easy to do. But that is not so. The easier it seems, the harder it must have been for the actors to achieve. And it is the same for every actors in The big sick. There’s SNL’s Aidy Bryant as Mary, a fellow stand up comedienne, who has such a pleasant way with words. Romano and Hunter are the most surprising pairing of the film. Hunter plays a badass mom with a heart and an attitude. Wearing a pair of worn-out jeans with patches and speaking with the thickest southern accent, you know right from the start that Beth is not a person to cross. We remember Ray Romano from his TV show Everybody loves Raymond. We recognize his voice, his way with words, but we never suspected such depth. You just can’t go wrong with a trio like Hunter, Romano and Nanjiani. Kumail Nanjiani is in every scenes, so he has to carry a lot of the emotional weight of the film on his shoulder. It is my hope that The big sick will be the sleeper hit of the year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The big sick

 

Directed by:
Michael Showalter

Screenplay by:
Emily V. Gordon
Kumail Nanjiani

Starring:
Kumail Nanjiani
Zoe Kazan
Holly Hunter
Ray Romano
Anupam Kher
Zenobia Shroff
Adeel Akhtar

119 min.

Rated 14A

In English and Urdu with English subtitles.

Paris can wait

Paris can wait is a film cooked with just the right ingredients to please a certain type of audience, who will undoubtedly pepper the screenings with oohh’s and aahh’s at the beauty of the landscapes and the images. But that’s all there is. This is probably the worse screenplay in quite a while. Diane Lane plays Anne, the frustrated wife of Hollywood producer Michael (Alec Baldwin). They’re about to fly from the Cannes film festival to Budapest, when Anne decides to drive from Cannes to (Oohh! Aahh!) Paris with Jacques (Arnaud Viard), Michael’s (Oohh! Aahh!) French business partner. Why? Anne wants to be in (Oohh! Aahh!) Paris. She’s got an earache and shouldn’t be flying. The reasons are so thin and unconvincing, that the actors can’t even manage to convince themselves, and therefore can’t sell it to us. So they drive through (Oohh! Aahh!) France, but instead of going straight to (Oohh! Aahh!) Paris, Jacques detours to eat at haute cuisine restaurants and visit museums or historical sites. Everywhere they eat, Anne takes photos of the food in her plate. Anne’s photos look like all the photos you see in cooking magazines you can flip through while waiting for your doctor’s appointment. You’ve see one, you’ve seen them all. For (Oohh! Aahh!) Paris can wait Diane Lane has perfected the art of eye rolling and deep sighing. This is beneath her talent. As the romantic (?) lead, the unknown Arnaud Viard is very annoying and most unappealing. Hey! But he’s (Oohh! Aahh!) French! Yes, and his accent is so thick that we have a hard time understanding what he says. Just shows you. Some people will see anything if it has (Oohh! Aahh!) “Paris” in the title.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from August 21 – 23
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/paris-can-wait

 

Paris can wait

 

Directed by:
Eleanor Coppola

Screenplay by:
Eleanor Coppola

Starring:
Diane Lane
Arnaud Viard
Alec Baldwin

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In English and French with English subtitles

Mermaids

Ali Weinstein’s documentary explores the unusual, almost cult appeals of mermaids for the women featured in the film. Mermaids are a myth that has been with us for at least three-thousand years, and its popularity has been renewed with the Disney animation film The little mermaid. Whatever it is that the women in the film have found in the mermaids community is helping them grow as human beings. For some, they feel accepted no matter who they are. That’s the case with Julz, a trans-woman living with her girlfriend and a young daughter. She tells us some of her hardships, when as a boy she realise there was something different about her. We meet elderly retired mermaids from Florida’s Weeki Wachee resort. They have remained friends since the 1950s, where they worked at the resort (film archives is proof). They go back again and swim together. They are mer-sisters. Still today, there are bars where professional mermaids swim for the patrons. We get to know a daughter who has brought her mother to become a mermaid. She’s a mer-mom. Then there is Cookie and her supporting husband. Cookie is able to manage her mental illness much better since she started putting on the fins. During the course of the film, Cookie marries her long time companion. The mer-wedding (?) takes place in a pool, with many of the participants, women as well as men, dressed as mermaids. But not the groom. It’s a surreal image, but there are many of them in Mermaids. As one with many passions, I can understand and appreciate passionate people. Whatever gets you through the day is fine by me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Mermaids

 

Directed by:
Ali Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Ali Weinstein

76 min.

Parental Guidance

Churchill

As Winston Churchill walks on the beach, he has visions of death. The water is red with blood, and it gets bloodier and bloodier. His wife, Clementine, calls him back. But the nightmare is not over. As he walks back, the beach is strewed with dead soldiers. The young men who died on the beaches of Gallipoli in 1915. But it’s June 1944 now, and Churchill is the British Prime Minister. As preparation for D-Day is underway, Churchill (Brian Cox) is afraid that the Allied forces are about repeat the same mistake. It is estimated that over 50,000 allied soldiers were killed, 34,000 of them British, in the disastrous 1915 Battle of Gallipoli. Churchill took much of the blame as one of its political and military engineers. So Churchill, 70 years old in 1944, is determined to stop the Normandy landings. He is coming undone. Even more frustrating for him is the fact that nobody seems to agree with him. His assistant, Field marshal Jan Smuts (Richard Durden), is trying to reason with him. His frequent confrontations with American General Dwight D. Eisenhower (American actor John Slattery from TV’s Mad men) and British Field marshal Bernard ’Monty’ Montgomery (Julian Wadham) are only makes him look like an old fool. Even King George VI (a stuttering James Purefoy) visits Churchill and tells him to stop his campaign. D-Day will happen. His wife, Clementine (Miranda Richardson) won’t let her husband out of her grips. Especially when he drinks too much or angrily yells at a young new secretary (Ella Purnell). She forcefully tries to avoid a mental breakdown from happening. But it seems unavoidable. The production values (sets, costumes, photography, score) are tops here. I am not being an expert on the historical accuracy of the story. But screenwriter Alex von Tunzelmann is also a historian, so it may be only a small footnote in history that gave her a cue write this intriguing concept. But the real draw of Churchill is the excellent performances of the two leads. After last year’s disastrous film The carer, it’s nice to see Cox finally find a part worthy of his considerable talent. In Churchill, Cox is in every scenes. He is the symphony orchestra conductor, setting the rhythm and the nuances, making sure the balances of every details are right. Quite a feat. Richardson’s Clementine Churchill is cold, calculating and fierce. She is not to be messed with. But later on she can also be committed to loving her husband no matter what. Soon to come there will be another film called Darkest hour with Gary Oldman and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas as Winston and Clementine, and Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. And maybe a soon battle royal at the Oscars. Who knows?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema on August 19 & 20
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/churchill

 

Churchill

Directed by:
Jonathan Teplitzky

Screenplay by:
Alex von Tunzelmann

Starring:
Brian Cox
Miranda Richardson
Richard Durden
John Slattery
Julian Wadham
Ella Purnell
James Purefoy

98 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

The gardener (Le jardinier)

The last thing you want to see is another documentary about trees or flowers, or gardening, with people going gaga and hugging trees. Well, I did not want to see it. It’s not my thing. And then you see the images that Sébastien Chabot shot at Les jardins des Quatres-Vents in La Malbaie, Quebec. Jaw droppingly beautiful. The 20-acre garden is the work of Frank Cabot. Inherited in 1965, the property was given to Cabot’s grandmother as a wedding gift. And what a gift! Frank Cabot is an American whose ancestors arrived in Salem in 1700. Chabot interviewed Cabot before his death in 2011. British floral expert Penelope Hobhouse, writer Tim Richardson and former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson are among those who are also being interviewed. But the star is the marvellous Jardins des Quatres-Vents. One part of the garden has a Chinese bridge. In the Japanese section, Cabot built two Japanese houses. Some oddities include a sculpture of a frog orchestra and two rope bridges suspended over a ravine. In the attic of a beautiful tower-like pavilion there is a small love alcove with a small bed and a window overlooking the garden. Somewhere else a stone is coming out the grass, water is streaming out of the stone. Throughout there are arches and windows opening the views to the surrounding fields outside the estate where you can see cows or other animals. And, of course, flowers, lots of flowers. An orgy of color. The garden remained private until a visit was arranged as a fundraiser. It was so popular that it was decided to do more. It is now opened for guided visits only four days in the summertime. The visits are already booked for this summer. But after you see this film, I think you’ll want to visit Les jardins des Quatres-Vents. In December you will be able buy tickets for the 2018 visits. Here is the site http://cepas.qc.ca/jardins-de-quatre-vents

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The gardener (Le jardinier)

 

Directed by:
Sébastien Chabot

Screenplay by:
Sébastien Chabot

88 min.

Rated General.

In English and French with English subtitles

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

Although The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki is not a really a biopic, it is the story of Finnish boxer Olli Mäki in 1962 as prepares to fight American champion Davey Moore for the World featherweight title. The film covers the few weeks of preparations and training before the match. Olli (Jarkko Lahti) has to travel from his home town of Kokkola to Helsinki. His girlfriend, Raija (Oona Airola), travels with him. From the start Olli has to deal with the considerable demands of his manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff). Elis keeps shoving a series of promotional photo shoots and a documentary crew at Olli. Most of the time he pushes Raija aside so that Olli will take photos with models. There are other problems. Olli Mäki was a lightweight, and in order compete as a featherweight he has to lose some weight. In the two weeks before the fight, we see Olli going through lengthy sauna sessions with his clothes on. When he comes out, his clothes are drained with sweat and he’s barely able to walk. We also see him make himself vomit. Frustrated by the treatment she gets from Elis, Raija returns to Kokkola. But Olli loves her, and when he tries to phone her, Elis berates him and mocks his attachment to small town folks. Olli Mäki (who today is 80 years old) is a simple man in love with a girl. I was won over by the charm of this film. It makes the ordinary seem extraordinary. Filmed in grainy black-and-white with a handheld camera as a way to announce its “no fuss“ approach to filmmaking. The acting is realistic and the dialogue seems to be improvised. The two leads are lovely. With his roughed up appearance, Lahti is perfectly cast. But we don’t foresee the emotional impact he carries with him. From the start we are rooting for Raija. That is because Oona Airola is really the heart of the film. That leaves Milonoff as Elis Ask. Well, he is so effectively detestable that I felt I wanted to kick him in the teeth. A simple, lovely little film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The happiest day in the life of Olli Mäki (Hymyilevä Mies)

 

Directed by:
Juho Kuosmanen

Screenplay by:
Juho Kuosmanen
Mikko Myllyalahti

Starring:
Jarkko Lahti
Oona Airola
Eero Milonoff
John Bosco Jr.

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Finnish and Swedish with English subtitles.

Tanna

Imagine Romeo and Juliet set among the Yakel tribes of the island of Tanna in the small nation of Vanuatu. The tribe people speak a rare dialect called Nivhaal, and, except for the grass-skirts that the women wear and the penis-sheaths for the men, they are naked. What is most extraordinary about Tanna is that Australian directors, Martin Butler and Bentley Dean have based their Romeo and Juliet on real events that happened to that tribe 30 years ago. Some of the non-actors in the film are playing their own role. You understand that it is about two doomed lovers. Teenagers Wawa (Marie Wawa) and Dain (Mungau Dain) are in love. The handsome Dain is the grandson of the Yakel chief, and returning to the village after an absence, he reconnects with his childhood crush Wawa. The whole thing is observed by Wawa’s little sister Selin (Marceline Rofit). Selin is a bit of a pest, asking Wawa what is happening (even though she knows that her sister is in love with Dain), following her sister, spying on her. Selin is also able to run barefoot through the jungle faster than most people. Marceline Rofit’s fierce running is reminiscent of Quvenzhané Wallis in Beast of the southern wild. When the sister’s grandfather is attacked by members of a rival tribe, Selin runs to the village to tell them what she saw. After the grandfather dies, a meeting between the two tribes is set to arrange a peaceful truce. To make peace a marriage is arranged between Wawa and the son of the chief the rival tribe. The two lovers escape from the village to avoid being separated. This angers the rival tribe and puts their tribe in danger. Mixing documentary and fiction film techniques is nothing new. The films of Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the north in 1922 or Man of Aran in 1934) are good example. But this was a long time ago. The genre has been dead for quite some time. The cast is entirely made of non-professional tribe people, and they are filmed in their natural habitat, doing the things they probably do every days. It is their rituals, their dances and their chants. There is a minimum of artificiality, if any. It is real. That is maybe why there is not a bad actor among them. They are not acting. And the people are charming. Marie Wawa and Mungau Dain make a lovely couple. But as Salin Marceline Rofit steals the movie. That only would be enough to see the film. The breathtaking landscapes, magnificently photographed by director Bentley Dean, who does double duty as cinematographer, is another reason. Tanna is a beautiful, charming and compelling film. A pure joy.

And the Oscar went to… The Australian entry for Best foreign language film, Tanna made the final list of five films to compete on Oscar night. It is strong enough to have won. But Iran’s The salesman was the winner.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Tanna

 

Directed by:
Martin Butler
Bentley Dean

Screenplay by:
Martin Butler
Bentley Dean

Starring:
Mungau Dain
Marie Wawa
Marceline Rofit
Albi Nangia

100 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Nivhaal with English subtitles.

The commune (Kollektivet)

In 1995, Danish directors Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg wrote and co-signed the Dogme 95 manifesto. Beside a lengthy, long-winded text, there were a set of vows that ruled the way the two directors, and their followers, were to make movies. These are the rules:

1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be
brought in (if a prop is necessary to the story, a location must be
chosen where the prop is to be found).
2. The sound must never be produced apart from the image, or vice
versa (music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is
being shoot).
3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility
attainable in the hand is permitted.
4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there
is too little light for exposure, the scene must be cut, or a single
lamp may be attached to the camera.)
5. Optical work and filters are forbidden
6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)
7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now).
8. Genre movies are not acceptable.
9. The film must be Academy 35mm.
10. The director must not be credited.

The Dogme 95 experiment lasted ten years in which 35 film were made worldwide. But from their first films, both von Trier and Vinterberg admit that they never followed the rules entirely. Today, Vinterberg makes films that are far removed from his Dogme years. The commune stars Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thomsen as Anna and Erik, and Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen as their teenage daughter Freja. After moving in the estate inherited from Erik’s dead father, Anna proposes that they start a commune. It’s clear that Erik is reluctant and only accept in the hope of saving his crumbling marriage. Soon, they welcome a few friends and some other people they have interviewed. Freja goes through the whole affair with a WTF look on her face. But it gets worse when she walks in on her dad and his mistress, a young student called Emma (Helene Reingaard Neumann). Then Erik tells Anna about the affair, and announces that he wants Emma to move in with them and be part of the commune. That’s when Anna starts coming apart. She drinks more and her job as a popular TV news anchor is in jeopardy. As for 14 years old Freja, she has sex with an older boy from school. The commune has a bit of a mocking, satirical tone. When the members  have a meeting, it seems more like an excuse to drink beers. Then the usual “commune” stuff happens. They speak ad nauseam, drink more beers, make a democratic decision by vote, drink some more, and everybody goes skinny dipping. In the early scenes The commune is quite funny, until it becomes a family drama. It is surprising how much Vinterberg has veered from Dogme. You could not get a more conventional looking film. Vinterberg even inserts some pop music songs from the 70s. One thing is sure. One cannot be cynical about Trine Dyrholm’s performance as Anna. It is an impressive exploration of traumatic depression. Otherwise, The commune is too conventional to be interesting. It is quite ordinary.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The commune (Kollektivet)

 

Directed by:
Thomas Vinterberg

Screenplay by:
Tobias Lindholm
Thomas Vinterberg

Starring:
Ulrich Thomsen
Trine Dyrholm
Martha Sofie Wallstrøm Hansen
Helene Reingaard Neumann
Fares Fares
Julie Agnete Vang
Lars Ranthe

111 min.

Rated 18A

In Danish with English subtitles.

Obit.

The art of writing obituaries comes to the forefront in Obit., a new documentary about death that celebrates lives. The writers/journalists from The New York times obituary department are dedicated to accomplish what looks like a very hard task. Most impressive of all is that every morning, every day it all start again. There are always new personalities to write about, to research. There is a printing deadline to respect and, depending on what time of day or night the person has died, a lot of pressure rests on the writers shoulders. It is also important that they get it right. That means a minimum of errors. It is fascinating to watch Bruce Weber, for instance, call the wife of man he’s writing about and ask her questions about her husband as she mourning. This is necessary in order to have more accurate informations, and not some unverified versions of the truth. We are told that sometime a family will have entertained some myths about the deceased (a kind of wishful thinking). The New York times obituary archives (appropriately called “the morgue”) is the place where they store some of the photos and articles that are used to compose the obituaries. Archivist Jeff Roth is keeper of the gate. Although it may differ for some people, I did not find Obit. to be morbid at all. It is conventional, yes, but well made. And a very interesting topic.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Obit.

 

Directed by:
Vanessa Gould

93 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

Dr. Romeo Aldea (Adrian Titieni) lives with his depressed wife Magda (Lia Bugnar), and his daughter Eliza (Maria-Victoria Dragus) in a small Romanian town. Graduation begins with a rock being thrown through a window of their apartment. This the first of unexplained vandalism made on Romeo’s properties. On that day he drives Eliza to school, where she is supposed to take her final exams, before he goes to the hospital for his shift. Once there though he learns that Eliza has been assaulted. While Romeo is working with the police to find the assailant, he’s most sorry that she missed her exam. He tries to fix that by making some “arrangements” with the Exam committee president and other officials at school, not realizing (or not caring) that those men may be corrupt. To one man he even promises an easier organ transplant. Romeo also takes care of his ailing mother. And once in a while Romeo finds the time to visit his mistress Sandra (Malina Manovici). Things gets more problematic when inspectors come to the hospital to ask him questions. This is an intriguing film. But it is made of a series of longish conversations that are meant to show Romeo’s ability to have easy access to special treatments. And though Adrian Titieni and Maria-Victoria Dragus are excellent and the tension and suspense are maintained, at over 2 hours Graduation is too long. Still, it is intriguing.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Graduation (Bacalaureat)

 

Directed by:
Cristian Mungiu

Screenplay by:
Cristian Mungiu

Starring:
Adrian Titieni
Maria-Victoria Dragus
Lia Bugnar
Rare Andrici
Malina Manovici
Vlad Ivanov

128 min.

In Romanian with English subtitles.