Song to song

Terrence Malick’s new film is Song to song. Song to song is a mess. The last Terrence Malick film, Knight of cups, was also a mess, but I think Song to song is worse. Song to song is, supposedly, about the Austin, Texas music scene. But what it turns out to be about is people aimlessly walking around. Rich people walking in their rich apartments. They walk in front of large windows. Malick is obsessed by large windows. Large terraces windows. Terraces with pools. The rich people also walk around the pools. Or on terraces. Or balconies. In voice-over we hear poetic passages read by the actors during their scenes. All dialogues are muffled. The story revolves around two couples. Faye is a struggling lyricist. Faye is played by Rooney Mara. Mara is seen on the stage holding a guitar during rock concerts, but she’s not playing. Faye is with BV (Ryan Gosling). Like he did in La la land, Gosling plays the piano, but any music in Song to song is muffled then soon cut and go to the next muffled moment. Then there is music mogul Cook (Michael Fassbender). Cook walks aimlessly with Faye and BV, most of the time looking lonely. Those who were hoping for a threesome (Mara, Fassbender and Gosling! Intriguing isn‘t it?) will be waiting a long time. Cook meets waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman). Portman and Mara look too much alike. They’re interchangeable. Portman has blond hair, but Mara keeps changing hairstyles in every scenes. Every time the couple are fighting or are having a conversation, we don’t know what is being said because Malick has muffled or cut the sound of the conversations. We can hear traffic, the birds chirping or the dishes clanking. We can see the lips move but we can’t hear the words. The dialogue seems unimportant to Malick. People walking around, followed by a steady cam (a lot of back of heads): Yes. Dialogue : No. When Faye and BV break up, she has a lesbian affair with Zoey (Bérénice Marlohe), and BV an affair with Amanda (Cate Blanchett). We get cameos from music icons like Patti Smith, Iggy Pop and others, but the little music they play is soon muffled. The ghost of Val Kilmer appears in some scenes. Scary! Among the actors cut from the final film were Christian Bale, Benicio del Toro and Arcade fire. A mess! The most frustrating of all is that there is no chance that Malick is going to stop to make these pointless annoying films. If a director has nothing new to say, and only repeats the same failed experiments from film to film, he should shut up. I hate Terrence Malick! There! I said it, got out of my system. It feels so good. Let me say it again. I HATE TERRENCE MALICK!!! To avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Song to song

Directed by:
Terrence Malick

Screenplay by:
Terrence Malick

Starring:
Ryan Gosling
Rooney Mara
Michael Fassbender
Natalie Portman
Cate Blanchett
Bérénice Marlohe
Holly Hunter
Patti Smith

129 min.

Rated 14A

I, Daniel Blake

Internationally renown British director Ken Loach announced in 2014 that he was to retire from filmmaking. But in 2016 something made him angry enough to want to make at least another film. What is he denouncing? In 2008 the British government started an overhaul of their disability support and welfare programs. What was supposed to save billions of pounds a year from the welfare budget, instead cost more money to administer. For some of the claimants, the decisions taken about their benefits were fatal. Daniel Blake (Dave Johns), carpenter by trade, suffered a heart attack at work. He is recovered but, according to his doctor, not well enough to go back to work. After an assessment from a so called “health care professional”, Daniel is deemed “Fit for work”. The assessment was based on an interview with Daniel, and the decision is taken without considering his medical records or any medical expertise. He gets a letter informing him of the decision. He would like to appeal, but is told he has to wait for a phone call before he can appeal. This is Kafkaesque! Daniel is a good man who likes to help his fellow man. At the Jobcentre Daniel meets Katie Morgan (Hayley Squires), a young mother of two. Katie is refused help because she arrived late at a meeting. Daniel tries to help her as much as he can, and he becomes a father figure (or at his age it could be a grandfather figure) for the children. Daniel is told that he has to fill a form… online! Daniel is computer illiterate. He’s never been near a computer. He gets some help from Ann (Kate Rutter), a worker at the Jobcentre. But soon Ann is reprimanded because she helped him. Daniel is forced to look for work or he will lose his benefits. He is also forced to attend a ridiculous class on how to write a CV, with a stupid instruction that the job seekers should also bring a digital copy of the CV. As for Katie, she is a mom who does what has to be done to feed her kids. Dave Johns, a stand-up comedian doing his first dramatic film, is exactly the perfect actor for the part. I, Daniel Blake is a realistic film about a working class man, an ordinary guy. Johns does not seem to be playing at all. His acting is quiet, real and incredibly appealing. Loach;s directing style is simple: don’t get in the way of your characters, who are more important than the camera angles. His screenplay is a bit too structured and formatted. I knew some things would happened before they did, and it clashes with the realistic style of the film. There is a scene where Katie goes to the food bank that caught me completely by surprise. Like Johns, Hayley Squires gives a heart wrenching performance. Everything that Loach says about the welfare system in England is true. If you are a good soul who think that human beings don’t treat other human beings that way, well think again and go see I, Daniel Blake.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I, Daniel Blake

Directed by:
Ken Loach

Screenplay by:
Ken Loach

Starring:
Dave Johns
Hayley Squires
Dylan McKiernan
Briana Shann
Kate Rutter

100 min.

Rated 14A

Although English is spoken in I, Daniel Blake, all the characters have a different accent and it is hard at times to understand them, as is often the case with Ken Loach. Because of that it will be presented with English subtitles.

The lost city of Z

With a title like The lost city of Z you could expect a cheesy American adventure movie pilling up the clichés. But The lost city of Z is actually a very good biopic about British explorer Percy Fawcett. Earlier in the film, Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) learns that his career in the Royal Artillery is probably at a standstill because of his now deceased father’s drinking and gambling behaviours. In 1905 Royal geographical society asks Fawcett to travel to the jungle between Bolivia and Brazil to map the area. That meant leaving his loving wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and his two years old son Jack at home. Coming along with him Corporal Henry Costing (an underperforming Robert Pattinson) and Corporal Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley). Fawcett also recruits some native guides. This is a dangerous trip with the group being attacked by jungle natives with arrows and piranhas infested waters. In the middle of the jungle makes an archeological discovery that makes him believe in the old theory that a complex civilization once existed in the Amazon region. Back in Britain, his theories are laughed at by some, but embraced by others. James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) was rich and considered himself to be an explorer. He proposed to finance the next expedition, as long as he can join them. But Murray is too fat and becomes a nuisance. There were seven expeditions between 1906 and 1924. They were briefly interrupted by World war II. Fawcett’s oldest son Jack followed his father on the last expedition. This is a fascinating true life adventure film. Except from a few scenes (Nina wanting to go along with her husband, reasoning that they are equals is cute but doubtful), most of it is true. Charlie Hunnam is giving one of those grand bravura performance that is very rare. I would call it sensible machismo. Darius Khondji’s cinematography shows the beauty, darkness and dangers of the jungle. It just looks great. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from June 25 – 27
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/the-lost-city-of-z

The lost city of Z

Directed by:
James Gray

Screenplay by:
James Gray
Based on the book by David Grann

Starring:
Charlie Hunnam
Robert Pattinson
Sienna Miller
Edward Ashley
Tom Holland
Angus Macfadyen
Ian McDiarmid

141 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German with English subtitles.

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker is considered one of the most important expressionist and the first female painter to have a museum devoted to her work. Carla Juri plays Modersohn-Becker as a young woman who is bursting with joy. This is the 1890s in Worpswede, Germany, where Paula went to study painting. Her teacher was Fritz Mackensen (Nicki von Tempelhoff), who taught the “proper” way to hold the brush and the “proper” way to paint a basket of fruits. Paula did not follow any of those instructions. She’d hit her canvas with the brush, or scratch it, and I don’t know what else, to paint the most beautifully unconventional baskets of fruits. Mackensen, who believed women could only bear children, did not like Paula or her paintings. Mackensen liked to paint the perfect lines of the perfect hat worn by the perfect woman with the perfect waistline and the perfect life. Paula Modersohn-Becker went out of her way to find imperfect, poor, fat, old people, who sometimes posed naked for her. Fritz Mackensen hated Paula Modersohn-Becker. But Paula found other allies in Worpswede. Many other artists had followed Mackensen there. Worpswede had become an art colony where she met and befriended sculptor Clara Westhoff (Roxane Duran). At a time where women were expected to behave and not make too much noise, Paula and Clara would have none of those rules. They loudly laughed hysterically, uncontrollably, all the time. And Paula fell in love and married painter Otto Modersohn (Albrecht Abraham Schuch). Otto’s first wife had died while giving birth to a daughter. Because of that the marriage between Otto and Paula was unconsummated for several years. Otto was afraid that Paula would also die in childbirth. A frustrated Paula goes to Paris to study at L’École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris there is Clara studying with Rodin. Back in Worpswede, Otto is being pressured by his friends to bring Paula back. Either that or have her committed to an asylum, says Fritz Mackensen. In Paris, Paula is behaving in erratic ways, but producing a great amount of beautiful masterpieces. The exquisite production values brought on by director Christian Schwochow’s team is one of the great pleasures in this film. The work of cinematographer Frank Lamm who lets the sun shine on the bright colors of the clothes, sets and those colourful Paula Modersohn-Becker paintings. But it is actress Carla Juri who is a joy for us to discover. Juri plays through sustained jolts of raw energy, that I am not sure every audience members will be able to enjoy. But this is highly original acting for a highly original character. Carla Juri lets us see the madness coming through the joy and laughter. A great performance.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Paula (Paula – Mein leben soll ein fest sein)

Directed by:
Christian Schwochow

Screenplay by:
Stefan Kolditz
Stephan Suschke

Starring:
Carla Juri
Albrecht Abraham Schuch
Roxan Duran
Joel Basman
Stanley Weber
Nick von Tempelhof

123 min.

Rated 14A

In German and French with English subtitles.

Frantz

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Paul Verlaine, Chanson d’automne, 1866

François Ozon’s Frantz is a rare film that touch you more by what is unsaid than by the what is onscreen. In 1919, Anna (beautiful and talented Paula Beer), a young German woman, visits the grave of her dead fiancé. Frantz was killed during the war, and Anna still lives with his parents. Doktor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber) are very fond of Anna and would like her to find another suitor. But she misses him too much, and, like the Hoffmeisters, is still in mourning. One day Anna learns that a strange young man has been visiting the grave and leaving flowers. When she meets him she finds out that he’s French and that he wants to meet Frantz‘s parents. But that’s easier said than done. After a bloody war, there are a lot of anti-French sentiments in Germany. Not surprisingly Hans and Madga are reluctant to talk to him. But they do. His name is Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) and, he claims, he met Frantz in Paris before the war where they were both studying. He is overcome by emotions and starts to cry when he tells Anna and the Hoffmeisters how close he and Frantz were. In a flashback we see Frantz and Adrien visiting the Louvre. For that sequence, Ozon shifts from black & white to color. It is an idealized version of what happened. As if Adrien had romanticized the memories. Those “memories” of Frantz are painted with small touches of homoeroticism. Whatever reluctance the Hoffmeisters had is put aside as Adrien wins their affections. A scene where Adrien plays music on Frantz’s violin, also goes from black & white to color. Now it is Frantz’s parents who are trying to live through an idealized and colorized world, a world where everything is right again. Every characters in Frantz is living a lie, or rather a in make-believe world, the construct of their own fears and desires. This is at a their time when romantic ideas and ideals were the norms. They covered the truths to feel better, often without realizing it. Or they did, as Anna does, to avoid causing pain to their loved ones. And Adrien? You have to read between the lines to decipher Adrien’s truths. Every one will have their own interpretation. Pierre Niney is having fun playing a romantic, delicate young man who may also be a liar. Or is he telling the truth? We can never tell. That’s what I love about Frantz. It is a complex quagmire of unconscious desires. Frantz is a masterpiece.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Frantz

Directed by:
François Ozon

Screenplay by:
François Ozon
Philippe Piazzo
Based on Maurice Rostand’s play L’homme que j’ai tué and the Ernst Lubitsch film Broken lullaby

Starring:
Paula Beer
Pierre Niney
Ernst Stötzner
Marie Gruber
Anton von Lucke

113 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In German and French with English subtitles.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the city

One of the great things about documentaries is that they present worlds and places you never imagined and extraordinary people doing the unimaginable. Citizen Jane: Battle for the city is about urban journalist and activist Jane Jacobs. Her 1960 book The death and life of great American cities is considered one of the most influential essay about urban planning. Additionally, Jacobs was an earlier example of what you would today call “an activist”. During the 1950s and 1960s, Jacobs’ neighbourhood, Greenwich village, New York, and others were constantly threatened by destruction by urban developers. One of those was Robert Moses, a greedy and power-hungry man who had all the politicians in his pockets. His goal to practise “slum clearance” -expropriate whole neighbourhoods to build mega highways and move the population (mostly black) to public housing projects was thwarted by Jane Jacobs and other activists. When Moses planned to build a road through Washington Square Park, the reaction was immediate and the project was successfully aborted. Manhattan and Greenwich village would have been destroyed and replaced by the Lower Manhattan Expressway or the Mid-Manhattan Expressway were it not for people like Jane Jacobs. She was arrested in 1968. That same year she moved to Toronto, caused by her opposition to the Vietnam war, where she quickly got involved and arrested again. Almost sixty years after it was written, The death and life of great American cities is still pertinent today. In her writing, read in the film by Marisa Tomei, Jane effectively exults her dedication and love of the city.

Quote… “Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en massa, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any once place is always replete with new improvisations.”

Jane Jacobs, The death and life of great American cities, 1961

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Citizen Jane: Battle for the city

Directed by:
Matt Tyrnauer

With Marisa Tomei reading Jane Jacobs

93 min.

Rated General

After the storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku)

Yoshiko Shinoda has two children. A son, Ryota (HIroshi Abe), and a daughter, Chinatsu (Satomi Kobayashi). Yoshiko is played by Kiki Kirin. In an early scene, Chinatsu visits her mother who lives in a tiny apartment. The snappy banter between the two woman is too good to resist. But the film centres on her son, Ryota, a middle-aged, divorced, failed writer. Actually, Ryota wrote one successful novel, then that was it. To earn a living, he works as a private eye, spying on cheating husbands and wives. He even follows and spies on his ex-wife, Kyoko (Yoko Maki). He’s still jealous and does not like her new boyfriend. Every time they meet, Ryota and Kyoko fight. Sometimes it’s about their son, Shingo (Taiyo Yoshizawa), but most of the time it’s about the unpaid child support he owes her. Like his recently deceased father, Ryota is a compulsive gambler. When he visits his mother, he searches through the apartment to see if he can find some money, or if his father left something that is worth selling or pawning. Yoshiko invites the whole family at her house the night of a much talked about and awaited typhoon. Even Chinatsu, who does not get along with her brother, has been invited. While the storm is raging outside, inside they trying to find some peace of mind and understand each other. Hirozaku Kore-eda’s good humoured screenplay is well served by an exquisite ensemble cast, headed by the fabulous Kiki Kirin. The private eye scenes in mid film were too long, but otherwise this is a beautiful, worthy film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

After the storm (Umi yori mo mada fukaku)

Directed by:
Hirozaku Kore-eda

Screenplay by:
Hirozaku Kore-eda

Starring:
HIroshi Abe
Yoko Maki
Kirin Kiki
Taiyo Yoshizawa
Satomi Kobayashi

117 min.

In Japanese with English subtitles.

Their finest

It probably was not easy to make films in London during the Second World War. London was bombed by the German Air Force. At any moment, your neighbourhood, your house and your life could be destroyed. Looking death in the face was a daily occurrence. But all through this, the people at the British Ministry of Information’s film division tried to make propaganda films. Adapted from a Lissa Evans novel, Their finest is a light film that mustn’t be taken too seriously. The central figure is Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) a young woman applying to the Ministry for a job as a typist. But because she previously worked as a copywriter, she’s given the job of writing ‘slop’, dialogue between women in propaganda short films. Catrin is married to Ellis (Jack Huston), a struggling painter hoping that soon he’ll strike it rich. In the meantime, it’s up to Catrin to put food on the table. But she finds that writing ‘slop’ is boring and is snobbishly regarded by her writing partner Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a handsome but sexist young man. But Catrin is not going to let Buckley belittle her. At the Ministry’s request she travels to the coast to investigate a story about twin sisters who helped soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk. But the sisters’ heroism has been overblown by the newspaper. Still, she finds the idea of having two female heroic leads interesting. She makes a pitch to her supervisor, Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant), and it is decided to make it into a feature-length film. To play the twins’ Uncle Frank they hire veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). Ambrose was once a matinée idol. But that was when he played a dashing detective in a popular series of films. Now, Ambrose resents playing a supporting character, and, worse of all, an old Uncle! But he needs the money. There are a few British character actor that almost never give a bad performance no matter in what film they play. One of those actors is Bill Nighy. In Their finest he effortlessly makes it impossible not to fall in love with Ambrose Hilliard. The writing gets sidetracked a bit when the Secretary of War (a pompous cameo by Jeremy Irons) insist that the film needs an American star (Jake Lacy) to make it more profitable abroad. At home, Catrin is falling out of love with her husband, while she and Buckley are getting closer. Even if the topic and the historical setting is original and might have been interesting, I am not convinced that the treatment is satisfactory. Their finest relies too much on old American film clichés. It’s been done so many times. And so much better. But still, what moved me at the end is the screening of their film. How good filmmaking with a good script can make any audience laugh and cry. I think that the film Catrin and Buckley made in Their finest is better than Their finest itself. Too bad!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Their finest

Directed by:
Lone Scherfig

Screenplay by:
Gaby Chiappe
Based on the novel Their finest hour and a half by Lissa Evans

Starring:
Gemma Arterton
Sam Claflin
Bill Nighy
Jack Huston
Paul Ritter
Richard E. Grant
Rachael Stirling

117 min.

Rated 14A

My Scientology movie

John Dower and Louis Theroux’s in-your-face documentary about the Church of Scientology is intriguing, strange, funny, scary and revealing. Wanting to make a documentary on the church proved difficult when British journalist Theroux was, unsurprisingly, denied access to the church and its leader David Miscavige. They decided to find another approach. They contacted Marty Rathbun. Marty was at one point one of the highest senior member of the church, before he cracked and left everything behind. Rathbun alleges that there is violence within the church, and that Miscavige himself often beats his staff. After Rathbun divulged these affirmation to newspapers, he has been harassed by the church. Rathbun has a temper and sometimes gets frustrated by Theroux’s inquisitive questions. Dower and Theroux’s plan is to audition actors to stand in for Miscavige and actor Tom Cruise, who is the most famous Scientologist. They are going to re-enact some of the speeches and interviews. At audition Andrew Perez impresses everyone and is chosen to read for David Miscavige. And actor Rob Alter looks very much like Tom Cruise. During the filming there are some weird moments. As Theroux and the crew tries to visit some Scientology estates with other former Scientologists, they get a visit from a woman and a cameraman. The lady order them to leave while the cameraman films them, with Theroux’s crew filming the Scientologist’s cameraman, then someone gets out a cell phone and films the whole thing. This is a totally absurd scene. One day Theroux notices that a car is following them. Then, outside of the studio they spot another camera filming them. They refuse to answer why they are filming. If Theroux wanted a reaction from the Church of Scientology, he certainly got it. And trouble maker Theroux is not afraid to be confrontational. Another interesting but nerve-racking look at Scientology. Highly recommended.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

My Scientology movie

Directed by:
John Dower

99 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Maudie

Maud Lewis painted on anything she could find. The walls, the steps, the breadbox and the windows. The tiny house she shared with her husband Everett was covered with her drawings. The small house (10 ft × 12 ft) is now at the Art gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. Maud suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. She walked with a slight limp and the arthritis in her hands worsened as she got older. In Maudie she is played by British actress Sally Hawkins. When we first meet her, Maud Dowley is in her thirties and still living with her strict Aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose). This is the repressive 1930s Wanting to be free from Aunt Ida, she seizes the opportunity to leave when she finds an advertisement at the local store looking for a “live-in or keep house”. Everett Lewis (American actor Ethan Hawke) is a grumbling, grumpy man. Not a very nice person. He hires her even if she does not seem to know much about keeping house. He only has one bed, so they have to sleep in the same bed. But Maud is not about to let Everett walk all over her. She demands to be respected. And mutual respect leads to affection and love. According to Everett, it only took several weeks before they married. By that time the house is already covered with her Naïve art painting. She would paint about animals (birds, dogs, horses, cats), flowers, trees, children and outdoors scenes. She set up to sell Christmas cards and her painting in front of the house. Sandra (Kari Matchett), an American neighbor buys some of her paintings, and pretty soon the CBC comes to interview her. Even President Nixon wants to buy her artwork. This is a beautiful love story, simply told but with a grandiose outlook on life and love. My only problem is that they did not cast Canadian actors as the two leads. But this a minute thing. As it is, Hawkins and Hawke are so good. Together they play the most perfectly non-assorted couple. Hawkins has always been a likable actress, but from the early moments until her last scenes, she has us in the palm of her hands and wins us over. Hawke is the surprise here. Playing against his usual typecast of know-it-all, cynical good guy, Hawke now plays a taciturn, gruff man who eventually opens his heart to love. By the end of Maudie, it is clear that Ethan Hawke has never been as good as he is here. Very touching film.

You should know… Everett Lewis died in 1979, nine years after his wife passed away. He was murdered during an attempted robbery at the house.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maudie

Directed by:
Aisling Walsh

Screenplay by:
Sherry White

Starring:
Sally Hawkins
Ethan Hawke
Kari Matchett
Gabrielle Rose
Zachary Bennett

115 min.

Rated Parental Guidance