On Chesil Beach

Un vol d’oiseau traverse un ciel trop beau.
Tu pars avec eux sans retour,
Et pour moi il, ne fait plus jour.

Ton départ, Clémence DesRochers

For their wedding night in 1962 Florence Ponting and Edward Mayhew (Saiorse Ronan and Billy Howle) have rented a room in a small hotel at Chesil Beach. From the delicious dinner, served in their room by two waiter from room service, to the bed, memories from their disfunctional lives come rushing back to blur the deep love they share for each other. At times they look like two deers caught in the headlights. Yes, I repeat: this is 1962, England. Two words: sexual repression. They are too young, naive and both are virgins. This a “love at first sight” affair. They met as he was studying history and she the violin. Through the flashback we see that they are very much in love. But Edward’s mother (Anne-Marie Duff) suffered a mental illness and several times he witnessed her walking around the house naked. And there are hints that Florence was sexually abused by her father and because of that she is repulsed by sex. On Chesil Beach is basically a two character, minimalist screenplay by Ian McEwan, who adapted his own novel. He keeps it simple, and it works pretty well as he effectively gets into each characters head. And this can’t work unless the two young leads (who we first saw together in The seagull) are well casted and directed. We’ve seen what Saoirse Ronan can do, how much of a range she has as an actress. Billy Howle is the revelation here. Edward is such a fragile young man that when he arrives at Chesil Beach on his wedding night he is just about to explode. Howle gives a much detailed performance. It has a pleasant soundtrack with a mix of classical music and 60s rock-and-roll. Production values are excelent, though the makeup in the later scenes could have been much better. On Chesil Beach is helped greatly by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt who shows us that sad stories seem even sadder on a sunny summer beach.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

On Chesil Beach

 

Directed by:
Dominic Clarke

Screenplay by:
Ian McEwan
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Billy Howle
Emily Watson
Anne-Marie Duff
Samuel West

110 min.

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RBG

What I knew about Ruth Bader Ginsburg came mostly from Kate McKinnon’s impersonations on Saturday night live. RBG is a new documentary about the Supreme court justice, her life, her work on behalf of gender equality and exploring just how much of a bad ass she is still today at 85. She was born in 1933 and Celia, her mom, taught her to “Be a lady” and “Be independent”. At Harvard law school, where she enrolled in 1956, there were only 9 women among five hundred men. Later, even though she had graduated first of her class, it proved difficult for Ginsburg to find employment as no one would hire a woman. One thing is sure: she could not have asked for a more supportive husband. Tax lawyer Martin D. Ginsburg (deceased in 2010) was her biggest champion. In the 70s working with the American civil liberties union (ACLU), Ginsbur argued six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five. She was nominated to the Supreme court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, where Ginsburg’s dissenting opinions called on Congress to successfully amend unjust laws. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a hero to many young woman. She has been nicknamed “The notorious RBG”, pictured as a super hero on magazine covers, tattoos, coloring book and t-shirts. She knows that the name comes from rapper “The notorious BIG”, she gloats. When she watches Kate McKinnon’s impersonation, although she does not think it looks like her, she finds it funny. She laughs and we laugh. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is fun, and so is this film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

RBG

 

Directed by:
Julie Cohen
Betsy West

97 min.

Itzhak

When you look at Itzhak Perlman as he plays the violin, of course you notice how agile his fingers are, how fast they can move. But you can also see how happy Perlman seems to be. In this new documentary by Alison Chernick, we visit Perlman, his wife Toby and their two dogs in their house in New York. We follow them at different concert venues, at the Juilliard school where he teaches violin and on trips to Israel. As some of you will know, Perlman contracted Polio as a child and there are many TV appearances where he was walking on stage with crutches. Now he uses an electric scooter. During a winter trip outside in the street of New York his entourage has brought a shovel to clear the sidewalks. Through conversations he has with Toby, family and friends we learn about his life. Itzhak Perlman was born in Tel Aviv in 1945. The family emigrated to the USA when he was 10 years old. Because of his disability, many people doubted he could have a career despite the incredible quality of the boy’s playing, so he was mostly ignored. Then in 1958, when he was 13, he made a memorable appearance on The Ed Sullivan show that changed everything. During the course of the film we see Perlman dinning and having fun with his friend actor Alan Alda. He receives the Medal of freedom from Barack Obama and while in Israel he dines with Benjamin Netanyahu. He also plays at a concert with Billy Joel where they are rehearsing We didn’t start the fire. And then there is the beautiful and joyful music that Itzhak Perlman plays. The highlight is Perlman playing John Williams’ Schindler’s list. It confirms the great quality of the film composer’s masterpiece. The meeting of two brilliant artists. Itzhak is a celebration of life. Bravo!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Itzhak

 

Directed by:
Alison Chernick

83 min.

Rated General.

The seagull

This excellent film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 classic play seems to have everything right. Screenwriter Stephen Karam has done a great job by opening the play a bit, but has kept the story and the motivations (from what I can tell) pretty much the same. The film stars Annette Bening as Irina Arkadina, an aging actress spending the summer at her brother’s beautiful Russian country estate. She’s accompanied by her lover, well-known playwright Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), and her troubled son, Konstantin (Billy Howle). There are other characters with them and they all seem to have one thing in common: unrequited love. There is Masha (Elisabeth Moss), daughter of the estate manager, who is obsessed with Konstantin. But Konstantin is secretly in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a young neighbour who dreams of becoming an actress. Konstantin is upset at his mother because she mocked one of his plays. He also dislikes Boris and is resentful of his talent. It gets worse when Boris attempts to seduce an all too willing Nina. It may be impossible for modern audiences to understand this community of 19th century over-the-top dramatic actresses of artists and romantic/suicidal youths, but if there is one cast that can do it, this is the one. Bening in particular understands the bigger than life persona and never misses a chance to strike a pose. She’s grand. A refreshing aspect of this film is that the mostly American cast did not feel the need to speak with an accent. Too many times I’ve seen actors absurdly attempting to take a Russian accent or a British accent. To my ear, everyone spoke a very good English without any accents. Director Michael Mayer keeps it all snappy and frothy. Very enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The seagull

 

Directed by:
Michael Mayer

Screenplay by:
Stephen Karam
Based on the play by Anton Chekhov

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Annette Bening
Corey Stoll
Billy Howle
Elisabeth Moss
Brian Dennehy
Mare Winningham
Jon Tenney

98 min.

The young Karl Marx

After his powerful documentary I am not your negro, Haitian director Raoul Peck seems to be happy taking difficult and arduous topics. Case in point is this biopic about Karl Marx, the father of communism. We first meet journalist Marx (August Diehl) in 1844 at 26, fleeing German censorship to go to Paris. It’s there that Marx and his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) meet Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske). Engels is coming from Manchester, England where he reluctantly helps is father run a textile factory. Engels can see that the workers are exploited, overworked, underpaid and he decries the child labour. at the factory. Together, with the help of Jenny and Engels’ companion, Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), they will write The Communist manifesto. That means lots of meeting with socialist philosophers. Since I know nothing about the birth of the movement, I’ve never heard of them. Two of the most well-known at the time seems to have been Pierre Proudhon and Wilhelm Weitling. The young Karl Marx is a most talkative film. Although the acting from the four leads and the production values are excellent, the subject matter makes this film, unless you are familiar with the subject matter, a bit of a boring affair. Still, it’s intriguing. Your choice.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The young Karl Marx

 

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
Raoul Peck
Pascal Bonitzer

Starring:
August Diehl
Stefan Konarske
Vicky Krieps
Olivier Gourmet
Hannah Steele

118 min.

In German, French and English with English subtitles.

Journey’s end

This is World War I and young fresh-faced Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) gleefully arrives in the trenches at Saint-Quentin, France. He asked his uncle to be stationed with his old friend Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) and his wishes has been granted. But the boy’s innocent smile soon turns sour when he realises that war has changed his friend. Stanhope has become a bitter, angry and aggressive man who drinks too much. In the officers’ dugout there is also Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany), a very fine gentleman who is trying his best to support and understand Stanhope. Private Mason (Toby Jones) is the cook. There is not much sun coming in the muddy and dirty trenches and the soldiers spend long hours waiting. Stanhope has heard from his superiors that the Germans are planning an attack, now known as the deadly Operation Michael. And Stanhope is ordered to do a daylight raid on the Germans prior to the attack Raleigh and Osborne are among the men that are sent. Some will come back, some won’t. This is a very fine film adaptation of the classic 1928 British play. Although it has been opened up a bit, it still remains a play. The British cast is superb. My first thought upon seeing Asa Butterfield was that he looks like a silent film star. The point that is made with Journey’s end is that wars can mark a person physically, but mentally as well. That is if you can survive. War is hell!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Journey’s end

 

Directed by:
Saul Dibb

Screenplay by:
Simon Reade
Based on the play by R.C. Sherriff

Starring:
Asa Butterfield
Sam Claflin
Paul Bettany
Tom Sturridge
Toby Jones

107 min.

Rated 14A

Final portrait

In 1964 Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti wanted to paint a portrait of his American friend and biographer James Lord, and asked Lord to pose for him. Lord met Giacometti in his dirty and dusty studio in Paris. Lord (Armie Hammer) thought it would only take a few days, but Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) only paints a few strokes, stops, looks at what he’s done, swears at it and smears the painting with some white paint. So he has to start again. And that’s not all. Giacometti’s private life is complicated by his love for his wife, Annette (Sylvie Testud) and his model, Caroline (Clémence Poésy), who is also a prostitute. Lord has to cancel his flight back to America several times, hoping in vain that Giacometti will be able to one day finish the portrait. Happily he has Alberto’s brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub), to keep him company. Final portrait is a mess. Where do I start? Australian actor Geoffrey Rush, as always, is overacting and repetitive. When Giacometti is swearing at his canvas, you would expect a good actor to do some variations. But Rush says the same swear word the same way every time. That action is replayed so many times during the film that it becomes annoying. And several scenes of Giacomett and Lord walking in what looks like the Père Lachaise cemetery are also repetitive. The film is ugly. Everything looks gray (dirty and dusty?) and I could not believe we were really in Paris. And lastly, I found the whole film and the story to be uninteresting. To avoid!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Final portrait

 

Directed by:
Stanley Tucci

Screenplay by:
Stanley Tucci

Starring:
Geoffrey Rush
Armie Hammer
Clémence Poésy
Tony Shalhoub
James Faulkner
Sylvie Testud

90 min.

Rated 14A

In English, Italian and French with English subtitles.

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.

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.