Dawson city: Frozen time

Dawson city, Yukon. 1978. A construction excavation uncovers more than 500 lost silent films. That’s where archivists Michael Gates and Kathy Jones-Gates were brought in to start the restoration process and uncover the truth about the films. Dawson city: Frozen time manages to be about the films but also about the city itself. The history of Dawson city is told through old films and photographs. With a population of 500 people, mostly from First nations, Dawson city grew to 30,000 people by summer 1898 because of the Gold rush. We see incredible footage of the harsh conditions the men have to endure to find some gold. At some point movie houses were built to show the film sent from the US. The films were made with the highly flammable nitrate. The reels could burst into flame at any moment, which would account for the multiple fires that happened wherever the nitrate films were stored. It is a small miracle that those films were found in Dawson city. Martin Scorsese’s Film foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.” The uncovered films shown in this film have suffered terrible damage. But Dawson city: Frozen time is a moving tribute to our past, and a powerful reminder of the importance of history, big or small, and how we must do anything to protect it.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Dawson city: Frozen time

 

Directed by:
Bill Morrison

120 min.

A ghost story

A ghost story has a notion of a ghost that we taught was long gone since the days of the Casper the friendly ghost cartoons. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara play an unnamed couple. They live a quiet life in a small house where they witness some bizarre manifestation, like noises coming from the piano. What is sure is that they’re in love. Then one day he has a fatal car accident in front of the house. She goes to the hospital to identify the body. After she leaves, director David Lowery leaves the camera on the sheet covered body for an inordinate amount of time, until it suddenly pops up from the gurney. The ghost, a walking white sheet with two black holes for the eyes, start walking around in the hospital halls. It is obvious that it can’t be seen by anyone. A door opens in the wall, for the ghost to leave this earth, I suppose, but the ghost decides to stay and walk over to the house it used to live in when it was alive and… well, not a ghost. The quirkiness of those scenes may cause laughs and guffaws from the audience (as it did with me). But before long it becomes clear that Lowery is dead (pardon the pun) serious. The ghost stands in the house looking at the grieving wife. She can’t see that close to her there is a pile of sheet looking at her. There is a long sustained shot where Mara sits on the kitchen floor and binges on a pie. The whole pie! Rooney Mara is incredible to watch! One day, as the ghost looks out a window, it sees another ghost waving from a nearby house. Both can communicate without speaking. And we, the audience, can read the subtitles of their conversations. The ghost is not always quiet. It can be angry, like when she brought a date home. And then she moves out. But before she leaves a message in a crack in the wall. The ghost remains in the house. It stays there watching new tenants come and go. The house may not even be there anymore, but the ghost will remain in the same location. The crazy concept for this film is not as crazy as the facts that David Lowery makes it work. Yes, it is slow. But that’s what gives the films some of it’s beauty. Long shots of the immobile ghost (Yes, it is really Casey Affleck under there) looking into space or, in an earlier scene, the couple cuddling in bed. These long, quiet moments are spellbinding. I was mesmerised by the slow magic pace of the film. This old romantic idea of the sheeted ghost, brings us back to a time when things were simpler. And that’s Lowery is doing: keeping it simple. The acting from Mara, Affleck and the others are what I would describe as minimalist. There is not much dialogue. In mid-film, there’s a rant by a new tenant (exquisitely and annoyingly delivered by actor Will Oldham). After that monologue you are happy to go back to silence. Lowery has filmed in the reduced 1:33:1 screen ratio. It’s like a square that may recall 33mm. The Daniel Hart score often sounds like a string quartet. Helped by Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography, A ghost story feels like you are walking in a dream. You should know that since he could not find a studio to produce it, Lowery forked in the money himself. And so far, it’s my favourite film of 2017.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

A ghost story

 

Directed by:
David Lowery

Screenplay by:
David Lowery

Starring:
Rooney Mara
Casey Affleck
Will Oldham
Sonia Acevedo
Rob Zabrecky

87 min.

Certain women

Critics have called director Kelly Reichardt “a minimalist”. She’s as far away from mainstream as you could be, that’s for sure. She has managed through the years and through the films to offer us a singular approach to making movies. Certain women is adapted from three short stories written by Maile Meloy. In the first segment, Laura Dern plays a lawyer who is having trouble with one of her client. William (Jared Harris) wants to get back his disability pension. She has told him that he can’t win, but he insists on getting a second opinion. She’s afraid that William may get violent. The second story is stars Reichardt’s favourite actress Michelle Williams. Williams co-stars with James Le Gros as Gina and Ryan Lewis, a married couple with a teenage daughter (Sara Rodier). Coming back from a vacation, the family stops by to see Albert (the marvellously restrained René Auberjonois), an elderly man they know. They try to persuade him to sell them the sandstones that are lying around on his property. They need the sandstones to build a weekend cottage. But Albert only seems to answer to Ryan. During the trip, Gina realises that their daughter is acting the same way towards her. The third and most powerful segment stars Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart. Gladstone plays Jamie, a lonely ranch hand who is tending horses during the winter months. Driving into town one night, she sees people going into the school, and decides to see what is happening. It’s a legal class about school law taught by young lawyer, Beth Travis (Stewart). After class, Jamie befriends Beth. It is clear that Jamie is hoping that something more will happen between her and Beth. As with her previous films, Reichardt does not use dialogue to tell the audience what her characters are feeling or thinking, or what their motivations are. Instead you see them painfully trying to deal with their feelings of helplessness and frustration. Reichardt works outside the box. Certain women is observational rather than the usual declamatory. Not everyone will like it, but I did. Although the three stories are separate, they are thinly weaved together as some characters cross each other’s paths. Williams is the perfect Reichardt player as she portrays Gina’s cold and stoic intransigence, but also her painful self-loathing. But it is newcomer Lily Gladstone who gives the most heart breaking performance. You can almost hear Jamie’s heartbeat as she seeks friendship and love from Beth. It is impossible for Jamie to read what Beth’s intentions are, and Kristen Stewart’s usual acting demeanour is perfectly used here. I should not forget Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography. He paints Montana’s wintry landscape with earth colors. The least you can say about Reichardt is that she is not your mainstream American director. And that’s fine with me..

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Certain women

 

Directed by:
Kelly Reichardt

Screenplay by:
Kelly Reichardt
Based on short stories from Maile Meloy’s Half in love and
Both ways is the only way I want it

Starring:
Michelle Williams
Laura Dern
Lily Gladstone
Kristen Stewart
James Le Gros
Jared Harris
René Auberjonois
Sara Rodier

107 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

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

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

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 am not your negro

James Baldwin’s Remember this house was his remembrances of Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Within five years all three were assassinated. The documentary I am not your negro uses the words from the unfinished manuscript (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) as narration, film archives, photos and Baldwin being interviewed on TV to document the history of the American Civil Rights movement. On The Dick Cavett show, Cavett seems caught off guards by Baldwin’s serious tone. It’s as if he expected Baldwin to start joking. But for James Baldwin racial segregation was no laughing matter. Tired of American prejudice against blacks, Baldwin left the US in 1948 to go live in France to continue his writing career in freedom. He came back in 1957, after seeing a photo of a black teenage girl entering a desegregated school. She is surrounded be white teens who are spitting on her. That and other images are powerfully inserted in this film. The violent and racist images of the 50s and 60s (photos of white men and boys holding signs with racist slurs and swastika on them) are sometimes mixed with more recent events: the Rodney King beating (I had no idea that his beating had been so violent and intense) and more recent killings of black people by police officers and the Ferguson, Missouri protest. Once he came back in America, Baldwin started to work alongside Evers, Macolm X and MLK. We see him during the 1963 March on Washington with Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr and white actors Marlon Brando and Charlton Heston. He talked and wrote at length about anything relevant to the African-American experience. This included commenting about groundbreaking films like Guess who’s coming to dinner? and In the heat of the night, both films made in 1967 and starred Sidney Poitier. The most powerful moment in the film comes with a clip of a Technicolor Doris Day film. Whiter than white Day, all teeth glaring, is shown in all her glory while we hear her singing a syrupy song. It is juxtaposed with black-and-white photos of black people hanging from trees. Chilling effect! The fact that James Baldwin was gay is only mentioned in a FBI report, proof that Edgar J Hoover was investigating all Civil Rights activists as possible threats for the nation. This documentary is crucial and might be an eye opener for certain people who think that racism does not exist anymore or, worse still, never existed. It has to be seen.

And the Oscar went to… I am not your negro was nominated for Best documentary feature. It lost to O.J.: Made in America who is more than 7 hours long.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I am not your negro

Directed by:
Raoul Peck

Screenplay by:
James Baldwin
Raoul Peck
from Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember this house

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson as James Baldwin

95 min.

Oscar nominated animated shorts 2016

I found this year’s Oscar nominated animated shorts to be a mixed bag. Some are great, others are OK. And I found one of them dreadful. Even so, it still interested to see and judge for ourself. Like in previous years, the five nominated films are not long enough for a feature-length program. Three films have been added, two of them were among the ten films on Oscar’s short list but did not make the final pick as a nominee. So here it goes.

Borrowed time (Nominee)
An old West sheriff on the decline revisits the past atop a mountain. Strong contender. Computer animation. 7 min.

Pearl (Nominee)
A girl and her dad and their car. Later on she gets to drive the car, own it and live her own life. Well drawn but short on plot. 6 min.

Piper (Winner)
Canadian director Alan Barillaro’s Pixar/Disney amazing computer animated short a cute baby shorebirds trying to find food on a beach. At 6 minutes it is too short. More please!

Blind Vaysha (Nominee)
A girl who sees the past with one eye and the future with the other. She never sees the present. The usual from Canada’s National film board. A bit boring. 8 min.

The head vanishes (Among the ten films on Oscar’s short list)
An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer and dementia is walking around without a head. A Canada (National film board) and France co-production. 9 min.

Asteria
Two astronauts are ready to plant a flag on a newly discovered planet. But some other species got there before them, Much fun. 5 min.

Once upon a line (Among the ten films on Oscar’s short list)
A man who lives in a black line world comes across a lady from a pink line universe. Chaos follows. Clever. 7 min.

(Please note, this is the last film in the programme and is NOT suitable for young children. A warning card will advise parents prior to the start of this short.)

Pear cider and cigarettes (Nominee)
Canadian animator Robert Valley’s tale of his alcoholic friend Techno Stypes and his health problems. At 35 minutes it is too long and repetitive. Simply dreadful. Does not belong among the nominees.

And the Oscar went to … I predicted that Piper would win, and it did. Sometimes you get it, others you don’t.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Oscar nominated animated shorts 2016

Directed by:
Theodore Ushev
Andrew Coats
Lou Hamou-Lhadj
Patrick Osborne
Alan Barillaro
Franck Dion
Lola Grand
Alexandre Arpentinier
Mathieu Blanchys
Tristan Lamarca
Thomas Lemaille
Jean-Charles Lusseau
Alicja Jasina
Robert Valley

86 min.

Rated 14A

Paterson

“Rigor of beauty is the quest. But how will you find beauty
when it is locked in the mind past all remonstrance?”

William Carlos Williams, Paterson

The latest Jim Jarmusch film, Paterson, is a lovely film about the joy and love of poetry. The film is about bus driver and amateur poet Paterson (Adam Driver) who lives with his girlfriend, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), and her taciturn bulldog, Marvin (Nellie), in Paterson, New Jersey. A week in the life of Paterson. The same repeated routine everyday. Waking up at the same time with Laura asleep next to him, eats Cheerios for breakfast, walks to work taking the same streets, everyday his supervisor is unhappy about something in his life. Always. But not Paterson. Paterson is happy. Seems to be. Paterson writes poems in his little notebook. As you hear the poems read aloud, we see the words appearing on the screen. On the bus, Paterson overhears conversations between passengers. One of them is about that time Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was arrested and charged of a shootout at a bar on Lafayette street. At lunch, Paterson sits near the Great Falls of the Passaic river and writes some more. During his day, Paterson sees a great number of twins. At home, Laura is in a constant state of artistic reinvention and designing. She likes to paint on curtains, directly on the material, on the floors, the walls, the dress that she is wearing. She likes to paint circles, like doughnuts or Cheerios, almost always black on white, white on black. It’s all over the apartment. Black dots or circles. She wants to become a country singer and plans to sell cup cakes (black with black and white icing!) at a week-end fair. In the evening, Paterson takes Marvin for his walk. Marvin takes Paterson to the local tavern. Paterson has a nice rapport with the owner, Doc (Barry Shabaka Henly). Paterson also meets a lot of interesting characters. Jim Jarmusch’s probable inspiration is William Carlos Williams, more precisely Carlos Williams epic poem Paterson. In the film we often see a book of his poem. I slowly got immersed into the rhythm of this film. At times Paterson almost feels like you are in a Fellini film (the twins), but I also saw some images that evokes other directors (Hitchcock?) Full of surrealist details, Paterson is greatly helped by production designer Mark Friedberg and Catherine George’s costumes. Frederick Elmes’s photography never draws attention, but the cinematographer has to walk a fine line between the daily life of the main character and the purity of the poetry. He must not overly underline what is already beautiful. Adam Driver is an appealing actor playing an appealing character. It could be bland or boring, but somehow Driver makes it compelling, I think, because he includes us in, like a joke that nobody else would get. Along for the fun ride is kooky Golshifteh Farahani who will get most of the laugh. That’s when Driver and Farahani are not totally upstaged by Nellie.

You should know… The poems written by Paterson are actually by American poet Ron Padgett. Jarmusch chose four of Padgett poems and commissioned three new poems to be used in the film. Water falls, a poem attributed to another character was penned by Jarmusch himself. The winner of the Cannes film festival Palm dog award was Nellie. Nellie had died a few months before the awards. It was the first time that the Palm dog was posthumously awarded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Paterson

Directed by:

Jim Jarmusch

Screenplay by:
Jim Jarmusch

Starring:
Adam Driver
Golshifteh Farahani
Barry Shabaka Henly
Cliff Smith
Nagase Masatoshi

118 min.

Rated 14A