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

20th Century women

It’s 1979, and teenage boy Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is being raised by his single mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening). But there is also a lodger, Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a quirky, twenty-something, amateur photographer, pink-haired punk. Gerwig has redefined quirkiness , turned it on its head and back again until it has become her own brand of idiosyncratic acting. In other words: It is unique, indescribable and occasionally can be a bit annoying. Jamie’s best friend is Julie (Elle Fanning). Julie is a slightly older, insecure girl who spends her nights sleeping with Jamie in his bed and still wants the relationship to remain platonic. But, of course, all that Jamie wants is to have sex with Julie. The only male influence around the house is William (Billy Crudup), a handyman who lodges at the house. William and Dorothea were once lovers, but the film isn’t exactly clear on what’s the status of their relation. Dorothea feels totally inadequate as a mother. At 65, with one foot still in the past (“She’s from the Depression.”), she’s trying as best she can to understand Jamie. But he too pains to understand his mother. She asks Abbie and Julie to try to guide him. Writer-director Mike Mills’ 2010 film Beginners told the true story about his father coming out as gay at 75 years old. Christopher Plummer won an Oscar for it. Mills calls 20th Century women a “loveletter” to the women who raised him. He based the character of Dorothea on his mother, Abbie on his sister and Julie on a friend. He uses the same techniques here (voice-over narrations, film archives and photos to underline the narrations), but 20th Century women is more focus. And I found some the comedy very effective. There is a hilarious scene after suppertime at Dorothea‘s, where Abbie keeps saying the most inappropriate, embarrassing things, making the guest cringe. A perfect “crawl under the table” moment. With perfect comic timing, the amazing Annette Bening’s Dorothea is a chain-smoking, strong-willed mother with an icy quizzical stare that would scare off many people. There is talk of an Oscar nomination for her. We’ll know soon.

And the Oscar went to… I thought there was no way that Mike Mills could win for his spirited screenplay. The winner was Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the sea.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

20th Century women

 

Directed by:

Mike Mills

Screenplay by:

Mike Mills

 

Starring:

Annette Bening

Greta Gerwig

Elle Fanning

Lucas Jade Zumann

Billy Crudup

 

118 min.

 

Rated 14A

 

 

Lion

Lion is the true story of Saroo Brierly, who at the age of 5 (child actor Sunny Pawar) got into a train that brought him 1600 miles away from his house, his family and his mother (Priyanka Bose). When the train door finally opened, he was in Kolkata (AKA Calcutta), trying to find his older brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate). Homeless in the Indian capital, Saroo often finds himself in trouble. He’s a smart and instinctive boy who runs away when he feels danger ahead. Lion is compelling and heart pounding filmmaking. Sunny Pawar is the star of the first part of the film. The small boy running around dirty Indian streets, amongst the poorest of the poor, desperately calling his brother (“Guddu! Guddu!”) are some of the most troubling, indelible images of 2016 cinema. Then, after many misadventures, Saroo (his real name is actually “Sheru”. “Sheru” means “lion” in English, hence the title.) is found on the street by Indian social services. They try to find Saroo’s mother or his village, but the name of the village, according to the name that Saroo has given to social services, is nowhere on the map. Eventually, Saroo is adopted by a nice Australian couple. John and Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) fly with Saroo to their home in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. The film then jumps 20 years. Saroo is in his mid-twenties (now played by Slumdog millionaire’s Dev Patel) and is trying to locate his mother and his village with the support and help of his girlfriend Lucy (Rooney Mara). He uses maps on Google Earth to retrace the footsteps of the 5 years old boy he used to be, and revisit some painful memories. I think that Lion can qualify as a tear-jerker, but it does not feel like a tear-jerker. It doesn’t because the true story is given room to breathe, to simply be an incredible tale of survival. It’s an impressive fiction film debut for director Garth Davis. Everything is done with much restraint without underlining the drama with effects. He is helped by great acting from Pawar, of course, and also Patel and Nicole Kidman, who give sensitive performances. Cinematographer Greig Fraser is an artist, a painter who uses dark tones and colors with a deft eye. Precision and control. Lion is a tear-jerker, but it is also a great film.

And the Oscar went to… Despite 6 nominations, Lion did not win a single Oscar. Oh well!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Lion

Directed by:
Garth Davis

Screenplay by:
Luke Davis
Based on A long way home by Saroo Brierley and Larry Buttrose

Starring:
Dev Patel
Sunny Pawar
Nicole Kidman
Rooney Mara
David Wenham
Priyanka Bose
Abhishek Bharate

118 min.

Rated Parantal Guidance

In English, Bengali, and Hindi with English subtitles.

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea is about middle-aged Boston janitor Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck). Lee lives alone in a crummy apartment. An early montage shows us how easy it is for Lee to lose his temper. He f-offs a female client and later punches a guy at a bar. One day, Lee gets a phone call from Manchester-by-the-Sea, his home town His older brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler) has died of a heart attack. Through the skilful hands of editor Jennifer Lame, we get to revisit some important moments in their lives. Lee remembers being at the hospital when Joe had his first heart problem. He also recalls the fun times he had with Patrick, Joe’s young son, on Joe’s fishing boat. Patrick is 16 now (played by Lucas Hedges, in a star making performance). Lee has to stick around for a few days as Patrick’s mother has been out of the picture for a while, so the boy is basically alone. When Lee discovers that his brother named him as his son’s guardian, painful memories from the past comes back to haunt him. In that scene, Kenneth Lonergan informs the audience in small doses, bringing us to the final reveal inch by inch. It is even more powerful that way. After that we understand his uncontrollable sudden bursts of anger. I can’t tell you more without spoiling it. But if Manchester by the Sea is also quite funny, that’s because of teenage Patrick’s relationships with his numerous girlfriends. In life nothing is entirely without humour, no matter how dramatic things get. The cast is excellent, especially Casey Affleck (Ben‘s younger brother) and Lucas Hedges who play against each other as if the were really family. They are really brilliant. The screenplay is not the easiest to say. It has tons of overlapping, all variety of f-word all over the place (Hey! It‘s a family thing.) , but it defines every characters with clarity and hindsight. It is real and subtle. It is not flashy, but it does what it needs to get to the emotion through to us. Beside Affleck and Hedges, we should not ignore Michelle Williams as Lee’s ex-wife. “Perfection” is such a loaded word. Yes, Manchester by the Sea is a sad, heart-wrenching, but a warm and beautiful film. And it will be the front-runner at the Oscars. For me, Manchester by the Sea is “perfect”.

And the Oscar went to… Manchester by the Sea ended the evening with two Oscars. As was predicted, Casey Affleck won Best actor. And Kenneth Lonergan was also an obvious choice for an Original screenplay win.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Manchester by the Sea

Directed by:
Kenneth Lonergan

Screenplay by:
Kenneth Lonergan

Starring:
Casey Affleck
Lucas Hedges
Kyle Chandler
Matthew Broderick
Gretchen Mol
Michelle Williams

135 min.

Rated 14A

Christine

When I write about Christine, I can’t tell what happened in 1974 that made Christine Chubbuck famous because that would be a spoiler. Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) was a 29-years-old news reporter for WXLT-TV in Sarasota, Florida. Christine had her own talk show called Suncoast digest in which she talked about local and social interests. But she is always at odds with news director, Michael (Tracy Letts) who would like the newscast to be more sensational and cover murders and crimes (“blood and guts” someone says) to bring in higher ratings. The news that there might be positions opening in Baltimore, brings even more tensions and competition at the station. If that wasn’t enough, she suffers from sharp pains in the stomach, and as a result will have her ovaries removed. It is clear after a while that Christine’s depression is coming back. At times, it comes very close to manic depression. She lives with her mother, but always picks a fight with her. Her incoherent thinking is all over the map: she wants the job in Baltimore, she’s a virgin but wouldn’t it be nice if she finally had a romantic life now, especially before her ovaries are removed because she wants children, she wants that job in Baltimore, she buys a CB radio to listen to police calls and be the first to report it to the news, she needs that job in Baltimore. She does puppet shows for children at a local hospital, but they get increasingly weird and disturbing. There is a yelling match between Christine and Michael where Christine goes too far. There is a ray of hope when the handsome anchor, George Ryan (Michael C. Hall, no relation to Rebecca) invites her out on a date. The screenplay by Craig Shilowich is successfully showing the slow drip of mental illness. It is a relentless enemy. Shilowich and director Antonio Campos sets the film squarely in a realistic mid-1970s, complete with 70s long dresses, 70s pants, 70s hair and moustaches, and a fun soundtrack of songs from the 70s. Christine is such a difficult part to play, with all her contradictions, her mood swings and sudden shifts. Rebecca Hall’s Christine is an unvarnished portrait of a mentally ill woman, warts and all. With the marvellous Tracy Letts as her boss, there is a feeling of watching a harsher and less likable version of Lou Grant and Mary Tyler Moore (from The Mary Tyler Moore show). Lets hope these two will be remembered at Oscar time.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Christine

Directed by:

Antonio Campos

Screenplay by:
Craig Shilowich

Starring:
Rebecca Hall
Michael C. Hall
Tracy Letts
Timothy Simons
J. Smith-Cameron
Maria Dizzia

118 min.

Rated 14A

Moonlight

Moonlight is an extraordinary film experience about the life of an African-American gay man from boyhood to adulthood. In the blaring, blinding Miami sun, a boy called Little (Alex Hibbert) is hiding from the boys who are harassing him. Heaving chest and panicky eyes tells the story of a boy who has been repetitively bullied. Moonlight tell his story in three segments. The first is called “Little”. Little soon meets Juan (Mahershala Ali). Juan is a crack dealer, but a man with a kind and comforting attitude for the boy. When Juan teaches Little how to swim, it feels like a baptism. Juan takes Little (who’s real name is Chiron) to his home to meet his girlfriend Teresa (singer Janelle Monaë). He needs them as positive forces, like the scene where a distraught Little asks the meaning of a gay slur that’s been obviously thrown at him by his bullies. Words matter. Beside the bullying, Little has a mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), who is falling deeper and deeper into drug addiction. Basically, Little is left to fend for himself, but when she’s at home all that Paula manages to do is make Little feels that he is a burden on her. Little’s only friend at school is Kevin (Jaden Piner), another person that Little can be thankful about. The second segment is called “Chiron”. Chiron is now 16 (and now played by Ashton Sanders). The harassment has increased, and so has his mother’s addiction. When Paula wants him out of the house, Teresa is still around to offer him a place to sleep. But Paula steals the money that Teresa gave to Chiron. And Kevin and Chiron are still friends (teenage Kevin is played by Jharrel Jerome). One early morning on the beach, Kevin kisses Chiron and then masturbates him. Back at school, the violence and the harassment escalates when the bullies pressures and threatens Kevin into hitting Chiron. The third segment fast forwards 10 years and is called “Black”. After time spent in jail, adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has now muscled up and is now a drug dealer. He now goes by the name Black (That‘s what Kevin used to call him.) and lives in Atlanta. Kevin (André Holland) calls him up one night. When Black goes to Miami to reunite with his friend, you feel the longing and the hurt in their conversation. A touching and heartbreaking finale. This is one of the best ensemble cast I have ever seen, they are all astounding. The entire cast is black. Moonlight is such a beautiful, hard and yes, often desperate film. It is as harsh as the blinding sun. But Chiron’s life has to be told, especially these days. I am now at a loss for words. The only thing left to say is: Moonlight is perfect. Direction: perfect. Screenplay: perfect. So far the best film this year.

And the Oscar went to, well, maybe… You probably heard by now about the major screw up with the Best picture envelope. My comment is that, despite that mistake, Moonlight is a worthy Best picture winner. It can be proud of its African-American cast. It is the only LGBTQ themed Best picture winner. Furthermore, Supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney also won for their powerful screenplay. Bravo!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Moonlight

 

Directed by:

Barry Jenkins

 

Screenplay by:

Barry Jenkins

Tarell McCraney

Based on McCraney’s unproduced play

In moonlight black boys look blue

 

Starring:

Alex Hibbert

Ashton Sanders

Trevante Rhodes

Jaden Piner

Jharrel Jerome

André Holland

Naomie Harris

Janelle Monáe

Mahershala Ali

 

110 min.

Rated 14A