Woodshock

I find that the worse films are not the overblown Hollywood blockbusters, but the pretentious independent films.Additionally, Woodshock is boring and confusing. It stars Kirsten Dunst as Theresa, a woman with a profound depressive (and depressing), blank stare. In early scenes we witness Theresa as she put a few drops of a mysterious liquid from a mysterious vial into a bag of marijuana, rolls a joint and gives it to her sick mother. Mother smokes it and then dies. Since then, Theresa has been walking around the house in a near-vegetative state. Her boyfriend, Nick (Joe Cole), tries to help her, but he is unable to pull her out of her depression. They live in a house next to the woods. Theresa works at a marijuana store. It is confusing because everything around them (sets, costume, music, cars) seems to say they live in the 70s or 80s. Unless there were marijuana stores back then and did not know about it. Whatever was in that vial kills two more people, but when Theresa smokes it, she gets psychedelic visions, the likes I haven’t seen since the good old days of hippies movies. And she also goes to the woods to levitate. If bad movies makes you laugh, then go. It just did not do anything for me. Boring and annoying.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Woodshock

 

Directed by:
Kate Mulleavy
Laura Mulleavy

Screenplay by:
Kate Mulleavy
Laura Mulleavy

Starring:
Kirsten Dunst
Pilou Asbæk
Joe Cole

100 min.

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Tulip fever

There was a time in the Netherlands during the 17th-century when tulips bulbs were the most priced items. Especially the bulbs with a tulip breaking virus that could produce a multicolored tulip. Those were traded at auction to the highest bidder. Tulip fever, set during that period, is a cross between a Shakespearean comedy and a Moliere comedy. But Tulip fever is more sensual. It stars Alicia Vikander as Sofia Sandvoort, the beautiful wife of rich tulip trader Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sofia, who is much younger than her husband, is desperately trying to get pregnant and give Cornelis an heir, meaning a baby boy. And although there is no doubt that Cornelis loves his wife, he needs an heir and claims that in six month, if Sofia is not pregnant, he’ll have to find another wife. Still, he commissions young portraitist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to paint her portrait. At first van Loos is such a professional that he fails to notice the beautiful woman posing for him. He also does not see that Sofia would do anything to be noticed by him. And then it happens. Dane DeHaan’s blue-eyed piercing stares is what gives Tulip fever its most potent sensual moments. There is very little nudity in the film, and instead we get more of a romantic love-making than in most films. So they make love and wants to elope together. To make money van Loos goes into the tulip trading business. Meanwhile, Sofia’s maid and confidante, Maria (Holliday Grainger, who also narrates), gets pregnant from the fish monger (Jack O’Connell). The fish monger also went into the tulip trade shortly before he disappeared. And of course, Cornelis is totally unaware that any of this is happening. We are treated here to a fast paced film with enough plots to fill several films. None of these Masterpiece theatre lengthy conversations while sipping tea. The set and costume department have not tried to beautified the 1600s narrow streets of Amsterdam lounging some canals. They are dirty, full of fruits and fish sellers and unsavoury characters. You can almost smell the stench. Tulip fever is not what you would expect from a period comedy/drama. It’s so unusual that some reviewers have completely dismissed it. But to compare it to other period films would be a mistake. Yes, some of the plot is farfetched, but only if you judge it by a modern standard. I saw the film as a 17th-century saucy comedy, or an homage at the very least. It was not meant to be taken literally in a realistic way. There’s a character played by American comedian Zach Galifianakis. He’s a bizarre fit in that type of film, but he knows how to spread himself thin and doesn’t get in the way for most of the film. Dame Judi Dench has a small part as the Mother superior of an orphanage who also likes to grow tulips as a side business. Even when she is under playing, Dench reads her comic lines with a knife-like cutting edge. We’re then taken aback that so much snap can come out unannounced with such ease. That’s what you call perfect timing. I found Tulip fever amusing and beautiful to look at. I recommend.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Tulip fever

 

Directed by:
Justin Chadwick

Screenplay by:
Tom Stoppard
Based on the novel by Deborah Moggach

Starring:
Alicia Vikander
Christoph Waltz
Dane DeHaan
Holliday Grainger
Judi Dench
Zach Galifianakis

105 min.

Rated 14A

Menashe

“When I thought about making a film in Borough Park, in Yiddish, with real Hasidic Jews, to me it was just as interesting as any documentary I ever made.”, said director Joshua Z. Weinstein. Set in the Borough Park district of Brooklyn, is the story of Menashe (Menashe Lustig), a recently widowed Hasidic Jewish man. Menashe has had his young son, Rieven (Ruben Niborski), taken away to live with his brother-in-law, Eizik (Yoel Weisshaus). Rieven needs a mother, says the Rabbi (Meyer Schwartz). But Menashe is fat, and with his low wage job at a supermarket, it’s very unlikely he’ll find a wife. Still, Rabbi insists, he must marry. He constantly fights with Eizik to be more involved in his son’s life. It is clear that Rieven loves his dad and would rather live with him. Menashe’s life is a mess. He can’t pay his rent, he’s always late for work and his boss is losing patience. But Menashe loves his son and does not care about Rabbi or Eizik. This film is loosely based on Menashe Lustig’s life. And Lustig’s touching scenes with Ruben Niborski seemed so real that you feel that you are indeed watching a documentary. Menashe is slow-moving, but there is also an effective tension and suspense that involves us. The unusual setting of an American film in Yiddish that was shot in the Hasidic community, makes it even more compelling.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Menashe

 

Directed by:
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Alex Lipschultz
Musa Syeed
Joshua Z. Weinstein

Starring:
Menashe Lustig
Ruben Niborski
Yoel Weisshaus
Meyer Schwartz

81 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In Yiddish and English with English subtitles.

The only living boy in New York

When Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) sees his father kissing another woman, he decides to follow her… and then happens whatever happens in those types of films. Thomas, is a recent college graduate, lives in New York in a Lower East Side apartment when he is not spending the night at his parents’ Upper West Side house. One night while he’s out with his best friend Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), he sees his father, Ethan (Pierce Brosnan), a successful publisher, making out with Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). He’s so intrigued by this, and her that he starts to stalk her. Either he wants to stick it to his dad, who is always very critical of his son’s choices, or he wants to break up the relationship before Judith, his mom, finds out. It’s probably both of those. Judith (Cynthia Nixon) has suffered from depression and alcoholism. It is clear that Thomas loves his mom and that he has a rather tense relationship with hid dad. After a few days of playing detective, Thomas is confronted by Johanna. She knows she’s been followed and she knows who he is. And then, as expecting, they start having sex. Meanwhile, Thomas befriends one of his neighbor, W.F. Gerald (Jeff Bridges, who also narrates the film), a whisky-guzzling, chain-smoking novelist on the decline. Thomas confides to Gerald about Johanna, his dad and the whole mess. I found The only living boy in New York unexciting and boring. I would have thought that a film about a young man having an affair with his father’s mistress would, and should be sexy and a bit dirty. There is no sex! All that’s left is the acting. Jeff Bridges is good but the character he plays is such a cliché. Brosnan is better in avoiding the traps. Composer Rob Simonsen’s joyful and clever score is everything the film should be, but isn’t.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The only living boy in New York

 

Directed by:
Marc Webb

Screenplay by:
Allan Loeb

Starring:
Callum Turner
Kate Beckinsale
Pierce Brosnan
Cynthia Nixon
Jeff Bridges
Kiersey Clemons

88 min.

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

 

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