Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world

Here’s a story that’s never been told. Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world is a new exciting documentary about the influence of Native Americans and Canadians in pop music. The film gets his tittle from Rumble, an 1958 rock instrumental piece by Link Wray & his Ray men. Rumble is one of the only instrumentals to be banned from radios. The sound was so raw for the period, with distortions, feedback and pulsating guitar playing, that some radio stations in New York and Boston were afraid that it might incite violence. Robbie Robertson, from The band, was born and raised in Toronto on the Six Nations Reservation. Like other rock guitar players, he was greatly influenced by Link Wray. Throughout the film we hear of other musicians and singers from Native descent. Charley Patton, an early recording artist, plays the guitar by hitting on it like a drum. Historians points out that people from the Reserves were not allowed to have drums, a very important outlet of their creativity as well as an instrument of communication. So Patton, and others, learned to play guitar. Mildred Bailey, a blues/jazz singer from the 30s and 40s, has been influential for singers like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, who is interviewed for this film. African-American legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix is part Cherokee. And it was wonderful to see Canadian musician-songwriter-singer Buffy Sainte-Marie again. Her voice is as powerful and vibrant today as it has always been. The history lessons are important of course. But in Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world the music is taking the front row. It is time that we pay attention, listen and learn.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from September 15 – 18
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/rumble-the-indians-who-rocked-the-world

Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world

Directed by:
Catherine Bainbridge
Alfonso Maiorana

90 min.

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Mermaids

Ali Weinstein’s documentary explores the unusual, almost cult appeals of mermaids for the women featured in the film. Mermaids are a myth that has been with us for at least three-thousand years, and its popularity has been renewed with the Disney animation film The little mermaid. Whatever it is that the women in the film have found in the mermaids community is helping them grow as human beings. For some, they feel accepted no matter who they are. That’s the case with Julz, a trans-woman living with her girlfriend and a young daughter. She tells us some of her hardships, when as a boy she realise there was something different about her. We meet elderly retired mermaids from Florida’s Weeki Wachee resort. They have remained friends since the 1950s, where they worked at the resort (film archives is proof). They go back again and swim together. They are mer-sisters. Still today, there are bars where professional mermaids swim for the patrons. We get to know a daughter who has brought her mother to become a mermaid. She’s a mer-mom. Then there is Cookie and her supporting husband. Cookie is able to manage her mental illness much better since she started putting on the fins. During the course of the film, Cookie marries her long time companion. The mer-wedding (?) takes place in a pool, with many of the participants, women as well as men, dressed as mermaids. But not the groom. It’s a surreal image, but there are many of them in Mermaids. As one with many passions, I can understand and appreciate passionate people. Whatever gets you through the day is fine by me.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Mermaids

 

Directed by:
Ali Weinstein

Screenplay by:
Ali Weinstein

76 min.

Parental Guidance

The gardener (Le jardinier)

The last thing you want to see is another documentary about trees or flowers, or gardening, with people going gaga and hugging trees. Well, I did not want to see it. It’s not my thing. And then you see the images that Sébastien Chabot shot at Les jardins des Quatres-Vents in La Malbaie, Quebec. Jaw droppingly beautiful. The 20-acre garden is the work of Frank Cabot. Inherited in 1965, the property was given to Cabot’s grandmother as a wedding gift. And what a gift! Frank Cabot is an American whose ancestors arrived in Salem in 1700. Chabot interviewed Cabot before his death in 2011. British floral expert Penelope Hobhouse, writer Tim Richardson and former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson are among those who are also being interviewed. But the star is the marvellous Jardins des Quatres-Vents. One part of the garden has a Chinese bridge. In the Japanese section, Cabot built two Japanese houses. Some oddities include a sculpture of a frog orchestra and two rope bridges suspended over a ravine. In the attic of a beautiful tower-like pavilion there is a small love alcove with a small bed and a window overlooking the garden. Somewhere else a stone is coming out the grass, water is streaming out of the stone. Throughout there are arches and windows opening the views to the surrounding fields outside the estate where you can see cows or other animals. And, of course, flowers, lots of flowers. An orgy of color. The garden remained private until a visit was arranged as a fundraiser. It was so popular that it was decided to do more. It is now opened for guided visits only four days in the summertime. The visits are already booked for this summer. But after you see this film, I think you’ll want to visit Les jardins des Quatres-Vents. In December you will be able buy tickets for the 2018 visits. Here is the site http://cepas.qc.ca/jardins-de-quatre-vents

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The gardener (Le jardinier)

 

Directed by:
Sébastien Chabot

Screenplay by:
Sébastien Chabot

88 min.

Rated General.

In English and French with English subtitles

Maudie

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

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

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maudie

Directed by:
Aisling Walsh

Screenplay by:
Sherry White

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

115 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Call of the forest: The forgotten wisdom of trees

We’ve seen this type of documentaries before. It seems that Call of the forest: The forgotten wisdom of trees has taken the same approach than National geographic, PBS TV show Nova and David Suzuki’s The nature of things. As narrator, Gordon Pinsent puts an over the top dramatic emphasis on everything he reads, and when the animated title of the film appears, the words are made of tree branches with leaves growing on them and moving in the wind. The film central figure is Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a British-born Ottawa botanist, biochemist and writer. Like Call of the forest, Diana is a bit wholesome and corny but likable. I could go on making jokes about tree huggers, but, truth is, I agree with Diana. Here in Canada almost a billion trees are cut every year. Ms Beresford-Kroeger’s affirmation that the trees and forests are crucial to air and water quality. She travels around the world. We see a sacred forest in Japan where trees are revered and thought to have healing and cleansing powers. In Japan, big cities that are overpopulated don’t have enough green spaces for trees to grow, but some people still find a way and spaces for trees. In every countries Beresford-Kroeger speaks with others scholars and experts that also share her passion and love of trees. Along the way we have seen how beautiful those trees are and the devastating effects that men’s commercialisation has had on the trees and our forests. We must thank and support people like Diana Beresford-Kroeger and Canada’s First Nations for the work they have been doing. It’s now time to start planting trees!.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Call of the forest: The forgotten wisdom of trees

Directed by:
Jeffrey McKay

Screenplay by:
Jeffrey McKay

Narrated by Gordon Pinsent

82 min.

Maliglutit (Searchers)

In John Ford’s 1956 classic western The searchers, John Wayne plays a Civil war veteran trying to find his niece who was abducted by Comanche Indians. In Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Ungalaaq’s Maliglutit, the action has shifted from 1868 to 1913 in the Northern Canadian territory now known as Nunavut. It was filmed near the small community of Igloolik, with the cast of non-professional actors having to work in -48 °C, many of them suffering from frostbite as a result. The story starts in Kuanana’s igloo. Kuanana (Benjamin Kunuk) has invited Aulla (Jonah Qunaq) and his small band of thugs to his home. But Aulla is drunk and shamelessly flirts with Kuanana’s wife, Ailla (Jocelyne Immaroitok) and his daughter, Tagaq (Karen Ivalu). So he is asked to leave. The next day, while Kuanana and his oldest son are away from home, Aulla comes back to abduct the two women to use them for their sexual pleasures. Upon coming back, Kuanana finds that the rest of the family have been killed. He and his son go on a search to find the killers, avenge the dead and bring back the abducted women. Maliglutit is the latest of a series of films in Inuktitut produced by First Nation artists in Nunavut. The first film directed in 2001 by Zacharias Kunuk was Atanarjuat: The fast runner . Despite a slow beginning and an unsurprising outcome, Maliglutit is very exciting to watch. Zacharias Kunuk was a fan of John Wayne and this film is an homage of sorts to westerns. It is spectacularly shot by cinematographer Jonathan Frantz. An inspired score by Tanya Tagaq and Chris Crilly uses throat singing, electric guitars and an harmonica. The theme is definitely John Ford, but the music is more Ennio Morricone than Max Steiner.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Maliglutit (Searchers)

 

Directed by:
Zacharias Kunuk
Natar Ungalaaq

Screenplay by:
Norman Cohn
Zacharias Kunuk
Inspired by John Ford’s film The searchers

Starring:
Benjamin Kunuk
Karen Ivalu
Jonah Qunaq
Joey Sarpinek
Jocelyne Immaroitok
Joseph Uttak

95 min.

Rated 14A

In Inuktitut with English subtitles.

Weirdos

“I’m just sick of watching Canadian movies with Canadian actors in Canadian backdrops and then they exchange money and it’s American cash.”

Ottawa born actor, director, screenwriter and producer, Jay Baruchel, Mansbridge One on one, March 2017

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion on TV about Canadian cinema. Most of the people say that English Canadian films are boring and uninteresting. But to characterize all Canadian films that way, is a disservice to the artists who work so hard to make these films. Bruce McDonald has been making films in Canada for almost thirty years. His latest film, Weirdos, is a sweet coming of age tale. It begins when 15-year-old Kit (Dylan Authors) and his girlfriend Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) decide to run away from home in Antigonish, Nova Scotia , and hitchhike to Sydney, Nova Scotia. This takes place in 1976 during the American Bicentennial weekend. Kit and Alice are pretending to be spending the night at each other’s house. But it’s not long before Dave, Kit’s dad, finds out and is understandably worried. The teens are going to Sydney for an all night beach party. And, for some reasons, Kit wants to go live with his mom. They get lucky when they are picked up by a bunch of friends, who decide to drive with them to Sydney for the party. In the car, Alice witnesses Kit getting closer to Leo (Max Humphreys), the boy sitting beside him. Later at the beach, Alice’s suspicion is confirmed: Kit is gay. After the initial shock, Alice affirms her support for her best friend. Together they go to meet Kit’s mom. Laura, (played with delicately laced hysteria by Molly Parker) it is now clear to us, is suffering from some form of mental instability, and is not the right person to raise a child. Like in most of his previous films, Bruce McDonald has a great selection of Canadian songs everywhere throughout Weirdos. With the film’s innocent outlook and the luminous black-and-white photography (Becky Parsons was the cinematographer), all you need is a songs like Last song by Edward Bear, Carry me by The Stampeders or even Snowbird by Anne Murray to feel you are watching The Andy Griffith show. It does not take much. Kit walks down a country road and one of those songs is playing, and I hear Opie Taylor’s familiar whistling. What I liked about Weirdos is the innocence. The innocence of those black-and-white TV shows, of my teenage years during the 70s. The innocence that is part of Kit’s life and that I hope he’ll never lose. Thanks to Daniel McIvor for his sensitive screenplay and to McDonald for Weirdos and for his contribution to Canadian cinema. Go see Weirdos.

To see… I caught a great interview with Canadian filmmaker Jay Baruchel on (Peter) Mansbridge One on one. Baruchel is as articulate about Canadian culture and cinema as he is on our heritage and hockey. Here is another quote from that interview: “If we were in any other country in the world, it wouldn’t even be a discussion. If someone wanted to make a movie in England that took place in England, no one would ask them why.” Here is a link to that interview:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/mansbridge-one-on-one-jay-baruchel-1.4021480

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Weirdos

Directed by:
Bruce McDonald

Screenplay by:
Daniel McIvor

Starring:
Dylan Authors
Julia Sarah Stone
Molly Parker
Allan Hawco
Cathy Jones
Rhys Bevan-John
Max Humphreys

85 min.

Rated 14A

Bitter harvest

The farmers, all impeccably dressed in their (accurate?) Ukrainian folkloric costumes, are joyfully working in the sun drenched golden fields while golden-haired children are playing and laughing and layers upon layers of syrupy music can be heard. As children, Yuri and Natalka were already in love. They are seen joyfully swimming in the river, impeccably dressed in their Ukrainian folkloric costumes, while more sappy music is playing. As an adult, Yuri (Max Irons) has developed an artistic taste and would like to go study art in Kiev. His father Yaroslav (Barry Pepper), and his grandfather Ivan (Terence Stamp) are both Cossack warriors. Before leaving for Kiev, Yuri marries Natalka (Samantha Barks). We are in the Soviet Ukraine in 1933 and Joseph Stalin‘s genocidal famine was killing people in most of the Soviet countries. In Ukraine, it is now called the Holodomor. It was particularly deadly, killing from 2 to 7 million Ukrainians and went virtually unmentioned for 50 years. Yuri is trying to survive in Kiev. He gets imprisoned, escapes, walks miles and miles through the forest in the cold of winter. At home, Natalka and his family have to deal with Sergei (Tamer Hassan), the local Russian villain. At the beginning, Bitter harvest almost seemed like a parody of a bad film. Well, you know what they say, “If it smells like duck…”. And although Bitter harvest gets a bit better, it never regains the credibility it lost in the first few minutes. A cliché never comes alone, and for sure the other ones were never far behind. This important topic is lost among too much bad action films antics and Cossacks-on-horse acrobatics. On top of everything, instead of filming in Ukrainian, Bitter harvest was filmed in English, with an entire cast of British accented actors and actresses. And not the best ones, I can assure you. Dreadful! I understand how important it was for the director and the screenwriter to tell this story, as they have family members that have died and suffered during the Holodomor. I just think that the victims of the Holodomor deserved a much better film.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Bitter harvest

Directed by:
George Mendeluk

Screenplay by:
Richard Bachynsky Hoover

Starring:
Max Irons
Samantha Barks
Barry Pepper
Tamer Hassan
Terence Stamp

103 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

All governments lie: Truth, deception, and the spirit of I.F. Stone

“I believe very deeply in freedom of the press and you can’t fulfill your function unless you’re free.”

I.F. Stone

 

The first clip we see is the now famous (or is it infamous?) Richard Nixon (or should it be Tricky Dicky?) “I am not a crook!”. It is followed by US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s weapons of mass destruction lie that sent the US to war with Iraq. But All governments lie: Truth, deception, and the spirit of I.F. Stone is mostly concerned about the state of American journalism as influenced by I.F. Stone. In 1950, Stone was blacklisted and unable to find work. He decided to publish his own independent newsletter. In I. F. Stone’s Weekly he publicly challenged McCarthyism and racial discrimination, he was not afraid to question many politicians and was an early critic of the Vietnam war. There are today independent journalists who, like I.F. Stone was, are working outside of the mainstream media (think FOX, CNN, MSNBC and all network news ) who, the film argues, are afraid to ask the hard questions. People like controversial essayist Matt Taibbi, Democracy now! host Amy Goodman and Cenk Uygur from The young Turks are interviewed and the cameras are allowed to follow them as they are working. To speak about I.F. Stone’s influence, director Fred Peabody has even talked to Ralph Nader, Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky. The film is interesting enough, but one wonders if a true biographical documentary on Stone and his writings would not be better. It is also a shame, or bad timing, that All governments lie arrives at the exact moment that a war against the medias is taking hold in the US. Although we see some of Trump’s fabrications during the campaign, what is happening right now will have to wait to be the subject of another film. As it stands, All governments lie is still compelling.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

All governments lie: Truth, deception, and the spirit of I.F. Stone

Directed by:
Fred Peabody

Based on “All governments lie”: The life and times of rebel journalist I. F. Stone by Myra MacPherson

92 min.

Rated Parental Guidance