The trip to Spain

Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are back with another of their Trip film series. The last film was The trip to Italy (2014), and it was very popular among the lovers of British films. And they should enjoy that one even more. The two comedians are in fine form and some of the dialogue is truly hilarious. Coogan and Brydon are basically playing themselves driving through Spain doing a restaurant tour for an upcoming article in a travel magazine. The story is thin and only serves to make the characters of Steve and Rob have something to come back to when they go back home. Rob is married with two young kids, and Steve has a much younger girlfriend and an adult son who will later join Steve and Rob in Spain. What’s important here is the back–and–forth conversations they have, they throw the ball at each other with perfect comic timing. It seems so effortless, you can’t even figure out if it is scripted or improvised. It’s mostly all done during a meal and in front of the gorgeous dishes set on their table. The jokes may be about the food itself:

Rob: When she said he makes chorizo like his grandmother, is that what she looked like?

Steve: No, Rob. It means the way his grandmother used to make it.

Rob: Fine, well, I think she should be more clear, because I’m picturing a grizzled old woman with the external appearance of chorizo.

Another funny highlight is the photo shoot. The posing in front of windmills dressed as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. And they often sing The impossible dream from Man of La Mancha. Director Michael Winterbottom knows that The trip to Spain is not about the food or the scenery, but about the two comedians. The landscape is beautifully photographed by James Clarke. But the dramatic drive of the film is the competitiveness between those two. Steve Coogan is constantly reminding his traveling companion that he received two Oscar nominations for Philomena, the film in which he co-stared with Dame Judi Dench, don’t you forget it. He’s planning to write a sequel (he calls it “a sister film”), but arranging the deal gets complicated when he suddenly gets a new agent and the studio wants to bring in a new writer to rewrite his screenplay. And then there are the improvisations. It starts with David Bowie. Brydon tries to impersonate Bowie, but Coogan tells him it is not how it’s done. They try to outdo each other. Anthony Hopkins and Roger Moore are some of the others. It takes up a big chunk of the film, and after a while it becomes repetitive and annoying. If you liked the first two films, then you probably will like The trip to Spain.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The trip to Spain

 

Directed by:
Michael Winterbottom

Screenplay by:
Michael Winterbottom

Starring:
Steve Coogan
Rob Brydon

108 min.

Rated 14A

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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.

Their finest

It probably was not easy to make films in London during the Second World War. London was bombed by the German Air Force. At any moment, your neighbourhood, your house and your life could be destroyed. Looking death in the face was a daily occurrence. But all through this, the people at the British Ministry of Information’s film division tried to make propaganda films. Adapted from a Lissa Evans novel, Their finest is a light film that mustn’t be taken too seriously. The central figure is Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) a young woman applying to the Ministry for a job as a typist. But because she previously worked as a copywriter, she’s given the job of writing ‘slop’, dialogue between women in propaganda short films. Catrin is married to Ellis (Jack Huston), a struggling painter hoping that soon he’ll strike it rich. In the meantime, it’s up to Catrin to put food on the table. But she finds that writing ‘slop’ is boring and is snobbishly regarded by her writing partner Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin), a handsome but sexist young man. But Catrin is not going to let Buckley belittle her. At the Ministry’s request she travels to the coast to investigate a story about twin sisters who helped soldiers during the evacuation of Dunkirk. But the sisters’ heroism has been overblown by the newspaper. Still, she finds the idea of having two female heroic leads interesting. She makes a pitch to her supervisor, Roger Swain (Richard E. Grant), and it is decided to make it into a feature-length film. To play the twins’ Uncle Frank they hire veteran actor Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy). Ambrose was once a matinée idol. But that was when he played a dashing detective in a popular series of films. Now, Ambrose resents playing a supporting character, and, worse of all, an old Uncle! But he needs the money. There are a few British character actor that almost never give a bad performance no matter in what film they play. One of those actors is Bill Nighy. In Their finest he effortlessly makes it impossible not to fall in love with Ambrose Hilliard. The writing gets sidetracked a bit when the Secretary of War (a pompous cameo by Jeremy Irons) insist that the film needs an American star (Jake Lacy) to make it more profitable abroad. At home, Catrin is falling out of love with her husband, while she and Buckley are getting closer. Even if the topic and the historical setting is original and might have been interesting, I am not convinced that the treatment is satisfactory. Their finest relies too much on old American film clichés. It’s been done so many times. And so much better. But still, what moved me at the end is the screening of their film. How good filmmaking with a good script can make any audience laugh and cry. I think that the film Catrin and Buckley made in Their finest is better than Their finest itself. Too bad!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Their finest

Directed by:
Lone Scherfig

Screenplay by:
Gaby Chiappe
Based on the novel Their finest hour and a half by Lissa Evans

Starring:
Gemma Arterton
Sam Claflin
Bill Nighy
Jack Huston
Paul Ritter
Richard E. Grant
Rachael Stirling

117 min.

Rated 14A

The salesman (Forushande)

Asghar FarhadI’s The salesman is a modern-day tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions. The main characters are not Kings and Queens, like in a Shakespeare drama, but ordinary Iranians. To make matters clear, FarhadI has husband and wife Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidootsi) acting in a local production of Arthur Miller’s modern tragedy Death of a salesman. In fact, their life has started to take a downward spiral. They had to flee their apartment building in the middle of the night because it was literally crumbling (the windows were starting to crack). They rent an apartment from a friend who hides the fact that the previous tenant was a prostitute. One day, while in the shower, Rana is attacked by a client of the prostitute. Emad feels totally helpless and angry when he sees his wife so traumatized by the violent attack, and he is consumed with finding the man who did such a terrible assault on her. Just as he did with his two previous films, A separation and Le passé, FarhadI proves to be a masterful storyteller. The screenplay is constantly shifting to different points of view to allow for the maximum dramatic impact and tensions. Likewise, Rana who is understandably emotionally distraught after her ordeal, becomes, by the film’s conclusion, the stronger of the two characters and the moral compass of the film. Both Hosseini and Alidootsi are subtle and minimalist in their approach to acting. There is not an ounce of over acting between them. If FarhadI is a tad less focused here than in his two previous films, he makes up for it with a strong sense of drama and tragedy.

And the Oscar went to… The salesman is Iran’s entry as Foreign language film. It won. But Asghar FarhadI decided to boycott the ceremony when Donald Trump issued a Muslim travel ban involving seven Muslim countries, including Iran. To accept the award FarhadI sent two prominent Iranian-Americans: One of the few female astronaut Anousheh Ansari, and former NASA executive Firouz Naderi. Ansari read a statement from FarhadI. “My absence is out of respect for the people of my country and those of the other six nations who have been disrespected by the inhumane law that bans entry of immigrants to the US.” It was the political statement with the strongest impact.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The salesman (Forushande)

Directed by:
Asghar FarhadI

Screenplay by:
Asghar FarhadI

Starring:
Taraneh Alidoosti
Shahab Hosseini
Babak Karimi
Farid Sajjadi Hosseini
Mina Sadati

125 min.

In Persian with English subtitles.

Chocolat

Chocolat is the biographical story of one of the earliest successful black entertainers in modern France. The clown Chocolat (real name Rafael Padilla) was very successful at the end of the 19th century. In the film we see Rafael/Chocolat (popular French actor Omar Sy) performing as a stereotypical cannibal named Kananga, complete with tiger skins and bones and teeth necklace, as a freak show in a second-rate circus in 1897. Then white clown George Foottit (circus performer James Thierrée, the grandson of silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and the great-grandson of American playwright Eugene O‘Neill) sees Kananga and has a brilliant flash. He wants to pair the taciturn, authoritative white clown and the gentler and comic Auguste clown. They become a hit and move to Paris to the more renown Nouveau cirque. There are obvious racist elements in their acts. It shows Chocolat being kicked or slapped and acting like a stupid fool. Several times Chocolat tries in vain to fight that stereotype as best he can. Chocolat spends his money gambling, drinking and womanizing. We get flashbacks to his childhood as a slave in Cuba and when he escapes to come to France. Because he does not have any papers he gets arrested, even if he is a famous entertainer, and sent to prison where he is tortured. Finally released, he returns to the circus. He meets Marie, a nurse, and they falls in love. As for Foottit, the film does not tell us much about his private life, but at some point the goes into a gay bar (My research shows that he was married with four kids. Nothing about a double life as a gay man). Most of the time he seems unhappy about something. Despite great performances by the two main actors and production values of the highest qualities, Chocolat suffers from the fictionalization of events. Why? Because reality would be boring, and the filmmakers are aiming for a bigger dramatic punch. Better to have a falsity you can control, than a reality that would be too controlling. So, very few details from Chocolat and Foottit’s lives remain. But it is still a good juicy part for Omar Sy, who impressively matches Thierrée’s choreography. They have obviously carefully studied Chocolat and Foottit’s classic routines. Good job.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Chocolat

Directed by:
Roschdy Zem

Screenplay by:
Roschdy Zem
Cyril Gely
Olivier Gorce
Gérard Noiriel
Based on Chocolat, clown nègre. L’histoire oubliée
du premier artiste noir de
la scène française by Gérard Noiriel

Starring:
Omar Sy
James Thierée
Clotide Hesme
Olivier Gourmet
Frédéric Pierrot
Noémie Lvovsky
Alice de Lencquesaing

119 min.

Rated 14A

In French with English subtitles.

The carer

Let’s see if that sounds familiar to you. A cantankerous elderly man refuses to accept the personal care providers that his family have hired. Until the right person comes along and touches his heart (insert two or more fingers down the throat to induce vomiting). I’ve seen that type of stories, in plays or films, so many times that it is not funny anymore. There are variations. In some case it is an elderly woman, the hired help can be a chauffeur, a nurse, a security guard, and so forth. In The carer it is Sir Michael Gifford (Brian Cox), a retired Shakespearean actor with Parkinson’s disease. His daughter, Sophia (Emilia Fox) and his lover, Milly (Anna Chancellor) are desperate, until they get young Hungarian Dorottya (Coco König). If she’s in awe of Sir Michael, it’s because she wants to become an actress and is planning an audition for entry at a drama school. When Sir Michael gets the news that he will receive a lifetime achievement award, Sophia refuses to let him attend and fires Dorottya. The biggest problem with The carer, beside the clichéd screenplay, is König’s lame Dorottya. The character is a bore. She is so unexceptional, we wonder what he sees in her. They recite Shakespeare together. Oh wow! And it happens too quickly and easily. Whatever the filmmakers saw in König, has not transposed itself on the screen very well. But in a rare leading part, Brian Cox gets to work those Shakespearean muscles and do scatological jokes about incontinence within the same film, sometimes in the same scene. The director inserts old film and TV Brian Cox archives as if they were Sir Michael ’s. His acceptance speech is a grand affair, he huffs and puffs (How‘s that for clichés?) and goes off stage almost howling at the moon. And Cox hams every bit of it, as if he’ll never get another leading part again. And, judging by the film, he might not. The carer is beneath his talent.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The carer

Directed by:
János Edelényi

Screenplay by:
Gilbert Adair
János Edelényi
Tom Kinninmont

Starring:
Brian Cox
Coco König
Emilia Fox
Anna Chancellor

89 min.

Rated 14A

The lovers and the despot

The incredible tale of South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee and her husband, film director Shin Sang-ok, being kidnapped by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il. As weird as it sounds it did happen. In 1978, Kim felt that North Korean films did not have the prestige of South Korean films, and were not exportable. That was probably because all North Korean culture product were replete with propagandist elements. The tagline for The lovers and the despot is “They were kidnapped by their biggest fan”. Kim Jong-il had a great appreciation for the work of both the director and the actress. First he kidnapped Choi, then her husband. He incarcerated Shin in solitary confinement four long years, until Shin agreed to make films for North Korea. Once reunited, Shin and Choi planned to escape while traveling to film festivals. They were so convinced that once free their stories would be challenged, that Choi carried a tape recorder in her handbag and recorded every meeting she had with Kim. Shin Sang-ok died in 2006, but Choi, now 89, is interviewed in the film. Their son and daughter are also in the film talking about their parents sudden disappearance. We also get to ear those eerie tapes. We don’t need technical wizardry here because the story is so interesting. The lovers and the despot seems to have something for almost everyone: love, human interest and international intrigue.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The lovers and the despot

Directed by:
Ross Adam
Robert Cannan

Screenplay by:
Ross Adam
Robert Cannan

98 min.

In Korean, English, and Japanese with English subtitles.

Born to be blue

Although Born to be blue is a biopic about jazz legendary trumpeter, flugelhornist and singer Chet Baker, it is not a factual account of his life. We are at the end of the 60’s and Baker (Ethan Hawke) is in love with an actress named Jane (Carmen Ejogo). Jane is a fictional composite of several women in Baker’s life. A heroin addict, Baker is beaten by drug dealers. His jaw and teeth are so damaged that doctors predict that he will never play again. But, through excruciating pain, Baker is back playing in a few months. Meanwhile, he has to answer to a strict probation officer (Tony Nappo) and go though a methadone treatment. With Jane by his side, Baker asks his old producer, Dick (Callum Keith Rennie), who had given up on him, to take him back again. Everything seems to be going well for Baker. But you know the saying: Once an addict… Ethan Hawke shows a tremendous virtuosity by always playing with nuances. Hawke’s intense gaze while he breathlessly whispers every lines, showing the life, the danger boiling inside a genius like Chet Baker. Ethan Hawke is a master of subtlety. Restraint is also evident everywhere in this Canadian film (shot in Sudbury, Ontario). Carmen Ejogo is an apt partner to Hawke. Ejogo is the heart of the film, the emotions, Hawke is the raw instinct. Cinematographer Steve Cosens also gave me the subtleties I saw elsewhere. An odd choice was made not to use Baker’s original recordings. Vocals are provided by Hawke, who powerfully sings My funny Valentine. Kevin Turcotte plays the trumpet. purist might dislike it, but I enjoyed the music a great deal. A feast for the ears, the eyes and the heart.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Born to be blue

Directed by:
Robert Budreau

Screenplay by:
Robert Budreau

Starring:
Ethan Hawke
Carmen Ejogo
Callum Keith Rennie
Stephen McHattie

97 min.

Rated 14A

Meet the Patels

When Indian American actor Ravi Patel goes to India with his father Vasant, and his mother Champa, one word keeps coming back again and again. And that word is “married”, as in “Why aren’t you married yet?”, or “You’re 29? You know, you should get married.” Every distant family member Ravi meets say the same things: “Get married!” We know this because his sister and co-director Geeta filmed the whole thing. Ravi’s parents want a traditional Indian wedding. First you find a nice Indian girl from a nice Indian family. And, a small minor detail, the girl should also be a Patel, just as long as she is not from the same branch of Patels. There are lots of Patel families in India, so it should easy for a nice Patel boy like Ravi to find a nice Patel girl. But Ravi was born in America and he wants to marry a modern, American Patel girl. His parents agree with him, so they organize a system called “bio-dating”. Ravi’s resume is sent to other Patel families in America. And then, Ravi receives resumes from interested Patel girls, and he then has to choose which ones he will date. What Ravi did not tell mom and dad is that before filming started, he broke up with his non-Indian, red-haired girlfriend. Actually, he still thinks about Audrey a lot, and they are still in touch. Meet the Patels is filmed casually, without any pretensions. And it is fun. But mom and dad are the best part of the film. After more than 30 years of marriage, Champa and Vasant are still the best of friends, having fun together. And they are still in love. And that’s what it’s all about: Love.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Meet the Patels

Directed by:
Geeta Patel
Ravi Patel

Screenplay by:
Matthew Hamachek
Billy McMillin
Geeta Patel
Ravi Patel

88 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

 

Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles

‘Boy wonder’ Orson Welles was only 24 when he made CitizenKane. For several reason, it was not a success, but over the years the film developed the reputation as the best film aver made. Chuck Workman’s Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles is an amusing glance at the great filmmaker’s life. But you cannot really do a serious analysis of the man and his films in only 91 minutes. There is a brief look at his childhood. Then his early success in theatre, including Macbeth performed by black actors (known as Voodoo Macbeth), The cradle will rock, very important productions in the history of American theatre. And then came the most famous radio broadcast of all time. In 1938, The war of the world adapted from H. G. Wells, scared Americans who believed the fictional news reports of a Martian invasion. A contract with RKO pictures gave Welles a two movie deal with complete control over the finished films. CitizenKane was the first of those films. But Welles never had the final edit on any of his other Hollywood films. No matter how great they are, The magnificent Amberson, The lady from Shanghai and Touch of evil were pulled from his control and edited by the studios. He is sometimes at fault for that: The films often lagged behind schedule and over budget or he was busy working on radio broadcasts or plays. His other films were made in Europe. To finance them Welles did theatre, acted in mostly mediocre films and made several guest appearances in variety TV series (such as The Dean Martin celebrity roast). A look at his filmography reveals the sad truths: There are more unfinished and aborted films, than completed films. Beside CitizenKane, there are beautiful masterpieces, and as an actor, Welles has a thunderous presence (Touch of evil and Chimes at midnight are good examples of that). His last great film was Chimes at midnight in 1965. Workman interviews childhood friends, supporters (like film scholar and director Peter Bogdanovich), his last companion Oja Kodar, and on archives, Charlton Heston and Anthony Perkins. Although this is not the most insightful film about Welles, it is still worth a look.

Good read… Pauline Kael (1919 – 2001) was considered one of the best American film reviewer. In her long essay, Raising Kane, Kael writes that Welles did not co-authored CitizenKane. She also writes about the people CitizenKane was based on: newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst (1863 – 1951) and his mistress, actress Marion Davies (1897 – 1961). Although Kael’s theories and research have been rebutted, there are still some questions worth asking. Raising Kane can be read here:

http:/ www.paulrossen.com/paulinekael/raisingkane.html

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Magician: The astonishing life and work of Orson Welles

Directed by:

Chuck Workman

91 min.

Rated Parental Guidance