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

 

Rumble: The Indians who rocked the world

 

Directed by:
Catherine Bainbridge
Alfonso Maiorana

90 min.

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Django

I knew of Django Reinhardt as the inventor of ‘Jazz manouche’ (aka ‘Gypsy jazz’). But, in reality I knew next to nothing about the man. Django centers on Reinhardt’s experiences during World War II in occupied France. It is estimated that the Nazis killed half of Europe’s Gypsy population. Being a Romani, Reinhardt could be in great danger. But he was a popular musician. The Nazis wanted him to play for them. His agent Charles Delauney (Patrick Mille) already agreed that Reinhardt and his musicians, the Quintette du Hot club de France, will tour Germany. But Django Reinhardt (a solid Reda Kateb) does not want to go. Why? Well, the Nazis did not like Jazz, they tolerated it for a while. But if they toured Germany, the group would have to follow ridiculous rules. Like no tapping of the feet while they played, not to play swing and solos could not be longer than 5 seconds. If Reinhardt refused he and his family would certainly be sent to the camps. Upon the advice of Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France), a friend and lover, he escapes with his pregnant wife (Beata Palya) and his feisty mother (Bimbam Merstein, much fun to watch) to a house in the country, in the hopes that they can cross into Switzerland. This is based on a novel rather than being a factual biopic. Some of the story may have been invented, but the film never claimed to be a documentary. Django is quite suspenseful and tense. Director Comar knows how to sustain the dreadful menace that was probably part Django’s life. I did not know that one of Reinhardt’s hands had been injured in a fire and that he could only play with two fingers from that hand. The hands are provided by Jazz guitarist Christophe Lartilleux. The film is good, but the real draw is the music. This beautiful Jazz manouche is played by the Rosenberg trio. And there’s the troubling Mass for the Gypsies at the end of the film. Unfortunately, that piece composed by Django Reinhardt has been lost. Only a few pages have survived. It’s a shame.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Django

 

Directed by:
Étienne Comar

Screenplay by:
Étienne Comar
Alexis Salatko
Based on Salatko’s novel Folles de Django

Starring:
Reda Kateb
Cécile de France
Beata Palya
Johnny Montreuil
Bimbam Merstein
Patrick Mille

117 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In French, German, and Romany with English subtitles.

Strangers on the earth

Ever since The way directed by Emilio Esteves, the number of Americans pilgrims travelling to Spain and walk the road to the Cathedral to Santiago de Compostela has grown dramatically. In other words: It has become trendy. Films and documentaries on that subject have also been quite popular among certain crowds. Beside The way, there is a Quebec film, Les doigts croches by Ken Scott, Walking the Camino, a first film by Tristan Cook made in 2013. And now Cook in back with Strangers on the earth. The central figure is cellist Dane Johansen, who travels with his cello on his back. His plan is to record Bach’s Cello suites in 36 churches on the Camino. But Johansen was not planning to give concerts to other pilgrims. Johansen is interviewed about having to perform in cold churches after spending all day walking in the cold rain. He’s not the only one being asked to comment. Thankfully Strangers on the earth is not a talking head documentary. We never see the interviewees, they are heard in voice over as we see them walking down the road and interacting with each other, their commentaries serving to narrate the images we see. A series of photos are used to tell the story of a man meeting and falling in love with a woman on the road to the Cathedral. Soon though, the man tells us, the relationship goes sour. Another man angrily decries the false pilgrims who take a bus or a taxi to do part of the pilgrimage. One man (or maybe it‘s the same?) has a long tirade where he pompously theorizes about the meaning and importance of it all. If I would choose a film about Santiago de Compostela, it would be Strangers on the earth. Cinematographer Iskra Valtcheva’s images too are beautiful to ignore. Beside her contribution, there was little that could stir me. This is topic that I find tiresome and has a limited appeal.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Strangers on the earth

 

Directed by:
Tristan Cook

96 min.

Rated General.

In English, Spanish and German with English subtitles.

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

Frantz

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l’automne
Blessent mon coeur
D’une langueur
Monotone.

Tout suffocant
Et blême, quand
Sonne l’heure,
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure

Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Qui m’emporte
Deçà, delà,
Pareil à la
Feuille morte.

Paul Verlaine, Chanson d’automne, 1866

François Ozon’s Frantz is a rare film that touch you more by what is unsaid than by the what is onscreen. In 1919, Anna (beautiful and talented Paula Beer), a young German woman, visits the grave of her dead fiancé. Frantz was killed during the war, and Anna still lives with his parents. Doktor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber) are very fond of Anna and would like her to find another suitor. But she misses him too much, and, like the Hoffmeisters, is still in mourning. One day Anna learns that a strange young man has been visiting the grave and leaving flowers. When she meets him she finds out that he’s French and that he wants to meet Frantz‘s parents. But that’s easier said than done. After a bloody war, there are a lot of anti-French sentiments in Germany. Not surprisingly Hans and Madga are reluctant to talk to him. But they do. His name is Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) and, he claims, he met Frantz in Paris before the war where they were both studying. He is overcome by emotions and starts to cry when he tells Anna and the Hoffmeisters how close he and Frantz were. In a flashback we see Frantz and Adrien visiting the Louvre. For that sequence, Ozon shifts from black & white to color. It is an idealized version of what happened. As if Adrien had romanticized the memories. Those “memories” of Frantz are painted with small touches of homoeroticism. Whatever reluctance the Hoffmeisters had is put aside as Adrien wins their affections. A scene where Adrien plays music on Frantz’s violin, also goes from black & white to color. Now it is Frantz’s parents who are trying to live through an idealized and colorized world, a world where everything is right again. Every characters in Frantz is living a lie, or rather a in make-believe world, the construct of their own fears and desires. This is at a their time when romantic ideas and ideals were the norms. They covered the truths to feel better, often without realizing it. Or they did, as Anna does, to avoid causing pain to their loved ones. And Adrien? You have to read between the lines to decipher Adrien’s truths. Every one will have their own interpretation. Pierre Niney is having fun playing a romantic, delicate young man who may also be a liar. Or is he telling the truth? We can never tell. That’s what I love about Frantz. It is a complex quagmire of unconscious desires. Frantz is a masterpiece.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Frantz

Directed by:
François Ozon

Screenplay by:
François Ozon
Philippe Piazzo
Based on Maurice Rostand’s play L’homme que j’ai tué and the Ernst Lubitsch film Broken lullaby

Starring:
Paula Beer
Pierre Niney
Ernst Stötzner
Marie Gruber
Anton von Lucke

113 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

In German and French with English subtitles.

Toni Erdmann

Initially, Toni Erdmann did not seem to be a film that would appeal to me. But as the film and its characters progressed, I came to like it and occasionally found it very funny. Peter Simonischek stars as Winfried Conradi. Winfried is an elderly music teacher who likes to play pranks on his friends and family. He especially likes to wear makeup and pretend to be someone else. Or the simple act of wearing false teeth is enough for him. He always carries them in his shirt pockets. But when Winfried’s daughter visits him, it is clear that they don’t exactly connect very well. Ines (Sandra Hüller) is a serious outsourcing consultant. Winfried is wearing zombie makeup and, of course, Ines is looking at him as if he was an alien. After she goes back to work, Winfried surprises her in the lobby of the building where she works. He is wearing those false teeth and sunglasses. After the initial shock, Ines invites her dad at a reception and they spend a few days together. But it does not go well. She spends her time on the phone or working, and all he thinks about is making jokes at the most inopportune moment. He soon leaves. But it is clear they love each other. So Winfried is going to call on his favourite persona, Toni Erdmann, to teach Ines how to let loose, let go and relax a bit. I won’t tell you more, except that it is extremely funny, surprising and unconventional. The force of the film is the screenplay and the two main actors. From the start Peter Simonischek creates a character that has the likeness of a sad clown, unafraid to dare the audience, as he does with Ines, to look inward. Hüller’s Ines is an awkward , unhappy woman who wears her heart on her sleeves. In the third act, Hüller surprises us by taking over the film. And the Maren Ade screenplay has a feeling of a comedy of errors of Shakespearean proportion without being too pretentious. At 2 hours and 42 minutes it is a bit long. But we need that build-up. Impressive.

And the Oscar went to… Toni Erdmann lost Best foreign language film to The salesman from Iran.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Toni Erdmann

Directed by:
Maren Ade

Screenplay by:
Maren Ade

Starring:
Sandra Hüller
Peter Simonischek
Michael Wittenborn
Thomas Loibl
Trystan Pütter
Hadewych Minis

162 min.

Rated 14A

In German, English and Romanian with English subtitles.

The idol (Ya tayr el tayer)

With The idol, Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad (Oscar nominated Paradise now and Omar) finds a lighter subject than his usual film projects. A fictionalized biopic of Gazan Arab idol winner Muhammad Assaf, The idol has plenty of youthful energy. It start with 10-year-old Muhammad (Qais Atallah) and his band playing at weddings to make a little money. The members of the band are: Muhammad who sings, his 12-year-old sister, Nour (Hiba Atallah) plays the guitar and two other boys. Atallah gives the assured performance of the first half of the film. Nour is a tomboy who is not afraid to push whom ever is in her way, boy or men, and ploughs through, even though girls, she’s told, are not supposed to play guitar at weddings or ride a bike. Nour does ride a bike with her brother and her friends, and they don’t seem to mind. As for playing at weddings, well, that’s another story. She has to play hiding behind a poster. The moment is so perfectly rendered by Atallah, that she manages to make it both sad and comical in the absurdity of the situation. It’s not long though before tragedy hits Muhammad and his family. In the second half, Muhammad is older and played by Tawfeek Barhom (the star of the film). It’s 2012 and Muhammad is driving taxis to help in the family finances. He still wants to make it as a singer, but his effort seems hopeless. Muhammad is auditioning for Palestinian idol, but because of travel restrictions, he has to perform over Skype. That is they could if they had electricity. They get a generator, but other problems keep popping up and piling up. This is a scene of great comic efficiency. But around Muhammad and his family and friends there’s ruins everywhere. And probably the possible threat of another attack at any time. Muhammad has to go to Cairo where the auditions for Arab idol are being held. Everyone he knows believes in him and encourages him to go. But getting there is easier said than done and quite an adventure. Hany Abu-Assad and co-screenwriter Sameh Zoabi have made a popular film, mixing comedy and drama, showing the difficulty of life in Gaza and the sociopolitical and cultural impact of Muhammad Assaf. Now at 27, Assaf has been named a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN. We are told that he can now travel freely across the world. Except in Gaza.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

The idol (Ya tayr el tayer)

Directed by:

Hany Abu-Assad

Screenplay by:

Hany Abu-Assad

Sameh Zoabi

 

Starring:

Tawfeek Barhom

Qais Attalah

Hiba Attalah

Ahmad Qasem

Abdel Kareem Barakeh

 

99 min.

 

Rated Parental Guidance.

 

In Arabic with English subtitles.

 

Florence Foster Jenkins

Those who thought that Meryl Streep’s bag of tricks was empty, will have to reconsider. Florence Foster Jenkins is about to challenge her staunchest critics. Florence Foster Jenkins was a New York socialite who liked to sing opera. Despite her total lack of talents, she performed at private recitals, recorded 78rpms and ended her career with a concert at Carnegie Hall. Nicholas Martin’s screenplay is very faithful to the real events n her life, although it is doubtful that Florence was as clueless about her singing as she is in the film. It is well-known that her life partner, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), took all the necessary steps to avoid the inconvenient bad reviews when Florence performed at private recitals, and if reviews appeared he made sure they were written by friends. Once Florence announces to St. Clair that she wants to do a recital, they have to find an accompanist. Cosmé McMoon (The big bang theory‘s Simon Helberg) is at first ecstatic about getting the job. And comes the first reheasal. This the first time Cosmé hears Florence’s voice. He is in shock. And so are we. Streep’s face expressions are fascinating to watch. As Florence’s vocal coach (a petulant David Haig) is instructing her on the art of singing and falsely telling her she is good, her face twitches terribly. The scene is an instant classic. Cosmé, who thought that the gig would do wonders for his career, is now thinking of quitting, but is convinced by St. Clair to stay as Florence’s accompanist. We learn about Florence’s difficult life and that she is still suffering from the syphilis she got from her first husband on their wedding night when she was eighteen. She is now in her seventies. As a result of the disease, St. Clair Bayfield took a mistress. There is so much to like in Florence Foster Jenkins. The screenplay goes from campy comedy (if you like camp, this is the film to see) to the most effective tearjerker. Half way through of the film, I was surprised to find myself right in the middle of a classic comedy routine. The most touching moment happens at Cosmé’s apartment where Florence washes the dishes and she Cosmé play the piano. I think this is the best acting we’ve seen from both Streep and Grant. Grant shows the kind of range here we’ve rarely seen. St. Clair Bayfield’s character is like a master of ceremony. A little comedy bit here, a magic trick, oh! there you go, the bad man from the newspaper has disappeared, smile at the audience, a dance number here and a then dramatic scene, and another comedy routine and don’t forget to wink at your audience. Hugh Grant makes it look easy, no sweat. Some credit should go to costume designer Consolata Boyle and makeup artist J. Roy Helland (Streep’s personal makeup artist and an Oscar winner for her Margaret Thatcher makeup on The iron lady) for the creation of a unforgetable character. In every aspect Florence Foster Jenkins is the most accomplished film this year.

And the Oscar went to… Streep’s 20th nomination. A record. But she lost to Emma Stone in La la land. Costume designer Consolata Boyle lost to the great Colleen Atwood for Fantastic beasts and where to find them.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Florence Foster Jenkins

Directed by:
Stephen Frears

Screenplay by:
Nicholas Martin

Starring:
Meryl Streep
Hugh Grant
Simon Helberg
Rebecca Ferguson

110 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

I am the blues

Soon we won’t be able the music heard in the new documentary I am the blues. The blues musicians featured in the film are all seniors, and what they know about the blues is so valuable to the younger generations of music makers. I know next to nothing about blues, but that does not mean that I can’t recognize talent when I see it. The blues musicians in I am the blues are legends. All of them. Director Daniel Cross travels to places like the Louisiana Bayou, the Mississippi Delta or the Mississippi North Hill Country. He films them playing guitar or harmonica in their kitchen, front lawn, front porch. Musicians like Lazy Lester, RL Boyce, Henry Gray, and blues singer Carol Fran are happy to show us what they know. With her steel guitar Barbara Lynn is so funky, she probably invented the word. The central figures is Bobby Rush who seems to be traveling with the film crew. It is hard not to notice that those black entertainers are living in very poor conditions. We should not be so surprised, this is the South of the good old USA. But you hear no complaint from the musicians, as long as they have the music. One of the reasons to see I am the blues is the wonderful finger snapping music. You can’t get more real than that. I am the blues is aptly titled. The music legends featured in the film can proudly make that claim with their heads held way up high.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

I am the blues

Directed by:

Daniel Cross

Screenplay by:

Daniel Cross

106 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Sing street

Fun at the movies? Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet, it may happen. Let’s say we go back in time. It is 1985 in Dublin, Ireland. Young 14-year-old Conor “Cosmo” (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) is sent from private school to a public school because his parents have fallen on hard times. So it’ll be the Christian brothers. Brother Baxter (Don Wycherley), the tyrannical headmaster gives Cosmo a hard time for not wearing the regulatory black shoes. Next, Cosmo meets the school bully, Barry (Ian Kenny), who slaps him around a few times. But that bully is not your usual movie bully. Not the usual cliché anyway. At home, Cosmo’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), shows him the new musical sensation: music videos. Groups like Duran Duran, The cure, The clash… Cosmo, who plays guitar, decide to form a band, especially to impress a girl he met. Raphinia (Lucy Boynton) looks older than him, and probably is. Cosmo asks Raphinia if she would model in the videos they’re planning for the band. Cosmo enrolls other boys from school. Darren (Ben Carolan) will act as a producer and video technician. Then there is multi-instrumentalist Eamon (Mark McKenna). Cosmo and Eamon will get together and write new original songs. There are five musicians with Cosmo being the lead singer. The name of their band: Sing street! There is a series of scenes when they first get together to play where you can measure the level of acting of this young cast. One line after another, perfect timing. Could you say perfect pitch? And then for the remainder of the film I was awestruck. Watching Sing street is like listening to someone sing on key for two hours. It is not all perfect, but when it is, it’s because of this young cast and the music they do. It is because of the young lovers. Forget about the adults. Forget about the older brother (Boring!). Ferdia Walsh-Peelo is a wonderful singer and actor, and he literally carries Sing street. John Carney, who previously directed musical dramas Once and Begin again, knows a thing or two about how important music can be in someone’s life. It is an autobiographical film on Carney’s upbringing in Dublin. The soundtrack is full of wonderful songs from the era, but also new ones for the Sing street band. Some were written by John Carney himself. Sing street is about music, of course, but about the 80s too. And nostalgia (Boy, those costumes, the hairs!). And romanticism.  And, yes, fun!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Sing street

Directed by:
John Carney

Screenplay by:
John Carney

Starring:
Ferdia Walsh-Peelo
Lucy Boynton
Aiden Gillen
Jack Reynor
Maria Doyle-Kennedy

106 min.