Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

Gus Van Sant’s new film is a biopic of paraplegic, alcoholic, politically incorrect cartoonist John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix). At 21, after a day of drinking with his new buddy Dexter (Jack Black), Callahan’s life is changed forever by an auto accident. The cruel irony is that Dexter (real name? don’t know), who was driving Callahan’s car and fell asleep at the wheel, comes out of the accident without a scratch. At the hospital Callahan has a hard time facing the news that he won’t walk again. The only thing that calms him is physiotherapist Annu. Rooney Mara is Annu, and the way Gus Van Sant films her (in close-up, surrounded by sunshine and pastel colors) she looks more like a dreamy angel than a physiotherapist. Once out of the hospital and in a wheelchair, Callahan resumes his drinking and his whining. Most of the time he’s in a state of self-pity because his mother gave him up for adoption, and he drinks. A lot. That’s until he goes to an AA meeting at age 27 and stops drinking. His sponsor is Donnie, a gay, AA’s 12 steps guru. With a beard, hippie-like long blond hair and having lost some weight, Jonah Hill gives the best and most surprising performance of his career. After sobering up, Callahan starts his career as a cartoonist. Some of his cartoons were called racist by some while others found them funny. He also made fun at the physically disabled, and sometimes himself, as can attest the title of this film (also the title of Callahan’s book). It’s not an entirely satisfying movie experience. The screenplay and Van Sant’s direction makes it impossible to follow. It is confusing because it goes back and forth in time. Is it before he joined AA or did he relapse? A scene where he is sober is followed by one where he is drunk without any clue for the audience. It’s a shame. But you can still enjoy the superior performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara and Jack Black. You could not find better casting.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot

 

Directed by:
Gus Van Sant

Screenplay by:
John Callahan
Gus Van Sant
Jack Gibson
William Andrew Eatman
Based on Callahan’s memoir

Starring:
Joaquin Phoenix
Jonah Hill
Rooney Mara
Jack Black

114 min.

Rated 14A

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Leave no trace

Will (Ben Foster) and his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) live outdoors in a public park in Portland, Oregon. They’ve set up a camp under a tree with a small tarp covering their heads. They can either cook on a fire, when it’s not raining, or on a propane BBQ they have brought with them. This is their home. Tom is 13-year-old. They must be careful not to be seen, as it is illegal to live in a public park. Occasionally they have military drills as a practise in case they are discovered. Will is an army veteran, probably suffering from some form of PTSD. During his sleep he has nightmares, and he wakes with the sounds of helicopters ringing in his head. Then it happens. The cops find them. Authorities get involved. They are submitted to a series of stupid psychiatric tests with stupid questions. A social worker finds them a home where they can live. It’s on a farm where they grow Christmas trees. Will  works at the farm. But “civilization” is not Will’s thing. In a telling scene, he unplugs the TV set and puts it away in the closet. He rejects society and its values. So it’s not long before he decides that they have to leave. By that time Tom has made friends with a local boy who raises rabbits and started to get accustomed to school and a more regulated life. She reluctantly packs up and leaves with him. A series of accidents will make the journey back to wilderness difficult. Debra Granik’s assured direction is remarkable here. She does not need to over-dramatize. She only observes without judging. The characters are already infused with baggage that is so rich. These are people with very few words. There are no long speeches. Although it doesn’t sound like it, it makes it harder for actors to do. McKenzie and Foster have the added task of playing father and daughter, to create a bond out of thin air. I thought that Ben Foster has always been unappreciated, and I hope that he will finally get the acclaim that he deserves. His work here, as well as Granik’s and McKenzie’s should be applauded.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Leave no trace

 

Directed by:
Debra Granik

Screenplay by:
Debra Granik
Anne Rosellini
Based on the novel My abandonment by Peter Rock

Starring:
Ben Foster
Thomasin McKenzie
Jeff Kober
Dale Dickey

109 min.

Rated Parental Guidance

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

What is Let the sunshine in suppose to be about? Are we to take this representation of French relations as real? Or as a satire? Director Claire Denis seems to be having a great time with this film. Juliette Binoche plays Isabelle, a painter with a mess of a love life. We first see her with a banker (Xavier Beauvois). A terrible human being who treats people as if he owns them. Isabelle seems at first happy even though he’s unable to sexually satisfy her. She eventually leaves him, but throughout the film the banker stalks Isabelle. Then she meets an actor (Nicolas Duvauchelle). He is hesitant to start a relationship with her, but once he has, he admits that he had more fun “before”. He liked everything that went on “before” the relationship, so let’s do it again. All these people, including Isabelle, talk non-stop. It’s like I was watching a Eric Rohmer film (oh no!) or Jacques Doyon (more fun), except that Let the sunshine is funnier and less annoying. It’s as if Denis was winking at me, “It’s only a joke!”. But there’s more to it than that. Isabelle’s male friends lecturing her on what she should do, how she should feel. Isabelle dating to the point of exhaustion, or being in tears because she can’t find a man. I think it’s a cartoon on French misogyny. Through it all there is the amazing Binoche. I don’t think I’ve ever liked her as much as I do here. She’s cutting and precise. And at the end (during the end credits no less) Gérard Depardieu joins her. It’s a softer Depardieu, and with Binoche, it is pure magic.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Let the sunshine in (Un beau soleil intérieur)

 

Directed by:
Claire Denis

Screenplay by:
Christine Angot
Claire Denis
Based on Fragments d’un discours amoureux
by Roland Barthes

Starring:
Juliette Binoche
Xavier Beauvois
Josiane Balasko
Philippe Katerine
Gérard Depardieu

96 min.

In French with English subtitles

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

This part of the history of World War I has not been told before. It is the story of the women being left behind to manage the family farms. Les gardiennes (based on Ernest Pérochon’s 1924 novel) is set in the French countryside where Hortense (a marvelously stone-faced and hardened Natalie Baye) has seen the young men from her family leave to fight “les boches”, as Germans were called by the French (the subtitles reads “krauts”). Both of her sons as well as her daughter’s husband have been conscripted. That means that it’s up to Hortense and her daughter Solange (Laura Smet, who is Baye’s daughter) to run the farm, called Le Paridier. Hortense hires a young farm-hand to help with the harvest. 20 years old Francine (Iris Bry, a star in the making) is such a capable hard-worker, that she is offered to stay at the farm indefinitely. The days are long and the work is relentless. Director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and men) shows us every details of the work and we are struck that we forgot how beautiful films can be. At times the men return on leave and the women notice how they have changed. Solange’s husband, Clovis (Olivier Rabourdin) declares that the Germans are just like the French, teachers and farmers. “The Germans are people like us,”. When Hortense’s younger son Georges (Cyril Descours) comes home on leave he falls for Francine, and they start a secret relationship. But George has already been promised to Marguerite, a local girl. This and the arrivals of American soldiers will turn things around between Hortense and Francine. Throughout the film I was left breathless by Beauvois and cinematographer Caroline Champetier’s images of stunning landscape. For a war film, the calm and the stillness is a welcomed contrast to the usual horrors of the trenches. The women at home were also heroes, let’s not forget it. Bravo to Baye, Bry, Beauvois and Champetier.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Les gardiennes (The guardians)

 

Directed by:
Xavier Beauvois

Screenplay by:
Xavier Beauvois
Marie-Julie Maille
Frédérique Moreau
Based on the novel by Ernest Pérochon

Starring:
Nathalie Baye
Laura Smet
Iris Bry
Cyril Descours
GIlbert Bonneau
Olivier Rabourdin

138 min.

Rated 14A.

In French with English subtitles

Disobedience

Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s films are about women who proudly dare to defy conventions. His 2013 film Gloria was about a 58 year-old divorcee who decides to seek love, fun and sex. Last year’s A fantastic woman featured a transgendered woman after the death of her partner. It won the Academy award for Best foreign language film. His new film is Disobedience, an Irish-British-American co-production set in the Orthodox Jewish community of London. Rachel Weisz serves as a producer and also plays Ronit, a New York photographer who goes back home when she learns that her estranged father, Rabbi Krushka, has died. Judging by everyone’s reactions, it seems that she was not expected to return, and some were probably hoping that she would stay away. Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), a Rabbi and her father’s spiritual son, is certainly surprised to see her since nobody, to his knowledge, had sent Ronit the news of her father’s passing. She feels that people are looking at her and judging her. Ronit wears none of the traditional Orthodox Jewish women’s clothing, like a sheitel (a wig that is worn to show modesty). It is clear that some women from the community don’t like her very much. That’s not the case with her old friend Esti (London, Ontario native Rachel McAdams), who is now married to Dovid. The three were friends and they still are, but that does not mean they are not awkward around her. And then we learn that Ronit and Esti were lovers in their youth. Now they fall in each other’s arms again. And when they are seen kissing in public, it puts Esti in an even more awkward position, but that scandal may also liberates her. Maybe she doesn’t want to stop loving Ronit. The most stunning thing about this amazing film is its originality. During Ronit and Esti’s passionate love-making, Ronit drips saliva into Esti’s mouth. There is brilliance in the casting of Weisz, McAdams and Nivola. But it’s McAdams that shines here. It’s an assured performance. She never been as good or as beautiful as she is here. Matthew Herbert orchestral score may be some of the most peculiarly effective music for film. It is hesitant and doesn’t spell out everything neatly for us, it comes in waves and breeze, both sudden and subtle, melodic and atonal, in crescendos and decrescendos. Like this film and Lelio, it marvelously defies conventions.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Disobedience

 

Directed by:
Sebastián Lelio

Screenplay by:
Sebastián Lelio
Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Based on the novel by Naomi Alderman

Starring:
Rachel Weisz
Rachel McAdams
Alessandro Nivola

114 min.

Rated 14

On Chesil Beach

Un vol d’oiseau traverse un ciel trop beau.
Tu pars avec eux sans retour,
Et pour moi il, ne fait plus jour.

Ton départ, Clémence DesRochers

For their wedding night in 1962 Florence Ponting and Edward Mayhew (Saiorse Ronan and Billy Howle) have rented a room in a small hotel at Chesil Beach. From the delicious dinner, served in their room by two waiter from room service, to the bed, memories from their disfunctional lives come rushing back to blur the deep love they share for each other. At times they look like two deers caught in the headlights. Yes, I repeat: this is 1962, England. Two words: sexual repression. They are too young, naive and both are virgins. This a “love at first sight” affair. They met as he was studying history and she the violin. Through the flashback we see that they are very much in love. But Edward’s mother (Anne-Marie Duff) suffered a mental illness and several times he witnessed her walking around the house naked. And there are hints that Florence was sexually abused by her father and because of that she is repulsed by sex. On Chesil Beach is basically a two character, minimalist screenplay by Ian McEwan, who adapted his own novel. He keeps it simple, and it works pretty well as he effectively gets into each characters head. And this can’t work unless the two young leads (who we first saw together in The seagull) are well casted and directed. We’ve seen what Saoirse Ronan can do, how much of a range she has as an actress. Billy Howle is the revelation here. Edward is such a fragile young man that when he arrives at Chesil Beach on his wedding night he is just about to explode. Howle gives a much detailed performance. It has a pleasant soundtrack with a mix of classical music and 60s rock-and-roll. Production values are excelent, though the makeup in the later scenes could have been much better. On Chesil Beach is helped greatly by cinematographer Sean Bobbitt who shows us that sad stories seem even sadder on a sunny summer beach.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

On Chesil Beach

 

Directed by:
Dominic Clarke

Screenplay by:
Ian McEwan
Based on his own novel

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Billy Howle
Emily Watson
Anne-Marie Duff
Samuel West

110 min.

The seagull

This excellent film adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s 1895 classic play seems to have everything right. Screenwriter Stephen Karam has done a great job by opening the play a bit, but has kept the story and the motivations (from what I can tell) pretty much the same. The film stars Annette Bening as Irina Arkadina, an aging actress spending the summer at her brother’s beautiful Russian country estate. She’s accompanied by her lover, well-known playwright Boris Trigorin (Corey Stoll), and her troubled son, Konstantin (Billy Howle). There are other characters with them and they all seem to have one thing in common: unrequited love. There is Masha (Elisabeth Moss), daughter of the estate manager, who is obsessed with Konstantin. But Konstantin is secretly in love with Nina (Saoirse Ronan), a young neighbour who dreams of becoming an actress. Konstantin is upset at his mother because she mocked one of his plays. He also dislikes Boris and is resentful of his talent. It gets worse when Boris attempts to seduce an all too willing Nina. It may be impossible for modern audiences to understand this community of 19th century over-the-top dramatic actresses of artists and romantic/suicidal youths, but if there is one cast that can do it, this is the one. Bening in particular understands the bigger than life persona and never misses a chance to strike a pose. She’s grand. A refreshing aspect of this film is that the mostly American cast did not feel the need to speak with an accent. Too many times I’ve seen actors absurdly attempting to take a Russian accent or a British accent. To my ear, everyone spoke a very good English without any accents. Director Michael Mayer keeps it all snappy and frothy. Very enjoyable.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The seagull

 

Directed by:
Michael Mayer

Screenplay by:
Stephen Karam
Based on the play by Anton Chekhov

Starring:
Saoirse Ronan
Annette Bening
Corey Stoll
Billy Howle
Elisabeth Moss
Brian Dennehy
Mare Winningham
Jon Tenney

98 min.

Journey’s end

This is World War I and young fresh-faced Second Lieutenant Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) gleefully arrives in the trenches at Saint-Quentin, France. He asked his uncle to be stationed with his old friend Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin) and his wishes has been granted. But the boy’s innocent smile soon turns sour when he realises that war has changed his friend. Stanhope has become a bitter, angry and aggressive man who drinks too much. In the officers’ dugout there is also Lieutenant Osborne (Paul Bettany), a very fine gentleman who is trying his best to support and understand Stanhope. Private Mason (Toby Jones) is the cook. There is not much sun coming in the muddy and dirty trenches and the soldiers spend long hours waiting. Stanhope has heard from his superiors that the Germans are planning an attack, now known as the deadly Operation Michael. And Stanhope is ordered to do a daylight raid on the Germans prior to the attack Raleigh and Osborne are among the men that are sent. Some will come back, some won’t. This is a very fine film adaptation of the classic 1928 British play. Although it has been opened up a bit, it still remains a play. The British cast is superb. My first thought upon seeing Asa Butterfield was that he looks like a silent film star. The point that is made with Journey’s end is that wars can mark a person physically, but mentally as well. That is if you can survive. War is hell!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Journey’s end

 

Directed by:
Saul Dibb

Screenplay by:
Simon Reade
Based on the play by R.C. Sherriff

Starring:
Asa Butterfield
Sam Claflin
Paul Bettany
Tom Sturridge
Toby Jones

107 min.

Rated 14A

The death of Stalin

When Joseph Stalin suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in 1954 he urinated on himself. This is a true historical fact that is taken very lightly by director Armando Iannucci and his team. As Stalin’s associates are gathering around him they try to figure out what to do with him. He’s not dead yet, so they kneel to help him, and of course they kneel in the pee. They step in it or they touch him and retreat in disgust. It’s milked until its last drop. You’ve guessed it, The death of Stalin is a comedy about the death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin). The labyrinthine script is about the power struggle to take the job of Chairman of Council of ministers of the Soviet Union is lampooned. The next in line is the deputy chairman Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor). But Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), chief of the Soviet security, sees an opportunity to take control. But Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), then a Stalin adviser, is not happy with Beria (or with anything much). They’re all dumb and/or paranoid, and they hate one another. It’s a great cast but I can’t name all of them here. The most noteworthy are Monty Python’s Michael Palin, Rupert Friend as Vasily Stalin, Stalin’s demented son and Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, an aggressive military officer who wants to rule everyone. But the best performances are from Simon Russell Beale who gives the film its early drive, Buscemi who does the same in the second half. The death of Stalin is not always great or even funny. but it is fascinating. There is so many f-bombs it might put some people off. (The last time I’ve heard that many in a film was In the loop also directed by Iannucci) There was a lot of criticism about historical accuracy. Duh! Do I cared? Not really.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The death of Stalin

 

Directed by:
Armando Iannucci

Screenplay by:
Armando Iannucci
David Schneider
Ian Martin
Peter Fellows
Based on the comic book La mort de Staline by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin

Starring:
Simon Russell Beale
Steve Buscemi
Adrian McLoughlin
Andrea Riseborough
Michael Palin
Jeffrey Tambor
Rupert Friend
Jason Isaacs
Olga Kurylenko
Paul Whitehouse

106 min.

The leisure seeker

At the last Academy Awards, host Jimmy Kimmel offered a Jet Ski to the Oscars winner who gave the shortest acceptance speech. Presenting the Jet Ski like a The price is right model, and obviously having the most fun of the evening, was Dame Helen Mirren. And that’s not all! At the end of the Oscar-cast the Jet Ski was rolled on the stage with the winner (Phantom thread costume designer Mark Bridges) and Dame Helen riding on the Jet Ski. In The leisure seeker Mirren co-stars with Canadian icon Donald Sutherland (their last film together was Bethune: The making of a hero in 1990). They play Ella and John Spencer, an elderly couple (Mirren is 72, Sutherland 82) who decide to run away for a last road trip in their motor home, baptized “The leisure seeker”. They are going across America. They did that without telling their children, Will and Jane (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney). The children are understandably worried since Ella suffers from what we guess is cancer and John has Alzheimer. But Ella and John don’t look too bothered by anything. They’re having a great time. While driving the motor home John, a retired English teacher, constant reciting of Hemingway annoys Ella. Sometimes they park the motor home at camping sites, and at night Ella shows John slides of old family photos. He sometimes remembers, and sometimes not. Often other campers gathers behind them to watch the slides. It’s our collective memories, one’s family being like all families. This is America and when they get robbed, Ella knows how to defend herself. And John goes to a Donald Trump rally. And he likes it. Hey! this a road movie, and like all such films they could be painted by numbers. That is if it wasn’t for the two stars. At first Sutherland plays John as a quiet, withdrawn. And he starts talking, and boy does he talk. Layers upon layers the character becomes more complex. Helen Mirren has played Queens and Shakespearean tragedies, but I’ve never seen her play someone like Ella Spencer. A thick southern accented American with a gun, hopping on a motorbike, holding on to her wig and swearing all the way. This is funny, but also sad. People should not forget that this is a film about two people in love. Their last days, as they say, are numbered. So bring your handkerchief.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The leisure seeker

 

Directed by:
Paolo Virzi

Screenplay by:
Paolo Virzì
Francesca Archibugi
Francesca Piccolo
Stephen Amidon
Based on the novel by Michael Zadoorian

Starring:
Donald Sutherland
Dame Helen Mirren
Christian McKay
Janel Maloney
Dana Ivey

112 min.