Novitiate

A film about a convent of cloistered nuns has always been a perfect topic for a film. It’s even better if you have a Reverend Mother who will antagonize the young postulants. Novitiate begins in the 1960s with 17-year-old Cathleen’s realisation that she wants to become a nun. Over the years we see that Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) is totally fascinated when she meets a nun. Nora (Julianne Nicholson), her agnostic mother, is not very happy when Cathleen tells her. The Sisters of the blessed rose is managed by Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair (Melissa Leo). At first she speaks in a low whisper voice, instructing the new postulants on what their lives will be like from now on. There is “regular silence”, they are told, during which time some talking will be permitted, and there is “grand silence” where no talking is allowed. Complete silence. There is little doubts that Cathleen (now Sister Cathleen) had a real “calling” (thanks to Qualley’s emotionally invested performance), but the reasons for the other girls may be less pure. The idealized notions we see in movies, like Audrey Hepburn in Fred Zinnemann’s 1959 film The nun’s story, or the insistence from their families that there ought to be at least one child as a priest or a nun are some of the reason. But whatever the reasons, the temptation to succumb to the sexual urges is present throughout the film. It is during that time that the reforms brought on by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council (AKA Vatican II) were introduced. Reverend Mother Marie St. Clair is against any changes and refuses to accept the orders she has received from her Bishop. So the nuns continue to whip themselves with a weird knotted-rope instrument, and there is something called “the chapter of faults”, where the young postulants kneel on the floor for long hours and have to confess their sins and weaknesses. Writer-director Maggie Betts has put together an excellent cast of actresses, young and old. Beside Qualley’s central performance, we have noted a few names. Dianna Agron (from TVs Glee) plays Sister Mary Grace, a progressive nun who disagree with the Reverend Mother and feels the need to leave the order. Julianne Nicholson plays Sister Cathleen’s mom with a brassy camp that is great fun to anticipate. Her confrontation with the Reverend Mother is one of the best scene in the film. And Leo in a performance that is subtle and overplayed, sometime in the same scene, speech or phrase. In the early scenes, we know that under that soft voice there is a scary woman. It is Leo showing us the different layers of contradiction of the Reverend Mother that makes it so compelling to watch. As with all films with nuns, Novitiate is aesthetically most beautiful to watch, thanks to cinematographer Kat Westergaard. Beside the score by Christopher Stark, there is a soundtrack of classical music for female choirs. Novitiate shakes up our pre-conceived notions about nuns and the powers inside the church. Any church.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Plays at Ottawa’s ByTowne Cinema from November 17 – 23
http://www.bytowne.ca/movie/novitiate

 

Novitiate

 

Directed by:
Maggie Betts

Screenplay by:
Margaret Betts

Starring:
Margaret Qualley
Melissa Leo
Dianna Agron
Morgan Saylor
Julianne Nicholson

123 min.

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The Florida project

The characters featured in The Florida project are usually reserved for trash TV shows like The Jerry Springer show or Desperate housewives of… pick a place, any place really and you’ll find trash. But here, director Sean Baker does not want to judge. You may know Baker for his previous film, Tangerine, shot entirely on iPhones. In The Florida project we follow Moonee (newcomer Brooklynn Prince), a 6-year-old girl. Moonee lives with her welfare mom, Halley (Bria Vinaite, also a newcomer) in one of the cheap motels near Disney world. During the day, Moonee is left wandering on her own without parental guidance. She’s not really alone. Wandering with her are her friends, Scooty (Christopher Rivera) and her newly found best friend, Jancey (Valeria Cotto). There is nothing Moonee won’t do: spit on cars, ask strangers for money, demand free food be given to them, insult, yell and swear at adults. No limits. And when we get to know her mom, we get it. Halley is a walking time bomb. A in-your-face, loud-mouth young woman who is ready to steal to pay the rent, and even brings clients to her room while Moonee is in the washroom. The motel complex is managed by Bobby Hicks (Willem Dafoe, one of the few professional actors). Bobby does the best he can to help the tenants and make sure they don’t cause any more problems. He’s got his hands full with Halley and Moonee. The very thin plot with mostly improvised dialogue and a cast of non-professional actors does not mean that The Florida project is unworthy. On the contrary : the originality of its subject and Baker’s casual approach is its greatest assets. I will not soon forget Moonee and Halley or the actresses. Looking at Brooklynn Prince, one can’t help but remember Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern wild, with the difference that Wallis was a much more structured and powerful performance. Prince and Vinaite play characters rarely seen in films. Some people feel that a film needs a moral point. There is no point in The Florida project, except to experience unconventional, non-mainstream cinema. Oscar nominations? Yes. I would really like to see Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince among the nominees. But I think that Willem Dafoe is the glue that holds the film together. Dafoe’s Bobby is such warm and caring character, and he plays him with such a gentle touch, an ease. It flows. The Florida project is what it is. Totally original and undefined by our expectations.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The Florida project

 

Directed by:
Sean Baker

Screenplay by:
Sean Baker
Chris Bergoch

Starring:
Brooklynn Prince
Willem Dafoe
Bria Vinaite
Valeria Cotto
Christopher Rivera
Mela Murder
Sandy Kane

112 min.

Rated 14A

Pop Aye

The first image is quite striking and quirky. We see middle-aged Thana (Taneth Warakulnukroh) on a Thai road trying to hitch a ride for him and his elephant. Thana was depressed when he found Pop Aye the elephant (Bong, the elephant/actor, if such a thing exists). A prominent architect in Bangkok, Thana has been demoted by the firm’s young new owner. And his wife, Bo (Penpak Sirikul), has replaced Thana in the bedroom with a sex toy. Then Thana sees Pop Aye, the elephant he was playing with when he was a child back on his family farm. Thana sees that Pop Aye is mistreated by his owner and decides to buy the elephant. Thana’s plan is to bring back Pop Aye to the rural village where they grew up. The farm is now owned by Thana’s uncle Peak (Narong Pongpab). On the road with Pop Aye, Thana whistles the I’m Popeye the sailor man song from the old animated series. Along the way Thana gets arrested by two cops who say he’s not allowed to have an elephant as a pet. They somehow all finish the night at a karaoke bar where Thana befriends Jenni (the intriguing and mysterious Yukontorn Sukkijja), a transgender prostitute. Thana even sings a song with Jenni. This is an unusual absurdist comedy-drama with lots of charm. The only problem might be some of the flashbacks. They make the film more confusing than it needs to be. Singaporean filmmaker Kirsten Tan’s début feature is full of nostalgia and characters who feel the passage of time weigh on them. Excellent actor Taneth Warakulnukroh is better known in Thailand as popular rock star. And Bong the elephant does everything that is expected from an elephant.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Pop Aye

 

Directed by:
Kirsten Tan

Screenplay by:
Kirsten Tan

Starring:
Taneth Warakulnukroh
Penpak SIrkul
Bong
Yukontorn Sukkijja

104 min.

In Thai 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

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

Moonlight

Moonlight is an extraordinary film experience about the life of an African-American gay man from boyhood to adulthood. In the blaring, blinding Miami sun, a boy called Little (Alex Hibbert) is hiding from the boys who are harassing him. Heaving chest and panicky eyes tells the story of a boy who has been repetitively bullied. Moonlight tell his story in three segments. The first is called “Little”. Little soon meets Juan (Mahershala Ali). Juan is a crack dealer, but a man with a kind and comforting attitude for the boy. When Juan teaches Little how to swim, it feels like a baptism. Juan takes Little (who’s real name is Chiron) to his home to meet his girlfriend Teresa (singer Janelle Monaë). He needs them as positive forces, like the scene where a distraught Little asks the meaning of a gay slur that’s been obviously thrown at him by his bullies. Words matter. Beside the bullying, Little has a mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), who is falling deeper and deeper into drug addiction. Basically, Little is left to fend for himself, but when she’s at home all that Paula manages to do is make Little feels that he is a burden on her. Little’s only friend at school is Kevin (Jaden Piner), another person that Little can be thankful about. The second segment is called “Chiron”. Chiron is now 16 (and now played by Ashton Sanders). The harassment has increased, and so has his mother’s addiction. When Paula wants him out of the house, Teresa is still around to offer him a place to sleep. But Paula steals the money that Teresa gave to Chiron. And Kevin and Chiron are still friends (teenage Kevin is played by Jharrel Jerome). One early morning on the beach, Kevin kisses Chiron and then masturbates him. Back at school, the violence and the harassment escalates when the bullies pressures and threatens Kevin into hitting Chiron. The third segment fast forwards 10 years and is called “Black”. After time spent in jail, adult Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) has now muscled up and is now a drug dealer. He now goes by the name Black (That‘s what Kevin used to call him.) and lives in Atlanta. Kevin (André Holland) calls him up one night. When Black goes to Miami to reunite with his friend, you feel the longing and the hurt in their conversation. A touching and heartbreaking finale. This is one of the best ensemble cast I have ever seen, they are all astounding. The entire cast is black. Moonlight is such a beautiful, hard and yes, often desperate film. It is as harsh as the blinding sun. But Chiron’s life has to be told, especially these days. I am now at a loss for words. The only thing left to say is: Moonlight is perfect. Direction: perfect. Screenplay: perfect. So far the best film this year.

And the Oscar went to, well, maybe… You probably heard by now about the major screw up with the Best picture envelope. My comment is that, despite that mistake, Moonlight is a worthy Best picture winner. It can be proud of its African-American cast. It is the only LGBTQ themed Best picture winner. Furthermore, Supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali is the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar. Barry Jenkins and Tarell McCraney also won for their powerful screenplay. Bravo!

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Moonlight

 

Directed by:

Barry Jenkins

 

Screenplay by:

Barry Jenkins

Tarell McCraney

Based on McCraney’s unproduced play

In moonlight black boys look blue

 

Starring:

Alex Hibbert

Ashton Sanders

Trevante Rhodes

Jaden Piner

Jharrel Jerome

André Holland

Naomie Harris

Janelle Monáe

Mahershala Ali

 

110 min.

Rated 14A

 

The handmaiden (Ah-Ga-ssi)

A lavish erotic lesbian epic mystery. How’s that for a description? Adapted from Sarah Waters’s novel Fingersmith, with the Victorian England settings transposed to Colonial-era Korea, The handmaiden is at times so extreme and big that it threatens to become ridiculous. And that’s the point… I think. In Japanese occupied Korea, Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a pale skinned Japanese heiress hires new Korean handmaiden Tamako (Kim Tae-ri). Tamako’s real name is Sook-hee, a pickpocket whose entire family are con artists. Near the beginning Count Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) arrives and makes a proposal to Tamako to spy on Hideko so he can seduce her and get some of her money. Lady Hideko has problems of her own. She has to deal with a sadistic and obsessive uncle who vows to marry her. The Count’s plan changes course when the Lady and Tamako become lovers. Like the novel, the story is structured in three books, each from another perspective, completely reassessing what we thought we knew and what was happening. The sex scenes between Lady Hideko and Tamako are quite graphic without being pornographic. I would call it “erotic”. Production values are of the highest order. The actors are quite good, with special mention to Ha Jung-woo, underplaying Count Fujiwara’s cockiness so much that it becomes a cartoon character. The handmaiden is very much like a cartoon. The point is not take what is happening on the screen quite so seriously, and to have fun… I think.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

The handmaiden (Ah-Ga-ssi)

Directed by:

Park Chan-wook

Screenplay by:

Chung Seo-Kyung

Park Chan-wook

Based on the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Starring:

Kim Min-hee

Kim Tae-ri

Ha Jung-woo

Jo Jin-woong

Kim Hae-suk

Moon So-ri

145 min.

Rated 18A

In Korean and Japanese with English subtitles.

 

 

La belle saison (Summertime)

Catherine Corsini’s La belle saison delves into a topic that has rarely been done as successfully as it is here. We are in 1971 and Delphine (Izïa Higelin) helps her parents at the family farm. When asked by her father if she plans to marry some day, Delphine remains silent. Delphine loves women. She has a girlfriend. But soon the girlfriend announces that she wants to marry so that she can lead a ‘normal’ life. Delphine is heartbroken, and she decides to leave her country town and go to Paris to study. She meets and gets involved with a group of feminists. Among them is Carole (Cécile de France). Delphine is instantly infatuated with her. But Carole lives with a man and to fall in love with another woman was not in her plan. Delphine seduces her, and Carole falls in love (and in lust) with Delphine. Of course, her boyfriend is angry, but, just too bad, Carole is now in love with Delphine. And then Delphine gets the sad news that her father suffered a stroke, and she has to go back to the farm to help her mother, Monique (Noémie Lvovsky). Carole is crushed, but she soon joins Delphine on the farm and start helping too. Monique is still hoping that her daughter will marry a boy from the village and give her grandchildren. Monique enjoys Carole;s company. But with the two lovers rolling on the grass, making love, totally naked in the daytime, Monique is bound to find out. And when she does, what will she do? It is difficult for heterosexuals to understand that until recently, gays and lesbians had to live a closeted life. In La belle saison, you see Delphine’s fear of being discovered and her reluctance to break with tradition. La belle saison most effectively shows us how life was for LGBT people in 1971. Of course Higelin and de France are exceptional, but the film belongs to Noémie Lvovsky. At the beginning Lvovsky plays Monique as a very unassertive, unsmiling woman whose beliefs are about to be shaken. Quiet rivers run deep. The film’s first images (the director of photography is Jeanne Lapoirie) showed tree branches and their green leaves moving in the wind. The sun illuminating the faces, the fields and the bodies was one of the films great joys The natural, organic settings completely won me over like few films this year.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

La belle saison (Summertime)

Directed by:
Catherine Corsini

Screenplay by:
Catherine Corsini
Laurette Polmanss

Starring:
Cécile de France
Izïa Higelin
Noémie Lvovsky
Kevin Azaïs
Lætitia Dosch
Benjamin Bellecour

105 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Juste la fin du monde (It’s only the end of the world)

You could say that I’m a Xavier Dolan fan, but Juste la fin du monde is not my favorite of his films. Even so, there are some elements I liked. Dolan adapted the Jean-Luc Lagarce 1990 play. In it Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a successful writer, pays a visit to his family. He has had almost no contact with them in 12 years. We know from the film’s opening scene that he plans to tell them that he is dying. This is clearly a dysfunctional group of character. Louis has an overbearing, over aggressive (over everything) older brother. Antoine (Vincent Cassel) is loud, interrupts every conversations and bullies the whole family. It soon becomes clear that nothing is going to go smooth. Mother Martine (Nathalie Baye, wearing too much make up and has a Cleopatra haircut) smokes like a chimney and does aerobics in the kitchen. Sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux) was too young when Louis left. She is a sweet, insecure and sensitive girl. Louis meets Antoine’s wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Catherine has probably been the target of her husband’s aggressiveness. She is so shy that she is unable to carry a full conversation. You can’t fault Dolan or his director of photography, André Turpin, for the beauty of the images and the quality of the directing. They have filmed mostly in close up to accentuate the feeling of claustrophobia. But Juste la fin du monde is hysterical. Not just a bit, all the time. You have every one trying to speak over one another. The worst is Vincent Cassel. I don’t actually (I won‘t because I can‘t) put the blame on Cassel. Antoine is an impossible part to play, and cannot think of an actor who can do it without annoying most people in the cinema. Dolan likes hysteria, but this is too much of it. He wanted to make a film on incommunicability, and boy did he ever. The overbearing Gabriel Yared score is doing all it can to make the dialogue inaudible. I think Dolan is a brilliant director, but not this time. My feeling about Juste la fin du monde can be best describe by that classic retort: “Not tonight, I‘m having a headache!”

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Juste la fin du monde (It’s only the end of the world)

Directed by:
Xavier Dolan

Screenplay by:
Xavier Dolan
Based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce

Starring:
Gaspard Ulliel
Nathalie Baye
Marion Cotillard
Vincent Cassel
Léa Seydoux

97 min.

In French with English subtitles.

Equity

Equity stars Breaking bad’s Anna Gunn as Wall street investment banker Naomi Bishop. Naomi is hoping that the share of a tech company under her care are going to go through the roof. To sell her ideas Naomi needs her assistant Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas who co-wrote the script) to use her charm on the CEO. But Erin is getting frustrated. She has asked Naomi to help her get a much deserved promotion., but Naomi is unwilling to do that. Naomi is a cold woman in a cold world. Her claim that the company is totally secure is put in jeopardy when her boyfriend, Michael (James Purefoy), conspires with his friend at a hedge fund. The third female character is Sam, (Alysia Reiner, who co-authored of the screenplay with co-star Sarah Megan Thomas and Amy Fox), a state attorney who is investigating securities fraud. Like most moviegoer, this is a world that is so foreign to me, and the complex labyrinthine screenplay can be off putting for some. But you can’t fault the performances from an excellent cast or Menon’s direction. With the help of cinematographer Eric Lin, the art direction team and a score by Alexis & Sam she effectively underline the dryness and coldness of that world which is exactly what a film like Equity needs.

Rémi-serge Gratton

 

Equity

Directed by:

Meera Menon

 

Screenplay by:

Amy Fox

Sarah Megan Thomas

Alysia Reiner

 

Starring:

Anna Gunn

James Purefoy

Sarah Megan Thomas

Alysia Reiner

Craig Bierko

Samuel Roukin

Margaret Colin

100 min.

 

Rated 14A