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Strong Female Leads (4)

Elle + Julieta= Who needs Hollywood?

Elle (French for “she” or “her”) “is a 2016 psychological thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by David Birke, based on the novel Oh… by Philippe Djian. Djian’s novel was released in 2012 and received the Prix Interallié (National Literary Award). The film stars Isabelle Huppert as a businesswoman, Michèle Leblanc, who is raped in her home by an unknown assailant and plots revenge.

The film is Verhoeven’s first feature since 2006’s Black Book, and his first in the French language. It premiered in competition for the Palme d’Or at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it received critical acclaim.Elle won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Foreign Language Film; it was also selected as the French entry for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but was not nominated. At the 42nd César Awards, the film received eleven nominations.

Huppert’s performance was widely acclaimed, considered to be one of the finest of her career and she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also won several awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress, the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress, and the Gotham Independent Film Award for Best Actress.”

Wow a fantastic return to form for neglected filmmaker Paul Verhoeven. Originally conceived as a Hollywood production, Verhoeven and writer Dijan shopped the script around L.A.but were turned down by every major actress. So the pair turned to Europe and when financing came through Verhoeven was to have to rise to the challenge of working in an unfamiliar language: French.

However the turn of events seems to have been a good turn really.

With the aid of stellar actress Isabelle Huppert and a fine supporting cast, Verhoeven weaves Dijan’s story into an intricate neo-noir infused with unexpected developments and a strong flavour of black humour.

Complimented by a haunting score from Anne Dudley ,as well as inventive editing and cinematography, Elle turns out to be perhaps the best film of Verhoven’s career and a top work in the rather extensive credits of Isabelle Huppert.

So who needs Hollywood, really? As the Oscars proved  once again…

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Julieta “is a 2016 Spanish film written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar based on three short stories from the book Runaway by Alice Munro. The film marks Almodóvar’s 20th feature and stars Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte as older and younger versions of the film’s protagonist, Julieta, alongside Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta, Darío Grandinetti, Michelle Jenner and Rossy de Palma.

The film opened on 8 April 2016 in Spain to generally positive reviews. It made its international debut at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where it was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or, and was released across the world throughout the remainder of 2016. Julieta has grossed over $21 million worldwide.

It was selected by the Academia de las Artes y las Ciencias Cinematográficas de España as the Spanish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards, but did not make the shortlist.[2] It was nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language in addition to receiving 4 nominations for European Film Awards and 7 nominations for Goya Awards.”

This new flick left me pleasantly surprised. I will admit to not being the biggest fan of director Almodovar so I went into this screening as an aside really. But what unfolded was a  wonderful film chronicling the life of Julieta, with all it’s trials and tribulations.

Based on the writings of Canadian author Alice Munro- this is a understated and engaging woman’s story(s) , with some nourish elements woven in . Women are at the focus of this film and its greatest strength.

Julieta is one of the best films  Almodovar has directed , and another strong European feature that exists outside of the mainstream American industry

The Zookeepers Wife+Toni Erdmann= pedestrian filming in a rapid era

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The Zookeeper’s Wife “is an upcoming 2017 British-American war drama film directed by Niki Caro and written by Angela Workman, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diane Ackerman. The film stars Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton and Daniel Brühl.

The film is scheduled to be released on March 31, 2017, by Focus Features.
A true story about the Warsaw Zoo keepers couple Jan and Antonina Żabiński, who saved many human and animal lives during World War II by hiding them in animal cages.”

I had a chance to see this at a preview screening at the TIFF Lightbox theatre in late January. Jessica Chastain is shooting a film in Toronto and was invited to screen the film and chat about it (and her career) . Unfortunately the audience was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but hopefully enough time has elapsed, for me to comment?

This was a big disappointment, based on a very interesting and real story from WWII Poland. Bland, predictable, simplistic filmmaking. And the Polish characters all spoke English in some strange faux-Eastern European accent which really took away from the screening.

Fans of the book may enjoy this but it’s a miss for me I am sorry to say.

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Toni Erdmann is a “2016 German-Austrian comedy-drama film directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. It stars Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller.

The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival,[5][6] was named the best film of 2016 by Sight & Sound and other respected cinema magazines.[7][8][9]

It has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards.[10] It won five awards at the 29th European Film Awards: Best Film (a first for a film directed by a woman), Best Director, Best Screenwriter, Best Actor, and Best Actress.[11] It also won the European Parliament LUX Prize.[12]”

I was underwhelmed by this film- it had some very funny moments but seemed stilted and awkward to me. A 2 1/2 hour running time for a one note film is a little rich I would say as well:) Not much of a work of cinema, Toni Erdmann had a very plain and MOW look and feel to it… the German film from the previous year Phoenix, was a far superior film.

Really don’t get the accolades, did I miss something?

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Fantasia 2016-Swan Song+ TIFF

It’s been a busy summer and I am just getting ready to attend a few film atTIFF 2016.I’m catching 3 features this weekend, including a new Malaysian supernatural noir called: Interchange. I am also going to see a new film from Polish directing legend Andrzej Wajda called: Afterimage, as well as a Icelandic thriller called The Oath.

So thats this weekend and I have another bunch to get to next week as well:) SO more info to come…in the interim here are a few more notable films from the 20th Fanatasia Film Festival 2016.

All three showings had the directors present which was a real treat. Luckily I was able to catch up with two of the filmmakers that week and I have posted those here for you to check out at your leisure. I’ll let the interviews speak for themselves, and otherwise I will give over for this blog the fine reviewers from Fantasia;who did a great job writing about all the films for the on-line and print programme.

Embers-d. Claire Carre (USA-2016)

Two individuals wake up on a mattress in a shady room, clueless as to how they got there or why they suddenly find themselves in the company of a perfect stranger. To be honest, they don’t remember much of anything, not even their own names. Since the apocalypse, a strange affliction has deprived humanity of its memory. The last survivors wander aimlessly, gripped by a form of amnesia so strong as to make it impossible for them to remember what they did the previous day. There is some indication, however, that the two strangers are somehow connected. They’re both wearing identical blue ribbons on their arm, a hypothetical sign of a common past. Meanwhile, far away, a child trekking across the wastelands meets a curious scientist. Spared the rest of the world’s memory loss, a woman is getting ready to leave her protective bunker and ultimately lose what she holds dearest in the world.

Newcomer Claire Carré’s EMBERS is a rare treat. With a spare and appealing style, it uses science fiction to explore the foundations of human nature. With a precision worthy of José Saramago, Charles Spano and Carré’s script creates unnatural situations which one can quickly relate to, due to their uncanny sense of credibility. EMBERS manages to summon up laughs while maintaining a mysterious tone that will continue to grip you long after viewing. Carré’s true talent lies in her sensitive ability to create larger-than-life characters whose every word and gesture seem to carry a secret meaning. Having already presented her first feature at Slamdance, it’s seems like a safe bet to say that she will soon be recognized as one of the most promising new voices of American independent cinema. The magnificent EMBERS is a miraculous feat that is simply impossible to forget.
— Simon Laperrière

Interview w-Claire Carre from Embers

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The Unseen-d. Geoff Redknap (Canada 2016)

Everyone knows the tale of the Invisible Man, but have you heard the one about the slowly-turning-invisible-man? That’s just one twist making THE UNSEEN an unforgettable entry in this year’s Fantasia lineup. Aden Young, star of TV’s RECTIFY, plays Bob Langmore, a struggling mill worker in a small northern town. But barely making ends meet isn’t his biggest problem, as he’s also hiding the fact that he’s gradually going invisible. And Bob’s not simply fading away but disappearing in chunks, which makes him look like the victim of a hideous flesh-eating disease. When his ex-wife, Darlene (Camille Sullivan of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE) asks him to visit his rebellious daughter Eva, he takes a driving job for a local drug dealer and returns to the city. Shortly after his arrival, Eva (Julia Sarah Stone, THE KILLING), goes missing and he suspects the teen has been taken because she shares his affliction. With the drug dealers threatening him and his condition worsening, Bob must find his daughter before they’re both gone for good.

A gritty thriller grounded in family drama with a streak of horror, THE UNSEEN is a future cult classic. It may be Geoff Redknap’s feature debut as writer-director, but his years of experience working in the makeup and special effects departments of features such as DEADPOOL, WATCHMEN, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and both the FINAL DESTINATION and X-MEN series, plus TV shows including THE X-FILES, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD and MASTERS OF HORROR — shines through in this, ahem — must-see premiere.

— Dave Alexander

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Shelly-d. Ali Abbasi (Denmark/Sweden 2016)

Elena is a broke single mother on the verge of a burnout, looking for a break from her daily obligations. A change of scenery would be welcomed, especially one involving a small country house far from the city. When she learns of a couple looking for a maid to take care of their forest dwelling, she jumps on this seemingly fortuitous opportunity. Upon arrival, Elena realizes that her employers have a somewhat unusual lifestyle. They don’t eat meat or use electricity, and they keep contact with the outside world to a minimum. With an unbreakable three-year contract, the young woman complies without complaint. At least she found the peace and quiet she’s been looking for. But her bosses have one more favour to ask of her. Unable to conceive, they want Elena to be their surrogate birth mother — for a handsome sum, of course. Flattered by her employers’ kindness and generosity, she accepts, unaware that her life has just capsized into unspeakable horror. Elena starts to notice signs suggesting that whatever it is she may be carrying inside her, it’s far from human.

What begins as an intimate, Bergmanesque drama slowly transforms into a modern gothic tale in SHELLEY, the brilliant atmospheric tour de force by Ali Abbasi. Reminiscent of ROSEMARY’S BABY, Abbasi’s film has a realism so convincing that the creeping transition into fantasy causes overwhelming anxiety. As the leading lady, Cosmina Stratan, winner of the Cannes best actress award for BEYOND THE HILLS, gives a gripping performance as a troubled woman succumbing to her darkest fears. It’s easily one of the most powerful productions of the 2016 lot.
— Simon Laperrière

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Anthropoid+ Closet Monster+Hunt For The Wilder People

Anthropoid-d. Sean Ellis-I took the commuter train into Toronto on the weekend ,and checked out a brand new Euro co-production,t hat just had its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on 1 July 2016.

Anthropoid stars:Cillian Murphy, Jamie Dornan, Toby Jones, and Charlotte Le Bon . It tells the story of Operation Anthropoid, the World War II assassination of Reinhard Heydrich by Exile Czechoslovak soldiers on 27 May 1942.

It’s an interesting story-line that I was somewhat  familiar with,as it it has been the subject of previous feature film endeavours; including the 1943 Fritz Lang film: Hangmen Also Die!  This featured the only Hollywood script by Bertolt Brecht, and I caught an archive screening of it at the 2013 Berlinale.

However, that version filmed during the war years couldn’t reveal the true details of the secret mission at the heart of the story, as it was still mostly classified. This modern re-telling doesn’t suffer from the same limitations however.

It does suffer however from a clear lack of a consistent directorial and visual vision, relying too extensively on basic,routine,and uninspired coverage shots + editing, especially in the early stages. The movie was shot on film, and I found the digital conversion I viewed in Toronto unusually grainy,and lacking in clarity at times.

The choice of English dialogue was unfortunate. I’m a bit of a purist,and prefer films in their native language. It lends much more authenticity. It was also strange when the Nazi characters were allowed to speak German.Then the German was translated into English, in certain scenes, so the Czech people could understand it? It was awkward and took away from the film.

Otherwise the sets and locations and lighting all top notch, and I really liked the supporting casts performances of Toby Jones and Anna Geislerová.

And the story is great, it just might have been better realized with a more authentic grounding in the Czech language and a more consistent visual style.

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Hunt For The Wilder People-d.Taika Waititi-Closer to home,I dusted off the bicycle and headed to the homey confines of the Westdale Theatre, in Hamilton.There was a film screening that I had just missed at the Fantasia Film Festival, and I knew the director from his recent vampire-comedy: What We Do In The Shadows.

That film was released to critical acclaim in 2014.Director Waititi had been noticed even before this for his TV work , and was also nominated for an Academy Award for his 2004 short film Two Cars, One Night. His first feature films: Boy became the top grossing New Zealand film before the release of Hunt for the Wilder People.

Based on the book Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump,this film stars Sam Neill and Julian Dennison as a father figure and son who become caught in a manhunt.The film premiered In Competition at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival on 22 January 2016.

I knew little about this movie before viewing, and went mainly on my love of Waititi’s previous film.

What a nice film this is. Inventive,funny,quirky,poignant, and inappropriate.

All at the right times and in the right measures. With great performances and a wonderful cinematic view of the wilds of New Zealand; I would definitely recommend this flick.

Even if you have to just around to find it:)

 

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Closet Monster-d.Stephen Dunn-Well it turned into a double-bill at The Westdale Theatre, as they had a brand new Canadian feature screening that had some buzz around it.

Closet Monster is drama written and directed by Stephen Dunn , and its Dunn’s debut feature.

It stars Connor Jessup as Oscar Madly, a creative and sexually confused teenager who retreats into a fantasy world to deal with his sense of isolation.The movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Canadian Feature.

The film was shot on location and set in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This is a great feature to come out of the East Coast of Canada, dealing with topics of sexual identity, teenage angst, domestic violence, and artistic expression.

Those are is a lot of topics for any seasoned veteran to attempt; so it is even more impressive to see a 24 yr old filmmaker take on the challenge in his first feature.

I liked style of the film and it was helped along greatly by solid performances, good visual style, and a great 80’s inspired synth soundtrack from Todor Kobakov & Maya Postepski.

Actually the score may have been my favourite element of the film especially in the very cool and pivotal party scene.

Overall , this is a very ambitious and interesting film,although a few things didn’t add up for me.

The portrayal of the Father in the film seemed very uneven, and the use of artistic metaphor and symbolism was heavy handed at times. And I understood the use of  the pet hamster as a escape for Madly from the harsher realities of his youth, but still…a talking hamster? Quibbles perhaps:)

Closet Monster is in limited release this summer in Canada ,but do  try and catch this new  flick from a rising star in Canadian indie film.

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Fantasia: Conspiracy-Noir-Crime- Exorcism

Operation Avalanche-d. Matt Johnson-a very cool flick ,and an interesting take on the entire faked moon landing conspiracy theory. I did see a recent comedy flick called Moonwalkers that mined this territory as well. But this film is a very different kettle of fish.

Following up on his first feature The Dirties with his partner Owen Williams ,this is a drama about CIA surveillance operatives who take it upon themselves to convince their higher ups to allow them to shoot a fake moon landing. Relying on old film stock, reams of archive footage from NASA, and touches of black humour and inventive story-telling; this is a great new Canadian feature .

Catch this is you can, and watch for a surprise appearance from Stanley Kubrick:)

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Toro-d. Kike Maillo (Spain 2016)- I caught the North American Premiere of this film at Fantasia recently. This is a  new Spanish crime thriller that is more than just action and suspense. It is really a story of loyalty, betrayal, and sacrifice-with a nice grounding in Catholic religious imagery.

From director Kike Mallo, Toro is his follow up film to the 2011 sci-fi film Eva. Here he tells the story of Toro , a street thug who informs his gangster boss that he is leaving the criminal life behind after one last job.

However, the job goes horribly wrong and Toro ends up on jail, but is now a new man. He has no interest in criminal life, only his lovely girlfriend and their future together.

But the past has a way of catching up to him upon his release on bail, and he must come to the aid of his remaining family and hope not to lose everything he dreams for the future.

This is a great story mixing comedy, action, and drama in a super realist style, with some un-nerving and shocking imagery at times, but perfectly keeping with the thematic motifs and imagery built up through the storyline.

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The Priests-d. Jang Jae-hyun (South Korea-2016)-A Korean exorcist movie? Why not. Another in a strong string of movies featured at Fantasia from South Korea, The Priests is a crowd pleaser of a drama about the demonic possession of a young teenage girl in Seoul.

Coming to the rescue are burned-out outcast priest Father Kim (Kim Yoon-seok), who approaches tracking down and fighting demons to crime fighting. Making him the lead detective of sorts in this story.

And at his side is the newest in a long line of assistants,the very new and rebellious Deacon Choi (Kang Dong-won) ,who also stars in another great film at Fantasia: A Violent Prosecutor.

Together this unlikely pair must fight not only the powers of evil, but of the uncaring and untrustworthy beauracracuy of their own Church.

But they are a plucky pair and they have some aids at their disposal: a Bible, a tube of toothpaste, a Bach CD, and a piglet!

A very enjoyable horror film with some funny moments, keep your rosary beads close if you manage to catch a screening though:)

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Americana-Néo Noir at Fantasia 2016

Americana-d. Zachary Shedd (USA 2016) This is a great new Neo-Noir feature which had its international premiere here in Montreal Sunday night. Writer-Director Zachary Shedd was present to lend some insight into the screening.

Alcoholic ex-editor Avery Wells (David Call) is drinking himself into a semi-stupor at his isolated cabin in the Nevada mountains. That’s until his longtime producer friend (Jack Davenport) shows up and drags him back to civilization.

As Avery dries out at his friends house, he realizes the real reason for his rescue. Avery’s actress sister (Kelli Garner) is starring in his friends latest production which has gone way over budget ,and is seemingly doomed to failure.

Can Avery save the film in he editing room, and stay sober enough to do it? Or will the sudden shooting of his sister turn him into a tragic sleuth;destined to follow clues that may be real or hallucinations. And lead to the same dead end he is all too familiar with in his own life.

This is a beautifully brooding character study, and noirish drama, wonderfully executed on numerous levels.

DOP: Justin Foster brings a wonderful eye to the San Fransisco Bay area,as well as the isolated cabin in the Nevada mountains.There is a wonderful scene of the lead character Avery talking to his estranged partner on the fog shrouded upper balcony of her San Francisco house.

Editor: Saela Davis does a great job of piecing the story together and Composer: Jeremy Turner has just the right modern sounds with echoes  of crime films past to evoke the right mood for this film.

Watching Americana, I was reminded of some classic films, especially the great flick: The Lost Weekend;that featured Ray Milland as the alcoholic writer being chased by his addictions and demons.

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And the isolated cabin had echoes of Robert Mitchum’s hideout in Out Of The Past, and Raymond Chandlers novel: Lady In The Lake.

But these were just some threads of motifs I recognized; this is a great original story work in the Neo-Noir genre. Well-written and directed by Zachary Shedd ,this is an impressive first film for Shedd , who had previously worked as a producer on: Hiding Your Smiling Faces and A Little Closer. I’ll leave you with a peak at the films teaser/trailer and a website link.

Oh, and another cool thing, this film was a direct result of a large kick-starter campaign:) The list of names of donors scrolled for quite a few moments…

I highly recommend this film. Americana tied with the Polish feature: Demon for my pick for top film at Fantasia Fest 2016. With Train To Busan close behind:)

I’ll be updating the blog over the rest of August with some more Fantasia films that I screened in Montreal, and I also hope to write a little in September about some movies from TIFF 2016 .. Stay tuned…

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Polish Horror + Korean Crime

 

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The 20th annual Fantasia Film Festival continues here in Montreal until August 3, and I am planning to get to a few more flicks before I have to depart early next week. I have a couple screenings slated for a later today. One is a cool looking Korean exorsicm movie called: The Priests. The other is a promising looking Spanish crime drama: Toro. I did however manage to squeeze in a couple films since my last update on the blog.

Demon-d. Martin Wrona-(Poland 2015). As he prepares for his wedding to Zaneta (Agnieszka Zulewska) in rural Poland, Peter (Italy Tiran) accidentally stumbles upon a grave on his newly acquired farm house property.

Unable to get the image of the body from his mind, Peter slowly descends into madness. Or is it a demonic possession?

Cleverly taking from old Jewish folklore, Wrona subtly ties this in with the history of the country. Is the new found modernity,and access to the EU in Poland ,also helped along by turning a blind eye to a not too distant tragic past?

All of this takes place in the context of a perfectly planned wedding that goes awry, and as our lead character slowly disappears  into another personality, and the party disintegrates into a drunken orgy.

In the morning ,all go their separate ways ,never to speak of Peter again.The closing shot of Zaneta embarking on the river ferry to take her away ,is a brilliant match for the opening shot of Peter making the trip in the reverse direction.

Overall,  I can’t say enough good things about this film. It’s a serious drama in a way masquerading as a horror film, and is brilliantly shot,acted, written and directed. And a seemingly faithful adaptation of the stage play Adherence by Piotr Rowicki

The film premiered at the 2015 TIFf film festival, and also screened at festivals in Hong Kong, Paris, and Israel. Unfortunately the director was not able to enjoy the films success to any great extent. He died tragically and suddenly in the fall of 2015 following a screening in Poland.

A great and promising director whose life ended too early, Marcin Wrona you will be missed.

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A Violent Prosecutor- d. Lee II-hunyg (South Korea)

When a seasoned prosecutor with a rough reputation gets interested in a case involving the development of a resort, he is warned to stay away. When he insists on looking into it, he is framed for murder and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

But this won’t stop him from teaming up with a slick con man, to spring them both from behind bars ,and eventually bring those responsible for crimes and corruption to justice.

The film stars Hwang Jung-min as the surly prosecutor Byun; and Kang Dong-won as his slippery,sly comedic foil. This is the directorial debut of Lee II-hyung and he handles it film with an entertaining precision.At times tense, dramatic,and funny the movie never misses a beat ,and has you cheering by the end.

An entertaining film overall, slickly done and fun to watch. A keeper.

And star Kang Don-won graces the screen here in Montreal in 2 hours in another  Korean drama: The Priests.  I will have to take my rosary beads along to the cinema I believe:)

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New Asian Cinema @ Fantasia

I was able to sample a cross section of new cinema from Asia the last few days here in Montreal.

Lazy Hazy Crazy-d. Jody Luk Yee-Sun (HK 2015)

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The debut film from director Yee-sun ,Lazy Hazy Crazy is a coming of age story about three young girls nearing their 18th birthdays in Hong Kong . A full house took in the film here at the Canadian Premiere ,and they didn’t go home disappointed.

This is a the story of girls on the verge of womanhood, struggling with the crushes, physical changes,  and high school environment that is common among their peers. However these girls are more mature than they look ,and two make a common practice of dating and having sexual relations with older men.The third is sitting on the fence about whether to join them.

It makes for a very interesting dynamic ,and adds a real and raw edge to what we could envision would be a typical Hollywood style telling of a similar story.What makes the movie work so well is the excellent script and direction-at times funny and at others subtle and poignant.

A great cast of leads take the task to hand ,leaving us with a drama that takes us to places often not explored in a deep and sensitive manner.With characters we are rooting for, even though they may at times be selling themselves short.

In the end they get a moment to escape and enjoy the dawning of a new future; wherever it leads…

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If Cats Disappeared From The World-d. Akira Nagai (Japan-2016)

I caught the Canadian Premiere of this new Japanese film last night; and it may just be my favourite film at Fantasia so far. I know it’s my favourite film title:)

This is the story of a slightly disenfranchised 30 yr old mailman who seems to have little interest in life ,other than his love of movies and his pet cat Cabbage. He is given a shocking medical diagnosis near the beginning of the film, leaving him with little time to live.

How will he spend his little remaining time, and can he make a Faustian deal with the Devil to gain some extra precious days? But this Devil may well be his own alter ego, and is played by the same actor: Rurouni Kenshin.

Regardless, Takeru is offered extra days to live, but must give up something for each day he gains. As he progresses, slowly losing things in his world that seem unimportant on the surface, Takuru remembers all the joy ,companionship ,and love that he has enjoyed in his life. And he realizes that these joys and friendships aren’t worth losing, they are more important than clinging to the world .

This is a great drama- at times melodramatic and sentimental,and there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience after this screening I would guess. A faithful adaptation of the bestselling novel by author Genki Kawamura, this flick is in good hands with director Nagai.

Beautiful to look at,the film unfolds with a flow matching the mood of the story. Hopefully you can get a chance to see this wonderful movie at a theatre in the near future.

And speaking of the future, I may have been inspired to go and adopt a feline friend for myself I think:) So viewer beware on this flick…

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Train To Busan-d. Yeon Sang-Ho ( South Korea-2016)

A great new Korean genre film, this flick played out of competition at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. To a standing ovation. Here in Montreal the film had its North American premiere at Fantasia. And the crowd was almost as enthusiastic:)

A Zombie apocalypse begins to afflict modern day Korea just as our lead character Seok-woo departs Seoul on the TGV with his much neglected daughter. It is her birthday, and her one wish is to spend the day with her mother in Busan.

When the  train departs the station ,an infected traveller boards at the last second, and as the journey progresses all hell breaks loose. I am not a big fan of Zombie films in general,and also feel like it is a very over-done genre at the moment. However ,I thoroughly   enjoyed this flick from beginning to end. Action,love, bravery,sentimentality,and selfishness are all on display in this allegorical tale that also keeps the thrills coming.

The highlight for me was the amazing scene near the end in the Busan Cetral Station rail yards.After a narrow escape from a derailment ,our surviving characters flight to safety is endangered by a mass of infected monsters  grabbing onto the rail car, and slowly bringing it to a halt. Almost:)

Commentators have made some noise about comparing this flick in some ways to the recent film Snowpiercer. My viewing companion here in Montreal seemed to think it more likely took some inspiration from Cassandras Crosing.

Regardless ,the  Train To Busan is a one-way ticket to entertainment.

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The Phantom Detective-d. Jo Sung-He (South Korea-2016)

South Korean noir? You bet! This slick new entry from director Sung-He is a crowd pleaser of a film that’s stars Lee Je-Hoon as private investigator Hong Gol-Dong. Dong is a crime fighting PI with a mysterious and forgotten past, except for one memory that drives him- the murder of his mother and his never ending thirst for revenge. As the film begins he is within reach of the killer , but is one step behind henchmen for a secret society bent on overthrowing the government.

They have other plans for the aged killer,as he has information that could expose their evil plot.Our hero does however find the abandoned grandchildren of his nemesis ,and becomes a reluctant caretaker as both search for the abducted old man. For very different reasons.

Equal parts Noir-Comedy-Action-and -Sentimentality-this film is a modern take on Korean literary hero Hong Gil-Dong. And I assume a tip of the hat to the original pulp magazine serial The Phantom Detective, that was published from 1933-53.

This is a great whirlwind of a story with many shifting moods, and owes a visual debt to Sin City. Great performances and visual style are on display ,and I absolutely love the final gun battle which takes place while our hero sits placidly observing justice being delivered; to those that so desperately deserve it.

Sequel in the offing? I wouldn’t be surprised. Look out for this flick it’s a keeper…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Carpenter, Sakamoto + Montreal

Hey folks, hope all is well. I am just on route to Montreal to take in the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival. The festival kicked off a few days ago and they have already screened 2 of  my favourite features from the 2016 EFM Berlinale: A Conspiracy of Faith (Denmark 2015) and Dark Side Of The Moon (Germany 2015).

As well the highly acclaimed Polish mermaid/zombie flick: The Lure had it’s NA premiere yesterday, and it was a definite buzz film at Berlin this past February.

I have a couple of interviews lined up already and a slate of films to try and get to, so I will update the blog every few days for the duration of Fantasia.

I just returned from a 3 day jaunt down to Motown to see  a couple baseball games, and take in the Eastern Market. As an added bonus I was able to catch John Carpenter and band in concert at the Masonic Temple Auditioriun.

This is a very old and very cool old theatre that is part of a large Masonic Order complex-the largest in the USA. During the City Of Detroit’s recent bankruptcy  this beautiful hall almost met the wrecking ball, but was saved by local musician and icon: Jack White. He came forward with a last minute donation of 1 Million $ to fund the restoration of the hall.

And I’m glad he did ,as it was a perfect venue for horror maestro John Carpenter to weave his synth laden themes and songs to a packed house of fans. A full house it was, and as the lights dimmed at 8 pm the screen on stage lit up with the opening of Carpenters famous film: Escape from New York.

As the opening continued however, it became clear the movie was going to continue, so we all sat back and enjoyed the show for 90 minutes.  After a short intermission the  house lights dimmed again and this time the concert began .

Escape From New York kicked off the show, quickly followed  by the theme from: Attack on Precinct 13. Clips of the films filled out the experience as the group ran through a wide variety of movie themes and tracks including: The Fog, They Live, and Christine.

Interspersed with the film stuff where a variety of tracks from Carpenters recent LP releases: Lost Themes and Lost Themes II.

Overall a really cool and creepy show, a lot of fun as well with a really great and vocal crowd. Carpenter continues his tour through the USA and Europe, so do yourself a favour and catch a show if you can, and look for his album releases on Sacred Bones Records.

Iconic Japanese music and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has dabbled in film music throughout his long career. He is most well know for the beautiful sweeping score for : The Last Emperor, and the electronic tinged music for; Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

This October as part of the Ghent Film Festival in Belgium, the organizers presenting the World Soundtrack Awards and their annual concert of film music highlighting tunes from a specific composer.

This years lucky  recipient is Ryuichi Sakamoto and a live concert of his film music is being compiled and a recording and CD release is hoped for as well.

The fest is currently raising money to help realize this concept through crowdfunding. SO check it out and send in some $ if you can: Indie go go-Sakamoto

They have released concert CD’s of  live shows featuring the music of Cliff Martinez and Alan Silvestri in the past. Check out the GFF website for more info on the events and recordings available:) oh and there is a Spotify stream of film music as well!

Ghent Film Fest

Ok well I’m in a post diner food-coma courtesy of Via Rail Canada, so I will ign of for now, talk to you form Montreal…

 

 

 

 

 

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Film Eye

Well it is nearing the end of my European journey,as I fly home in a few days via Iceland. I have squeezed in a few more screenings in the last week, but I am limited to watching English language films here in the Netherlands as any film subtitling is in Dutch which is beyond my linguistic capabilities:)

I did get to link up with filmmaker Adrien Costello in. Paris for a film: Concussion starring Will Smith. A well done look at groundbreaking research into a brain disease affecting ex-NFL players,and the fight by the main researcher to have it recognized by the league.

In Rotterdam I checked out a very cool complex on the harbour called Lanterna Venesta-a music venue/restaurant/cinema-and checked out a new film : Beyond Sleep. It is a new Norway/Netherlands co-production and involves a small group of geologists hiking through the wilderness of remote Norway. Most are concerned with practical discoveries, but out lead character seems to be on more of a metaphysical journey. An uneven film that never quite reached or conveyed fully what it was trying express.

I did see some great photography in Rotterdam at a couple museums. The Kusnthall Museum has a very nice exhibit of photos by Phillipe Hausmann-including some very famous still is Salvador Dali, Alfred Hitchcock, and Marilyn Monroe. If you are anywhere near Rotterdan definately a must see:

http://www.kunsthal.nl/en/#tijdlijn-2016-03

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Other photos were on display appropriately enough at the Netherlands Photography Museum housed in a former cruise liner terminal building. Two exhibitions were of note: Ulays installation of Polaroids, and Toon Michiels show American Neon Signs-Day & Night.Another reason to head to Rotterdam this spring:)

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I headed down the road (or track as I have been travelling by train) to Amsterdam. There is a very cool ex-tram garage that is now I large food hall (FoodHallen) and within the complex is a nice 5 theatre cinema. I had heard Charlie Kaufman’s new film was really interesting-a “buzz” film. It is called Anomolisa and is all stop motion animation which give the movie a very bizarre, otherworldly look. Beyond that-the film wasn’t this viewers cup of tea. The lead character (Michael Stone) came across to me as a creep, visiting Cincinnati to give a speech at a conference, he spends most of his energy drinking, smoking, and trying to have sex. Oh,and have some sort of existential crisis or mid-life breakdown. That is supposed to make him a bit less of a jerk perhaps? The portrayal of women in the film is very poor- they are doormats with very little self esteem- no excuse for that in this day and age. Anyways obviously I didn’t care for the film-maybe you will think differently if you see it.

Today I checked out the very cool and stunning Film Eye-located on the waterfront in Amsterdam. A cool set of cinemas complement the museum and restaurant-a definately place to see in the city:) Downstairs was a permanent exhibit of old cinema memoralbia, and some very cool interactive displays and film quizzes as well as access to their archive of film that can be viewed in little viewing pods.

https://www.eyefilm.nl/en

Upstairs was a very interesting exhibit called: Close-Up A New Generation of Film & Video Artists in the Netherlands.The highlight was a very cool short film by Amos Mulder-a visual dream sequence with the protagonist as a astronaut journeying through a mystical garden and forest; and over top of this is a 1960’s recording of a psychologist asking a patient a series of question regarding his dream after he has just brought the patient out of hypnosis:

 

Well that’s it for now folks, I will be back in Canada next week and back at CFMU hosting Soundtrack at the end on March:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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European Tour continues…

Hey folks, hope you are all well. I survived the Berlinale , and the Ennio Morricone concert in Koln, and have been slowly working my way around Europe for a holiday. And I have been squeezing in a few films as well. I know that is a big surprise 🙂

I ended up in Poland in the old city of Wroclaw for a few days before heading to Bratislava in Slovakia. It was a surprisingly beautiful town,and I had met some folks from the Slovakia Film Centre in Berlin so I thought I would pop in for a few days.

I did manage to get to the very nice Slovak Film Centre where they do restoration and preservation of Slovak films. They are also involved in promoting films from the region  and have a nice  complex of cinemas and a very great Kino-Cafe as well:)

Here I was able to attend a screening of Eva Nova,which I had missed at the Berlinale. It is a new film by Martin Skop that revolves around an aging actress (Emilia Vasayova) who is down on her heels and battling alcoholism. She embarks on a mission to make amends with those she has let down in her life-primarily her son. And he has troubles of his own, and isn’t very receptive to having his long absent mother involved in his life.

A very gritty and hard-hitting story about the search for redemption for past sins, and the struggle to live an honest life. Down-beat but with a glimmer of hope at the end perhaps. This played at TIFF in 2015 before Berlinale and it may end up on the rep circuit in Canada this year. Here are some links:

http://www.sfu.sk/#

I also had a chance to  take in a screening of Alphaville in Bratislava. The very cool 1966 Jean-Luc Godard is a poetic homage to the era of Film Noir starring Eddie Constantine as Lemmy Caution and Anna Karina as Natasha Von Braun. Short on special effects, the film makes up for it with a cool mix of an inventive script,stark photography, strange locations, great editing, and black humour. To name a few. The closing scene is worth the price of admission itself, even with a choppy 35mm film print and Slovak subtitles which were beyond this viewers comprehension.

Leaving Bratislava, I headed to Budapest in Hungary-the Paris of Central Europe it has been called. And the city did not disappoint-I would highly recommend a visit here. And I was able to check out a few films at a collection of 5 different rep cinemas all located in central Pest.

The first film I screened was Pasolini at the Toldi Puskin cinema- a new film about the edgy Italian  Italian film director whos’career was tragically ended at the hands of a violent youth in 1970’s Rome. The film comes with high expectations-directed by Abel Ferrer and starring a well cast Willian Dafoe in the lead role-the film concerns itself with the last 24 hours of the filmmakers life.

Luckily I knew something about Pasolini and his films ,but even so I was at a loss to really understand anything about the filmmaker and his history. Maybe that was beyond the reach of this screenplay;but it made for an uneven, choppy ,and unfulfilled viewing experience-the film never really finds any coherent style or rythm and fails to really place the filmmaker and the politics in a real context other than verbal platitudes mouthed by actors in some of the more annoyingly shot  interior group scenes-all shot with a roaming camera panning from close-up to close-up and repeated in 3 or 4 scenes. However the exterior night shooting and interior travelling shots in autos where beautifully executed by cinematographer Stefano Falevene.

Overall a missed opportunity of a film-if only Pasolini had been alive to make it himself-now that would have been a movie…

Later in the week I caught up with the new film by Todd Haynes called: Carol. Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith the movie stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchet in a story of two women reaching across social conventions and class differences to consummate the love they feel for each other. Slow, meditative, and beautifully shot-the film evokes some of the earlier work  of the director-most notably his 2002 homage to the films of Douglas Sirk : Far From Heaven ,and the excellent 2011 HBO mini-series: Mildred Pierce.

I had a third movie to see in Budapest, the new Cohen Brothers film: Hail Caesar. I had been in Berlin when the movie had opened the Berlinale,but settled into the very friendly confines of Toldi Mozi to check out the film. A comedy with some deeper metaphors for the contemporary political climate in America, Hail Ceasar stars Josh Brolin as a hard-working Hollywood studio executive Eddie Mannix. Eddie has to keep the troubled studio he works at afloat amid series of escalating problems- the central crisis being the kidnapping of film star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) in the middle of the filming of a late 1950’s biblical epic.

This is a very funny and smart film, with good casting and some very nice recreations of the style and  production values of the so called: Golden Age Of Hollywood.

Heading to Paris via Salzburg I stopped for a look at the famous Cinematheque Francais-the brainchild of Henri Langois. Unfortunately the screenings available for viewing didn’t accomadate my limited language skills so I had to content myself with a visit to the onsite museum and cafe.

The museum is small but effective,with many displays of historic cinema cameras and projection devices. There is a nice homage to George Melies, and a recreation of his original studio. As well a costume from La Voyage De La Lune is on display.

The highlight was a section devoted to the German Exspessionist movement ,as well as the Russian cinema of Sergei Eisenstein. Original drawings and watercolours were on display from Fritz Langs film Metropolis as well as from F. W. Murnaus film Faust and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. A full size model of the robot Maria was an added bonus, as well as the prop head of Norman Bates mother from Psycho-donated by Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately no camera were allowed no hence no pics…

Downstairs is the nice Les 400 Coups cafe-named after the famous film by Francois Truffaut. Here you can enjoy light or hearty fare in a casual environment, surrounded by some great cinema posters:)

I did get to a couple movies in Paris however at the Publiciscinemas on the Champ de Ulysses.

The first film is a brand new British/French,comedy/action directed by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet called: Moon Walkers. It stars Ron Perlman as a CIA operative with a bad case of PTSD, who is enlisted to contact Stanley Kubrick in 1969 London to commission him to film a fake moon landing. The American government is concerned that the upcoming Apollo mission will not succeed in landing a man on the moon , so they want this fake footage as back-up. Things go wrong for Perlman from the beginning as he gets mixed up with a failed band manager (Rupert Grint), and his drugged out hippie roommate ( Robert Sheehan) .Then things get really strange.

Cleverly playing on the modern conspiracy theory about Kubrik having filmed a fake moon landing, the film is an entertaining mix of comedy and action ,and a nice homage and satire of the late 60’s era as well.

I also checked out a showing of Sunrise. This is a new neo-noir film by director Partho Sen-Gupta. It concerns Police Inspector Joshi who is haunted by the kidnapping of his daughter Aruna 10 years earlier, and how it ties into a current cases of dissapearances that seem to centre around a local dancehall and brothel.

Beautiful nourish night photography is further enhanced by the directors setting the action in the claustrophobic streets is Mumbai at the height of Monsoon season. What is real and what is fantasy meld together, as do past and present storylines in this work of almost pure cinema; with little assistance from dialogue.The films  epilogue states 100,00 children go missing in India every year-a heartbreaking situation grounding is film in its social setting. Recommended. Check out the trailer:

I am off the Rotterdam this week so will try and update in a couple weeks before coming back to Canada

And  speaking of Canada, my friend Stephanie Swift in Ottawa participated in a very cool concert ,and film screening ,of the classic silent film Ben Hur.

Starring silver screen heartthrob Roman Navarro in the title role,the show consisted of Kevin Reeves directing the Seventeen Voyces chamber choir, the 100+ voices of the Ottawa Choral Society, exciting soloists, the children’s choirs of St. Matthew’s Church, organ virtuoso, Matthew Larkin, and a battery of percussionists.

Steph sent a picture along from the show, and I will attach a link to more info on then silent film programmes in Ottawa:

http://www.seventeenvoyces.ca

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So long for now, and a reminder Soundtrack continues to broadcast in my absence on 93.3 CFMU-Wednesday’s from 10-12 EST on http://cfmu.mcmaster.ca

thanks to Robyn Edgar for filling in!!