All screenings were at the Avalon Mall Cinemas, Sunday 2pm. Prices were: full season pass: $55.00 regular, $50.00 students and seniors; 6-Pass: $30.00 regular, $25.00 students and seniors; single admission: $7.00 regular, $6.00 students and seniors.
September 14 Kissed (Canada 1996) 78 mins.
Directed by Lynne Stopkewich.
With Molly Parker, Peter Outerbridge, Jay Brazeau, Natasha Morley.
Canadian, eh? How else to explain the unconventional plot based on a short story by Barbara Gowdie? Kissed is Vancouver director Stopkewich's outrageously beautiful movie about a woman who prefers pretty dead things to the often sordid world of flesh and blood. For such a creepy idea, Stopkewich cast the luminous Molly Parker in the role of Sandra Larson, a young woman with an apparently normal family life and a prepossessing nature. The young Sandra is also hyper-sensitive to the material world, favouring furry creatures and the smell of forest fungus to playing with Barbie. When Sandra enters the world of adulthood she snags the perfect job in a funeral parlor. It beats working the cash at Wal-Mart and she gets to play with her men of choice: dead guys who never talk back. If this sounds too morbid, rest assured that Kissed has won honours at all the major Festivals and has been widely acclaimed as an amazing tour de corpse: a controversial feminist film with a light and even comic touch. Not to be missed.
September 21 Everyone Says I Love You (USA 1996) 91 mins.
Directed by Woody Allen.
With Alan Alda, Drew Barrymore, Lukas Haas, Goldie Hawn, Gaby Hoffmann, Edward Norton, Julia Roberts, Tim Roth, and many many more.
Perhaps what's most interesting about Woody Allen's career is how he has translated his intensely private life into a wide-screen pageant, almost always comic, but rumbling with dark undertones. Everyone Says I Love You was made after Mia, after custody battles, after embarrassing disclosures and exposures. That Allen would produce a broadly cheery musical about the stabilizing value of family relationships after such trials and humiliations says a lot about a complicated directorial make-up and perhaps a defiantly emotional man. Last year's Mighty Aphrodite signaled something similar: the protective insularity of Manhattan, the light morality of strangers, the foolishness of human endeavour in the face of passion, and the good intentions of ordinary shmos. This time, Allen insists on singing about it, and along the lines of Dennis Potter's reliance on popular music to convey the Zeitgeist. Indeed, this time Allen turns the whole world into a Greek chorus, or at least the charmed blocks of the Upper West Side.
September 28 Kolya (Czech Rep./UK/France 1996) 105 mins.
Directed by Jan Svêrák.
With Zdenk Svrák, Andrej Chalimon, Libue Safránková, et al.
Last year's moving Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film, Kolya is the eponymous five-year-old son of Nadezda. A young Russian woman requiring Czech papers, Nadezda enters a phony marriage with the older Frantiek Louka who buys a vehicle and visits his own aging mother with the money from the deal. When Kolya's maternal grandmother who is raising him dies, he is dumped on the unsuspecting Louka. At first the older man and the child have nothing to say to each other; in fact, the boy speaks no Czech and interferes in Louka's life just by showing up. But as life proceeds, so do the two unlikely partners. That's more or less the sketch of the story. But Kolya is also set in Prague, 1988, on the eve of the Velvet Revolution. Everything that happens in this meltingly wonderful film partakes of grand political events. Everyone lives on the edge of fantastic change in the way characters simply do not in North American movies. The great achievement of Kolya lies in its ability to convey how history works, often without any of its central players realizing the significance of what is going on. Irony and artfulness work together to make this film one of the season's highlights.
October 5 Ulee's Gold (USA 1997) 111 mins.
Directed by Victor Nunez.
With Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson, Jessica Biel, J. Kenneth Campbell.
This Sundance Festival winner centres on Ulee Jackson (Fonda), a quiet, slow-talking beekeeper living in the wetlands of the Florida panhandle. You might say that this character is the emblem of hard-working rural America, embodying decency and nobility with stoic resolve in the face of crisis. Interrupting Ulee's ritualized isolation is the appearance of two granddaughters badly in need of his guardianship. Disturbed and rebellious, these two young women threaten everything Ulee has cultivated for so long. The power of this often dark and intense melodrama lies largely in Fonda's acclaimed performance as a moral force of authority and assurance. The once easy rider has obviously matured into the kind of cinematic presence his always dignified father was, the type of actor you'd happily trust to do your banking for you. For Peter Fonda, this role may seem a long way from the seductive bike paths of Monument Valley but when you see him as Ulee you'll recognize how it much he is all in the family.
October 12 Shall We Dance (Japan 1997) 110 mins.
Directed by Masayuki Suo.
With Koji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka.
A spectacularly popular hit in its home territory, Shall We Dance deliberately takes its name from the ever-popular fifties musical about a colonial babe and a follicly-challenged Persian king. Cultural conflict in this Japanese spin on a silly tale comes not from without, however. The pressures within modern Japanese culture are strong enough to drive millions of alienated guys to do the strangest things, albeit in quiet defiance of centuries of honour-bound tradition. What happens, for instance, when a successful middle-aged married businessman wants to break out of his Honda? In North America he might run off with a bimbo and reinvent his hair. In Japan, he might sneak off to ballroom- dancing lessons, the sort of activity openly designated for losers and the overweight. The magnificently handsome Yakusho plays the role of an awkward hoofer tirelessly transformed by life and lessons into an Asian Fred Astaire. But the process of getting there is at once hilarious and romantic, full of broad chopshtick and some unforgettably funny characters. Rumoured to have made Yoko Ono laugh.
October 19 Female Perversions (USA/Germany 1996) 113 mins.
Directed by Susan Streitfield.
With Tilda Swinton, Amy Madigan, Karen Sillas, Frances Fisher, and more.
If you are intrigued by the title you ain't heard nothin' yet. Female Perversions, scheduled as part of the St. John's International Women's Film and Video Festival, is about as out-there as a narrative about feminism can be, and it's superb, maybe the most intelligent and challenging film about female sexuality to date. Tilda Swinton, the unconventional cross-dressing British star of the epic Orlando, is at the troubled core of this fictional story evolved from a Freudian-feminist study of female behavior (J. Kaplan's Female Perversions). She plays an archetypal modern woman named Eve, a woman in line for a judgeship in L.A. who has a rather messy relationship with her sister. Streitfield's first feature film is amazingly audacious, pushing the problems of contemporary womanhood to challenging limits. Eve's 'perversion' is not just that she has disturbing and neurotic fantasies of submission to patriarchy; she also collides in her professional and personal life with so-called acceptable definitions of femininity. Not only that but this film gives new meaning to the term 'sisterly.' Forget the bargain-basement bonding of The First Wives' Club. In Female Perversions, we learn that sometimes a tube of lipstick is not just a tube of lipstick.
October 26 Prisoner of the Mountains
(Kazakhstan/Russia 1996) 95 mins. English subtitles.
Directed by Sergei Bodrov.
With Oleg Menshikov, Sergei Bodrov, Jr., Djemal Sikharulidze, and others.
The spotlight director for several years at the Toronto Festival, Bodrov is known as the most hip of contemporary Russian filmmakers. Of course, he has a great laboratory of material with which to experiment in his homeland. In this case he turns his eye on the absurd horrors of the Chechen war, representing it forcefully through a human-centred tale about a couple of Russian soldiers who are captured and brought to a small mountain village. The village elder exploits their presence to gain freedom for his own captured son. Typically, the two prisoners, Sacha and Vania, come to see their captors as humans, not demons. Bodrov's own son plays the role of Vania, lending a poignancy to this necessary account of how stupid and wasteful war really is. The plot may be simple but the telling is profound. Indeed, Bodrov borrowed its premise from a 150-yr.-old tale by Tolstoy, which shows you that in some places the battle hits just keep on coming. Shot only 300km away from the actual fighting, The Prisoner of the Mountains probably ought to be seen by anyone who still thinks that a divided country is a great unifying idea.
November 2 The Ogre (Germany/France/UK 1996) 118 mins.
Directed by Volker Schlöndorff.
With John Malkovich, Marianne Sägebrecht, Heino Ferch, Agnes Soral, Armin Mueller-Stahl.
Renowned director of The Tin Drum, Swann in Love, and The Handmaid's Tale, Schlöndorff's latest feature explores one of his favourite themes: the haunted past of Germany. Wisely, he does so here through the ingenious device of a fairy tale, albeit a grotesque one in the tradition of the Grimms. The always annoyingly talented Malkovich is the ogre Abel, a bit of an idiot who sees horrible things happening around him but fails to understand their significance. As a child, a strange occurrence led him to believe he carries a special power. His destiny is marked by both history and fate as he ends up working on Hermann Göring's estate, innocently encouraging children to become part of the Hitler Youth. The brilliance of The Ogre is that we see familiar events but through the narrow eyes of this odd creature; therefore everything is at once recognizable and distorted. Watch for the astonishing performance of Armin Mueller-Stahl (Shine) as a Nazi general beset with conflict.
November 9 When the Cat's Away (France 1996) 95 mins.
Directed by Cédric Klapisch.
With Garance Clavel, Zinedine Soualem, Renée Le Calm, Olivier Py.
Leave it to the French to make a charming comedy about a missing cat. Chacun cherche son chat is a winning romance about a woman named Chloé. Her life is a bit of a mess, her job at a modeling agency sucks, and the only man around is a gay housemate, Michel. While on vacation, Chloé leaves her cat Gris-Gris with an eccentric neighbour, Mademoiselle Renée. Searching for the inevitably missing chat together, the two woman encounter a community in Paris bound by ordinary but vivid realities. Klapisch shows a loving and affectionate side of the city of lights, just as we like to think about it. Many of the characters are non-actors, just ordinary people inhabiting the magical streets of an extraordinary city. So When the Cat's Away has a light improv feel to it that goes down perfectly with a good white Burgundy and an early November bucket of popcorn.
November 16 Trojan Eddie (UK/Ireland 1996) 105 mins.
Directed by Gillies Mackinnon.
With Stephen Rae, Richard Harris, Sean McGinley, Brid Brennan, Aislin McGuckin, Stuart Townsend, Brenda Gleeson.
Talented director of last year's Small Faces, Mackinnon turns his lens on a small-town Irish salesman (Rae) who talks a good line of blarney but doesn't do much else. He'd sell his mother from the back of his Trojan van if he could. Life isn't easy for Eddie although he stumbles along working for John Power (Richard Harris), a real wheeler-dealer who possesses everything Eddie craves--that is, until Power's young bride runs off with Eddie's assistant, leaving Power with a rage so massive he'll kill anything in his way. But Trojan Eddie isn't a cynical or angry film. It carries the same gripping realism as Small Faces, but with a measure of fairy dust thrown over everything. Rae is such a good actor that he can make even a dull picture resonate with life. But in a picture such as this one, he really shows off the range of his expression. Mackinnon aims successfully at evoking the natural dynamism of Ireland's underclass, and in Rae's fast-talking Eddie we see a whole national mythology come into being on the screen.
November 23 Dream with the Fishes (USA 1997) 96 mins.
Directed by Finn Taylor.
With David Arquette, Brad Hunt, Cathy Moriarty, Kathryn Erbe.
Shot in 26 days around San Francisco, Dream with the Fishes is a first feature for the independently minded Finn who cut his teeth in the theatre that had launched the careers of Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. Resolutely uncomfortable with mainstream film and the studio system, Finn values a work's writing above all, so is not surprising that Dream with the Fishes should seem so literary. This is a film about a rapid life-journey taken by two offbeat men caught in a swirl of mistaken goals. Terry (Arquette) is conservative and nervous, a timid creature who has given up on the world. Turning to the passive-aggressive activity of voyeurism, he decides to kill himself, but not before buying some alcoholic fortification. At the liquor store he bumps into Nick on whom he has spied. What results from this encounter is an odd and decidedly wild deviation from the stressful mediocrity of daily life. The plot takes off like a bat out of Hollywood, madly flying off in all directions, and including a nude bowling night with two prostitutes. Have we got your attention so far?
November 30 Chasing Amy (USA 1996) 90 mins.
Directed by Kevin Smith.
With Joey Lauren Adams, Ben Affleck.
Sharply drawn characters have thus far been Smith's strength as a director (Clerks), and in Chasing Amy he gets them down like nobody else's business. Affleck, a comic book creator, plays a man in love with a woman who turns out to be a comic book artist and a lesbian (Adams). He manages a little horizontal cha cha with her, but then learns a few things about her he'd probably not really like to know, forcing him into major mature-mindedness in spite of himself. Chasing Amy has often been described as a love story about two seemingly incompatible lovers. In the nineties, all the categories are up for grabs and courtship is as open and confusing as today's dress codes. It's fun to see good actors at work with a lively script about the muddled lives of youthful longing and adult responsibilities, and this film scores well on the nuanced-life meter. If the Brady Bunch lived in the nineties they might have turned out like this. See Chasing Amy and find out what this is.
December 7 When We Were Kings (USA 1996) 87 mins.
Directed by Leon Gast.
With Muhammad Ali et al.
So we are taken back to Zaire. It's 1974. Muhammed Ali and George Foreman are squaring off for the world heavyweight title, the famous 'rumble in the jungle.' Well, we have seen many great boxing movies but never one like this, an inspired documentary that says a lot more about the whole social order that generated such a gladiatorial exhibition in the first place. Intelligent and often ironic commentary provided by Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Spike Lee punctuate the scenes of before, during, and after the fight. It seems like only yesterday, and it was. A slice of history, an insightful meditation on the culture of sport, and a fascinating essay on race, When We Were Kings offers up real-life characters in ways no mere fictional exaggeration could ever provide. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more titanic cast than this one. Just think about Don 'Eraserhead' King, for a moment, and be afraid, be very afraid.