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MUN Cinema Series
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January 13 Silver City
(USA 2004) 129 min.
Rated R for language. [IMAGE]
Directed by John Sayles.
With Thora Burch, Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Daryl Hannah, Kris Kristofferson, Tim Roth, et al.
This Series continues to be undyingly loyal to the noble work of John Sayles.
Where Michael Moore is polemical Sayles is a storyteller, faithful not only to the
power of the images but also to the way they need to be embedded in narrative. On
one level, SILVER CITY is a satire about George W, made just before the US
presidential campaign and with a view to revealing the shallow limits of the
Republican machine. But, again unlike Moore, Sayles avoids the cheap shot or the
easy set-up and instead pitches his critique at a higher level, at the entire
socio-political landscape of what we once called without quotation marks The
System. In this case, it is the System that produced a George W in the first
place. Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) is running for Colorado Gov. His patrician
Senator father (Michael Murphy) cheerleads him on. More to the point, a shrewd
strategist is masterminding the whole campaign, a man who, like Karl Rove (Barbara
Walter's most influential person of the year), must be at least several steps
ahead of the bozos on whose behalf he is working. As played by the always
intelligent Richard Dreyfuss, Chuck Raven must anticipate the flak and keep
spinning the falsehoods. The plot devises a murder mystery as a metaphor for the
political process, but the film also refuses to offer soft liberal resolutions to
problems far more complex than mainstream media or politics will allow us to
understand. This is both a hard and a poignant film, as incisive a political
analysis as you will find in this or any other year. SILVER CITY is the thinking
person's approach to the contradictions of late capitalism - with a great cast.
January 20 Festival Express
(UK/Netherlands 2003) 90 min.
Rated R for some language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Bob Smeaton.
With Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, The Band, and many more - all as themselves.
The undisputed star of this documentary is none other than Janis Joplin, the
tragic ballsy rock and roll babe of the Woodstock generation. But also along for
the ride on this train wreck of a jam session were the Grateful Dead, the Band,
the Flying Burrito Brothers, Delaney and Bonnie, Ian and Sylvia, Buddy Guy, and
the curiously inappropriate Sha Na Na. FESTIVAL EXPRESS is an assemblage of the
raw and long neglected footage of a Canada-wide rock trip, where the likes of that
new generation inhabited various railcars in which to eat, screw, drink, and play
music, a car for almost every respectable rock star purpose. Amazingly, it's taken
all this time for the footage to come together, and so what we are witness to is a
kind of candid and nostalgic look at rebellious dead people. Part of the appeal of
this documentary is the sheer unpretentiousness of the trip - no great entourages
of the sort that accompany stars today, no bling or bull, just a bunch of talented
people hanging out and chewing up the countryside in places like Calgary or
Toronto, charging a whopping $14 for the pleasure of their music. If you're a
boomer you won't want to pass this chance to revisit a past you claim you have
lived; if you're the children of boomers, come see what your parents like to claim
they were all about.
January 27 The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de Motocicleta)
(USA/Germany/UK/Argentina/Chile/Peru 2004) 128 min.
Spanish with English subtitles. Rated R for language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Walter Salles.
With Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, et al.
For probably the most awaited film of this Series, come early to ensure a seat and
a special place from which to gawk at astonishingly handsome Gael Garcia Bernal.
Fittingly, he plays none other than the most adored t-shirt icon in the world, Che
Guevara. Perhaps one day t-shirts will be emblazoned with Bernal's own gorgeously
gawkable face. This guy's eyes smoke as they did in Y Tu Mama Tambien. The film is
a dramatized reenactment of an 8,000-mile motorcycle trip that Ernesto Guevara and
his buddy Alberto Granado took to experience adventure and see the (Latin) world
from Argentina to Peru. It was 1952 and Ernesto was not yet a 'Che,' but the film
aims at showing how he gradually became one. Fortunately, as free-spirited as he
was at the time, Ernesto rigorously kept a record of their travels; hence, the
'diaries' that inform the stunning visuals of the film. The young man was on
sabbatical from medical school and more bourgeois sybarite than sacrificing
revolutionary. Indeed, on the road these two twenty-something Argentineans flirted
with women, partied hard, quarreled and, ultimately, bonded. While so doing they
also took note of the poverty in the countryside, and acquired a profound social
education for which they had not bargained. A coming-of-revolutionary genre
picture, MOTORCYCLE DIARIES takes us right up to the moment Ernesto became Che and
joined up with a guy named Fidel to change the course of history, paving the way
for masses of Canadian tourists on the beaches of Varadero.
February 3 Vera Drake
(UK/France/New Zealand 2004) 125 min.
Rated R for depiction of strong thematic material. [IMAGE]
Directed by Mike Leigh.
With Imelda Staunton, Richard Graham, et al.
We all admire the tenacious Mike Leigh whose searing films Naked and Secrets and
Lies remain two of the most beloved works of the last century. With VERA DRAKE
Leigh continues his exploration of working class reality, getting at its grim
condition like no other filmmaker alive today. Vera is the kind of woman we all
knew in the 'fifties and still encounter today. She does various menial jobs to
make ends meet, but the one she takes on in secrecy is different - she is a
moonlighting abortionist. Before its legalization in the UK in the late sixties,
abortions were performed in the darkest alleys. Women of any class went to women
like Vera to get fixed. One unfortunate day Vera gets caught and the drama then
explodes around her like a brutal nightmare. Faced with a patriarchal judicial
system and an unforgiving establishment culture, Vera is slowly subjected to the
relentless dehumanization of the Law. Leigh is less interested in whether
audiences are for or against abortion than he is in chronicling the way human
beings are processed according to class interests. The real culprit here, as it is
in all of his films, is social inequity. Working with his customary verité style,
improvised dialogue, and relatively unknown actors, Leigh produces a gripping
portrait of social realism. In the role of the titular figure, Imelda Staunton is
nothing less than brilliant. If she doesn't get nominated for a Best Actress Oscar
we'll eat our ticket stubs.
February 10 Enduring Love
(UK 2004) 100 min.
Rated R for language, some violence. [IMAGE]
Directed by Roger Michell.
With Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans, Susan Lynch, et al.
The opening scenes have been much discussed and so you don't want to arrive late.
A hot-air balloon accident fills the screen like a surreal dream. But in the
reality of this movie it is the generating circumstance for major transformative
experience. Based on a novel by Ian McEwan. ENDURING LOVE is largely a study in
the bitterness of fate. Joe the professor is about to propose to his artist
girlfriend when the accident occurs in the Oxford countryside. Joe rushes to the
scene with some strangers and things then go from dark to psychotic. If you know
your McEwan you know the novelist offers a caustic view of the human condition.
Here Joe, played with superb uptight containment by Donald Craig, gets
increasingly tangled up in the life of one of the strangers, Jed, played by the
talented Rhys Ifans. As a psychological thriller, ENDURING LOVE takes us on a
strange and demented journey, but with style and a powerful dramatic force. As Jed
starts to stalk Joe, declaring his love and kinship, the latter's confidence in
his previously assured world starts to crumble. Joe is by nature distant and cool,
but the film asks us to consider whether he is denying his own homosexual feelings
or oddly attracted to the strange invader. This is a disturbing film in some ways,
enlivened by the strong characters and the unresolved questions they face.
February 17 A Very Long Engagement/Un long dimanche de fiançailles
(France/USA 2004) 134 min.
Rated R for violence and sexuality. [IMAGE]
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
With Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld, et al.
You'll be lining up early for this critically acclaimed masterpiece by French
darling director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The irrepressibly adorable Audrey Tatou
(Amélie) plays Cathode, a driven polio-stricken woman who believes in spite of all
the odds that Manech, her fiancé, is alive and well and somehow free of the
horrible trenches of WWI. While she roams the French universe in search of his
person, we see him alive, far away and struggling to keep from soiling his pants.
As with his earlier film, Amélie, Jennet constructs the plot like an elaborate
puzzle. The characters keep bouncing from one fated moment to the next, but in
their separate spheres. This device creates a lot of tension and mystery, as we
wonder how and when the two lovers will ever find their way to each other through
and beyond the fog of war and destiny. The style of the film is gloriously poetic,
lifting the grim subject matter of war and its awful aftermath to unimaginable
heights of visual lyricism. This is no mean feat, but who else but Jeunet could
achieve it? The man has the spirit of an angel and delights above all else in the
magic of storytelling. Bonus points for noticing Jodie Foster speaking impeccable
French as a farmer's wife. Who knew?
February 24 What Remains of Us
(Canada 2004) 77 min.
Directed by Francois Prévost and Hugo Latulippe
With the Dalai Lama as Himself.
Okay, maybe the Dalai Lama prefers to be known as himself. After all, this is the
most modest international religious leader in the world. We would not normally
show a film like this except that no one else is. Many theatres have been afraid
to screen it. Anyhow, it is a tribute to Canadian documentary ingenuity,
brilliantly hypnotic, and well worth the experience. Eight years in the making and
told from the risky point of view of the Tibetan people themselves, WHAT REMAINS
OF US has drawn huge crowds at festivals and won several popular awards. Kalsang
Dolma is a Tibetan woman who lives in Quebec in exile. She somehow managed to
smuggle into Tibet a videotape message from the Dalai Lama, whom many in the
region had never even seen before. In their amazed and generally overwhelming
reactions to the message a film was born. Shot secretly on a small DV camera, this
documentary is surprisingly professional looking. It is also moving and
provocative as it implicitly asks us to consider what the price of lost cultural
experience might be for any of us, whether Tibet, Quebec, or Newfoundland.
Fortunately Richard Gere does not harm anyone in the making of this movie. He is
nowhere to be seen.
March 3 The Take
(Canada 2004) 87 min.
Directed by Avi Lewis.
Written by Naomi Klein.
If last week's plea for Tibetan dignity didn't grab you this week's argument for
social solidarity sure will. Leave it to the formidably creative socialist team of
Avi "Counterspin" Lewis and Naomi "No Logo" Klein to write and produce a winning
documentary on the monetary crisis in Argentina. But don't cry for their workers,
because THE TAKE tracks the amazing self-reliance of the victims of economic fall
out. Shot over six months and against the backdrop of the 2001 collapse of the
economy, this doc follows the workers who quickly turned their anger into social
reform. They took over abandoned industries and started organizing, letting
nothing, not even an impermeable legal system, get in their way. Remember the news
footage of all those once well-heeled residents of Buenos Aires kicking in the
windows of the banks? Could one imagine the same reaction here? Possibly. More to
the point, could we imagine workers rising above their destitution and directing
their own futures with the conviction and force of community? This is an amazingly
empowering film and a tribute to the two youngish filmmakers who have dedicated
their careers to doing interesting stuff. Rise up and see it.
March 10 Being Julia
(Canada/USA/Hungary/UK 2004) 105 min.
Rated R for some sexuality. [IMAGE]
Directed by István Szabó.
With Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Bruce Greenwood, Juliet Stevenson, et al.
We wouldn't mind being Annette Bening, but then we'd have to raise children with
Warren Beatty. Never mind. Annette Bening is perfectly cast here as the aging
'thirties English stage diva, Julia. Married to wet noodle Michael (Jeremy Irons),
Julia is still classy and gorgeous but the entertainment world is cruel to women
over the age of twenty and she is well on the other side of it. Diversions in the
form of part time affairs satisfy for a while, but even these have fleeting
appeal. Partly to feed her vanity, Julia takes up with a very young American
(Shaun Evans), and for a time life has a kind of exhilarating release. Sex with
someone half her age is so much better than the alternative. But young Tom turns
out to be a bit of a cad and the theatrical plot thickens. BEING JULIA exploits
its stage theme to full advantage, mocking those who pretend to be 'real,'
admiring those who can 'act' their parts, both on and off the boards, and
ultimately pulling the rug out from those who deserve it. Above all, Bening lights
up the screen with a powerful grace. If this is what ageing beauty looks like,
bring on the crow's feet.
March 17 Lightning in a Bottle
(USA 2004) 103 min.
Rated PG-13. [IMAGE]
Directed by Anton Fuqua.
With Aerosmith, Gregg Allman, James Blood Ulmer, Natalie Cole, Bill Cosby, Chuck D., Dr. John, Macy Gray, Levon Helm, John Hammond, Odetta, B.B. King, et al.
The cast should say it all. Bring your sense of rhythm. We've got a whole lot of
music goin' on. Filmed at Radio City Music Hall in celebration of the blues' 100th
anniversary (how do they know that?), this head-bobbing tribute is simply
irresistible. Director Fuqua is sure to include the backstage irritations as well
as the on-stage performances. We get interviews, candid caught moments, and some
fine old yarns, as well as some amazing riffs, tunes, and breakout surprises. To
be sure, this is very much a festival of blues, but with John Fogerty and
Aerosmith we are teased with a little rock and roll, as well, the lines between
the two genres not being that far apart, after all. Indeed, with Macy Gray we come
to understand the extension of these forms into contemporary r&b and soul, and
even an ordinarily mainstream yawn as Natalie Cole rises to the occasion. How is
it that a simple 12-bar musical format made such a difference? LIGHTNING IN A
BOTTLE exposes us to the sheer diversity of the format, providing us with many
opportunities to listen to the complex and fascinating evolution of a Deep South
complaint. Leave your heartbreak hotel for a change and come see this fabulous
March 24 Merchant of Venice
(USA/Italy/Luxemburg/UK 2004) 138 min.
Rated R for some nudity. [IMAGE]
Directed by Michael Radford
With Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, et al.
There has always been much ado about this most controversial of Shakespeare's
plays, largely because of the ethnically challenged tragic figure of Shylock. Now
along comes ethnically talented Al Pacino in the signature role, directed by one
of the wisest of adapters, Michael Radford, in a truly stunning version of the
early 16th century spectacle. Indeed, this is the real genius of the thing - that
Radford emphatically diffuses the 'Jewish Question' by locating Shylock squarely
in his bigoted Venetian time. This anti-modernist location does not excuse the
play's difficulties so much as help us understand how a Shylock might have emerged
at the time as a figure of such significance. Fortunately, the normally
scenery-chewing Pacino opts to play the role with a measure of restraint, drawing
us into a willing suspension of disbelief with obviously well workshopped
persuasion. Lynn Collins plays the ultimately triumphant character of Portia with
equally convincing power. Perhaps most pleasurable is the set and art direction,
as the images seem to emerge from the palette of Rembrandt, giving us the flavour
and texture of the time in ways we could not possible appreciate on the stage.
This is where the film as film shines, and the power of light that is the very
stuff of cinema conveys the unsayable.
March 31 Bukowski: Born Into This
(USA 2003) 130 min.
Directed by John Dullaghan.
With Charles Bukowski, Bono, Sean Penn, Taylor Hackford, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, et al.
Every self-respecting undergraduate eventually comes to appreciate and even admire
the irascible Charles Bukowski, a model of alcoholic creativity, if not of better
living. Here finally is a full-blown documentary about the poet of the barstool
who died in 1994, featuring himself as the source of so much hard illumination.
Sure, he drank steadily and like a fish, but he produced amazing amounts of good
and inventive stuff, read frequently on the college circuit, and somehow managed a
way with women. The film shows much of this, not only through Bukowski's own
accounts of his truth but also through those of his friends, like Sean Penn or
Bono. Bukowski's reputation as a romantic rebel was surely aided by the popular
1987 movie Barfly, in which a smooth-skinned Micky Rourke played the pockmarked
lead in sexy sparring dialogue with a dazzlingly loaded Faye Dunaway. But BUKOWSKI
gives us the real man, scarred and raging, strangely handsome and sweet, a complex
mess of interesting multitudes. He'd probably kick this documentary right out of
the screening room on its cans, but we are grateful for its smart ability to keep
the record and demystify a legend.
April 7 The Story of the Weeping Camel
(Germany/Mongolia 2003) 87 min.
Mongolian with English subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni.
This acclaimed documentary has one of those titles that makes you think
itâ€™s going to be a downer. In truth, there is more joyous magic realism
here than gloomy adjective, and the title is part of its strange mystery.
Consider the subject. Weâ€™re on the edge of the Gobi desert, amid a
nomadic tribe of herders. One of the families soon becomes the centre of
the action. Their camel gives birth to an albino calf, a creature cuddly
but strange, too strange for the mother to nurse it. Nature may be cruel
but humans can sometimes soften her edges. Desperate to save the calf and
by extension their own livelihood, two brothers travel by camel to a town
to hire a musician who might charm the mother into relenting. Bizarre,
but all true. The musician then accompanies the boys to their station. He
plays. A camel weeps. To say more would be to spoil the astonishing drama
of this evolving story. What we can say is that this moving and authentic
slice of life captures more than an amazing tale: this is about a whole
way of life, about generations of people who live with a strong sense of
their destiny and a profound respect for each other. Hypnotic and
informative, immediate in its focus on the rhythms of such different
distant lives, The Story of the Weeping Camel is as powerful an
experience as you can ever hope to achieve in the dark.
April 28 Born Into Brothels
(India/USA 2004) 85 min.
Rated R for some sequences of strong language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman.
A tour de force of documentary filmmaking, BORN INTO
BROTHELS is a fresh and inspiring new release from two young artists. Its
subject is shocking. Think of the proverbial black hole of Calcutta and then
paint it red. Yes, as the title tells you, the red light district of
Calcutta is both backdrop and main character in this astonishing
achievement. Interestingly, the filmmakers first went to Calcutta to make a
movie about prostitution but found it hard to shoot. Either people wouldn't
allow themselves to be photographed or else the filmmakers couldn't really
figure out what they were shooting in the first place. However, as children
kept following them, clamoring to be part of the picture, Briski and
Kauffman came up with a brilliant idea: they gave the kids their own cameras
and told them to shoot their world - the world of the children of
prostitutes. The result, as you saw last month, was the Best Documentary
Feature Oscar. Out of the eyes of babes we see the beauty and the squalor of
India, unvarnished, poignant, and real. Perhaps the most remarkable effect
of this project was how the filmmakers turned art into activism, handing
over the profits of the photos of this now successful film over to the
children, urging them and their parents to obtain better education and
opportunities. BORN INTO BROTHELS gives new meaning to the much-maligned
term 'empowerment.' This film is no fairy tale, but it does show change, and
these days that's more than we ask from any work of art.