MUN Cinema Series
Follow the links to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for more information about the films.
January 11 Catch A Fire (France/UK/South Africa/USA 2006) 101 min. Afrikaans/Zulu/English [IMAGE] The director who brought us the compelling Rabbit Proof Fence brings yet another riveting drama to the screen, this one a little less quiet but just as political. CATCH A FIRE is based on the true harrowing story of Patrick Chamusso, who survived persecution and torture in the bloody, violent South Africa of the early '80s. Atypically, Hollywood left-winger Tim Robbins plays a cop who is determined to hunt Chamusso down but who also knows that the campaign to stop the "terrorism" of the African National Congress is futile. This is the fact-based story of an ordinary man who found himself making history at a time when things really were as black and white as it gets. Apparently, Oprah is fixing all that.
January 18 Driving Lessons (UK 2006) 98 min. [IMAGE] A British coming-of-age movie starring the irrepressible Julie Walters as a deluded, imperious eccentric, DRIVING LESSONS is a delightful winter diversion. Of course, she likes to drink but pretends she doesn't, and ends up getting herself into one farcical situation after another, all the while insisting on her dignity. All divas require assistants and so it is that she hires young Ben, played by Harry Potter redhead Rupert Grint. The young hapless lad then gets caught between two female nightmares, his boss, the wildly impetuous Evie, and his religious fanatic of a mother (Linney). Hilarity ensues. You will recognize in DRIVING LESSONS the fine, oddball funny traces of British farce, from The Fully Monty to Calendar Girls to Ab Fab and so on. If any other nation attempted this script it would be just plain stupid, but when Britannia reads these lines she rules.
January 25 For Your Consideration (USA 2006) 86 min. [IMAGE] The usual cast of characters from Guests' stable all perform here with expected professionalism. If you liked Best in Show and A Mighty Wind, then you'll love this broadly satiric shot at the movie business. Think The Producers crossed with The Player. When an awful little picture called "Home for Purim" starts to generate Oscar buzz, the actors work themselves into a frenzy, dreams of fame and fortune dancing in their poor, deluded little heads. Catherine O'Hara steals the whole shebang once again, although Levy's eyebrows are always uplifting. There's no business like show business, especially when it's all pure Guest-work.
February 1 Death of a President (UK 2006) 90 min. Rated R. [IMAGE] You will remember the fuss over this pseudo documentary during the most recent Toronto International Film Festival, when some American states refused to screen the film and pious Republicans defamed it without seeing it. Well, as much of a chill as they tried to throw on this excellent political thriller they couldn't freeze it out of our series. As critics have pointed out, not only is the film well made and gripping but it is also important for what it shows about the current Bush administration, especially its deliberate meddling with the facts. Based on a much avoided questionwhat would happen if George W were assassinated?DEATH OF A PRESIDENTimagines the full fall-out from October 2007 onwards. For starters, Byzantine laws get passed in the name of Homeland Security and the White House, while crazy Cheney-in-charge starts sounding really warlike. Come to think about it, the film doesn't really have to invent history; it captures it. Scarily edifying, D.O.A.P., as its wily producers tagged it, is not to be missed.
February 8 Cheech (Canada 2006) 104 min. French [IMAGE] It's a pretty bad day for six losers trying to make something happen in Montreal. All are connected through a low-end escort agency, but at the heart of the mystery drama is Patrice Robitaille as Ron, a determined pimp who longs to be a classy hustler. Stylishly based on François Létourneau's acclaimed play, CHEECH turns Montreal into a postmodern winter noir world, imagining Canada, or at least Montreal, into a place of intrigue and menace. It's not really a happy story but it is a good looking and self consciously cinematic one, most interesting to watch as a reinvention of genre on familiar turf. Pass the poutine.
February 15 Manufactured Landscapes (Canada 2006) 80 min. [IMAGE] You might not think you have heard of photographer Edward Burtynsky but, in fact, you know him. His massive shots of enormous industrial waste sites, particularly in China, have challenged our ideas about art and aesthetics, about what makes a suitable subject for the camera or the gallery wall. Everyone is talking about the opening scene, a long slow pan of an enormous Chinese factory, crammed with labourers working at about $3 a day. We don't even have to see what they're making; odds are we are wearing it. Although the film does not preach in the heavy handed way An Inconvenient Truth does, the theme of how we are ruining the earth is familiar. The title of the project and of this film perfectly captures the oxymoronic condition of twentieth century life, the toxic effects of cultivating nature for profit at any cost. The paradox of the experience is that Burtynsky has made ugliness beautiful while cinematographer Peter Mettler dances the camera through the most embarrassing wastefulness ever witnessed. Unforgettable.
February 22 Half Nelson (USA 2006) 106 min. Rated R. [IMAGE] Already nominated for over 30 awards and winning over half of those, HALF NELSON is arguably the best independent film of the year. The subject might be familiarthe turbulent reality of the inner-city schoolbut the approach is fresh and inspiring, remarkably free of sentimentality and maudlin fakery. Gosling is superb in the role of the teacher who has a big drug and drink problem along with that heart of gold. One thing leads to another when he is discovered comatose and wasted by a seen-it-all thirteen year old. The question becomesjust who is mentoring whom? This movie is an unadulterated achievement, smartly shot and brilliantly acted, credible in every way. A great sound track, appropriately dominated by "Broken Social Scene", doesn't hurt either.
March 1 Volver (Spain 2006) 121 min. Spanish, Rated R. [IMAGE] What better way to recover from a romance with weird alien-believer Tom Cruz than to star in an award-winning masterpiece by your favorite director? Penélope, what took you so long? Never mind, here the Spanish actor redeems her entire life and career in a terrific role as a beleaguered daughter. You see, mother, Irene, has died but just won't roll over. Mom suddenly shows up to help her addled sister with the housework and eventually to assist her daughter Raimunda (Cruz), whose own daughter is in a bit of a criminal mess. Typical of his best work, VOLVER is infatuated with women of all shapes, sizes, classes, and behaviours. Almodóvar follows their passions and respects their intensity and deep connection to the natural rhythms of life. Always brilliantly mixing comedy and tragedy, VOLVER is a song to childhood, to village life, to beauty, and to the women who make all three possible.
March 8 Little Children (USA 2006) 130 min. Rated R. [IMAGE] If Winslet doesn't get an Oscar nomination for her forceful role in this film then we'll eat her American Express card. You might think at first that you are in a suburban idyll of happy youngsters and doting parents but before you can say primordial behaviour you learn that some mothers aren't in it for real. Winslet plays the troubled Sarah, detached from the domestic life she inhabits, emotionally removed from her daughter, and married to the older Richard who prefers web porn to real love. Eeeew. It is then no surprise that she falls for someone else, the intensely handsome Brad (Wilson) who might possibly relieve her restlessness and fill the void. But the human condition being what it is, and if you know your Madame Bovary, happiness is hard to find. The film intersects the affair with a creep suburban story and a whole other plot line. LITTLE CHILDREN lives up well to the expectations everyone had for Todd Field after the success of his gloomy In the Bedroom. This film tracks similar material but in much more subtle ways and you won't want to miss it.
March 15 Deliver Us From Evil (USA 2006) 101 min. [IMAGE] It's a familiar story but it's true and never anything but shocking to hear. Over about twenty years in California, from the 'seventies on, a kindly looking, distinguished Catholic priest named Oliver O'Grady molested hundreds of children who trusted and revered him. The documentary traces the facts and taunts the imaginationhow did he get away with it for so many years? Further, what happened to his many victims? What happened to the church that protected him? And where is Father "Ollie" now? Amazingly, the film takes us directly into his present day life, in particular to Ireland where the grey haired O'Grady lives in freedom and apparently has no regrets or remorse about anything he's ever done. Indeed, he welcomes questions and the camera's searching, uncomprehending gaze, as children play and chat innocently nearby. Director Berg is sure to let us know that in many ways nothing has changed about that side of the Roman Catholic Church and that covering up remains the m.o. of its many protectors. The film is hard on the head and the soul, and so be prepared for its unflinching examination of a dirty open secret.
March 22 The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (Germany 2006) 137 min. German [IMAGE] Remember the 2003 hit Goodbye Lenin!, a charming comedy about a son who protects the feelings of his ailing mother by pretending the Wall is still standing and the G.D.R. is intact? Well, this feature is about as far from that view of the past as pizza is to wienerschnitzel. What we have here is a much darker memory of a cold and sinister period. Paranoia is rampant and with good reason. Famously, the Stasi were the secret police whom we know best from spy movies. Here we see them as the very real, malignant arm of the state, terrorizing the innocent and threatening the entire population just by their very existence. THE LIVES OF OTHERS follows the manic pursuit of one suspicious playwright by the diligent Stasi, Captain Wiesler. The playwright has a gorgeous girlfriend in whom the captain becomes especially interested, and not because he thinks she's subversive. The plot thickens as emotional and psychological lines are traversed, reversed, and turned inside out. The performances are totally stunning and the period construction flawless. No wonder this film won all the big awards in Berlin last year. It's one of the best on the straße.
March 29 Snow Cake (UK/Canada 2006) 112 min. [IMAGE] This is the kind of independent, award-winning, much nominated feature that slips under a marketing rug. This film deserves attention for its quirky approach to a curious subjectautism. But in case you think SNOW CAKE might be a Canadian version of Rain Man, rest assured you'll enjoy the director's light, funny touch and the performers' smart and sensitive handling of the material. Weaver plays Linda, a grown woman with a poetic, childlike nature. Without the guarding benefits of a superego, she says whatever's on her mind, speaking, in a way, for the long buried child in all of us. Into her life comes Alex (the always compelling Rickman) to tell her some really bad news. Her reaction, however, surprises him and sets the stage for what becomes one of the oddest relationships you'll ever see, and enjoy, on film. Two great actors, assisted by a strong supporting cast, get to perform their hearts out for each other and appreciative audiences: it’s a movie made in MUN Cinema Series heaven.
April 5 Days of Glory/Indigènes (France/Morocco/Algeria/Belgium 2006) 123 min. French/Arabic [IMAGE] A hugely powerful film about a long ignored aspect of WWII, the participation of North African or "indigenous" soldiers in the French army, this film rocked Cannes and will rock St. John's. Director Bouchareb shrewdly exploits the irony of honouring men who were fighting for a country that had effectively colonized them. It's 1943, and the story focuses on a group of men who enlist, ending up in Italy and then in France, fighting for their lives and ostensibly for 'their' nation against the Germans in a small village. A love story involving one of the soldiers threads through the narrative, as do the themes of citizenship, loyalty, colonialism, racism, and nationalisma rich brew of important issues. Fueling the urgent and often angry drama is the ever-present conflict between the North African soldiers and their French officers, the enemy within, so to speak. The intimate characterizations of the key players are as remarkable and moving as the battle scenes. You will see right away why DAYS OF GLORY was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar. In every way, it's a long overdue tale of two solitudes.