MUN Cinema Series
Follow the links to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for more information about the films.
September 11 The Wackness (USA 2008) 99 min. Rated R for pervasive drug use, language and some sexuality. [IMAGE] A Sundance favourite, THE WACKNESS is set in the faraway past of 1994. Josh Peck plays Luke, a NY college-bound kid who barely manages to stay awake, both pushing and popping drugs as quickly as you can say Kurt Cobain--who killed himself that year. Foil to Luke's youthful smart-assedness is his psychiatrist, played by the indomitable Kingsley, here playing somewhat out of type as a long-haired, equally drug-addled intellectual. Their relationship is central to the appeal of this witty film, as each longs for love and understanding, despite their determined masks of hipness. Women come and go, but you can't beat the bonding power of a co-dependent shrink and his client. Take Philip Roth crossed with J.D. Salinger, slap up the mix on film in a clever, engaging way, and you have THE WACKNESS.
September 18 The Last Mistress (Une Vieille Maîtresse) (France/Italy 2007) 104 min. Rated R for sexuality. [IMAGE] And so it is about passion, as you would expect from a director who gave us the scandalously graphic Romance and Fat Girl. This time it's 1835, Paris, and a couple is getting married in church. He, the good-looking and down-at-the-heels rake Ryno de Marigny, seems to be marrying up by wedding her, the wealthy well-heeled Hermangarde. Vows or no vows, this is France, and the woman who inspires Ryno is not his wife but his fatally brazen mistress, Vellini, beautiful and wild with desire. This is the story of two people who can't get enough of each other, while everyone around them knows it and indulges in the spectacle. The 18th century works for director Breillat because she believes it was a far more sexually open time, before the middle class evolved and ruined it for the rest of us. Gorgeously shot and sensuously composed, THE LAST MISTRESS might encourage you to run right out and rip up a bodice or two. Warning: lots of sex.
September 25 Man on Wire (USA/UK 2008) 90 min. [IMAGE] The man is Phillipe Petit and the wire is what he traversed between the top levels of the famous World Trade Centre Towers. It was 1974 and he was just a crazy Frenchman with a dream. MAN ON WIRE won the Audience Award and was named Best Documentary at Sundance 2008. Director Marsh shows us just how to assemble rich archival material in the service of great art. This is a brilliant tone poem of a film on the astonishing preparations for and final execution of an insanely dangerous feat, one that Petit actually pulled off in 8 (!) high-wire crossings. The film captures the painstakingly precise rehearsals for the tightrope act, intercutting shots of the real Petit with dramatizations so authentic you can scarcely tell the difference between the real and the not-so-real. One thing is true: Petit did walk between those famously fallen towers, an achievement he had been preparing himself for ever since he was a toddler with a love of heights. Our advice: come see this amazing film, but whatever you do, don't look down.
October 2 Edge of Heaven (Auf der Anderen Seite) (Germany/Italy/Turkey 2008) 122 min. German, Turkish and English with subtitles. [IMAGE] According to the NY Times, this is one of the best 10 pictures of the year. A character study of people who are separated by only a few degrees but don't know it, EDGE OF HEAVEN is a spectacularly interesting film. Ali is an affable Turkish guy living in Germany. One day he goes to a prostitute named Yeter. For good reason, he ends up asking her to live with him. For less than good reason Ali ends up in jail. Plot and sub plots thicken. The film moves back and forth between Germany and Turkey, where Ali's son, Nejat, a professor, ends up buying a bookstore. One of the main attractions here is the chance to gawk at the legendary Fassbinder actor and muse, Hanna Schygulla, who at 65 can put all the wannabe sex pots of Hollywood to shame, and without a trace of Botox. But, overall, this is a compelling movie about real people with flaws working stiffs, authorities, men, women, Germans, Turksa melting pot of humanity just trying to get by.
October 9 Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (USA 2008) 118 min. [IMAGE] Well, by now you should have figured out that this is a documentary about one of the most notorious drunken, drugged-out journalists of his generation. Narrated by another bad boy of his own generation, Johnny Depp, this riveting doc reminds us just how wacked out and incorrigible Thompson really was. No one would or could get away with what he did, essentially fabricating stories wholesale, although he always got the spirit of the thing right on. Indeed, as one wag wisely put it, "he was the least factual and the most accurate". Gonzo journalism was his game, a phrase coined precisely to capture his wild, free-wheeling approach to any subject, no matter how sacred. As he always said he would, Thompson eventually put a gun to his head, thereby ending one of the most spectacular lifestyles in modern history. Constantly imbibing, snorting, and blowing his way through life and columns, Thompson was a force of nature, not so much a role model as a model of outrageousness for a whole generation who would have followed him with fear and loathing into the heart of any story.
October 16 The Stone Angel (Canada/UK 2008) 90 min. Screened in conjunction with the St. John's International Women's Film Festival. [IMAGE] Is there a more iconic Canadian female figure than Hagar Shipley, she who raged against the dying of the light like you wouldn't believe? Based on Margaret Laurence's canonical 1964 novel, the film respectfully adapts the author's sweeping story for feature-length time. Hagar, as nobly played by the talented Burstyn, resists the soul-denying promise of a nursing home and lights out for the territories. As in the novel, this is essentially a journey of the mind, traveling back in time through love, marriage, heartbreak, and all that jazz. Having the novel in your head helps to sort through the mass of details, but even the most plot-befuddled will be swept up in Burstyn's magnificent performance, a tour de force of creative invention. Bring your Can Lit students and hand out the assignments.
October 23 Paranoid Park (USA/France 2007) 85 min. Rated R for some disturbing images, language and sexual content [IMAGE] If you like Gus Van Sant's slacker-grunge-boy-culture movies, like Elephant, then you will love PARANOID PARK, another variation on a theme artfully explored. You have to leave your expectations at the door, though, because Van Sant is no more interested in feeding audiences a dramatic storyline than he is in going mainstream. This is really an impressionist film, about the tone and mood of the built world of Portland, Oregon, and in particular the dreamy skateboarding culture that occupies its streets and parks. Audiences will be interested in knowing that the central character and supporting cast were actually recruited from MySpace, a sure sign of the director's interest in marrying social realism to abstract expressionism. There is a plot of sorts, one involving a dead body, but everything glides around that fact with deliberate purpose. The French adored this film, voted it one of the year's best. You'll either agree or not.
October 30 Young @ Heart (UK 2008) 107 min. [IMAGE] This award-winning documentary will turn the hardest heart into a pile of mush. It is poignant, moving, inspiring, and hugely entertaining. The Young @ Heart chorus is a group of seniors, minimum age 'seventies, who have made themselves a name and a big reason for carrying on, singing all the short way to the final curtain. The film takes us up close and personal, introducing us to these colourful, outspoken musical activists as they prepare for a sold-out show called Alive and Well. The novel concept behind their music is that they perform rock tunes-anything from The Clash to Dylan to Sonic Youth to Coldplay, and on and on. The Bee Gees' "Staying Alive" never sounded more meaningful. Let's face it: It's only a matter of time before Mick and Keith need to join their club.
November 6 Mongol (Germany/Russia/Kazakhstan 2007) 126 min. Mongolian with subtitles [IMAGE] The first of a trilogy about the larger-than-life Mongolian warrior Genghis Khan, MONGOL is a full-blown cinema of attractions, a hugely entertaining spectacle of carnage. If you are squeamish, stay home and watch Land and Sea. He wasn't called Genghis Khan for nothing. Well, in fact, he was born as Temudgin, a child of fate who inherited all his father's enemies and then some. The Genghis Khan part happens in the future trilogies, for this is the story of how a young man started to grow into the stuff of legend. This part focuses on the years 1172 through 1206, long before central heating and waste management. The hero's great accomplishment in the first place was to bring feuding nomadic tribes togetherto form a great Central Asian army. The cost of such unity was a hell of a lot of blood, much of it splashed across the stunning landscapes of Kazakhstan. Beautifully shot and boldly graphic, MONGOL reminds us of the great Russian epics of the silent era, with a lot more gore and colour. There's even a fair bit of romance and sexy time, as Borat would say.
November 13 Chop Shop (USA 2007) 84 min. [IMAGE] Roger Ebert called this film "miraculous", following on the success of the Iranian-born director's earlier Man Push Cart. CHOP SHOP is set in the immigrant working-class hustle of Queen's NY and focuses on a young boy and his sister. They live above an auto repair shop, one of the gazillion that line the streets of this part of the borough, an area called the Iron Triangle. Young Alejandro loves his sister and schemes, steals, and improvises his heart out to ensure that he and Isamar will end up living a decent life. Rob Sowulski plays himself as the real-life owner of the auto shop featured in the film, lending even more authenticity to a story that reeks of realism. The direction is obviously stunning, reminding us of the classics of working-class cinema, from Rossellini's post-war masterpieces to de Sica's work, City of God and Pixote. Amazingly, CHOP SHOP was made in America.
November 20 Secret of the Grain (La Graine et le mulet) (France 2007) 151 min. [IMAGE] Have you noticed how many MUN Cinema Series selections are about the fall-out of globalization, about immigrant experience and the crushing burdens of adjustment to new cultures? SECRET OF THE GRAIN is practically an epic treatment of this important subject, with a French twist. The focus here is on an Arab family living out their dreams, hopes, and disappointments in the day-to-day reality of inhabiting an alien nation. Most spectacular is the formidable performance of 20-year-old newcomer Hafsia Herzi as Rym. Habib Boufares plays her stepdad, an aging sad sack, a weary labourer who only wants to open up a couscous restaurant in the bureaucracy-ridden nation of France. The film, which won a Cesar for Best Film, is really about the nature of the complicated social unit of the family, how its members cajole, conspire against, bicker with, and support one another. A lot of time is spent on Sunday meals, when members tend to perform their parts, rehearsing and enacting the ongoing psychodrama of interpersonal relations. For the vertigo-challenged, beware of extreme close ups and extended use of the hand-held camera. Eat your couscous after the movie.
November 27 Standard Operating Procedure (USA 2008) 116 min. [IMAGE] By now you probably know a lot about the hideous prison torture photographs taken at Abu Ghraib. Although the prison is the ostensible subject of this documentary by famed filmmaker Errol Morris, the real focus is on the photographs themselves. Who took them? Why? What do they reveal about the peopleAmericans? Officers?holding the camera? The most notorious photo-accomplice was Private Lynndie England, often shown in some pseudo-bravado position standing next to naked bodies or handcuffed and masked prisoners, as if she were posing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Just whom was she posing for? The answer to that question is one of the keys to the many mysteries raised by the film, mysteries of human and social behavior, of why and how some people allowed themselves to be involved in such repulsive circumstances. This is neither a horror nor an overtly political film. Typical of Morris's approach, SOP relies on its own camera to stare and wonder, letting the world reveal itself for the audience's judgment.
December 4 Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíiram de Férias, O) (Brazil 2006) 104 min. Portuguese, Yiddish and German with subtitles [IMAGE] It was 1970: Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship and Pelé was a national hero, gearing up for the World Cup. Politics and football are married in this utterly charming film that shows us São Paulo through the eyes of a twelve-year old. It is Mauro whose parents ostensibly went on vacation. In truth, they went underground to escape the wrath of the right-wing forces, leaving their son to the neighbourhoods of the city and, almost accidentally, into the life of Shlomo, an orthodox Jew who would rather be on vacation himself. This is a sweet, witty, irresistible coming-of-age story, set in troubled times, and in Portuguese, Yiddish, and Germanwith English subtitles, of course.