Fall 2010

Sep 16  The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)
Sep 23  Ajami *CANCELLED*
Sep 30  Last Train Home
Oct 7  Please Give
Oct 14  Kisses
Oct 21  Mao's Last Dancer
Oct 28  Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel
Nov 4  Get Low
Nov 11  Restrepo
Nov 18  I Am Love (Lo sono l'amore)
Nov 25  Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
Dec 2  Exit Through the Gift Shop
Dec 9  Howl

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[IMDb] Follow the links to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for more information about the films.

September 16   The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) (Argentina/Spain 2009) 129 min.
[IMDb] Spanish with English subtitles [IMAGE]
This is the masterpiece that somehow trumped odds-on-favourite The White Ribbon for last year's Best Foreign Film Oscar. That says a lot, since Heneke's film is one of the most original to have emerged in years. But seeing SECRET IN THEIR EYES you will understand why it challenged the rest of the pack. Here we have two parallel stories rooted in the past but bearing down heavily on the present. One involves a brutal rape and murder that took place in the extreme right-wing regime of the Argentina of the 'seventies. The other narrative line involves the two lawyers who first met during the case, Benjamín Espósito and Irene Menéndez Hastings. When they first meet about the murder, it is clear that Irene has the upper-class hand over the self-conscious, working-class Benjamin. Their curious and potent relationship, interrupted for decades after the case was ostensibly closed, is the guts and drama of the picture. But the film is in every way an incisive looking back at a dark and dirty period of Argentine history, as it explores the effects of such history on memory, on crime and punishment, and on the personal lives of its citizens. The acting is brilliant, the subject universal and inspiring. Amazingly, some nations are still making movies like this.

September 23   Ajami *CANCELLED* (Germany, Israel 2009) 120 min.
[IMDb] Arabic and Hebrew with English subtitles [IMAGE]
It is tempting to say this film will be timely twenty years ago, but in some sense we hope not. AJAMI competed with SECRET IN THEIR EYES for Best Foreign Film, and so it rests in a noble field of accomplishments. Set in the coastal town of Jaffa, Israel, the film captures the challenging location of a Muslim community plunked right in the heart of Tel Aviv. Famously crime-ridden and uneasy, Jaffa is both the real site and the perfect metaphor for a film about the region and its interminable conflict. Co-written and directed by a Palestinian and an Israeli, AJAMI plots the incremental effects of hatred. What begins with a murder evolves into revenge and a cycle of violence, paranoia, and suspicion, all the familiar elements of the Middle East situation. When people invoke religion or family blood to justify their violent actions it is really hard to imagine peaceful resolutions. Obviously, it takes a Palestinian and an Israeli to stop a village from its murderous destiny. At least the film triumphs by example, if not the region. Netanhayu, Abbas: are you watching?

September 30   Last Train Home (Canada, China, UK 2009) 85 min.
[IMDb] Mandarin with English subtitles [IMAGE]
This riveting documentary startles the eye from the opening frames. Indeed, filmmaker Fan never relieves his appetite for the spectacle, in this case the sight of Chinese workers waiting to catch trains for their annual pilgrimage home for the New Year. More than 130 million of them will ultimately make the journey. The title of the film speaks to the dominant mode of transport, a chilling reminder that you wouldn't want to miss that last train home, indeed. Made by the producers of Up the Yangtze, THE LAST TRAIN HOME focuses on one particular family set against the vast backdrop of a rapidly changing China. Everything is swirling in a frenzy of capitalist growth, and the effects on families, on history, memory and community are so radical you need a documentary filmmaker to show it. Multi-award winning, this film is bound for glory.

October 7   Please Give (USA 2010) 90 min.
We love a juicy New York story, and one that stars the indomitable Catherine Keener is a double bonus. Spurring the drama in this most Manhattan of tales is an elderly female apartment dweller, Mrs. Portman, whose well-meaning, upper middle-class neighbours (Keener and Oliver Platt) are tapping their fingers, waiting for the older woman to occupy some rent-free space in heaven. They have their eyes fixed on her apartment space, while Mrs. Portman's granddaughters get involved in these unfolding neighbourly and unneighbourly events. As acted by the A-list talents of Rebecca Hall and Amanda Peet, the characters are strong, complex, and as stubborn as New York realtors. PLEASE GIVE is saucy and sharp, and particularly interested in the lives of girls and women and how they live in one of the most competitive cities in the world. Never condescending to her characters, director Holofcener is nonetheless interested in the personal effects of capitalism: can one live an ethical life and own highly valued property at a great NY address? Many would like to try it out.

October 14   Kisses (Ireland 2008) 72 min.
Set in Dublin and featuring two youngsters who live next to each other, KISSES dares to be a potent mixture of tones and rhythms. Director Daly is intent on showing us a side of Dublin that tourists would never glimpse, a side creepily emerging from under the last decade's hyper-inflated economy, a side blowin' in the winds of late capitalism. Kylie and Dylan are babes in the urban jungle, for sure. Escaping their dysfunctional households they light out for the territory of the night, vulnerable to the human monsters prowling the streets. Resourceful and plucky, they somehow endure a menacing Dublin with a spirited optimism. This is no easy feat, but the two charming actors are superb at conveying the complexity of childhood and the intense discovery of life's darkest secrets. Appropriately, the music of Dylan's namesake sounds through the film like a welcoming commentary, especially in the jingle jangle morning.

October 21   Mao's Last Dancer (Australia 2009) 117 min.
[IMDb] English and Mandarin [IMAGE]
Based on the true story of a young Chinese male dancer who was understandably seduced by the club beat of disco, MAO'S LAST DANCER animates the hugely popular autobiography of Li Cunxin. Popular Australian director Beresford has a lot of fun taking us back to the bell-bottomed 'eighties, when all of this groovy craziness happened. That said, Li's defection from Communism to Capitalism was no laughing matter, and the film nimbly tracks the emotional torment suffered by the dancer. Played masterfully by Chi Cho, the role is quite the leap of talent, drawing as it does on a wide range of responses, not to mention an astonishing set of pirouettes and swan dives. Watch for the brilliant performance by Canada's Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) as Li's mentor Ben Stevenson. We love that guy. He can jeté his way through any plot.

October 28   Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel (Canada 2009) 124 min.
In collaboration with the 21st St John's International Women's Film Festival. Well, we know you read the mag only for the interviews, but this acclaimed documentary by Oscar-winner Berman really strips Hef down to his essence, or at least as Berman sees it. Topping eighty and still going strong in his oversized mansion, Hugh Hefner is the willing, open subject of this affectionate, richly informed study of what has made the man tick. According to the doc, it's one thing to showcase T&A for the masses; it's another to change the world for good. Berman focuses her lens on Hef's less well known accomplishments in the arenas of social justice and human/civil rights movements. She unearthed an amazing amount of footage, tracing Hef's humble beginnings through to his ambitious bunny-hopping success, digging, poking, probing to get at the man beneath the silk pajamas. She has done an excellent job of it, interviewing friends and foes, exes and current flames. The result is a complex composite image of a very smart, socially progressive entrepreneur who happened to challenge a lot of middle-American conventions along the way. He also annoyed no end of feminists, too, of course. The film wants you to think it all through for yourself, even if it inclines on the side of the guy who likes to smoke a pipe.

November 4   Get Low (USA, Germany, Poland 2009) 100 min.
What happens when you mix Robert Duvall with Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek? You Get Low, that's what. This fine actors' dream of a movie is, not surprisingly, all about action in character. Duvall plays an old codger (are there any young ones?) named Felix Bush. The sands in the hourglass are running out and so long-bearded, misanthropic Felix gets the idea of attending his own funeral. Perhaps this is everyone's fantasy, waking oneself to death, so to speak. In any event, the occasion brings the ornery old hermit into view of the town and its diverse inhabitants. What follows is a story of secrets revealed, loves rekindled, absolution sought. No one acts it better than Duvall. Some fifty odd years of flawless performances look good on him. The man can strip cynicism from a drunken cowboy. Set in Tennessee, shot with humour and some old-fashioned fiddling, GET LOW is delightfully diverting.

November 11   Restrepo (USA 2010) 93 min.
You may very well say to yourself, who needs this? Some cinéma vérité on the battle front of Afghanistan? You'd rather watch Survivor. But think again. RESTREPO was made by two of the world's finest writers/journalists on the planet, showing a tale we'd likely rather not think about. But it's happening as we speak, all the time. Embedded with a troop of American soldiers for about 15 months, Hetherington and Junger (The Perfect Storm) take us as close to the war as we will —we hope—ever get. For the most part we see how young American men can hug a small outcrop of rock in a dangerous, desolate landscape, determined to achieve their mission, vague and unfocused as it is. Ostensibly, they must defeat the Taliban, but the film never manages to show us what the Taliban look like, where they are, or what distinguishes them from any Afghan peasant with whom they converse. In effect, although these guys are bonded to each other and braver than your average bear, they are fighting a fuzzy cause. In some ways the power of RESTREPO lies in what it fails to or cannot show us. And it's one, two, three, what are [we] fighting for? Don't ask me, I don't give a damn. Next stop's Afghanistan.

November 18   I Am Love (Lo sono l'amore) (Italy 2009) 120 min.
[IMDb] Italian, Russian and English [IMAGE]
The unconventionally lovely Tilda Swinton takes centre screen here as Emma, the Russian wife of a rich Italian, scion of the aristocratic Recchi family. Short on substance but long on style, the Recchis know how to run a dynasty. Privileged and powerful, they admire Emma's talent and beauty, but she is and will always be an outsider, no less so than Diane Keaton's Kay Adam was to Al Pacino's Michael Corleone. Perhaps inevitably, Emma finds a way to relieve the pressure of serving such a bunch of grounded patriarchs. Sexual--and fabulously dressed--she takes up with a young friend of her son, Antonio, a chef who has a way with a pastry bag. Delicious, ravishing, suspenseful, gorgeous—there aren't enough adjectives to describe the beauty of this film set in Northern Italy, or the amazing achievement of Tilda Swinton, who actually learned how to speak Italian with a Russian accent for the role. Favoloso!

November 25   Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (USA 2010) 84 min.
Take this woman, please. No, really, take this film as a surprise hit on the indie-house circuit, because love her or hate her, Joan Rivers really is a piece of work. And work she does and always has done. You don't get here without it, not for a woman doing stand-up, that's for sure. Seventy-five years old and still bringing it to the stage, Rivers offers a life lesson in survival. It's survival of a certain kind, of course, because Rivers settles for nothing less than excess. Covering roughly a year in the life, the film reveals the relentlessness of this show biz legend. If most of us worked at her pace we'd be too tired to make it to the plastic surgeon, but, amazingly, Rivers shows more stamina than Secretariat. Disarmingly candid, brutally direct, she turns feminism on its head and then puts a wig on it. The doc offers a lot of laughs, an astonishing amount of honesty, and a large measure of truthiness. It's absolutely fascinating watching this woman take charge of who she is—uncompromising, stubborn, bitchy and brave, Joan Rivers is not only a piece of work, she's a work of art.

December 2   Exit Through the Gift Shop (USA, UK 2010) 87 min.
Mmmm, is it live or fake or something in between? This question only makes us more curious—and has everything to do with the subject matter itself. Bansky is the name of a London-based guy who famously paints graffiti. His current mission: do Los Angeles. While there he meets a Frenchman, Thierry Guetta, who says he tapes such artists, with hundreds of hours of footage to show for it. To make a crazy story shorter, Bansky ends up making a fine little film out of the messy one Guetta attempts in the first place. Before long, and on Bansky's encouragement, Guetta is showing his own work and starting to make a lucrative scene. How does he do this? One reviewer calls the film "perversely brilliant." It has more enigmas than Warhol had soup cans. It's all about the curious world of art practice and art collecting, art procurement and art value. If you don't know much about the art of graffiti but know what you like, then EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is the (mock) doc for you. Rhys Ifans narrates; we watch. It's all a wickedly good time.

December 9   Howl (USA 2010) 90 min.
If you haven't heard of Alan Ginsberg you are too young for this cinema series. Please go directly to Chapters and start reading "Howl", the American beat poet's famous cri de coeur to many things American, including the fact of homosexuality. The film is set in the transitional moment of 1957. Dan Draper is still married to Betty and "Howl" is on trial for obscenity. More to the point, the distributor, Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Bookstore, was forced to take the stand. Wisely, the film relies heavily on the actual transcripts, which, as is often the case, you couldn't make up if you tried. The filmmakers have assembled a brilliant cast, with brainy actor Franco in the title role, and a cast of solid well-known supporting actors such as David Strathairn as the prosecuting lawyer with a lot of self-evidently history-making lines. How timely is HOWL? Every tea-party totaler should see it, for starters.