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MUN Cinema Series
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for more information about the films.
January 17 The Red Violin
(Canada) 143 mins.
English, Italian, French, German, Mandarin (subtitled).
Directed by François Girard.
Scripted by Don McKellar and François Girard.
With Samuel L. Jackson, Don McKellar, Carlo Cecchi, Irene Grazioli,
Check out the cast, the credits, and the multi-lingual
multi-national settings, and you'll see why this Canadian
co-production is sweeping the Must-See lists of the year. If you
liked Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould you'll love Red
Violin, also by Girard, also about music, also visually compelling.
The film traces a violin through time and space, linking
17th-century Italy and modern-day Montreal, and spanning a wide
range of countries and people in between. Divided into five
sections, Red Violin makes sure that in spite of its stellar cast
the musical instrument gets the feature role. Never neutral,
however, the object brings tragedy and suffering to those who wish
to possess it. You can see the potential here for an epic story
about the influences of fate, culture, and history on social and
individual experience. High production values and a hefty budget
(over $10 million, a joke by Hollywood standards), serve this
ambitious project well. Come hear the music.
January 24 Slam
(USA) 100 min.
Rated R for pervasive language, a sex scene, brief violence.
Directed by Marc Levin.
With Saul Williams, Sonja Sohn, Bonz Malone et al.
This film has a strong following. Slam was a smash last year on the
festival circuit--it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and the
Audience Award at Cannes--and appeals to audiences curious about
street poetry, and that strange postmodern intersection of urban
violence and lyrical expression. It's a far cry from English 1080,
although it's still much safer watching Slam in a suburban theatre
than it is being a junky trying to recreate the spirit of beat
poetry. `Slamming' is not something Michael Jordan does; it's what
happens when poetry and rap confront each other (see Gap ads on the
Internet). The lead-slamming role is occupied by Saul Williams who
plays Ray Joshua, a talented young guy born on the wrong and wild
side of Washington D.C. An upbeat commercial for getting educated,
Slam takes Ray from nowhere to somewhere when his writing teacher
notices his extraordinary talent. An emerging genre of street
realism (Kids, Gummo) captures a documentary quality so lacking in
the SFX tricks of today's Big Picture. A large cast circulates
around Williams' performance (he wrote the pieces he performs and is
a well-known poet in the US), many of them first-time actors with
the authenticity of amateurs. If you like your Sunday afternoons
gritty and a little but dangerous, this is the movie for you.
January 31 Happiness
(USA) 134 mins.
Definitely rated R.
Directed by Todd Solendz.
With Jane Adams, Jon Lovitz, Philip
Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Baker, Laura Flynn Boyle, et al.
And you thought Slam was out there? Some critics have said that
Happiness is the best picture of '98. Certainly it's the most
audacious. The title is ingenious in its ironic simplicity because
there is little here that is simple or happy. Three sisters anchor
the story. Each has her hopes and problems. Joy still lives in her
parents' New Jersey house, looking for love. Trish is happily
married and Helen is a glamorous writer. Each pities Joy but they've
got their own secrets. Helen flirts with danger for all the wrong
reasons; Joy is married to Bill. If you haven't already heard, Bill
is an apparently normal suburban dad who is also a flaming
pedophile, preying on his son's classmates. As in his first
acclaimed movie (Welcome to the Dollhouse) Solendz detonates myths
of both normalcy and family values, but he also withholds judgement,
preferring to let his characters and their horribly flawed souls
speak for themselves. This is a devastating film in many ways, but
not to be avoided because of it. Happiness is so subversive you'll
be a mazed it broke through to the screen at all. But it's also
funny in a dark and risky American way. Indeed, geek auteur Solendz
is too smart to let us endure Happiness without it.
February 7 Lawn Dogs
(UK) 101 mins.
Directed by John Duigan.
With Sam Rockwell, Christopher McDonald, Kathleen Quinlan, Bruce McGill,
Fortuitously, Lawn Dogs follows Happiness, and not the other way
around, because here we have a story about a man and a little girl
that plays heavily with our more sordid cultural assumptions.
Rockwell plays Trent, a down-and-out trailer guy who mows the lawns
of the middle-class but lives alone, sequestered in the woods from
the bland sameness of modern hypocrisy. Into his world stumbles a
curious child named Devon who strays a little too far from her round
of Girl Guide pursuits. Director Duigan (Flirting, Sirens) is
interested in teasing out the possibilities inherent in such a
meeting, but he ends up surprising us with a script that is more
mystery than menace, more fable than realism. A quirky satiric film
that might remind you of a younger Egoyan, Lawn Dogs never takes a
predictable turn, daring to take us out of the mainstream box and
into a hybrid genre of folktale and surrealism. If you grant the
film its stylized look and feel, and understand its quirky blend of
southern Gothic and magic realism, then you'll understand the
apocalyptic ending as a radical necessity. Teased enough?
February 14 Dirty
(Canada) 94 mins.
Rated R for you name it.
Directed by Bruce Sweeny.
With Tom Scholte, Babs Chula, Benjamin Ratner, Nancy Sivak.
Okay, so we're showing lots of stuff from the dark side this time
around, but if you want easy viewing there's always You've Got
Mail. Vancouver Director Bruce Sweeney's first effort Live Bait
captured the $25,000 Best Canadian Feature at the Toronto Festival
in 1995. Dirty is his second big film, a hit in Europe,
controversially reviewed here. Openly in debt to the films of Mike
Leigh, Dirty aims for the kind of improvisational spirit of Secrets
and Lies, where the actors were encouraged to rely on their personal
histories to weave their filmic tales. In Dirty, six Vancouverites
cope with pre-millenium angst: sexual masochism, neurosis, anomie,
and the usual collection of urban psychoses. At the centre of the
ensemble is Angie (Babz Chula) a middle-age drug dealer who
satisfies David's sexual fantasies, an MBA student who likes to be
spanked: too many stats courses, we figure. David rooms with a
lonely guy named Tony. Nancy whose financial life spins out of
control lives in the basement of Angie's place, and is as lonely as
everyone else. These characters and others all participate in one
way or another with deviant sexuality, a theme as common to Canadian
film as bacon. A nation of accountants needs outlets.
February 21 Gods and Monsters
(USA) 105 mins.
Directed by Bill Condon.
With Ian McKellen, Brendan Fraser, Lynn Redgrave, Lolita Davidovich.
Please see this film! It's fabulous. Everyone is talking about
Oscars for the lead actors, and why not? Flamboyantly out English
actor McKellen gives a profoundly touching performance as James
Whale, the only then Hollywood out-director of Show Boat, The
Invisible Man, and Frankenstein whose latter stroke-ridden days in
1957 are richly imagined here. Haunted by flashbacks of his early
life, Whale revisits, among other experiences and locations, the
trenches during the Great War. Eager for company and feeling
isolated, he vividly recounts many of these formative experiences to
his hunky gardener, Clay Boone (`George of the Jungle' Fraser).
Separated by class and age, an authentic friendship develops between
them, nonetheless. Boone is persuaded to pose for McKellen in
rather festishizing ways, and this device becomes the tableaux
against which the reminiscences can unravel. A highlight: Lynn
Redgrave is fabulous in the role of the harassing housekeeper on
whom Whale depends for so much. And watch for the hilarious garden
party scene, one among many pricelessly staged moments. George
Cukor is spinning in his closet.
February 28 Kurt & Courtney
(UK) 95 mins.
Directed by Nick Broomfield.
With Nick Broomfield, Courtney Love, Kurt Cobain, El Duce, Tom Harrison,
Well, you need not know a thing about Nirvana (the group, not the
state of mind) or Love (the singer/reincarnated fashion maven, not
the life experience) to find this record of the pop culture
underworld fascinating. Broomfield's creepy indictment of Courtney
launched a few lawsuits and kept the film from the honour role at
the Sundance Film Festival, demonstrating at once the omniscient
power of rock and roll and the heavy machinery of the music/fashion
industry. Initially interested in documenting something about Kurt
Cobain's alleged suicide, Broomfield was persuaded by Courtney's own
dad to look further into his daughter's role in the junk-saturated
death. Well, with a father like that it's no wonder Courtney has
seemed a bit confused. Daddy Dearest, or wha? You may not agree
with the film's strongly framed implications, but you sure won't
mind going along for a ride with Broomfield's candid camera. It's
not everyday we get behind the curtain of some good-for-nothing
nihilism. It's only rock and roll but we like it.
March 7 Love is the Devil
(UK) 90 mins.
Directed by John Maybury.
With Derek Jacobi, Daniel Craig, Tilda Swinton, Anne Lambton, Adrian
Scarborough, et al.
This biopic of flamboyant British painter Francis Bacon focuses on
his relationship with his lover, George Dyer, a former small-time
crook. The acting genius of Derek Jacobi guarantees this film's
appeal in the first place. But in the second, Bacon's troubled
personal story is enough for a dozen movies. Set in the late
sixties/early seventies, Love is the Devil delves into the
tumultuously claustrophobic world of an artist, one commonly
acknowledged as the greatest British painter of the century.
Indeed, the film opens at the Grand Palais in Paris where Bacon is
being hailed as such. His powerful paintings of isolated human
figures--most modeled by Dyer--have always shocked, probably because
of the intensity of their emotional fields. But less shocking is
the trajectory of Bacon's love life. As his fortunes and reputation
rise, Dyer's sense of purpose and ease in the sophisticated bohemian
art culture diminishes, with unhappy consequences. Yes, as in most
British films, it's always about class, isn't it? Note the ethereal
Tilda Swinton in the role of Muriel Belcher, and Annabel Brooks as a
young model and dilettante. A movie about images and art, Love is a
Devil gives us what we expect, a stunning show of visual intensity,
inspired, as they say, by a true story.
March 14 August 32nd on Earth
(Canada 1998) 88 mins.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
With Pascale Bussières, Alexis Martin, Serge Theriault,
Richard S. Hamilton, Paule Baillargeon.
``Quebecois writer/director Denis Villeneuve's debut feature is a
wonderful and completely preposterous story, which we are gently
led into by the use of imaginary dates,'' says one critic. Starting
with the title, we have to assume that anything is possible. The
always gamin-sexy Pascale Bussières (When Night is Falling)
plays Simone, a hi-performance model who experiences a road accident
from which she miraculously escapes unharmed. Near death
experiences will change anyone, so Simone ponders her future and
decides she wants to bear a child. But with whom? The prospective
father turns out to be her best friend Philippe (Alexis Martin) who
isn't quite sure how to react. What follows is a balance of light
and dark, silence and sound, the macabre and the humorous. The
movie shifts from Montreal to Salt Lake City, the desert backdrop
against which Simon and Philippe dare to test their love. Imagine
what happens when two francophones go wandering off in an American
road movie. ``How do you say `burnedup corpse' in English?'' Even
the Toronto critics are raving about the intoxicating audacity of
August 32nd on Earth. Watch especially for the hilarious scene when
the two leads attempt to mimic weightlessness. Lots to keep you
March 21 Last Night
(Canada) 90 mins.
Directed by Don McKellar.
With David Cronenberg, Tracy Wright, Geneviéve Bujold, Roberta
Maxwell, Robin Gammel (II), Trent McMullen, Karen Glave, Jackie
Burroughs, Arsinée Khanjian, Don McKellar, Sandra Oh,
Sarah Polley, Callum Keith Rennie.
Yes, for a moment last fall, Last Night came to town, but if like
most of us you missed it completely, you'll now have a second chance
to see the end of the world in a theatre near you. Smarty-pants
writer-director McKellar is obviously one of the nation's favoured
sons, turning out and acting in features and tv (Twitch City), and
taking home all the prizes. Last Night is his Canadian answer to
Armageddon, a modest look at a Big Event. McKellar plays an
architect who plans to meet the end alone at dinner. Others (Oh,
Cronenberg) make a suicide pact, but are caught apart and struggle
to get together before the end. Another man (Rennie) pursues final
sexual conquests and a wimpy woman (Wright) strives to gain
courage. Drawn together by their ordinariness, these Toronto
characters are forced to assert personal values when the end is nigh
and the stores on Bloor are Closed For Good. Deliberately unheroic,
the plot traces the teeny practical questions one must make in the
face of crisis, not necessarily the ones conjured by Hollywood, like
`just where did I put my death-ray gun,' or `has anyone seen Bruce
March 28 The Celebration
[aka Festen] (Denmark 1998) 105 mins.
Rated R for strong sexual content and language, including references to sexual abuse.
Directed by Mogens Rukov and Thomas Vinterberg.
With Ulrich Thomsen, Henning Moritzen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Paprika Steen,
Birthe Neumann, Trine Dyrholm, Helle Dolleris, et al.
Rogert Ebert writes: ``Imagine Eugene O'Neill and Woody Allen
collaborating on a screenplay about a family reunion. Now let Luis
Bunuel direct it.'' Vinterberg shot the film on video, then blew it
up to 35-mm. film. He joined with Lars von Trier (Breaking the
Waves) and two other Danish directors in signing a document named
Dogma 95, which was unveiled at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and
pledged them all to shoot on location, using only natural sounds and
props discovered on the site, using no special effects or music and
using only hand-held cameras. The Celebration and von Trier's
controversial Idiots are the first two--and may be the last
two--films shot in this style which does work for this film. The
movie, which ranges between comic farce and melodrama, is set in a
big old house, the premise being a celebration of the father's 60th
birthday. He had four children, but one died at the house not too
long ago. As the film unravels, so do the remaining family members,
alternately accusing the patriarch and each other of all manner of
crimes and misdemeanors. Is seems that the Danes are as interested
in family hypocrisy as the Americans; it's just that they show it
with sarcasm and subtitles.
April 4 The Governess
(UK) 109 mins.
Directed by Sandra Goldbacher.
With Minnie Driver, Tom Wilkinson, Florence Hoath, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers,
Harriet Walter, Arlene Cockburn, Emma Bird, Adam Levy, Bruce Meyers, others.
This movie also played briefly here, once upon a time, but many have
expressed an interest in again seeing the stunning Minnie Driver
wear big hats and lust deliciously for feature-length time, and who
are we to deny anyone such pleasures? It's 1840 and Rosina (Driver)
is a Jewess living in London. Times are tough, especially when her
father dies, so she fakes it as a gentile, arriving on a remote
Scottish island to work as a governess. Her unhappily married boss
is obsessed with the new attractions of photography, and before you
can say `cheese' Rosina and Charlie are thinking about developments
in the darkroom. The upright Charlie (you'll remember him from The
Full Monty) has Protestant guilt in spades, and the darkly sephardic
Rosina has her plate full of kosher secrets, so a complex web of
ironies informs their heated attraction. Photography works as a
framing device here, lending intellectual weight to a film that
pulsates with desire. Late Victorian repression hasn't looked this
sexy since Mr. Brown led all the Queen's horses.
April 11 American History X
Directed by Tony Kaye.
With Edward Norton, Edward Furlong, Fairuza Balk, Beverly D'Angelo,
Avery Brooks, Stacy Keach, Jennifer Lien, Elliott Gould.
Don't say we didn't warn you. American History X is disturbing in
its violence, and preachy in its message, but that doesn't mean it's
not absolutely fascinating as an urgent explanation of why many
white middle-class kids are seeing fascism as glamorous. Edward
Norton stars as Derek Vinyard, an allegedly intelligent Venice,
California, youth whose father, a fireman, is murdered by
gangbangers. He is thus vulnerable to the influences of the
demented and demonic rantings of a white supremacist no-goodnick,
played almost too well by Stacy Keach. Lured into the racist world
of crime and bad behaviour, Derek ends up going to jail for
murdering two blacks. While there, his younger idolizing brother
starts to follow in his combat boots. But prison changes Derek and
by the time he is released he has rehabilitated all his terrible
ways, much to the delight of his liberal mom and sister and the
confusion of younger brother. If this all sounds incredibly dumb,
rest assured that American History X is unforgettably visual, and
that Norton's facial performance as a pre-enlightened skinhead is
the scariest thing on screen since Jason wore a hockey mask.