Winter 2001

Jan 18  Stardom
Jan 25  Bamboozled
Feb 1  Dancer in the Dark
Feb 8  Requiem for a Dream
Feb 15  Kadosh
Feb 22  Afterlife
Mar 1  Waydowntown
Mar 8  Maelström
Mar 15  Rosie: The Devil in my Head
Mar 22  You Can Count on Me
Mar 29  Chocolat
Apr 5  Solomon and Gaenor
Apr 12  Possible Worlds

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

January 18   Stardom (Canada/France 2000) 100 mins.
Directed by Denys Arcand.
With Jessica Paré, Dan Ackroyd.
An Arcand film is always an event. The brilliant director of Jesus of Montreal hadn't made a movie in four years. But then Stardom opened the Toronto Festival last fall, building awesome expectations and leading to some scathing reviews. Why? Time will level all this, but you should judge for yourself. The film has been described as a ‘Quebecois satire’ filmed in English. We are not sure what that means, but we do know that Stardom is about how celebrities are made, not born. Beautiful Canadian Tina Menzhal (Jessica Paré) is at the centre of the whole deal, a small-town athlete who ends up on the plateau of the supermodels. The film's original title was `15 minutes,’ a nod to the construction of everyone's attainable fame. Who better than a model to symbolize the emptiness at the heart of the cult of celebrity? After all, what do models do besides show up? Even Charlize Theron has to memorize some lines every now and then. Arcand's own admitted voyeurism at the Paris shows led to the writing of this script. Surrounded by the Cindy Crawfords and Kate Mosses of the front row, he decided to make something out of all that material nothingness. The film cleverly conveys its message through the medium itself, largely television which builds its characters in fragmented bits. The big irony: at Cannes where Stardom made a splash everyone wanted to know all the details about the star of Stardom, Jessica Paré. In this case life not only imitated art -- it forged it.

January 25   Bamboozled (USA 2000) 135 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R. [IMAGE]
Directed by Spike Lee.
With Daman Wayans, Samion Glover, Jada Pinkett.
Roger Ebert called this film "perplexing." Now there's a challenge. The first thing to consider here is who is the bamboozler and who is the bamboozlee? Malcom X, whose shadow is cast over this and every other Spike Lee picture, believed that white people in general were the bamboozlers. In this film they are television executives in particular, an easy target, to be sure, but always suitable stuff for social critique. Following pretty closely upon Stardom, Bamboozled is also about the marketing of images, arguably the common theme of all contemporary film. In this case, the specific subject is African-American images. As with Stardom, this troubling film didn't please everyone. But a controversial Spike Lee film is more interesting than the conventional stuff of mainstream compost, so worth a look every time. Damon Wayans plays smart Pierre Delacroix, an Ivy league program executive at a cable TV network. His white boss is liberal and politically correct -- to a fault. No obvious racism going on there. Well, not so fast. Lee turns the colour charts inside out. The experience of working in the corporate television world makes Delacroix start to see things as grayer than black and white. The plot soon takes corkscrew turns not worth detailing here. What's important are the issues raised by the plot: what are we supposed to make of what we are seeing? When do images start becoming racist? As Lee himself has asked, why are black tv shows always comedies? What's up with gangsta-rap anyway? Why do white kids like it, and what's wrong with that? See Bamboozled and be dazed, very dazed.

February 1   Dancer in the Dark (Denmark/France 2000) 140 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R [IMAGE]
Directed by Lars von Trier.
With Björk, Catherine Deneuve.
Can this blurb add anything to the film's already overworked critical reception? We don't think so. But then if you are expecting a light musical romance you'd better keep reading. Weird Icelandic pop star Bjork stars as Selma, a Czech who has emigrated to America with her small son. Dreaming of a better life, fed on ridiculous Hollywood images of prosperity, Selma toils as a punch-press operator, saving her money to pay for an operation that would prevent her son from going blind. You see, she is suffering from her own congenital eye-failing disease. Set in 1964, the film is deliberately staged as an operatic exaggeration. How else to make sense of its tragic plot contrivances? At every turn the sacrificing Selma is betrayed by friends, America, life itself. Catherine Deneuve plays Kathy, an honest-to-goodness friend who tries to help out but who is ultimately defeated by the pressures of fate and just plain Bjorkiness. Notable is the film's vivid fantasy structure, which allows the pop star to warble a few tunes. Cheery and colourful musical numbers -- à la The Sound of Music! – contrast with the grim digital reality of Selma’s downward spiral. At Cannes, as you well know, the critics either booed or cheered. You have to admire von Trier's ability to make original art. Dancer in the Dark is unlike anything you have ever seen, so there's always a little bit of the shock of the new with this guy's work. Give Danes a chance.

February 8   Requiem for a Dream (USA 2000) 100 mins.
[IMDb] Rated R. [IMAGE]
Directed by Darren Aranofsky.
With Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Louise Lasser, et al.
You've heard the buzz now see the movie. Great title, bad drugs. Requiem for a Dream is a searing portrait of addiction, the dream of a new generation. The casting is inspired, the script knowing, and the cinematography brilliant. Sundance icon Aronofsky is the guy who brought us the Talmudically nutty Pi, remember? Smart guy. Requiem tracks the world of the addict closely, providing us with an intense examination of what happens when good people make stupid choices. Marlon Wayans and Jared Leto are just fabulous as two smack-heads who deal coke in their NY hood. Like many before them, they talk the impossible dreams of making it big on the profits of their illegal trade. Jennifer Connelly plays Leto’s girlfriend, a spaced-out addict who makes the other two look in control. This is Trainspotting with consequences. What medium is better than cinema to represent the hallucinatory satisfaction of a fix? Aranofsky wisely exploits film's visual potential to simulate intense and unusual experiences. You’ll feel the rush but you'll also return to reality, a place these deluded characters wouldn't know if a road map hit them in the face. With Ellen Burstyn doing an Oscar-possible turn as a high-maintenance mom, Requiem extends the world of hard-core drugs to the pill-popping addictions of the drugstore. It ain't pretty but it sure is seductive.

February 15   Kadosh (Israel 1999) 110 mins.
[IMDb] English subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Amos Gitai.
With Yoram Hattab, Meital Barda, et al.
We have been trying to get this Israeli film for over a year. Finally, this controversial drama appears in the heat of yet another breakdown in Middle East relations, making it more poignant than ever. In Israel the film itself caused a dust storm, not surprising considering that Kadosh is about Hasidim, the fundamentalist sect of Judaism in which men are men and women are breeders. The film is set in a well-known area of Jerusalem called Mea Shearim, a ghetto of highly regulated life. The law is so old there it still has the whiff of stone tablets about it. The film focuses on two sisters who live in the area, Rivka who is married, and Malka, who is single and in love with the wrong man. Rivka and Meir can't have kids, the closest thing to a crime. The problem is the husband's infertility, but in Hasidic families the less said about male potency the better. Malka's beloved is an Israeli soldier named Yaakov. Hasids have a dispensation that frees them from having to serve in the military. When Yaakov became a soldier he had to leave the sect. Pressure on Malka to marry a true believer--not to mention a far right nutcase--drives much of the anxiety here. But pressures on women from every side of the sect give new meaning to old prejudices. If these women are prohibited from finding happiness within their own religion, how could anyone expect the autocratic men who rule them to be tolerant of their Arab cousins? Frightening in its documentary intensity, Kadosh is a scathing indictment of intolerance. The film invites us to wonder – what is wrong with these men that they feel so threatened by women? By others? If God had wanted us all to breed She wouldn’t have invented male sterility in the first place.

February 22   Afterlife (Japan 1998) 118 mins.
[IMDb] aka Wandafuru raifu, english subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda.
With Arata, Erika Oda, et al.
It’s interesting, but after years of suffering in the dark circles of cinema art houses, Asian film is having its way with us. The proof is all over the main screens. AFTERLIFE contributes to the growing pool of excellent Asian cinema circulating beyond Far Eastern borders. Described as "delicate" by some, the film is a poignant allegory of the sweet-hereafter. It begins as 22 `clients' gather in an anonymous place, otherwise known as the waiting room of the great beyond, the place lies just ahead of the Big Sleep. Each is asked to select one memory from their lifetime that they could happily relive in eternity. The premise is unique, made particularly effective by the naturalism of sets and performance. Ten amateurs among the pro actors underscore the realism. Apparently much of the heavenly-interview stage of the process was unscripted, and it shows with delightful results. Afterlife, according to Kore-Eda, has its charms. Consider the fantasy of being able to forgive yourself for all the sloppy things you’ve done, not to mention the benefit of being able to pass beyond grief to something else. The director interviewed over 500 people for the film, asking each the same question posed by the angelic interviewers. To his astonishment, people often chose disturbing memories to relive. Perhaps these darker memories were finally more important to who it is they became. Afterlife is a thoughtful and affirmative meditation on a subject few filmmakers dare to pursue. Few could do it as well.

March 1   Waydowntown (Canada 2000) 87 mins.
Directed by Gary Burns.
With Fab Fillipo, Don McKellar, Marya Delver, Gordon Curry, et al.
What fun! This is a wildly exuberant award-winning masterpiece by the creator of the lesser known but really amusing The Suburbanators (1995) and Kitchen Party (1997). At Toronto last fall this smart-ass comedy took home all the prizes. The premise rests on a clever device: four young adult office workers in downtown Calgary (!) have entered a pretty insane bet. It sounds like a Seinfeld skit or Reality TV: the wager is to see who can stay indoors the longest. The pledge is a month's salary. This is not such a crazy bet, after all, when you consider the way Canadian cities are increasingly designed for indoor traffic. Think of the possibilities – you could easily survive in the West Edmonton Mall without ever having to leave the premises. Why not a whole city with interconnected shops and skywalks and tunnels and malls? The pumped up centres of the action are hunky Tom (Fabrizio Filippo), Sandra (Marya Delver), Randy (Tobias Godson) and Curt (Gordon Currie). The movie begins with 4 weeks already into the wager. They're all going nuts. You might expect the pace to be slow and dull, but Burns cleverly fast-forwards the drama, making Waydowntown a highly intelligent watch, involving a hilarious scene-stealing bunch of characters, in addition to the fab four. You have to keep up – or leave the building. Who ever knew that urban angst could be this entertaining? You’ll be laughing all the way to your underground parking spot.

March 8   Maelström (Canada 2000). 87 mins.
[IMDb] English subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Denis Villeneuve.
With Denis Villeneuve, Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Stéphanie Morgenstern, Virginie Dubois.
This is a first–not only for us but for the world–a film narrated by a fish. If the idea of this device gets you excited you’re in for more surprises. Norse mythology takes up significant space in this wacky fish tale. Okay, if neither of those two elements appeals to you, don’t worry about it. Maelström is a keeper. Trust us. It’s up for all the prizes. You can’t help but admire its stunning visual expressionism or its imaginative bravado. Consider this: the fish that starts the narration has its head chopped off, so another picks up the story. The story, you ask? Well, it involves a woman named Bibiane (Croze) who is so distressed that she accidentally kills a fishmonger in a Montreal hit-and-run. Things get fishier when she meets the dead guy’s son (Verrault). Accompanying the romantic and fateful circumstances is a musical score ranging from Hair to opera to a Tom Waits song entitled "The Ocean Doesn't Want Me." If you think that MAELSTRÖM is a comedy you’re breathing through the wrong gills. In fact, with a fish-eye view of history it’s hard to know what genre this film rests in. Much of the humour might be lost in the subtitles, but there’s no denying how operatically over-the-top the whole thing is. If you recall Villeneuve’s brilliant feature, August 32nd on Earth, shown a few seasons back, you’ll already have an appreciation for his off-centred ingenuity. Piscatorially speaking, Maelström is perfect.

March 15   Rosie: The Devil in my Head (Belgium 1998) 97 mins.
[IMDb] English subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Patrice Toye.
With Aranka Coppens, Sara de Roos, Frank Vercruyssen, Dirk Roofthooft.
A gripping debut feature by Belgian director Toye. This will hit you right between the Ides. Rosie is a young teen who was born when her mother, Irene, was only 14 years old. She lives with mom and a loser uncle in a rundown nowheresville flat in Antwerp. Because her mother is so young, Rosie thinks of her as a sister – not mommy … shades of Roman Polanski. When life starts to get even more oppressive than usual, Rosie slips into a teenager’s fantasies, fueled as they are by Harlequin romances and pop music. (Er, warning: the film's all too appropriate subtitle is "The Devil in My Head.") But the gap between reality and the fantasy offered by these escapist other world is so large that reality itself cannot sustain the difference. Rosie is typical of European movies that illuminate dysfunction and possibility through the lens of a documentary-like earnestness. Performances are uncannily naturalistic and gripping. The structure works by flashback (Toye greatly admired the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski) in a fragmented way that captures Rosie’s own fragmented identity. Chills, thrills, and wills: Rosie rivets.

March 22   You Can Count on Me (USA 2000) 100 mins.
Directed by Ken Lonergan.
With Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo, Matthew Broderick, Rory Culkin, Jon Tenney, et al.
We are lucky to have snagged this most popular Best-of-2000 print, a Sundance favourite, indie sleeper, box-office fantasy. There are those of us who have a thing about Matthew Broderick, a good thing, that is. Call it wrestling with our light side, but the guy has a quality that turns the most mediocre films into serious comedies. You Can Count On Me doesn’t need a Broderick to make it work, but he sure doesn’t hurt. But enough true confessions. Look at the film. The plot sounds corny: a layabout uncle (Ruffalo) bugs his sister (Linney) for money, meanwhile tempting her eight-year-old son Rudy (Culkin) with good-for-nothing diversions, like shooting pool. The conservative sister throws a few fits, eventually choosing to walk on her own wild side. The world turns inside out and, well, things change. This all might sound impossibly dull and boring, but the film is anything but. Why? Director Lonergan did everything he could to turn a straightforward story into a refreshing slice of life. Not easy when you inherit a history of recycled Hollywood plots, but he did it. He figured out where the scene might have led to cliché and then swerved away from that possibility. The result is a film with a cliché title that gently, subversively, speaks up to its audiences. As a screenwriter, Lonegan has a particularly good ear for dialogue on which so much good cinema depends. You can count on this review.

March 29   Chocolat (USA 2000) 121 mins.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom.
With Johnny Depp, Victoire Thivisol, Juliet Binoche, Lena Olin, Judi Dench, et al.
The snobby critics are freaking out about this film’s popularity. We’re not sure why. We think they might be secret chocoholics, or snobby Americans who resist the film’s imaginative escapism. Whatever. Chocolat is a sexy movie in the Like Water For you-know-what mould. And it stars Johnny Depp. Love him or loathe him, he’s got more photogenic power than all the Snickers in candyland. This allegorical fantasy is set in the France of the fifties, where people are serenely restrained and proud of it. Into this Catholic world, and just about the time of Lent, drifts the unspeakably gorgeous Vianne Rocher (Binoche), a non-believing spirit who opens a fancy chocolate shop. She might as well be selling heroin. The mayor of the town contrives to have her bankrupt and booted out, but this is no defenseless shopkeeper. Vianne starts winning friends and influencing people – with chocolate, of course. Indeed, the first bite is the deepest. So it goes that the sleepy village awakens to some sweet lessons, sugar being the best revenge. This is all at once impossibly cloying and wonderful. Director Hallström (Cider House Rules) prefers to allegorize his affirmation of life, a strategy that allows him to cast some of the best and the brightest in the business. Just check out the cast. If life really is like a box of Binoches’ truffles, we all want the recipe.

April 5   Solomon and Gaenor (UK 1999) 103 mins.
Directed by Paul Morrisson.
With Ioan Gruffid, Nia Roberts, Sue Jones-Davies, et al.
Okay, quick, when was the last time you saw a movie in Welsh, English, and Yiddish? We feel an incorrect joke coming on here. Clearly, writer/director Paul Morrison who earned an Academy Award nomination for this Best Foreign Language Film wisely managed to escape ethnic ribbing. Solomon and Gaenor transcends the clichés of doomed love to construct a gorgeous cinematic romance. Set in 1911, the film describes the strict Welsh church-going life of Gaenor (Roberts) in contrast to that of the pawnshop-owning experience of Solomon (Gruffudd) on the other side of the mountain. Solomon makes easy contact with the village by going door-to-door in a time-honoured profession. One look at Gaenor and we all know his knishes are cooked. Besotted with each other, the two star-crossed Others begin a passionate but clandestine relationship. But where does one hide in a Welsh mountain village, you may very well ask? A curious twist here is that Gaenor doesn’t know that Solomon is Jewish for quite some time, creating added tension in an already fraught drama. Solomon and Gaenor follows the shifting dynamic of the lovers’ stressed relationship, as each struggles to maintain order and dignity in an obviously difficult world of clashing cultural signs. The bare bones of the plot sound familiar, but the critical appeal is the stunning cinematography, the strong performances by the two leads, and the always-persuasive script. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll reach for your Welsh-Yiddish dictionary.

April 12   Possible Worlds (Canada 2000) 93 mins.
[IMDb] Directed by Robert Lepage.
With Tolda Swinton, Tom McCamus, Sean McCann, et al.
Robert Lepage (La Confessionale) has never done anything but dazzle us. His career as writer, producer, stage manager, opera composer, actor, albino has been nothing but original and provocative. This latest entry into his feature film repertoire is a predictably innovative exercise in narrative amusement, shot in English, too. Film can do so much, and with talent like Lepage’s the screen becomes an exercise in meditative wonder. The possible story involves George Barber (McCamus). To all appearances poor George died a ghastly if natural death. The cops on the beat attempt to deduce what got him into such a dead way; while they ruminate we have the chance to explore fragments of the possible lives George might have lived. At the centre of George’s possible pasts is Joyce (Swinton), the significantly paired Other who, in one version, is the destined bride of a childhood relationship. In another story, Joyce and George meet as adult strangers who have an affair. In yet another Joyce doesn’t appear to have a clue who George is. Of all the roads taken in this crazy universe, Joyce certainly strolled onto his. Get the picture(s)? This is April. If you crave resurrection, check out Possible Worlds. There are no lives like it.