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MUN Cinema Series
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for more information about the films.
September 11 Nowhere in Africa
(Germany 2001) 141 min.
aka Nirgendwo in Afrika.
Rated R for some sexual content. English subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Caroline Link.
With Juliane Köhler, Jettel Redlich, Merab Ninidze, Sidede Onyulo, et al.
Winner of 2002 Best Foreign Film Oscar, this stunning feature opener
not only focuses on a complex period of history but it also locates the
story in a perennially complex place. When German Jews fled Nazi
Germany their stories of arriving in America were eventually widely
circulated. What happened to those who went to such remote areas
as Kenya, Africa? The nowhere of the title stresses the extreme
alienation of a German Jewish refugee family. It's the thirties and
Kenya, to them, might be a somewhere to hide. The mother, Jettel, is
sick about having to give up her elegantly middle class lifestyle; dad
is a lawyer who has to give up his practice and take up farming in the
new land. The central and organizing consciousness here, however, is
the daughter, Regina, who loves the newness of the dusty landscape, and
soon finds comfort in local culture and companionship. It is more than
ironic that they fled one racist culture for another, and it isn't long
before anti-Semitism competes with other forms of discrimination for
the family's attention. Nowhere in Africa is an epic story (look at the
length of the film) about a dramatic--and true--slice of twentieth
century history. Be there.
September 18 Respiro
(Italy 2002) 90 min.
Rated PG-13 for nudity and thematic elements. [IMAGE]
Directed by Emanuele Crialese.
With Valeria Golino, Vincenzo Amato, Francesco Casisa, Veronica D'Agostino, et al.
If you want a fierce shot of energy check out this spirited Italian comedy that
won the grand prize in the Critics' Week program at Cannes. The story
centers on a highly unpredictable woman named Grazia. The island village
she drives crazy, and vice versa, is filled with children, Vespas,
fishermen, a scorching sun, and lots of horny people shouting at each
other. Grazia's two young sons run as wild as boars; her daughter's
raging hormones aren't helping domestic serenity either. Grazia's
husband Pietro is worried sick about his wife's apparently unstable
mental health and tries to get her some medical help. Chaos ensues when
Gracia, beautiful and forceful as she is, rebels. The NYU grad/director,
Emanuele Crialese, aims at presenting a vision of life as far removed
from the frenzied routines of North American life as possible. Not
surprisingly, his cinematic inspiration is Fellini, the great maestro of
the pleasure principle, of theatrical expression, and of transcendent
experience. Any director who models his vision after Fellini is okay
with us. And any movie that understands Italy as a metaphor for life's
possibilities belongs in this series. Why aren't we all living there
September 25 Spellbound
(USA 2003) 95 min.
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz.
As themselves: Harry Altman, Angela Arenivar, Ted Brigham, April DeGideo, et al.
Everyone wants (to spell) the last word, right? This lively documentary
sure has legs--walking across screens all over the continent, pleasing
everyone with dramatically true stories of what happens when hard words
meet good people. The film follows eight youngsters on their quest to
win the 1999 National (USA) Spelling Bee. Great idea for a film,
especially one that lives in the moment of the experience and ends up
revealing far more than what the directors had in mind at the outset. In
shadowing these kids and their families the filmmakers ended up showing
us a sizable cross-section of American life, from illegal Mexican
immigrants to privileged California dreamers. What they all have in
common is that old American dream, and an uncanny ability to spell
unpronounceable words. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll go running to
October 2 Winged Migration
(France/Italy/Germany/Spain/Switzerland 2003) 90 min.
aka Le Peuple Migrateur. Documentary. [IMAGE]
Directed by Jacques Cluzaud, Michel Debats, Jacques Perrin
Come early because we anticipate a sell-out crowd for this
awesomely extravagant documentary about our, er, feathered friends.
Look, if we had IMAX we'd blow it up and show it to you that way, but
70mm at the Mall ain't a bad way to display this critically acclaimed
spectacle of flight. Part of the fascination of watching about an hour
and half of birds doing what they do (fly south, fly north, eat, mate,
prey on others, get preyed upon, fly fly fly) is trying to figure out
how the French filmmakers got most of the actual shots. Guess we'll
have to check the DVD for those tips. In the meantime, you'll be simply
amazed at the sublime cinematography of all this stunning natural
aviation. It's hard work being a bird, but if you're good at it you can
avoid being turned into pie or a pillow. If Jonathan Seagull were alive
he'd stop whining and enjoy the show.
October 9 Owning Mahowny
(Canada/USA/UK 2003) 104 min.
Rated R for language and some sexuality. [IMAGE]
Directed by Richard Kwietniowski.
With Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver, Maury Chaykin, John Hurt, Sonja Smits, et al.
A great cast with American and Canadian stars illuminating
this exciting thriller. At the heart of the tale is a brilliant
performance by perennial indie star Philip Seymour Hoffman. He plays a
smart and studious gambling addict who, by definition, can't stop
throwing the dice, can't settle down, and can't resist the sheer
attraction of losing. As most followers of this film's success probably
already know, Owning Mahoney is actually based on the true story of a
Toronto bank vice president who began by stealing exactly as much as he
needed to clear his debts at the track ($10,300) and ended by taking his
bank for $10.2 million. How he traverses that addictive terrain is the
inspired content of the movie. Like all good working artists, Mahoney is
way ahead of his unsuspecting colleagues and even of his fiancé, the
innocent bank teller played up to her usual brilliant standards by
Driver. But like all good con artists, Mahoney's luck runs a course of
inevitable catastrophe. We'll bet you ten to one that getting there is
more than half the fun.
October 16 All the Real Girls
(USA 2003) 108 min.
Rated R for language and some sexuality. In association with the St. John's Women's International Film and Video Festival. [IMAGE]
Directed by David Gordon Green.
With Paul Schneider, Zooey Deschanel, Patricia Clarkson, Shea Whigham, et al.
Words like 'unpretentious,' 'genuine,' and 'raw'
stick to this movie like mascara to lashes. Directed and written by a
guy but produced by a woman, All The Real Girls is earnestly sympathetic
to both sides of the (hetero) romantic equation. Here, the focus is
particularly sympathetic to two almost twenty somethings who inhabit the
awkward terrain of young love. Zooey Deschanel is Noel, a young woman
who has just returned home from an all-girls boarding school; Paul
Schneider, conveniently called Paul, is the town's handsome rake and
clearly down in the town's books as the potential boyfriend. The
backwater North Carolina world they inhabit is painfully dull and
uninspired, but when your heart is full of desire all landscapes can
become achingly beautiful. The film sometimes wavers as uncertainly as
its subjects, caught in the slow and often confusing rhythms of first
love. It's at once charming and painfully real. You can see why All The
Real Girls was the darling of Sundance--it runs independently away,
thank goodness, from almost all the stupid teen movies to have ever
rolled off the Hollywood assembly line. Bonus attraction: it stars indie
Queen, Patricia Clarkson, who always acts like she owns the script.
October 23 I Capture the Castle
(UK 2003) 111 min.
Rated R for brief nudity. [IMAGE]
Directed by Tim Fywell.
With Romola Garai, Rose Byrne, Henry Thomas, Marc Blucas, et al.
You might find it surprising to know
that the inspiration for this film was a novel written by the author of
101 Dalmatians. Before you start barking at the moon, be assured that
Dodie Smith wrote I Capture the Castle without Disney, dogs, or deals in
mind. Nonetheless, the power of the story was too forceful to be
contained by words alone, and so it is that the movie does noble justice
to its original source. The Mortmains are, if it isn't too redundant to
say, an eccentric British family. Their luck might have run out but
their pluck perseveres. Dad is a bit unhinged and so when they stumble
upon a castle on a country outing he claims the place as the site of his
next literary masterpiece. Stepmom is no Cruella DeVil, but she has a
lot on her hands with two unhappy English girls and a husband who hikes
the thin edge of sanity. Presto chango: the two American dudes who
actually own the castle show up and rock the house. Wit ensues. You'd
have to have a heart of Stonehenge not to enjoy this exercise in dark
whimsy. The characters are totally likeable, for starters, but their
world contains enough elements of gothic menace to deepen the mood, and
the meaning, and the moat.
October 30 Raising Victor Vargas
(France/USA 2002) 88 min.
Rated R for strong language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Peter Sollett.
With Victor Rasuk, Judy Marte, Melonie Diaz, Altagracia Guzman, Silvestre Rasuk, et al.
We feel a trend coming on: eccentric characters, naturalistic settings,
young love, awkward discoveries. Add Raising Victor Vargas to the list
of amazingly similar films that still manage to skirt the hazards of
cliché. The Vargases live on the Lower East Side--New York,
that is, urban life, ethnic traditions, lots of shouting, macho male prancing.
The three Vargas kids are being raised by their grandmother and the
Victor of the title is already a swaggering 16 year old. At this point
you might expect the film to turn into The Latino Gangs of New York, but
the youngsters studied here are more curious about discovering sex than
the temptations of drugs or other stereotypes of poverty. The plot is
generated by Victor's lust for the yummy but apparently unobtainable
Judy Ramirez whom he sees at the swimming pool. Such longing leads to a
complicated set of maneuvers and social exchanges, the kind to which any
self-respecting romantically obsessed youngster might direct himself.
Meanwhile, old-fashioned Dominican Grandma frets about what's to become
of these kids from the block, her anxiety consistently fueled by her own
knowledge of all the no-good behaviour young men can get up to. The film
is modest but smart, and its reach extends wisely beyond the coming of
age of the Vargas kids to the troubled older generation who really don't
want the kids to grow up at all.
November 6 Swimming Pool
(France/UK 2003) 103 min.
Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language, some violence and drug use. [IMAGE]
Directed by François Ozon.
With Charlotte Rampling, Ludivine Sagnier, Charles Dance, Marc Fayolle, et al.
Is there anyone out there who hasn't
yet heard of this sleeper? Or visited one of the film's many web sites
where the ending is debated as passionately as Kaiser Soze's suspects?
Come early: we anticipate another sell-out for this fabulous mystery
thriller that combines the yummiest elements of any fine piece of
entertainment: a whodunit plot, Charlotte Rampling, and a delicious
French girl in a bikini. Rampling plays Sara Morton, a successful but
bitter British mystery writer who heads to the south of France to work
on her next novel. The cool blue pool of her elegant retreat beckons as
invitingly as one of David Hockney's canvases, but Sara claims no
interest--that is until her self-absorbed privacy is interrupted by the
owner's French daughter Julie. Pleasingly, Julie's got a body to live
for. She also swims, suns, and smokes with abandon. Sara is drawn to
this narcissistic sybaritic beauty, in spite of her own urge to repress
and condemn. The movement of the two unlikely women towards each other
layers the film in unexpected ways, eventually producing a giant riddle
of its own, wrapped inside a brioche.
November 13 Magdalene Sisters
(UK/Ireland 2002) 119 min.
Rated R for violence/cruelty, nudity, sexual content and language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Peter Mullan.
With Geraldine McEwan, Anne-Marie Duff, Nora-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy, et al.
Yes, we love the Irish--we are
them, they are us, and U2--but you might not be surprised to learn that
very recent Irish history includes the scandalously barbaric treatment
of women. That the Catholic Church still wants to keep the film off the
screens should say enough about its power. The facts are in, however,
and the film faithfully dramatizes them. The film focuses generally on
the 'Magdalene Laundries,' Church-run institutions where so-called
wayward women were sent to live (until 1996!) excruciatingly punishing
lives. These asylums housed women whose only crime was that they were,
simply, women. Specifically, the film follows three of the imprisoned
young woman as they suffer without mercy at the hands of the sadistic
Sister Bridget, played with eerie savagery by Geraldine McEwan. If you
thought the Taliban were/are cruel to women wait until you see how the
Irish justified serving the Almighty. The film is an eye-opener, and
even more disturbing when you consider that such hideous practices
flourished in our own times. No Irish eyes are smiling here, to be sure,
but the film does offer a sober lesson in what happens when State and
Church are inseparable. Fortunately, director Mullen had no problem
airing the dirty Magdalene laundry.
November 20 Legend of Suriyothai
(Thailand 2001) 142 min.
Rated R for violence and some nudity. [IMAGE]
Directed by Chatrichalerm Yukol.
With M.L. Piyapas Bhirombhakdi, Johnny Anfone, Sarunyu Wongkrachang, et al.
We'd like to get more Asian material but it's hard to come by for lots
of hard-to-network reasons. Fortunately, Francis Ford Coppola executive
produced this sprawling epic about Thailand and so his access to western
distribution circuits made the film possible. Indeed, Coppola cut the
film down to over two hours from its original five hours running time, a
blessing regardless of how good the spectacle. Anyhow, if your knowledge
of the country extends only to Pad Thai you'll love this immaculate
representation of 16th century bloodshed. The film can't help but evoke
the arguably greatest epic Asian director of all time, Akira Kurosawa,
whose staged battles of feudal Japan changed the way we think about war
and cinematography. The Legend of Suriyothai draws on the same sweeping
sense of place and history, shooting armies of warriors and elephants
with armies of cameras. As with Cecil B. and Korosawa himself, director
Yukol sets a royal love story against the bloody facts of royal carnage
and strife, but characters play weak second string to the grand portrait
of Thai History. The film is long, lavish, and large. If you like your
pictures big you've come to the right screen.
November 27 Northfork
(USA 2003) 103 min.
Rated PG-13 for brief sexuality. [IMAGE]
Directed by Michael Polish.
With James Woods, Nick Nolte, Claire Forlani, et al.
Some like it elegiac. Northfork is a stunning
vision of a place and time, almost painfully beautiful, sad, and
magnificent. Set in the Montana of the fifties, the film follows the
plot of a town about to go under - water, that is. A lake is promised to
follow when the dam breaks loose, but access to lakefront property will
not go to the residents who are being forced to resettle. The meek won't
inherit that earth. Some evacuate but others resist and that's where the
drama really takes hold. The film assumes the character of an old fable
- at once biblical and western. Consider the deluge and all its symbolic
suggestiveness, and the battle between ominous Evacuators and well
meaning Citizens. Their stand-off is inevitable and, ultimately,
pointless. But as grandly conceived a picture of history as this is, the
film is driven by the intense scrutiny of character. Look at the cast
list if you need proof of that. You won't be planning any vacation trips
to Montana after this film, but you will be haunted by the bleak
Bergmanesque beauty of its representation.
December 4 American Splendor
(USA 2003) 101 mins.
Rated R for language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini.
With Paul Giamatti,Harvey Pekar, Hope Davis, Joyce Brabner, Earl Billings, James Urbaniak,
Based on the American Splendor comic book series by Harvey Pekar and Our
Cancer Year by Joyce Brabner, this is the film many of us have been waiting
for. This movie is so good it's practically un-American. American Splendor
is largely about the eccentric and often dreary cloud-over-his-head world of
underground comic book creator Harvey Pekar. A little odd, at best, Pekar
went from ordinary nobody to a celebrity in the mid seventies when he
started to circulate stories about his Dilbert-like life in a comic book
form called none other than American Splendor. Perhaps not surprisingly,
David Letterman, or his shrewd staff, noticed the peculiarities of this
character and started inviting him on to the show. It didn't take much after
that to catapult the essentially misanthropic Pekar (what a name, to boot)
into the spotlight. The ingenious filmic approach includes having real
actors play real characters. Pekar himself appears in the film as, well, the
real-life Pekar, not the comic book version of himself which is played by
the multitalented Paul Giametti. And so it goes with the rest of the main
characters. The effect is like nothing you have ever seen on screen before
-- and that says a lot. A postmodern hero for our superhero sceptical age,
Pekar is about as unromantic a figure as anyone could dream up --and yet
he's for 'real.' American Splendor won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance
earlier this year. What else do you need to know?