MUN Cinema Series
Follow the links to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for more information about the films.
January 14 The Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (Canada 2009) 109 min. [IMAGE] MUN Cinema opens its winter season with a class act, an acclaimed documentary about one of our country's most eccentric and enigmatic personalities. You have probably already seen and heard the earlier and excellent doc, Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, and so please be mindful that this is not that one. Michèle Hozer's update is less interested in Gould as genius weirdo than in Gould as genius human. The emphasis here is on "inner life," albeit a rather difficult thing for film to do since cinema by definition shows us only the surfaces of things. But with uncanny insight, and aided by the richness of archival footage, this documentary goes where no study of Gould has dared to go before: directly to the person and all his complex and contradictory humanity. We could call this a film about a man in variation. We kindly ask that you hum silently, however.
January 21 The Road (USA 2009) 111 min. [IMAGE] Feeling a little apocalyptic lately? Looking at the end of the Noughties we are tempted to say that both AVATAR and THE ROAD embody our collective fears about how unsteadily our wicked little planet is evolving, but from different sides of the theme. Where Avatar imagines a romantic naturism, an Obamaesque hopefulness about our ability to transcend evil and chaos, THE ROAD holds up very little in the way of human potential. America has come to rack and ruin, a Boy and his father, the Man, have survived, but there is longer a there there and the future is dubious. No, we're certainly not in Kansas anymore. We're probably in a Beckett parable about our self-destructiveness. There is almost universal praise for Cormac McCarthy's source novel, and a fair bit of quarrel with this adaptation. What the debate achieves, however, is a focus on the differences between prose and image. You decide. Bring your own hemlock.
January 28 The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans (USA 2009) 122 min. [IMAGE] Many of you will recall Abel Farrara's 1992 masterpiece starring the inimitable Harvey Keitel. That starkly dangerous movie (Bad Lieutenant) was about a drug-addled cop who slid scarily from one vice to another. Keitel's performance was outstanding, a tour de force of conflicted humanity. Well, first, it needs to be said that this BAD LIEUTENANT is neither a remake nor a sequel. Second, it must be noted that everyone who has written about it has acknowledged Nic Cage's own tour de force performance as a drug-addled cop on the mean streets of America. Consider that Herzog wanted to drop the first part of the title to avoid the comparison, but it really doesn't matter. These are two different, but equally brilliant movies that echo each other in interesting ways. Set in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, Herzog's story implicitly askswho is in charge? Where is the Law? Cage plays a tough, addicted, shagged-up cop whose only quest is to find another hit, no matter what it takes. Leave it to the master Herzog to find redemptive possibilities in such a figure. This drama is definitely restricted to those who can take it.
February 4 The Damned United (UK/USA 2009) 98 min. [IMAGE] If you love football (and we don't mean the CFL/NFL) then you already know all about this film and will be lining up early to ensure a select seat. If you don't know a thing about it then come along anyway. THE DAMNED UNITED is a lively slice of social history that will carry you over well at dinner parties when everyone is talking about the Beautiful Game. THE DAMNED UNITED is all about a real man and his strange, cruel passion for soccer. Brian Clough is a household name to any self-respecting Brit. He is an icon of the sport, an underdog's hero, one of the youngest coaches ever, less satisfied with victory than with struggle. As with all great sports films, this one isn't so much about the intricacies of the actual game as it is about the context in which the game is played, and the personalities who shape its destiny. Manic to a fault and almost pathologically cocky, Clough has a career-defining moment when he takes over Leeds United, the dominant, medal-earning force in the national league. But unlike Vince Lombardi or other famous coaches who loved and championed the teams they led, Clough has a rather antagonistic relationship to his own players. This makes for some pretty weird psychodramas, and a story so strange you couldn't make it up if you tried. As Clough, no one is more perfect for the role than Michael Sheen who has fast become Mr. Brit Everyman, playing anyone from David Frost to Tony Blair with uncanny precision. And if you haven't yet seen him as a salivating vampire in The Twilight Saga: New Moon (sorry) you're really missing something.
February 11 A Serious Man (USA 2009) 105 min. [IMAGE] Don't you think it's odd that these academy-award winning directors' latest movie isn't playing at a theatre near you? We won't even begin to second-guess the distributors, but suffice to say here's your one and only chance to catch the Brothers Coen widescreen and in all their eccentric, intelligent inventiveness. Remember Job, the schlub whom God tested for no good reason? Where it says Job in the Bible there's a picture of Larry Gopnick, a professor of Physics who wouldn't know a horseshoe if he fell over one. Is it just dumb bad luck befalling him, or does he really deserve what's going down? His wife is leaving him for his best friend, his son might as well be an alien, his daughter will go to any lengths to shorten her nose, his students are cheaters, and his tenure is being questioned. How can it get any worse? And who is there to turn to in such an unkind universe? Don't ask. Allegedly all about the Coens themselves, A SERIOUS MAN is set in the familiar 'sixties suburbs of Minneapolis, when and where the boys grew up. Typical is the way they look at their world through the lens of comic exaggeration, blowing everything up just to the point of absurdity, so that we can recognize ourselves more clearly in their mirror. Think of Raising Arizona and Fargo, which this film resembles far more than the menacing power of No Country for Old Men. If you like the funny Coens you'll love the not-so-serious A SERIOUS MAN.
February 18 The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (USA 2009) 96 min.` [IMAGE] Daughter of playwright Arthur and wife of genius actor Daniel Day Lewis, Rebecca Miller is a talent in her own right, no pun intended. This is the fourth drama to come out of her own particular intelligence, extending a familiar theme of her work, a May-December relationship. In a stunning performance that really taps her emotional power, Robin Penn Wright stars as an imaginative woman who is caring for her much elderly husband, played by Arkin. This isn't what she had in mind when she married him in a much more satisfying romantic past, but it's a common story for all those older guys and their much younger wives for whom there are suddenly few moral options. It is also a common story of a certain class, and Miller is careful to situate the drama in the upper middle class privilege of a world in which she herself was raised. The performances of this stellar cast are well worth the whole anti-romantic theme.
February 25 An Education (UK 2009) 95 min. [IMAGE] What a totally delightful Sundance award-winning exercise in unholy seduction this is, a hugely refreshing spin on what is normally considered an unsavoury subject. This is a movie about an older man who stalks and seduces a 16 year-old girl, but there isn't a creepy moment to be felt: bravo for such sweet release. It's 1961 and the western world is spinning in a new direction. Women are still chattel, sure, but they are starting to look different. Jackie O's hair is on everyone's head and London, where the film is so lovingly set, is coming alive with new continental ways. Carey Mulligan does an amazing turn as the 16-year-old Jenny whose parents are pushing her to Oxford. Saarsgard plays David, the questionably charming suitor, with equal aplomb. He could talk the rust off a handlebar, even persuading Jenny's stuffy parents of his earnest designs and good will. Given the choice between studying hard for A-levels or going to Paris with a suitcase full of Black Russian cigarettes, Jenny understandably opts for Door Number Two. Based on Lynn Barber's real experience of falling in (love?) with a much older man, AN EDUCATION reeks with authenticity. This is a loving, intimate, and sympathetic portrait of what happens to good young girls when they meet not-so-well meaning scoundrels. Let's just call this a romantic comedy with an edge of realism. Utterly delightful.
March 4 The Last Station (Germany Russia UK 2009) 112 min. [IMAGE] Check out the cast. It would take a moron of a director to make this bunch bring down a film, and they sure don't here. This is the story of Leo Tolstoy (Plummer) and his wife Sofya (Mirren), two wild and crazy Russians at the end of their tumultuous lives. Married for almost five decades, this couple knows each other better than borscht knows sour cream. In his latter days, as Russianists well know, Tolstoy was a full-blown moralist who believed in peace, abstinence, and collective property. Okay, two out of three make sense, at least. Foil to both his personality and crazy creed is the Countess Sofya, the women who bore him 13 children and copy edited War and Peace. Indeed, it's unclear which of those two endeavours took more labour. THE LAST STATION is not only a fascinating glimpse into one of the most famous literary geniuses of any century but also a showcase for the stunning acting talent of its amazing cast. Larger than life and yet uncannily like it, THE LAST STATION is simply УДИВИТЕЛЬНЫЙ.
March 11 Das weisse Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon) (Austria/Germany/France/Italy 2009) 144 min. German, Italian, Polish and Latin [IMAGE] German-born director Michael Haneke is becoming something of a cult director, a brilliant, courageous thinker whose current brand is a commitment to opening us up to the unwelcome truth about ourselves. That sounds heavy, but his films are at once rigorous exercises in intellectual inquiry and gripping narratives of suspense. Recall his Caché, Funny Games, La pianiste. WHITE RIBBON, as its title goes in English, focuses on the Germany of the last century, particularly on the Germany on the eve of the First World War, as fascism was brewing but had not yet fully cooked into a national drama. This film won the Palm D'or at Cannes and has clearly cemented Haneke's reputation as a master of psychological horrorand horror in truth. Consider this film to be a scrupulous examination of the children (and families) who would eventually grow up to be the architects of the Final Solution. What led such innocent-looking Aryans to enact a Holocaust? Haneke bravely explores this question, peeling back the surface of such apparent innocence to reveal the hideous roots of what we once simply called man's inhumanity to man. Check out the German title: a "German Children's Story." It's in gorgeous, painterly black and white. Colour would be way too much!
March 18 Good Hair (USA 2009) 96 min. [IMAGE] Have you noticed that our GG, Haitian-born Michaëlle Jean, has stopped straightening her hair? Maybe she saw this doc about black women and their recent history with gooey product. When comedian Chris Rock's 5-year-old daughter asked him why she didn't have ‘good hair’, he decided there was something wrong with the question. This highly entertaining documentary therefore tracks his encounter with black men and women about this very hairy matter. Chris Rock has a gift for getting people to spill, and so they do, on camera and with apparent ease. The subject is a bit sensitive, of course since it is so wrapped up in issues of identity and correctness, not to mention the fact that we are talking about a billion dollar hair-straightening industry. GOOD HAIR suggests, with Rock, that natural is better, but that might be a bit naïve, after all. Nonetheless, the doc raises some provocative questions in the most comically charming ways. Anyone with or without hair is welcome.
March 25 Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces) (Spain 2009) 127 min. Spanish and English [IMAGE] Yum yum, is all we can say for starters. When Almodóvar directs a Cruz, his muse, you know you are in for a deliciously sensual evening of lips, lust, and longing. This is a film about perception, obsession, and film itself. Never one to shy from Big Thinking, Almodóvar explores his themes with the gusto we have come to expect of this passionate director. A blind filmmaker with the filmically relevant name of Harry Caine, his former shady producer, the lover they once shared (Cruz), and a vengeful fourth character intersect with mysterious and possibly sinister results. Laced with Hitchcockian menace, films within films, entrapment and voyeurism, and animated with Spanish desire, BROKEN EMBRACES is a riveting, entertaining indulgence. No one does melodrama so consistently or better than this guy, and with a face like Cruz's in his sights he obviously has so much to live for.
April 1 Un Prophète (France/Italy 2009) 155 min. French, Arabic and Corsican, Rated R for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language, and drug material. [IMAGE] Audiardfamous in Europedrew raves in Cannes with this stunning drama about action in character, and less so the other way around. Essentially, a thinking man's crime movie, UN PROPHÈTE centres on young Malik, a French-Arab inmate who stirs up some mighty tension when he works the power dynamics of the system behind and beyond bars. Malik experiences an education of a certain kind, although you wouldn't want to send your kids to that school. The film weaves in and out of prison, as Malik gets just enough time outside the joint to ensure his criminal reputation. Lots of gristle here, for sure. Rich, dark, and aesthetically pleasing, UN PROPHÈTE is just right for the Easter season.
April 8 A Single Man (USA 2009) 99 min. [IMAGE] Who knew that fashion designer Ford was not just another pretty face? A SINGLE MAN not to be confused with A SERIOUS MAN abovehas drawn standing o's for this sensitive adaptation of a well known 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel. The ever adaptable Firth stars as the subject of the title, the handsome well-dressed George who is single because he is gay. An English prof who well knows the lit history of eulogies, George is deeply grieving the loss of his lover and on the verge of breaking out of or through such grief perhaps with tragic ends. His drinking buddy is played by Moore, the irrepressibly supportive redhead who bears the wrong chromosomes but is otherwise a consolation, if a temporary one. As you would expect from such strong actors, the performances are the thing. Ford does a more than a respectable job at framing his characters in exquisite ways, and not a runway in sight. IF ever there were proof that the 'sixties were less than liberated, this sure is it.