Winter 2000

Jan 13  Joe the King
Jan 20  Black Cat, White Cat
Jan 27  The Limey
Feb 3  Romance
Feb 10  The Five Senses
Feb 17  Show Me Love
Feb 24  The Legend of 1900
Mar 2  American Movie
Mar 9  Felicia's Journey
Mar 16  Jeanne and the Perfect Guy
Mar 23  Perfect Blue
Mar 30  The Source
Apr 6  All About My Mother

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

January 13   Joe the King (USA 1999) 93 mins.
[IMDb] Crime/drama. Rated R. [IMAGE]
Directed by Frank Whaley.
With Noah Fleiss, Val Kilmer, John Leguizamo, Ethan Hawke, Karen Young, Camryn Manheim, Austin Pendleton.
Underappreciated and undermarketed, Joe the King is an admittedly bleak but complex tale about working-class life from a child's point of view. Recall the visual landscape of the child psyche in Leolo and you are starting to understand the nature of this coming-of-age genre. Dad (Kilmer) is unemployed and a drunk; of course, and mom is a victim, sure. Yes, the story is old, but this debut feature by director Whaley reinvigorates the classic abuse story with skill and unsentimental interest. Fourteen-year-old Joe Henry lives in the seventies, a bland and banal world for adults and children alike. Kids like Joe learn quickly that you can't count on anyone but yourself. As he grows up and into junior high, it becomes easier to cut classes and figure out how to get by. Instead of masking his family's poverty with lies and pretence, Joe indulges in it to position himself defiantly in the world. He establishes his own code of ethics, in spite of his father's anger and his brother's embarrassment, making the ugliness of poverty a shrewd defense against all that he can't possess. This is a tough but fascinating film experience, made all the more intense by Fleiss's strong performance as a determined youth on the road to nowhere but danger. If we were meant to have happy endings to all our movies there wouldn't be a market for independent cinema.

January 20   Black Cat, White Cat (France/Germany 1999) 136 mins.
[IMDb] aka Crna macka, beli macor
Comedy. Rated R for language. Language: Serbo-Croatian. English subtitles. [IMAGE]

Directed by Emir Kusturica.
With a huge cast.
Wildly funny and anarchic, Black Cat White Cat is a must-see, a brilliant individual effort from a part of the world most of us scarcely understand. This hilariously jittery film belongs to the broad tradition of farce, but strictly eastern European style. It is set among the Gypsies and gangsters who inhabit the shabby villages dotting the banks of the Danube, and makes a mockery of arty pictures (like Red Violin) that aren't really about anything but how to acquire good taste. Not everyone will like the Fellini-goes-Balkans ebullience of the film, but we have to wonder why not. This is a full-blown celebration of life, in which everything is possible and probably happens, in spite of the off-stage realities of war and death. The plot is convoluted and doesn't care a pig's ear about logical lines of development. Characters are good and evil and an amusingly grotesque mix of both. A bride struggles to prevent a forced marriage, a fat exotic dancing lady removes a nail from one of her wider body parts, con artists fake, lie, and bully their way along the Danube, and everyone seems to be more alive than all the characters in all of western film history. Kusturica, known for his award-winning epics about the former Yugoslavia and hailed as a master of tragic realism, turns every table on himself in Black Cat White Cat. This is an inspired, randy, reckless and human movie, an exuberant and unpredictable reply to the devastation of Sarajevo and an entire country in the throes of ruin and collapse.

January 27   The Limey (USA 1999) 90 mins.
[IMDb] Thriller. Rated R for violence and language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
With Terence Stamp, Peter Fonda, Lesley-Ann Warren.
You simply must catch this unbelievably stylish masterpiece from whiz director Soderbergh (Out of Sight) who gets more confident and entertaining with every picture he does. This is simply an exquisite movie, designed for anyone and everyone who is nuts about sitting in the dark. Stamp is the title figure, a reserved Englishman who stalks LA with the cool imperturbability of a pink panther. The plot is driven by his search for the killer of his long-estranged daughter, after he is released from years in prison. In an equally shrewd bit of casting, Peter Fonda plays the role of the smarmy and illegally rich villain with all the post-Easy Rider baggage you would expect him to be carrying on his white silk-suited shoulders. The plot is simple but the method of story-telling is hip, suave, and fabulously exciting. Critics have called Soderbergh's editing method "slice-and-dice," and they're right. The movie smashes every convention Soderbergh learned in film school, and there's lots of fun in figuring out how he did so. Much lauded is his borrowing from an earlier Stamp film, the 1967 Mike Leigh outlaw movie, Poor Cow, to show a flashback of the Limey when he was living in the same freedom-loving dope-smoking culture as Fonda's character. We come to understand that these two men took different paths, by fate and luck, that eventually bring them together. Nothing can be more pleasing than the close-ups of Terence Stamp's magnificently chiseled face as he thwarts stunned FBI agents, sleazy California parking valets, and plain old-fashioned thugs. He is a man who wandered into LA from another time, another movie, another continent, and the result is at once highly amusing, dramatic, and culturally explosive.

February 3   Romance (France 1999) 95 mins.
[IMDb] English subtitles. Drama. Rated R. [IMAGE]
Directed by Catherine Breillat.
With Caroline Trousselard, Sagamore Stévenin, François Berléand.

In a word, this movie is about sex, at least the heterosexual variety. It's made by the French --and a woman at that-- and it's a serious picture, so we ought not to be surprised by any of it. Again, the plot is simple but the story-telling catches our attention most of all. A schoolteacher named Marie is frustrated and disconsolate because her boyfriend Paul doesn't appear to be interested in her sexually anymore. That's pretty much it, except that Marie decides to do some experimenting on her own to see just how sexual a creature she is, and what she might be missing. The appeal here lies in the scrutiny of Marie's psyche, and her growth towards self-knowledge. Perhaps more to the point, this movie has generated a wash of controversy about what the limits of graphic sex might be in a non-porn picture. In North America, critics have focused more on that question than on Marie's journey. But the title is a clue to the heart of the matter, the nature of sexual politics and the dynamics of sexual interaction. Marie pushes herself into situations that test her limits, but we might well ask if she is free to choose in a patriarchal culture that fails to understand female desire in any sensible or mature way. Romance is boiling over with anger, vengeance, and raw sexuality, but it is also a dead-serious treatment of an adult subject we so rarely know how to film—at least outside of bad comedies about models with odd hair gel. To be sure, there is something about Marie.

February 10   The Five Senses (Canada 1999) 105 mins.
[IMDb] Drama [IMAGE]
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa.
With Mary-Louise Parker, Phillipe Volter, Gabrielle Rose, Daniel MacIvor.
The ingenious director of Eclipse gives us another uniquely interwoven narrative about our emotional experience of the world. The organizing device is the disappearance of a young girl in a Toronto park. Podeswa charts the lives of various residents of an apartment block reacting to the event, each of whom manifests an apprehension of experience through one of the five senses. A massage therapist, a cake decorator, a cleaner, an eye doctor, and a prostitute show us how differently life can be lived, but they all form a composite expression of full-bodied knowledge, so to speak. Each struggles to overcome something lacking in their lives, while the cynical urban landscape constantly forecloses on the possibility of goodness and hope. Yet the film is gentle in its inquiry of human nature, and director Podeswa confidently opens us up to the complex inner life of such a disparate group. Some have called The Five Senses Egoyan with feeling. Certainly the Cannes audiences were crazy about the film, and we would be hard pressed to find another example as seductive and clever as this promising experiment. Bring all of your senses with you, and be prepared for an artfully disarming evening.

February 17   Show Me Love (Sweden 1999) 89 mins.
[IMDb] aka F***ing Åmål.
Comedy-Drama. English subtitles. [IMAGE]

Directed by Lukas Moodysson.
Yes, you read the title correctly. We are being polite but the movie was originally called F---ing Amal, that being the name of the provincial Swedish community where the story is set. The full title tells you what one of the teenage characters thinks of the pace where she lives. If you don't live in Stockholm you're nowhere. Substitute just about anywhere small-town in Canada for Amal and you understand the premise. The kids are bored. Parents are, well, parents. There's nothing to do and nowhere to do it. We have seen these themes before but never quite the way writer-director Lukas Moodysson's camera wanders naturally through the lives of his characters, as if eavesdropping with permission. The documentary quality to the film makes for a particularly universal effect. Conversations are familiar, banal, and hence very funny. Leonardo di Caprio comes up, as do all the trivial matters of modern life. Most compelling are the two lead characters. Elin is gorgeous and determined to be a model--or a psychologist. Agnes is more withdrawn, but she has a huge crush on Elin. Her face tells a million stories, and you wonder how someone that young can seem so in control of her acting ability. Show Me Love seems like such a tepid version of the original title, but you can imagine the North American distributors trying to figure out how to print the poster, let alone highlight a story about young same sex love. We are sure you will enjoy this wonderful movie as much as the Swedes did, phony title and all.

February 24   The Legend of 1900 (USA 1998) 123 mins.
[IMDb] aka La Leggenda del Pianista Sull'oceano.
Drama. In English. Rated R. [IMAGE]

Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore.
With Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Bill Nunn.
Bellissimo! Finally a follow-up from the director who brought us the Oscar-winning Cinema Paradiso. This movie is Tornatore's English-language debut, but like his earlier film, Legend of 1900 conveys a magical quality. It narrates the allegory of a world-class pianist whose entire life is spent on board a trans-Atlantic cruise liner, never once setting foot on dry land. Nineteen Hundred (Roth) was named for the year of his birth by the ship's furnace worker (Bill Nunn) who found him as a baby. Not surprisingly, he lives a strange life, filled with emotional extremes. Terrified of leaving the ship, he nonetheless creates the most amazing piano sounds anyone has ever heard. No less than real-life Jazz great Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III) even shows up to test the man's legendary abilities in a "piano duel" that is one of the film's more spectacular moments. Told through the memories of Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a journeyman trumpeter who became Nineteen Hundred's good buddy, the story unfolds as an affectionate study of an odd and complicated man. Shunning the easy fame and attention available to him on shore, Nineteen Hundred simply cannot bear to leave his beloved ship. Guess it would be hard to give him a nickname. The production values of this spectacular ocean cruise of a movie are nothing less than amazing. Consider, too, the powerful score of the accomplished by Ennio Morricone and you have an unforgettable exhibition of sight and sound. The film is longer than most, but shorter than its original version which the Fine Line Producers lopped off in a strictly moronic gesture. Nonetheless, the theatrical release, such as we see it here, holds its water well. Let's hope the inevitable sequel, the Legend of 2000, is as good.

March 2   American Movie (USA 1999) 107 mins.
[IMDb] Documentary. [IMAGE]
Directed by Chris Smith.
With Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank.
If you haven't heard about this delightful Sundance crowd-pleaser then no matter. You have come to the right place in any case. In general, you might call this an insightful analysis of the American dream. In particular, it is a documentary portrait of aspiring filmmaker Mark Borchardt. American Movie begins with Borchardt's attempt to launch his "dream project," a realistic memorial to Borchardt's home town of Menominee Falls, Wisconsin, entitled "Northwestern." Of course he hasn't got a pot to produce in, so he wisely comes up with Plan B, completing his abandoned project "Coven," a seven-years-in-the-making exploitation effort inspired by the gory horror films Borchardt loved in his youth. So you see we have the premise of a movie within a movie within a movie…. American Movie follows Borchardt's obsessive quest over two years, wandering with him through the lives of several characters close to his experience: his assistants and post-acid pals, his predictably uncomprehending parents, his friendly uncle who throws money at his nephew to keep "Coven" alive, and the aspiring director himself. In the process of this project, Smith reveals a deeply sympathetic America, not the gothic hell of Fargo country or the strange and menacing landscape of the cinematic rural midwest. In every way, this movie about a movie-maker is a testament to the sheer creative drive of everyman, even the sometimes questionable game plans of the uninitiated. It is hard not to walk away from this movie with a sense that all dreams are possible, and that all movies deserve to be made. Certainly we are glad American Movie happened.

March 9   Felicia's Journey (Canada 1999) 116 mins.
[IMDb] Thriller. Rated PG-13. [IMAGE]
Directed by Atom Egoyan.
With Bob Hoskins, Claire Bendict, Elaine Cassidy, Arsinée Khanjian.
Some have referred to this movie as extending the incest subplot of The Sweet Hereafter, and changing the emphasis ever so slightly. True, Egoyan is bent on studying the older man/teenage girl relationship (as did Exotica) but everyone has noted how radically different this movie is in tone and pace. Yes, the voyeurism is here, but in a different form. The always outstanding Bob Hoskins plays Hilditch, an apparently nice hard-working guy who runs a catering company in Birmingham and spends his evenings alone in the kitchen reproducing his mother's cooking show. The quiet and lovely Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) is an Irish girl who has come to Birmingham in search of her lover Johnny (Peter McDonald), a cad who took off with no forwarding address. In her naivete, Felicia thinks he has gone to look for work, though her father (Gerald McSorley) insists Johnny's betrayed his countrymen to join the British army. It is only a matter of time before Hilditch and Felicia cross paths. We, no more than Felicia, have no sign of anything odd or criminal about Hilditch, at first. But slowly more is revealed about this sad and lonely guy who takes a liking for wayward girls. The drama obviously moves cautiously along as we fear the worst and suspect we have been in this movie before. But Egoyan is never one to give us what we think we are getting, so you'll have to see for yourself where all this creepy possibility leads. The cast of the movie, aided by the excellent ambience and measured dialogue, makes for a highly intense and accomplished effect. Complete your Egoyan score card and make sure to see this latest winner from one of our most popular exports.

March 16   Jeanne and the Perfect Guy (France 1998) 105 mins.
[IMDb] aka Jeanne et le garçon formidable.
Musical Drama. [IMAGE]

Directed by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau.
With Virginie Ledoyen, Elise Caron.
Cross an ACT-UP rally with the Jacques Demy classic The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and you start to have an idea of what this eccentric movie is all about. Who else but the French would dare to make a serious musical about AIDS and contemporary life? Mathieu Demy, son of the great director (and the equally important filmmaker Agnès Varda), even plays Olivier. He is the obvious "perfect guy," the adored object of desire. Ledoyen, who desires him, is a horny angel, all light and passion. Typically French (think Catherine Deneuve) she gets to be it all, at once naughty and nice. Jeanne and the Perfect Guy does advance the usual genre offerings, however, introducing Afropop, Arabic music and other non-disco influences. The typically French cabaret material nails us everytime, nonetheless. The movie drifts through the different social worlds of its characters (travel agency, Chinese restaurant, bistros), tracking a relationship bordering on operatic intensity. This combination of hard realism and melodramatic angst perfectly suits the genre, as it did in Umbrellas, a love story set amidst the aquamarine of a fifties gas station. Here we get an updated nineties version of the same, which means we dance and sing our way over the surfaces of yuppie love. Are you ready for this thoroughly un-American activity? Paris, as always, is worth the price of admission.

March 23   Perfect Blue (Japan 1997) 80 mins.
[IMDb] Mystery. Animation and Live Action. Rated R: Violence & nudity. [IMAGE]
Directed by Satoshi Kon.
This mainland art-house favourite isn't for everyone, but it might be many things to many people. No doubt about it, Perfect Blue is intriguing. The technique involves an amazing new type of photo-realistic animation that astonishes by making the film's characters actually look like Asian actors. The heroine is Mima Kirigoe, a pop idoru in the Britney Spears mould, forced to wear little-girl clothing and perform knowingly adult dances for an obsessive audience of mainly adult male fans (see Exotica et al). But Mima wants to become an actress. Her fame gets her a small role on a weekly soap opera, which soon mutates into a series of traumatic rape scenes and other public humiliations. At the same time, she discovers a frightening website called Mima's Room, maintained by someone who seems to know her every move, and she's stalked by a fan who may or may not be killing the people who've helped her deconstruct her own pretty "Mima-den" image. Is she splitting apart under the pressure of trying to carve a "real" private identity from her deliberately "unreal" public persona? This film will challenge you to reconsider all sorts of assumptions about pop culture and its manifestation in Japanese terms. It's engaging, disturbing, poetic, and totally original.

March 30   The Source (USA 1999) 88 mins.
[IMDb] Documentary.
Directed by Chuck Workman.
With Johnny Depp, Dennis Hopper, and John Turturro as Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg, respectively.
Workman carries his name honestly. He is one of the most acclaimed documentary filmmakers around, known more widely for his Academy Award show montages. At the centre of this study of the Beats is On the Road, arguably the most influential pop culture text of the fifties. Workman treats the work and the men who helped generate it as the "source" of much of what followed in sixties culture. So it is that On the Road became Born to be Wild in one swift movement. Clearly not wishing to reproduce perfect simulacra of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, the film leans towards a more personally inflected interpretation of their influence. The stunningly handsome Johnny Depp does a new and improved Kerouac; John Turturro's Ginsberg is all ethnic raging; and former druggie Dennis Hopper is probably the closest we have to Burroughs anyway. There is something fetishistic about the whole project, as much as there was about the Beats themselves and the cult they became. Not all critics liked the approach—there is something still sacred and untouchable about these guys—but most applauded the guts to try it. Seems we can't get enough of the three cool amigos and their fabulous fashion sense. We keep reinventing them, after all these years.

April 6   All About My Mother (Spain 1999) 105 mins.
[IMDb] aka Todo sobre mi madre.
Comedy-Drama. Rated R. English subtitles. [IMAGE]

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
With Cecilia Roth, Eloy Azorin, Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz, et al.
Everyone agrees. All About My Mother is Almodóvar's best to date. Please see this film. It deserves a large screen and a great swelling soundtrack and have we got the theatre for you. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown cheerfully appealed to the neurotic and vulnerable woman in all of us. Well, All About My Mother takes it all up a notch, transforming melodrama into something profound and wonderful. Cecilia Roth plays strong-willed hospital worker Manuela, who sees her 18-year-old son's accidental death and is inevitably transformed by the experience. Grief-stricken but determined, Manuela leaves Madrid for Barcelona to find the long-estranged father of her dead child. There in that wonderful gorgeous city of cathedrals and strange spirals she becomes engulfed in the lives of old friends and transvestites: a hilariously likeable drag queen, a celebrated actress her son revered, and a young nun who's found herself pregnant. Manuela didn't ask for these women to find a place in her life but she goes with the flow like a real trooper, finding the sweetest humanity in everyone and most of all in her own will to live. With overt references to All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire, the director has made a glowing tribute to the great women actors of the silver screen, role models, icons, and paragons of triumph against all odds. Kitschy and exuberant, moving and affirming, All About My Mother surely is one of the greatest celebrations of women ever made: all about Almodóvar.