Fall 2003

Sep 11  Nowhere in Africa
Sep 18  Respiro
Sep 25  Spellbound
Oct 2  Winged Migration
Oct 9  Owning Mahowny
Oct 16  All the Real Girls
Oct 23  I Capture the Castle
Oct 30  Raising Victor Vargas
Nov 6  Swimming Pool
Nov 13  Magdalene Sisters
Nov 20  Legend of Suriyothai
Nov 27  Northfork
Dec 4  American Splendor

Back to MUN Cinema

MUN main page

MUN Cinema Series

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

September 11   Nowhere in Africa (Germany 2001) 141 min.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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 anyway?

September 25   Spellbound (USA 2003) 95 min.
[IMDb] Documentary [IMAGE]
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 the dictionary.

October 2   Winged Migration (France/Italy/Germany/Spain/Switzerland 2003) 90 min.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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.
[IMDb] 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, Judah Friedlander.
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?