Winter 2005

Jan 13  Silver City
Jan 20  Festival Express
Jan 27  The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de Motocicleta)
Feb 3  Vera Drake
Feb 10  Enduring Love
Feb 17  A Very Long Engagement/Un long dimanche de fiançailles
Feb 24  What Remains of Us
Mar 3  The Take
Mar 10  Being Julia
Mar 17  Lightning in a Bottle
Mar 24  Merchant of Venice
Mar 31  Bukowski: Born Into This
Apr 7  The Story of the Weeping Camel
Apr 28  Born Into Brothels

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

January 13   Silver City (USA 2004) 129 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for language. [IMAGE]
Directed by John Sayles.
With Thora Burch, Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Daryl Hannah, Kris Kristofferson, Tim Roth, et al.
This Series continues to be undyingly loyal to the noble work of John Sayles. Where Michael Moore is polemical Sayles is a storyteller, faithful not only to the power of the images but also to the way they need to be embedded in narrative. On one level, SILVER CITY is a satire about George W, made just before the US presidential campaign and with a view to revealing the shallow limits of the Republican machine. But, again unlike Moore, Sayles avoids the cheap shot or the easy set-up and instead pitches his critique at a higher level, at the entire socio-political landscape of what we once called without quotation marks The System. In this case, it is the System that produced a George W in the first place. Dickie Pilager (Chris Cooper) is running for Colorado Gov. His patrician Senator father (Michael Murphy) cheerleads him on. More to the point, a shrewd strategist is masterminding the whole campaign, a man who, like Karl Rove (Barbara Walter's most influential person of the year), must be at least several steps ahead of the bozos on whose behalf he is working. As played by the always intelligent Richard Dreyfuss, Chuck Raven must anticipate the flak and keep spinning the falsehoods. The plot devises a murder mystery as a metaphor for the political process, but the film also refuses to offer soft liberal resolutions to problems far more complex than mainstream media or politics will allow us to understand. This is both a hard and a poignant film, as incisive a political analysis as you will find in this or any other year. SILVER CITY is the thinking person's approach to the contradictions of late capitalism - with a great cast.

January 20   Festival Express (UK/Netherlands 2003) 90 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for some language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Bob Smeaton.
With Janis Joplin, Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead, The Band, and many more - all as themselves.
The undisputed star of this documentary is none other than Janis Joplin, the tragic ballsy rock and roll babe of the Woodstock generation. But also along for the ride on this train wreck of a jam session were the Grateful Dead, the Band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Delaney and Bonnie, Ian and Sylvia, Buddy Guy, and the curiously inappropriate Sha Na Na. FESTIVAL EXPRESS is an assemblage of the raw and long neglected footage of a Canada-wide rock trip, where the likes of that new generation inhabited various railcars in which to eat, screw, drink, and play music, a car for almost every respectable rock star purpose. Amazingly, it's taken all this time for the footage to come together, and so what we are witness to is a kind of candid and nostalgic look at rebellious dead people. Part of the appeal of this documentary is the sheer unpretentiousness of the trip - no great entourages of the sort that accompany stars today, no bling or bull, just a bunch of talented people hanging out and chewing up the countryside in places like Calgary or Toronto, charging a whopping $14 for the pleasure of their music. If you're a boomer you won't want to pass this chance to revisit a past you claim you have lived; if you're the children of boomers, come see what your parents like to claim they were all about.

January 27   The Motorcycle Diaries (Diarios de Motocicleta) (USA/Germany/UK/Argentina/Chile/Peru 2004) 128 min.
[IMDb] Spanish with English subtitles. Rated R for language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Walter Salles.
With Gael Garcia Bernal, Rodrigo de la Serna, et al.
For probably the most awaited film of this Series, come early to ensure a seat and a special place from which to gawk at astonishingly handsome Gael Garcia Bernal. Fittingly, he plays none other than the most adored t-shirt icon in the world, Che Guevara. Perhaps one day t-shirts will be emblazoned with Bernal's own gorgeously gawkable face. This guy's eyes smoke as they did in Y Tu Mama Tambien. The film is a dramatized reenactment of an 8,000-mile motorcycle trip that Ernesto Guevara and his buddy Alberto Granado took to experience adventure and see the (Latin) world from Argentina to Peru. It was 1952 and Ernesto was not yet a 'Che,' but the film aims at showing how he gradually became one. Fortunately, as free-spirited as he was at the time, Ernesto rigorously kept a record of their travels; hence, the 'diaries' that inform the stunning visuals of the film. The young man was on sabbatical from medical school and more bourgeois sybarite than sacrificing revolutionary. Indeed, on the road these two twenty-something Argentineans flirted with women, partied hard, quarreled and, ultimately, bonded. While so doing they also took note of the poverty in the countryside, and acquired a profound social education for which they had not bargained. A coming-of-revolutionary genre picture, MOTORCYCLE DIARIES takes us right up to the moment Ernesto became Che and joined up with a guy named Fidel to change the course of history, paving the way for masses of Canadian tourists on the beaches of Varadero.

February 3   Vera Drake (UK/France/New Zealand 2004) 125 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for depiction of strong thematic material. [IMAGE]
Directed by Mike Leigh.
With Imelda Staunton, Richard Graham, et al.
We all admire the tenacious Mike Leigh whose searing films Naked and Secrets and Lies remain two of the most beloved works of the last century. With VERA DRAKE Leigh continues his exploration of working class reality, getting at its grim condition like no other filmmaker alive today. Vera is the kind of woman we all knew in the 'fifties and still encounter today. She does various menial jobs to make ends meet, but the one she takes on in secrecy is different - she is a moonlighting abortionist. Before its legalization in the UK in the late sixties, abortions were performed in the darkest alleys. Women of any class went to women like Vera to get fixed. One unfortunate day Vera gets caught and the drama then explodes around her like a brutal nightmare. Faced with a patriarchal judicial system and an unforgiving establishment culture, Vera is slowly subjected to the relentless dehumanization of the Law. Leigh is less interested in whether audiences are for or against abortion than he is in chronicling the way human beings are processed according to class interests. The real culprit here, as it is in all of his films, is social inequity. Working with his customary verité style, improvised dialogue, and relatively unknown actors, Leigh produces a gripping portrait of social realism. In the role of the titular figure, Imelda Staunton is nothing less than brilliant. If she doesn't get nominated for a Best Actress Oscar we'll eat our ticket stubs.

February 10   Enduring Love (UK 2004) 100 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for language, some violence. [IMAGE]
Directed by Roger Michell.
With Daniel Craig, Samantha Morton, Rhys Ifans, Susan Lynch, et al.
The opening scenes have been much discussed and so you don't want to arrive late. A hot-air balloon accident fills the screen like a surreal dream. But in the reality of this movie it is the generating circumstance for major transformative experience. Based on a novel by Ian McEwan. ENDURING LOVE is largely a study in the bitterness of fate. Joe the professor is about to propose to his artist girlfriend when the accident occurs in the Oxford countryside. Joe rushes to the scene with some strangers and things then go from dark to psychotic. If you know your McEwan you know the novelist offers a caustic view of the human condition. Here Joe, played with superb uptight containment by Donald Craig, gets increasingly tangled up in the life of one of the strangers, Jed, played by the talented Rhys Ifans. As a psychological thriller, ENDURING LOVE takes us on a strange and demented journey, but with style and a powerful dramatic force. As Jed starts to stalk Joe, declaring his love and kinship, the latter's confidence in his previously assured world starts to crumble. Joe is by nature distant and cool, but the film asks us to consider whether he is denying his own homosexual feelings or oddly attracted to the strange invader. This is a disturbing film in some ways, enlivened by the strong characters and the unresolved questions they face.

February 17   A Very Long Engagement/Un long dimanche de fiançailles (France/USA 2004) 134 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for violence and sexuality. [IMAGE]
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
With Audrey Tautou, Gaspard Ulliel, Jean-Pierre Becker, Dominique Bettenfeld, et al.
You'll be lining up early for this critically acclaimed masterpiece by French darling director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The irrepressibly adorable Audrey Tatou (Amélie) plays Cathode, a driven polio-stricken woman who believes in spite of all the odds that Manech, her fiancé, is alive and well and somehow free of the horrible trenches of WWI. While she roams the French universe in search of his person, we see him alive, far away and struggling to keep from soiling his pants. As with his earlier film, Amélie, Jennet constructs the plot like an elaborate puzzle. The characters keep bouncing from one fated moment to the next, but in their separate spheres. This device creates a lot of tension and mystery, as we wonder how and when the two lovers will ever find their way to each other through and beyond the fog of war and destiny. The style of the film is gloriously poetic, lifting the grim subject matter of war and its awful aftermath to unimaginable heights of visual lyricism. This is no mean feat, but who else but Jeunet could achieve it? The man has the spirit of an angel and delights above all else in the magic of storytelling. Bonus points for noticing Jodie Foster speaking impeccable French as a farmer's wife. Who knew?

February 24   What Remains of Us (Canada 2004) 77 min.
Directed by Francois Prévost and Hugo Latulippe
With the Dalai Lama as Himself.
Okay, maybe the Dalai Lama prefers to be known as himself. After all, this is the most modest international religious leader in the world. We would not normally show a film like this except that no one else is. Many theatres have been afraid to screen it. Anyhow, it is a tribute to Canadian documentary ingenuity, brilliantly hypnotic, and well worth the experience. Eight years in the making and told from the risky point of view of the Tibetan people themselves, WHAT REMAINS OF US has drawn huge crowds at festivals and won several popular awards. Kalsang Dolma is a Tibetan woman who lives in Quebec in exile. She somehow managed to smuggle into Tibet a videotape message from the Dalai Lama, whom many in the region had never even seen before. In their amazed and generally overwhelming reactions to the message a film was born. Shot secretly on a small DV camera, this documentary is surprisingly professional looking. It is also moving and provocative as it implicitly asks us to consider what the price of lost cultural experience might be for any of us, whether Tibet, Quebec, or Newfoundland. Fortunately Richard Gere does not harm anyone in the making of this movie. He is nowhere to be seen.

March 3   The Take (Canada 2004) 87 min.
[IMDb] Directed by Avi Lewis.
Written by Naomi Klein.
If last week's plea for Tibetan dignity didn't grab you this week's argument for social solidarity sure will. Leave it to the formidably creative socialist team of Avi "Counterspin" Lewis and Naomi "No Logo" Klein to write and produce a winning documentary on the monetary crisis in Argentina. But don't cry for their workers, because THE TAKE tracks the amazing self-reliance of the victims of economic fall out. Shot over six months and against the backdrop of the 2001 collapse of the economy, this doc follows the workers who quickly turned their anger into social reform. They took over abandoned industries and started organizing, letting nothing, not even an impermeable legal system, get in their way. Remember the news footage of all those once well-heeled residents of Buenos Aires kicking in the windows of the banks? Could one imagine the same reaction here? Possibly. More to the point, could we imagine workers rising above their destitution and directing their own futures with the conviction and force of community? This is an amazingly empowering film and a tribute to the two youngish filmmakers who have dedicated their careers to doing interesting stuff. Rise up and see it.

March 10   Being Julia (Canada/USA/Hungary/UK 2004) 105 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for some sexuality. [IMAGE]
Directed by István Szabó.
With Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Bruce Greenwood, Juliet Stevenson, et al.
We wouldn't mind being Annette Bening, but then we'd have to raise children with Warren Beatty. Never mind. Annette Bening is perfectly cast here as the aging 'thirties English stage diva, Julia. Married to wet noodle Michael (Jeremy Irons), Julia is still classy and gorgeous but the entertainment world is cruel to women over the age of twenty and she is well on the other side of it. Diversions in the form of part time affairs satisfy for a while, but even these have fleeting appeal. Partly to feed her vanity, Julia takes up with a very young American (Shaun Evans), and for a time life has a kind of exhilarating release. Sex with someone half her age is so much better than the alternative. But young Tom turns out to be a bit of a cad and the theatrical plot thickens. BEING JULIA exploits its stage theme to full advantage, mocking those who pretend to be 'real,' admiring those who can 'act' their parts, both on and off the boards, and ultimately pulling the rug out from those who deserve it. Above all, Bening lights up the screen with a powerful grace. If this is what ageing beauty looks like, bring on the crow's feet.

March 17   Lightning in a Bottle (USA 2004) 103 min.
[IMDb] Rated PG-13. [IMAGE]
Directed by Anton Fuqua.
With Aerosmith, Gregg Allman, James Blood Ulmer, Natalie Cole, Bill Cosby, Chuck D., Dr. John, Macy Gray, Levon Helm, John Hammond, Odetta, B.B. King, et al.
The cast should say it all. Bring your sense of rhythm. We've got a whole lot of music goin' on. Filmed at Radio City Music Hall in celebration of the blues' 100th anniversary (how do they know that?), this head-bobbing tribute is simply irresistible. Director Fuqua is sure to include the backstage irritations as well as the on-stage performances. We get interviews, candid caught moments, and some fine old yarns, as well as some amazing riffs, tunes, and breakout surprises. To be sure, this is very much a festival of blues, but with John Fogerty and Aerosmith we are teased with a little rock and roll, as well, the lines between the two genres not being that far apart, after all. Indeed, with Macy Gray we come to understand the extension of these forms into contemporary r&b and soul, and even an ordinarily mainstream yawn as Natalie Cole rises to the occasion. How is it that a simple 12-bar musical format made such a difference? LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE exposes us to the sheer diversity of the format, providing us with many opportunities to listen to the complex and fascinating evolution of a Deep South complaint. Leave your heartbreak hotel for a change and come see this fabulous concert.

March 24   Merchant of Venice (USA/Italy/Luxemburg/UK 2004) 138 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for some nudity. [IMAGE]
Directed by Michael Radford
With Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes, Lynn Collins, et al.
There has always been much ado about this most controversial of Shakespeare's plays, largely because of the ethnically challenged tragic figure of Shylock. Now along comes ethnically talented Al Pacino in the signature role, directed by one of the wisest of adapters, Michael Radford, in a truly stunning version of the early 16th century spectacle. Indeed, this is the real genius of the thing - that Radford emphatically diffuses the 'Jewish Question' by locating Shylock squarely in his bigoted Venetian time. This anti-modernist location does not excuse the play's difficulties so much as help us understand how a Shylock might have emerged at the time as a figure of such significance. Fortunately, the normally scenery-chewing Pacino opts to play the role with a measure of restraint, drawing us into a willing suspension of disbelief with obviously well workshopped persuasion. Lynn Collins plays the ultimately triumphant character of Portia with equally convincing power. Perhaps most pleasurable is the set and art direction, as the images seem to emerge from the palette of Rembrandt, giving us the flavour and texture of the time in ways we could not possible appreciate on the stage. This is where the film as film shines, and the power of light that is the very stuff of cinema conveys the unsayable.

March 31   Bukowski: Born Into This (USA 2003) 130 min.
Directed by John Dullaghan.
With Charles Bukowski, Bono, Sean Penn, Taylor Hackford, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Waits, et al.
Every self-respecting undergraduate eventually comes to appreciate and even admire the irascible Charles Bukowski, a model of alcoholic creativity, if not of better living. Here finally is a full-blown documentary about the poet of the barstool who died in 1994, featuring himself as the source of so much hard illumination. Sure, he drank steadily and like a fish, but he produced amazing amounts of good and inventive stuff, read frequently on the college circuit, and somehow managed a way with women. The film shows much of this, not only through Bukowski's own accounts of his truth but also through those of his friends, like Sean Penn or Bono. Bukowski's reputation as a romantic rebel was surely aided by the popular 1987 movie Barfly, in which a smooth-skinned Micky Rourke played the pockmarked lead in sexy sparring dialogue with a dazzlingly loaded Faye Dunaway. But BUKOWSKI gives us the real man, scarred and raging, strangely handsome and sweet, a complex mess of interesting multitudes. He'd probably kick this documentary right out of the screening room on its cans, but we are grateful for its smart ability to keep the record and demystify a legend.

April 7   The Story of the Weeping Camel (Germany/Mongolia 2003) 87 min.
[IMDb] Mongolian with English subtitles. [IMAGE]
Directed by Byambasuren Davaa and Luigi Falorni. This acclaimed documentary has one of those titles that makes you think it’s going to be a downer. In truth, there is more joyous magic realism here than gloomy adjective, and the title is part of its strange mystery. Consider the subject. We’re on the edge of the Gobi desert, amid a nomadic tribe of herders. One of the families soon becomes the centre of the action. Their camel gives birth to an albino calf, a creature cuddly but strange, too strange for the mother to nurse it. Nature may be cruel but humans can sometimes soften her edges. Desperate to save the calf and by extension their own livelihood, two brothers travel by camel to a town to hire a musician who might charm the mother into relenting. Bizarre, but all true. The musician then accompanies the boys to their station. He plays. A camel weeps. To say more would be to spoil the astonishing drama of this evolving story. What we can say is that this moving and authentic slice of life captures more than an amazing tale: this is about a whole way of life, about generations of people who live with a strong sense of their destiny and a profound respect for each other. Hypnotic and informative, immediate in its focus on the rhythms of such different distant lives, The Story of the Weeping Camel is as powerful an experience as you can ever hope to achieve in the dark.

April 28   Born Into Brothels (India/USA 2004) 85 min.
[IMDb] Rated R for some sequences of strong language. [IMAGE]
Directed by Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman. A tour de force of documentary filmmaking, BORN INTO BROTHELS is a fresh and inspiring new release from two young artists. Its subject is shocking. Think of the proverbial black hole of Calcutta and then paint it red. Yes, as the title tells you, the red light district of Calcutta is both backdrop and main character in this astonishing achievement. Interestingly, the filmmakers first went to Calcutta to make a movie about prostitution but found it hard to shoot. Either people wouldn't allow themselves to be photographed or else the filmmakers couldn't really figure out what they were shooting in the first place. However, as children kept following them, clamoring to be part of the picture, Briski and Kauffman came up with a brilliant idea: they gave the kids their own cameras and told them to shoot their world - the world of the children of prostitutes. The result, as you saw last month, was the Best Documentary Feature Oscar. Out of the eyes of babes we see the beauty and the squalor of India, unvarnished, poignant, and real. Perhaps the most remarkable effect of this project was how the filmmakers turned art into activism, handing over the profits of the photos of this now successful film over to the children, urging them and their parents to obtain better education and opportunities. BORN INTO BROTHELS gives new meaning to the much-maligned term 'empowerment.' This film is no fairy tale, but it does show change, and these days that's more than we ask from any work of art.