Sunday, September 25, 2011

Descant's Launch of the Sicily issue

Grano Restaurant
2035 Yonge St. 
(three blocks north of Davisville)

October 5, 2011

Come hear the Sicily issue's contributors of poetry and prose:
Valentino Assenza
Domenic Capilongo
 Gil Fagiani
Darlene Madott
 Doors opening at 7 p.m.
Arrive early to partake in the cash bar and the antipasti!
 Issue in stores September 20, 2011

Descant 154: Sicily is a collection of poetry and prose, essay and memoir, exploring and probing the geographically and historically impressive island of Sicily. In this issue, Guest Editors Michelle Alfano and Venera Fazio assemble diverse texts and voices — tourist and ex-patriot, Italophone and Anglophone, layperson and scholar —to create a multidimensional portrait of this oft-coveted Mediterranean isle. New pieces by creative people, such as Salvatore Ala, Louisa Calio, Darlene Madott, Gianna Patriarca, Vincenzo Pietropaolo, Gilda Morina Syverson, Pasquale Verdicchio, have the reader tramp the muddy hillsides of umber dirt, dine in the streets of Taormino, stand in awe of ancient Greek and Roman ruins, cast inquisitive looks into Mafia activity and even enter Sicilian bedrooms.

Join us in launching Sicily at grano, October 5, 2011, 7 p.m. as we celebrate the terrific works included in D 154. As Guest Editor Alfano writes Il sangue chiama — the blood calls — accept the invitation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Canada, 2011) directed by Léa Pool, 98 minutes
September 18, 2011, Scotiabank Theatre 1, 12:15pm
Pink Ribbons, Inc. effectively raises concerns about the increasing involvement of corporations in fundraising campaigns, specifically for breast cancer. Lea Pool, the filmmaker explores this explosion of pink ribbon enthusiasm which, at times, seems to border on hysteria during the various marathons, walks, jumps organized for fundraising purposes.

The book was inspired by the 2006 book by the same name, Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, by Samantha King, Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queens University. Briefly, the book contends that:

" ... breast cancer has been transformed from a serious disease and individual tragedy to a market-driven industry of survivorship and corporate sales pitch ... in an unprecedented outpouring of cause-related marketing, large businesses have turned their formidable promotion machines on the promotion of breast cancer awareness, while also opposing public health efforts (such as stricter environmental legislation) and stifling investigation into why and how breast cancer affects approximately one woman in 10 in the developed world. ... She also questions the corporate focus on breast cancer, which kills one-tenth as many women as heart disease, the #1 killer of women. More women get skin cancer than breast cancer, and more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer, she notes, but these other diseases do not attract the same level of corporate — or consumer— attention."

Worrisome issues are raised: has the search for a cure skewed the types of research being done over searching for ways to encourage prevention? If brands like Avon or Revlon or Ford Motor Co. have products that are alleged to carry carcinogenic elements do they have the right to position themselves as ambassadors of goodwill in the fight to conquer breast cancer? Dozens and dozens of corporations have embraced the cause but are they whitewashing ("pinkwashing" is the phrase used here) their involvement in creating cancer causing environments? 

It appears that once the marketers switched to focus-researched "pink" ribbons this seemed to trigger a more intense reaction from the largely female participants.

Interesting side note: The writer Barbara Ehrenreich, herself a cancer survivor (a title she abhors by the way) ,picks away at the cheerful, rah rah atmosphere that those fighting cancer deal with and the forced cheerfulness that makes her uneasy. Others with cancer echo the same sentiment: if you "conquer" cancer and become a survivor does that mean you have been successful, are not a failure? Does that  mean that those who die are "failures" and somehow have not tried hard enough?

Thought provoking and disturbing it makes me think twice about donating to the pink brigade but I'm not sure if that's a good thing.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Always Brando

Always Brando (Tunisia, 2011) directed by Ridha Behi, 84 minutes
September 16, 2011, AMC 10, 2:00pm 

The director Ridha Behi has a lifelong infatuation or love of the actor Marlon Brando. His encounter with the Tunisian actor Anis Raache, who resembles Brando, inspired a script for “the two Brandos.” 

In 2004, Behi got the script to Brando and the actor invited the director to his mansion on Mulholland Drive to discuss the project. Behi reworked the script but by the summer Brando had died.

Always Brando describes the direc­tor’s experience with Brando and alternates with the story of young Anis' (Raache) attempts to reach America in a post- 911 world as an Arab and Muslim.

An American film crew is shooting a film in their small town and Anis is sexually compromised by James (Christian Erickson), a rapacious American actor who promises both a visa and to cast Anis as a young Brando in a biopic once he reaches Hollywood.

Several elements disappoint: the production values are dispiritingly poor: the lighting, the costuming, the sets, the quality of the "film within a film". The acting is uneven and the idea of this man, Anis, passing for Brando when he can't even speak English is depressingly laughable. Maybe that's the point, how hopeless the dream is. How easily he is seduced and how quickly he turns on the people that really care for him. It all ends in tears.

 I would have preferred hearing the audiotapes of Brando speaking to Behi on various issues even if it was illustrated with stills or old footage than view this sad but cliched story of the penniless Arab who is literally screwed by his dreams of coming to America.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Le premier homme (The First Man)

Jacques Gamblin as Jacques Cormery, Camus' alter ego in the film
Le premier homme (The First Man) (France/Algeria/Italy, 2010) written & directed by Gianni Amelio
September 16, 2011, TIFF LightBox 1, 9.00am

My first encounter with the director Gianni Amelio was his phenomenal film Lamerica (1994) where two Italian racketeers come to Albania to enact some dodgy scheme and then get trapped inside the country. Their fate comes to resemble that of the desperate refugees who are attempting to flee Albania for Italy. Le premier homme, a collaboration between France/Algeria/Italy is no less affecting.

Albert Camus' (1913 -1960) autobiographical manuscript for Le premier homme was in the wreckage of the car where he died but was not published until 1994. There are many elements from Camus' life here - many of them not pretty and a testimony to the power of his talent and intelligence and the faith that others placed in him as a young boy with enormous potential.

The film alternates between the present where Jacques Cormery (Jacques Gamblin), now a world famous author and advocate for the rights of Algerians, has returned to Algeria in 1957 to visit his mother Catherine (Catherine Sola) and his past life as a young boy raised by his gentle mother and a tempestuous, autocratic grandmother.

Jacques' return, as an internationally acclaimed author, triggers a series of protests against him for his pro-Arab views as well as a series of memories - some pleasant, some disturbing.

Jacques, a gentle but fatherless boy whose father died in WWI, suffers a series of indignities. In one memorable scene he is trapped by the dog catcher and placed in a cage for hours for aiding a group of boys in releasing all the captured dogs. The only way he is released is by giving his new shoes to the son of the Arab man who caged him.

In another memorable scene, a school colleague named Aziz, picks a fight with him because he resents Jacques' attentiveness as a student, perceiving his intelligent inquiries as brown-nosing. When Aziz is punished and Jacques tries to comfort him the boy strikes Jacques with such intensity that even we, as the viewers, are shocked. Amelio subtly conveys the plight of the Arabs in their own country - they inhabit the scenes like ghosts, neither seen nor heard by their French occupiers unless it is to harass, inspect or imprison them. While a fellow student recites the glories of Napoleon and the French empire or the role of France in WWI, Aziz stares off into the distance in a fugue of insolence and distaste.

There are frequent beatings with a switch from Jacques' grandmother for small and large transgressions that his mother appears powerless to prevent. Mother, uncle, grandson - all are cowed by this ferocious old woman who would willingly stick her fist in a pile of feces in the outdoor toilet to ascertain whether her grandson has indeed lost a coin or spent it as she suspects.

Jacques is expected to leave school to support his family - his mother is a laundress, his uncle is a workman with intellectual disabilities who works at a printer. And Jacques does so until a sympathetic and well loved teacher intervenes and provides him with a scholarship.

The adult Jacques returns to a country no less oppressed than the one he leaves as a young man. As a Frenchman he travels freely through the heavily guarded streets while Arabs are thoroughly checked at various checkpoints by the French military.

His old nemesis Aziz contacts him and asks for aid for his son who has been imprisoned for possessing bombs which were later used in a terrorist attack (or a revolutionary bid for freedom depending on your point of view). Cormery's public plea for leniency falls on deaf ears. But Jacques' appeal for justice is not soft-headed. he supports the rights of the Arabs but not their right to kill his mother.

Jacques understands the pull of Algeria yet still fears for his mother's life yet she does not want to live in France as it "has no Arabs". We understand her ambivalence - despite the horrors of colonial rule, the poverty, the uncertainty of life, Algeria's dusty streets charm and captivate her and us.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Short Cuts Canada: Programme 6

A scene from The Red Virgin
Short Cuts Canada: Programme 6
September 15, 2011, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2, 1:00pm

My first foray into short films by Canadian filmmakers ... largely unknown and young with mixed results. Over 600 films were submitted for this programme and it appears that about forty were selected.

ORA by Philippe Baylaucq
Filmmaker Philippe Baylaucq used 3D thermal imaging, no natural or electric light, and a dance troupe to create beautiful, evocative patterns of light and movement. Very lovely imagery set to gorgeous music. The audience seemed most captivated by this film.
Little Theatres: Homage to the Mineral of Cabbage by Stephanie Dudley
Animator Stephanie Dudley rhapsodizes about a head of cabbage (based on a poem by Erin Moure) ... hmmm. Sweetly animated clay figures but a bit of a mystery as to why this captivated the filmmaker so.

Acqua directed by Raha Shiraz
Raha Shirazi directs and stars in this film about the rituals of water and washing surrounding the death of her mother. The trip to gather the water in a fairly harsh environment dominates the screen time and perhaps serves as metaphor for her sorrow; however, it doesn't make for interesting viewing in my opinion.

Pathways by Dusty Mancinelli
A young boy named Marco is bullied at school and tries to fight back but to no avail ... one day he stumbles upon a mysteriously wounded man armed with a gun and briefcase in the woods. What follows is an unexpected response by a boy brutalized by violence.

We Ate the Children Last by Andrew Cividino
Based on a Yann Martel story and set in the future, surgical transplants of a pig's digestive system into humans sparks some unusual (but perhaps not unexpectedly) violent responses from other humans. Violent, very strange and oddly compelling.

The Red Virgin by Sheila Pye
Aurora Rodriguez Carballeira raised her daughter Hildegart (b. 1914) in Spain to be a Utopian woman of the future - her intellectual skills were unsurpassed and she was widely admired. She became a socialist activist and sexual freedom advocate until she threatened to separate from her mother and was shot dead. For me this was the most compelling piece and the most disturbing.

Trotteur by Arnaud Brisebois
Based on a historical figure from Quebec's past (Alexis Lapointe), the story is about a man who persuaded himself that he was a stallion born in a human form. It's very beautifully animated. Alexis reputedly tried to outrun trains (often succeeding) and there is some suggestion that he was maltreated as a young man. The faces are ghostly and bruised looking but the meaning of this eludes me although it was very captivating.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Moth Diaries

The Moth Diaries (Canada/Ireland, 2011) directed by Mary Harron, 85 minutes
September 1, 2011, Scotiabank Theatre 4, 12:15pm

Girls. Boarding school. Vampires. Could you ask for more in a cinematic experience? Hmm, possibly ... the gothic horror genre has never really been my oeuvre but I'm willing to give it another try.

Brangwyn College is an all-girls boarding school (where a hotel formerly stood) in the countryside. Rebecca (Sarah Bolger) is best friends with the beautiful Lucy (Sarah Gadon) with whom she has an obsessively intense relationship. Rebecca comes back for her final year with a great deal of emotional baggage. Her father, a celebrated poet, had killed himself two years before in a violent, bloody manner. She hopes for a good year which will eradicate the difficulties of the past. All goes well until Ernessa Bloch (Lily Cole), a new student, befriends and beguiles Lucy.

Ernssa's arrival appears to trigger a series of disturbing events which eventually leave Rebecca friendless, scared and alone: one student is expelled; another leaps to her death; a teacher who torments Ernessa suddenly dies; another student is forced to withdraw by her mother because of the troubling events and then ... Lucy falls mysteriously ill which seems to be triggered by Ernessa's presence.

Are the bizarre and frightening things that Rebecca witnesses real or the the product of a jealous and obsessive infatuation with Lucy? Has Rebecca gone mad and is it because she has inherited her father's "bad blood" and a propensity towards suicide which she flirts with? Lucy suspects that Ernessa is a vampire who has seduced and entrapped Lucy. Why does Ernessa resemble a long ago resident of the hotel?

Mary Harron (I Shot Andy Warhol, American Psycho, The Notorious Bette Page) directs competently and the performances of all the girls are quite good as is Scott Speedman as a sympathetic (and very sexy) English teacher who appears to have crush on Rebecca. I liked the camaraderie between the girls and Harron accurately and sensitively captures the atmosphere of an all girls school. At times, though, she resorts to cliches - the butch schoolmistress who enjoys torturing the girls, the stereotypical goth appearance of Ernessa the supposed vampire, the attractive young male teacher who falls for the brightest girl in the class - which cheapen the film although I like the resolution and way Rebecca takes Ernessa in hand.

Perhaps it is me and I have become exhausted with the whole vampire genre having just burned through the last of the Twilight books. The film adds nothing new to the genre except that the principals are female and there is a strongly erotic element between the girls. But is that enough to make this film fresh and interesting. I'm not sure.

Damsels in Distress

Our heroine Violet
Damsels in Distress (U.S., 2011) directed by Whit Stillman, 97 minutes
September 14, 2011, Scotiabank Theatre 4, 9:15am

Oddly, for me, the preppie innocents and debutantes, some might call them twits, of Stillman's Metropolitan (1990) have always charmed me. While my husband R sometimes found the film unwatchable I enjoyed their clumsy forays into romance and adulthood in NYC and could easily watch the film again more than twenty years later.

Stillman has been away from the screen for more than thirteen years. His explanation was vague at the Q&A but it sounded like a combination of writer's block and attempts into more "serious" literary terrain that may, or may not, have been successful.

Here he examines, once again, "privileged American youth" as TIFF's Cameron Bailey describes them - a trio of flowery-named undergrads (Violet, Heather and Rose) at an Ivy league university called Seven Oaks. Think Heathers if the mean girls were a triumvirate of preppie nitwits in pastels.

Violet (Greta Gerwig) is their ostensible leader but why this should be so eludes me - she is odd, prone to silly moral pronouncements and has unusual ideas about how to prevent suicide on campus - a volunteer role that she has cheerfully taken on. Let's not dwell on that too much except to say it involves donuts, free coffee and tap dancing. The trio set their sights on Lily (Analeigh Tipton), a transfer student, as someone who might be suitable to join their group and try an coach her as to the best boys to approach on campus - dumb and unattractive is best.

When Lily gravitates towards Xavier (Hugo Becker), a grad student with a preference for anal sex, the group's hold is not as secure as they imagined and Violet's little world starts to comes apart ... her boyfriend Frank betrays her, Lily wanders out of her grasp and chooses a new boyfriend (Adam Brody) whom Violet covets, and Violet goes on a bit of wander, dazed and alarmed as to how her life has turned out.

Thankfully (!) Violet is saved by tap dancing and the prospect of appearing in the campus musical. The film ends with a series of dance numbers ... for no apparent reason except Stillman likes dancing and his favourite film is The Gay Divorcee (1934). At least this is my theory after hearing him speak at the Q&A.

Here is where Stillman goes off the rails for me: he introduces a number of ugly elements into the safe, pristine little world of the idle rich and young: anal sex, Violet's apparent mental illness, the possibility of suicidal undergrads on campus ... and he tries to treat them humorously. It doesn't work for me - it's jarring and weird and didn't elicit one laugh from me personally although others seemed to enjoy it. Metropolitan was sweet, a little weird and exotic to my world view ... take away the sweet and for me all that is left is the weird.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Andrea Riseborough and James D’Arcy as Wallis and Edward (W.E.)
W.E. (U.K., 2011) directed by Madonna, 114 minutes
September 13, 2011, Visa Screening Room (Elgin), 2:30pm

I was prepared to dislike this film ... very prepared. But it did charm me despite my dislike of Wallis Simpson and the sometime antics of its director. But I have a contrary nature. The more critics seemed to trash the film the more disposed I grew to see it.

Set in 1998, New Yorker Wally Winthrop, played by the lovely Australian actress Abbie Cornish last seen in Jane Campion's Bright Star, channels her loneliness and desire for real passion in her troubled marriage into an obsessive interest in Wallis Simpson (expertly portrayed by Andrea Riseborough) and King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy), more commonly known as David to his intimates. Wallis Simpson was an American social­ite and twice divorced divorcee who beguiled the future king and whose courtship prompted a constitutional crisis in England. David abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Wallis.

The story shifts between the life of the modern day Wally and Wallis Simpson's relationship with the King. Wally haunts a pre-auction Sotheby exhibit of Wallis' effects - charmed by her exquisite clothes, jewellery and personal items. There she meets Evgeni, a handsome, gentle, Russian-American security guard (the red hot Oscar Isaac) who has recently lost his wife. It becomes a ritual to visit the exhibit in the wake of her lonely nights as her doctor husband is rarely around and she suspects him of being both unfaithful and unwilling to have a child with her.

Cornish is wonderful - striking the right note of wonderment and and romantic naivete. Wallis inhabits her daydreams, speaks to her, reprimands her, consoles her, even snapping at her at one point: "This is no fairy tale!" and "Get a life!" sounding very much like the Material Girl herself. It's a lovely touch - as the historical figure comes to play a nurturing role in the life of this unhappy, frightened young woman.

The English actress Riseborough, playing an American, is captivating too - I finally see (through this actress) the possible charm of this Simpson woman who, as is pointedly repeated, lacked beauty and social status prior to her second marriage to Ernest Simpson. 

Despite the protestations of the film goer to my left, after the film, that it sometimes reminded him of a perfume advertisement, I enjoyed the spectacle. As you can imagine, Madonna has an exquisite eye for clothes, design, the physical set up of each room and scene and the particulars of the attires of both women. At the press conference she talked about how she liked to physically lay her hands on each woman before she shot the scenes.

It is gorgeous and beguiling to look at but a little more truth about her political beliefs would have leavened this feast for the eyes. My biggest concern is the lightly passed over issue of Wallis and David's fascistic leanings. Madonna has said that these were merely unproved rumours although I would love to know how she reached this conclusion.

Anne Sebba, Wallis Simpson's first female biographer has said: "She's really quite a hard person to like, but I do think she deserves to be understood. No person could be all the vile things she's accused of being: a spy, a witch, a whore. The establishment put such heavy pressure on the image of Wallis that I knew she was ripe for a revisionist version." Mrs. Simpson, your time has come.

Your Sister's Sister

Your Sister's Sister (U.S., 2011) directed by Lynn Shelton, 90 minutes
September 13, 2011, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1, 12:15pm

Breakfast at The Senator with my good friend D to catch up before the film ... this is one of my favourite places to go downtown in between films. Slowly the festival venues have drifted southward. I have been going to TIFF long enough that I remember films at The New Yorker on 651Yonge St. and The University Theatre on Bloor. Now both defunct - the first was converted to the Panasonic Theatre and is owned by the Mirvishes and the other is an enormous Pottery Barn.

There was the Uptown Theatre at Bloor & Yonge - demolished in 2003. The Imperial Six (now the Canon Theater, formerly the Pantages Theatre, which still does theatrical revues) has also been transformed. I worked at both The University Theatre and The Imperial Six as a candy girl in university and let me tell you there is a novel in there somewhere ...

The Varsity is still operational but not showing films this year oddly and The Cumberland is still functioning but sadly it is not a particularly pleasant venue - it's grungy and dated feeling, like sitting in your uncle's basement waiting for the hockey game to come on ... one by one the grand old cinemas have fallen by the wayside.

The cinema action has drifted southward to The Elgin and Winter Garden (Yonge & King), Scotiabank (John St. south of Queen), the newly minted TIFF Lightbox (John St. & King St.). I miss trudging along Yorkville or Yonge St. Well boo hoo hoo A Lit Chick, you say, it's time to move on ... time waits for no one. What great man said that - T.S. Eliot or Mick Jagger or somesuch?

I am blogging in Dundas Square where there is free Wifi waiting for my 12.15pm film at the TIFF Lightbox ... snickering about the Material Girl's latest faux pas (dissing an offering of flowers from a fan in Venice and reportedly dictating that TIFF volunteers not look her in the eye before the press conference). Her power being so all encompassing that a clumsy pigeon almost flew into the back of my head during flight to avenge this outrage ...

Off to see Your Sister's Sister at TIFF Lightbox ...

As the film opens Jack (Mark Duplass) makes a scene at a memorial party for his brother who has recently passed away. His friend, Iris (Emily Blunt), who also dated Jack's brother, has a plan: she suggests a sojourn at her father’s cabin on Puget Sound, WA. When Jack arrives her finds Iris’ half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) in the cabin who is recovering from her own heartbreak over a girlfriend that she has just left. They get drunk on tequila and Jack somewhat sweetly propositions her and she accepts.

The next day Iris appears, unannounced, with a bag of groceries and with the conviction that she is in love with Jack. Problems ensue, a number of them not the least of which is Jack accusing Hannah of "stealing" his sperm.

The script is witty and cleverly constructed. DeWitt and Blunt are utterly convincing as sisters and the hapless Jack (Duplass) - unemployed, depressed, sometimes socially awkward - is still believable as someone who could capture Blunt's heart.

A very minor, minor, shallow observation: Blunt's beauty looks so out of place here even with her in casual clothes and minimal makeup. It's so odd, the rest of the cast look like (and likely are) the director's friends at the opening party scene and Blunt stands out like a flower in a field of weeds.

Lynn Shelton the director was around to introduce the film and do a Q&A but I had to run to make sure I caught my next film at The Elgin. I didn't dislike the film ... but I wasn't overly excited by the film either. I want to use the word proficient - that sounds unkind but I don't mean it to be.

No star sightings today - just an old work nemesis (KE) spotted at the Lightbox, absorbed by her blackberry, plodding along, head down, oblivious as usual.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Foiled ... but findng Fellini

Curses, foiled!

I wanted to see A Dangerous Method directed by David Cronenberg at the TIFF Bell Lightbox but a slow streetcar arrival put me way in the back of the rush line, too far back to get a seat despite waiting for an hour in the line-up.

In the line-up I saw Atom Egoyan on his cellphone walking around the block twice. I mentioned it to the two American ladies I was chatting with from Buffalo in the line-up and they said, "Who?" That was pretty funny ... the second time he came around one said, "Where is he? I want to take a picture!" Why? You have no idea who I am talking about, I thought.

I gave up on the rush line and went into the Lightbox to see the Fellini: Spectacular Obsessions exhibit and as I did I saw both Piers Handling, Director & CEO of TIFFG, and the Canadian director Deepa Mehta getting into a limo. The crowds are quite dense here during the festival and the restaurant was packed.

The exhibit held photographs and stills from his films, Italian gossip mags from the 50s and 60s that inspired Fellini; copies of comics and a telenovela that he contributed to; pictures of the 50s pin ups that might have inspired him; a section on Giulietta Masina, his wife; some photos of celebrity culture and paparazzi inspired by the character of Paparazzo in La Dolce Vita; a special section on Swedish actress Anita Ekberg ... it took away a bit of the sting of not seeing Cronenberg's film.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Baltimore with his ghostly visitor played by Elle Fanning
Twixt (2011) directed by Francis Ford Coppola, minutes
Princess of Wales Theatre, September 11, 2011, 2pm

Who knew, that once upon a time, Francis Ford Coppola made horror films for producer Roger Corman? Cameron Bailey, who introduced the film today, suggested in his TIFF review that it represents a sort of return to his roots. Suggested by a dream that Coppola had in Istanbul, the concept of the film intrigued me.

Twixt's protagonist is Hall Baltimore (here an appropriately schlubby Val Kilmer), a struggling writer of thrillers about witchcraft who is flogging copies of his most recent book while popping into small towns with no interest and fewer bookstores. In Swan Valley, Baltimore is approached by the local sheriff (the slithery Bruce Dern) who tries to convince Baltimore to co-write a thriller about the mysterious death of a local girl whom he contends was murdered by some Goth kids who have a encampment across the lake.

While initially resistant, Baltimore meets the murdered girl in his dreams (as well as Edgar Allan Poe who serves a sort of Virgil to Baltimore) who tempts him with the story of twelve murdered children buried in the now abandoned Chickering Hotel from decades ago. Some of the images are quite beautiful - like that of the twelve ghostly children ascending from the grave.

The story is an odd mixture of dream fantasies and real life horror - Baltimore's dreams reveal the secrets of the town and how the children were murdered. The sinister sheriff who tries to convince Baltimore that a serial killer is on the loose knows more about the murdered girl than he lets on.

There are two portions of the film that you view in 3D - a key middle section and the end. It ends on a slightly comic note although there is little in the film that is actually comic. The end is jarring, it does not fit for me.

Despite the enthusiastic response the audience gave the film it seemed an odd hodge podge of subplots. I don't want to reveal too much but there is a significant subplot about Baltimore's guilt over his daughter's death in a boating accident with obvious shades of the gruesome death of Coppola's own son Gian-Carlo in a boating accident in 1986. There is the serial killer on the loose in Swan Valley and Baltimore's own struggles to overcome writer's block.

Coppola was there for the Q&A with Val Kilmer, looking svelte and cool in a terrific suit and in a great frame of mind. Coppola seems a bit fragile now, a bit tentative, less confident. It saddens me ... this is the director of The Conversation, The Godfather trilogy, One from the Heart, Apocalypse Now. It's impossible to live up to that reputation, not even Coppola himself can do that now.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

House of Tolerance

In the House of Tolerance

House of Tolerance (France, 2011) directed by Bertrand Bonello, 125 minutes
Isabel Bader Theatre, September 10, 2001, 3.15pm

Set in a brothel (euphemistically named a house of tolerance in French) in fin-de-siècle Paris, TIFF reviewer Noah Cowan described the film as possessing “the languid beauty and frank sexuality of French Romantic painting. Its visual sumptuousness lands somewhere between Ingres and Renoir but with stylis­tic provocations worthy of a time-travelling Baudelaire.”

Hmm, yes, well, if I was to judge the film solely on its physical attributes I would say that the film is beautifully shot, convincingly acted, the clothes are exquisite, and it appears to be historically accurate. Prostitution was confined to the rarefied atmosphere of a grand maison where all were required to dress and comport themselves in an elegant manner (when not having sex with or maiming one of the prostitutes). But let’s examine the reality of the situation that this rosy hued image does not fully explore. The women served almost as indentured servants or slaves trying to work off their debts to madams and could be arbitrarily sold off to other houses on the whim of the madame to eliminate her debts.

In this film, a woman’s face is sliced open along the sides of her mouth creating a horrible rictus that the attacked woman bears forever and that destroys her career and hence her ability to make money. Another young prostitute contracts syphilis, quickly loses her admirers and painfully dies. Here, fifteen year old country girls petition to be included in this happy place and are cheerfully taken on by the madame. The women are forbidden to leave the brothel unless accompanied by a man or the madame lest they be arrested.

This would be in the hypocritical, finger-wagging school of social commentary where on one hand the director seems to sympathetically highlight the real struggles of common women who either have no one to assist them financially or choose this career out of desperation while prettily photographing them in lingerie being compromised by aristocrats and titans of industry in fairly explicit scenes. Sometimes you get the awfully sick feeling that the director is getting turned on by the situation of these women. And the reviewers too (Cowan again): 

“And yet there is grace, especially in the daytime moments of sisterly camaraderie and the casual yet oddly affectionate deceits of the madam …” 

Oh yes … the beatific shots of the women bathing by a pond on the rare day off or washing each other after a day’s hard work – that must have made it all worthwhile! But this is the best part of the review: "... and sometimes even a gentleman might lose his temper and harm one of the women." referring, oh so delicately, to the slicing of a Madeleine's face. 

And clearly the director Bertrand Bonello agrees that these dangers do not surpass the life of the modern prostitute as the film ends with a flash forward to the future where one of the actresses Jasmine Trinca (who played Julie in the section set in 1900) is seen exiting grim faced from a car on a seedy street lined with other prostitutes as if to say at least the girls had pretty clothes and a nice home  to live in back in the good old days!

Friends with Kids

Scott and Westfedt contemplate parenthood ...  
and what it would take to get there.
Friends with Kids directed by Jennifer Westfeldt
September 10, 2011, Isabel Bader Theatre, 100 minutes

Why did I want to see this film? Two words: Jon Hamm. Hamm is the live-in boyfriend of director Jennifer Westfeldt. Westfeldt is an actress and sometime screenwriter best known for the indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein. Coincidentally, the screening of the film today marked the 10 year anniversary of the showing of that film at the Isabel Bader Theatre.

Best friends Jason played by Adam Scott as a hopeless womanizer perhaps remembered best, by me, for the TV series Tell me you love me which I really enjoyed and Julie played in the usually under-confident style by Jennifer Westfeldt, decide to conceive and co-parent their child. Turned off by the histrionics and bad behavior of their married friends with kids played with wit and humour by couples Maya Rudolph (Leslie) and Chris O’Dowd (Alex) and Jon Hamm (Ben) and Kristen Wiig (Missy) they are determined to do better.

And they do ... they are involved, dedicated, reasonable parents. They put their friends to shame. But things become complicated when they begin to date two other spectacularly attractive people, Megan Fox and the director/actor Edward Burns respectively.

Westfeldt is charmingly insecure here on film as Julie but how she has changed physically - pencil thin, now blonde and her face looks oddly angular (perhaps due to the loss of weight?). And Adam Scott as a womanizer capable of attracting a woman like Megan Fox? Hamm tries hard go recede in the background as the caustic, heavy drinking Ben in an unhappy marriage but when the female and male cast both rhapsodize about how great looking Ed Burns is, you know that someone has made the conscious decision to minimize Hamm's looks and make him take a back seat. 

Spoiler Alert (as if you didn't see this coming): I can't quite buy the conceit - you aren't friends for decades with a woman, decide there is no sexual attraction (which is why they co-parent but don't marry) and then have an epiphany that she truly is the one you want in the end.

As a side note, may I say how much I love Maya Rudolph and wish that she had her own comedic vehicle instead of playing the married or about to be married sidekick?

TIFF of the day: The cast was on hand for the Q&A: Westfeldt, Hamm, Fox and Scott. Westfeldt is lovely, generous of spirit, a bit tentative. Three rows back and Hamm still looked extraordinary! I really need a camera on this phone ...