Monthly Archives: October 2017

Woodshock

In the wake of her mother’s death, Theresa’s grief manifests itself in complicated ways. Her fragile emotional state is pushed off a cliff thanks to some powerful drugs she can’t help but mess with. The result? A film that is haunting, surreal, and hypnotic.

Brought to you by first time directors Kate and Laura Mulleavy, whose names  you may be more familiar with as the sisters behind the clothing and fashion accessories _DSC8956R3label, Rodarte. They’re not the only designers to make the leap to film: Tom Ford made the jump rather successfully not to mention stylishly with A Single Man, and Nocturnal Animals. As for the Mulleavy effort, I’m less convinced. In parts it is absolutely stunning to look at, and they certainly have an eye for what lingerie will best highlight the nipples of the film’s star, Kirsten Dunst. But it’s not quite enough, and perhaps not enough by a long shot.

I will give them this: they create a dreamy, half-conscious state where we’re not entirely sure what’s ‘real’ and what isn’t. The mood is heavy and stays that way. Woodshock is visually assured but that’s the only assurance you’ll get. Everything else is a negotiation game you’ll have to play with yourself, because neither the film nor the filmmakers (some of whom were in attendance at its New Hampshire Film Festival screening) are providing answers or even clues.

The story is as gauzy and ethereal as Rodarte’s 2018 spring collection. Woodshock is high on visual impact but the plot, which probably is a misnomer here, is more like aKIM_0049 series of impressions – you get whiffs of what might be going on, and if you’re nose is good and you’re super motivated, you might even convince yourself the story has bones. But if you’re the kind of movie-goer who likes things like Neon Demon where themes are explored and drama runs high if not in any specific direction, you might count yourself a fan of Woodshock. Crazier things have happened.

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Marjorie Prime

In the future, grief will be obsolete. If you are missing your partner of 50 years, all you’ll have to do is invest in a good hologram, tell it some personal stories, and all of a sudden you’ll have a spouse 2.0 sitting on your plastic-encased sofa, reminiscing about all the good times you shared. Is it a little creepy? Depends who you ask. Certainly when elderly Marjorie (Lois Smith) chooses to see her departed husband Walter as the handsome, middle-aged man she first met (Jon Hamm), her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) thinks it’s a little weird. Tess doesn’t want anything to do with her hologram Daddy but Marjorie is quite enamoured with him.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-7-29-47-pmThe film makes you think about memory, and what that means, and how it is shared, and if it is real. And it makes you think about humanity and what makes us truly ourselves, and if we can separate ourselves from memory, or if indeed that’s all we are is our memories. And it makes you think about love: can it be recreated, does it live on after death, does it exist independently outside a couple, is it found in the details or does it truly live in our hearts? So if you’re in the mood for a talky, thinky piece with very little action, Marjorie Prime may just be the film for you. Based on a play, most of the film takes place within just one room. But within that room, the acting is superb. Lois Smith is a phenom. Jon Hamm, Geena Davis, and Tim Robbins orbit around her, fueling her sun.

The movie feels haunting and intriguing, and maybe it isn’t fair to say this, but it raises such interesting ethics that I almost wanted more from it, more cud to chew on. At times the film feels a little redundant: you have to feed the hologram in order to make it more believable, more “real.” But no matter how many perspectives you feed it, it will always be missing its own. These “primes” strikes me as an excellent opportunity for Sean to finally construct a Jay he’s always dreamed of: one that doesn’t talk back, who doesn’t know sarcasm, who doesn’t remember the time he told a naughty story about her in front of his mother. But the thing is, if Sean invested in this Jay Prime because he missed her, what good would she be if she didn’t roll her eyes at him?

Even with its faults, I enjoyed Marjorie Prime, for the watching and the thinking it inspired afterward. Watch it, and tell us what you think: would you be comforted by a hologram of your mother or your spouse or even your dead dog?

The Archer

Lauren is a nice kid, a good student, a champion archer whose post-medal celebrations turn sour and result in her arrest. The judge has all the reasons in the world to go easy on this first-time offender, not to mention the extenuating circumstances that all but exonerate her, but instead he throws the book at her. Off she goes to an open-ended sentence at a “reform school” that looks and feels a lot more like a sadistic prison.

There she finds dozens of girls just like herself, imprisoned for very minor offenses. But it’s their jailers that cause the most concern: there are no checks on their behaviour. They can get anyway with anything, and do. But the cruelty, humiliation, MV5BNDU1ZWYyN2UtNGY5MS00NjE2LTk1N2ItNGE5MDcxZmEzMTY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDM4NTU5Njc@._V1_SX1776_CR0,0,1776,778_AL_and sexual perversion isn’t just for kicks, it’s also serving a purpose. Because every time a girl fights back, her sentence is extended. And that’s very good news when you’re running a corrupt, for-profit scheme.

So one day Lauren (Bailey Noble) and her new friend Rebecca (Jeanine Mason) decide to make a break for it. No one has ever escaped successfully, but desperation drives their attempt. But to protect the prison’s ugly secrets, its warden will literally hunt them like animals to make sure he doesn’t get exposed.

This film has an incredibly strong female in its lead, and Noble was the perfect choice to play her. She’s got grit and determination but we still believe her as a somewhat naive high school student. Their flight into hills is tense and taut film making, and though the prisoner on the run thing’s been done before, this one is a fresh enough take to grab and hold your attention.

The Archer is inspired by the 2011 conviction of two judges in Pennsylvania when a federal investigation uncovered millions of dollars in kickbacks for their sentencing teenagers to a for-profit youth detention centre.

Civil Rights & The Cinema

Viola Desmond’s name may not be as well-known as Rosa Parks’, but she took her stand against segregation nearly a decade before Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus.

Viola Davis was born in 1914, one of ten children to a white mother and black father in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Growing up, she noticed an absence of hair and skin-care CNSPhoto-PARDONoptions for women of colour and decided she would be the woman to correct this. But her skin colour prevented her from beautician training at home, so she went off to Montreal and then to New York to complete her education. Returning to Halifax, she opened her own hair salon, where she would tend to a young Gwen Jenkins, later to be the first black nurse in Nova Scotia. And she didn’t stop there. She went on to found The Desmond School of Beauty Culture so black women could train closer to home. Students were taught how to open their own businesses, providing jobs for other black women in their communities. Then she started her own line of beauty products, Vi’s Beauty Products, which she sold herself.

It was on just such a work trip when she found herself in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, in 1946. Her car had broken down and was going to be in the shop overnight, so to kill time she went to see The Dark Mirror at the Roseland Film Theatre. At the box office, she asked for a main floor ticket and then took her seat, only to be told by the manager she did not have a ticket for that seat. She went back to the ticket booth but they refused to sell her a different ticket, claiming it was against their policiy to to sell a main floor seat to a black person. Desmond returned to her original seat with her original ticket, refusing to sit in the balcony designated for black patrons. She was forcibly removed from the theatre, arrested with enough violence to cause injury to her hip. She was jailed overnight without access to a lawyer or bail.

This was a private movie theatre and its segregation practises went against the law in Nova Scotia so Desmond was actually charged with tax evasion, believe it or not, for the one-cent difference in tax between the slightly cheaper balcony ticket she was sold and the main floor seat she actually occupied. One cent. She was fined $20 plus $6 in court costs; she paid and went home to Halifax. But her Minister really didn’t like how things went, and encouraged her to fight the charge. Carrie Best broke the story in Nova Scotia’s first black-owned and published newspaper, The Clarion. Best had previously written about The Roseland Theatre and was happy to take up the cause. So too was Desmond’s Baptist church and the Nova Scotia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. Sadly, her lawyer made some bad decisions and they ultimately lost the case.

In 2010, Mayann Francis, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, invoked the Royal Prerogative to grant Desmond a posthumous free pardon – the first to be granted in Canada. It’s different from a regular pardon because it is based on innocence and recognizes that the conviction was in error. Francis was emotional as she signed the document: “”Here I am, 64 years later – a black woman giving freedom to another black woman.” The government of Nova Scotia followed up with an apology, acknowledging she was rightfully resisting racial discrimination.

So that’s how one small act of defiance in a rural movie theatre galvanized the Canadian civil rights movement, and it’s why Ms. Desmond will be featured on Canadian currency next year when her face graces our $10 bill. Thank you, Viola Desmond.

Twilight Dancers (2017)

Far too often, an indigenous community makes the news because it’s dealing with a suicide epidemic. Cross Lake, Manitoba is one such community. In 2016 there were 140 suicide attempts in Cross Lake within a two week period. Six people were successful. Those staggering numbers are even more devastating when you consider that the population of Cross Lake is about 5,000 people total. Afterwards, the community was left to try to pick up the pieces.

One way through the pain was dance. The Twilight Dancers are a dance troupe from Cross Lake, and this documentary short follows its members as they compete in the 2017 Cross Lake Trappers Festival. The closeness of the community is obvious from the start. Every one of these young people has been affected by last year’s suicides, in one way or another. Bullying and social media are frequently cited as the causes, to which I am sure we can all relate.

Dancing is not an obvious solution to this type of crisis on reserve, particularly square dancing (which, as several of the kids point out, came from white people). But it clearly works. These dancers are survivors, they are talented, they are dedicated, and they are spreading joy to their audience as they chase a championship. Their positivity through tragedy is inspiring.

The Twilight Dancers show us what it means to never give up, and I am glad to have heard their story.

24 Snow

We encountered all kinds of interesting documentaries at the Planet in Focus film festival, but I’m admitting a soft spot for 24 Snow.

I have a passion for documentaries anyway. A camera can actually be a transportation device, carrying us away to a world that looks and feels entirely different from our own. Sometimes the lens looks upon a piece of fiction that’s been created to jar your senses (like Blade Runner 2049), other times it encourages you to take a second look at something that’s quite familiar (like The Florida Project), but documentaries can do both while actually reflecting real life back at you.

24 Snow isn’t fiction but it definitely felt foreign to me, and its foreignness informed me on a world I knew little about. With this documentary, we travel to the Siberian Russian territory of Yakutia. I didn’t know there were Russian Inuits, yet there they MV5BOGRkMDk5NjctMmMwZC00YjUxLWExM2QtZDdlY2Y5MzcyZjIzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTA3MzMxMTg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_were, surviving in that beautiful but frigid (-70C) land. We are introduced to one main in particular: Sergei is a horse breeder, and even his horses will look strange to you. The Yakutian horse has of course evolved to weather the icy temperatures. They are small but sturdy animals, with shaggy coats that hopefully keep them warm. Their thick hair and manes are not unlike those of Shetland ponies but when you see one completely coated in ice, you know you’re in unfamiliar territory. The breeders de-ice the horses the way I de-ice my windshield. It’s a way of life I can’t really comprehend: solitary, isolated. No telephone, no electricity. No cash. No cars (none that can run you through ice and snow anyway – sleds get the job done).

These harsh conditions are a real test of one’s limits and it’s interesting to get to know the kind of person this job attracts. I live in Canada and am not unfamiliar with snowy, even permafrosted terrain, but the Yakutia is something else entirely. It’s stunning if you can separate it from its harshness, and the lush cinematography here certainly helps. The people and beasts of 24 Snow completely captivated me; it’s a fascinating documentary by Mikhail Barynin that’s as informative as it is beautiful.

Breathe

Breathe is the directorial debut of motion-capture artist Andy Serkis, and if there was any justice in this world, it would be his last. [there isn’t: he’s already got a live-action Jungle Book slated next – but at least he seems uniquely qualified for that]

It’s the based-on-a-true-story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous, fun-loving couple who are brought low when Robin (Andrew Garfield) is suddenly and irrevocably paralyzed by polio. He wants to die, but she wants their unborn son to know him, so they compromise: she springs him from the hospital, and he does his best to stop being so gosh darn glum. He’s the first of his kind to live away from a hospital setting, and it’s thanks to the devotion of his wife (Claire Foy) and the ingenuity of a friend (Hugh Bonneville) that he’s able to do more than just survive.

So yes, there’s an inspiring story in there somewhere. This is Andrew Garfield’s most hero_Breathe-TIFF-2017Eddie Redmayne role yet, but he can’t quite live up to those man-in-chair heights. As his character is paralyzed from the neck down, all he has to use is his face, and of course he overuses it. I liked Foy’s performance a lot better than Garfield’s. He came off as grating; Sean called it nearly unbearable. But he’s far from the only problem with the movie. First, the script is cloying, predictable, and overly sentimental. It’s an emotional predator, designed to wring tears from your face. I refused to comply. It hits the all-too familiar beats of a biopic and doesn’t stray once from conventional story-telling. But Andy Serkis’s direction does stray from the norm, and from the tolerable. It’s shot in an ultrawide aspect ratio that I hated. I felt like I was watching a skinny rectangle at best, but often felt as though I was viewing the movie through a fishbowl. Serkis’ angles are often weird, and not quirky weird, but uncomfortable and off-putting. But I suppose the worst crimes against this little against-all-odds love story is that Serkis rushes through the prologue, the courtship, the thing that should make us understand why this guy deserves so much devotion, why their love is so strong that she’s willing to wipe his shitty bum and go without sex for the rest of her life in order to keep a suicidal man alive. It’s a crap life for her. I’m not saying it’s not worth it, just that it’s always going to be difficult. And I realized that though there are seemingly lots of movies about men being tended by loyal wives, the same is not true in reverse. Husbands cut and run. So really the movie’s most interesting character is Diana, and we know little about her. We don’t see any of her struggles or her inner life. In fact, for Breathe’s 117 minute runtime, I’m not sure we got to know anyone particularly well in this movie. And that’s really too bad.

Kayak to Klemtu

Teenagers. They think they know it all, don’t they? They have this unbearable self-righteousness. They can take a motorboat to testify about the dangers posed by oil tankers and not feel a little hypocritical, not even a bit.  The big picture is missed. Kayak to Klemtu, Zoe Hopkins’ first feature, finds itself in the same quandary.  Various problems arise, the characters deal with them as they come, and then the scene shifts to the next problem, without ever engaging with anything of significance.

I wished throughout that I got to know the characters. Too often, characters would appear solely to serve the plot or provide a moral question of some sort, and then disappear once they had set up that segment of the film.  Discussions that would seem to be important often didn’t end up happening, whether it was the reason why the teenagers’ parents left Klemtu in favour of Vancouver, or why a mother and son never asked each other how they felt during their husband/father’s battle with cancer.

Those missing details pile quite high by the end of the film. By focusing so heavily on a crusade for environmental protection, Kayak to Klemtu misses the bigger picture. Paradoxically, the “bigger picture” here was one small family in mourning, looking for ways to cope with the loss of a loved one. Their journey takes a back seat to the film’s anti-pipeline, pro-conservation message, and it should have been the other way around.

With so many beautiful shots of the northern British Columbia coastline to be found in Kayak to Klemtu, the conservation message would not have been lost if the characters had been driving the film instead.   If anything, the message would have been more impactful, as the onscreen journey through B.C.’s coastal waters argues more effectively in favour of conservation than a monologue ever could.

Laundry

Kids ruin everything. They especially ruin sex. Carly is a happily married woman who just wants 10 minutes alone with her husband for some quality time.  He’s definitely on board for the same. But try as they might – and they do try – the kids are always interrupting. Eventually Carly finds pleasure rather by surprise, making a sharp point of what exactly a mother might find…orgasmic.

Director Becs Arahanga is a mother herself so the inspiration behind this short film is quite personal – and what parent could possibly fail to relate? Although only 9 minutes start to finish, New Zealand’s Arahanga images her film as a rom-com, and there’s a definitely will-they-or-won’t-they appeal. Her direction is jaunty and to the point. She manages to give us a sense of Carly’s family even as she makes the greater point of the universal yearning for intimacy, and the finding of pleasure in unexpected places. Carly is instantly relatable and her struggle looks and feels authentic. Without a second’s lull, Laundry is never less than fun. It’s an ode to marital horniness and the little fuckers who make it all impossible.

 

Food Coop

There’s a grocery store in Brooklyn that’s 5 times busier than other markets in the area; it’s a food co-op, where members trade labour for access to the best and freshest food sources.

The Park Slope food co-op is kind of great in an old-fashioned way, with so many people MV5BZjA2OTQ0NmQtOWE1Yy00OGU5LWI4ZDUtYWZjNjkzZmYwMzFhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjIxMTk4Nzg@._V1_from all walks of life willing to put in work (2h45m monthly) in order to keep labour costs down for the greater good of this beloved co-op. And it clearly is very much loved. It offers locally sourced, often organic products for 40% cheaper than you’d find in luxury grocery stores, and the food on offer here is much, much better.

The documentary Food Coop, by directors Thomas Boothe and Maellanne Bonnicel, explores this strange beast that exists in the shadows of Wall Street but thrives on a different kind of economy, one that is community-minded and fair. For the people who work and shop there, it fosters a neighbourly spirit where people are making connections with each other, and with the food grown within just a few miles of them. The film also serves as a guide book of sorts for others who might be interested in starting up a co-op. It’s a viable alternative system that seems to have few drawbacks. It’s democracy in action, good food in the belly, and a more planet-friendly approach to food and consumer culture. There’s a lot to be learned, but one of those lessons is just that the personalities that keep a food co-op running successfully over decades are quirky and varied. The people watching is almost as good as the system is tempting.