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?

Autumn Dreams

The fall harvest complete, farmer’s daughter Anabelle elopes with hired hand Ben, and she does it without parental consent which means she must be 18 rather than the 13 she looks. But her father screeches up to the chapel in his antique pickup truck and orders an immediate annulment. Ben, a good guy, “understands.”

Cut to 15 years later: Anabelle runs the farm now – heck, she’s up to her elbows in farming, which is what prohibits her from wearing her engagement ring from Joe. She MV5BM2M5MzYwYTctMWUzNC00MGU0LWIyNTUtMTA4ZDlhNmU1MjAxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQ2MzE5ODA@._V1_SX1499_CR0,0,1499,999_AL_and Ben haven’t seen each other since their unconsummated wedding night. But just as she’s agreeing to marry Joe in one month’s time, she gets big city divorce papers. Wahhh? Oh that’s right, there was a clerical error and it turn out she and Ben are still technically married. So she lies to her fiance, or, lies more to him, and flies to NYC where she gets into various big city hi-jinks such as: elevators! bumping into people! the lack of roosters!

Turns out Ben is getting married even sooner than she is – this Saturday! In the courtroom, however, it seems there are some unresolved resentments, and a lady judge is a real hardass about granting divorces so bingo bango they’ve got a whole week to NOT fall in love all over again.

Autumn Dreams is 80% stock footage and 20% painfully predictable plot points. The things the writer failed to research include but are not limited to: research itself, crops, stocks, courtrooms, chauffeurs, New York City, food trucks, anything and everything to do with the law, grants, farming in general, life in general. It’s not even that autumnal, if truth be told, and that might be its greatest mistake of all. If you’re looking for some real fall coziness, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but October Kiss is like a chunky sweater to Autumn Dreams’ ratty tshirt.

 

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.