Tag Archives: based on a true story

Devil’s Bride

A new judge arrives in the small village of Åland, Finland to modernize it. The villagers are a superstitious people. They cast spells for love, search dreams for omens, use herbs to induce abortions when the priest rapes them, seek revenge through the evil eye, and ask the local beggar woman to “divine” the perpetrator of crimes. Judge Nils (Magnus Krepper) believes in higher things: judicial evidence, unbiased law, proper trials. But also, you know, witches. When his mother gets sick, someone must be blamed. And of maxresdefaultcourse his new and improved judicial system could use a steady stream of accused. Why not a good old-fashioned witch hunt (although to be fair, in 1600, it was simply just “the fashion”)?

Nils’ mother has a charming 16 year old chambermaid named Anna (Tuulia Eloranta) who’s in love with a married man. 16 year old girls who are in love for the first time are kind of jerks, but she’s at least kind and patient her charge. But she’s not oblivious when the mother’s stroke is blamed on the local healer, who is then banished as a result. Sure that’s kind of tragic, but Anna can see the benefits. After all, her lover does have a pesky wife, and it now seems that a few easy accusations do a pretty good job of getting rid of someone. And that is how a witch hunt starts.

Devil’s Bride is very atmospheric, playing up the tension and paranoia that ruled the day. Based on real historical events in Finland in the 1600s, the witch hunt snowballs as they always do, not just because of jealous young girls, but because of the church’s tacit encouragement. The film probably would have benefited from choosing either love triangle or witch drama. Instead if lets the two themes fight each other, and that weakens the overall effect. There’s not exactly a lot of new things to add to the witch hunt genre, but it’s fun enough to see Finnish pilgrim hats.

 

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Oranges and Sunshine

In the 1980s, British social worker Margaret Humphreys uncovered a secret. Her government had sent hundreds of children to Australia. Supposedly orphaned, these kids were sent to be adopted by Australian parents, though some wound up in orphanages instead. Turns out, the kids weren’t necessarily orphans. If their parents turned up to reclaim them, they were told their kids had already been adopted. In fact they’d vanished into a child migration scheme that was kept quiet for decades. Humphreys set out to reunite these displaced children,  scattered across Australia over decades, with parents who might still be living in Britain. Neither country wanted to take any responsibility, of course.

Margaret Humphreys is a real woman who took this on herself because she saw the MV5BNTk2MzYyMDA2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTAxMjg0NA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_injustice, and people’s pain, and she decided to do something about it. She was threatened and abused because she was exposing some very dirty secrets covered up by some very powerful people. The only help she ever got was from the adoptees themselves, all of them different shades of broken, harbouring the wounded children within. The real Margaret was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1993, and Commander of the British Empire in 2011 for her work, but as this film can attest, life was not made easy for her.

I believe that we can’t start healing from a trauma until the truth of the injury is admitted. This story was quite shameful on Australian and Britain, but they’re not the only ones with blemishes. Here in Canada we have our own sorrow. We call it the 60s scoop though it’s much broader than that. It refers to the over-eager removal of Aboriginal children from their homes. In some cases removal may have been appropriate, but others not, and in any case, the children weren’t just taken from their parents, but from the culture. They were raised off-reserve, losing their language and their identity, breaking social and familial bonds. Although not deported, these kids also lost more than just their parents.

In Oranges and Sunshine, Emily Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, and she does the formidable woman justice. Watson always does, doesn’t she? Hugo Weaving plays Jack, the adoptee through whom we experience the grief and loss of the process. Seeing it from both their perspectives keeps the film balanced; this is not merely an interesting case, but a personal and painful journey that doesn’t guarantee a happy ending for everyone. It’s not a flashy movie. It’s mostly fact-based. But it is sincere and at times quite powerful.

Christine

As often happens in Hollywood, two films came out around the same time about the same subject, in this case Christine Chubbuck,  a real-life reporter who took her life during a live broadcast in the 1970s. I reviewed Kate Plays Christine previously, and didn’t much care for its treatment of the subject. I needed a breather so have only now braced myself for the second film, Christine.

And this one is better, if I’m still not entirely sure we’ve gotten to the bottom of who she was and why she did what she did. If you do research on her as I have, much has been hqdefault.jpgmade of the fact that she (played by Rebecca Hall) was 30 and horrified of it, still a boyfriendless, childless virgin. I’m sort of offended on behalf of women everywhere that this is seen by anyone as the reason for her suicide. She was a troubled woman who’d struggled with depression and had left a job and life behind elsewhere in order to ‘rebuild.’ But this new place wasn’t going much better. A year in, she pined for the news anchor (Michael C. Hall) yet pushed him away when he got near. She yearned to do important investigative reporting but the station manager insisted on a “if it bleeds, it leads” policy. She couldn’t get promoted and wasn’t being taken seriously. She lived with her mother, sometimes happily, sometimes not.

Her on-air personality was quite cheerful but she was much more socially awkward in real life. Hall portrays her as troubled and disappointed, but not depressed beyond repair. So when the suicide comes, as you know it inevitably will, it still caught me off guard. Certainly we’d need to see her mental state unravel far more before this point arrives? I was shocked by it, and am not sure if the director, Antonio Campos, is trying to tell us that perhaps she wasn’t truly suicidal, or if the story was just lacking. I can’t rule christine-rebecca-hall.jpgout the former since I’ve always found the circumstance of her death a little fishy. Before she put the gun to her head, she read out a brief statement, basically accusing the station of pushing her to do this drastic, bloody thing. She’d also prepared a statement for a colleague to read out afterward, though none did. In that, she described her actions as a “suicide attempt” and reported that she’d been taken to hospital alive but in serious condition. Had she not planned or wanted her suicide to be “successful”? We’ll never know.

The film has a yellowed look to it, no doubt added afterward to achieve a vintage feel authentic to a 1970s era. It’s also well-acted by both Halls (no relation), with Rebecca Hall adopting a lower and more formulated voice, and Michael C. Hall slipping into a shiny-haired broadcaster’s charm. Although I don’t feel like the film offers us a complete (or at least a true) look at her life, the convincing and often gripping performances make Christine worthwhile.

 

 

Casting JonBenet

The case of murdered 6 year old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey still fascinates today. Originally reported as a kidnapping, her strangled body was eventually found in the family home. Her parents were publicly if not legally tried but the case remains unsolved. In ‘Casting JonBenet’, streaming now on Netflix, director Kitty Green uses members of the Ramseys’ Colarado hometown to recreate JonBenet’s last hours. But more than that, the film documents the actors’ reflections on the crime, their theories, their impressions, and their own personal connections and recollections.

Green explores the mythology surrounding the 20-year-old crime, and palpates the collective memory, to which even we, the viewer contribute. It makes for a very different, almost hybrid documentary, that doesn’t so much shed light on the JonBenet case but reminds us of how we’ve all coloured our own recollections over time. The movie’s casting call includes the following characters:

MV5BMTY3NDU3ODUwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjE3NTE5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1738,1000_AL_The Mother, Patsy Ramsey, seen by many as suspect #1 since the kidnapping note was determined to have been written on her stationary with her pen from inside the home. Was she jealous of her beauty queen daughter? Frustrated by another bed wetting episode? Did she accidentally kill her, then try to cover it up? Interviews with the press were defensive and unsympathetic. Do you identify with her grief or crucify her for her mistakes?

The Father, John Ramsey, destroyed vital evidence when he moved his daughter’s body, despite being cautioned not to. There were no signs of an intruder. His intuition in finding the body struck police officers as suspicious – did he know too much? And then rumours of sexual abuse circulated. Plus, the family let the ransom note’s 10am deadline slip by without a word, and John was booking tickets for the family to fly to Atlanta that same day.

The Brother, Burke Ramsey, was shielded by his parents from the press as a child but recently came off as creepy if not culpable in an interview. A flashlight in the family home fits perfectly with a gash on her head, and could explain a skull fracture. A piece of undigested pineapple found in JonBenet’s stomach seems to have come from Burke’s nighttime snack – did he strike out in anger? And marks on her back are consistent with toy train tracks in his room. Did her brother kill her and his parents cover it up?

A convicted pedophile living in the area was found with a picture of her in his possession. He also had a stun gun – could this explain those marks on her back? He’d also placed a call to a friend not long after, confession to having “hurt a little girl”. And the knots in the garrote used on JonBenet were consistent with knots used when he tried to choke his own mother with a telephone cord.

Santa, actually a friend of John’s dressed as Santa, visited the home just days prior to the Boxing Day murder, for a party at which the children each sat on his lap. He seemed to pay particular (too much) attention to JonBenet, and even arranged a “secret” meeting with her later.

The only new information in this documentary is the dirty laundry being aired by the actors, about themselves. But it’s a compelling look back and a bracing reminder that JonBenet’s killer was never brought to justice.

 

An Israeli Love Story

Margalit meets Eli on a bus and – zing! – for her, it’s love at first sight. He takes a little convincing, his head already crowded with ideas and responsibility. The catch in this little love story is that it’s Israel 1947. Things are…complicated.

Eli (Avraham Aviv Alush), son of the second President of the State of Isreal, lives on a kibbutz where he works all day every day. When Margalit (Adi Bielski) pursues him An-israeli-love-story-1-1024x576there, she finds that he’s also helping the Palmach to smuggle Holocaust survivors into Palestine. This only make her love him harder, but his reality is very different from hers, a drama student and theatre lover who is reluctant to give up a life of creativity. Her love is strong enough to make the necessary sacrifices, but the turbulent state of things in Israel means that love will not be enough to overcome all.

This is the true story of the love affair between Pnina Gary (who contributes to the script) and Eli Ben-Zvi. The film sets this passionate love story amid the political turmoil of pre-state Israel.

An Israeli Love Story makes its Canadian premiere as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival. Check below for dates and times – added bonus: director Dan Wolman will be in attendance.

Through the presentation of international and Canadian films, the Festival aims to be both a window to and a mirror of Jewish culture.  The Festival strives to be inclusive of all aspects of the Toronto community, regardless of age, affiliation or income.  We undertake to show films for their contemporary, popular value, and for their ability to address the subject of Jewish identity.  That is, to be a Jewish Film Festival, and not a film festival for Jewish people.

 

TJFF screenings for An Israeli Love Story:

Thursday 11 May, 6:15 PM – Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema

Saturday 13 May, 9:00 PM – Famous Players Canada Square 2

 

SXSW: The Disaster Artist

Before we talk about this movie, we have to talk about another: The Room. Not Room, the Brie Larson kidnap drama, but The Room, the worst movie ever made. Even better: the BEST bad tumblr_megxu99K4x1ry10fwo1_500movie ever made, the Citizen Kane of bad movies, a movie so bad it’s achieved cult status. Tommy Wiseau was obsessed with movies and had enough cash to get one made, so he did. And he did it with such earnestness and such a complete lack of talent that people love to watch it. Ottawa’s own Mayfair Theatre, one of Canada’s oldest surviving independent movie houses, an official heritage building in our fair city, champion of 35mm film, screener of indies and classics, has been showing it for 92 consecutive months now. Each midnight screening is a riot; this cult film draws fans that know the drill. Matt wrote a great review of it a while back, almost nothing about the movie itself, which defies reviewing, but about the experience of seeing, the rituals that go along with it, the things you yell at the screen, hell, the things you chuck at the screen, it’s all a wild ball of fun.

Greg Sestero, co-star in The Room and Tommy Wiseau BFF wrote a book about making this weird movie with its even weirder director. It’s called The Disaster Artist. Ever a sucker for a great Hollywood story, James Franco read this book one day and immediately got a boner. He brought the script to Seth Rogen on the set of their ill-fated movie The Interview, and the rest is history. Well, future history. I saw the one and only screening of The Disaster Artist at SXSW where it was still billed as a “work in progress.” Tommy Wiseau was in the house, and also seeing it for the first time. Big gulp.

Two things struck me about The Disaster Artist: 1. This film was made with love. It could easily mock The Room, as many have, but it doesn’t. This is a loving ode to The Room, and to the friendship that gave birth to it. 2. This film is fucking hilarious.

Even having never seen The Room, The Disaster Artist is still accessible and relevant. Tommy Wiseau is a goddamned character and James Franco is just the man to play him (although Wiseau pushed for Johnny Depp). Franco got into the part so deeply that he directed while in character too. He was in deep enough to fool Seth Rogen’s grandmother when she visited the set, and in more than deep enough to constantly annoy his little brother “Davey” who co-stars MV5BMjA4ZDZkNjEtNTFkZi00YjhjLWFjZTctNDZlOWVmYzZmZjhhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTM2Mzg4MA@@._V1_with him.  James and Seth debuted Sausage Party at SXSW last year, and for me it was a disappointment. The Disaster Artist, however, gave me continuous giggles. They’ve amassed an impressive cast, some with just bitty walk-on parts, which only proves the love Hollywood has for underdog Tommy Wiseau. Or perhaps for James “I’ll try anything once” Franco. Or maybe James Franco as Tommy Wiseau. In any case, I laughed until I cried, and then I slammed some Diet Pepsi just so I could cry-laugh some more. And I did! This movie will make you rabid for The Room but it stands on its own, a complete movie that probably benefits from NOT being written by Franco or Rogen. It’s an affectionate behind the scenes look at Hollywood gone wrong, but it’s also a kind of heart-warming tale about outsiders who can’t break in so they plow their own field, and even if it’s bad, at least they have potatoes. Know what I’m saying? Oh, hi Mark.

 

 

 

p.s. Check out the comments section for a delightful Q&A with James, Dave & Seth.

SXSW: The Most Hated Woman In America

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was an activist. For atheism. Perhaps you remember her? She was reviled by some and praised by others, I suppose depending on which side of god’s fence you sit on, if you believe there’s a fence, and whether you believe other people have the right to picket that fence. She took pride in being a nonconformist; it suited her already abrasive personality. When she was unable to defect to the state atheist USSR (they wouldn’t have her), she moved in instead with her mother in, and took on the Baltimore public school system. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court and led to prayer being banned in schools. Hate mail sometimes contained actual shit but praise mail sometimes contained cheques. Her penchant for nonconformism led to “creative accounting” with her so-called non-profit.

large_MHWA-posterAnyway. This movie is NOT the story of Madalyn’s gleeful adoption of a derisive nickname given to her by Life magazine on its front page (“The Most Hated Woman in America”). No, this film instead focuses on that time in 1995 when Madalyn (Melissa Leo) was kidnapped from her own home, along with her son (Michael Chernus) and granddaughter (Juno Temple) by the likes of Josh Lucas and Rory Cochrane. A friend of the family has trouble convincing anyone that a crime has occurred, and only a reluctant journalist (Adam Scott) pursues their disappearance.

O’Hair was clearly a complicated individual but this film is not the best gauge. Narratively it’s full of jumping beans, skipping around like it can’t find an interesting thread even though actually any thread would have been fascinating if only the film had the courage to stick with it. Melissa Leo and cast are able enough; Leo serves this prickly character rather perfectly but the rest are more or less wasted. This film only manages to scrape the tip of an ice berg, story-wise, but if you’re surfing Netflix looking for some true (ish) crime and an Oscar-winning barbed tongue, you could do worse.

SXSW: Lake Bodom

True story: in June 1960, four kids (two 15-year-old girls and their 18-year-old boyfriends) went camping. Three of them were found dead, stabbed and bludgeoned to death; the fourth was bloodied and blank, with no recollection of the violent attack. This case has remain unsolved in Finland for nearly 6 decades, but theories have turned into legends, and this film is born of those campfire ashes.

In Lake Bodom, Atte (Santeri Helinheimo Mantyla) is obsessed with lake-bodom-2016-movie-featuredthe murders. He talks his friend Elias (Mikael Gabriel) into helping him recreate them, hoping to solve them once and for all, but Elias is in it for the sex, not so much the solving. They coax along two best friends who think they’re going on a very different trip – Ida (Nelly Hirst-Gee) is happy to escape her oppressively-religious home life, and Nora (Mimosa Willamo) is just happy to spend time with Ida.

Since this is a horror movie, you know what’s coming next: this isn’t just a recreation. Shit goes down! But Lake Bodom isn’t quite as predictable or straight-up as that. There’s a series of twists that defy expectation, melding several horror tropes into a single film, keeping you guessing and interested and creeped the fuck out. This film looks better than any horror film has to. Some of the shots are full-stop beautiful, which only adds to the ambiance. Atmospheric and well-paced, Lake Bodom provides thrills and anxiety in equal measure, earning every drop of blood splashed across the screen.

Lake Bodom has a relatively low body count, but if you’re in it for the gore, no worries: it makes each one count. In detail. Graphic, brutal detail. Fans of horror who are tired of the same old thing are going to love this. Well, love and hate this. It really is quite scary and maybe not as “fun” as a traditional slasher flick – there’s real meat here, if you can stomach it.

Lake Bodom will be released exclusively on Shudder May 2017.

 

 

 

King Cobra

When I was a kid, Alicia Silverstone was the It Girl. When Sean was a kid, it was Molly Ringwald. King Cobra probably didn’t’ set out to make us all feel old, but it did cast both Silverstone and Ringwald as the oblivious mothers of gay porn stars.

Cobra is the chat room name of Stephen (Christian Slater), a guy who happens to troll around for very young men, and likes to entice them into gay porn in between steamy, illegal, against-the-wall sessions. That’s exactly how he meets Sean (Garrett Clayton) (porn name: Brent Corrigan) and Brent immediately rockets to fame. The bad news is, Stephen is also a greedy fuck. He pays Brent very little and buys himself a Maserati, and is still surprised when Brent walks. And worse than walks, he flags Stephen to the police. Things get ugly; Stephen may go to prison, but he’s still stopping Sean from performing as Brent.

franco-king-cobraEnter James Franco. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Smelled it from a mile away, probably. Franco plays the has-been half of a porn star duo who work under the name “Viper Boys.” They hope to revive their flagging porn career by incorporating Brent into the mix; there’s only the inconvenient matter of Brent’s name being trademarked by a pedophile.

It turns out pornographers aren’t exactly businessmen on the up and up. King Cobra is alarmingly based on a true story, but be prepared for far more hairless chests than characterization. They’re porn stars, what else do you need to know? It gives Franco ANOTHER chance to do his scary-funny-psychotic thing and yell some pretty incendiary dialogue, but there aren’t many other compelling reasons to watch this movie, unless you’re really, really curious to know what kind of deals porno kings make behind closed doors (hint: it’s messy).

Gold

If you’re going to cast Matthew McConaughey and pay his hefty salary, why then take away everything about Matthew McConaughey that is good and right in the world?

In Gold, McConaughey plays Kenny Wells, a prospector who is pot-bellied, bald, and has a giant snaggle tooth that I CONSTANTLY mistook for a wayward piece of chewing gum for the entire length of the movie. He has a gray pallor, he sweats, he is often scene in soggy, saggy tightie whities: it’s unforgivable. There’s no reason that a prospector named Kenny Wells couldn’t have gold2been played by the handsome version of McConaughey, and it might have half-explained why a beauty like Bryce Dallas Howard would go out with such a loser, which is otherwise downright mind-boggling.  Gold is very, very loosely based on things that might have sort of happened, but Kenny Wells was never a real person. McConaughey’s weight gain, however, is all too real: a testament to cheeseburgers and milk shakes, apparently. He also legitimately shaved his head. But if director Stephen Gaghan really REALLY needed a bloated, past-his-prime dude for the lead role, I’m confident that he could have got one much cheaper, and at less cost to McConaughey’s health. In fact, I propose this guy.

Superficial complaints aside, the movie just plain sucked. Feel free to stop reading now. The rest will just be me riffing on this theme. McConaughey gives a pretty committed performance, whistling around that big ugly tooth, but he should have known better. I can only assume that Matty’s got some weird fixation with gold; this is, in fact, his third movie about the pursuit of gold, after Sahara and Fool’s Gold (and to be fair, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 42%, Gold is his best one yet – but please god, stop trying!).

My main complaint, and maybe the only one that really matters, is that this movie is plain old boring. Billed as a “crime adventure,” the real crime is not stolen gold but stolen time and money from the audience, and possibly also the extra plaque in McConaughey’s arteries.