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Saturday, November 25, 2006

A brief introduction

Greetings and welcome to the musings on these pages.

As a brief introduction this part of the www is devoted to movies and occasional sidetracks. Welcome to the world of LKF2006 started as a way to give some insights into our daily life during the Toronto International Film Festival 2006. Over the 10 days and nights we were slated to see 50 films [ or an average of 5 per day ] and keep up with posting reviews each day. Those results can be seen by clicking on the link on the right hand column over there -----------------------------> at the edge of the page under LINKS. You can leave comments and post email if you wish.

While the festival is over we are keeping up with posting more musings on the movies that are being shown in Toronto. We will not be going to see every movie that opens but the ones that we find must-see, interesting or intriguing will be here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

VOLVER - Hot mama Penelope Cruz and Almodovar magic

After the hot buzz of Volver which we attended at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, Volver returns albeit currently in limited engagement at just the Varsity so far. Volver is Penelope Cruz's third movie with her favourite director and mentor[since she was 13 and saw Almovodar's Tie Me Up Tie Me Down] following Live Flesh and All About My Mother. Somehow now she is playing an overworked mother in Volver!

Almodovar returns after Bad Education with Volver - a continually unfolding mystery. Overly haunting and lyrically rhythmic music abounds that come out of the likes of a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama. Volver plays as a comedy about family values underscored with darkness and warmth. Very much a movie about sisters doing it for themselves, it's amazing how Almodovar knows the women's ways, of women's guile, beguile and wiles.

Spanning the relationship from mother to daughter to her daughter, these generations of women and daughter deal with life on their own terms - without a dominant man around - it's like the Eurythmics song Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves.

Raimunda [ Penelope Cruz ] and her sister Soledad [ or Sole for short - rhymes with ole ! ] lose their parents at an early age in a fire - and now Raimunda's husband Paco has left the family to look for work or so she claims. So the already overworked Raimunda is left alone to raise her daughter Paula.

La Mancha is a poor dusty windy town with more fires and insanity per capita - and the East wind drives everyone crazy literally. As Volver opens the women are going through the customary cleaning of the graves of their loved ones on a very windy day. The women have a close kinship with each other - Raimunda, her daughter and Sole go to visit their their aunt at her home - she is ailing and wobbly yet she has wafers and sweets ready for them to eat and take with them back to their homes in Madrid. It is rumoured in the superstitious village that the ghost of Raimunda's mother has been seen and even Soledad runs in fright when she sees the ghost.

Back in Madrid the overworked Penelope has to do with the daily duties at the hospital - cooking, laundry, mopping floors while also dealing with the news her husband has been fired which gets on her nerves. "We are a poor family and we will live like a poor family!" she shouts at her daughter who is asking for more phone credit.

Each of the women in Volver each deal with how to live without a man in her life - Raimunda is always trying to stay one step ahead as she nimbly deals with all the situtations piling upon her: the "missing" husband who has gone away because he has found a job or left after a huge fight between them, forced to miss the funeral of her suddenly departed Aunt while scrambling to earn money to live and cater for a film company in the area, helping her neighbour sell a restaurant that she takes over herself, not to mention the Trouble With Harry type situation situation she is in and on top of everything Raimunda has been plied with her friend's dying request to find out if her mother is still alive.

While the camaraderie between the women is strong, and how they deal with their plight is heart tugging and comedic, the sweeping arc is of sadness, loss and much darkness. "We deal with our dirty laundry ourselves," it is vowed.

Of course it’s a comedy about family underscored with darkness and warmth. Very much a movie about sisters doing it for themselves, it's amazing how Almodovar knows the ways of women's guile and wiles.

Which begs the question that we dare ask of Almovodar: What are the dirty little secrets of Volver? You will not be prepared for the answers.

Our observations from Day 3 of 06 TIFF:


It was just one of those perfect days at 06 TIFF

9:30 A.M. !

Pedro's back! Volver is an Almodovar ghost story – dirty secrets should be handled on the inside. Hot Penelope Cruz is amply present and her mind is always thinking on the fly as she has to cope with the tragedies that have befallen. Of course it’s a comedy about family underscored with darkness and warmth. Very much a movie about sisters doing it for themselves, it's amazing how Almodovar knows the ways of women's guile and wiles.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Robert Altman

Opening this weekend : Bobby - /* our lives on this planet are too short */

Way back in September with the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival in its 9th day with one day to go, we felt privileged to see the debut of Emilio Estevez's take on the last days of Bobby Kennedy. Robert Kennedy, the brother of Jack, was a beacon of hope in the 1960s, running for the leadership of the Democratic party. This is the review from Friday on Day 9 [along with another wild film seen afterwards: Suburban Mayhem with a New Zealand talent to be reckoned with: Emily Barclay, who is also in 06 TIFF film The Silence, and was also in Toronto for her 2004 stellar debut In My Father's Den].

9:30 a.m.

Bobby Kennedy was the voice of a generation of American youth - his ideals and his speeches were emblematic of a time of hope in the air and he stirred the nation disenchanted by a war that was claiming too many American soldiers. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy represented America's last chance for hope. This view of history helmed by Emilio Estevez in his first writer / directorial role and dream project is a bold, strong, and compassionate statement looking at the events and the stories of the staff and guests at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on that June day in 1968 while RFK is campaigning for the 1968 Democratic leadership and the Presidency. The cast has been noted as being the size of a Robert Altman film with many notable names: William H Macy and Helen Hunt, Sharon Stone and Demi Moore, Laurence Fishburne, Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood, Joshua Jackson and others. Their sequences flow along, sometimes intersecting. The earnestness of the youthful campaign organizers and workers in their quest to get Bobby elected kindles that excitement in the air. The spirit of Bobby is everywhere, spurring moments of great deeds and sacrifices even in small moments. In one of the more noble scenes, Laurence Fishburne delivers a moving speeches about his kitchen staff colleague who has had to surrender his ticket to the Dodgers game, not just any Dodgers game but on the night of Koufax going for history - his sixth consecutive shutout, because he has had to work a doubleshft at the last moment. Fishburne compares his worker to a young, selfless King Arthur: "the once and future king" - which will reference the ending of the movie as well. As in Death of a President a foreboding overshadows the events of the day as they move along to the climactic moment. Bobby Kennedy's presence is always seen and felt in the background through television coverage, speeches and references from the cast. After Kennedy finishes delivering his California primary victory speech in the ballroom, the denouement is imminent while the speech of RFK plays over scenes of the lives of America: "Our lives on this planet are too short."

Bobby is a stirring and unrestrained movie with the punch of a worthy consideration.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can

Suburban Mayhem
11:45 a.m.
Varsity 6

"I knew the grandmother, she was mad - I knew the mother, she was madder. It's genetics I reckon, that's the only thing I can come up with. You can't get clean water from a dirty tank."

After Bobby meant less than 15 minutes to get up to the Varsity for the very last chance to see Emily Barclay in Suburban Mayhem. Timetable conflicts by the 06 TIFF schedulers has thwarted all previous attempts to see this movie which was at the very top of the list of movies had to be seen at 06 TIFF [after Candy].

Pretty Beach is suburbia nowhereswville up the coast north of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. Emily Barclay is 19 year old Katrina Skinner, the young mother partying and living out of control. A contented housewife with a kid? No. This is not the mere disaffectation of American Beauty suburbia. This is full on carnage - starting with her brother Danny she loves so much who was sent to jail for life for decapitating the head of his murder victim. Danny was a leader among his wildstyle friends. Katrina is conniving and irresponsible, but wants to hold on to it all including her baby. Nonetheless she leaves in the hands of her beautician school friend Lilya for days while she goes out partying and looking for money to pay for a lawyer for her brother. Katrina is not reluctant to use her body and her wiles to keep sway over her boyfriend Rusty and their mentally challenged friend Kenny. As she plots to get the money to get Danny out of jail, the question arises: can she get away with the murder of her father? Suburban Mayhem is just that and more - and one wild and crazy ride we are so glad to be a part of.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale - /* the name is Bond, James Bond */ - Bond is back better than ever

Going back to the beginning, we see the invention or can we say the re-invention of James Bond in the very first novel of the Ian Flemming series Casino Royale.

Casino Royale starts off in black and white in Prague - a Bond in the making, not yet a double 0 - fresh off his first kill for MI6 - confronting a MI6 agent spilling secrets to an unnamed enemy - this film is devoid of using the likes of SMERSH.

The evil villain of Casino Royale is Le Chiffre - while in the book Le Chiffre is a chief financier in SMERSH and connected with prostitution, in this modern day equivalent he is a sponsor of international terrorism going to Uganda to grow its terrorists' funds in the stock market. In the past Le Chiffre has been played in the previous 1967 Woody Allen written incarnation of Casino Royale by none other than Orson Wells. The modern Le Chiffre is the excellent choice of the Dane star Mads Mikkelsen [who was present in person at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festivla to promote Prague which we saw as a wistful type of Lost in Translation set in the Czech Republic ] [ review is in our 2006 Toronto International Film Festival movies we saw [click on
]. Tall and gaunt with eyes that bleed blood and thin pursed lips, he is full of that SMERSH menace.

To mention James Bond, you have to start with Daniel Craig who has inherited the role and starts the story again from the beginning. The little trademark touches of James Bond are still in the making as he finds his eye for his favourite flashy car - the Aston Martin, and discovering a new drink - even reciting a recipe for the Vesper martini to the bartender called to the poker table. Daniel Craig has proven himself an excellent actor in the past, giving mighty roar as Ted Hughes, the husband and mentor to Gwyneth Paltrow's Sylvia Plath in the 2003 Sylvia. He has already played the tough gunman in the British film Layer Cake, the seducer in The Mother , the sleuth for hire in this 2006 TIFF in the French animated wonder Renaissance. His first notable action role may have been as Lara Croft's counterpart in the first Tomb Raider franchise. This is a rugged steely blue-eyed Bond, not the dapper Pierce Brosnan. The Daniel Craig Bond has more determination and rough edges, an ego to match and amazing eastern based fighting skills in hand to hand combat. And can he ever run.
Action abounds, from the furious first fight against Bond's first kill in Prague to the thrilling running and leaping chase scene in Uganda[ in the style shown to great effect in Banlieu 13 ]. Then it is back to London and the meeting with M who views Bond with disdain over his actions which have left the embassy there in ruins. Then it is off to the white sands and blue ocean waters of the Bahamas where he shows his wiles and his buffed body, emerging from the ocean waters of the Bahamas in a ploy usually reserved a la Ursula Andress in Dr No. Feeding off a tip from Solange, the girlfriend of the powerful Dimitrios, it's off to the nightlife of Miami then an amazing truck chase scene at the airport to stop a La Chiffre's assigned bomber before the launching of the airline's newly unveiled largest airplane in the world.

The Bond girl par excellence in Casino Royale is Eva Green as Vesper Lynd from the British treasury: "I'm the money" "every penny of it" who bankrolls the scheme to confront Le Chiffre and win the potential 150 million dollar table stakes at the poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The game is no limits Texas hold-em. This contemporization is a far cry from the elegant nights of chemin de fer and baccarat which were favoured in the old days and novels of James Bond. And Vesper Lind is a different Bond girl - a girl that even James Bond can fall in love with.

The relations between Bond and Vesper Lind are restrained from the beginning - she does not cherish seeing the 10 million dollars buy-in [ with $5 milion as a re-buy ] being lost and used to fund terrorism - she detests his arrogance and ego - but the two must pose as a romantic couple - she's the girl who stands behind him wearing the dress with the neckline that distracts everyone while he plays - he's the player in the dinner jacket and you can begin to see Bond being groomed into his taste for finer tailoring. "I had you measured from the start," she says.

While the two begin to develop their bond for each other for the assignment at hand, she quickly discovers the ruthless fighting machine that he is that shakes her to her core. She is not the frosty Bond girl. In the shower scene, in a rare touch for James Bond, he shows a compassion for her. This is more than just a disposable woman for Bond to discard. He lets down his guard and a love flourishes in Venice that would do Cary Grant and Grace Kelly proud.

Machination and intrigue abound and by the end of it all Bond has learned his lesson well - that he cannot trust anybody - a result which eminently satisfies M. On the record here, let us categorically state that our favourite James Bond will always be the original Sean Connery, and the favourite Bond film will always be Dr No Goldfinger You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are Forever. But Daniel Craig has earned his right to claim "The name is Bond, James Bond."

The Return - /* sweet dreams of you */ - The Grudge 2 - /* don't go inside the house */

If I move forward fast enough the past cannot catch up to me

The Return is a surprisingly eery tale noted by some fine performances from the likes of our favourite Slayer : Sarah Michelle Gellar, along with Sam Shepard. The Return is another foray into this genre that she has made conspicuously her own from the clutch of films and tv works that include of course Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2 and venturing to Japan for the remakes of Takashi Shimazu's The Grudge and The Grudge 2. [ Does Scooby-Doo count ? ]

Some unseen person has been stalking the young Joanna Mills almost all her life as evidenced by an incident at the county fair where she sees some vision of a man that she tries to hide from and during that time she cuts herself.

Grown up, and as a very successful traveling salesperson from the Midwest, Joanna Mills [ Sarah Michelle Gellar ] returns to the scene that begins to haunt her dreams that harken her life as a little girl with her dad Sam Sheppard. But she knows she has never been to this particular red bar that she finds from her travel journals is in La Salle, Texas.

Joanna is the type who loves being on the road - she cannot stay still in one place for long. She is based in St. Louis, but has a lead on Marlin Industries which is in Texas, a territory that is off-limits to her but her plan meets the approval of her boss and the rancor of her fellow worker who was working the same lead.

On the long drive down there she phones up her Texas friend Michele who has supplied her the lead. Night follows day then strange things happen on her radio as the radio stations begin to fritz out and out comes the strains of Patsy Cline's Sweet Dreams of You. She changes stations but the same song comes out. She pops in a CD, from which still emanates Sweet Dreams. She comes to a screeching stop as she happens upon the glass and remains of two vehicles in a violent highway accident. She suffers a blinding white flash of light and when she wakes up in the day she is alone by the side of the highway with no signs of any accident.

Ever since she was a young girl, Joanna has cut herself but she does not know why. While she hides upder the bed in her hotel room in La Salle, she hears the same whispers and sees the same boots of a man saying "sunshine". A woman's face not her own appears in her reflection in the mirror.

What has she returned to? The Return is creepifyingly slow with long shots of nothingness and isolation in this hot Texas town in nowheresville, the tinkering of wind chimes, the delicate images of seahorses and seashells from her youth recur on the wall of the barn she is drawn to that belongs to the rogueish stranger she meets up with who saves her from an attack, details of a murder of a woman, all set against a score given to a prolonged delay on the music that keeps jolting you in place. Then moments of psychological breakdown, hitting rock bottom, then the terror and running for her life in her most Buffy like role yet as she's drawn to It's worth catching while you can in this city.

The Grudge 2
In case you wondered if Karen Davis survived the final scene of The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to the screen for her final appearances.

It is one of the most haunted houses in all of Japan and whoever enters get the curse.
Two years have gone by since the house was burned. Two of the popular girls Allison and Miyuki from International High School take a third girl Vanessa on a rite of initiation or dare to the house to bring her into their fold. There is a reluctance to go inside. Save for scorch marks that indicate the fire, the house remains almost as it was. The initiation for Vanessa is she must enter the closet, close her eyes and count to 10, when she opens her eyes she will whatever is inside. Of course it is meant to be nothing more than a practical joke by the two mean-spirited populars, but things go awry when the closet does shut and will not open despite their frantic tries. What does Allison see?

Back in California, Aubrey is sent by her demanding mother to Japan to save her sister at the hospital. We discover that Aubrey [ Joan of Arcadia's Amber Tamblyn who has also been on Buffy the Vampire Slayer - the two are close friends ] is Karen's sister. Karen is still afflicted by the curse of the house. She begs Aubrey to get her out of the hospital and goes wild. Aubrey is shooed out of the room and Karen is put under restraints again. Then those hands reach out for her at night.

Meanwhile in Chicago, something is afflicting the two children and their parents since someone returned to their neighbours apartment. Arielle Kebbel [ the brainy blonde from John Tucker Must Die ] is the hot cheerleader who takes care of her younger brother who begins to see things.

What is it that connects all these people and why? That is the curse of The Grudge 2 with Aubrey going against her sister's wishes to not go inside the house [ but she was pushed inside ]. Takashi Shimazu is the first to direct both of his original Ju-on and Ju-on 2 and their successful counterparts The Grudge and The Grudge 2. As in The Grudge, the second part will keep you jumping and has been known to give someone a restless night.

The Illusionist - /* everything you see is an illusion */

The illusion is real

In turn of the century Austria a young boy and a young girl from different strata pledge eternal friendship - he is the son of a carpenter with a difference and a penchant for magic - she is destined to become the Grand Duchess Sophie van Treschel. Their symbol of friendship is a secret locket he designs for her - a heart with a twist.

He goes away on a long journey and comes back to Vienna as the great Eisenheim. A magician. who has gone to the far ends of the earth and unlocked the dark secrets to bend the laws of nature to his will. His renown on stage grows which catches the attention of the Crown Prince. At a performance attended by the Crown Prince, He asks for a volunteer from the audience and the Crown Prince Leopold volunteers the Duchess. On stage their eyes meet and she recognizes him - thus is rekindled their childhood romance.

The Crown Prince vows to expose Eisenheim and under his direction Chief Inspector Uhl and his men keeps the magician under constant watch.

It is a battle of politesse. Uhl himself an aficianado of magic puts the pressure on Eisenheim asking for some basic tricks, to which he obliges as in exposing which hand holds a coin after being held to the forehead.

The real tricks are reserved for the stage for an ever growing awaiting audience - no mere sleight of hand - Eisenheim is alone on stage, no mechanics up his sleeve, it is mirrors and smoke - a globe of glass lights in the palm of his hand, an orange tree grows out of nothing to full fruition - . In a special invited performance at the house of the Crown Prince where is determined to have Eisenheim debunked before his chosen audience of experts, Eisenheim dares to cross swords with Leopold, bringing him down a notch before his subjects. The Crown Prince is an ambitious man, and a dangerous man to cross for he has power and a temper - and designs on even greater power - his father's throne. And for this he needs the Duchess at his side - a Duchess falling out of love of him to a boy she once knew and now known as a man named Eisenheim, a man Uhl is determined to bring to light, to reveal him as a fraud and arrest him.

With Eisenheim's and Sophie's passions ignited and feelings exposed, their meeting by day in a coach is noted by the police and revealed to the Duke who is furious. After Eisenheim and Sophie's feelings culminate in an assignation by night, Eisenheim asks her to leave the Duke for him.

The understated yet sharply acuitous Edward Norton and the elegant mannered Jessica Biel with the gleam in her eye and the locket in her bodice are the two star-crossed lovers who must defy the powerful Grand Duke and the predestined marriage.

The aftermath leads to the greatest illusion of all. The magic between the couple is the appeal, Paul Giammati's canny Inspector Uhl is the dogged bloodhound of truth set to by a dashing yet dastardly Rufus Sewell as the Crown Prince all splendid in his uniform. The regal feelings and intrigue of the court are well-displayed and the heightened feelings between the lofty Leopold and the underdog Eisenheim keep the story on edge.

The Illusionist is mystical, it's a mystery, it's an intrigue and the illusion is real.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Opening this weekend - The Fountain

James Bond returns this weekend in Casino Royale while on Wednesday Nov 22, the ubiquitous Hugh Jackman stars with Rachel Weisz in the eternal love story of The Fountain.

From Day 8 of 06 Toronto International Film Festival we wrote:

The Fountain
3 p.m.

What if you could live forever?

In this parable about the search for eternal life, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz transcends time and space.

So he drove out the man; and he placed Cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
- Genesis 3:24

At the heart of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain is a love story between a conquistaor and his Queen, a doctor and his wife; it's the biblical passage of Genesis 3:24 set against the Spanish excursion into 16th century Americas in search of the fabulous tree of life from whose elixir is the fountain of eternal youth. Zigzagging back and forth from the 16th century then set in modern times and going far beyond into a fabulous future - The Fountain is the quest of Hugh Jackman's character to save his wife Rachel Weisz alive physically and preserve her spirit throughout time. He is under the crush of painful memories and what ifs? of that day when he forsook his one last time with her request to "walk with me" in the wintry snow in order to go to the lab to pursue his scientific experiment. While frantically trying to find a cure for his wife's tumour by operating on cancerous lab monkeys, he finds a procedural drug that stops the aging process - derived from a leaf from a particular tree in South America. In fact the drug has restored the youth of the test monkey. It's a miracle that his colleagues want him to keep pursuing, but the cancer is still there. His superiours want him to pursue the drug, but he wants to find the cure for cancer to save his wife. The love story of The Fountain is wild and fabulously excessive, voyaging through the span of centuries of time and space. Without the editing quirks of Aranofsky's previous Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain is suffused in golden tones and transcendent spirit. Faith, hope, rebirth. Death is the road to awe.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jack is back! Bringing out the dead in The Departed

Lies. Betrayal. Sacrifice. How far will you take it?

Jack is back in full glory stealing the scenery left right and centre - even with the adept presence of Leonard diCaprio in the same room Jack Nicholson 's light is shining brightest.

Martin Scorsese's light touch is missing in this undercover police drama remake of Internal Affairs - two men undercover from the opposite sides of Boston - the Southie side and the North - have to discover each other's identity. Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan who grew up on the tough Southie side who falls under the sway of Costello, and Leo di Caprio as William Costigan Jr. who was born in the south but was raised in the North. Damon is in familiar territory with Boston but everyone in the Special Investigation Unit on this case from di Caprio to Mark Wahlberg [ the ultimate Southie ] as the foul-mouthed Dignam to Martin Sheen as Queenan are steeped in Boston. Alec Baldwin is the FBI liaison.

What we have in its stead is the ultimate Reservoir Dogs. Whereas John Ford could not stop making Westerns despite making the very best, Scorsese cannot stay away from the gangster genre.

The Departed has plenty of grit and moral verisimillitude and plenty of Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello - the top of the Irish mafia and the number one target of the undercover division of the "Staties" - the Massachusetts State Police.

Costello's role is unglamorous and full of Nicholson unpredictable mannerisms and everyone is all hurting for it - whoever is the centre of his attention has to be careful - whether it be the shopkeeper he is intimidating for protection money or those under his command. Losing friends or making colleagues disappear and how to deal with it is the least of it. The food chain starts at the top and he smells a rat. He suspects there is a police mole in his ranks and he has to ferret it out.

I don't need to remind you that if you don't find that cheese eating rat bastard in your department it won't be me who suffers for it.

The Departed is another of Scorsese's character studies into the human behaviour when tensions and conflicts pose sticky problems that seem insurmountable in the ultimate fight for survival.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan pokes serious fun at the cultural divide in this inglorious movie

My name Borat. I like you, I like sex, is nice!

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
is a seriously twisted look at the cultural millieu between nations' peoples and the results are less than glorious.

Borat made its midnight madness splash at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival complete with a team of peasant women pulling Borat in a wooden wagon. The premiere was of course marred by the projection breaking down despite the efforts of director Michael Moore who tried to save the day and fix the projector. The projector would not start up so Moore did a 20 minute question and answer with the crowd followed by a stand up routine from Borat himself!

Under the guise of Kazhaki television journalist Borat Sagdiyev, comedian Sasha Cohen who has already made his screen splash in the Ali G Indahouse movie adopts an ethnocentric moral "backward" stance to introduce the audience to his home town his relatives and neighbours, and uses his stilted broken English and smile to seduce and dupe his American subjects as he documents his learning experiences in the greatest country in the world: the United States. With his suitcase filled with one live chicken, and accompanied by his producer Azamat Bagatov who arranges interviews for him in New York, they set out to learn what they can about the United States to bring back valuable lessons to improve their way of life in Kazakhstan.

The music from Midnight Cowboy is the appropriate theme as Borat meets New York City for the first time, trying to embrance and kiss new friends, and seeing the hilarity in the American's opposite and often violent reactions. Borat learns about America from various instructors: a humour coach who tries to teach Borat what is considered funny in America, driving lessons! then purchasing a car from the ultimate car dealer [ "if I give you money can you put in pussy magnet?" ], social etiquette, how to be cool and black from street youth in Atlanta, and finding Jesus.

Whether or not these subjects have been duped or are part of the process, it seems quite amusing at first while they seemingly accept at face value this journalist from Kazakhstan they suffer the consequences of their ignorance at his hands as he pushes limits. Under the mask of guileless politic, he proceeds to insult the pastor at the dinner table and with one deed undercuts the host's declaration that despite the cultural differences, with a little more time he could become American.

Borat in his voyage of discovery of the cultural diversity across America drives in his newly bought ice cream truck from New York through the South towards California with many stops and experiences on the way to meet the woman of his dreams from tv: CJ from Baywatch - Pamela Anderson - so that he can marry her and take away her virginity. Borat tediously stretches the boundaries of manners with his attitude towards Jews of whom he is deathly afraid [ he and his producer refuse to fly and instead drive across America because they are afraid the Jews will repeat what they did on 9/11], of women's rights and sexytime. Speaking of which, there is one hairy scene we dare not mention [except it would put Shortbus to shame. review of Shortbus further down the page.]

Borat uses the charm to promote laughter while undercutting with quick one liners that will induce shock and gasps. In the end what did he learn? It is one thing to chase one's dreams of a woman with a plastic chest while ignoring the beauty that is right in front of you.

Borat so much is not so much satire but as a real cultural learning of America itself that there should be this line when it comes to race or religion.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Marie Antoinette - une histoire sentimentale

It's pretty to look at.

That was the comment of the two girls behind us so we quoted them - ourselves we found Marie Antoinette to be a sumptuous tableaux of visual feasts where Sofia Coppola captures fragile moments of life and distills them to their essence.
Sofia Coppola's modern reimaginations of the life of Marie Antoinette is an emotional journey of her growth from princess in Austria to her demise as Queen of France at the side of her husband, the Louis the XVIth. The passage of time of the drama teen queen of France by the age of 19 is seen in and through the expressions in star Kirsten Dunst's eyes. Married off by her mother as a means to cement relations between Austria and the most powerful country in Europe, France, Marie Antoinette is forced to leave Austria at the age of 14, betrothed to the current Dauphin of France, the grandson of King Louis XV. In her eyes, she sees the Dauphin as but a mere boy, which he really is. By day, Marie Antoinette has to endure the ceremonial ways of the French court and at night after their wedding, he falls asleep and nothing happens. Connubial bliss is not forthcoming upon her wedding night or any night for years thereafter. This becomes the repeated pattern. So in between Marie Antoinette has the time of her life at the opulence of Versailles - aside from disabusing the constant rumourmongering and the snide remarks of the court looking for her to bear the future Dauphin, the heir, to the throne of France. After suffering from the humiliation of having been beaten to the punch of bearing a child by her cousin, she lets loose. With her inner circle of friends including the Duchesse de Polignac at the court, to the ecstatic music of Bow Wow Wow 's I Want Candy she is the proverbial kid in the candy store - the shots of her spending ways are sheer artistry - les bonbons are rich and flavourful - just think Babette's Feast taken to another echelon - the dresses are luxurious satin and silk - and wig hairpieces, fans and shoes to die for. The King has given her a retreat Petit Trianon where she escapes from the ways of the Court.

Sofia Coppola contemporarizes the myriad of moods of Marie Antoinette as experienced by teens through using music that expressed the height of reckless partying and rebellious anarchy of youth: the first wave of English punk rock - Bow Wow Wow - Siouxsie and the Banshees' Hong Kong Garden, The Cure ! - and Marie Antoinette is the ultimate party girl - cavorting through the nightlife of Paris at the opera, gambling, shopping - all to relieve the boredom of her life. Her husband goes hunting by day while at night nothing happens between the two which further reinforces the stress plied upon her by her mother the Archduchess Marie Theresa to produce the heir which will cement the relations between France and Austria.

Coppola's cinematography perfectly captures the waiflike moments of Marie Antoinette - the settings of idyllic imagery harkens the Kirsten Dunst world in Virgin Suicides and long sweeping walking in costume shots through the gardens of Versailles are so airily reminiscent of walking in the cherry tree gardens of Kyoto in Lost in Translation.

Marie Antoinette is not a history piece that will teach the the French Revolution but thank god for Steve Coogan as Marie Antoinette's diplomat who provides advice and timely discourse and background for the events. Louis XVI through Jason Schwartzman is seen as a trivial king too young to assume the throne whose indecision about supporting American troops against the British is left to his advisors who counsel him to send the funds to support their revolution while raising taxes on the starving populace of France. While in the beginning of the marriage the Dauphin is distant from the Dauphine the bond between them grows especially with the arrival of their first daughter and Marie Antoinette comes to grow into the responsibility of her position, finally producing the Dauphin, the next heir to the throne.

Marie Antoinette touches upon notable bits of her history for the MTV generation, the bitter rivalry between herself and Madame du Barry, the lover of King Louis XV, with whom she ever spoke but once - the denial that she ever said the famous "let them eat cake" while the people of France were hungering during the drought and bread shortage. As well the image of her extravagant ways as the words "Queen of Deficit" is stamped across a Sex Pistols style portrait of the Queen.

Marie Antoinette is richly satisfying and melancholy sad by the end as she leaves Versailles for the last time in the coach. Her husband asking if she's admiring the trees on her avenue, she replies: "I'm saying goodbye."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Openers November 10 - It's a good year for A Good Year / Stranger Than Fiction - existential comedy or tragedy ?

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Looking back at 06 Toronto International Film Festival again we culled a couple of reviews of some remarkable films that are opening in Toronto this weekend of Remembrance Day. Please remember.

We start with A Good Year - a very charming film that just makes you want to give up the hustle and bustle for the good life in Provence, France. Back at the time of the Festival with just a few moments to write while we were on the constant get-go we wrote:


A Good Year

9:30 AM

A few vintages ago in a land far away known as France ...

Does the day start any better than the new Ridley Scott comedy with Russell Crowe as a top of the line capital trader? “Good morning labrats”, and Albert Finney as his uncle living the good life on an estate in the vineyards of Provence. The very blonde Abbie Cornish, Albert Finney's unknown American daughter? Clue in Matchstick Men. It’s a good day for A Good Year, a good film.

Then along came Day 5 which heralded a string of some very very unusual comedies including Love and Other Disasters, Stranger Than Fiction and the return of Henry Fool in Fay Grimm! Back then in September we wrote:


Love and Other Disasters
9:15 a.m.

A sexy and smart with Brittany Murphy as English Vogue assistant. Think last year's clever and funny Imagine Me and You and this year's The Devil Wears Prada. A genuine crowd pleaser.

Stranger Than Fiction
12:30 p.m.

Little did one know that Stranger Than Fiction would luck into a winner with Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and, of course, Maggie Gyllenhaal in this existential comedy, or is it a tragedy? Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, an IRS auditor locked into his mundane life with his methodical ways and measured timed down to the exact instant - except for one Wednesday he would be rattled from his routine. Little did he know one day he would hear the narrator's voiceover his life telling him his impending demise was at hand. Dustin Hoffman back in one of his quirkier roles continuing on from the fabulous I Heart Huckabees seen back at 04 TIFF. Continuing on in a practice started in 05 TIFF in Winter Passing, Will Ferrell plays his comedic role in an understatedly restrained way. Maggie Gyllenhaal is Ana Pascal - the baker who he has to audit and eventually falls for. He brings her flours. Maggie who is drop dead charming was a former law student who used to bake the best cookies and other desserts for her study partners so they would feel good - but eventually she would up with 27 study partners and a D average. So to make the world a better place she turned to baking. She is rebellious and drop dead charming. Harold Crick falls for her - bringing her flours. The overriding arc of Stranger Than Fiction is determining why Harold Crick is hearing the voice and he turns to Dr. Jules Hilbert [Dustin Hoffman], a literary theorist at the university to help him figure out if he is in a tragedy or a comedy. Emma Thompson is the crime author who is facing a huge case of writer's block who turns out to be the voice and whatever she writes on her typewriter becomes the reality in Harold Crick's life. Eventually Harold knows he has to die - the reason why ? Watch and find out.

Fay Grim
6:30 p.m.

Parker Posey is the indie queen and a Toronto International Film Festival without her is like no TIFF at all. Last seen we saw her was at the premiere of Personal Velocity at the 2002 film festival at the Uptown. Looking glam and gorgeous along with fellow stars Kyra Sedgwick and Fairuza Balk and director Rebecca Miller.

Eight years after 1997's Henry Fool later, director Hal Hartley and stars Parker Posey Jeff Goldblum, Saffron Burrows and the rest of the cast return to the next chapter in the story of Henry Fool. Hartley and all the main cast showed up for Q&A. The zaniest spythriller - watch Henry Fool again and head into Fay Grim, Henry's wife. Dutch framing and imposed letter blocks add to the espionage style zaniness of Fay Grimm's plot and complications arising from the discovery of what the contents are of Henry Fool's journals. Just you wait for part 3!

The Dog Problem
8:30 p.m.

The surprising and charming The Dog Problem is Scott Caan's second directorial. Life is a delicate negotiation. This is so good. Giovanni Ribisi plays an indebted and loveable Solo loser on the downside after the "success" of his first novel. At his last session his psychiatrist [Don Cheadle] suggests he perhaps get a pet. The scoundrel and arch confident confidante Scott Caan is Solo's best friend Casper and his opposite. Casper abandons Solo for a beautiful girl as they go to the mall to pick up a dog from Pet Mart and obviously Solo falls for a little mutt who proves to be too untrainable and yappy for him. Casper takes Solo and dog over to his friend [ Mena Suvari ] who wants to buy the dog. Solo refuses the many offers for him, even though the sale would solve his money woes compounded by the loanshark who is after Solo who also takes a shine to the dog. At the dog park, Solo meets up with a young lady whose own dog takes a bite of Solo's dog, and he has to beg her for the money to put up with the vet bill. The lady turns out to be a stripper [with a heart of gold] and they begin to fall for each other - but the loanshark gets in the way. Then the dog escapes.

Scott Caan, Giovani Ribisi and Mena Suvari were all watching in the audience watching this first ever screening which turns out to be a clever smart funny ribald heartwarmer and showcase for Los Angeles. It's an incredible journey.

And so ends this day and night at Ryerson.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Babel - from 06 TIFF Day 4

Sunday September 11

11:30 AM
VISA Elgin

Babel is like the great white elephant of this year's festival, impossible to ignore and luring everyone to it after its splash debut at Cannes.

What are we doing here?

Babel is the worthy successor by Alejandro González Iñárritu to 21 Grams and Amores Perros. Babel rings more as a plea for compassion everywhere, act local think global, a seeking for communication between cultures everywhere. The world is a fractured place, but compassion and healing can take place at the smallest levels to overcome prejudice and misunderstanding. Babel is emotionally wrought, displayed through four apparently diverse storylines with deeply personal performances from the stellar world cast from Brad Pitt to Cate Blanchett to Gael Garcia Bernal, and on the other side of the planet, ranging from locals in the Moroccan desert to the bustle of rebellious Tokyo schoolgirls. Babel tries to break down communication barriers at all levels - how one untimely but not misaimed gunshot by two boys at a bus driving in the desert gets blown up to a terrorist incident - how a wedding party aftermath goes awry - to a deaf teenage girl who is falling out with her father. And watch out there's another Fanning sister - Ellie Fanning, Dakota's sister who plays a key role as one of the children of Pitt and Blanchett. And it all connects.

The key to understanding is to listen - the alternative is silence and Babel.

Shortbus - I AM Canadian

Shortbus - the talk of the 06 TIFF - is a spectacular dud.

Looking for love in all the wrong places, Shortbus is a sad joyless affair set in post 9/11 New York City. The brownouts in the city during the film are symbolic of the human disconnect. Relationships that appear ideal on the surface are just that - only skin deep or not reciprocal. Sex is not love.

The only saving grace is Sook Yin Lee as Sofia, the Chinese-Canadian repressed sex therapist or what she prefers "couples counsellor" who ironically cannot cannot claim the big O for herself. She seeks the solution to her problem at the shortbus, a place recommended to her by the two Jamies - the shortbus being a weekly form and forum for discover yourself sex catering to all types - with different rooms for different folks of all persuasions - including a public display orgy room. Even ogling and voyeurism is participation. Naturally Sofia finds her eyes widened as she watches and listens to the participants in the shortbus - is it strange where Sofia is the only married person in the place and when she says the sex is great with her husband the crowd looks at HER strangely?

Sofia stumbles into the ladies room where Bitch is holding court then Severin the dominatrix takes a polaroid of Sofia. Severin thinks she can solve Sofia's problem, then Sofia and Severin take a liking to each other and end up meeting daily in a sensory deprivation tank to discuss their lives and help Sofia find the big O in her relationship.

Of course the unsimulated explicit sexual activity on the screen from the very start is meant to be either a deliberate turn-off or defying convention - whether it being solo or seeing the three men Jamie and Jamie and Ceth in some menage a trois and singing the Star Bangled Banner up the a** is patriotism at its finest. And you say the Dixie Chicks are troublemakers. This all serves as background for boundless talk and discussion during the movie and for the audience afterward. But sexual mores and explicitness as shock value at Toronto International Film Festival has become passé by now given Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs or Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, Atom Egoyan's Where The Truth Lies, Clement Viggo's Lie With Me and going on back through Twenty-Nine Palms, 11:14, Devil and the Flesh or Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession.

New York used to be the city where you came to be f**** up, now New York in this post 9/11 era is the place where you come to be forgiven. What are your sins ?