Drama

FNC 2017: Review of Hong Sang-soo’s The Day After (Geu-hu)

In this scene from Korean film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) is ready to begin her first day working at a small publishing house. The Day After is directed by Hong Sang-soo.

On her first day at a new job, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee ) is insulted and slapped by the wife of her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo). Kim runs a small publishing house and Song is his only employee. Song had no way of knowing that Kim had been having an affair with her predecessor, Lee Chang-sook (Kim Sae-byeok). Now that she does know, is she seeing the “getting-acquainted” lunch she just had with him in a new light? Was he grooming her to be his next conquest?

Kim keeps saying “it’s not her!” but his wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee) does not believe him. Song Ah-reum’s forehead is wrinkled in thought as she watches the two of them bicker. Their marriage might be in trouble, but they still have a bond of sorts, after all, while she is the true outsider. As a woman, she might naturally sympathize with Song Haejoo, but not after being hit several times and being called a shameless hussy (or the equivalent.) Her boss HAD seemed like a nice guy (though maybe a bit condescending). Obviously, he isn’t so nice, after all.

“A man behaving badly” would describe most of the Hong Sang-soo films that I’ve seen, and it certainly fits The Day After. While Kim’s wife frequently calls him a liar, he usually just clams up and says nothing at all, or asks “Are you serious?” rather than answer her questions directly.

Confrontation! In this scene from HongSang-soo’s film The Day After, Song Ah-reum (Kim Min-hee) left, watches her boss, Kim Bong-wan (Kwon Hae-hyo) argue with his rightfully suspicious wife, Song Haejoo (Jo Yoon-hee).

The film is shot in black and white, and moves around in time, as Hong’s films usually do, showing Kim Bong-wan at home (not very often!) in his office, and in restaurants eating and drinking (drinking a lot!) with Chang-sook or Ah-reum. We see Kim on the streets, too, walking with one of the women or by himself. He walks a lot, because he’s trying to figure things out, because he lives far from his office, because he has a guilty conscience? Could be any and all of those. Much of this walking takes place in darkness, at night, or in the very early morning hours; it’s not always clear which. At one point he tries to jog, seemingly confirming his wife’s suspicion that he is trying to improve his appearance for someone other than her.

Sometimes Kim Bong-wan even cries on his solitary walks, but I’m not at all convinced that this means he loved Lee Chang-sook, maybe he just misses having someone, other than his wife, to be with. And drink with.

Lee Chang-sook and Song Ah-reum are both young and pretty and Song Ah-reum seems quite brainy, too. While Song does tell Kim that he is one of the best critics in Korea, he doesn’t come across as exceptional in any way. That did lead me to wonder, why did Chang-sook fall for him? Does proximity breed affection? Was she bored? Very lonely, far from home, with no friends in Seoul? Can Kim be really charming when he puts his mind to it? (If Hong had chosen from among my fave actors for this part, I might not wonder as much. Probably that’s exactly why he did not choose them. Sorry, no offence is intended toward actor Kwon Hae-hyo.)

I wonder: Does Hong Sang-soo know about U.S. comedian Stan Freberg? At one point, the two lovers are locked in a passionate embrace while they exclaim “Bong-wan!” “Chang-sook!” over and over. Do a Google search on “John and Marsha,” you’ll see what I mean.

Things I found amusing: When Kwon Hae-hyo eats with his wife, he slurps his soup and munches his kimchi very noisily. He is much more restrained when eating with his assistants.

Meta or gossipy aspect: Director Hong Sang-soo left his wife of many years for actress Kim Min-hee, who has now appeared in four of his films. You might know her from Park Chan-wook’s film The Handmaiden.

Montrealers can see The Day After at the Festival du nouveau cinéma on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 at 5:30, in Salle 17 of Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin, 360 rue Emery, métro Berri-UQAM.

 

The Day After (Geu-hu, 그 후)
92 minutes long
In Korean with English subtitles
Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo
Cast: Kwon Hae-hyo, Kim Min-hee, Kim Sae-byeok, Jo Yoon-hee

Advertisements

Django review: Go for the music – ignore the plot

Reda Kateb, centre, plays jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt in the film Django, directed by Etienne Comar.

The French film Django presents the life of renowned jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt during the last years of World War II in Occupied France. The music is wonderful, but the plot is disappointing. It features a fictional, generic, femme fatale while all but ignoring Dietrich Schulz-Koehn, a real-life Luftwaffe officer who loved the very music that the Nazis criticized as degenerate. Schulz-Koehn wrote about jazz and even supervised recording sessions under the name Dr. Jazz. More than once he helped Reinhardt and other musicians get out of trouble. Wouldn’t you want to know more about such a conundrum? (Director Stanley Kubrick had hoped to make a film about Schulz-Koehn. The Atlantic wrote an article about that.)

Many German officers attend jazz concerts in Paris, despite that degenerate label. (Signs warn that they’d better not try any dancing, though.) Django (played by Reda Kateb) does not mind playing for Nazis. Music is all he knows and he has to make a living, after all. He also declares “It’s not my war.” On the other hand, he’s in no rush to leave the familiarity of France for an extensive tour of Germany, and the idea of playing for Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels and other bigwigs holds no appeal at all, especially since solos, syncopation, quick tempos and other musical flourishes are strictly controlled, when not banned altogether. (Does that fall under the “banality of evil?”)

Django’s manager reminds Django and his bandmates that saying “No” to the Germans is a very dangerous thing to do. The fictional femme fatale, Louise de Klerk (Cécile de France) points out that travelling into the heart of Nazi darkness would also be dangerous. There’s no happy solution to this problem.

After a certain amount of dithering in Paris, Django and his entourage head for the border in hopes of crossing into neutral Switzerland. It’s a closely watched border, though, so they must wait (and wait and wait) while hoping that members of the Resistance will deign to help them eventually. The film pretty much grinds to a halt at this point. Django plays in local bars to earn some food money, sometimes hiding his face under a hat, sometimes not. It seems extremely foolhardy considering his fame and unique style.

(SPOILER!) In one laughably silly scene Django is being chased by tracking dogs, so he lies down in the snow and sprinkles a few handfuls of the white stuff on top of himself. Somehow, I don’t think that would fool the dogs at all.

As many viewers will already know, Django did indeed survive the war, but as far as I can tell, the film fudges his escape attempt. The implication is that he made it into Switzerland and presumably stayed there until the war was over, but in fact, the Swiss border guards would not let him in.

What I did not know before seeing this film: Django Reinhardt could also play huge honking church organs and compose for them, too.

Things I learned later from Google: Django Reinhardt was touring England with his Quintette du Hot-Club de France when England declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939. Django returned to France immediately, but the Quintette’s violinist, Stéphane Grappelli, stayed in England until the war was over.

In regard to spending the war in France, Django said: “It is better to be frightened in your own country than in another one.”

In France during the war you could trade a Django Reinhardt record for two kg of butter on the black market. Django Reinhardt died May 16, 1953 at the relatively young age of 43.

Django is 115 minutes long

Director: Étienne Comar.

Screenplay: Étienne Comar and Alexis Salatko, based on the novel Folles de Django by Alexis Salatko.

With: Reda Kateb, Cécile de France, Beata Balya, BimBam Merstein, Gabriel Mirété, Vincent Frade, Johnny Montreuil, Raphaël Dever, Patrick Mille, Xavier Beauvois (In French, German, English, Romani dialogue)

Music by the Rosenberg Trio.

In Montreal, Django is playing, with English subtitles, at the Quartier Latin Cinema, 350 rue Emery, H2X 1J1.

Django Reinhardt’s music, as performed by Nomad O Swing, Eclectic Django and Denis Chang, can often by heard at Montreal Jazz Bar Diese Onze, 4115-A, rue St. Denis, H2W 2M7.

Film Review: A Man Called Ove

Rolf LassgŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.

Rolf LassgaŒrd plays the title character in A Man Called Ove.

The Swedish film A Man Called Ove is one of the five entries competing for an Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. It’s also nominated for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ove is only 59, but he looks much older. That’s what crankiness will do to you! Ove is a stickler for rules; his main purpose in life seems to be upholding them. Even the possibility that a rule might soon be broken raises his ire.

Every morning, Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård) does the “rounds” in his suburban neighbourhood, even though he is no longer the head of the residents’ association. Cars parked (or driven) where they shouldn’t be, errant bicycles, cigarette butts, tiny dogs piddling where they should not, these are just a few of the things that get his goat. Ove even takes his suicide rope back, to a Home-Depot type place, to complain that it was not “suitable for all uses.” The man has chutzpah!

Why suicide? Grief, boredom, or feeling useless and rejected? I choose “all of the above.” Ove’s wife Sonja died within the past year and he misses her very much. Every day he visits her grave to promise her that he will join her soon. He recently lost his longtime job with the railroad, too. (The dialogue in that scene should make human resources people everywhere cringe.) Arguing with the neighbours and store clerks is just not enough to keep a man going. But when decent, friendly Patrick (Tobias Almborg), his wife Parvaneh (Bahar Pars), and their two little girls move in next door, they do provide many new distractions.

Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).

Bahar Pars plays Parvaneh, the friendly, lively neighbour of Ove (Rolf LassgaŒrd).

A Man Called Ove is a crowd-pleasing tear jerker, with some jokes and pokes at smug, smirking bureaucrats. Some of those bureaucrats are just clueless, while others are truly evil.

Ove himself is not evil, he’s a sad, somewhat clumsy man, who has constructed a hard shell over his gooey centre. He’s a politically-correct crank – he does not hate gays, immigrants, or women, so he doesn’t have too far to go to redeem himself, as we know he eventually will. This is not one of those stories where a neo-Nazi sees the light and becomes a human-right lawyer. Too bad he’s so mean to retail clerks, though. As for his run-in with a clown. . . who really likes clowns, anyway?

The young adult Ove (Filip Berg) while socially inept in the extreme, wins the heart of school-teacher-to-be Sonja (Ida Engvoll). He is astounded by how many books she has when they move in together, but gamely sets to building more yet shelves when he realizes he did not make enough the first time. At first, we only see Sonja in relation to Ove, later we learn more about her life-changing goodness toward others. It might have been nice to see more of her, but the story IS A Man Called Ove, not a Woman Called Sonja.

When that same young adult Ove meets his neighbour Rune, it’s like finding another sort of love, as they run after the local rule-breakers with the joy of small children, or frolicking puppies.

Most people might guess the general direction the film will take and some might feel manipulated. While A Man Called Ove has its clichéd elements, I enjoyed it anyway, I’m not sorry I watched it; I don’t feel like I wasted my time. Be warned though: Reviews I read before seeing the film led me to expect a comedy about a cranky man. I was surprised by the many tragedies and injustices that were revealed in the flashbacks. While Ove’s life was not quite as bleak as that of the Biblical Job, he did suffer a lot, much more than I had expected, based on summaries and reviews I’d read before seeing the film.

Random info and musings: The film is based on Fredrik Backman’s  popular novel; it’s been translated into many languages.

Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgŒrd into the balding cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)

Makeup artist transforms actor Rolf LassgaŒrd into the balding, cranky Ove. (Gala magazine photo)

Rolf Lassgård has played the detective Wallander on TV. In real life, he doesn’t look much like the worn-out Ove at all. Hence the nomination for a Best Makeup and Hairstyling Oscar.

Ida Engvoll, who plays Sonja, is slightly toothy. If she were a Hollywood star, would someone have suggested that she “fix” those teeth?  I wouldn’t be surprised.

Ove was so lucky to meet his wife, who accepted him as he was. Would an awkward woman be so lucky? I wonder. Don’t think I have see a film like that yet.

Ove’s estranged friend Rune reminded me of one of the guys from TV show Trailer Park Boys.

The blue in Ove’s workplace made me think of the blue of Montreal’s metro system.

The film opens in the plant department of a store that looks like the Home Depot on Beaubien St.

Feline trivia: According to web site imdb.com, the large fluffy cat in the film is portrayed by two Ragdolls, both from Poland. In an interview after a screening in Seattle, director Hannes Holm said one cat was sleepy while the other was quite aggressive. More than once, crew members brought the wrong cat onto the set, with painful consequences. Holm also said that a Hollywood film would probably opt for CGI cats, but Swedish filmmakers don’t have that kind of money. When told that the film Inside Llewyn Davis used six cats, he said he couldn’t have afforded so many. The entire production budget for A Man Called Ove was a mere $350,000! Quite amazing!

In Montreal, A Man Called Ove is playing at Cineplex Odeon Forum, Cinéma du Parc, and Cinéma Beaubien. One hour, 56 minutes long, In Swedish with English subtitles at Forum and Cinéma du Parc, French subtitles at Cinéma Beaubien.

A Man Called Ove, written and directed by Hannes Holm, with Rolf Lassgård, Filip Berg, Ida Engvoll, Bahar Pars, Tobias Almborg, Poyan Kamiri, Borje Lundberg, Stefan Gödicke

Movie Review: The Founder

the-founder-michael-keaton

Ray Kroc, the main character in The Founder, did not found anything, despite his claims to the contrary made on his business card and elsewhere. He took a small, already existing chain founded by the McDonald brothers and took it national, then international, becoming filthy rich in the process.

Ray Kroc took advantage of Richard and Maurice McDonald and essentially ripped them off for billions of dollars.

While The Founder is not a thriller, I see it as a sort of slow-motion heist movie, albeit without any guns. It’s very well-made and Michael Keaton gives a compelling perfomance as Ray Kroc, but I was totally appalled at Kroc’s behaviour. Wouldn’t, couldn’t call him a hero. Not a nice man at all. And that old tradition of sealing a deal with a handshake, “my word is my bond,” etc., etc? Forget it. Not an honourable man, either. He also stole another man’s wife, though I guess she went willingly. He was often petty too, but I’ll leave those for viewers to discover for themselves.

At the beginning of the film, Kroc is selling mixers that make several milkshakes at a time. Selling one is hard enough, so when a place in California orders several, his curiosity leads him on a trip to San Bernadino (via the legendary Route 66) to see what kind of business is selling so many milkshakes. The McDonald brothers, called Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) in the film, are doing a roaring business at their hamburger-shakes-and fries stand.

Right after Kroc orders a burger, it is placed in front of him in a paper bag. Amazing! Where to eat it? Anywhere. In your car, on a bench, in the park. Plates, cutlery? None of that. . .Eat it with your hands, just as many people around him are doing, with ecstatic expressions on their faces.

John Carroll Lynch, left, as Mac McDonald, and Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, in the film The Founder. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

John Carroll Lynch, left, as Mac McDonald, and Nick Offerman as Dick McDonald, in the film The Founder. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

We’re meant to understand that this was a revolutionary thing at the time. The brothers are quite happy to show Kroc how their employees can work so quickly and efficiently, and reveal how much time they spent refining their methods and fine-tuning the layout of the kitchen. (All their employees were men, if I recall correctly.)

Kroc is very impressed and has visions of McDonald’s restaurants all over the U.S. He shouts “Franchise, franchise, franchise!” to the brothers. They say they’ve already tried that, but bad behaviour by franchisees makes them reluctant to continue expanding.

However, I did read on the Internet that expansion had just paused temporarily, because the person handling franchising for them had fallen ill. They just needed a new employee to continue the work. Kroc becomes that employee.

Dick, Mac and Kroc get along relatively well in person, but things start falling apart when they have to communicate via phone calls and letters. The brothers find Kroc too demanding and too impatient; Kroc is exasperated by their caution and slow decision making. The relationship becomes more and more strained. The brothers realize too late that they “let the fox into the henhouse.” Something has to give.

Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, left, and Laura Dern as his first wife, Ethel. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, left, and Laura Dern as his first wife, Ethel. (Photo: The Weinstein Company)

Laura Dern has the thankless role of Kroc’s first wife, Ethel. She doesn’t get much screen time (just as Ethel probably didn’t get much alimony, either). Mostly she looks sad or worried, and why not? Her husband spends most of his time on the road and his previous schemes did not pan out. Kroc’s remarks to her indicate that he sees her as an unsupportive nag, but there’s no evidence of that at all.

The Founder does not even mention Wife No. 2 (Jane Dobbins Green,1963–1968), and the romancing of wife No. 3 (Joan Mansfield, from 1969 until 1984, when Kroc died) mostly takes place offscreen. Their future together is telegraphed by Kroc’s smitten look when he first sees her, seated at the piano in her husband’s fancy restaurant. To make things clearer still, they sing a duet together, while seated at that piano. They sound quite good, too. The song is “Pennies From Heaven.” Prophetic in another way. (Google tells me that lounge pianist was one of Kroc’s many former jobs.)

Linda Cardellini plays Joan, the woman who becomes Ray Kroc's third wife. Here, she's offering him a choice between vanilla or chocolate powdered milkshakes, with their stabilizers, emulsifiers. etc. "Delicious!" she says, claiming that they taste just the same as milkshakes made from ice cream and fresh milk.

Linda Cardellini plays Joan, the woman who becomes Ray Kroc’s third wife. Here, she’s offering him a choice between vanilla or chocolate powdered milkshakes, with their stabilizers, emulsifiers. etc. “Delicious!” she says, claiming that they taste just the same as milkshakes made from ice cream and fresh milk.

On more than one occasion, Kroc talks about McDonald’s as a special place for U.S. families to gather; he expresses a wish that every town have one, and compares McDonalds to worthy institutions like churches and courthouses. (“McDonald’s can be the new American church!”) I wasn’t sure if that was just hype for the McDonald brothers and his potential investors, if it reflected his true beliefs, or if the scriptwriter Robert D. Siegel was pulling our collective legs.

We alll bring our own view and prejudices to the cinema, so a closing scene, showing Kroc practicing a speech honouring Ronald Reagan, was just another nail in the coffin. Apparently, he also made illegal donations to Richard Nixon, presumably to influence legislation on wage and price controls. On a less serious note, when asked to choose between a chocolate or vanilla ersatz milkshake, he takes the vanilla! So boring.

Ray Kroc died a very rich man. Some viewers might admire him and think he was so clever to outfox the McDonald brothers. I wonder if he had a clear conscience? His third wife gave a lot of that money away, so perhaps she didn’t have one. Could have been a tax dodge, too, of course.

I have no idea why, but Norman Greenbaum’s 1969 hit Spirit in the Sky plays during the closing credits of The Founder. It sounded great coming through the cinema’s sound system, and I enjoyed hearing it, but how is it connected to Ray Kroc’s story? If there is such a place as heaven, I would not expect to find Kroc in it.

The Founder: directed by John Lee Hancock; written by Robert D. Siegel; with Michael Keaton; Laura Dern; Nick Offerman; John Carroll Lynch; Linda Cardellini; Patrick Wilson; B. J. Novak.

FNC 2016: My Short Report From Day 2

In this screen grab from the French documentary Merci Patron!, director Franois Ruffin reads a Robin Hood story to his children. Merci Patron is being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinŽma in Montreal.

In this screen grab from the French documentary Merci Patron!, director Francois Ruffin reads a Robin Hood story to his children. Merci Patron is being shown at the Festival du nouveau cinŽema in Montreal.

Thursday Oct. 6 was the second day of Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma. (It was Day 1 for me though, because I did not attend the opening film Two Lovers and a Bear.)

I saw four films on Thursday and liked three of them. That’s quite decent. Here are very brief descriptions of the films. Real reviews will follow.

In the morning I attended a press screening of the French documentary Merci Patron! Director François Ruffin, who is also the editor-in-chief of alternative news outlet Fakir, put a lot of effort into trying to get Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVHM and the richest man in France, to do the right thing for at least some of the thousands of workers who lost their jobs when he closed their factories and moved the jobs elsewhere.

Merci Patron! is a great film, I’m glad I saw it and I’d certainly recommend it to my friends. It will only be shown once at FNC, and that will be on Sat. Oct. 8, at 5 p.m. at Quartier Latin.  You can read more about it here on the festival’s web site. There’s a link for buying tickets online, too.

Next, I saw Welcome to Iceland. In this black comedy from Swiss director Felix Tissi,  a suicidal man, a couple and a family of four on a trekking holiday meet each other in an inhospitable Icelandic landscape. They are all German-speaking tourists.

I’m glad I saw it and I’d certainly recommend Welcome to Iceland to my friends. Welcome to Iceland  will be shown again on Saturday, Oct. 8 at 9:30 pm at Cinéma du Parc. Read more about it, buy tickets, on the FNC web site.

Then I saw The Death of J.P. Cuenca. This falls between documentary and mock doc. Writer, director and star J.P. Cuenca is a highly praised Brazilian author. One day he finds out that he is officially dead, because a dead man’s companion gave the authorities Cuenca’s birth certificate. He sets out to find out who the man really was, how and why he had his birth certificate, etc.

The film got off to an OK start, but it lost my goodwill before it was over. Obviously some people like it, or it would not be in the FNC lineup, or at other festivals, either. But I’m NOT glad I saw it, and I would not recommend The Death of J.P. Cuenca to my friends. I wish that I had watched something else, or gone for a walk in the sunshine.

If you want to see it anyway, The Death of J.P. Cuenca will be shown again on Sunday, Oct. 9 at 9:15 pm at Cinéma du Parc.

Read more about The Death of J.P. Cuenca on the FNC website.

Next, I watched Late Shift, an interactive film from England. (Before the film started audience members were invited to download an app to their smart phone or tablets.) Matt is a university student who works the night shift in a parking garage. He is kidnapped and forced to take part in a robbery at an auction house. Every few minutes audience members were invited to make a choice for Matt. Help the tourist in the subway, or ignore him and jump on the train? Do what the kidnapper says, or try to run away? The film has seven possible endings. Directors Tobias Weber and Caroline Feder were here for a Q&A.

I enjoyed Late Shift very much and would certainly recommend it, but sadly, it will not have a second screening at FNC. The filmmakers hope to release a non-interactive version in North America within the next few months. They already have distribution deals for several European countries. Keep your eyes and ears open for this one! Read more about Late Shift on the FNC site.

I saw all of the above films at Cinema du Parc. I was hoping to end the evening with 76 Minutes & 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami, over at the Quartier Latin, just off St. Denis. Well. . .

Staying for the Late Shift Q&A ate into my available travelling time, but I don’t regret doing that. In retrospect, taking the 24 bus on Sherbrooke, instead of continuing down the street to the Place des Arts metro, was a bad decision, though. There is so much construction on Sherbrooke that I could not get off the bus anywhere near St. Denis. Since I was already running quite late, I decided to abandon the attempt. So, don’t take the 24 to go to Quartier Latin.

76 Minutes & 15 Seconds With Abbas Kiarostami will be shown again on Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 9 pm at the Pavillon Judith-Jasmin Annexe (former NFB/ONF on St. Denis). With luck I will see it then.

The Festival du nouveau cinéma runs from Oct. 5 to Oct. 16, 2016.

FNC 2015: Film festival offers a triple dose of Al Pacino with Wilde Salomé, Salomé and a personal greeting to Montrealers from the actor

Al Pacino can be seen as King Herod in the films Wild Salome and Salome. The films will be presented, twice, as a double bill at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.

Al Pacino can be seen as King Herod in the films Wilde Salome and Salome. The films will be presented, twice, as a double bill at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.

In 2006 Al Pacino presented a staged reading of the Oscar Wilde play Salomé in Los Angeles. He played King Herod, a role he had played several times before, and the then-unknown Jessica Chastain played Salomé. The actors wore modern dress.

Pacino filmed the play, for a theoretical eventual release. That film is simply called Salomé. (Though back then he was going to call it “Salomaybe.”)

He filmed the rehearsals of Salomé and background material on Oscar Wilde – that film is called Wilde Salomé. It includes remarks about Wilde from Gore Vidal and Bono, among other people, and trips to Wilde’s birthplace in Dublin, his former home in London and the Paris hotel where Wilde died in Nov. 30, 1900 at the young age of 46. We see the infamous wallpaper from his famous quotation: “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”

As a director, Pacino does not hesitate to show himself acting petulant, confused or even ridiculous, as when he stands in the Mojave Desert with a camel.

He’s very funny, too. He says that during the play’s run no one will be asked to turn off their cellphones, because many of the attendees will be doctors or dentists and people might need to reach them in emergencies. He goes on to add that only doctors and dentists could afford the high ticket prices charged by the theatre and that those high prices were not set by him.

Jessica Chastain is the revelation of Wilde Salomé, she’s just luminous. Pacino’s cranky and querulous interpretation of Herod seems a bit weird, but maybe he has his reasons.
I think Wilde Salomé could appeal to just about anyone. Filmmakers, acting students, fans of Oscar Wilde, Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain would find it especially entertaining. That probably covers a lot of people!

FNC 2015 Salome Chastain

Wilde Salomé is being presented along with Salomé (which I have not seen yet), and BONUS! before they begin, attendees will be treated to video Al Pacino recorded just for them. It’s approximately 23 minutes long, and seems to have been made relatively off the cuff. Looking at his hands I wondered if the jewelry he wore as King Herod came from the costume dept. or from his own personal collection.

Wilde Salomé is 95 minutes long, Salomé is 78 minutes, and Al Pacino’s greeting is about 23 minutes long. Read more about Wilde Salomé and Salomé on the FNC website.
Wilde Salomé and Salomé
Monday, Oct. 12, 2015, 12:30
Program #138

Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015, 13:30
Program #317

At Cinéma du Parc, 3675 Ave du Parc

Montreal International Black Film Festival: Low-level Colombian smugglers are just trying to stay alive in Manos Sucias

manos sucias boat
Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands) is a taut tale set in Buenaventura, on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Within the first few minutes we see several tough-looking guys and many serious weapons. (There’s even a little kid nonchalantly cleaning a revolver.) Buenaventura is obviously a dangerous place, and a quick Google search will confirm that, with headlines like: Colombian City’s New Face and Violent Underbelly Collide; Colombian port city terrorised by criminal gangs – BBC News; Welcome to Buenaventura, Colombia’s most violent city.

There are 400,000 people Buenaventura, though we only see a handful of them, in the roughest, poorest parts of town.

Our main characters are Jacobo (Jarlin Martinez) and his younger brother Delio (Cristian Advincula). They’ve been estranged for years but end up working on the same drug run for Don Valentin. It’s the first time that Delio has done this kind of thing; Jacobo is an old hand who plans to move to Bogota once the job is done. That made me suspect that things might not go well for these guys. Just think of all the films have been made about that one last heist, or the cop who is one week, or even one day away from his retirement.

Jacobo and Delio will help a man named Miguel (Hadder Blandon) to pilot a small, battered fishing boat north towards Panama. This will take several days. Attached to the boat is a “torpedo” filled with 100 kg of cocaine in small packets. All of the packets will be weighed at the checkpoint, the guys are told. Point taken, no need to elaborate further.

The torpedo is fitted with a tracking device just in case it comes loose from the boat. (Cough.) Miguel has a cellphone, a GPS locator, and a gun. Delio has a machete that he uses to open coconuts, among other things. Seeing these items, one wonders if, or more likely when, they will be used, and in what circumstances.

Jarlin Martinez plays Jacobo in Manos Sucias, a film from Colombia that's being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Jarlin Martinez plays Jacobo in Manos Sucias, a film from Colombia that’s being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

During their trip they will have to worry about running into guerrillas, the military, the paramilitaries, and anyone else who might have designs on their cargo. These people will feel entitled to take anything they might have, including their lives. There’s nothing dashing or glamourous here. Just danger and dread.

Soccer and racism are recurring themes in Manos Sucias. Before the trip, Jacobo watches an informal game with an old friend. When told about the plan to move to Bogota, the friend says there are no blacks there, or hardly any. They’re only able to get the most horrible jobs, and it’s freezing there, too. Later, Jacobo, Delio and Miguel sit around a campfire, talking about the great soccer stars of the past. Seems like your typical male bonding stuff, until the white Miguel spoils the mood and makes some racist remarks to the Afro-Colombian brothers.

When some unexpected events take Miguel out of the picture, Jacobo and Delio continue with the mission. What else can they do? But what will happen afterwards? (They HAD been told that this would be the “easiest job you ever had.” “Like a paid vacation.” Ha!)

The music Manos Sucias is worth mentioning. Haunting tunes from Grupo Gualajo make use of soaring women’s voices and a marimba.

Fans of Colombian salsa might nod their heads (I did, anyway) when Jacobo has one of those “kids, these days!” chats with his brother, disparaging the rap music that Delio admires and suggesting that he listen to “something good,” like Grupo Niche, Nemus del Pacifico, or Orquesta Guayacan.

Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands) U.S.A./Colombia, 2014, 82 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles
Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka, with Cristian Advincula, Jarlin Martinez, Manuel David Riascos, Hadder Blandon. Spike Lee was an executive producer

Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, at 5 p.m.
At the Former NFB Cinema, 1564 St. Denis
Admission is $10

Check the Montreal International Black Film Festival web site, www.montrealblackfilm.com/ for further pricing details, the film schedule, film synopses and trailers.
The Montreal International Black Film Festival has a Facebook page, too.

2015 Fantasia Film Festival will show 12 feature films from South Korea

Go Soo, left, and Han Suk-kyu in the Korean film The Royal Tailor, one of 12 feature flms from South Korea being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. The Royal Tailor is a period film with beautiful costumes and court intrigue.

Go Soo, left, and Han Suk-kyu in the Korean film The Royal Tailor, one of 12 feature flms from South Korea being shown at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. The Royal Tailor is a period film with beautiful costumes and court intrigue.

The Fantasia International Film Festival (July 14- August 4, 2015) is showing 12 feature films from South Korea this year. Two of them, A Hard Day and Socialphobia, will be shown twice, the rest get one screening only. There are two animated films, Crimson Whale and On the White Planet, palace politics in The Royal Tailor, larger world politics in Assassination, tragedy at sea in Haemoo, gangsters and real estate in Gangnam Blues, gangsters and gambling in Tazza: The Hidden Card. A man is manipulated into playing a deadly game in Big Match. Read below for more information about the films. To see more photos from these films, check out a post I wrote for the Korea-Canada blog.

South Korean films at The Fantasia International Film Festival, by date:

Thursday, July 16, 21:30: OFFICE
Saturday, July 18, 14:15: CRIMSON WHALE
Monday, July 20, 17:15: A HARD DAY
Monday, July 20, 21:40 GANGNAM BLUES
Wednesday, July 22, 17:15: THE ROYAL TAILOR

Friday, July 24, 16:00 ON THE WHITE PLANET
Sunday, July 26, 11:45 TAZZA: THE HIDDEN CARD
Monday, July 27, 21:50 HAEMOO
Wednesday, July 29, 18:45: BIG MATCH
Saturday, August 1, 21:45: SOCIALPHOBIA

Monday, August 3, 12:30: A HARD DAY
Tuesday, August 4, 12:30: SOCIALPHOBIA
Tuesday, August 4, 18:36: ASSASSINATION

South Korean films at The Fantasia International Film Festival are listed below, in alphabetical order, with plot details, stars, directors and dates and theatres. Click on a film’s title for more information; that will take you its page on the Fantasia web site.

ASSASSINATION
A political thriller set in 1933, when Korea was under Japanese occupation. Directed by Choi Dong-hoon, with Gianna Jun, Lee Jung-jae, Ha Jung-woo, Oh Dal-soo, Cho Jin-woong.
Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, at 18:35, Concordia Hall Theatre

BIG MATCH
Lee Jeong-jae plays a mixed-martial artist suspected of murder in this thriller-action-comedy directed by Choi Ho. Other stars include Shin Ha-kyun, singer BoA, Lee Seong-min, Kim Eui-sung.
Wednesday, July 29, at 18:45, Concordia Hall Theatre

CRIMSON WHALE
Science-fantasy set in a devastated future, directed by Park Hye-mi, with voices from Lee Ji-sook, Kim Sung-in, Lee Young-gi, Kim Ji-hyung
Saturday, July 18, 14:15, J.A. de Sève Theatre

GANGNAM BLUES
Set in the 1970s when the now ritzy neighbourhood was just farmland and violent and unscrupulous types with dreams of riches made a killing, in more ways than one. Directed by Yoo Ha, with Lee Min-ho, Kim Rae-won, Jung Jin-young, Kim Ji-soo, Kim Seol-hyun
Monday, July 20, 2015, 21:40, Concordia Hall Theatre

HAEMOO (SEA FOG)
Greed and fear lead to horrific events at sea. Haemoo is based on a real-life tragedy. Directed by: Shim Sung-bo, with Kim Yun-seok, Park Yu-chun, Han Ye-ri, Moon Sung-keun, Kim Sang-ho.
Monday, July 27, 21:50, Concordia Hall Theatre

A HARD DAY
A crooked cop with lots to hide gets calls from someone who knows way too much about his illegal activities. Directed by Kim Seong-hun, with Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Jin-woong, Shin Jung-geun, Jung Man-sik.
Monday, July 20, 2015, 17:15, Concordia Hall Theatre
Monday, Aug. 3 • 12:30, J.A. de Sève Theatre

OFFICE
A murderer is on the loose in an office building. Directed by Hong Won-chan, with Ko A-sung, Park Sung-woong, Bae Seong-woo, Kim Eui-sung, Ryu Hyun-kyung.
Thursday, July 16, 21:30, Concordia Hall Theatre

ON THE WHITE PLANET
“A brooding existential nightmare unfolding within a densely detailed landscape of surreal biological monstrosity, animator Hur Bum-wook’s award-winning debut feature is an intense and troubling tale of violence and vulnerability, hope and despair. Canadian premiere.” Directed by Hur Bum-wook, voices from Hong Bum-ki, Cho Min-su, Seo Yoon-sun, Son Chong-hwan.
Friday, July 24, 16:00, J.A. de Sève Theatre

THE ROYAL TAILOR
Beautiful costumes and palace intrigue in a period drama.
Directed by Lee Won-suk, with Han Seok-kyu, Ko Soo, Park Shin-hye, Yoo Yeon-seok, Ma Dong-seok.
Wednesday, July 22, 17:15, Concordia Hall Theatre

SOCIALPHOBIA
“Social media has scary consequences for two police-tech students and an Internet troll in this masterfully executed first feature film by Hong Seok-jae. Filled with stunning twists and keenly constructed characters . . Winner of the NETPAC and DGK Awards at the Busan Film Festival.” Directed by Hong Seok-jae, with Byun Yo-han, Lee Ju-seung.
Saturday, August 1, 21:45, J.A. de Sève Theatre
Tuesday, August 4, 12:30, J.A. de Sève Theatre

TAZZA: THE HIDDEN CARD
The violent, dirty double-crossing world of gambling. Sequel to Tazza: The High Rollers, with Kim Yun-seok as the baddest of the many bad guys and Choi Seung-hyun, (T.O.P. of boy band Big Bang) as the sort-of hero.
Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, with Choi Seung-hyun, Shin Sae-kyeong, Yoo Hae-jin, Kwak Do-won, Kim Yun-seok
Sunday, July 26, 11:45, Concordia Hall Theatre

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14-Aug. 4, 2015. Read more about the festival at fantasiafestival.com

The Hall Theatre is in the Hall Building of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

The J.A. de Sève Theatre is in the J.W. McConnell Building of Concordia University, 1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

Fantasia film festival menu makes me hungry for the full, tasty feast

Mitch Davis, one of the general directors of the Fantasia International Film Festival, in his usual mood, which is very animated and highly enthusiastic! Davis has been known to knock over plants and other such stage props, which is probably one reason why there aren't any plants on that stage. Photo by Liz Ferguson

Mitch Davis, one of the general directors of the Fantasia International Film Festival, in his usual mood, which is very animated and highly enthusiastic! Davis has been known to knock over plants and other such stage props, which is probably one reason why there aren’t any plants on that stage. Photo by Liz Ferguson

On Tuesday, July 7, 2015, more than 200 people came to Cinéma de Sève at Concordia University to get the latest lowdown on the films, guests, venues and assorted events that make up the 19th edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

The festival will show comedies, dramas, horror, thrillers, action films, animated films and documentaries. There will be spirits, vampires, martial artists, good cops and bad, adorable characters and despicable ones.

There were enthusiastic speeches from the usual suspects, and some trailers, too. I appreciate those trailers immensely – a description from someone who likes a film is nice, but there’s nothing like seeing for yourself!

I saw many intriguing snippets; some of the Japanese films look really quirky, and I mean that in a GOOD way! And I want to see most, probably all, of the 12 Korean films that will be shown at the fest.

Some films are probably too gory for me, because I’m a big scaredy-cat, but that’s OK, I know that others like them. It’s difficult enough to see all the films that I want to see, so being able to rule some out is almost a blessing.
This year, the festival will show 135 feature films from 36 countries; obviously only a few could be mentioned at the press conference. That’s where the Fantasia catalogue and/or web site come in. I do like having a printed catalogue and a printed schedule, but I also appreciate the Fantasia International Film Festival web site, where I can find films by name, country, genre, or director. That’s great for those who want to read about all the documentaries or all the films from a particular country.

In venue news, there will be outdoor screenings on Concordia grounds; the McCord Museum will show films suitable for children (Fantasia shows more of those than you might think!); some films will be shown in the lovely auditorium of the Grand Bibliothèque, near the Berri-UQAM métro.

Among the revelations – Fantasia will show Roar, a rarely-seen film from 1981 that’s been given a new lease on life through Drafthouse Films. I’ve read many articles about it in the past few months, so I’m really eager to see it.

Roar features more than 150 wild cats who were being kept as pets by writer/director Noah Marshall and his family. That family included actressTippi Hedren (from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds) her daughter, actress Melanie Griffith, and two sons. They all act in the film. From what I’ve read, they were lucky to come out of the experience alive. Few people escaped unmauled, or unscratched, though. The film is being marketed with a catchphrase along the lines of: “No animals were harmed in the making of this film, but 70 people were.” Cinematographer Jan de Bont had his scalp torn off, and it took 120 stitches to sew it back onto his head.

Fantasia will also show Haemoo, a Korean film based on a tragic, real-life life incident. Kim Yun-seok is the star, it was produced and co-written by Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer, The Host, Memories of Murder, etc., etc), and directed by Shim Sung-bo, who was one of Bong’s co-writers for Memories of Murder.

Maybe this was announced earlier and I didn’t see it, but Kevin Bacon will come to present the film, Cop Car. Bacon plays a very bad sheriff hot on the trail of two young boys who have stolen his cruiser. There will be a Q&A after the film, and Mitch Davis encouraged everyone to come and ask Bacon lots of questions. He was chortling, in an infectious way, at the possibilities.

For me, the Fantasia press conference, and the festival itself, is like an ideal version of a high-school reunion – fun, friendly, all smiles, no bullies.

There is so much to say about the Fantasia International Film Festival; I guess the best thing is to write several posts, and not to go on and on with this one!

But I would like to say “thank you” to Fantasia organizers for holding their press conference in a place that had enough seats for the invitees. I wish that every organization would do that! Standing up for more than one hour, while also trying to take notes – it isn’t fun at all!

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs from July 14 to Aug. 4, 2015.
Tickets can be bought online from Admission and at the box office. Many films sell out amazingly quickly and many will only be shown once, so if something sounds good to you, avoid disappointment and buy tickets sooner rather than later.

Lost and Love movie review: Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau plays a heartbroken father determined to find his lost son

Lei Zekuan (Andy Lau) passes out fliers with photos of his missing son in a scene from the Chinese film Lost and Love. (China Lion Film Distribution)

Lei Zekuan (Andy Lau) passes out fliers with photos of his missing son in a scene from the Chinese film Lost and Love. (China Lion Film Distribution)

Even though I’m a longtime fan of Hong Kong movie star Andy Lau, I didn’t know that he has made more than 140 films. Busy, busy man!

The versatile actor with the killer cheekbones is equally at home as a handsome, well-dressed guy in frothy rom-coms, as a gangster or cop in crime stories, or as a swashbucking hero in period costume epics.

In Lost and Love (Shi Gu), Lau’s character, Lei Zekuan, is not glamourous, but he is heroic all the same, in his own quiet way.

For 15 years, farmer Lei his been searching for his son, Lei Da, who was abducted while Lei and his wife were working in their orchard. The boy was under his grandmother’s care; someone ran off with him when her back was turned for a moment.

While Lau’s character is sad and subdued, but he’s stubborn, too, determined to carry on and never give up. And he’s not so absorbed in his own quest that he can’t sympathize with others who are in the same boat.

Despite all the paranoia about “stranger danger,” children in North America are more likely to be abducted by a divorced or separated parent who disagrees with a child custody ruling. In China, however, many children are abducted by strangers and sold to carry on the family name, work in the family business, and, eventually, support their new “parents” when old age comes. China’s one child policy and its preference for boys makes child trafficking a lucrative business. In fact, the film’s press notes say that human trafficking (of women and children) is a $30 billion business in China.

And, according to an article on the web site Women of China, before a recent change in legislation, people who bought women or children were only “sentenced to a maximum of three years imprisonment, or detained or put under control for a short time. Most of the buyers only receive a verbal warning, if they did not abuse the women and children before the authorities found them.”

Lost and Love opens with a photo of a beautiful baby, then we see a distraught young woman in a busy intersection – “My child is missing, have you seen her?” she asks, while brandishing photos of her daughter; some do speak with her briefly (“Where did you lose her?” “You should try the Internet,”) while others just hurry by on their way to wherever.

Then the scene switches to Lau, as a weary-looking Lei; he’s one of many men standing on the open deck of a moving ferry. His face is dark from the sun and there are grey hairs in his beard and mustache. No fancy clothes here. He still has his famous sharp cheekbones, though. Lei slumps over his motorcycle, awkwardly trying to nap while his fellow passengers examine the large fabric banner attached to the bike, which shows a photo of his son as a baby, along with details of his disappearance.

One man tells Lei his quest is useless, and he should give up, another man that there’s no way a father could stop looking for his child. Nearby passengers get caught up in the argument and almost come to blows; Lei just waits for the ferry to dock so he can continue his search.

Zeng Shuai (Jing Boran)  repairs Lei Zekuan's damaged motorcycle in a scene from the Chinese film Lost and Love. (China Lion Film Distribution)

Zeng Shuai (Jing Boran) repairs Lei Zekuan’s damaged motorcycle in a scene from the Chinese film Lost and Love. (China Lion Film Distribution)

In an accident that is suggested rather than shown, Lei and his motorcycle sustain some damage. The bike is repaired by young Zeng Shuai (Jing Boran) who reveals that he was abducted himself. Of course, this is very convenient for the plot, but considering how widespread the problem is, it doesn’t seem like such a farfetched development.

Zeng yearns to see his parents again and wonders if they are looking for him, too. He’s distressed, because even in his dreams he can’t see his mother’s face; he can only remember her long braid, a bridge and a bamboo grove. He has practical concerns, too, as a stolen child, without an all-important ID card, he couldn’t continue his education, he can’t marry, he can’t even take a train.

Lei and Zeng hit the road together. China’s major cities might be drowning in air pollution, but there is still some astounding greenery to be seen in the countryside. While they travel, something like a father-son bond develops between them; it’s charming to watch, but they also bicker a lot, which tried my patience. That’s my only complaint about this film, really.

China is huge and so is its population. Trying to find one person seems like an impossible task, but that’s where the power of social media comes in. Lei and Zeng make frequent visits to Internet cafes where they exchange information with people all over China. A woman tells Lei about a teen who might be his son. Hundreds of photos of bridges are sent to Zeng. (The film’s credits mention a real-life organization called Baby Come Home, which has more than 100,000 volunteers across China. Read an English language story about it here, visit the Baby Come Home web site here.)

Tony Leung Ka-Fai, left has a cameo role as a policeman.

Tony Leung Ka-Fai, left, in a cameo role as a policeman, gives Andy Lau directions in the Chinese film Lost and Love. (China Lion Film Distribution)

Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Sandra Ng make cameo appearances in Lost and Love as a police officer and a baby trafficker, respectively.

Lost and Love is written and directed by Peng Sanyuan. She’s a novelist who has also written TV shows, this is the first time she has directed a film.

Lost and Love is in Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles. It opens on Friday, March 20, 2015. In Montreal it will be shown at:
Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas, 2313 Ste. Catherine St. W. Montreal, QC H3H 1N2

Lost and Love will be shown in the Canadian cities of Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. In the U.S. it will be shown in New York State, Washington State, California, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and Michigan. More information about Canadian and U.S. screenings is available here.
Information about Lost and Love screenings in Australia and New Zealand here.