Music

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.

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Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of the documentary Oscar

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

A screen grab from Oscar, an NFB/ONF documentary about jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. The film was directed by Marie-JosŽe Saint-Pierre.

In the 12-minute NFB/ONF documentary Oscar, filmmaker Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre uses animated sequences, archival footage, photos, news clippings and other documents, radio and TV interviews with Montreal-born jazz pianist Oscar Peterson to chart his career and to depict the loneliness of life on the road and the toll it takes on a marriage, on the relationship between a father and his children and on musical performance, too. (Peterson was only 19 when he married for the first time. He tells an unseen interviewer that he should have waited until he was at least 40.)

A telegram reads: “I miss you Daddy. When are you coming home?” We also see a divorce document – genuine or recreated, I don’t know – that lists the respective parties as “Oscar Peterson” and “Mrs. Peterson.” That’s how it was in those days, married women didn’t even have a name of their own. More cringe inducing is a radio segment from 1944 in which announcer Jeff Davis calls 18-year-old Peterson a “coloured boy with amazing fingers.”

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal's Alberta Lounge.

Oscar Peterson had a regular gig at Montreal’s Alberta Lounge.

In addition to talk about the hardships of touring, we see daytime and night-time photos of Montreal back in the 1940s, are reminded how popular our city was with U.S. tourists, and revisit the tale of how U.S. impresario Norman Granz was riding in a Montreal taxi when he heard Peterson on a live radio broadcast from the Alberta Lounge. Granz instructed the driver to take him there right away.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

When he was still a young man, Oscar Peterson shared a bill at Carnegia Hall with his idols Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown.

In the next sequence, Granz has taken Peterson to Carnegie Hall, where he plays on a bill that includes Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. (Granz was Peterson’s manager for most of his life; a New York Times obituary for Granz says that Peterson named one of his sons after him. Google tells me that late in life Peterson had a daughter named Celine. Was she named for our national songbird? Anybody know?)

An animated depiction of CBC radio host Peter Gzowski is astounded when Peterson tells him that he thinks ahead while he’s playing, or more precisely, that he plays behind his thinking.

Needless to say, Oscar contains lots of Peterson’s music, too, a bonus for old fans and newly created ones.

Oscar is part of a three-film selection called Animating Reality 1: Familiar Faces, that will be shown on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., as part of the Sommets du cinéma d’animation film festival, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise, 335, de Maisonneuve Blvd. E.

NOTE: Casino, a 4-minute film by Montreal director Steven Woloshen, uses music by Oscar Peterson. Casino is among the films in the International Competition – Programme 3, that will be shown at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 27, at 1:15 p.m., at the Sommets du cinéma d’animation.

 

FNC 2016: El Gusto review

Chaabi orchestra El Gusto in concert.

Chaabi orchestra El Gusto in concert.

Two-sentence review: There is some fantastic music in the documentary El Gusto. I heartily suggest that you watch it!

Longer review: The documentary El Gusto is about Algerian chaabi music in general, and some musicians who used to play it, who came together to play it again, after many years apart. The film has been called the Algerian version of the Buena Vista Social Club.

The film has three main elements – a tour through the narrow, twisty streets of old Algiers, anecdotes about chaabi and life in Algeria, before and after the country’s independence from France, and musical performances.

Chaabi music has roots in Arab, Berber and Andalusian music. It was heard at weddings, parties and in the bars and cafés of the Casbah. Have you heard Rachid Taha sing Ya Rayah? That’s a chaabi tune, though Taha is usually described as someone who sings rai.

Chaabi orchestras include piano, violins, lutes, ouds, mandoles, banjos, zithers, accordions, drums and tambourines. People had already been playing it for decades when El Hadj Mohammed El Anka began teaching formal classes at the Municipal Conservatory of Algiers in the 1950s. Back then Muslims and Jews were neighbours and friends who partied together and made music together.

Safinez Bousbia, the film’s director, was studying architecture in Ireland in 2003 when she took a vacation trip to Algiers, the city where she was born. While discussing a purchase in Mohamed Ferkioui’s mirror shop, she learned about his earlier life as a chaabi musician. He was among the first graduates of the El Anka’s course at the conservatory.

Bousbia was so fascinated by his story that she wanted to find out what had happened to the other musicians, and to help them re-connect with one another. It took her several years to locate them. Some were still in Algeria while others had moved to Paris or Marseille long ago. Once the connections were made, they wanted to meet and they also wanted to play together again. They did so under the name El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers. The film includes footage from rehearsals and concerts in Algeria and France. An audience in France enthusiastically sings along to Ya Rayah. (The group went on to perform in the U.S. and the U.K., as well.)

You can preview and buy the group’s two albums, Abdel Hadi Halo & The El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers, and Orchestre El Gusto on iTunes.

El Gusto, directed by Safinez Bousbia, In French and Arabic with French subtitles, 93 minutes long.

With Mamad Haïder Benchaouch, Rachid Berkani, Ahmed Bernaoui,  Robert Castel, Abdelkader Chercham, Luc Cherki, Maurice El Medioni, Abdelrahmane Guellat, Joseph Hadjaj,  Liamine Haimoun (and many more).

El Gusto will be shown Monday Oct, 10, 2016, at 13:30, at Cinéma du Parc as part of the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma in Montreal.

Read more about the film and buy tickets on the FNC web site.

Fantasia 2016 Review: Too Young To Die!

Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Fim Festival in Montreal.

Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Too Young To Die! is full of laughs, music, demons, and love. It’s educational, too!

I saw this raucous crowd pleaser in the very best circumstances possible, with hundreds of other enthusiastic film fans at the Fantasia International Film Festival, right here in Montreal.

Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and his fellow high-school students are riding a bus home after a field trip. Earlier, Daisuke had bribed a friend to change seats with him so he could sit next to his crush, Hiromi (Aoi Morikawa). They are having a shy chat when the bus goes over a cliff.

Daisuke wakes up in Buddhist Hell wondering what he did to end up there and how he could be so much worse than his fellow classmates. None of them are there with him, even though initial reports say that all the students on the bus died, except one.

Daisuke tells Killer K (Tomoya Nagase) a long-haired, horned, fanged guitar-playing demon, that he wants to go wherever Hiromi is. (He hopes she’s alive but he assumes that she’s in Heaven.) When Killer K says that no one has ever gone from Hell to Heaven before, Daisuke vows to do his best to be the first person to do that.

In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he'll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.

In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he’ll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.

There will be many challenges ahead! Daisuke has to haul heavy loads AND attend Hell Agricultural High School, too!  He’ll have to work very hard in Hell to be re-incarnated on Earth. What kind of creature he will be depends on his own efforts and the whims of Lord Enma, who sits in judgement. I’d be going into serious spoiler territory if I mentioned ALL of his reincarnations, though they include a bird, performing sea lion, a dog, and a giant scorpion. It’s pretty hilarious to watch Daisuke, who returns to his family home as a pale blue parakeet, frantically trying to delete a naughty video from his smartphone, and send one last text message to Hiromi.

Daisuke will get seven chances to redeem himself, but if he fails, he will turn into a demon like Killer K. Already his face is getting a bit redder, his teeth are longer and sharper and he can feel little bumps on his head where his future horns might sprout.

Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.

Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.

Joining Hiromi is Daisuke’s main concern, but there’s a secondary plot line about a demonic battle of the bands. Killer K wants to recruit Daisuke for his group, Heruzu (Hells). This plot provides several tunes, some outrageous gags and an ultimate pyrotechnical showdown.

Despite the abundance of laughs and silly situations, Too Young to Die! is also a genuine love story. Years go by, but Daisuke’s love for Hiromi never wavers.  I found it very touching.

Writer and director Kankuro Kudo is obviously taking lots of liberties with his depiction of the Buddhist underworld, but he didn’t make it all up, either. Just Google Lord Enma and Ox-Face and Horse-Head for some background, and you’ll see. That’s why Too Young to Die! is also educational.

Musical Notes: Tomoya Nagase, who plays Killer K, is a musician in a band called Tokio. Director Kudo plays guitar in a band called Group Tamashii.  

Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tomoya Nagase, Kenta Kiritani and Nana Seino played the film’s title track at the Tokyo Metropolitan Rock Festival in May. If you like the songs in the film and you’ve got money to spare, you can order the film’s sound track from CD Japan.

Another film: Ryunosuke Kamiki and Takeru Satoh play high school students who write a manga in Bakuman, also shown at Fantasia this year. (You can read my review of Bakuman here.)

Interesting coincidence: Before the bus crash, Daisuke bought Hiromi an amulet at a temple. A few days after watching the film, I saw a guy on the metro with a similar amulet hanging off his knapsack. I would have liked to ask him about it, but I didn’t get the chance before I had to get off the train to watch another Fantasia film.

Too Young To Die!
125 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Director: Kankuro Kudo
Screenplay: Kankuro Kudo
Cast: Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Kenta Kiritani, Nana Seino, Aoi Morikawa, Arata Furuta

Review: B-Movie Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979 -1989

In a scene from the documentary film B-Movie Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979-1989, Mark Reeder gives TV presenter Muriel Gray a tour of West Berlin in 1983.

In a scene from the documentary film B-Movie Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979-1989, Mark Reeder gives TV presenter Muriel Gray a tour of West Berlin in 1983.

B-Movie Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979-1989 – it’s long and unwieldy, but it’s also quite straightforward, unlike some film titles. It doesn’t need to be decoded or anything.

B-Movie is a documentary film with three directors (Klaus Maeck, Jörg Hoppe, Heiko Lange) and one guide – Mark Reeder, a musician and one-time record store employee from Manchester, England, whose interest in German music took him to Berlin in the late 1970s.

The directors had access to many film clips from the era, including some by Reeder himself, and they use Reeder’s experiences and his narration to tie everything together. Actor Marius Weber plays Reeder in some re-enactments. Mark Reeder is 58 now, but his voice still sounds youthful and enthusiastic, like that of a person still in his 20s.
And lest we think the film is only about looking backwards, Reeder told The New Statesman “Artists still come to Berlin searching for something, whether they stay for a few months or a few years. And this film is about inspiration. Not nostalgia.”

Footage includes day and night streetscapes, violent demonstrations, musical performances, interviews and visits to music clubs. (Reeder explains that typical night out might begin at midnight and end at 7 or 8 a.m.). German bands who play and talk include Malaria!, Shark Vegas, Einstürzende Neubauten, Die Tödliche Doris, Die Artze, and Die Toten Hosen.(Blixa Bargeld of Einstürzende Neubauten played with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds between 1983 and 2003.) There is a brief glimpse of Nena, who had the hit 99 Luft Balloons. Musician Farin Urlaub appears, wearing a clerical collar.

Singer Eric Burdon appears with a rodent on his shoulder, artist Keith Haring paints the Berlin Wall, TV star David Hasselhoff sings while wearing a flashing-light jacket AND a piano key scarf – guess he’s not one of those “less is more” types.

These days, Tilda Swinton looks ageless to me, but we see a few seconds of her looking really young. Swinton appeared in the 1991 German film The Party: Nature Morte; presumably Reeder met her through his bit part in it. (His part was “Drunk.”)

In regard to artists from English-speaking countries, the Australian Nick Cave gets the most screen time. He lived in West Berlin for three years and stayed with Reeder until he found a place of his own.

West Berlin rents were cheap in those days, though Reeder and many others lived in “squats” and didn’t pay any rent at all. Nevertheless, a person needs some money to live on and Reeder earned his as the Berlin representative of British company Factory Records, as a record producer, a band manager, and dubbing porn films. In addition to The Party, he also appeared in Joan of Arc of Mongolia, and the horror film Nekromantik 2, directed by Jörg Buttgereit.

My one quibble with this film: Reeder has a fetish for uniforms, because they “hard-wearing, practical and they get people mad.” Some of them are Nazi uniforms, or the look like Nazi uniforms. For me, that’s just creepy and distasteful.

B-Movie Lust & Sound in West-Berlin 1979- 1989, is being shown at 7 pm, Thursday, May 5, 2016 at Cinema du Parc, 3575 av du Parc, as part of the Goethe Institute’s once-a-month Achtung Film series. It’s 92 minutes long, in German with English subtitles.

RIDM+ Documentary night takes us Around the World in 50 Concerts

 

Around the World in 50 Concerts is a film about a world tour by he Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreal's RIDM film festival.

Around the World in 50 Concerts is a film about a world tour by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreal’s RIDM film festival.

RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival, takes place in November. But, to keep memories of the festival alive, and to give film fans a treat, RIDM+ presents a film on the last Thursday of the month.

January’s selection is Around the World in 50 Concerts. Filmmaker Heddy Honigmann accompanies the musicians of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra on a world tour to celebrate the orchestra’s 125th anniversary. Despite the name, the film does not include excerpts from 50 concerts; most of the scenes were shot in Buenos Aires, Johannesburg and St. Petersburg.

There’s lots of praise for Around the World in 50 Concerts on the Internet. The Hollywood Reporter says it is “accessibly entertaining and suitable for audiences old and young, including those previously immune to classical music’s charms,” and the New York Times takes note of its “ecstatic impressionism, shot through with melancholy.”
On the web site of the New Zealand Film Festival: “It’s impossible to imagine a more appreciative observer of the venture than Honigmann. Her alertness to what drives musicians to dedicate their lives to performing is matched by a subtle understanding of the consolations that music can offer to any of us. And both are rendered all the more potent by her abiding sensitivity to exile, whether it be felt by a young flautist in his hotel room missing a son’s birthday halfway across the world; or by an elderly Russian who finds in Mahler’s Symphony No 8 a conduit to the vanished world of his mother who once heard it conducted by the composer himself.”
In POV Magazine, Marc Glassman says: “Honigmann is a true artist and arguably, the finest Dutch documentary director living today. (Like Canada, Holland has a fine documentary tradition, so that’s quite a statement).”

“Honigmann makes films that honour their subjects but go farther than most docs take us. In Around the World, she starts the film with the orchestra’s percussionist. What’s it like to play for only a minute in a symphony? The musician lights up and launches into a detailed explanation of how one should play the cymbals quite spectacularly—-but briefly—in the second movement of Bruckner’s 7th. The anticipation of the moment and the delight when he rises and adds his spectacular KLANG to the symphony is blissfully human.”

Members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra share laughs in a scene from Around the World in 50 Concerts. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreals RIDM film festival.

Members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra share laughs in a scene from Around the World in 50 Concerts. The documentary by Heddy Honigmann is the January selection for RIDM+, an offshoot of Montreals RIDM film festival.

Ronnie Scheib of Variety writes: “Honigmann focuses on individual orchestra and audience members without fanfare, allowing them virtuoso riffs but never losing sight of the ensemble. . . Orchestra members, accustomed to her company, seem to spontaneously confide in her, telling her stories. Audience members, interviewed one-on-one in moving vehicles or in their homes, enter more fully into a dialogue with Honigmann, their exchanges very casual and conversational.” Reader Kazuhiro Soda added this enthusiastic comment to the Variety article: “I saw this film at MoMA. It was a masterpiece. It is definitely one of the best movies ever made about music but it’s much more. As always, Heddy showed us the best part of our humanity. She reminds us that there’s something beautiful in this world despite all the violence and miseries. One of the musicians in the film said that art is larger than politics. By watching the film, I truly believed it. Heddy’s approach to documentary is so classical but at the same time very modern and new.”
On his web site The Whole Note, Paul Ennis says: “The power of music to elevate, soothe and communicate is at the core of this moving documentary.” Ennis also gives a rundown of some of the music in the film: “Bruckner’s Seventh, Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Violin Concerto, Verdi’s Requiem, Mahler’s First, Second and Eighth among others.”

Check out the trailer for Around the World in 50 Concerts below. I noticed that here are lots of smiles in it.

A 15-minute short film, Le Son Du Silence, directed by Maxim Rheault, will be shown before Around the World in 50 Concerts. Laetitia Grou, the producer of Le Son Du Silence, will be there.
Le Son Du Silence and Around the World in 50 Concerts, 8 p.m., Thursday, January 28, 2016, at Cinéma du parc, 3575 Ave du Parc.

Buy tickets online here.

 

 

 

RIDM 2015: Music documentary Making a Monster comes highly recommended

Malcolm Brickhouse of the heavy metal band Unlocking The Truth, in a scene from the documentary film Breaking a Monster. It's one of several films about music being shown at RIDM, MOntreal's documentary film festival.

Malcolm Brickhouse of the heavy metal band Unlocking The Truth, in a scene from the documentary film Breaking a Monster. It’s one of several films about music being shown at RIDM, MOntreal’s documentary film festival.

I haven’t managed to watch Breaking a Monster yet, but it sounds really intriguing, so I’ll tell you about it by quoting the reviews of others.

The synopsis on the RIDM web site says: “In 2007, three African-American pre-teen metal heads became instant celebrities after posting videos of their street performances in Times Square. Their recently formed band, Unlocking the Truth, came to the attention of the Jonas Brothers’ manager, an ex-hippie with a nose for a hit who negotiated a lucrative recording contract for them. Surrounded by music-industry pros, the three friends had to learn in a hurry how to cope with stardom and protect their identity while making the most of the marketing strategies developed by white adults who “want what’s best for them.” A funny, incisive look at music marketing today.”

Rob Aldam of Backseat Mafia reviews Breaking a Monster from the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival: (Director Luke) “Meyer allows the three to do their own talking and they’re all charismatic, intelligent and engaging characters. . . Breaking A Monster is an extremely funny and perceptive insight into the inner working of the music industry, where absurdity and infuriation abound. There’s much to love here, not least the three stars who hopefully have a bright future ahead in the music industry.”

Doug Dillaman saw it at the Sydney Film Festival in Australia and reviewed Breaking a Monster for The Lumiere Reader. He says: “we are fully immersed into both the band’s home world and the music industry without on-screen text to identify people; just like the teens themselves, we struggle to keep up, and have to decide what’s invaluable industry expertise and what’s laugh-out-loud absurdity, whether the industry pros have their best interests at heart, and whether the teens might just be happier playing Angry Birds and skateboarding. Tastefully shot and expertly cut, it’s superlative not just as music documentary but as a documentary in general. If the film has a flaw, it’s that, by necessity, it ends before it feels over; the story is still to be written, but if Meyer can retain his access after this film goes wide, I’d happily take a sequel.” (Italics are mine. That’s great praise, I think!)
Lanre Bakare reviewed Breaking a Monster for The Guardian: “Meyer’s success comes from understanding that the interesting thing about a rock band made up of 12-year-olds is their unique approach to rock’n’roll situations we’ve all seen a thousand times. When in meetings about their contract they play Flappy Birds; when they get to a hotel room they have a pillow fight rather than chucking a TV out of a window; and if something isn’t going the way they want it to, they turn to their mums. It’s a charming and engaging mix. . .”

(There are other positive reviews out there, but I didn’t find them as quotable as the ones above.)

Breaking A Monster
Directed by Luke Meyer
Country : United States
Year : 2015
Language : English
Runtime : 93 min.
Production : Tom Davis, Thad Luckinbill, Trent Luckinbill, Molly Smith
Cinematography : Ethan Palmer, Hillary Spera
Editing : Brad Turner
Sound : Tom Paul
Contact :(Production) Tom Davis, Seethink Films, tom@seethink.com

Monday, Nov. 16, 2015, 5:30 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc 1, 3575 Park

RIDM 2015 Review: They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile

Members of the band Songhoy Blues are among the musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

Members of the band Songhoy Blues are among the musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile is a documentary about the difficulties faced by residents of northern Mali, especially the musicians, after a Tuareg rebellion in 2012 was hijacked by Islamist forces. Mosques, tombs, libraries, and ancient manuscripts were destroyed. The imposition of sharia law meant veils for women, amputated limbs for convicted thieves and a ban on all music – even ringtones on cellphones. Musicians fled cities like Gao and Timbuktu in fear for their lives. Among those who appear in the film, some went to Bamako, in Mali’s south, while others went to refugee camps in Burkina Faso.

Malian musician Fadimata Walett Oumar, who is nicknamed Disco, right, and her husband Hassan (Jimmy) Mehdi, in a scene from the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. The film is being shown at RIDM, Montreal's documentary film festival.

Malian musician Fadimata Walett Oumar, who is nicknamed Disco, right, and her husband Hassan (Jimmy) Mehdi, in a scene from the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile. The film is being shown at RIDM, Montreal’s documentary film festival.

The people we meet include established stars Khaira Arby and Fadimata Walett Oumar (nicknamed Disco, because she was a big Madonna fan in her younger days). Disco is a longstanding member of the group Tartit, though it is not named until near the end of the film. She is also married to a high-ranking Malian soldier who changes allegiance more than once, which makes their lives somewhat complicated. The film also serves as a promotional vehicle for a younger band called Songhoy Blues, and includes footage from their U.K. tour. (Earlier this year, they toured North America, making stops at SXSW and in Toronto, too.) You can find music by Khaira Arby, Tartit and Songhoy Blues on iTunes; click on their names to go there. The film’s soundtrack will be released, but sadly, it isn’t ready yet. If you like what you heard in the film, check out Tinariwen, as well.

Khaira Arby is among the Malian musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

Khaira Arby is among the Malian musicians who appear in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile.

Most of us will never see the wonders of Timbuktu in person, so I appreciated glimpses of them in the film. I suspect that some scenes were shot before the widespread destruction and that many of those intriguing structures no longer exist.

At 100 minutes, the film seems stretched out. I expected lots of music, since it is about musicians, after all, but got tantalizing snippets instead. There is lots of talking, and some of it is repetitive. Perhaps I am just a victim of my own expectations – the film has many positive reviews on the Internet. Sample quote from a review in the Austin Chronicle:
“Social journalism of the highest order, They Will Have to Kill Us First is by turns horrific and front-loaded with sonic heroism. It’s also one of the most vibrantly shot and masterfully edited documentaries of this or any other SXSW year.”

Full disclosure, I did watch They Will Have To Kill Us First at home via an online screener, which must have reduced its power considerably.

(Justified) spoiler: The film ends with a joyous outdoor concert in Timbuktu, with lots of happy women and children among the audience.
They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile (Click on the film’s name to read more about it on the RIDM web site.)

Friday, Nov. 13, 2:30 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc 1 (Buy tickets here)

Saturday, Nov. 14, 215 p.m.
Cinéma Du Parc 2 (Buy tickets here)

They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile
Country : Mali, United Kingdom
Year : 2015
Language : English, Bambara, French, Songhay
Subtitles : English
Runtime : 100 min
Production : Kat Amara Korba, Sarah Mosses, Johanna Schwartz, John Schwartz
Cinematography : Karelle Walker
Editing : Andrea Carnevali, Guy Creasey
Sound : Phitz Hearne
RIDM (Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal) runs from Nov. 12-22, 2015. Visit the web site ridm.qc.ca for more information about the festival.

FNC 2015 Review: Chinese punk musicians have their say in Never Release My Fist

Wu Wei, standing, centre rear, with his fellow punk musicians outside his bar in Wuhan, China. Note the bagpipes! The history of Chinese punk music is explored in the documentary Never Release My Fist, by Shuibo Wang.

Wu Wei, standing, centre rear, with his fellow punk musicians outside his bar in Wuhan, China. Note the bagpipes! The history of Chinese punk music is explored in the documentary Never Release My Fist, by Shuibo Wang.

If you like punk music, China, or documentary films, then Never Release My Fist is especially for you. But really, I think this film would appeal to any living, breathing person with an interest in his or her fellow human beings, and how they live their lives, struggle to survive, and try to express themselves. I liked it a lot; if I didn’t have another musical commitment today, I would watch it again!

Montreal documentary filmmaker Shuibo Wang received an Oscar nomination for his NFB short, Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square. In Never Release My Fist he explores the world of Chinese punk, with particular attention paid to Wu Wei, who is often described as the father of Chinese punk. He formed his band SMZB in 1996.

Wu Wei describes himself as unemployed and aimless in the first few years after he finished high school, but he now comes across as very thoughtful and articulate man, distressed by the politics and rampant consumer culture in China. All the same, his lyrics sound quite poetic.

Wu Wei is from the city of Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province in central China. It’s a city of 10 million people known for heavy industry but it also has several universities, with as many as one million students (potential fans! Though director Wang says that most young Chinese prefer pop music).
While he benefited from some time in Beijing, Wuhan is where Wu Wei played most of his music, and it became the punk hotspot of China.

Musicians everywhere have tough lives, but the punks of Wuhan had little money to buy instruments, few places to play, and they faced government censorship as well. Text messages and email were intercepted.

An image from Never Release My Fist, a documentary film about punk rock in China. It's part of the lineup at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.

An image from Never Release My Fist, a documentary film about punk rock in China. It’s part of the lineup at the Festival du nouveau cinema in Montreal.

Wu Wei might be the main star of the film but his bandmates, former bandmates and fellow punk musicians get their share of screen time. Punk in Wuhan was not just a guy thing, either. Women played a big part, too. We see their performances and they share their sometimes harrowing stories and as well.

At some point SMZB included bagpipes and a violin to some songs, a very interesting touch! And Hou Hsiao Hsien uses bagpipes in the closing credits of The Assassin. Are bagpipes a thing in China now?

Filmmaker Shuibo Wang was able to use lots of great vintage footage that was shot before he ever met the musicians. He will attend the screening and answer questions after the film.

Festival du nouveau cinema programmer Julien Fonfrede, left, and Montreal director Shuibo Wang. (Photo copyright Maryse Boyce)

Festival du nouveau cinema programmer Julien Fonfrede, left, and Montreal director Shuibo Wang. (Photo copyright Maryse Boyce)

Never Release My Fist is being shown as part of the Festival du nouveau cinéma, which runs from Oct. 7 – Oct. 18, 2015. Visit the FNC web site for more information about Never Release My Fist.

Never Release My Fist
Directed by Shuibo Wang
China, Canada | 87 minutes | 2015, in Cantonese with English subtitles
Saturday, Oct.17, 2015, 17:00
Program #283
Cinéma du Parc 2, 3575 Ave. du Parc

Montreal International Black Film Festival: Thursday night choices include music and memory loss in New Orleans, struggling siblings in a South African township

Aunjanue Ellis, left, and Bill Cobbs in Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, one of the films being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Aunjanue Ellis, left, and Bill Cobbs in Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, one of the films being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Many Montreal film festivals show several films at the same time, which can make life difficult for fans. How to choose?

Here are brief reviews of the two films that will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 at part of the Montreal International Black Film Festival; I hope that they are helpful!

Una Vida: Of Mind and Music is a gentle tale that unfolds in an unhurried way. Dr. Alvaro Cruz (Joaquim de Almeida) is a neuroscientist who lives in New Orleans. Appropriately enough for someone who lives there, he likes jazz and blues. His mother has Alzheimer’s disease.

Soon after the film begins he is overcome by guilt because his mother died when he was away at a medical conference. He keeps dreaming of a time in his childhood when he got lost while chasing an elusive butterfly.

He takes time off from work to just kinda hang around. He meets an elderly musical couple – singer Una Vida, and guitarist Stompleg. They play on the street and in a small bar. He can see that the woman’s memory is failing, though her songs seem more firmly rooted in her brain than other things are. As a scientist, he is intrigued by this situation; as a human being he wants to help if he can.

Everyone seems to like Dr Cruz, except for a young woman named Jessica, who does a lousy job of helping Stompleg to look after Una Vida. She is hostile and suspicious and tells him to stay away. of course, we know that he won’t, don’t we?

Oh, for what it’s worth – Una Vida is also known as Queenie, though her real name is Maizie.
There are some nice tunes in Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, but there isn’t really much of a plot. The fortysomething actress Aunjanue Ellis, who plays Una Visa, is made up to look much older, yet her voice still sounds quite youthful most of the time. The film is based on a novel written by a real life neuroscientist Nicolas Bazan. It has many rave reviews on Amazon.com.

Una Vida: Of Mind and Music, 2014, U.S.A., 97 minutes, In English, with some Spanish dialogue when Dr Cruz talks to his mother.
Director: Richie Adams
Cast: Joaquim De Almeida, Bill Cobbs, Ruth Negga, Sharon Lawrence and Aunjanue Ellis
Screenwriter: Richie Adams, Nicholas Bazan
Producers: Richie Adams, Brent Caballero, Nicolas Bazan, Nancy Green-Keyes

Busisiwe Mtshali plays Zanele in the South African film Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us), which is one of the selections at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Busisiwe Mtshali plays Zanele in the South African film Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us), which is one of the selections at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us) is about high-school student Zanele, and her older brother Thulas, who is raising her in the Johannesburg township of Alexandra. He is very strict and stern with Zanele, though he makes his living from robbing the homes of rich people. (We don’t actually see them do it, we just hear Thulas and his friends talk about it, and we see a bit of the loot.)

Zanele and her friend Tumi look very young in their school uniforms and white ankle socks, but Tumi is already flirting and accepting rides, meals, drinks and money from smarmy older men who own cars. She calls one of them the Minister of Finance. There are always lots of people in the street, so her behaviour does not pass unnoticed.

Thulas orders his sister to stay away from Tumi, but rebellious Zanele remains loyal to her friend. We know that this is bound to lead to trouble.

There are some very uncomfortable scenes in Thina Sobabili, and certain connections and coincidences seem too a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive, especially considering the fact that it was made on a tiny budget and shot in a mere seven days. Thina Sobabili is South Africa’s submission for the foreign-language Oscar.

Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us) 2015, 90 minutes, South Africa, in Zulu with English subtitles,
Director: Ernest Nkosi
Cast: Richard Lukunku, Emmanuel Nkosinathi Gweva, Zikhona Sodlaka, Thato Dhladla, Busisiwe Mtshali and Mpho (Popps) Modikoane
Screenplay: Ernest Nkosi, Mosibudi Pheeha
Producers: Ernest Nkosi, Enos Manthata, Mosibudi Pheeha
Una Vida: Of Mind and Music
Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, 7 p.m.
Cineplex Quartier Latin, 350 Emery St.

Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us)
Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, 7 p.m.
Former NFB Cinema
(Judith Jasmin Annexe)
1564 St. Denis

Tickets are $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.