FAM D: Serge Elissalde, Grégoire Solotareff w/ Vahina Giocante, Guillaume Gallienne (voices). France. 71 min. Saturday, September 9, 9:45 AM ISABEL BADER THEATRE; Monday, September 11, 7:30 PM VARSITY 4 or 5; Saturday, September 16, 5:30 PM VARSITY 5 Rating: NN
Your understanding of this bizarre animation production might be helped by inhaling whatever hallucinogens the writer and director must have enjoyed while creating this beyond-strange little film. The sexual undertones - overly endowed bunny figure who makes breast-shaped pies - and other confusing messages are entirely inappropriate for children, and the story, about a girl who needs help and the unicorn named U who aids her, is too simplistic to recommend to adults.
Too bad, because the hand-painted animation, with its rich palette of darks and lights, is worthy of a better film.
EMPz 4 Life
MAST D: Allan King. Canada. 113 min. Saturday, September 9, 11:45 AM VARSITY 8; Monday, September 11, 5:45 PM VARSITY 7 Rating: NNNN
The septuagenarian King turns his vérité camera on the 'hood - in this case, Scarberia - to follow Brian Henry, a sort of freelance social worker who's trying to intervene with "at risk" youth to get them, and their schools, to focus on their academic skills. Henry's life is depicted as a shifting landscape of hope, anger and despair, from watching his kids succeed with the benefit of advanced math tutoring to being stopped for DWB (driving while black) by Toronto's finest. Slow-building and powerful.
THE WHITE PLANET
GALA D: Thierry Ragobert, Thierry Piantanida, Jean Lemire. Canada/France. 86 min. Saturday, September 9, 1:30 PM ROY THOMSON HALL; Monday, September 11, 9 PM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NNN
Call it a coffee-table movie. Think March Of The Penguins with even more spectacular photography, more diverse animals and far less narration. It's a year in the life of the High Arctic, and it's purely amazing: a polar bear in her burrow with her infants, the graceful hop of the Arctic fox, narwhals breaching, a mind-bogglingly vast caribou migration.
Bruno Coulais's Morricone-like score mixes Inuit singing with Western instruments to keep emotion high, which is the whole point here. The filmmakers tell us, briefly, that the environment is fragile and under siege. But we have to take their word for it.
All we see is the beauty.
SPEC D: Jennifer Baichwal. Canada. 90 min. Saturday, September 9, 3 PM ISABEL BADER; Friday, September 15, 8 PM VARSITY 1 or 6 Rating: NNNN
See review, page 59.
CWC D: Alejandro Monteverde w/ Eduardo Verástegui, Tammy Blanchard. U.S. 91 min. Saturday, September 9, 3:30 PM PARAMOUNT 1; Tuesday, September 12, 9:30 PM PARAMOUNT 2; Saturday, September 16, 2:15 PM VARSITY 6 Rating: NN
A former soccer player (Verástegui) turned chef bonds with a troubled server in his brother's restaurant in this melodramatic tale about two people haunted by their pasts.
Monteverde can't decide what sort of film he's making. We're meant to believe that Jose is unable to feel anything, but one encounter with Nina (Blanchard) brings about a great change. Attempts at suspense are equally odd; when the "secret" is finally revealed, nobody is surprised, yet Jose insists on spelling out every last detail. The supporting players are well cast and make the most of their scenes, but Verástegui is a real find. He's got smouldering good looks and the talent to go with them.
THE U.S. VS. JOHN LENNON?
RTR D: David Leaf, John Scheinfeld. U.S. 96 min. Saturday, September 9, 3:30 PM RYERSON; Monday, September 11, 8 PM VARSITY 2 or 3 Rating: NNN
Produced by VH1, this is another rockumentary that relies on talking heads and sound bites to organize its narrative, because it seems to fear using voice-over and becoming an episode of Behind The Music.
It's part of the ongoing strip mining of boomer nostalgia for everything Beatles and focuses on Lennon's early American post-Beatles period, his forays into radical chic and the attempts of the Nixon administration to deport him. There's some good period documentary footage and a sampling of Lennon's music from the Plastic Ono Band period. Yoko Ono cooperated. Blandly respectable.
THE ART OF CRYING
DISC D: Peter Schønau Fog w/ Jannik Lorenzen, Jesper Asholt. Denmark. 106 min. Saturday, September 9, 6 PM PARAMOUNT 3; Monday, September 11, 3:15 PM CUMBERLAND 2; Friday, September 15, 4:45 PM VARSITY 5 Rating: NNN
An unusual and disturbing story about a young boy's coming of age is offset by some surprisingly well-placed moments of dark humour.
Poor little Allan (Lorenzen) thinks the only thing wrong with his family is that Dad (Asholt) cries every night, threatening to kill himself. What Allan doesn't realize is that the way his father gets cheered up is the real issue.
A showcase for everyone involved, this is an ideal Discovery selection. Lorenzen proves he has talent beyond his years, Hanne Hedelund has a poignant turn as the frustrated mother, and Fog's first feature establishes him as a kind of Danish Todd Solondz, able to wring laughter out of the most unsettling and truthful scenes.
STRANGER THAN FICTION
SPEC D: Marc Forster w/ Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson. U.S. 113 min. Saturday, September 9, 6 PM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN); Monday, September 11, 12:30 PM RYERSON Rating: NNNN
See review, page 40.
CWC D: Rachid Bouchareb w/ Jamel Debbouze, Roschdy Zem. France/Morocco/Algeria/Belgium. 120 min. Saturday, September 9, 6:15 PM VARSITY 1; Tuesday, September 12, 11:15 AM PARAMOUNT 4 Rating: NNNN
This is a heartfelt and compelling attempt to rescue from oblivion the 130,000 forgotten soldiers from France's African colonies drafted during the second world war to help liberate from Nazi occupation a motherland they'd never set foot on - only to be denied, when the war ended, the pensions and citizenship they'd been promised.
Aiming for maximum emotional impact, Bouchareb focuses on the men rather than the battles. His choice pays off, aided by a strong ensemble cast who walked off with a very much deserved collective best-actor prize at this year's Cannes Festival.
CWC D: Dror Shaul w/ Tomer Steinhof, Ronit Yudkevitch. Israel/Germany/Japan. 97 min. Saturday, September 9, 7:30 PM CUMBERLAND 1; Monday, September 11, 9 AM AL GREEN THEATRE Rating: NNNN
The confines and comforts of kibbutz life in the 70s are fascinatingly observed through the eyes of about-to-be bar mitzvahed Dvir (Steinhof) as he copes with the realization that his adored mother, Miri (Yudkevitch), is mentally ill.
The universal story of a child who must act as parent works perfectly in the specific context of a socialist kibbutz where everybody works for the greater good. The setting helps anchor the occasionally melodramatic story, but the film's real strength is its cast: French actor Henri Garcin as Miri's older suitor, the remarkable young Steinhof and the haunting Yudkevitch. This film will get to you.
DISC D: Joachim Trier w/ Espen Klouman Høiner, Anders Danielsen Lie. Norway. 105 min. Saturday, September 9, 8:15 PM VARSITY 2; Monday, September 11, 12:15 PM PARAMOUNT 4 Rating: NNNN
A euphoric prologue that constitutes an inventive homage to Jules And Jim gets your attention right away in this impressive feature film debut about the loves and lives of two 20-something best friends who would be novelists. Its playful exuberance and sensory overload (reminiscent of Desplechin) are accompanied by the likes of Joy Division, New Order and the Jam, but it's Trier's daring exercise in re-examining and reimagining events that makes his film so original.
Like cinematic stem cells, its narrative threads can lead anywhere and everywhere. And its dazzling sensibility allows for all possible worlds: the potential for true romance, creative success and the depths of depression burst forth with the full force of youth.
CWC D: Tony Gatlif w/ Asia Argento, Birol Unel. France. 103 min. Saturday, September 9, 8:30 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Monday, September 11, 3 PM PARAMOUNT 1; Friday, September 15, 6:15 PM VARSITY 4 Rating: NNN
A woman travels halfway across Europe in pursuit of her lover only to be rejected by him in the middle of a pagan festival in the heart of Romania. So what's a poor girl to do? Since she's that peculiar life force known as Asia Argento, go native and immerse herself in the culture of this seductive place.
Fortunately this Eurocine cliché also features unusual, infectious music (sometimes linked to dance, sometimes literally trance-inducing), impressive cinematography and Head-On's Unel. The two stars make a divine pair in Gatlif's larger-than-life operatic road movie, especially if you're in the mood for a hot-blooded romantic fantasy.
CWC D: Hans Steinbichler w/ Josef Bierbichler, Hanna Schygulla. Germany. 95 min. Saturday, September 9, 8:45 PM VARSITY 4 or 5; Monday, September 11, 11:30 AM AL GREEN THEATRE; Saturday, September 16, 5:15 PM CUMBERLAND 1 Rating: NNN
You know the Nigerian e-mail scam? The guy who needs your help getting millions of dollars out of Nigeria? Winter Journey is about an aging German businessman whose company is failing, whose wife needs an expensive medical procedure, who falls for the con and then goes to Nigeria to get his money back.
The movie is all over the place - and the English title doesn't have the resonance of the German, Winterreise, a direct reference to Schubert's great song cycle. Bierbichler gives a monstrously outsized performance as the victim, a man who must be taking all the blood pressure meds in the world to stay alive.
A bit of a train wreck, but you can't stop watching it.
END OF THE LINE
CF D: Maurice Devereaux w/ Ilona Elkin, Nicolas Wright. 95 min. Saturday, September 9, 9 PM CUMBERLAND 3; Monday, September 11, 3 PM CUMBERLAND 3 Rating: NNN
Next stop: death! In Devereaux's low-budget horror set mostly in subway cars and tunnels, a swarm of religious zealots are alerted by pager that it's the day of reckoning and must "save" people by stabbing them with their pointy-ended crucifixes.
It's a nastily clever premise, especially because the murderers are zombie-like in their devotion to their cult leader. The characters aren't given much depth, though, and a few details get brushed under the subway tracks.
Still, the script is no better or worse than most bigger-budget flicks in the same genre, and Devereaux and his designer (Jean-Philippe Hébert) create a lot from a little.
Once you've seen it, you'll think twice about entering the Bay subway station.
GALA D: Alejandro González Iñárittu w/ Brad Pitt, Cate Blanchett. U.S. 142 min. Saturday, September 9, 9:30 PM ROY THOMSON HALL; Sunday, September 10, 11:30 AM VISA SCREENING ROOM (ELGIN) Rating: NNNN
Like Iñárittu's other collaborations with screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (21 Grams, Amores Perros), Babel employs whiplash time shifts and multiple storylines revolving around a central event. In Babel, the event is the inadvertent shooting of an American tourist in the middle of the Moroccan desert, and the people include her husband, members of the shooter's family, the tourists' kids back home in L.A. with their Mexican nanny and a Japanese family.
Iñárritu won best director at Cannes for Babel, which is being positioned for a best picture Oscar run by Paramount. This should be a challenge for a long film in four different languages that lacks a dominant lead. It's also exhausting - every story is fraught with emotional landmines and huge acting moments. I'm not sure it's great, though there's no denying Iñárittu's extraordinary directorial skill and the supercharged efforts of the cast.