VIS D: Lisandro Alonso w/ Argentino Vargas, Misael Saavedra. Argentina/France/ Netherlands. 63 min. Wednesday, September 13, 3:30 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Friday, September 15, 9 PM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NNN
Meditative minimalism from the director of Los Muertos and La Libertad, Fantasma is both a wry comment on Alonso's previous work and a way of freeing himself from it.
Vargas turns up in a nondescript office building in Buenos Aires that houses a basement cinema where his movie is showing. After a series of virtually dialogue-free encounters with a few people, he watches the film along with a cleaning woman. Saavedra, the star of La Libertad, is also in the house, though he manages to miss both Vargas and Los Muertos. The unassuming though graceful visuals are punctuated by some of the most dramatic sound design elements since Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, adding a layer of heightened reality to this philosophically bedraggled cinematic onion. For Alonso aficionados only.
MY LIFE AS A TERRORIST: THE STORY OF HANS-JOACHIM KLEIN
RTR D: Alexander Oey. Netherlands. 70 min. Wednesday, September 13, 5:15 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM; Friday, September 15, 1:45 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Rating: NNN
Hans-Joachim Klein is a rarity, a terrorist who walked away from his comrades and lived to tell his tale. Mixing archival footage with bucolic scenes of Klein's current home in France, Oey's documentary traces Klein's life from foster child in Frankfurt to hostage-taker in Vienna.
Klein articulates his reasons for leaving the movement, but the film never pinpoints why he joined in the first place. Clues abound: dead mother, abusive father, finding "family" in the student left movement, general outrage directed at the state. But lots of people share these experiences and don't storm buildings armed to the teeth. The story's compelling, but the aftertaste is that of questions left unasked.
CWC D: Lou Ye w/ Hao Lei, Guo Xiaodong. China/France. 140 min. Wednesday, September 13, 6 PM VARSITY 8; Friday, September 15, 2:30 PM CUMBERLAND 2 Rating: NNN
Or Girls Gone Wild: Tiananmen Square Edition. Small-town girl Yu Hong gets into Beijing University and has a lot of badly lit sex with her new boyfriend. Then, since it's 1989, everybody goes to Tiananmen Square. Yu Hong then goes back to her hometown and the film devolves into three other soap operas and a lot of title cards. Lou is best known for Souzhou River, which was a mystery that turned into a pocket version of Vertigo. This is more diffuse and less interesting, though it does present an unexpected view of Chinese student life. I remember the logistical challenges of dorm sex with one roommate in the picture. Imagine the problems with five or six.
ACTS OF IMAGINATION
CF D: Carolyn Combs. 88 min w/ Stephanie Hayes, Billy Marchenski. Wednesday, September 13, 6:15 PM CUMBERLAND 1; Friday, September 15, 3:15 PM VARSITY 3 Rating: NN
If only this debut feature lived up to that lofty title. Recent Ukrainian immigrants Katya (Hayes) and Jaroslaw (Marchenski) are barely scraping by in Vancouver. She works part-time and is haunted by the mysterious death of her mother, while he (for some reason his English is much better than hers) has just been fired and wants a more comfy life with his single-mom Korean-Canadian girlfriend. As the siblings attempt to pay the rent, director Combs sluggishly tries to tell a story about survival, hope and family ties. But the underwritten script is less suggestive about their past than vague and annoying.
A STONEÕS THROW
CF D: Camelia Frieberg w/ Kris Holden-Ried, Lisa Ray. 98 min. Wednesday, September 13, 8:15 PM VARSITY 3; Friday, September 15, 12:30 PM VARSITY 3 Rating: NN
An eco activist and photojournalist (Holden-Ried) returns home to his tiny Nova Scotia mining town, where he shakes up his sister's (Kathryn MacLellan) family life and gets a bit of lovin' on the side with the local kindergarten teacher (Ray). Director Frieberg, better known as a producer, won't be leaving her day job soon. This dreadfully earnest pic drips with portentous symbols especially a continuing bit about kids performing Bible stories and the script contains howlers like "I'm going to go in and set up the beeswax for you."
CF D: Jean Chéteauvert w/ Valerie Cantin, Marc Marans. 80 min. Wednesday, September 13, 8:45 PM CUMBERLAND 1; Friday, September 15, 3:15 PM CUMBERLAND 1 Rating: N
Quebecois lovers Christine (Cantin) and Christophe (Marans) can't keep their hands off each other. The only problem is they're siblings, and Christine has a daft husband (Michael Kelly) and two bratty kids, one of whom is also smitten with the smouldering Christophe. Not as funny or odd as its Jerry Springer premise might suggest, this one-note film plays the incest for tragedy, which means hand-wringing speeches and pained looks. If only we cared.
RTR D: Paul Rachman. U.S. 100 min. Wednesday, September 13, 9 PM PARAMOUNT 4; Friday, September 15, 12:15 PM PARAMOUNT 3 Rating: NNN
Your reaction to American Hardcore depends on your feelings about the fast, hard and vaguely psychotic musical movement that arose in southern California in the late 70s and early 80s featuring bands like Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Fear, Bad Brains and Hüsker Dü. (Yes, I know the last two bands weren't from L.A.)
It's mostly a piece of oral history. Because an astonishing number of the principals are still with us, notably Henry Rollins of Black Flag, we discover that middle-aged ex-punk-rockers with tattoos from wrist to elbow look even more embarrassing than middle-aged rock stars with grey hair to their shoulders. Aside from the interviews, there's a lot of rare live film, often fan-shot with handicams. Amazing Bad Brains footage.
SPEC D: Ray Lawrence w/ Laura Linney, Gabriel Byrne. Australia. 123 min. Wednesday, September 13, 9 PM RYERSON; Friday, September 15, 3 PM RYERSON Rating: NN
Four men do not immediately curtail their fishing trip when they find the body of a young Aboriginal woman floating in the river, an act of callousness that haunts the rest of their lives and those of everyone else in their small Australian town. Despite sensitive performances (by Linney in particular), Lawrence's ambitious reach exceeds his grasp. There's something superficial in the men's moral struggle, and the idea that we're all powerless in a world of fear and regret is just not sustainable, especially since it's explored without much complexity and Robert Altman mined the same material to better effect in Short Cuts.
MM D: J.T. Petty. U.S. 84 min. Wednesday, September 13, midnight RYERSON; Friday, September 15, 3:45 PM ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM Rating: NN
They're called underground horror backyard movies that focus on the graphic murder, rape and torture of mostly female victims.
Filmmaker Petty goes looking for the psychology behind these movies and their makers. Two of the three filmmakers he interviews are ordinary people making a buck and having a gruesome laugh. The third is the classic lonely, desperate nerdboy still living in his mother's basement and filming the same brutal scenario over and over again. A sexologist, a forensic psychologist and horror film scholar Carol J. Clover offer pithy sound bites on voyeurism, the sad state of American culture and the tendency of rapist/killers to start mild and escalate. If you're new to all this, you may be disgusted. If you already know the field, you likely won't learn anything new.