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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Globe reviews

Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2003


Alexandra's Project
Rolf de Heer (Australia)

A nasty bit of business that marries sexual politics to psychological menace, the film fails to earn the controversy that it's all too eager to generate. Middle-aged, strapping, contented, Steve is the father of two happy children and a husband to one unhappy woman — the sad-eyed Alexandra. It's his birthday and, returning home from a successful day at work, the guy is treated to the surprise of his life: His house is abandoned, his children are gone, and his wife is on videotape, enacting a revenge plot ingenious in design and merciless in execution. Writer-director Rolf de Heer builds the suspense nicely in the early stages, but the extended climax turns into a screed — the domestic politics have some credibility, yet the attendant psychology ranges from thin to non-existent. As an analysis of a marriage's pressures, it's less a critique than a hatchet-job. — R.G.
(Thurs., Sept.4, 7:15 p.m., Varsity 2, 3; Tues., Sept. 9, 3:30 p.m., Uptown 2.)

Bon VoyageJean-Paul Rappeneau (France)
France, June, 1940 — the Nazis have already occupied Paris, leaving the city of Bordeaux in a state of frenzied confusion. Hey, what better setting for a comic romp, complete with pompous politicians and vain starlets and lovelorn writers and charming felons and the occasional naive patriot. An idea so unlikely just might have worked, but not in the heavy hands of director Jean-Paul Rappeneau, who seems content to turn a country under siege into a thing of beauty. The whole movie, not to mention Isabelle Adjani, is prettily shot and lovely to behold. Seems the fog of war has lifted and what remains is a gorgeous bauble of a picture. Enjoy the sights, but be sure to press the pause button in your brain. —R.G.
Fri., Sept. 5, 9:30 p.m., RTH; Sept. 6, 1:15 p.m., Uptown 1.)

Bright Future
Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Japan)

"The Jellyfish movie," as it was dubbed in Cannes, comes from the Japanese director of the masterful science-fiction films Cure and Pulse). This one isn't quite up to his standard though it's an interesting curiosity. Kurosawa marries a fantastic metaphor to a downbeat story about alienated Asian youth whose best friend is jailed for murdering his factory boss, but leaves his jellyfish behind, leaving instructions on how to acclimatize the creature to fresh water. By the movie's end, jellyfish have infested the canals of Tokyo — the only bright, glowing spots in an otherwise grimly monochromatic city. — L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 6, 9:30 p.m. Uptown 2; Mon. Sept. 8, 9 a.m. ROM.)

Hector Babenco (Brazil)

Hector Babenco's prison drama, Carandiru, is based on a Brazilian prison riot in the early nineties that left more than 100 dead. Though the world is vividly recreated, the movie suffers from some jarring shifts in tone. It starts out like a behind-bars version of The Canterbury Tales or A Chorus Line, with each prisoner telling his particular colourful story to a doctor. The Brazilian prison seems curiously benign; pay your drug debts, avoid acting crazy and you can enjoy all the comforts of television and connubial visits). After this relatively benign setup, the movie ends with the screen awash in blood as the police go on a killing and beating spree. — L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 6, 9 p.m. Uptown 1; Mon., Sept. 8, 11:15 p.m., Varsity 2.)

The Corporation
Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbot (Canada)

Lots of archival research and interviews with Left (Michael Moore, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky) and Right (Milton Friedman, Michael Walker of the Fraser Institute) here leads to predictable conclusions in this 261/27-hour critique. The bias — that corporations are dysfunctional human organizations — finds little repudiation, nor is there much acknowledgment that corporations can also have positive social influences. Mostly, you wish the film had started where it stops: What mechanisms can be put in place to make international corporations accountable for their decisions? And who gets to decide? — L.L.
(Wed., Sept. 10, 9:15 p.m., Cumberland 3; Fri., Sept. 12, 2:15 p.m., Varsity 8.)

Gus Van Sant (U.S.)

Gus Van Sant's Elephant, which won the best film and director awards at Cannes this year, is a commissioned for television movie that dramatizes an event modeled on the Columbine high-school killings. Van Sant's formal approach to his subjects, following them with a gliding camera through the hallways of the school and offering brief vignettes in the course of a day. The kids are stereotypes — the jocks, the nerd, the princesses, the camera geek — and, presumably, we are to understand that the categories are a form of oppression that leads to the violence. The analysis seems regrettably reductive as to motive and Van Sant's film a bit too much of an exercise in style. No doubt the subtlety is a alternative to the media racket but it's not clear that Elephant have anything important enough to say that warrants this simulation of the tragedy? — L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 6, 7 p.m. Elgin; Sun., Sept. 7, 12 p.m., Uptown 2.)

Carl Bessai (Canada)
The third and most accomplished of Vancouver director Bessai's one-named films about identity (after Johnny and Lola), Emile follows the story of a professor (Ian McKellen) who returns to Victoria to claim an honorary doctorate and reconnect with his great-niece (Deborah Kara Unger) and her daughter. Bessai employs a flashback technique where the adult character walks through his own past (interesting but distracting) as Emile looks back at the people he left behind and confronts his cruel older brother. Performances are fine though the story feels somewhat pat, and it remains a bit of a stretch to see McKellen as a former strapping Saskatchewan farm boy. —L.L.
(Sat., Sept. 6, 7 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre; Mon., Sept. 8, 3 p.m., Uptown 3.)

Go Further
Ron Mann (Canada)

This genial agit-prop film on living the virtuous life, organic style, is a modest addition to the Mann oeuvre, not a major work like Comic Book Confidential or Poetry in Motion. Still, it's a lot of fun, with Mann trailing actor/eco-activist Woody Harrelson and pals as they travel down the Washington, Oregon and California coasts by bicycle and hempseed-oil-fuelled bus "preaching" the gospel of yoga, macrobiotic cuisine, solar power, animal rights and worm-ranching. The best bits involve the efforts of a chocolate-bar-loving crony of Harrelson and a California co-ed to get off the consumer-culture treadmill and put more kohlrabi and algae in their lives. Dave Matthews, Bob Weir, Natalie Merchant and Medeski, Martin and Wood make on-camera appearances. — J.A.
(Sat., Sept.. 6, 6:45 p.m., Uptown; Sat., Sept. 13, 3:30 p.m., Isabel Bader Theatre)

John Crowley (Ireland)

Eleven stories, 54 characters, a very unquaint Ireland of windbag bullying cops, a banker's wife who punches her lover during orgasm, a bitter girl who lets her mustache grow after her boyfriend robs her, a trio of thugs who organize a bank robbery wearing Elvis masks, and a host of other "eejits" and lost souls. The stories are cleverly if exhaustingly woven together, and in the end the lost boys and girls find true love and grow up. A foulmouthed fairy tale from theatre director turned cineaste John Crowley. —R.C.
(Wed., Sept. 10, 9:30 p.m., Uptown 1; Fri., Sept. 12, 11:30 a.m., Varsity 8.)

Kitchen Stories
Bent Hamer (Sweden)

From the country which brought you Ikea comes this thin but well-handled comedy set at the end of the Second World War, when the Swedish Home Institute begins studying the movements of people in their kitchens to improve home efficiency. Their well-laid plans don't do so well, naturally, when they attempt to study the kitchen habits of Norwegian bachelors. In the town of Landstad, the observers bring their caravans and set up tall chairs in the kitchen to track the bachelors kitchen movements. Things start to go awry: One observer ends up drinking with his subject; another falls ill, and lets the subject track his own movements. "You Swedes were neutral during the war too," one Norwegian notes pointedly, as the experiment proceeds toward its welcome, human failure. —L.L.
(Sun., Sept. 7, 10 p.m., Uptown 3; Tues., Sept. 9, 11:15 a.m., Varsity 3.)

Père et fils (Father and Sons)
Michel Boujenah (France/Canada)

Philippe Noiret, rumpled and dumpling-like in old age but still a captivating presence, plays a neglectful father determined to reconcile with his three adult sons in this fluffy and sometimes thin film. Fabricating an upcoming surgery for a non-existent heart problem, Dad cons the kids into accompanying him on a whalewatching trip to Quebec. Several Quebec stars, including Marie Tifo as a faith healer, do little pirouettes for the visiting Frenchmen. Occasionally charming. —R.C.
(Tues., Sept. 9, 6 p.m., Varsity 8; Fri., Sept. 12, 9 a.m., Uptown 2.)

A Problem With Fear
Gary Burns (Canada)

Calgary native Burns's fourth feature certainly displays some of the same dry modern humour that characterized his last film, waydowntown, but here his premise feels contrived as he tips over from modern anxieties to sci-fi allegory. His hero, Laurie Harding (Paulo Costanzo) is a man afraid of elevators, escalators, red sauce, crossing the street and commitment to his girlfriend Dot (Emily Hampshire). His sister, who takes him to work everyday on the subway (the movie takes place in Calgary, except for the subway which is from Montreal), is head of a corporation that produces a new product called Global Safety, which produces personal organizers and bracelets that warn of impending danger.

For some reason, people's worst fears begin coming true — from the trivial (food on faces and having others copy their clothing) to the fatal (scarves caught in escalators) as a "fear storm" catches the city. Laurie becomes convinced he is the cause of the problem and has to overcome his phobias to save the world. —L.L.
(Fri., Sept. 5, 7 p.m., Elgin; Sun,, Sept. 7, 11:30 a.m., Uptown .)

Republic of Love
Deepa Mehta (Canada, U.K.)
Deepa Mehta has contrived to turn the Carol Shields novel into a romantic comedy, replacing the book's subtle hues with her own bolder colours. Problem is, the ensuing structure doesn't fit the genre. Typically in romantic comedies, the aspiring lovers must battle the impediments to amour, which gets consummated only at the end, leaving happily-ever-after-land to the postscript of our imagination. Here, though, the two find love relatively early and much of the second act is given over to showing us their ecstasy. But happiness is neither dramatic nor amusing — what's good for the characters is bad for the audience. Eventually, an impediment arises but it's too trivial to be convincing. Luckily, Mehta's casting proves much wiser: In the leads, both Emilia Fox and Bruce Greenwood are terrifically engaging. They definitely enhance the picture, yet neither can redeem it. — R.G.
(Thurs., Sept. 11, 6:30 p.m., RTH; Fri., Sept. 12, 9:30 a.m., Uptown 1.) ROBTv Workopolis