Saturday, September 15, 2007

Friday, September 6

Fados - 6 pm at The Ryerson (85 min.)

TIFF synopsis: Legendary filmmaker Carlos Saura’s many cinematic depictions of music and dance from various areas of Ibero-America have enriched the scope of the musical documentary. His work expresses not only sound and movement but also the evolving story and culture of the place the music was born. Fados, his engaging recent endeavour to map the social history of a genre, follows in the tradition of Flamenco and Tango, completing his lyrical trilogy exploring three of the nineteenth century’s most enduring urban musical traditions.

Fado, a type of music that can be traced back to eighteen-twenties Portugal, was introduced to Saura through the films of Amália Rodrigues. She described it in a song as “Love, jealousy / ash and fire / pain and sin. / All this exists / All this is sad. / All this is fado.” Saura traces fado’s humble beginnings in the slums of Lisbon to its changing modern-day manifestations, showing how this mournful music has informed modern Portuguese culture.

Fado is often linked to the Portuguese word saudade, a term that may lack an equivalent in any other language and that refers to a complex longing linked to home. With a series of musical vignettes and his trademark use of mirrors, lights, coloured screens and shadow play, Saura takes us on a journey through the narrative arc of fado, depicting its various styles and permutations as it absorbs Brazilian and African influences. Fado is not merely music – it’s a melding of cultures, customs and sounds.

Featuring legendary singers like Carlos do Carmo, who along with Rodrigues reshaped fado after the sixties, and new voices from performers like Mariza, Saura pays homage to the fadistas, or fado musicians, of past and present. Fados also features performances by celebrated contemporary artists Camané, Caetano Veloso, Lila Downs and Chico Buarque. Replete with dance performances, footage of Portugal’s revolutionary times and clips from Rodrigues’s Lisbon films, Fados evokes the melancholy roots of this music, bringing us closer to the vibrant cultures of the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America.

I would have chosen this film because of the director. He has focused on different dances in his previous movies and I thought it would be interesting on an educational level.

Review: By John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter

The latest of Carlos Saura's romanticized cultural time capsules, "Fados," is as rich as its predecessors, an elegant setting for the shimmering, melancholy music of Portugal (by way of Spain). Seductive and beautifully made, it could be the date movie of the year for performing-arts fans.Sticking with the presentation style used in "Flamenco," Saura presents a string of self-contained episodes, uninterrupted by host or narrator, blocked out on a soundstage with wall-sized scrims and mirrors usually providing the sole decoration. In addition to the shadow play and reflections these backdrops allow, the director also projects vintage film clips of influential singers against them, offering today's performers a couple of chances to pay direct homage to their forebears. On other occasions, artists are interacting with themselves -- as with a troupe of dancers whose graceful, fabric-draped movements are duplicated onscreen from a constantly changing perspective, resulting in an old-country take on Busby Berkeley kaleidoscopism.The tone of fado is generally described as mournful, but these languid songs can also be proud, whether of romantic and artistic prowess (one woman recalls an all-night dancefloor battle with a rival for her lover's heart, boasting that she was the victor at dawn) or of the intimately-known streets of a singer's hometown. Though the styles overlap -- as demonstrated in a bewitching male/female duet near the end -- the music's tone is rarely as theatrically impassioned as flamenco; rather, it's gently fluid and bittersweet. The musicians showcased range from current sensations like Portuguese beauty Mariza to surprise guest Caetano Veloso, for whom fado is only a small part of a wide stylistic repertoire. They typically take the stage one or two at a time, supported by a few instrumentalists or accompanying dancers, whose choreography appears to mix folk styles with more modern ones. Predictably, the performances are uniformly strong, and lest the material threaten to grow homogenous, Saura punctuates it with numbers like a surprisingly at-home feeling hip-hop tribute, a political sprechstimme segment set against footage of political rallies, and a group scene, presented as if in a cafe, where the crowd takes turns standing to sing. Saura ends the picture gracefully with a long crane shot that takes in the offstage crew before letting us stare straight into the camera itself -- seeing what many of the singers saw, as they sang to a lens and convinced us it was a long-lost friend or unfaithful lover.

Persepolis - 9:30 at The Elgin Theatre (95 min.)

I admit that I used to be a snob when it comes to animation. If it's an anime, it better be from Japan. If it's traditional, it better be Disney or Dreamworks. Les Triplettes de Belleville changed my way of thinking in 2003. The animation in that French film was different that I was accustomed to, but at the end of the day, it was the storytelling that was the key. So as long as a film had that, the animation quality was secondary. Which is why this film was so appealing to me.

Tiff synopsis: Persepolis is the much-anticipated animated adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed series of autobiographical graphic novels. Satrapi’s darkly humorous take on her experiences as a spirited young Muslim woman coming of age in Tehran – during the rule of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution and the gruelling Iran-Iraq War – makes for a bracingly original story.

We follow the misadventures of Marjane (Gabrielle Lopes and Chiara Mastroianni) from mischievous little girl in Iran to rebellious teenager finding first love amid decadent anarchists at a snooty French school in Vienna. The film then charts the young woman’s heavy-hearted return to Iran, and finally her emigration to Paris. Marjane’s story presents the bloody history of her homeland over the last quarter century in microcosm: the Communists in her family fought against the Shah only to be persecuted even more harshly by the Islamists who took his place. If the film sounds brutal, it maintains a refreshing levity as each gritty, haunting real-world event is balanced with a flight of fancy. These come courtesy of Persepolis’s charming animation style – bold, graphic, simple yet forcefully stylized.

Life in Iran politicizes the highly impressionable Marjane at a young age, but her primary activity becomes the search for her own identity. Surrounded by turmoil and oppression, Marjane still struggles with more intangible tensions and dilemmas women everywhere will understand, such as the conflict between a warm and open home life and the harsh outside world, or the question of what to say out loud versus what to keep to oneself.

Some of the funniest moments in the film come from the Islamic authorities’ demonization of American popular culture, as when Marjane’s teachers decry her Nike shoes as “punk.” What stays with you most, however, is Marjane’s intensely close relationship to her mother (Catherine Deneuve), father (Simon Abkarian) and grandmother (Danielle Darrieux) – who always smells good because she tucks jasmine into her brassiere every morning. Directed by Satrapi herself, along with fellow comics artist Vincent Paronnaud, the film manages not only to be faithful to the much-loved books, but to create from them a daring cinematic experience.

Review: By Lisa Neelson, Variety

Any stragglers still unconvinced that animation can be an exciting medium for both adults and kids will run out of arguments in the face of "Persepolis." Like the four-volume series of graphic novels on which it's based, this autobiographical tour de force is completely accessible and art of a very high order. First-person tale of congenitally rebellious Marjane Satrapi, who was 8 years old when the Islamic Revolution transformed her native Teheran, boasts a bold lyricism spanning great joy and immense sorrow. In both concept and execution, hand-drawn toon is a winner. Sony Classics will release an English-dubbed version Stateside.

France-based Satrapi, who co-directed with fellow illustrator Vincent Paronnaud, is a sterling example of what good advice "Write (and draw) what you know" can be in gifted hands. Pic's specificity is what renders it universal.From Baltimore to Beijing, anybody who ever had a family, a government and/or aspirations for personal happiness should be able to relate.
Narrative, which starts in 1978 and continues into the 1990s, could have been just another coming-of-age tale, but Satrapi and Paronnaud navigate their sharp melding of form and content with assurance. Result zips along with considerable humor, much of it self-deprecating, interspersed with darker material.

Animation perfectly translates Satrapi's deceptively simple black and white drawings. Much like Art Spiegelman's anthropomorphic cats and mice vis-a-vis the history of the Shoah in "Maus," Satrapi's expressive, pleasingly pared down style lends itself to the pleasures of everyday life as well as the horrors of war and state repression. Original books used only stark black and white; shades of gray and evocative backgrounds are added for the screen, along with subtle patches of color in select settings.

Made entirely in France, three-year project required the skills of Gaul's last working animation tracers (armed with felt-tip pens) and looks terrific on a budget of $8.1 million.

Protag's voiceover is woven into highly visual tale, with a dynamite cast voicing the main characters. (Satrapi works in French, so that is what the whole population of Teheran speaks.)
Adorable, spirited Marjane (Gabrielle Lopes) is an only child, raised with love and encouraged in her singularity and independence by educated, intellectual parents Tadji (Catherine Deneuve) and Ebi (Simon Abkarian). Feisty Marjane couldn't be closer to her wise, indomitable grandmother (magnificently voiced by vet Danielle Darrieux), whose frank blend of classy and earthy is irresistible. The Satrapi family values creativity, decency, personal courage and, as often as possible, a good time.

At pic's outset, the Shah's days are numbered. There is great excitement in the Satrapi household whose occupants trust that the people of Iran, having had their fill of dictatorship, will usher in a new era of freedom and prosperity. But they would be wrong.

Young Marjane watches her familiar secular existence morph into theocratic lunacy, with headscarves mandatory and repressive idiocy the order of the day. Still a child, she goes on speaking out, with trouble never far behind. Friends and relatives are imprisoned or worse. Iraq starts an eight-year war and the knee-jerk culture of martyrdom takes hold with a vengeance.
But despite Khomeini, Marjane and her friends show off their contraband Bee Gees and ABBA records and buy bootleg cassettes peddled as if they were heroin.

Knowing they can't tame their daughter's outspoken nature and fearing for her safety, Marjane's parents send her to Vienna, solo, at age 14. (As a teen and adult, Marjane is splendidly voiced by Chiara Mastroianni.)

The roller coaster of Marjane's life is just getting started. People, as well as countries, have to learn the hard way what works and what doesn't.
In decrying conformity and totalitarianism, intelligent toon demonstrates how ideology perverts human nature. Pic champions integrity and resistance and shows that even smarter-than-average people sometimes do dumb things.

These characters smoke like chimneys, but only an ayatollah would mandate an R-rating based on animated individuals "inhaling" pen and ink smoke. They also blow off steam thanks to Iron Maiden, Bruce Lee and, in one of toon's best set pieces, the "Rocky" theme "Eye of the Tiger."
Marjane's intellectual fantasies include chats with God and Karl Marx perched in the heavens. The growth spurt during which Marjane's limbs and features hatch like recalcitrant Silly Putty is a visual highlight.

Thoughtful score provides spot-on accompaniment to everything from pointless death to first love. So far, Gena Rowlands has been announced as the English-lingo voice of the garndmother and Deneuve is slated to reprise her role in Yank dub.

The Mother of All Tears - Midnight at The Ryerson (98 min.)

Dario Argento is a legendary Italian horror filmmaker. His most acclaimed work occured in the late 70's and early 80's. He made films that young American teeanager secretly searched for at the local video stores. His daughter is an infamous actress, known more for her tatoos and her sensuality than her acting. If that wasn't enough to get me to go, it's the opening night of Midnight Madness. There is no better crowd to see a film with than the MM crowd. After each show, you will be convinced that you saw a fun film. Days later, you may come to your senses and realize it was really crap, but the point is that you had fun at the time.

Tiff synopsis: A screeching monkey chases damsel in distress Asia Argento. Crazed supermodel witches perform the dance of death in a cursed mansion. Exorcist Udo Kier is overwhelmed by an outbreak of madness. And of course… there is blood. Welcome to one of the most highly anticipated events in horror fandom – The Mother of Tears, Dario Argento’s finale to The Three Mothers trilogy that started with Suspiria and Inferno.

An urn discovered in a grave is turned over to the Rome museum, where Sarah Mandy (Asia Argento) is studying art restoration. And so is the dark cabbalistic prophecy of the Second Age of Witches set into motion. With the seal of the urn broken, the powers of Mater Lachrymarum, the Mother of Tears, the cruellest and most beautiful of the fabled witches known as the Three Mothers - are restored. Soon, Sarah’s colleague (Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni from Opera) meets a gory death at the hands of demons unleashed from the urn, and havoc explodes in the streets of Rome as a wave of suicide and violent crime heralds the dark priestess’s rebirth. Pursued by the witches who descend upon the city to pay homage to their queen, Sarah is aided by the ghost of her mother (Daria Nicolodi, Asia’s actual mother), a white witch. As Rome burns, the key to breaking the supernatural chaos presents itself in the form of a powerful book.

A testament to Argento’s heritage of horror, The Mother of Tears reunites many of his past collaborators including, obviously, his actress daughter and her mother Nicolodi, special-effects illusionist Sergio Stivaletti and maestro Claudio Simonetti from the Italian prog- rock band Goblin. References to the previous instalments circle through the richly atmospheric plot, complete with bizarre turns of nightmare logic and sexual frenzy.

After the film finished shooting, internet gossip suggested that the director had to trim the gore, but rest assured, the grue is thick and plentiful. After all, an Argento film devoid of grisly baroque set pieces would be like a pizza without toppings. The Mother of Tears is further proof that Argento is an alchemist who doesn’t hesitate to throw the audience into his surreal, phantasmagorical world.

Review: By Dennis Harvey, Variety

It has taken Dario Argento nearly three decades to complete his "Three Mothers" horror trilogy commenced by 1977's "Suspiria" -- his first, best and most widely popular post-giallo effort -- and 1980's visually striking if muddled "Inferno." Whether viewers will think "Mother of Tears: The Third Mother" was worth the wait depends on if they are willing to settle for laughs over chills: This hectic pileup of supernatural nonsense is a treasure trove of seemingly unintentional hilarity. Although lacking helmer's usual aesthetic panache, this "Mother" is a cheesy, breathless future camp classic. Theatrical sales look spotty; majority aud awaits via DVD.

A priest is puzzled by a 19th century coffin and medieval urn found secretly buried behind a church in un-consecrated ground. He sends the urn to a museum in Rome where archeology/art restoration intern Sarah (Asia Argento) and a colleague (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni) unseal the odd, symbol-covered box, discovering a dagger and three pagan-talisman statuettes.
While Sarah looks for a reference book, demons materialize and tear her friend apart. Spying the bloody aftermath, Sarah flees, pursued by a vexing little monkey.
Police are baffled by the crime and Sarah's describing "three deformed people and a monkey" as the killers. Meanwhile, Rome experiences an explosion of suicides, murders and senseless violence. (One daft detail here is that despite such highly publicized violence, background citizens go about their daily business as usual.)

During patches of clumsy explication between myriad hyperventilating action scenes, experts tell Sarah the opened urn released Mater Lacrimarum aka "mother of tears," last survivor of three ancient witches.

Once that lady's on the loose (though thesp Moran Atias doesn't get much screentime), umpteen witchy women plane, train, and drive to Rome to herald the coming "second age of witches." They cackle and stalk Sarah, looking like couture models at a club's Goth dress-up night.
Turns out orphaned Sarah is the daughter of a powerful white witch who died vanishing "Inferno's" Mother #2. Now good mom (Daria Nicolodi) guides Sarah from the spirit world, urging her to develop her own nascent occult powers and combat the biggest Mother of them all.
After much bloodshed and hocus-pocus, the witch proves ludicrously easy to vanquish -- pretty much on the level of Dorothy Gale dumping a bucket of plain old water to "melt" her own witchy nemesis.

Never much inclined toward plot credibility, clarity, playable dialogue, or rescuing his actors from hapless "cry for help" perfs, Argento really throws in the towel here. Result is so hard to take seriously that even the graphic gore incites laughs, since it only caps situations already absurd in conceit and execution. Pic has exactly one good shock; otherwise it's just amusingly foolish.

Adding to the fun are the "Omen"-esque satanic choral bombast of Claudio Simonetti's score, some low-grade CGI effects, and many gratuitous breast shots.

It's fortunate thesp Asia Argento has proven her ability in films for other directors, because if she only appeared in her dad's films, she'd be considered one of the worst actresses ever to land starring roles through nepotism. (Probably the last good lead perf in an Argento film was Jessica Harper's in "Suspiria.") To be fair, everyone here is made to look ridiculous by the tin-ear English dialogue and irrational character behaviors.

In other words, the perfect Midnight Madness movie!!!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Coming Up

Stupidity and selfishness caused me to miss this year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2007). But I don't think it should prevent me from having to cover it.

At this point, the festival is basically over. Most of the people have left, except the diehards. There is still the closing night film on Saturday, but the closing film hasn't been stellar in any of the year's I've gone.

I've picked out the schedule that I would have picked had I gone. And since I'm picking films mostly at the Ryerson, I'm confident that I would have gotten tickets regardless of what box I landed in at the lottery.

I'm going to start presenting those films. With pictures, YouTube trailers, interviews and possibly reviews (from the Trades).