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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

This week at SFC: The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Thursday June 1st

All our screenings are FREE ones.

Film will commence at 8:15 pm. Doors open at 7:30 pm.

The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De Battre Mon Coeur S'est Arrete)
(Jacques Audiard/France/2005/102')

French leading man Romain Duris makes his breakthrough as the charismatic antihero of this edgy noir thriller, directed by Jacques Audiard, based on the 1978 James Toback film Fingers. His performance, combining rage and vulnerability, bears comparison with De Niro's Johnny Boy in Scorsese's Mean Streets.

Duris plays Tom, a young guy who is making a good living in the violent and seamy world of speculative property development in Paris. He and his reckless gangster associates buy up freeholds and sell them on at a profit, having first brutally intimidated the sitting tenants into leaving. But, astonishingly, Tom has a dream: he wants to be a concert pianist like his late mother. Audiard pulls off the audacious trick of presenting Tom as a plausible split personality: wiseguy by day, would-be classical musician by night, practising obsessively. And Tom brings to the piano keyboard the fanatical anger, fear and control-freakery that he has built up during a tough working day in the semi-criminal jungle.

Like Michael Haneke in The Piano Teacher, Audiard cleverly shows how the rigour of classical piano is not a gentle conduit for artistic expression but an impossibly cruel taskmaster, codifying the dark side of human nature. It's an intriguing conceit from a fiercely energetic and involving thriller.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This week at SFC: Badlands

Thursday May 25th

All our screenings are FREE ones.

Film will commence at 8:15 pm. Doors open at 7:30 pm.

(Terrence Malick/USA/1973/90')

Now in his early sixties, Badlands director Terrence Malick ranks among the cinema's great poets, up there alongside Griffith,Ozu, Ford, Lean and Bresson, on the strength of just four movies made over a period of some 30 years--Badlands (1973), Days of Heaven (1978), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The New World (2005). They're all concerned with man's transaction with the land, the corruption of innocence, the fable of the expulsion from Eden and the American propensity towards destructive violence.

Badlands was one of the most impressive directorial debuts ever. On the surface, it's merely another rural-gangster movie in the tradition of Bonnie and Clyde, with its young 'innocents' - a James Dean-lookalike garbage collector and his magazine-addict girlfriend - first killing her father when he objects to their relationship, then going on a seemingly gratuitous homicidal spree across the Dakota Badlands. But what distinguishes the film, beyond the superb performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, the use of music, and the luminous camerawork by Tak Fujimoto, is Malick's unusual attitude towards psychological motivation: the dialogue tells us one thing, the images another, and Spacek's beautifully artless narration, couched in terms borrowed from the mindless media mags she's forever reading, yet another. This complex perspective on an otherwise simple plot manages to reveal so much while making nothing explicit, and at the same time seems perfectly to evoke the world of '50s suburbia in which it is set.

Filmmakers, amateurs, home-movie makers: you are welcome to submit interesting short stuff for pre-feature screenings.

Please note: During the screening of DiG! (April 13) a young filmmaker's widescreen Sony DCR-HC90 Handycam went missing after he left it briefly in the men's washroom. It was in a compact silver Sony pouch. Anyone with any information on the whereabouts of this camera or indeed if anyone noticed anything suspicious please contact SFC by this email address or phone Gerard W. David at 653-6620/4515. A generous reward is on offer. Apart from the camera itself important footage was also lost within it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Artists and film

Che Lovelace and Peter Doig are lovers of film, without question. Yet I wonder: do they love film enough to have ever thought about making a film themselves?

Artists making films is not a new phenomenon. In 1929 Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel teamed up to concoct Un Chien Andalou; Bunuel went on to become the founding father of surrealist cinema, and is righty considered one of the great filmmakers.

But artists who moonlight as filmmakers--do they know what they're doing? How is their work to be judged? These and other questions the UK Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw ponders in this article.

Bradshaw certainly has a few complaints about artists encroaching on the territory of filmmakers, but overall is quite happy for the two worlds to mix: "There are brilliant artists working in film who are challenging us to think again about how we look at images, and the circumstances in which these images can be considered - and challenging film critics, too, to refine their visual judgments.... Even the simplest, least showy video installation piece... can be valuable in that, in just showing something in a gallery context in which the viewer is encouraged to look patiently at an image, it can defamiliarise and force us to look at things afresh. This is part of what the video and film art has to offer cinema - and cinema buffs."

The use of film and video in art is fairly universal now. In fact, Phil Collins, one of the nominees for this year's Turner Prize works heavily in video. One of his most (in)famous pieces is an eight-hour disco marathon, shot in one take, in Palestine.

Art it may be. But is it film? I'm not so sure.

Dortmund devils

The SFC's own Che Lovelace was in Germany last month, executing a special commission: painting one of the winged rhino sculptures that are decorating the city of Dortmund for the Football World Cup next month. Stacy-Marie Ishmael at the Trinidad and Tobago World Cup Team blog has managed to post a couple of photos, courtesy erix3.

Each country that qualified for the World Cup has its own rhino. Most are just decorated with national colours. T&T's rhino, as you might expect of the place that invented mas, is a little more flamboyant--Pepto-Bismol pink, and covered with blue devils:

No one who's seen Che's current series of "devil" paintings should be surprised....

Blue devils reach Dortmund, yes.

This week at SFC: Beijing Bicycle

Thursday May 18th

All our screenings are FREE ones.

Film will commence at 8:00 pm. Doors open at 7:30 pm.

Beijing Bicycle
(Wang Xiaoshuai/China/2002/113')

This Thursday, as a result of the cancellation of last week's filmnight, the StudioFilmClub will screen last week's advertised feature, Beijing Bicycle by Wang Xiaoshuai.

Beijing Bicycle is a moving and emotionally charged film that tells the story of a country boy, Guei (Cui Lin), who comes to the big city determined to make it. Exploring the sharp changes that confront the individual in city life, this film is said to put Wang Xiaoshuai among the forefront of China's sixth generation of filmmakers.

We will also screen two short films by Byron Camacho: Birdy and Across the Universe. Byron is a young Trinidadian filmmaker who has recently completed film studies in the US.

Birdy - A surreal look at the self destructive nature of a female drug addict and her lover's struggle to let her go. 8'/black and white 16 mm/silent

Across the Universe - The story of a young woman, jaded through her experiences with men, choosing to lead a life of promiscuity and detachement. In the end, her new found way of life will be challenged. 8'/black and white 16mm/dialogue narrative

Rest in peace, Gilles.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Good and bad

"If you were able to choose a bad film to show at SFC ... what would it be and why?"

I see no one's bothered to answer Jonathan's question. One of my favourite bad movies when I was much younger was the breathtakingly cheesy epic Clash of the Titans, whose sheer badness is incalculably augmented by the presence in the cast of Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Claire Bloom, all playing divine residents of Olympus. I find it hard to believe the stop-motion special effects were considered cutting edge even in 1981. And Harry Hamlin's performance as the Greek hero Perseus is a comic tour de force--however inadvertent. I caught the movie on cable a couple of years ago and was by turns horrified and delighted to realise how much of the dialogue I still remembered. But show it at SFC? I don't think so.

I'd much rather screen one of my all-time favourite movies, Thoroughly Modern Millie ("Soy sauce!")--but that isn't a "bad" movie, is it? No more so than that other camp classic, Auntie Mame ("Agnes! You're coming out!" "Where?")--the Rosalind Russel version, I know you don't even have to ask--a desert island movie for sure, since I could probably watch it on continuous loop for several months before I got bored.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Beijing Bicycle postponed

As a show of support for our injured friend Gilles, we have decided to postpone this week's screening of Beijing Bicyle.

There will be a benefit event for Gilles this evening at More Vino on Ariapita Avenue, from 5pm till 9pm.

Tickets are available at Tattoo Farm on Long Circular Road or at the door.

Please come out and support.


Blogging about film

One of my favourite personal blogs is Jabberwock, by Jai Arjun Singh, an Indian journalist and writer. While Jabberwock is primarily a literary blog, Singh also often blogs about films--and does so with refreshing acuity and warmth. As a true cinephile, his tastes range from the classic to the modern, from English-language to non-English language and even silent films. See, for example, some of his recent posts, on perhaps the greatest silent film of all time, The Passion of Joan of Arc; on Sidney Lumet's classic 12 Angry Men; and on the quintessential Marx brothers comedy, Duck Soup.

Scroll down the page on the right-hand side to see the full list of film posts.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

This week at the SFC: Beijing Bicycle

Thursday May 11

All our screenings are FREE ones.

Film will commence at 8:00 pm – doors open at 7:30 pm.

Beijing Bicycle


Bicycles are as synonymous with Beijing as cabs are with Manhattan, and when the hero of Wang Xiaoshuai's superb and harrowing "Beijing Bicycle" joins the swarm of cyclists who crowd the city's streets, he stands for countless young people who have made the journey from the country to China's capital in search of a better life.

Cui Lin's shy yet stubborn Guei considers himself lucky. He has a place to live--with a friend in an old compound with small quarters for working people. Even better, he has landed a job as a messenger that provides him with a uniform and an impressive silver mountain bike that will become his once he has earned 700 yuan, which is about $85.

A determined worker, Guei will earn this sum in little over a month, yet by then he will have discovered how mean-spirited city people can be. For instance, he's summoned to the gym in a luxury hotel and is forced to shower before he can enter, only to discover the hotel expects him to pay for it. Then just before the bike is to become his--after which he will split the delivery fees instead of having to give 80% to his employer--it is stolen. His boss will take him back if he finds the bicycle. "Beijing Bicycle's" story now takes off in earnest. The bicycle has fallen into the hands of a another young man, Jian (Li Bin), but it is not immediately clear whether he bought or stole it. What is clear is that he wanted it in the worst way, to impress his pals at school and his new girlfriend Qin (Zhou Xun). His father has been promising to get him a bike, but that money now must go toward his younger half-sister's education. Had not chance and poverty placed Guei and Jian in the same neighborhood, Guei probably would never have seen his bicycle again.

What emerges is a portrait of modern urban life at its most brutal. Jian is in such a state of rage toward his father and so eager to be a member of a group more prosperous than his family that he is blinded to the fact that Guei needs his bicycle to earn a living--and that his pals, for all their prep school ties and blazers, are virtually a gang, each one a violent, thuggish brute.

Inevitably, "Beijing Bicycle" brings to mind Vittorio De Sica's neo-realist classic, "The Bicycle Thief," but it also recalls Akira Kurosawa's early masterpiece, "Stray Dog," in which a young police detective searches for his stolen gun throughout a war-ravaged Tokyo, needing to find his weapon to regain his sense of manhood as intensely as Jian needs the bike for social acceptance. Wang, however, has a bleaker vision than De Sica or Kurosawa, moving beyond the question of whether Jian will ultimately see his so-called friends for what they really are. For Xiaoshuai, modern urban life in China is destructive, the notion of a Communist classless society a cruel joke in which the struggle for survival is ruthless, even more so than in the big cities of the Western world.

From start to finish, "Beijing Bicycle" moves adroitly with the emotional impact of a steamroller. Xiaoshuai comes from the ranks of China's underground cinema and has seen all of his work either heavily censored or banned outright. With this masterful, flawless film, he emerges in the front ranks of China's now numerous, world-renowned filmmakers.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

So bad, they're bad

The StudioFilmClub prides itself (one would imagine) on showing films that aren't only a bit left of centre, but are good, too. Yet what if there were a film club devoted to showing bad films?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nick and Joe's Bad Film Club, of Cardiff, Wales. With screenings once a month, the Bad Film Club "is an exciting new venture that aims to combine live action with celluloid. Working on the premise that nothing is better than watching a bad film with friends, however, Nicko and Joe aim to bring you the best in bad movies along with a live DVD-style commentary from the stage."

And in today's UK Guardian, comedian Stewart Lee ponders the question: just what makes a bad film, well, bad?

Which leads me to ask, dear StudioFilmClubbers, if you were able to choose a bad film to show at SFC--with the exception of the obvious Showgirls--what would it be and why?

This week at the SFC: The Squid and the Whale

Thursday May 4th

The Squid and the Whale


Winner of two top Sundance prizes (the dramatic directing and Waldo Salt screenwriting awards) for filmmaker Noah Baumbach, "Squid's" accomplishment is especially remarkable because its material is so familiar. "Squid's" roots are in youthful autobiography, in a family's divorce and a son's coming of age, usually the elephant's graveyard of independent cinema.

The film's success against these obstacles demonstrates that if you are gifted enough — and if you have a superlative cast top-lined by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney— your story can belong to everyone. Clear-eyed and intimate, a deeply felt narrative that flinches from nothing, "Squid" is a model of what independent filmmaking can achieve, even on a hectic 23-day shooting schedule and a $1.5-million budget.

With a title whose meaning and resonance become clear only at the close, "Squid's" great strength is that it is as perceptive as it is personal. It's the work of a skillful writer-director (this is Baumbach's third film, following 1995's wonderful "Kicking and Screaming" and 1998's "Mr. Jealousy") who has what might be called perfect emotional pitch.

"I try not to think of the movie conceptually, I start with characters and conversations I find interesting," Baumbach says of his process in the Newmarket Press edition of his screenplay. But it is Baumbach's sensitivity to nuances within those characters, his ability to capture the painful yet comic intricacies of troubled relationships, that brings to mind Tolstoy's epigram that "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Convincingly set in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn in 1986, "Squid's" particular family is introduced playing tennis. The sides that are chosen, father Bernard Berkman (Daniels) and 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) versus mother Joan Berkman (Linney) and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), are the ones that will form off court as well.

In the ways casual sports contests have of revealing character, it's obvious before the match is over that the Berkman marriage is finishing. The pain of that dissolution will savage everyone's lives, destroying emotional moorings with indiscriminate ferocity.

Hit especially hard are the sons, who see their parents gradually change from comforting figures to seething adversaries, a switch that skewers their perceptions of the world and makes it especially difficult to hold on to a place in it.

The dominant member of the family is Bernard, a once-promising novelist turned college writing teacher. Spectacularly played by a full-bearded Daniels, Bernard is such an intense, complicated, frustrating figure it would take someone else's novel to do him complete justice. It is the gift of Daniels (who wears some of Baumbach's novelist father's clothes on-screen) to take on this impossible character on his own terms without condescension or special pleading.

The smartest and most self-absorbed man in any room, Bernard is filled with cocksure and prickly opinions about topics as varied as sports and literature. Someone who claims to have fired his agent because "he made a disparaging remark about the Knicks at a party," Daniels' Bernard lives so much in his head he has no idea what appropriate behavior is toward his family or the world. Coupled with his excellent cameo in "Good Night, and Good Luck," this is a performance that makes you wish there was even more of Daniels on contemporary screens.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, all this, Walt idolizes and idealizes his father, parroting his opinions and calling a story "Kafkaesque" even though he hasn't read it. A very earnest, very aware, very awkward boy, like his father in being more clueless than he realizes, Walt is beautifully played by Eisenberg, who held his own against Campbell Scott in "Roger Dodger." With a father like that as role model and advice giver, Walt's adolescence is headed for a bumpy landing.

Walt's more emotional younger brother, Frank, naturally sides with their mother, but that does not make his passage through this time any less torturous. Newcomer Kline (the son of Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline) does a beautiful job handling the complexities of this increasingly troubled young man. (Baumbach's real-life younger brother Nico has a cameo as one of Bernard's former students.)

As mother Joan, Linney expertly handles a role that is more complex than it seems at first. A caring mother who calls her sons "chicken" and "pickle," Joan can't help coming off as more centered than her husband. But certain of her actions as well as her way, as she says to her son, of "saying things the way you don't want to hear them," makes her more of a problematic parent than we initially realize. Further complicating her situation is that though her husband's career is dormant, she is coming into her own as a writer.

Gradually, horrifyingly, somehow comically, these four people move into the slow-motion nightmare that is separation and divorce.

It's a maelstrom that draws other people, like the boys' hunky tennis instructor, Ivan, and Bernard's sexy student Lili (William Baldwin and Anna Paquin, both ideally cast) into the chaos. As with any storm, the question is, who will survive and at what price.

Shot in Super 16 millimeter by Robert Yeoman to give it what the director calls a lived-in look and filled with interesting music (Pink Floyd's "Hey You" is a key plot element), "The Squid and the Whale" never compromises its integrity. Baumbach said he chose Super 16 partly as a tribute to the directors he loved from the 1980s — the Coen brothers, Jim Jarmusch, Spike Lee. If this marvelous film is any Indication, he is ready to take his place in their company.

"I just forged ahead"

The Toronto Sun reports on a new documentary about Trinidad-born writer Ramabai Espinet (whose most recent book was the novel The Swinging Bridge), made by Trinidadian-Canadian filmmaker Frances-Anne Solomon, which premieres this weekend.

"I think Frances-Anne did a wonderful job documenting my journey back to Trinidad," says Espinet, who also teaches Caribbean and Women's Studies at the University of Toronto. "I've always felt like I live in two places at the same time. I see both as a continuum not two separate places and Frances-Anne has managed to capture that in the documentary. She was able to see the connection between the homeland and the Diaspora within myself."

Any SFC regulars in Toronto this weekend, check it out Saturday or Sunday on Rogers Omni 1 Television.