Amour is cinema art, Quartet, The Last Stand and Camera Shy entertain
Old age is a key theme this week in three films, the much celebrated Amour, the comic Quartet and The Last Stand with the return of Arnold. Time itself is contemplated in another film. There’s also a ghost story, a paranoid fantasy and Canada’s 10 best of last year.
Here’s this week's list:
Amour: 5 stars
Quartet: 3 ½
The Last Stand: 3
Camera Shy: 3
The End of Time: 3
Rebelle (of Canada’s Top 10): 4
Mama: 2 ½
Broken City: --
AMOUR: It starts with a battering ram and ends with a shock but in between Michael Haneke’s fine film is a sensitive and very humane consideration of something we don’t often want to think about: what old age will do to us. And what it eventually will bring on. As unsettling as the subject is, and we’re spared few details, the film is not difficult to watch because the overriding tone, as the title suggests, is love.
Haneke, of Austria, is back in Paris working with two icons of French cinema: Emmanuelle Riva, whose career dates back to Hiroshima Mon Amour, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, best remembered for A Man and a Woman and Z. They play a couple in their 80s, both retired music teachers living comfortably in a sizeable apartment with their books and music. One morning, she suffers a small stroke. Sometime later, another. She’s hospitalized and when she returns she’s not the vital woman she was, but confined to a wheelchair and needing full-time care. A daughter (Isabelle Huppert) shows up a few times and various caregivers come through, but most of the time the elderly couple just have each other. He does the caring, the feeding and the diapering while she declines further. Riva’s expressive face continues to communicate as her capacity to speak drifts away. He shuffles around as old people do. Both don’t seem to be acting at all. It’s almost like watching your parents or grandparents. The film won the top prize at Cannes last May, a Golden Globe last Sunday and five Academy Awards nominations. It has to win. It’s an intensely emotional work of art. (5th Avenue Cinemas) 5 out of 5
QUARTET: Another examination of old age, played as a comedy drama this time but still respectful. The residents of a retirement home for entertainers put on a recital every year on Verdi’s birthday. Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and others are rehearsing under the gruff demanding direction of Michael Gambon when Maggie Smith arrives.
She’s a celebrated opera singer (“she was more ambitious than everybody else”) and something of a diva (“I never took less than 12 curtain calls”). The four should perform the quartet from Rigoletto but she refuses to be in the show, takes her meals in her room and won’t mingle. Old resentments, principally with a former husband, have to be worked out first and on the way there we get many funny scenes, an airy-light tone, smart writing and wonderful acting from these veterans. Collins plays a bit too ditzy; Connolly too lecherous, but Courtenay is dignified (even when he lectures a class of young people on the parallels between opera and hip hop) and Maggie Smith is again imposing, even when she’s vulnerable. (She drops an f-bomb. Is that a first?). Dustin Hoffman, in his first time directing a movie, gets strong performances out of them all. If you liked The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, you’re bound to enjoy this one too. (International Village, Park & Tilford and Langley Colossus) 3 ½ out of 5
THE LAST STAND: Yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger still has it. But he’s been smart in his comeback. He’s playing an old guy, a cop who left the noise of Los Angeles for a sleepy town in New Mexico, down near the border, where he is the sheriff. After his political wars, family scandal and divorce, he probably understands that urge to get away to where it’s quiet. He’s comfortable; even natural in the role.
Things don’t stay quiet of course. Not far away, In Las Vegas, the FBI is transferring a South American drug kingpin under super-high security. His cronies free him with an elaborate escape plan and send him driving south in a souped-up car. (He’s a race car driver on the side, so speeds of 197 mph are common). Other cronies are at the border building him a makeshift crossing but to get there he has to come through Arnold’s town. This is a modern western complete with guys shooting from roof tops and the lone prisoner in the town jail deputized to help in the coming battle. The scenes of gun play, under the direction of Jee-woon Kim of South Korea, are massive and excessive, a gun-lover’s dream. It’s also, and this is hard to say these days, a good example of how exciting gun action in the movies can be. This one gets silly at times but with great scenes like the escape, the pursuit and a car chase through a cornfield, it works. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
CAMERA SHY: A low-budget wonder from Vancouver that’s inventive and very funny. And doesn’t show at all that it was made for only $300,000. Its strength is the concept itself and the clever script that brought it to life. A corrupt city councilor (yes here in Vancouver), played by Nicolas Wright, is pushing a new casino. For his efforts he gets an invitation to enter federal politics and his comeuppance. A cameraman starts following him filming everything he does, starting in a motel room where he’s having a bit of sex with his secretary. Only he can see the guy and that drives him to bouts of paranoia.
His life starts cracking apart. His wife leaves him. The developer he’s been helping won’t come up with the money he needs. He accidentally kills his secretary’s boyfriend. But he keeps seeing the cameraman and a psychologist attributes that to Klapstock Syndrome, a malady director Mark Sawers and his co-writer Doug Barber dreamt up. The councilor then realizes he’s actually in a movie and he’ll just have to write his way out of his predicament. Meta like a Charlie Kaufman film, with quirky humor like the Coen Brothers and lots of local references and sights, Camera Shy is terrific light entertainment. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5
Playing in tandem with …
THE END OF TIME: Or maybe before there was time. Creation stories all over the world start there. Many languages use the same word for time and weather. Maybe time didn’t matter to the ancients. That would make our obsession with the clock, punctuality and other aspects of time relatively new. Maybe even a burden. It’s thoughts like those that occupy Peter Mettler of Ontario in this new film, which the Toronto Film Festival has put on its Top 10 Canadian list for 2012 but is likely to prove elusive to many. That’s because there’s no story. There is only contemplation on the subject of time. It’s delivered through narration, a few talking heads and many eye-catching images.
Mettler finds novel ways to visualize time – lava flowing from a volcano, a funeral, clouds floating over a hill, Buddhists gripping a tree. He visits the CERN particle accelerator in Switzerland where scientists are trying to simulate the Big Bang before which there was no time. He visits an abandoned church in run-down downtown Detroit. He ponders how technology has changed our perception of time and is told at one point “in reality there is no such thing as time by itself.” Apparently we just label it as such. Heady stuff if you have the time to sit down and take it in. (VanCity Theatre) 3 out of 5
CANADA’S TOP TEN: Here’s your chance to catch up with our best hope at this year’s Academy Awards. REBELLE, nominated under the name War Witch, is competing in the Best Foreign Language category.
It’s a harrowing and very moving tale of a young girl forced to become a child soldier in an un-named African country. Brutality, mysticism, hope and occasional happiness blend in this film that Montreal’s Kim Nguyen made in the Congo with a young actor he discovered there, Rachel Mwanza, mesmerizing in the lead.
It and STORIES WE TELL, Sarah Polley’s great documentary search for her own history, screen tonight (Friday) and tomorrow at the Pacific Cinematheque.
Cameron Bailey, the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival which chooses these Top 10, will be there to introduce both film tonight.
The rest, plus two programs of shorts, follow on various days between now and Feb. 4. (Go to the theatre’s website for more information: http://thecinematheque.ca/)
MAMA: Something happened to this film as it grew from a stylish and chilly 3-minute short to these 100 minutes. Too much has been thrown in to fill out the story. It’s become cluttered and that’s dulled the creepy scares. At least that’s what I imagine when I think of how gripping it could have been. Children in danger stories shouldn’t let the tension lapse like this and have us wait through repetitive scenes for the hair-raising stuff.
Two little girls are dumped in a deserted cabin in the woods by their murderous father who is tossed out the window by something we can’t see. Five years later two hunters find them, dirty, feral, non-verbal but alive. How is that possible? The film doesn’t hold back. We already know there’s a presence in that cabin that has taken care of them. They call it Mama. They’re turned over to the girls’ uncle (both he and the long-gone father are played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, of Game of Thrones) and his punk-rock girlfriend (Jessica Chastain, in a black wig and so soon after her Academy Award nomination).
They take forever to notice that “Mama” has come along too and exerts power over the girls. She’s a ghost and the script says a ghost is an emotion bent out of shape by some wrong committed in the past. The story has to find it and correct it. We get creepy scenes, a few good scares, style and atmosphere but not much new from rookie director Andrés Muschietti , who also made the original short. Guillermo del Toro, who did amaze us with Pan’s Labyrinth, only supervised here. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
Also now playing …
BROKEN CITY: Many think this is the leader among the new movies this week. And why not? Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg star, one of the Hughes Brothers (Allen) directs and the publicity machine has been busy. However, the studio then got in the way, cancelled media screenings and made it impossible to get reviews out for opening day. That’s not a good sign. (International Village and many suburban theatres)
NOTE: All the images are movie stills provided by the studios and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.