Wednesday, 26 January 2011

"The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector" Review: Grab the Popcorn!

The Mad Genius Speaks

Watching The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector the catchy phrase that will run though your mind is "mad genius". What else can you think of the man who compares his artistry as a producer to such notables as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Bach etc? The thing is, he is an amazing producer, having been credited with inventing the "wall of sound" that distinguished the music he produced from the late 50s to early 70s from other sounds coming out of America. Many, including Brian Wilson, have tried and failed to copy or better his technique.

Did you know Spector wrote Spanish Harlem? I don't know about you, but whenever I think of that song I think of Ben E. King. To me Phil Spector was the guy behind girl groups like, The Crystals (Da Doo Ron Ron) and The Ronettes (Be My Baby). I'm not a huge Beatles fan so I wasn't aware of his work with Lennon, Harrison, nor his production of the Beatles Let it Be album. The scope of Phil's work cannot be summarized in one film, but this documentary does a wondeful job of showing why Spector was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He deserves to be there because of his undeniable talent, even if he is an eccentric personality.

The documentary juxtaposes Spector talking about his career with Vikram Jayanti with footage of his trial for the murder of actress, Lana Clarkson. The style of the documentary suits the split personality of the producer-genius/alledged murderer. Linking the two view points is Spector's songs, played in length so that you understand the scope of his work and the ground-breaking impact of his lyrics. Reviews of his music is also captioned, which is both illuminating and annoying (at moments when you have to choose between reading the captions or listening to the dialogue). I almost envy Vikram Jayanti his interview with Spector. It must have been an amusing and captivating occasion for him.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector
by Vikram Jayanti
Run Time: 102 minutes
January 27th - Feb 2nd
TIFF Bell Lightbox
(corner of King and John Streets)

Schedule and Info

Monday, 24 January 2011

ATTENBERG REVIEW: It's Greek to Me, and I Like It!

Attenberg begins with two young women kissing, but what you are seeing is not lesbian ardor, it’s sex education: the virgin heroine Marina (Ariane Labed)is being instructed in the art of French kissing by her sexually experienced friend Bella (Evangelia Randou).

There is sex and nudity in Attenberg (the town after which the film is named), but there is no passion, and the barren existence that Marina lives is reflected in the “ruins” of empty buildings in the dying factory town and by her father’s terminal illness. Marina’s relationship with her father (Vangelis Mourikis) is an open exchange of scholarly understanding and love; her relationship with a visiting engineer (Giorgos Lanthimos) is more academic interest than romantic love or even lust. Her friend Bella’s promiscuity never seems to be based on any true carnality, and Marina’s widowed father hasn’t had sex in a long time. A miasma of lifelessness hangs about the town.

At the core of writer/director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s film is the examination of human behaviour. She sets four principal characters against a backdrop of a vacant seaside town. Even the scenes are sparsely populated with most scenes depicting Marina and another principal character. Framing the town and the story are zoo-like elements: clips of Richard Attenborough's animal documentaries and the “silly walks”/animal mimicry antics. Our participation in the film comes from watching the characters in the "Attenborough-like" world created by Tsangari.

I saw Attenberg because I wanted to hear Greek. I grew up hearing my friends speaking it and I had been missing the language of my youth. The last Greek film I had seen was the epic, The Weeping Meadow, by Theodoros Angelopoulos (2004). I knew that Attenberg would be a much smaller picture and I wanted to see what filmmaker, Athina Rachel Tsangari had to bring to the screen. Well, I heard Greek and was pleased; and, the fresh, independent spirit of a filmmaker that has dared to bring her own unique vision to the screen satisfied my curiosity. I especially enjoyed the dialogue between the intellectual Marina and her learned architect father, Spyros.

Attenberg will not be to everybody's taste--it may be a little to quirky for some-- but it has garnered some awards, which will, no doubt, inspire more Greek filmmakers to take advantage of this window of opportunity. If their ideas are as individual as Tsangari’s, then Greek cinema promises to bring some excitement to the current play-it-safe cinematic landscape.

Jan 21st – Jan 27th
Royal Cinema
608 College St. West

View schedule and trailer

Released by filmswelike

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Dear Oscar, Please Remember ANOTHER YEAR

Director/writer, Mike Leigh’s latest film, Another Year, is a flawless, understated gem, whose delicate beauty makes me wish I could whisper, “go see it!” in each of your ears instead of writing about it. I just don’t want the film to be over-hyped in a way that will detract from the simplicity of the story. Since I do want as many people as possible to go see this film , I will ask that when you do, that you leave any expectations of high drama at the door and prepare your senses for seasons filled with humour, pathos and reality.

Mike Leigh regulars, Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen, and Lesley Manville are the featured stars in the ensemble piece, Another Year. The story centers around Tom and Gerri (Broadbent and Sheen), a contented middle aged couple, their lonely, divorced friend, Mary (Manville), and their son Jack (Oliver Maltman). We follow these characters over the course of a year, watching the seasonal canvass change as Tom and Gerri cultivate their communal garden and welcome others into the warmth of their home.

Lesley Manville’s performance is so heartbreakingly spot on, you will feel embarrassed and protective of her, even as you laugh at her antics. Manville’s character, Mary, a woman in her fifties whose It Girl days have long passed, desperately wants to belong to Tom and Gerri’s home, so much so that she flirts inappropriately with Jack, whom she has known since he was ten (he’s now 30). But who wouldn’t want to sit at Tom and Gerri’s kitchen table with Tom at the stove and Gerri making a cuppa? They are that one couple that we all know who just seem to have the perfect familial chemistry. A couple who are not without joys or sorrows, but whom are too nice to incur our all out jealously, but of whom we can’t help but feel a twinge of envy. That’s why we can’t blame Mary completely for her feelings because we would have them too. So, when she goes too far we feel her pain and devastation, at the same time hoping that we would have the sense not to cross the barriers that her loneliness drives her to breach.

For all its serious emotions, Another Year is not entirely filled with despair. It’s this subtle balance of emotion that makes the film so exquisite. Mike Leigh continues to demonstrate that he is an exceptional craftsman when it comes to composing and directing improvised films that show the reality of every day life. You know that feeling you get when you pass a house and wonder what the people inside are like? Mike Leigh answers these questions brilliantly by choosing talented actors, setting them up in these "houses", and letting them say and do things that seem real. In actuality, these scenes are directed by a master who knows how to tell a good story, and who knows what other elements to bring to his screen fictions. For example, the beautiful score that supports rather than intrudes, and the lighting that enhances rather than infringes. For all of these reasons, I wish that you will give this film a chance and that the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences will also remember it at Oscar time.

Mike Leigh has received four Academy Award nominations for original screenplay (Happy-Go-Lucky, Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy and Secrets & Lies) and two for directing (Vera Drake and Secrets & Lies).

Released January 14th (Mongrel Media)
Screens at Varsity Cinemas and Yonge-Sheppard

Photo Credits:
Mary (Lesley Manville). Photo by Simon Mein (c) Thin Man Films Ltd., Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Director Mike Leigh. Photo by Simon Mein (c) Thin Man Films Ltd., Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Hail the Queen: Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

I first bragged about Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work on air in April of 2010 when I saw it at Hot Docs, and then in May 2010 when I saw it again at Inside Out. Well, here it is 2011 and I'm going to brag about this film again by reprinting my original review and my thoughts about the film now that it has been released on DVD.

The Film (original review from May 2010)
"This documentary is an honest portrait of perseverance and endurance. The title sums it up: Joan is a "piece of work" in the sense that she is different and edgy, and she is a work-a-holic. Her daughter, Melissa spells it out in the documentary when she says that all the comics she knows has a sense of insecurity that they never seem to lose no matter how famous they become. They all seem to long for the validation and attention they get from their audience. The film shows Joan stressing about empty calendar dates, working on her play, dealing with the business of being Joan Rivers, and, of course, doing her stand up. Her stand up is coarse, frank and extremely funny. This is the way she was back in her twenties, and this is how she continues to perform on stage in her seventies. Seeing her amidst the all-boys network at a George Carlin tribute, I couldn't help but wonder why, she has still not gained the accolades she deserves. She has paid her dues, and continues to do so, and dammit, I want more for her while she is still alive. I don't want to hear about her accomplishments after she dies. Let's hope this film will bring her the attention and and prestige she deserves." END

It amazed me that I still laughed out loud while watching the DVD. After all, I had already seen it twice. I credit my laughter to the fact that Joan Rivers is an artist (I'm not talking about the fact that she paints, and has a jewllery line). Joan Rivers knows how to craft jokes. She is genuinely funny, but being funny in life can't sustain a career in comedy. You must have incredible comic timing or your jokes will fall flat. You also have to be able to write jokes, and Joan writes constantly. People forget that she used to write material for other comedians/talk show hosts before being on Carson launced her into the spotlight. She has also written several books. She has a files upon files of jokes on any given topic, and she still pracitices stand up at little night clubs in New York to test her material. You think you want to do comedy? Can you handle a heckler and still still deliver the material that people paid to see you do? Joan's a work-a-holic, so I don't expect you to keep her pace, but can you do even half as much work as she continues to do? If you can, tell me who you are and I'll come see you.

Don't pidgeon hole Joan Rivers because she fits into too many boxes. Take her audience for example: young, old, gay, straight, rich, poor. Everybody can relate to what she has been through: her joys (daughter Melissa and grandson, Cooper), her sorrows (husband Edgar committed suicide), her work ethic (she will play any where for the money). At 76, she is still "opening doors" for female comedians, and she has not abdicated her role as Queen of Comedy. As is mentioned in the film, someone will have to take that crown from her cold, dead hands. Good luck to them!

The DVD falls a little little flat when it comes to the Bonus Material, but the flaws are minor. Most of the Deleted Scences should have remained deleted, and did we really need to see the TV Spots for the movie? The Sundance Q & A sequence is the best of the Bonus Material because we get to hear directly from Joan. One gaping hole in the DVD is what became of a long time friend that Joan had to break with during the course of filming. It's the only time she cried in the film, and her pain was palpable. I don't know if it was too difficult for her to talk about further, but I thought the question of "What happened to So and So?" would have been included in the DVD. But you're going to buy the DVD for Joan and her candid revelations about her life, so if she omits one tidbit, that's more than okay by me. I love you Joan!

DVD Details
Entertainment One Presents
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work
A Film By Ricki Stern & Annie Sundberg
85 minutes / Documentary
14A – Coarse Language, Crude Content
84 Minutes
Release Date: Jan. 11, 2011


Monday, 17 January 2011

Nostalgia for the Light Shines at the TIFF Bell Lightbox

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT, my number 2 pick (and it was a very close runner up to West is West) at TIFF 2010 is screening at the TIFF Bell Lightbox (corner of King and John Streets) until January 19th. Wish it had a longer run because this Chilean documentary by master director, Patricio Guzmán, is exquisite (see my TIFF review). This film is made for everyone, but will be of particular interest to history lovers and astronomy buffs. Since TIFF always gets the best film prints, seeing the stars on a large screen at the Lightbox will be an amazing treat for the senses. Spanish with English subtitles.

Runs until Feb 2nd
TIFF Bell Lightbox
(corner of King and John)

Schedule and Info

I was reviewing past coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and realized that as good as it is to use social media, I m...