TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Kathryn Bigelow

TIFF Cinematheque Presents - The Films of Kathryn Bigelow

The TIFF Cinematheque first retrospective on Kathryn Bigelow entitled KATHRYN BIGELOW: ON THE EDGE begins July 21.

Bigelow’s first film was the low-budget debut THE LOVELESS (an arty, hipster spin on ’50s biker movies, co-directed with Monty Montgomery and starring Willem Dafoe)  Following that, she  made her critical (but commercial unsuccessful) breakthrough with NEAR DARK, a grimy yet wickedly stylish tale of a pack of vampires traversing the American Southwest.  This was followed by a slew of films including POINT BREAK, STRANGE DAYS and others culminating with her glorious Oscar winner THE HURT LOCKER.  The retrospective arrives in time with the release of her new film DETROIT.

Bigelow was married to and divorced from director James Cameron.  Their collaboration can be seen in his script of STRANGE DAYS which Bigelow directed.

Bigelow’s best films are NEAR DARK, BLUE STEEL and STRANGE DAYS, all three of which oddly enough, did not do well at the box-office.

In April 2010, Bigelow was named to the Time 100 list of most influential people of the year.

For the complete program of the retrospective with screening dates and times, please check the TIFF website at:

CAPSULE REVIEWS OF SELECTED FILMS:

BLUE STEEL (USA 1990) ****
Directed by Kathryn Boggle

BLUE STEEL is yet a another really awesome Bigelow film that flopped at the box-office.  She wrote this film with Eric Red after their collaboration NEAR DARK and marks another very human emotional script with a female cop character.  Just as Bigelow functions as a female action director BLUE STEEL is set in a man’s world.  Jamie Lee Curtis plays a rookie cop who foils a grocery store hold-hp shooting the robber (Tom Sizemore) who pulls a gun on her.  But she does not notice the robber’s gun stolen by a customer, who turns out to be a psychopath (Ron Silver) who uses the gun on a killing spree around NYC.  Detective Turner (Curtis) engages in a cat-and-mouse game with the killer that consists of a series of actions set-pieces.  The only problem is the sudden appearance of the killer shooting at Turner in a subway station for no reason except to provide the climax for the movie.  Still, this is Bigelow at her exciting best, and BLUE STEEL is an absorbing watch from start to end.  Ron Silver is the creepiest villain I have seen for a long time in a movie.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJTOmShc9E0

NEAR DARK (USA 1987) ***** Top 10
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

NEAR DARK is Kathryn Bigelow’s second and arguably BEST movie feature that mixes the western and vampire horror genres based on a script written by Bigelow and Eric Red.  The story follows a young man, Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) in a small midwestern town who becomes involved with a family of nomadic American vampires.  It all starts one night, when Caleb meets an attractive young drifter named Mae (Jenny Wright).  Just before sunrise, she bites him on the neck and runs off.  The rising sun causes Caleb's flesh to smoke and burn.  Mae arrives with a group of roaming vampires in an RV and takes him away.  The film plays like a male victim basically in a female victim role which makes sense since Bigelow is a female action director.  NEAR DARK is one action set piece after another, the top two being the bar segment where the vampires terrorize a local biker bar, killing everyone before burning it down followed by a police takedown at a motel.  The only problem with the film is Bigelow’s Hollywood ending where Mae, the vampire becomes human again with the couple living happily ever after.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FiYSirEHS5E

ZERO DARK THIRTY (USA 2012) ***1/2

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

ZERO DARK THIRTY (referring to the period of time 30 minutes past midnight) is the story of perhaps the greatest American manhunt in history – the search and capture of Osama Bin Laden.  The story centres on the character of naïve CIA agent who goes by the name of Maya (Jessica Chastain) who supposedly masterminded the discovery of the whereabouts of OBL.  The navy seals were called in to attack the fort with the result of him being killed.  But not after Maya has given out all that she has got.  The script has her undergo the typical coming-of-age growing up to maturity as she accomplishes her goal.  Initially, shocked but accepting the torture by the American military, she gradually grows from soft to hardened in order to get the job done.  Maya finally reaches her angry peak when she confidently says to the Navy Seals, “You go and kill Bin Laden for me,” as if it is her own private vendetta.  The script and director keeps the film moving fast from start to finish keeping the audience’s attention.  The climatic segment of the raid on the fort in the dark of night is brilliantly executed.   

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxC_JNz5Vbg

TIFF Cinematheque Presents - French Crime Classics

TIFF CINEMATHEQUE Presents - FRENCH CRIME CLASSICS

This new Cinematheque series showcases post war French Crime classics, may of which are seldom seen.  One of the best films in this series is the newly restored PANIQUE, a 1945 black and white film (remade by Patrice Leconte as MONSIEUR HIRE in 1989) which I got to see for the first time, and must say is the BEST film I have seen this year.

PANIQUE was selected for both the Cannes and New York Film Festivals and was received with critical accolades when it opened at New York’s Film Forum.  The film is capsule reviewed below.  A MUST-SEE!  (Panique screens on Thursday, July 20 at 6:30 p.m.)

French Crime Classics running from July 6 to September 3 is curated by James Quandt, Senior Programmer, TIFF Cinematheque.  There is a total of 25 classic crime films, several in new or restored prints.

Due to time constraints, I am unable to review at this time, all the screeners provided to me by the Cinematheque.  However, more reviews will be added to this article, so please keep checking for more updated reviews.

CAPSULE REVIEWS OF SELECTED FILMS:

ASCENSEUR POUR L’ECHAFAUD (ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS) 

(France 1957) **** 

Directed by Louis Malle 

One of Jeanne Moreau’s early films that director Louis Malle help put on the filmmaking map.  Moreau does a lot of sulking and wandering around the city like a crazed lady when her lover (Marurice Ronet) fails to turn up for the rendezvous after being locked and trapped in an elevator after office hours as a result of a murder they both conspired on.  The victim is the husband and the target the prize money that the two lovers hope to live happily ever after with.  But as stories like these are, nothing goes as planned.  A young couple steal the car and murder two German tourists with Ronet being the prime suspect.  Director Malle fills his suspense thriller with lots of details that aid the story’s authenticity, especially in the segments in which Ronet is trapped in the lift.  The black and white cinematography (by Henri Decae) is superb and aided by an excellent jazz trumpet score by Miles Davis.  A beautifully stunning and entertaining suspense thriller! 

LES DIABOLIQUES (France 1955) ***** Top 10 

Directed b H.G Clouzot 

Undoubtedly the best suspense murder thriller of all time!  Based on the novel by Pierre Boileau, the film is the typical Hitchcock movie.  It was rumoured that Clouzot bought the rights of the novel just before Hitchcock could, thus infuriating the Master of Suspense.  But Hitchcock could not have made a better film.  Shot in black and white with the word sinister printed on every scene, DIABOLIQUE tells the story of a mistress and wife of a boarding school owner conspiring together to commit the perfect murder.  As one school colleague put it - it is really strange to see the wife comforting her husband’s mistress.  Simone Signoret plays the strong mistress while Vera Clouzot plays the weak hearted wife, both abused physically and mentally by the man they plan to murder.  Of course in stories like these, things never go as planned.  The body goes missing and the plot twists more than once at the end.  Clouzot ‘s film contains some wickedly brilliant moments.  The one in which the wife begins to warn her husband of the poisoned wine he is about to down only to get slapped by him is a classic.  She then quietens to pour him more of the poisoned wine.  Another has her burn the evidence with a match, the light brightening up her face to reveal her reaction.  As the two women leave in the car to drive back to the school with corpse in the boot, the neighbour says casually that the cops are around the major intersections theses days.  One sentence of dialogue such as this one is sufficient to drum up the audience anticipation for the entire car trip.  The atmosphere of the 50’s countryside France, the boarding school and emotional trappings of the two women are all wonderfully created.  DIALBOLIQUE was remade with Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani in the 90’s, but some films like this one (and all Hitchcock films) should never be remade. 

JUDEX (France/Italy 1963) ****
Directed by Georges Franju

JUDEX (original creator Louis Feuillade) is a French mysterious hero who punishes evil men like a judge passes sentences.  The plot revolves the evil banker Favraux, receiving a threatening note from Judex (Channing Pollocak) demanding that he pay back people he has swindled.  He is later drugged by Judex and locked away.  But Favraux is not the only villain in the piece.  Meanwhile, the former governess, Diana (Francine Berge) , kidnaps Favraux’s daughter Jacqueline (Edith Scob) to try to get the banker's money.  At the same time, private detective Cocantin (Jacques Jouanneau) bumbles his way (like an Inspector Clouseau) trying to figure out what is going on.  The film is rich in period atmosphere especially in the costume ball segment where JUDEX makes a surprise appearance wearing a costume with the head of a hawk.  The film wonderfully transports the audience into the style of early French cinema.

MADEMOISELLE (UK/France 1966) ****
Directed by Tony Richardson

A film that is seldom seen but should for the many famous names credited to it - among them director Tony Richardson (TOM JONES, THE ENTERTAINER), actress Jeanne Moreau (also seen in ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS in this series), gay writer/poet Jean Genet whose story is based from and Marguerite Dumas who wrote the script.  MADEMOISELLE (Moreau) is evil as evil can get.  She is shown breaking eggs in a nest and replacing the squashed eggs in the nest for no reason except to show that she is some psychopath.  She is a school teacher in the village causing havoc by flooding the farms, committing arson and poisoning the farm animals while the villagers blame the Italian woodcutter, Manou, (played by Ettore Manni) for their losses.  The film only hints at the reason she is committing all this evil.  The film plays like a suspense sexual thriller and yes, Jean Moreau is finally seduced by the hot sweaty harry hunk of the Italian.  A weird art film that is by no means boring but fascinating from start to finish.

PANIQUE (PANIC) (France 1946  ) ***** Top 10

Directed by Julien Duvivier

The first film (before Patrice Leconte’s MONSIEUR HIRE with Michel Blanc) based on the novel Les Fiançailles de M. Hire by Georges Simenon, PANIQUE has all the elements of a film classic.  The plot is a beauty and the beast like story with all the villagers at the end of the film lynching who they think is the murderer of a an innocent girl.  After an elderly woman is murdered, the murderer realizes that Monsieur Hire (Michel Simon), a solitary Jewish neighbor on the courtyard where the main characters live, knows who is responsible. The murderer and his girlfriend, Alice (Viviane Romance) manipulate local opinion against Hire, who is ostracized by the community. It does not help that M. Hire falls in lvd with Alice.  He tells Alice his every move, making him more vulnerable to the murderer.  They then plant evidence in Hire's apartment to confirm popular suspicions.  Director Duvivier builds up on the suspicion and mistrust by the villagers on the stranger, criticizing the small French town mentality.  The butcher questions the the preference of his pork chops to be bloody hen M. Hire buys the, and another is suspicious of the gifts M. Hire offers to a little girl.   The town is interested in cheap gossip, tacky entertainment like lady wrestling and taking matters into their own hands.   Beautifully shot in black and white with M. Hire wonderfully performed by Michel Simon, PANIQUE is a thrilling tragedy from start to finish.

TIREZ SUR LE PIANIST (SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER) (France 1960 ) ****

Directed by Francois Truffaut

 

One of Truffaut’ more obscure but no less impressive feature, SHOOT THE PIANO PLAYER follows the adventures of a bar’s pianist, Charlie played by French singer Charles Aznavour after his bother runs to him for hiding.  The film is part thriller part romance but it is these little details of the film that creates the charm and magic of this sensitive film.  One scene has Charlie contemplating whether to ask Lena (Marie Dubois) to have a drink or to be more subtile by asking her if she was thirsty.  When he immediately turns to her to utter by mistake, “Let’s go for a drink,” she has already walked off.  The execution of musical numbers like the rendering of “Framboise” also does the trick.  Aznavour is no great actor, by Truffaut milks the charm that has made this singer so famous.   Again, the are lots of shots of women’s sexy long legs here as in Truffaut’s other films especially L’HOMME QUI AIMES LES FEMMES.  I saw the film only once 20 years ago and was not really impressed then, but am now.

Film Review: Ange et Gabrielle

LOVE AT FIRST CHILD (ANGE ET GABRIELLE) (France 2015) ***

Directed by Anne Giafferi

     The English title tells it all.  LOVE AT FIRST CHILD is a French romantic comedy of a couple that falls in love as a result of a baby.  But the baby are not theirs but their kids’.  This film seems ideal for a Hollywood remake as follows the line of many French comedies.  The screenplay by Anne Giafferi and Anne Le Niy is based on a play by Murielle Magellan.     

The film begins with a semi-hysterical woman, Gabrielle (Isabelle Carre) barging into the office of Womanizer Ange (singer and actor Patrice Brunel).  He is accused of having an uncaring son, Simon (Thomas Soliveres) who has impregnated her daughter, Claire (Alice de Lencquesaing) now studying in school.  All this is a lame excuse for Ange and Gabrielle to argue and eventually fall in love.     

But writer/director Giaferri’s film is not without its charm.  It is difficult to dislike a film that has charm and nice human touches spread throughout the movie, despite the fact that this is a typical Harlequin romance complete with obstacles to the romance and an obvious happy ending.  This fact might be the reason the film is going straight to vod in North America after doing only so-so at the box-office.     Director Giafferi takes the play out into the open so that the audience is never aware of the film’s source.  There is a neat scene where Angie and Gabrielle kiss in a playground surrounded by children and another showing two loving pigeons on a rooftop.  The film also updates the story to include political correctness of a gay marriage of one of Ange’s colleagues.      

Like the French comedy THREE MEN AND A BABY, LOVE AT FIRST CHILD contains lots of shots of a cute baby.  The baby featured in this film is really cute, impossible to dislike and director Giafferi has captured and exploited (in a good way) all the best baby moments.     Heart throb singer star Patrick Bruno is now 58 and his age shows.  But his charm is not lost and his womanizing character and romanced comes across convincingly enough.  Cesar winner Isabelle Carrie is also charming enough, looking so much like Diane Keaton with her glasses,  But the two young a actors, Thomas Soliveres and Alice de Lencquesaing give he film a fresh look.  It is a pity that they only deliver supporting performances.  A full movie could have been made on young love, of their characters, perhaps a young adult romantic drama similar to the ones Mia Hansen-love makes.     

LOVE AT FIRST CHILD makes its debut on vod (video on demand) Nationwide on Tuesday, July 11 on all major platforms including  iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Vimeo, and various other cable operators.  The film makes a good romantic evening home with a loved one for an alternate night at the movies.

Trailer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=SrhGDhu9IzM

TIFF Cinematheque Presents - Jean-Pierre Melville

TIFF Cinematheques Presents - The films of Jean-Pierre Melville

TIFF Cinematheque’s SUMMER IN FRANCE takes a different look this year with a Jen-Pierre Melville tribute.

Jean-Pierre Grumbach was born in 1917 in Paris, France, the son of Berthe and Jules Grumbach.  He took the name of Melville after the war, after his favourite American author Herman Melville.   His family were Alsatian Jews.  After the fall of France in 1940 during World War II, Grumbach entered the French Resistance to oppose the German Nazis who occupied the country. 

After the war, Melville entered film directing, opening his own studio and initially making minimalist films.  His films are known for featuring thee great name French stars -Alain Delon, Lino Ventura and Jean-Paul Belmondo.

His films have a characteristic look and bear common themes.  His themes are often gangster capers where double-crosses and prison (escaped convicts or gangsters coming out after serving their sentences) are tied into the story. Melville’s films are rich in film noir atmosphere 

and more than often a delight to watch.

For more information of the series, venue and ticket pricing, check the Cinematheque website at:

http://www.tiff.net/#series=army-of-shadows-the-films-of-jean-pierre-melville

CAPSULE REVIEWS of Selected Films:

L’ARMEE DES OMBRES (ARMY OF SHADOWS) (France 1969) **** 

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville 

Based on real experiences in the French Resistance, Joseph Kessel’s fiction novel is given worthy treatment in Melville’s 150 minutes film adaptation.  The centre of the piece is civil engineer Resistance Fighter Philippe Gerbier (Lino Ventura) who at the beginning of the film is captured by the Vichy police and put in a prison camp.  A violent escape and other adventures allow the audience to be treated to the detailed exploits of the Resistance fighters.  Though not short of action and suspense (the best bit with the audience waiting almost two minutes waiting for Gerbier to execute his second escape), Melville effectively creates the mood of the desperation of the fighters and the atmosphere of the dangers of the times.  Simone Signoret steals the show as Mathilde, one of the chief organizers of the Resistance.  The film is well paced and flows smoothly from start to finish with the Arc de Triomphe in the initial and final shots.  ARMY OF SHADOWS is as meticulously plotted as one of Melville’s heist movies. 

LE DEUXINEME SOUFFLE (THE SECOND WIND) (SECOND BREATH) (France 1966) **** Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Melville shows in this crime caper about and scaled criminal Gustave Minda (Lino Ventura) that there is honour among thieves.  Gu (short for Gustave) is well respected in the criminal world for his expertise and loyalty.  He is given a job to do which he needs the money in order to escape to Italy via Marseilles where he can live the rest of his life.  But Inspector Blot (Paul Meurisse) is a cunning sleuth who eventually  puts all the clues together to fps out Gu.  As is most of Melville films, the elements of betrayal, prison, cop vs. crook, heist execution are all present.  his is one of the longer melville films running close to 2 hours and 20 minutes but with really a dull moment.  Both Meurisse and Ventura are excellent in their respective roles of cop and criminal.  It is hard to take sides of either.  This was Melville’s most successful film commercially.

DEUX HOMMES DANS MANHATTAN (TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN) (France 1969) ****

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

There are three reasons to watch Melville’s TWO MEN IN MANHATTAN.  The first is that it is a rare screening of the film, which is largely unavailable in other forms.  Second, this is the only film that is both directed and star Melville.  Melville plays Maurice, a French journalist in NYC, one of the two men in Manhattan.  He and Pierre Grasset play two French journalists in New York City searching for a missing United Nations diplomat.  In the process, they uncover some nasty bits on the diplomat, but decide to do the right thing.  The third reason to se the film is to experience the rich film noir atmosphere of this piece. Ironically, it’s is not a general crime caper, but there the typical crime element such as is - hunt for a missing person, dead bodes and coloured characters like the women in the life of the diplomat - an actress, a prostitute, a stripper and a jazz singer.

UN FLIC (France 1972) ****

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville

Deliciously wicked Melville.  The film begins with a quotation by Eugène-François Vidocq which is repeated by Alain Delon’s character in the film:  "The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference and derision..."   Then Melville attempts and succeeds in proving the saying with his crime tale centring on flic, Edouard Coleman, played by Alain Delon in his first cop role for Melville after playing criminals in LE SAMOURAI and LE CERCLE ROUGE.  Alain Delon’s is just as violent and cool if not more than Clint Eastwood’s DIRTY HARRY.  This can be observed in the hilarious scene where he gets a classic trio of pickpockets to speak up.  There are lots to enjoy in this crime caper, the best of which is a suspenseful bank robbery at the Banque National de Paris in the suburbs of Paris in which one of the robbers is wounded by a bullet.  Melville includes nice bits like a Santa Claus informer, a common love interest (Catherine Deneuve) between flic and crook and American actor Richard Crenna speaking perfect French.  As expected, Melville’s film is rich in film noir atmosphere complete with wicked details like the crooked laid out lit windows of police station building.  More story and easier to follow than the usual Melville film and even more entertaining as a result!  p.s.  Is there a sexier couple than Alain Delon and Catherine Deneuve?

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