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Incendiary lives up to its title
What nonsense negativism from Steve "Cod" Carver in his post which does not even seem to be aware that the script is directly adapted from the celebrated Chris Cleave novel of the same name published on the same day as London's actual "7/7" attacks in 2005. This was one of my favorite's from Sundance 2008, and as an accredited film critic I am looking forward to the 25th anniversary edition in a few weeks time. I'm now sorry I missed "The Escapist" at Sundance which has also not yet been released commercially this side of the Atlantic. Incendiary is the first in a string of excellent Michelle Williams' performances, of which the best by far is in Wendy and Lucy. Comments here are always subjective. But when they slag others' professional judgments on the basis of little knowledge of either cinema or the world, they should be kept to oneself.
Easy Virtue (2008)
Brilliant from start to finish
From the flamboyant director of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this sublime adaptation of Noel Coward's tragic-comic play zings with dazzling wit and impeccable timing delivered by acting of the highest order. Who knew Jessica Biel could be so delicious as the American interloping fallen woman? Among the British stars, Colin Firth provides the counterpoint gravitas as a WWI surviving member of the "lost generation" who turns the tables on his insufferable wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) and besotted son. Easily one of the most entertaining movies of the past several years, it deserved the genuine spontaneous standing ovation at the world premiere screening I attended at the Toronto film festival. Scott Thomas is devastating in a totally different French-speaking role in "I've loved you for so long", for which she deserves an Oscar nomination. But see this for arch Brit humor at its finest.
Heavy Metal in Baghdad (2007)
A documentary that must be seen
I too saw this explosive high-risk film at the Toronto film festival, the day after Abu Risha, head of the Anbar Awakening Council in the supposedly "pacified" region of Iraq's notorious "Sunni triangle" was blown up ten days after meeting with President George Bush.
In their first venture into feature-length guerrilla film-making, Moretti, head of VICE Films, and Alvi, co-founder of counterculture VICE magazine, follow what has happened to the members of "Acrassicauda" (Latin for black scorpion), Iraq's first and only heavy metal band. They note that the band had played four concerts during the Saddam era by including a song praising the tyrant which everyone knew was an ironic fake. Since the Coalition "liberation" of 2003, they have played only two, the last in the summer of 2005. Since then all have joined the ranks of the over two million Iraqi refugees (another nearly two million are internally displaced), over a million alone in neighboring Syria. The U.S. during this time has accepted less than 500.
Shot by the intrepid duo in high-definition video during two dangerous trips to Baghdad and one to Damascus, the film contains candid interviews with band members, all apolitical and non-sectarian, speaking obscenity-laced English street talk. But then, their situation is obscenely perilous and unfree. It is not surprising for one to say: "(Expletive) this democracy", when their experience is one of a worsening life in hell followed by a "less than zero" subsistence exile in Damascus.
After the screening, the filmmakers informed the audience that band members had been refused Canadian visas to come to the festival, that they were facing expulsion back to Iraq from Syria by October 10, and appealed for donations through the website http://www.heavymetalinbaghdad.com/ to help them relocate.
I Love Your Work (2003)
Deserves the chance to finally be seen!
Like "Ryan" I also saw this movie at the 2003 Toronto film festival and from my vantage point (on which more below) I disagree that many in the audience reacted coolly to it. I and most others certainly did not. Indeed the movie was number 8 on my published list of the "top ten" for that year. So I was delighted upon seeing it reviewed in the December 2 New York Times that it finally makes it into a commercial cinema, if only in Manhattan. After that festival premiere screening 27 months ago I wrote: The first American film I saw turned out to be a revelation in more ways than one. A small-budget independent production looking for a distribution deal, I Love Your Work is an edgy and ultimately chilling insight into the destructive cult of celebrity an appropriate antidote for the Hollywood glamor syndrome of the Festival's opening weekend. Second-time director Adam Goldberg teams up with Giovanni Ribisi (both had breakout roles in Saving Private Ryan) to deliver this fatal object lesson on the perils of fame. As the falling star, Ribisi (also in Lost in Translation) gives the performance of his career. He's phenomenal. In one of those "you had to be there" twists, at the screening in the historic refurbished Elgin theater I ended up sitting directly behind Ribisi who was next to an anxious Goldberg and girlfriend Christina Ricci (also in the film, along with Canadian Joshua Jackson, and currently in Woody Allen's excellent Anything Else). Ribisi was recording the event with his own video camera, and as the credits rolled to loud applause I was able to lean over to him and say: "Congratulations, I really do love your work!"
Joyeux Noël (2005)
Destined to be a Christmas classic
Thanks to a special showing as one of the events to mark the centenary of the Alliance Française in Canada's capital, I had the privilege of attending a North American premiere of this remarkable film just two days before today Remembrance Day (Veterans Day in the U.S.) Both an appropriate theme and a cinematic Christmas gift come early. I think it may become my top film among several hundred seen this year, just as A Very Long Engagement - also set in the trenches of the First World War - captured my heart and critic's choice last December. Writer-director Christian Carion and all the actors do an amazing job in this multi-country Euro co-production. It should appeal not only to audiences across that continent but to film goers around the world. In addition to presenting a parable from real life relevant for any war-torn age, including our own I might add, Carion works wonders with front-line incidents great and small while drawing compelling individual character portraits from a top notch Scots, French and German cast, each speaking in their native language and accents. That goes for even relatively smaller roles: for example, that of the junior German officer at the front, Lieutenant Horstmayer (ironically a Jew who recalls a Paris honeymoon with his French-speaking wife), as played by the superb young actor Daniel Brühl (Goodbye Lenin, The Edukators). There is so much more that could be said about this remarkable and timely movie with a timeless message. Even had France not chosen Joyeux Nöel as its selection for the 2006 Oscar best foreign-language film category, I would herald it and rejoice in the advent of a new classic that is in another class altogether from the general run of "holiday movies". A story of harsh truths as well as transcendent art, it finds humanity and hope in the midst of battlefield horrors. Seasonal glad tidings indeed!
La neuvaine (2005)
Superb film could use novena of its own to reach larger audience
If a single picture can be worth a thousand words of reflection on the theme of changing seasons, then a new motion picture by Quebec writer-director Bernard Émond (20h17 rue Darling) could be said to be worth a thousand verses on the subject of life passages, rebirth and recovery. The Novena also offers the most profoundly respectful representation of honest Catholic faith seen at the movies in a very long time. It does so without any cloying religious sentimentality or sermonizing. Moreover, while remaining rigorously realistic in showing deadly violence, illness, and unbelief, The Novena's greatest achievement is committing to film pure acts of meditative silence and healing kindness. Most of us during our lives will experience, or know someone who is challenged by, deep physical and/or mental distress. The expression "there but for the grace of God go I", comes easily when bad things happen to others. But if such events happen to us, we cannot be sure how well we will cope, no matter how much we are used to being in control. Will we find the loving supports or guardian angel to pull us through? The Novena is that rarity combining religious observance and secular life with total integrity, dignity, and no trace of irony. It is the creation of an assured filmmaker that compares with that of the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman. While some will find it too slow-paced and sombre, I applaud its meticulous measured unfolding as brilliantly acted, edited, and photographed. Each frame is exquisitely lit and composed, from shadowy interiors to panoramic landscapes. The Novena won three awards at the Locarno film festival in August, including best actor for Patrick Drolet. It was also shown at September's Toronto festival. But among the recent parade of quality Quebec movies (such as "C.R.A.Z.Y.", Canada's official entry in the best foreign-language Oscar sweepstakes)director Émond makes no crowd-pleasing concessions of any kind. For the sake of a larger audience and a North American release, The Novena could perhaps use one of its own.