Ben Hur

Ben Hur

Ben Hur Timur Bekmambetov, dir. Keith Clarke & John Ridley, script based on the novel by Lew Wallace Starring: Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur), Tony Kebbel (Messala), Morgan Freeman (Sheik Ilderim), Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus), Nazanin Boniadi (Esther), Sofia Black D’Elia (Tirzah), Ayelet Zurer (Naomi) I took my daughter to see Ben Hur. Rachael and I love going to movies together and she’s just recently returned from two years in England. But Rachael is a way tougher critic than me. When we got out of the screening of Ben Hur, Rachael’s first comment was, “They couldn’t even get the chariot race right.” And it’s true. The 1959 Ben Hur will forever be acclaimed for the race with its masterful cutting and clear, linear action direction. In the new version, the effect is chaotic, which would be fine if a sense of spectacular anarchy was being played out in the scene. Instead, everything feels confusing until the last couple of minutes when all the chariots have been eliminated save two: the one being ridden by Judah Ben-Hur and the other by his boyhood friend-turned-enemy Messala. But even in what should be a fatal confrontation, there is no sense of personal drama between the two. Suffice it to say, no one will be comparing the 2016 Ben Hur race to anything brilliant in the future. Despite having a $100 million dollar budget, the film seems cheap and cheesy. Everything feels like it was made with CGI including most of the main characters except for Jack Huston, who does a creditable job as Ben-Hur and the inimitable Morgan Freeman, who does his best as...
Standing Tall (La Tete haute)

Standing Tall (La Tete haute)

Standing Tall (La Tete haute) Emmanuelle Bercot, dir. & co-script w/Marcia Romano Starring: Catherine Deneuve (Judge Blaque), Rod Paradot (Malony), Benoit Magimel (Yann), Sara Forestier (Severine), Diane Rouxel (Tess), Yannick Courbe (Tonio) The opening night film at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Standing Tall is a tough little drama about Malony, an adolescent with anger issues who can’t stay on the right side of the law. The only hint of glamour is in the casting of Catherine Deneuve as the provincial youth court judge, whose decisions affect Malony’s life profoundly throughout the film. While this might seem surprising considering that Cannes is a famously fashionable festival, the fact is that their juries have tended to honour the hoi polloi, who never are actually allowed to attend the prestigious screenings. Ken Loach, the nitty-gritty British socialist has won the Palme d’Or twice and been nominated an incredible ten other times. The acclaimed Dardenne brothers, also known for their tough portrayals of the working class in their native Belgium have also garnered two Palme d’Or as well as a Grand Prix (second best) for a third film. Standing Tall is very much in the tradition of the Dardennes. The film is set in and around Dunkirk—hardly Paris—and Malony’s mother is a pot-head who can’t hold down a job and, despite being attractive, isn’t capable of keeping her boyfriends happy. Malony gets his kicks robbing cars and skipping school until Deneuve’s Judge Blaque sends him to juvenile camp in the country where he begins to get it together. The kid has immense anger issues, which keep on cropping up despite the encouragement...
Equity

Equity

Equity Meera Menon, director Alysia Reiner & Sarah Megan Thomas, producers Amy Fox, script Starring: Anna Gunn (Naomi Bishop), James Purefoy (Michael Connor), Alysia Reiner (Samantha), Sarah Megan Thomas (Erin Manning), Sophie Von Haselberg (Marin), Craig Bierko (Benji Akers) There’s been a lot of hype around Equity and rightly so. In an age when women are fighting harder than ever to direct, write and produce their own movies, it’s heartening to see a film that is a genuinely female created work. Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas not only produced the film, they also take two of the major acting roles. Second time feature film director Meera Menon, scriptwriter Amy Fox and lead actor Anna Gunn complete a quintet of talents, who have made a noteworthy film—slick but thoughtful and exceedingly well paced. Gunn plays Naomi Bishop, an investment banker, who is recovering from one badly handled IPO (initial public offering) in an otherwise impeccable portfolio. Denied advancement by her male boss, Naomi, in turn, has her way-more-than-capable assistant Erin (Thomas) hold off on a well-deserved pay increase. The frustrated duo fling themselves into their next potential IPO, a privacy company called Cachet. At the same time, Naomi realises that Samantha (Alysia Reiner), an old college friend, who is now working in the U.S. legal office, is investigating her. Talk about cachet: Naomi may have too much of it after working as an insider in the financial sector for years. Naomi’s occasional male companion, Michael, a hedge fund operator at her firm, also looms, like Samantha, as a potential threat. Does he simply want to have an affair with...
Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins Stephen Frears, director Nicholas Martin, script Starring: Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins), Hugh Grant (St. Clair Bayfield), Simon Helberg (Cosmé McMoon), Rebecca Ferguson (Kathleen Weatherley), Nina Arianda (Agnes Stark) The story of Florence Foster Jenkins is legendary in music circles. A rich society dame, she was a supporter of the arts and the financer and producer of the Ball of the Silver Skylarks, an annual production she put on at Manhattan’s Verdi Club. But Mme. Jenkins, as she used to call herself, was not an ordinary patroness of the arts. She was a singer, a soprano, who possessed, according to her accompanist Cosmé McMoon, an “excruciating quality” to her voice. Florence Foster Jenkins was beyond awful: she couldn’t carry a tune, had an awful rhythmic sense and couldn’t hit high registers if her life depended on it. The lady was so delusional that she persisted in presenting private concerts throughout her long life in high society venues in Newport, Rhode Island, Washington and, of course, Manhattan. Jenkins also recorded nine arias, which immediately became cult hits, beloved for their sheer ineptitude. In 1941, Time magazine reviewed her astonishing performance of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute, pointing out that its “nightqueenly swoops and hoots, her wild wallowings in descending trills, her repeated staccato notes like a cuckoo in its cups, are innocently uproarious to hear.” In a gesture that seems beyond hubristic, Florence Foster Jenkins rented Carnegie Hall and sold it out to such notables as Cole Porter and Lily Pons in her final concert in 1944. Lately, the Florence Jenkins story has...
Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer

Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer

Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer When I was a teenager, I went on a date to an arthouse cinema in Manhattan to see Eric Rohmer’s first international hit, My Night at Maud’s. I left the theatre stunned by all of the philosophical chatter that took place over an evening in a sophisticated French woman’s apartment—and the high degree of eroticism that could be expressed without what I, and most of the audience wanted: physical passion. I didn’t feel cheated but was puzzled. Who was Eric Rohmer, I wanted to know, and what was he trying to tell us? TIFF’s Cinematheque is in the midst of answering those questions for a new generation of cineastes this summer at Bell Lightbox. Dangerous Liaisons: The Films of Eric Rohmer is a six-week series, which shows all of the director’s major works, and runs to the end of August. The programme celebrates the work of a filmmaker who believed in the power of words and enjoyed showing the day-to-day life of bourgeois French society in the latter part of the 20th century. His films are elegant, beautifully acted and display a nuanced appreciation of how people fell in and out of love in France in the era after the defeat of the old colonial empire and before recent acts of terrorism disrupted the status quo, perhaps permanently. Ma nuit chez Maud (as my Quebecois friends called it) was part of a series that Rohmer was making in the ‘60s and ‘70s called Six Moral Tales. Thanks to a racy title and star-making performances by Jean-Louis Trintignant, Francoise Fabian and Marie-Christine Barrault,...
Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut: A double retrospective at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut: A double retrospective at TIFF Bell Lightbox

Hitchcock/Truffaut A double retrospective at TIFF Bell Lightbox The title of senior TIFF senior programmer James Quandt’s dual retrospective on Alfred Hitchcock and Francois Truffaut is “Magnificent Obsessions,” an apt term to describe the two directors’ love of women, twisted plots, beautiful locations and, above all, cinema. At first glance, they seem like the oddest of couples: Hitchcock, the corpulent Brit, whose old-fashioned manners barely concealed his darkly comic sensibility, and Truffaut, the lithe Frenchman, solemn and discrete until emotions or thoughts would suddenly spring forth from him. But they were born storytellers, who delighted audiences for decades with such classics as Rear Window, Small Change, The Birds, The Bride Wore Black, Saboteur, The Story of Adele H. and The Lady Vanishes. This appreciation of the two directors and Quandt’s curation, comes slightly late as the series began on July 7. The good news is that there’s much more to see of the fine work created by these masters before the retrospective concludes on September 4. What brought the two together was an idea first proposed by Truffaut in the 1950s when he was a film critic, “la politique des auteurs.” In it, he stated that directors make films great, not producers or actors or writers or cinematographers. A revolutionary theory at the time, the idea of director as “auteur” grew throughout the Sixties until it absolutely dominated not just film criticism but also what discerning audiences grew to love in cinema. The rise of the New American Cinema, the filmmaking contingent that included Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, wouldn’t have happened without the auteur theory....