Sunset Song

Sunset Song

Sunset Song Terence Davies, director & script based on the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon Starring: Agyness Deyn (Chris Guthrie), Peter Mullan (John Guthrie), Kevin Guthrie (Ewan Tavendale), Jack Greenless (Will Guthrie), Daniela Nardini (Jean Guthrie), Ian Pirie (Chae Strachan), Douglas Rankine (Long Rob) Let’s cut to the chase. Terence Davies is one of the finest film directors in the world; arguably the greatest auteur in England now. His gorgeously shot evocation of life in Scotland a century ago, Sunset Song, is hanging on for a second week at one downtown Carleton Cinema. You should see it—and bring a friend. Films made in 65mm aren’t intended to be experienced on TV. If you love cinema, join me in making a fuss over this remarkable film. Terence Davies is one of the great Romantics of cinema. He loves the pure power of the visual in a way that few directors do anymore.  Throughout Sunset Song, cameraman Michael McDonough circles around, tracks in and, most beautifully, pulls back to dramatise scenes in which Davies’ characters, the Guthries, struggle to make a crumbling world seem safe for a few final moments. Sunset Song opens with a tracking shot of a wheat field in Scotland. Suddenly, a bonnie lass (as the Scots would have said called her) pulls up from the earth where she’d been lying to look at the land around her. The young woman is Chris Guthrie, a bright student who loves literature but is equally drawn to the animals and crops in the farm where she’s grown up. We soon realise that Chris’ life is not an easy one. John,...
The Man Who Knew Infinity

The Man Who Knew Infinity

The Man Who Knew Infinity Matthew Brown, director & script Starring: Dev Patel (Srinivas Ramanujan), Jeremy Irons (G.H. Hardy), Toby Jones (John Littlewood), Stephen Fry (Sir Francis Spring), Jeremy Northam (Bertrand Russell), Kevin McNally (Major MacMahon), Devika Bhise (Janaki), Arundhati Nag (Ramanujan’s mother) This is the age of films about mathematics. Think back over the past 20 years and you’ll likely recall with some fondness The Infinity Game, Good Will Hunting, Proof, A Beautiful Mind, Pi, Money Ball and probably a few others like I.Q. with the late great Walter Matthau as Einstein or the Canadian sci-fi brain puzzler Cube. But if you go back to Hollywood’s Golden Age and try to recall a math movie, you’ll soon realise that there’s nary a one. I think it’s the rise of personal computers that made math accessible and interesting to the masses. At any rate, you can now raise significant numbers to produce them. A truism among advocates of documentaries is that truth is stranger than fiction. Certainly that’s the case with the tale of Srinivas Ramanujan, a poor Tamil Hindu Brahmin, who dropped out of two colleges in India, but is now recognised as one of the greatest mathematics geniuses of all time. A complete original, he made important contributions to number theory, continued fractions and mathematical analysis. His journals, which offer over 3900 proofs of his theories are still being studied as if they’re holy texts and his ideas are now being applied to equations surrounding the properties of black holes. Ramanujan was a great enigma. A quiet, passionate Indian living during the height of the British Empire—his...
Pages UnBound Festival

Pages UnBound Festival

Pages UnBound Festival A festival of the arts and literature It’s rare that I get personal in my reviews on Classical 96.3’s wonderful website but I am going to do it now. I’m the artistic director of an arts and literature festival called Pages UnBound and I want to tell you why this has come about. For three decades, I ran a bookshop on Queen Street West called Pages and it was, hands down, the finest working experience in my life. At Pages, I got to order the books I wanted to read: the best in innovative literary fiction; books on cinema, photography, design and architecture; hard hitting political texts; graphic novels (once they started being published); cultural theory; prescient books on the environment; beautiful children’s literature; belles lettres; and more. It was a cornucopia of delights. At Pages, I was a kid in candy shop. I assembled an entertaining, hard working staff, who loved books and the shop. We found unique titles and authors and actively touted them. And the public loved it. It seemed that the more obscure and particular we  got, the more Pages’ readership responded. We had art windows; put on great events outside of the shop and acted as community builders, putting up posters and selling tickets for any art or political event in town that asked us to do so. Then, it stopped. The rent went sky high, just when Amazon started truly undercutting the prices on books—a good thing for customers but the kiss of death for all but the most inventive or hardheaded or well-financed independent bookstore. Pages closed—with dignity, paying...
Hot Docs 2016: It’s Awesome

Hot Docs 2016: It’s Awesome

It’s awesome. Who doesn’t hate the word now that teenagers everywhere have mangled its meaning into nothingness? Being awesome meant that you inspired “fear and wonder,” according to Webster’s dictionary. But why rely on an American when we have the Brits to help us? According to the Oxford, awesome is “daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension and fear.” OK—what’s awesome, in the old-fashioned sense, when you think of Toronto film festivals? TIFF, to be sure, but what about Hot Docs? And, indeed, what about great docs? Can they inspire “fear and admiration”? I’d say so. It’s probably too late to revive the word “awesome” in our lifetimes, but let’s try to restore its power for a few moments while contemplating this year’s Hot Docs festival. The most impressive thing about Hot Docs is that the festival’s organisers, Chris McDonald and Brett Hendrie along with such creative programmers as Shane Smith, Sarafina DiFelice and Lynne Fernie (among many others), have succeeded in turning an oxymoron into reality. A couple of decades ago, the majority of people “knew” that documentaries were boring, although they might convey relevant information. Now, the apparent contradiction has been turned upside down and miraculously come into rude health: documentaries, repurposed as “docs,” have indeed become “hot.” Look at the lineups over the next ten days at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, the Isabel Bader Theatre, TIFF Bell Lightbox and the other 10 venues that host the festival. Last year, the attendance at Hot Docs was over 200,000 and it’s more than likely that more people will come to this year’s screenings. These aren’t idle filmgoers: many are...
The Devil’s Horn

The Devil’s Horn

The Devil’s Horn Larry Weinstein, director David New, editor & co-script w/David Mortin and Michael Segell The new film about the history of the saxophone, The Devil’s Horn, might have only been of passing interest if it wasn’t for its director, Larry Weinstein. One of Canada’s hidden treasures, Weinstein has directed some of the finest music documentaries in the world. Although his work as an auteur—and I use the word advisedly–isn’t highly recognized, a number of the films he created for Rhombus Media over the decades have won accolades: Ravel’s Brain; September Songs: the Music of Kurt Weill; The Radical Romantic: John Weinzweig, My War Years: Arnold Schoenberg; Solidarity Song: the Hanns Eisler Story; Beethoven’s Hair; and Burnt Toast (with music by Alexina Louie)—to name just some highlights. With The Devil’s Horn, Weinstein employs techniques that have served him well over the years. He has an eye for quirky individuals and is able to get relaxed, spontaneous interviews from musicians and historians. Here he concentrates on a diverse group of saxophonists: the brilliant octogenarian jazz legend Jimmy Heath; the accomplished Roma musician Yuri Yunakov; the troubled avant-gardist Giuseppi Logan; studio musician Colin Stetson; the gospel playing minister Dr. Vernard Johnson and garage band rocker Rob Lind. They’re all in good form except for Logan, whose story is mainly recounted through some of his friends who are helping out a superb player who has become a street musician. Contrasting these contemporary tales is the historical account of Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, the strange, gifted man who invented the saxophone in 1846. Weinstein and crew are on hand for a celebration of...
A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King Tom Tykwer, director & script based on the novel by Dave Eggers Starring: Tom Hanks (Alan Clay), Alexander Black (Yousef), Sarita Choudhury (Dr. Zahra Hakem), Sidse Babett Knudsen (Hanne) What’s happened to the American Dream? In A Hologram for the King, director Tom Tykwer’s take on Dave Eggers’ novel, the dream has morphed into a hologram conferencing device, which might save a down-and-nearly-out salesman’s career. Alan Clay, an endlessly adaptable corporate peddler, has gone to Saudi Arabia to sell the King on a very pricey new media gadget that will allow deals to be conducted long distance with—effectively—the phantoms of big business people. Only middle managers like Clay will have to sweat it out in the King’s new Economic City; the real moneymen won’t even have to go there to get business done. In a brilliant piece of casting, Tom Hanks plays Alan Clay, the salesman who has lost his wife and best job—he had unloaded the manufacturing of the all-American Schwinn bicycles to China—and is now gambling his future on getting Saudi Arabia’s monarch to bankroll his new company by buying their communication system. Hanks is this generation’s Everyman, the successor to such previous good-hearted Americans as Jack Lemmon and Jimmy Stewart. Like them, he played idealists when he was younger but has grown darker as he matured. A Hologram for the King is a strange film. Like Eggers book, Tykwer’s film shifts tone repeatedly. Is it a comedy? The scenes between Hanks’ Clay and his very Westernized driver Yousef are certainly funny but they don’t have much to do with the central...