Restored! Tiff Cinemathque April 2016



by Barbara Goslawski

Did you know that each time a film is restored an audience bursts into spontaneous applause?

We all know how, practically speaking, art is fragile and often subject to conditions under which it cannot thrive – think of all of the reports of paintings that have cracked and faded, and sculptures that have worn away. Much of the time, galleries and museums have stepped in, either individually or as a group, to restore and maintain these works, in many cases even saving them. How many art historians have unearthed previously unknown or even lost art? Exhibitions are then mounted – banners are read, champagne corks are popped – painstakingly recreating, even reinventing, an artists’ life work or a movements’ uncanny vision, and then we the audience once again gain greater insight into how we came to be where we are artistically and culturally.

So what happens with the seventh art? As much as da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is important, Godard’s Contempt is just as vital. And cinema, as we well know, is an expensive enterprise. Let’s face it, indie makers and even whole national cinemas suffer because of lack of resources. And these works can disappear so quickly you are barely aware of even a passing shadow.

As much as a painting fades and cracks to the point of losing actual pigments of paint, a film is scratched and torn and twisted to the point where it passes unevenly through the projector, losing its balance so to speak, only to then be in danger of breaks and even burns right through the celluloid. That’s right, torched before your eyes.

Projection nightmares aside, some of the older or more obscure (read: poorer) films have not been properly stored, with master copies either missing or faulty, leaving a single heavily bandaged print to limp to the front.

Thankfully, Cinematheques and Film Preservation organisations are devoted to rectifying these often fixable wrongs, enlisting the best restoration teams to research and gather all available source material in order to recreate and remind us of past glories. These efforts can unearth pieces cloaked in immeasurable cultural richness. You’ve probably wondered by now why I’m even talking about film. Surely everything is digital now. Almost everything, yes, but where do you think the digital restorations got their source material from?

As film preservationists have toiled over their projects for decades now, sometimes in relative obscurity, more affluent and popularly influential enthusiasts have stepped up. Filmmakers are instrumental. Tarantino is particularly devoted. J.J. Abrams was involved in the recent restoration of Phantasm, a classic 1979 horror movie by U.S. cult director Don Coscarelli. Martin Scorcese created the Film Foundation in 1990 with some of Hollywood’s biggest names, like Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Stanley Kubrick, continuing today with an equally impressive board of directors. Their World Cinema Project continues to preserve and restore neglected films from around the world.
We in Toronto are lucky that our Cinematheque at the TIFF Bell Lightbox is devoted to regular screenings of some of the best restorations worldwide. Championing these gems has become a consistent part of their programming. The latest programme – RESTORED! running from April 9- 26 – has a comprehensive variety of films that is telling.

And one of the most exciting offerings (if I really must choose) is a new restoration of Insiang, a masterpiece by the great Filipino filmmaker Lino Brocka on April 10, which was funded by the World Cinema project. The conditions of its making were fraught with extreme time constraints, lack of funds and government censorship. Brocka, though internationally celebrated, often ran afoul of the Marcos regime at home. This restoration was shown as a special screening at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is another highlight of this series, digitally restored from the original 35mm colour negative by Belgium’s Cinémathèque Royale. Ackerman sadly passed away last year, and her masterwork distills her unique vision, a daring yet delicate, formally taut and carefully coloured account of the quotidian rhythms of a woman’s activities over three days.

At this point, I could continue to list the accomplishments of the other films showcased. It’s not a long list but it does reveal the richness of visions that continue to inform our experience of cinema today. Instead, I invite you got to to explore and luxuriate in the possibilities brought to you by the series, Restored! And if you listen very carefully, you’ll likely catch the sound of all of that spontaneous applause.



Monty Python Live (mostly): I went to the movies and a fish slapping dance broke out


Cineplex Entertainment’s Front Row Centre Events presents Monty Python Live (mostly)
starring John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin

By Barbara Goslawski

I’m a huge fan of Monty Python so call me biased if you want but, I thought that this live stream / film was a laugh riot. I only experienced a couple of jaded critic moments but in the grand scheme of things, they are so minor as to not warrant mentioning.

Monty Python, The Flying Circus/Comedy Troupe, formed in 1969, moved from sketch comedy eventually to feature length movies. Irreverent, outrageous and embracing the fringes, they somehow end up with a show on the BBC in the 1970’s. Completely off-kilter, their fan-base nevertheless grew. Legions of die-hard fans watched this skewed social wit and are still inclined to launch into spontaneous re-enactments. The Dead Parrot sketch, you say? I’m betting that 8 out of 10 of you could recite at least part of it verbatim.

From the sacred to the banal, Python pilloried everything and everyone in its wake with expert comic precision. Shocking at the time it aired on TV or showed in a cinema, the material is fairly familiar now. So why would one go to see their reunion, Monty Python Live (mostly),taped live in front of an audience? Well, because it’s Monty Python and it’s live and that means there will be unexpected fun. With them, that’s just to be expected.

This presentation is a celebration really, and part of the enjoyment comes from the fact that they had as much fun performing as we did engaging. They’ve still got it, except that now the old codgers know exactly how to expertly play with the foibles of performing before an audience. And with each other.

The best part is that the members of Monty Python spend much of the time in this film satirizing their very existence as a troupe staging a reunion. Right there, live on the spot, they maintain a straight face (mostly) in performances that range from subtle teasing about the exact wording of a particular sketch to playing with elements of the medium itself. It’s all hilariously self-conscious in the best Monty Python fashion. There’s a long set change, for example – one of the most boring elements of any performance – that’s covered in classic Python fashion.

In the end, watching the members of Monty Python perform their greatest hits live has that nostalgic visceral charge, but it’s difficult to predict how it will register with the uninitiated. But then again, that’s just a quibble. This is an all-out, bravado laden, loud and proud last hurrah. And I laughed so hard at points I think I peed a little. And so, Monty Python has indeed ceased to be. Long live Monty Python. Oh yeah, and think twice before reading the U.K.’s newspaper, The Daily Mail. Insiders’ joke. Go on, be an insider; it’s in Monty Python Live (mostly)

Cineplex is presenting the reunion show again on July 23rd and 31st at theatres across Canada.

They are also showing the Meaning of Life (July 24), Monty Python’s Life of Brian (July 27) and Monty Python and the Holy Grail (July 30).

Snowpiercer: The Mother of Summer 2014 Blockbusters

Snowpiercer: The Mother of Summer 2014 Blockbusters
Starring Chris Evans, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer

By Barbara Goslawski

Korean cinema’s master manipulator Bong Joon-Ho is at it again in his latest film, Snowpiercer. Bong has long displayed an unerring talent for high calibre composites – of moods, styles and stories – a director who could intermingle the macabre with the bitingly satirical, action with humour, always adding touches of melodrama, suspense and noir just for accent – invariably leaving us with head-spinning imagery and a healthy flurry of thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Snowpiercer, his English-language debut, is no exception. This sci-fi action-charged blockbuster is also a disturbing meditation on human fault lines. Bong may not be the most obvious choice to summer fans of the big action-packed moviesbut he certainly has a number of tricks up his sleeve: his visual mix of the eerie with the transcendent is second only to his carefully timed, glorious explosions. Breathtaking in its scope, Snowpiercer will satisfy the thrill-seekers and thinkers alike.

In the not-so-distant future, an experiment to mitigate global warming goes horribly wrong, plunging the world into a new Ice Age instead. Survivors pile onto a train, benevolently supplied by a mysterious benefactor. They then spend seventeen years hurtling through frozen lifeless landscapes across the world, across the same tracks, over and over again incyclical fashion. The inhabitants seem trapped in a predetermined destiny, a combination of fascist nightmare and morbid circus fair.

The real story begins in the tail section, the slums so to speak, where people live in abject conditions and are subject to torture if they exhibit even the slightest inclination towards overstepping their constraining, tyrannical, social restrictions. Our hero, Curtis (Chris Evans), finally steps up to lead what shapes up to be a rag tag, but increasingly angry and defiant, mob (which includes Octavia Spencer in an inspired performance). Little do they know that the laws of nature are in play in the events on the train, and in its oversimplified predetermined trajectory.

Not surprisingly the rebels must literally and figuratively knock through walls and gates (and get past Tilda Swinton’s manically determined and deluded character) to accomplish their task, to confront the man in charge (Ed Harris) in their attempt to progress to the top, or the front of the train. They are fighting for their lives and have hopes of establishing a more just society by overtaking the evil forces that have overpowered them. This seemingly straightforward narrative is nevertheless full of twists and turns. Snowpiercer grotesquely and ironically hints at the devolution of humanity as opposed to an evolution or even revolution. There are unnerving surprises while the bitter irony hangs in the air above the action: are they really moving forward?

The overarching absurdist yet deeply alarming universe which Bong creates harkens back not just to his earlier filmsbut to literary classics such as Animal Farm, and especially to major historical world missteps that still resonate to this day (such as the supposed communist ideals underpinning so many dictatorships, and the ever-present wars where lives have proven expendable). Political satire is the lifeblood of Bong’s work, couched as it is in a vigorous eccentricity and an eye for the remarkable. In Snowpiercer, history is referenced as a mere repetition, a disturbing game that unnervingly races across the same track. It is also a fed by a twisted force that is inescapable and central to human existence: an actual law of nature which is intolerable when applied to human behaviour. It’s an ugly truth but a truth nonetheless.

As we learned in Bong’s previous triumphs, The Host and Mother (Madeo), it is not the monster without that must be feared but that evil within that must be guarded. Whether it is an infection that permeates a being (The Host) or, more realistically, a depravity that lives within, Bong has an impeccable instinct when rendering it visually. It is so undeniably shocking, especially in Snowpiercer, what happens to an individual pushed beyond his/her limits. One need only to remember what that darling mother in Mother (Madeo) was driven to do when she perceived an unbearable threat.

The ending is both unexpected and shockingly suitable in this context. What begins as a fight for all that is fair becomes a dystopian construct carefully manufactured to maintain what is revealed as an imaginary notion of the common good. Not so much a bizarre spectacle in the collective kapow of films this summer, Snowpiercer’s originality will nevertheless leave you satisfyingly breathless. And its truth will continue to haunt.

Opens in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary on July 18, 2014

Gender-bending Cyborgs: Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell introduced by Mamoru Oshii

GHOST IN THE SHELL 2.0 (Kōkaku kidōtai)
Mamoru Oshii
1995, Japan, 82 min.

By Barbara Goslawski

Introducing and discussing his most famous film, Mamoru Oshii will be present for a rare screening of Ghost in the Shell on Saturday, July 12 at 9 p.m at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The film is part of the retrospective, Techno/Human: The Films of Mamoru Oshii, which runs from July 12 to 25.

Mamoru Oshii’s dazzling Ghost in the Shell is an anime masterpiece, a revelation. Tough and gritty, the film whips up a fantastical narrative that continually wrangles a realist edge. It’s the 21st century and humans have fused with machines. Imagine the struggle to retain a sense of humanity within a cold artificial context and you’ll only get a hint at the battles that rage across every conceivable level of this film.

Adapted from the manga by Masamune Shirow and made in 1995, Ghosts has a profound relevance that resonates both stylistically and philosophically in contemporary art and society. Veterans and novice fans of this form alike will find this to be one trippy experience.

True to form, Ghost in the Shell, is a complex synthesis of traditional cel and more innovative CG animation. It`s a sci-fi, fantasy, action-adventure set in a world populated by cyborgs. They are, however, mere shells really that are capable of being invaded by ghosts, renegade spirits that invade their carefully composed and regulated inner hubs. In this film, cyborg public security agents from Section 9, led by Major Motoko Kusanagi, a female borg construction that morphs into the deadliest of superheroes, pursues the elusive hacker known as the Puppet Master, a slippery entity capable of the most dastardly shell invasions. The complex labyrinth of political intrigue and identity politics that results is vital in its cultural resonance.

More than a technological marvel, it is Oshii’s carefully measured direction in this film (precise at times, explosive at others) that coaxes greater depth. Ghosts in the Shell is not just a masterpiece of animation – a genre which by its very nature and formal essence makes anything actually possible – it is also a brilliant film. Technique is as central here as is handling of the subject and the respective subtexts. Urban Japanese landscapes are transformed by the animation into complex futuristic visions that are as fresh today as they were when the film was made. Photos and traditional cel pictures had computer generated images inserted and laid overtop of them. The perspective, and subsequent imagery, is simply stunning. (And yes, Hollywood filmmakers were quick to copy shamelessly. The Matrix would not exist without this predecessor). Made in 1995, Ghosts has informed our current ideas of cyberspace. It even seemed to predict it.

A cyber thriller with a philosophical subtext is nothing new these days. Oshii’s futuristic foresight is, however, still relevant. Profound meditations on self-identity weave throughout the film’s scientific realities. While events in the plot are filtered through this cyborg vision, moments of genuine humanity escape. Characters struggle with weighty questions about their own human essence even as they transform into the very machines that govern their being.

The most insightful element of Ghosts is the even deeper level of enquiry into issues of gender. Twenty years ago, morphing between the stereotypical gender divides was relegated to the margins of art making. Transgender identity was a foggy notion. Today, as we are often reminded in our everyday lives, gender fluidity is becoming an acceptable norm. In Ghosts in the Shell, this new reality is not only recognised as necessary, it becomes a vigorous state of being.

Hot Docs 2014: Sex, Britpop and Misfits

By Arthur Yeung

Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival is a special time of year for B and me. We connected at the festival, three years ago, and formed what would become the mighty Frameline co-hosting team that you now listen to every Thursday. As Hot Docs’ opening night (April 24) draws closer, here are four films that I’m really looking forward to. Perhaps you’ll use the sex, music and misfit themes as starting points for your viewing itinerary. I know you’re freaky like that.

Yes, it’s Britpop’s 20th anniversary. PULP reunite for a hometown gig in Sheffield and the Blur vs. Oasis debate gets (re)heated in No Distance Left to Run (2010).

Love Hotel: a few of the 2.8 million Japanese who flee their tiny living (crawl) spaces and long work hours each day for privacy and intimacy at “love hotels” show us exactly what happens behind the closed doors.

The Condemned: deep in a Russian forest as large as Germany lies a maximum-security prison that 260 murderers call home.

Hot Docs runs April 24 to May 4, 2014. Frameline’s coverage continues this Thursday, April 24.

PULP pic | NME


Ceci n’est pas un list (2013)

The Great Beauty (Swide)

By Barbara Goslawski

I love other people’s year-end reviews and ‘Best of’ lists.  I enjoy the debate that happens within and between these lists as each individual, and group, sets out their own parameters for a coherent overview. But god, I hate composing my own. However, I just needed to find a way to view 2013 and communicate it clearly to others while providing a meaningful point of view.

This is by no means a “Best Films of 2013” list. These are, in no particular order, my picks that provided me with “Holy shit!” moments – those serious cinematic experiences that make this sometimes cynical Cinephile stop in wonder.

A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhang-ke)

Sophisticated visual and thematic depth inform an intricate narrative scheme to lift the four seemingly unrelated tales into a profoundly universal sphere. Teeming with unforgettable moments and images and tropes, this film demanded my attention right from the outset. A wealth of cinematic riches in a single masterful vision, I’ll still be bubbling over with newfound enthusiasm after my tenth or twentieth viewing.

Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

Family stories, family lies, family secrets: fact and fiction blur in this illuminating and deeply cogent investigation into the nature of personal truth. Bold, yet not brash.

Jingle Bell Rocks (Mitchell Kezin)

I love Christmas as much as the next person but it has become increasingly difficult to understand why in the face of relentless commercialization. Force of habit, it seemed, until this film poked through all the cloying sentiment and provided an alternative view worth sharing. This film bears repeat viewings as my future holiday tradition. Yes, the ending is kinda predictable but sometimes it’s lovely to see things come to fruition.

Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen)

Another intricate Coen Bros. puzzle portrait of a time, place and person that zigs when you expect a zag, and keeps the tone refreshingly complex and yet familiar. Startling in the manner in which they can mix unrelated conventions into an unlikely mix to reimagine genre and expectations, proving once again that it’s not always easy to label a Coen Bros. film. Thankfully.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)

Yes, he’s usually more obviously cutting-edge, but a slight stare inwards quickly reveals that Korine is cleverly lampooning the very façade that he builds up. Over the top, of course, but unexpectedly refined at its core.

Siddarth (Richie Mehta)

This director made some brilliant aesthetic and dramatic choices while operating within a landscape that would have tempted others to remain myopic and sentimental. Shocking in its subtlety, and haunting in its erudite mix of poetry with realism.

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)

A love letter to Rome, it’s also a piercing celebration of a modern society in an ancient city, in all its glories and pitfalls: finally the term Fellini-esque has a thoughtful implication. The film is a decadent banquet that also provides necessary palette cleansers.  It’s the proverbial wild ride, but one that lands in an unexpectedly gracious place.

15 Reasons to Live (Alan Zweig)

Another admitted list-avoider, Zweig’s solution is to incorporate input from others even as he masterfully shapes the delicate trajectory of this film, such as it is. The film moves more with an emotional logic, acumen being a matter of course. Understated but nonetheless uplifting (and no, Zweig has not gone sentimental on us).

Gloria Victoria – 3D (Theodore Ushev)

Russian constructivism in animated 3D motion. Slight gestures and shapes echo and repeat upon themselves to take on meaning in an ever-increasing rhythmic push to bring forth the lifeblood of its subject.

Impromptu – 3D (Bruce Alcock)

The magic of a single line animated and moving through time, while simultaneously encapsulating and realizing a world of possibilities. Simply glorious.

Portrait As A Random Act of Violence (Randall Okita)

Revelling in the joy of pure movement, a simple act becomes a moment of transformation. Not an easy experience to put into words and yet the metaphoric implications abound.

Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée)

Two magnetic powerhouse performances are intricately knotted into a context where it becomes obvious that the filmmaker knew when to step back and not interfere. I rarely credit performances for being intrinsic to the creation of a great piece of cinema, but this film’s filmmaker-actor dynamic turns what would’ve been a great film into an outstanding one.

Oldboy review

Oldboy poster (Wikiedpia)

By Barbara Goslawski

It’s as if Spike Lee didn’t even have a fighting chance. His latest endeavour, Oldboy, is a remake of Park Chan-wook’s film of the same name, a modern-classic South Korean revenge-action-thriller which won the celebrated Palme D’or (2003). Notice that I didn’t call it Spike Lee’s Oldboy or refer to it as one of his “joints.” That’s because, although slightly reworked for American audiences, it is almost an exact replica of the original. In fact, Spike Lee’s effort really has no identity as a film in its own right. Park’s film has simply been re-made. Whatever personal touches Lee may have added (admittedly few considering his last few films) are lost opportunities lingering in the air of the cinema.

But I should temper my frustration with the admission that Josh Brolin’s performance in the lead as Joe Doucett is almost strong enough to salvage this effort. Almost. Oldboy tells the story of a man who is kidnapped, and mysteriously imprisoned in a hotel room for 20 years (15 in the original). When he is suddenly released, he naturally seeks to find out why and to exact vengeance on an unseen enemy. Unseen until the last quarter when, unfortunately, Sharlto Copley steps up to the plate to deliver a jaw-dropping spoof of Austin Powers attempting a serious role.

Is it even fair to compare a remake to its predecessor: two different cultures; two different points-of-view? Of course, details change in the transfer. Spike Lee turns Doucett into a hard character to like at first: a train-wreck of an alcoholic as selfish as he is angry. Once trapped, we almost expect an easy answer.  It’s got to be someone he’s insulted.  In the remake there is greater attention placed on vengeance on which this film relies.  Otherwise, the film would move too slowly for its target audience.

In Park’s film, Oh Dea-Su is an ordinary man caught up in a shockingly unusual situation. The strength of that film is its pacing and the director’s rigid control: like a lion playing with its prey, Park deliberately relies on a repetitive structure, one that accentuates the psychological torture of the imprisonment and the seemingly never-ending restriction.

Regardless of where one stands on the whole issue of how to judge a remake, you just can’t escape the urge to compare in this case. Lee is constantly harkening back to the original in this film. There are endless direct references that remind us that this film is a remake. Seriously, does Doucett have to be tortured with Asian dumplings?

There is nothing in the new version to convince me that it was logical for Spike Lee to remake it. Since Do The Right Thing, he has not had much in the way of a style that anyone can speak of. Plenty of justifiable anger but no characteristic methodology behind it: just confusing attempts to be artsy (mostly with odd camera angles). In Oldboy, Lee uses a lot of extreme hand-held close-ups – not only is Doucett’s inner turmoil exposed, but we are drawn into his point-of-view. This at least helps us bond with him while imprisoned. Otherwise, Lee’s style in this film is pretty sloppy; nothing noteworthy, just pedestrian filmmaking. It’s got a dark, gritty look but that’s about it. And one of the most cartoonish, painfully melodramatic endings I’ve ever seen.

Oldboy is now in theatres.