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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy

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Movie review: Foreign-language Oscar nominee Monsieur Lazhar

Last weekend, we saw Monsieur Lazhar, Canada’s entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars. (And expected to lose to the Iranian film in contention.)

**** Monsieur Lazhar (February 2012) – Theatre
Mohmed Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron. After a teacher’s suicide, an Algerian immigrant is quickly brought in as a substitute. Despite the culture gaps, he’s able to form a bond with the students. French, with subtitles.

She says: The synopsis makes this sound like one of those well-made but dreary Canadian movies, but it’s not. The traumas like the suicide and the tragedy that led Lazhar to leave his native Algeria happen mostly or entirely off-screen. On-screen is a lot of warmth and humour, as Lazhar fumbles his way through Canadian norms that are strange to him. There are moments of anger and sadness, but they’re never overwrought.

The movie tells a very simple story but deals with complex cultural, political, and emotional issues. The lead actor is great and the children are just astounding in showing how this unexpected teacher is just what these kids need.

He says: I feel like I missed the message of this one. Like I wasn’t evolved enough to understand it. And I kept waiting for more to happen.

Despite that, weirdly enough, I still liked the movie!


The Kids Are All Right; Cafe de Flore

This movie review set will mostly be a “She says”. And I didn’t set out to compare these two movies; they just happen to be the last two we’ve seen.

The Kids Are All Right posterThe Kids Are All Right, released July 2010, we saw on rental DVD. (The first DVD I’ve experienced, by the way, that has a special rental version that excludes the “special features”.) It’s about a lesbian couple in a long-term relationship who each have a child with the same sperm donor dad. After the daughter’s 18th birthday, the kids decide they want to meet him. His entry into the family’s life is disruptive, as both children and one of the mothers (Jules, played by Julianne Moore) by turns all find themselves drawn to him, while the other mother (Nic, played by Annette Bening) stays pretty frosty.

Donor dad Paul is played by Mark Ruffalo, a good-looking guy whose character is the epitome of cool–he drives a motorcyle, runs a gourmet bistro featuring local organic foods, and owns a wood-paneled house with a terraced backyard. Of course (almost) everyone is smitten!

Bit of a spoiler here, but Jules and Paul have a fling that, once discovered, changes the whole dynamic of the movie. Only, I knew most of that going in, and it didn’t really spoil the experience for me. It’s a well-acted movie with a lot of funny bits along with the dramatic undertone. You did end up caring about all the characters. The affair prompted the most discussion between Jean and I: Were Jules and Paul really equally to blame (as the movie suggests), when Jules was the only one in a committed relationship, and the really the one who intiated things?

Cafe de Flore movie posterThis brings us to Cafe de Flore, released December 2010 and seen at Waterloo’s Princess Theatre. It’s a French-Canadian film that explores some similar territory as Kids, but in a really different way.

Cafe de Flore switches between two stories: one in present-day Montreal, involving a 40-year-old, successful DJ (Antoine) who is smitten with his new lover, but his still haunted by ex-wife of 20 years, with whom he had two daughters. Do we hate this guy? No, we do not, as we are given insight into his psyche, through both an omniscient narrator and sessions with psychologist, and because Rose, his new love, is so beautiful and wonderful. But we can’t help but also feel for Carole, the ex-wife, as she is simply unable to move on from the only man she’s ever loved.

The other story takes place in Paris in the late 1960s, and tells us of Jacqueline (played by Vanessa Paradis), a hairdresser, and single mom to her only child, Laurent, who has Down’s Syndrome. Defying the conventions of the times, she won’t institutionalize him, and devotes all her energies to making him everything he can possibly be.

The parallels and connections between the stories come out slowly and when it’s all out there… The details don’t really matter. This movie is really about the ideas explored on the journey: Do we have soul mates? What is the nature and quality of love? What makes a family? It’s just a gorgeous film, with beautiful shots and fantastic cinematography, and its use of music is exquisite. For characters in both times periods, listening to music is a really important aspect of their lives, and I could really relate to that part of it.

Jean also liked this film, though we both thought, not as much as I did.

I would say that Kids is a perfectly decent, entertaining, 3-star movie. I think Cafe de Flore could be a 4-star. It’s one I’d definitely watch again.

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Movie reviews: Two that were inspiring

*** Temple Grandin (February 2010) – Rental
Claire Danes, Julia Ormond. Dramatization of the young adult years in the life of Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who had great career success.

She says: Claire Danes is terrific in portraying Temple Grandin, and the filmmakers do an interesting job of giving us a view into her world by filming parts in the visual, literal way that she sees it. I grew a little tired of the open door metaphor (that she saw literally), but that’s my only complaint. The movie would probably have been even more compelling if I hadn’t gone in knowing a fair amount about Temple Grandin.
He says: That was an interesting movie.

***½ Joyeux Noël (March 2006) – Rental
Diane Kruger, Benno Furmann. French, Scottish, and German troops decide to call a truce on Christmas Eve 1914, during World War 1.

She says: Very moving, and almost unbelievable, to see those who had been shooting each other hours before gingerly reach a cease fire through music, then find they have much in common. The DVD extras include an interview with the director (all in French) that shows how most of the events of the film are based on incidents that actually happened during that war.
He says: That was a really good movie. Hard to believe.


Movie review: Three movies I liked more than Jean did

Not that it’s that unusual for me to like movies more than Jean, given that:

  1. He gets bored more easily than I do.
  2. Frankly, I usually pick the movies we see.

On the other hand, none of these were exactly “chick flicks”…

*** Waltz with Bashir (May 2008) – Rental
Animated documentary. An Israli man tries to recall the details of his participation in the massacre of Palestanians that occurred during the first Lebanon war.

She says: I’m not sure what this indicates, but I didn’t realize that this was a documentary. I thought all the interviews and such were just a clever way of framing the movie. But, I knew it was based on a real incident, one I knew nothing about. I found this an interesting way to learn about it, with the animated style creating some distance in the disturbing events.
He says: It was all right, but didn’t quite hold my interest.

**½ Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (June 2011) – Theatre
Documentary about Conan O’Brien’s Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television tour.

She says: I’m not a huge fan (I almost never watch his show), but I did get interested in the drama surrounding O’Brien’s removal from The Tonight Show, and did enjoy seeing the preparations and behind-the-scenes look at his tour.
He says: Oh my God that seemed long. [It’s a 90-minute movie.]

*** The Hurt Locker (June 2009) – Rental
Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie. Follows the end of a tour of duty for a group of American bomb dismantlers in Iraq.

She says: It was powerful, tension-filled, and therefore gripping, though not altogether enjoyable, given the subject matter. We saw it in Blu-Ray, and the sound and cinematography were excellent. As was the acting.
He says: OK, I wasn’t bored. But it was kind of depressing, and I didn’t understand anyone’s motivations.

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Movie review: Good Hair, Central Station

These two movies have nothing in common, except for having seen both recently…

*** Good Hair (October 2009) – Rental
Documentary. Inspired by his daughters, Chris Rock explores the world of black women’s hair.

She says: As a white girl, I had no idea what black women went through to achieve the look of shiny, full, straight(ish) hair. The expense! The time! The pain! It was really interesting. (Though if expecting big laughs because it’s Chris Rock, you’ll probably be disappointed.).
He says: They spend how much on hair weaves? That’s ridiculous. I’m going to bed.

*** Central Station (November 1998) – Rental
Fernanda Montenegro, Vinicius de Oliveira. A middle-age woman who writes (but doesn’t necessarily mail) letters for the illiterate becomes the reluctant custodian of young boy after his mother dies. Subtitled.

She says: It’s a moving story of how this fairly unpleasant older woman is transformed by her relationship with the boy who is left with no one after his mother dies. Great acting, nice cinematography, and enough twists of fortune to keep your attention. (And not really a depressing movie, though you might expect that.)
He says: I was able to get through it, but it was bit too slow and character-driven for me.

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Movie review: Polytechnique

*** Polytechnique (February 2009) – Rental
Karine Vanasse, Sébastien Huberdeau. Looks at the Montreal Massacre through the eyes of two survivors, a man sent from the room, and a woman who had to stay inside. French with subtitles.

She says: I don’t know the best way of tackling this subject matter. This movie was very arty—black and white, moments of banal quiet suddenly interrupted by moments of terror. The killer is never named, not glorified. The focus is on the victims—that day, and some months afterward—and they get all your sympathy. At a taut 70 minutes, the movie certainly keeps your attention.
He says: Can I sit here and watch this with you? [A little later] Oh God, I don’t want to see this. I’m going on the computer. [A little later, having returned] Are you expecting to sleep well after this? [After it was done] Well, that was depressing.

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Movie review: Canadian film fest

In the wake of the Genies, we saw the two main contenders on the weekend.

*** Barney’s Version (January 2011) – Theatre
Paul Giamatti, Rosamund Pike. A movie built around Barney Panofsky’s relationships—with his father, his friends (especially Boogie), and the three Mrs. Panofsky’s.

She says: Very well-acted, engaging, funny in parts, but a lot of tragedy as well. A realistic love story at its heart. Just barely passes the Bechdel Test, though.
He says: I enjoyed it. Paul Giamatti is a really good actor.

Incendies (April 2011) – Theatre
Lubna Azabal, Rémy Girard. After their mother’s death, her children (twins) are told to locate the father and the brother they knew nothing about. It leads to a tragic voyage of discovery about their mother’s past.

She says: Very well-crafted, completely compelling, but a dark story with a really disturbing twist.
He says: God, that was so depressing. I’m really disturbed now. Why would anyone want to see that?
She says: I think the fact that it’s affecting you so much shows that it’s a good movie.
He says: No. It was terrible.
She says: The story is terrible. (And I’m grateful that the worst of it wasn’t actually shown.) But I still think the movie was good. It was haunting.