Off the Beaten Track. Movies Reviewed: Serena, Gemma Bovery, Corner Gas: the Movie

Posted in 1920s, 1930s, Books, Canada, Clash of Cultures, comedy, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, Horses, Movies, Satire by CulturalMining.com on December 5, 2014

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Urban life getting you down? Here are three movies set in small towns. A gothic drama in the Smoky Mountains of Carolina; a comedy in a Saskatchewan town where there’s not a whole lot going on; and a comic drama in Normandy… with a literary twist.

67934-SERENA_D1-190_R_CROPSerena
Dir: Susanne Bier

George Pemberton (Bradley Cooper) is a lumber baron in the roaring 20s. He’s also a big-game hunter, searching for the elusive panther. He dreams of clear-cutting the smoky mountains of North Carolina, and, with the profits, expanding into the rain forests of Brazil. But he’s a good guy — you can tell because he chops his own wood and saves his workers’ lives. There would be no SERENA_D11-2819.CR2problems at all, if it weren’t for those meddling government types. They want to make it into a national park, just because of its breathtaking scenic beauty, and the rare flora and fauna living in those foggy, tree-covered mountains.

But everything changes when he spots a blonde woman at a horse show. Serena (Jennifer Lawrence) is a strong and independent woman from out west and born to the wood. Beautiful, glamorous and tough as nails, she’s as comfortable in an evening gown as she is on horseback. She can SERENA_D18-4906._R_CROPjpgkill a rattler with an axe from across a field and is handy with a rifle. He proposes on the spot and makes her a full partner in his business… to the chagrin of his male colleagues. But Wall Street crashes and tough times follow. Things start to fray at the edges. There’s Galloway (Rhys Ifans) a sketchy ex-con with “the sight”: Serena once appeared in a vision so he’ll protect her to the death. And there’s talk George might have an illegitimate son in the village. And his partners are losing faith in the business. Can Serena and George find happiness in a lumber camp? Or will it drag them into a spiral of jealousy, revenge and madness?

Susanne Bier is a well-known Danish director, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence scored in two big hits: Silver Lining Playbook and American Hustle. Is this three for the win? Not a chance. It’s a clunky potboiler with a confusing and messy story, and extremely uneven acting. Lawrence plays it to the hilt as a deranged, screeching devil-woman, while Cooper sticks to the single-emotion style of acting. Whether it’s shock, lust, anger, or bewilderment, he just stares off into space with his mouth slightly open. Serena is not awful, it kept me watching and interested, but it’s just not very good.

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineGemma Bovery
Dir: Anne Fontaine

Martin (Fabrice Luchini) is an intellectual from Paris. He moves to small-town Normandy, near Rouen, to take over his dad’s bakery. He likes kneading dough and pondering great literature. His wife is a world-weary realist, and his teenaged son prefers Call of Duty to French culture. But dad’s thoughts are still filled with the 19th century novels of Flaubert. So imagine his surprise when a young English couple that moves into the dilapidated house next door, shares the names of the characters in Madame Bovery! Down-to-earth Charles repairs furniture, while his bored wife Gemma (Gemma Atherton) decorates homes with trompe d’oeil to make them appear older. And just like Madame Bovery, she craves a more exciting GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne Fontainelife.

Martin, though, knows the book well and feels he can predict every thought they will have and every word they will say. Soon enough, he sees her making eyes at the town rake, handsome Hervé (Niels Schneider: J’ai tué ma mère, Les amours imaginaires) a local squire living in a nearby castle. Don’t go with him, it can only lead to ruin! Martin thinks. In his mind he sees them in period costume, dancing in the ballroom. In reality, the quaint town, including the aristocracy, is crumbling all around him. Martin tries to manipulate the local characters – using secret methods – to save them from their novelistic fates. But will it work?

GEMMA BOVERYRéalisé par Anne FontaineThe entire film is narrated, at times directly to the camera, by Martin himself. He takes us through the story, mainly to the various dinner parties, where people speak fractured English and French. He is especially incensed by a nouveau riche couple, an English/French marriage who see French culture as merely wine and Camembert.

Gemma Bovery is two movies in one. There’s Flaubert’s novel reenacted in Martin’s head, and there’s a satirical look at contemporary France. Because of the meta- aspects of the film, you don’t feel as deeply invested in the characters’ lives; you’re always a step away from what’s happening. But it more than makes up for that with its cleverness. And because it’s an Anne Fontaine movie, it carries that sensual, erotic tone she’s so good at.  And the actors, especially the beautiful Gemma Atherton, are a joy to watch. I like this movie.

CGTM_100_Brent Butt (as Brent Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieCorner Gas: The Movie
Dir: Brent Butt

If you’ve ever watched Canadian TV, you’re probably familiar with Dog River, Saskatchewan. It’s an uneventful prairie town known mainly for its gas station, its coffee shoCGTM_109_Fred Ewanuick (as Hank Yarbo). Photo by Steve Wilkiep, and its wise-cracking locals. There’s dry Brent at the gas station (Brent Butt), his dad and mum — cranky Oscar and rational Emma (Eric Peterson, Janet Wright), pretty Lacey at the coffee shop (Gabrielle Miller), and the local police. CGTM_113_Janet Wright (as Emma Leroy). Photo by Steve WilkieThen there’s the incorrigible Hank (Fred Ewanuick) and the trickster Wanda (the very hilarious Nancy Robertson).

Nothing ever happens there, right? Wrong! To turn a sitcom into a feature film, you need an epic plot. In this film the town goes bankrupt, the people run amok, and Tim Horton’s starts sniffing at the real estate. Their only hope? A Toronto contest looking for the quaintest town in Canada. Can they pull it all together in time? Not bloody likely… it’s aCGTM_117_Nancy Robertson (as Wanda Dollard). Photo by Steve Wilkie comedy, folks.

Believe it or not, I only saw the TV show once. It felt too slow paced, so I couldn’t get into it. Clearly, I’m not one of its fans (who are legion). But the movie? It was surprisingly funny. There are corny parts and some gags fall flat of course, but on the whole the humour is clever, inventive, ironic… even subversive. And it does all this without any potty laughs, frat boy nudges, boobies, four-letter words, dumb blondes, racial and ethnic stereotypes or fat jokes. Not a small accomplishment.

So if you’re looking for Canadian humour, here it is, and then some.

spiceworld_imageGemma Bovery and Serena both open today in Toronto. Check your local listings. And Corner Gas: the Movie is playing now through the weekend. Also in Toronto,  look out for the MUFF society — specializing in girl-tastic pics for women —  kicks off their monthly series with Spice World (yes, I do mean that Spice Girl movie) only at the Royal. And First to Fall – a documentary about two students in Canada who volunteered to fight with the rebels in Libya — is finally screening in Toronto, tonight at the Jayu Human Rights Film Festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  I interviewed the directors last summer.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

TIFF13: Older/Younger. Capsule Reviews: Gloria, Gerontophilia, Bright Days Ahead, Adore

Posted in Australia, Canada, Chile, Cultural Mining, Drama, France, LGBT, Montreal, Uncategorized by CulturalMining.com on August 29, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

The Toronto Film Festival opens next Thursday for ten days, showing most of the good movies that will be in your theatres in the fall and spring. Well I’ve started watching some of these movies, and there seems to be a trend. Have you ever seen Harold and Maude? Or the Graduate? A lot of the films there are about cross-generational relationships.

So this week I’m looking at love and lust of May-September couples, but with a twist. The movies come from Canada, France, and Chile, and range from younger man/ older woman, middle-aged woman /older man, and very young man / geriatric man. (plus an Australian movie with a different theme.)

A193_C008_0101IKGloria

Dir: Sebastien Lelio

Gloria (Paulina Garcia) is an average, middle-aged divorcee in downtown Santiago. Her kids are adults now so she lives alone in an apartment, with just a noisy neighbor and a hideous, hairless cat intruding on her privacy. But she’s still full of energy – she wants to enjoy life, sing songs, have sex, fall in love. So she starts hanging out in discos, picking up guys – much older guys. She falls for Rodolfo, a very conservative elderly man. At first their relationship seems solid, but he always runs home whenever his daughters need him (he says he’s divorced but still responsible.) She wants him to meet her family and friends. Will he commit? And will he fit in with her lifestyle (Gloria’s a free-thinking Chilean, Rodolfo has roots in Pinochet’s military.)

Although told in an everyday manner, this is a fantastic, bittersweet look at one woman’s life. Paulina Garcia completely embodies Gloria, and exposes her feelings –and her entire body — for the camera.

gerontophilia_02Gerontophilia

Dir: Bruce la Bruce

Lake (Pier-Garbriel Lajoie) is a young guy in Montreal who likes making out with his revolution-obsessed girlfriend beneath a blow-up image Gandhi. But one day, at an aqua fitness class, while giving mouth-to-mouth resusetation to an elderly man, he discovers something.

Old people turn him on. He gets a job at a nursing home, to satisfy his obsessive fetish. Soon he falls for Mr Peabody (Walter Borden), formerly a flamboyant actor, now nearly catatonic on meds. They embark on a trip across Canada, but can this relationship last? Or is it headed for its final burn-out? This is a cute, very Canadian (bilingual French and English), and very mainstream movie. The former Reluctant Pornographer has made the switch to conventional director. Bruce la Bruce has left out the porn, the explicit sex, the nudity and instead made a simple, sweet coming-of-age romance. You could bring your grandpa to this one without blushing… well, your gay grandpa. I liked this movie.

brightdaysahead_01Bright Days Ahead

Dir: Marion Vernoux

The beautiful Caroline (Fanny Ardant) is bored and depressed in her seaside town. She’s mourning her best friend and the loss of her dental practice – she was forced into early retirement. So her daughters enroll her in classes at the local senior centre. She hates the cheesy nature of the place, the condescending tone of the teachers and the infantilisation of formerly dignified adults. That is until she falls into a passionate sexual relationship with Julien (Laurent Lafitte), a lusty computer teacher. Caroline is married and has never strayed before. But she decides to let go – get drunk, have sex, seize the day. Can her casual relationship survive the wagging fingers of small town life? Can she stand being one of many sexual partners? And what about her husband?

This is another light romance – the type that the French do so well. It’s a refreshing afternoon treat, with a palateable finish, much like the wines Caroline so enjoys tasting. Fanny Ardant is great, and Laurent Lafitte is a good foil. (Picture Mark Ruffalo with Candice Bergen…)

Outside of TIFF but opening next Friday is

AdoreFC_adore

Dir: Anne Fontaine (based on a story by Doris Lessing)

Roz and Lil are (Robin Wright, Naomi Watts) are blonde Aussie beach bums. Roz’s husband is dead, and Lil’s husband is distant – he wants to move to Sydney. But the two women grew up by the ocean and won’t leave it. Nor will they leave their friendship – they share everything. Now it’s just them and their two newly-adult sons, Ian and Tom. The boys are unusually handsome, the women are beautiful, and an unusual relationship develops there (no spoilers.)

It’s kept on the down low to stop gossip in the town, but everyone feels something is going on between the two families. Will there paradise last forever? Or will it wash away with the tides? Although Australian in location and cast, the feel of this movie is totally French. This is another summer sexual romance, with touching and erotic undertones.

Gloria, Gerontophilia, and Bright Days Ahead are all playing at TIFF starting next week – tickets are still available. Go to tiff.net for details. Adore opens next Friday in Toronto. And opening today is Our Nixon a documentary made of newly- uncovered super-8 footage taken by his Watergate co-conspirators Haldeman, Erlichman and Dean – excellent documentary.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website,culturalmining.com

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