Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Spring Film Festival season continues with the upcoming Images and TIFF Kids film festivals, celebrating their 30th and 20th anniversaries (respectively).
This week, I’m looking at movies about exceptional people with hidden histories. There’s a musical genius in Manhattan, a mathematical prodigy on the Florida coast, and a man of mystery at the border of France and Germany.
Dir: Mark Webb
Frank (Chris Evans) is a youngish guy living in a shack in Florida. He lives a quiet life, fixing boats and hooking up with women at laguna bars. The rest of his time is spent home-schooling his niece Mary (McKenna Grace), a foul-mouthed seven-year-old with blonde pigtails. Mary likes math, dancing to pop songs and playing with Fred, their one-eyed stray cat, a castoff like the two of them. How did they end up in Florida? Frank’s sister, a math genius, left Mary with him as a baby… just before killing herself. She made him promise to let Mary have a normal life, in case it turns out she’s a genius too. Normal means keeping the child free from math profs and universities, and most of all away from their obsessive mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan). She’s the one who pushed Frank’s sister over the edge with her relentless ambition: solving one of the Millennium Prize Problems.
Frank is protecting Mary from all that. But how can she live a normal life hidden away in their clapboard shack? It’s time to send her to public school — despite his savvy neighbour Roberta’s warnings not to (Octavia Spence). Right away the dominos start to fall: teacher tells principal Mary is gifted, Principal goes online and soon Evelyn is in Florida demanding a proper Harvard education for her gifted grandchild. Who has Mary’s best interests at heart – her wealthy patrician grandmother or her salt-of-the-earth uncle Frank?
I like the idea behind Gifted, and was looking forward to a story about a genius kid trying to live a normal life – but aside from a few scenes the movie isn’t about that. It’s actually a child custody drama, which is never much fun. Throw in foster parents, courtrooms and lawyers and the movie becomes a trial to watch. While the acting is not bad – Captain America as a single dad – and there are a few big secrets revealed along the way, I found Gifted disappointing.
I Called Him Morgan
Dir: Kasper Collin
Lee Morgan was a young jazz trumpet player from Philly, featured in Dizzy Gillespie’s big band as an 18 year old. 15 years later he was shot dead outside a Manhattan jazz club in a snow storm by a much older woman named Helen. How did he get there, who was this woman, and how did it happen? A new documentary looks closely at both their lives.
Morgan was a hard-bop trumpeter who dressed in Ivy League suits and drove his Triumph through Central Park. He played with Art Blakey and John Coltrane, later breaking away with his own band. Helen was born in a small town near Wilmington, North Carolina, with two kids by age 14, and widowed by 18 after a short marriage to a bootlegger. She left her kids with grandma, moved to New York City and never looked back. She cut an impressive figure on the streets, hanging with Manhattan’s demimonde, sexual outlaws and drug dealers. That’s how she entered the jazz scene. By the time she met Lee Morgan, he was a junkie who had pawned his trumpet for some heroin and was virtually homeless. She washed him, got him into a Bronx clinic and set him back up in the jazz scene. She served as his mother, lover, manager and protector. But when he began to fool around with a young woman from New Jersey, things started to go wrong…
I Called Him Morgan is an amazing movie about the two lovers’ lives. Helen gave only one interview in a bar on a cassette tape a month before she died, but in it she tells what really happened. Interviews with the friends and musicians he played with fill in the blanks, and it is illustrated with B&W photos from Blue Note (the club and record label where Morgan played and recorded), all set alight by Morgan’s cool trumpet sounds. Fascinating musical documentary.
Dir: Francois Ozon
A small town in Germany, right after WWI. Anna (Paula Beer) is a strong and pretty young woman all dressed in black. She is in mourning for her fiance Frantz Hoffmeister, who died in the trenches. She still lives with Frantz’s father, the good Doktor Hoffmeister, and Magda his mother. They treat her like one of the family. One day, Anna spies a young man with a pencil thin moustache laying white roses by Frantz’s grave. Who is this man and what does he want? His name is Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) and he is a musician. It seems he knew Frantz before the war, in Paris, and he carries a letter he wrote. He is visiting the town to pay his respects and to say something to Frantz’s father. But the war wounds are still raw, and townsfolk can’t believe a frenchman would dare set foot there. Eventually, nervous Adrien spends time with Anna and her family forging a deep emotional friendship, but one based partly on lies. What isn’t he telling them?
After Adrien returns to France, Anna decides to track him down in Paris, and retrace the museums and music halls Frantz had loved. But Adrien is nowhere to be found. Like a detective, she tries to locate him far outside Paris, which leads her to a sumptuous villa in the country. And now Anna must reveal secrets of her own.
Frantz is a fantastic, novelistic melodrama spanning Germany and France, about secrets, lies, guilt and class. It’s a romance full of unrequited love, fuelled by letters and whispered confessions. I told very little of the story, to avoid spoilers, but believe me this is one great movie. It’s shot in stunning black and white with a hitchcockian musical score, beautiful costumes and great acting. Francois Ozon’s movies are often light family dramas or superficial sexual comedies, but this one is a sumptuous, epic story, perfectly made. I recommend this one.
Gifted, I Called him Morgan and Frantz all start today in Toronto; check your local listings. This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.
Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.
Inside Out is Toronto’s LGBT international film festival, and it’s on now, for the next ten days, with comedies, dramas, experimental films and documentaries. Major stars and directors will be appearing at their films and there are even free screenings. This week I’m looking at LGBT dramas from the US and France. There’s a biopic about a man who draws dresses, a comedy about a man who is drawn to dresses, and a grandmother who fought hard for the right to wear pants.
Wri/Dir: Paul Weitz
Elle (Lily Tomlin) is a radical lesbian feminist poet in California. She’s retired from her position as writer-in-residence at a UC campus, and hasn’t written a word since Vi, her partner of 36 years, died. Once a celebrated activist and public intellectual, another Adrienne Rich, now she’s just a bitter old cuss. But just as she is unceremoniously giving her current lover the boot, there’s a knock on the door. It’s her granddaughter asking for help. Sage (Julia Garner) is a pretty, young high school student with a problem: an unwanted pregnancy. She needs 600 bucks for an abortion. But that’s easier said than done. Grandma’s broke! So the two of them climb into her ancient jalopy and drive off to find the cash.
They are generations apart:
Grandma: Oh for the days of Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique.
Granddaughter: Mystique? Like, the blue-skinned villain in X-Men?
Can they ever see eye to eye? Can Sage get her abortion? And will Elle come to terms with the ghosts from her past? Grandma is a delightful, road-trip comedy. It has a great script, cute story with a social conscience, and the acting is good all around. A lot of fun.
The New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie)
Dir: François Ozon (based on the novel by the late Ruth Rendell)
Rich Laura and middle-class Claire take a blood oath when they’re just girls: they swear to be fast friends forever. Young and beautiful, they stay close. Claire Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) marries clean-cut Gilles (Raphaël Personnaz: Quai d’Orsay), while Laura chooses the more sensitive David (Romain Duris). But after the birth of her first child, Laura breaks the pact… by dying! Claire is crushed. How can she live without her best friend? She begins to see her everywhere; across the street, just around a corner. David meanwhile has fallen into a deep funk. She goes to visit him, but is shocked when she sees a woman at his home taking care of the baby. Is it Laura? No… It’s David, in a dress. I miss Claire, he explains, and it helps comfort the baby. Just don’t tell anyone, especially not his mother-in-law.
Initially shocked, Claire gradually adjusts to David’s cross-dressing. But to allay potential suspicions, she tells her husband she has found a new girlfriend – “Virginia”. Their bonds begin to grow… as do the suspicions of her husband and his mother in law. But are they ready to meet Virginia?
This is an always-surprising social comedy about changes in identity, friendship and family, sexuality and gender.
Dir: Bertrand Bonello
Yves St Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) is a successful fashion designer in Paris. He’s slim and impeccably dressed known for his trademark black-framed glasses. He launched the celebrated Mondrian dress in 1965, and turns out new haut couture collections twice a year. The operation is divided into three parts. He’s the creative side. He personally draws every garment design by hand. Behind the scenes, a dedicated army in white lab coats rush to cut the cloth, drape it, stitch it, and get it onto the backs of runway models’ in time. And in the boardroom, his lover Pierre Bergé (Jérémie Renier) handles all the business deals. YSL, the fashion house, is a profitable, well-oiled machine.
While the streets of Paris are seething with revolution, Yves is ensconced, oblivious, in his presentation rooms, dressing privileged women. Then there’s his personal life. He and Pierre collect priceless tchotchkes from around the world to display in their home. Yves also collects people; he has an entourage of models, and muses like Loulou de la Falaise (Léa Seydoux). He spends his time at Parisian discotheques, or at his retreat in Marrakesh.
But in the early ‘seventies, things start to collapse. He falls under the sway of an aristocratic socialite. Jacques (Louis Garrel) is handsome, rich and decadent, and never seems to work. His days are spent posing on modern furniture. His nights are filled with acid trips and gin-soaked gay orgies. Yves is infatuated with him, but the constant pill-popping is dragging him down. Can Pierre rescue Yves and turn him back into a profitable name? Or will he succumb to Jacques’ lotus-eating lifestyle? And will Yves’s audacious new collection be the talk of Paris or booed off the stage?
Saint Laurent is a captivating, challenging, movie. It’s way too long – 2 ½ hours long! – and, at first glance, seems superficial and pointless. But it’s not. It’s visually stunning. Every scene is perfectly composed like turning a page of Vogue magazine. The director tries some surprising techniques, some of which work, some don’t. A long business meeting is conducted in French and English with simultaneous interpreting. Is that necessary? But a Mondrian-like split screen with 9 separate panels, and an amazing sequence with a dozen miniature black-and-white dogs scampering down the hallway for a pet audition, more than make up for the jarring parts. And the acting — especially Ulliel as the fragile, opaque and zen-like Yves Saint Laurent — is fantastically perverse.
Grandma and The New Girlfriend are both playing at Inside Out LGBT film fest this week: go to insideout.ca for details. And Saint Laurent opens commercially today in Toronto; check your local listings. I liked all three of these movies. But if violent, post-apocalyptic road movies are more to your taste, I strongly recommend Mad Max: Fury Road., now playing. Don’t miss it!
This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.