Review: The Calling

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Director: Jason Stone
Writers: Scott Abramovitch
Producers: Scott Abramovitch, Lonny Dubrofsky, Randy Manis, Nicholas Tabarrok
Starring: Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Gil Bellows, Ellen Burstyn, Donald Sutherland, Christopher Heyerdahl
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 108 min.


Thrillers and police procedurals are not my usual cup of tea when it comes to books so it wasn’t much of a surprise that I’d never heard of Inger Ash Wolfe (the penname of author Michael Redhill) but the trailer for the adaptation of the first book in a series of thrillers certainly caught my attention. Thanks Susan Sarandon.

The Calling stars Sarandon as a small town detective on the brink of retirement who finds herself in the midst of the biggest case of her career. There are bodies appearing all over the area and whoever is responsible seems to be on a very specific mission and it’s up to her and her understaffed police force to solve the mystery before anyone else dies.

What initially appealed to me about The Calling, based on the trailer, is that Sarandon seemed to be filling a role usually reserved for her male counterparts. To my surprise, the change wasn’t made by some savvy screenwriter but rather, it was written that way by Wolfe who has written three novels to date about Detective Hazel Micallef and her adventures solving crimes in rural anywhere. What I really appreciate about Micallef and which was well translated to the screen by both screenwriter Scott Abramovitch and Sarandon is that the character isn’t simply a female version of a typical male character. Though some of Micallef’s tendencies do come across that way (she drinks and pops pills as a way to deal with a medical condition, she doesn’t take orders and she’s often brash) the character is more complex than that and encompasses not only Micallef’s relationship with her co-workers but also the complicated relationships with her ex-husband and her mother.

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Mamo #326: Gravatar

Gravity continues into its second weekend of box office domination and as the inevitable backlash winds up, Matt and Matt take a few trips around the planet in their space suits to talk about god, the lack of same, and how we ascribe meaning to our big screen counterparts by way of great filmmaking.

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo326.mp3

DVD Review: Beyond the Hills

Director: Cristian Mungiu
Screenplay: Cristian Mungiu
Inspired by the Non-Fiction Novels of: Tatiana Niculescu Bran
Starring: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta
Producer: Cristian Mungiu
Country: Romania/France/Belgium
Running Time: 150 min
Year: 2012
BBFC Certificate: 12


These days the Cannes Film Festival has a habit of keeping its competition largely limited to films by known directors who have already found critical success with previous films. So when Romanian director Cristian Mungiu won the Palme D’or back in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days after only having directed one film prior to that with little fanfare, people sat up and took notice. I must admit I haven’t seen his breakthrough film, but I’ve heard nothing but praise for it, so this, his follow-up Beyond the Hills (after directing part of the anthology film Tales from the Golden Age) had a weight of expectation behind it. Despite picking up a joint Best Actress award at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the film itself received an underwhelming response (not negative, but less positive than its predecessor), like a number of the films included that year. However, now it has received a home release in the UK and the hype and not-always-reliable festival buzz has settled, it’s time to see for ourselves.

Inspired by a true account which had been put into non-fiction novel form by Tatiana Niculescu Bran, Beyond the Hills begins with Alina (Cristina Flutur) arriving from Germany to a monastery in Romania where her friend (and former lover) Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) lives to serve God. Determined to stay close to Voichita, who has been with her since growing up in the orphanage together, Alina tries to get her to move to Germany with her. Voichita won’t give up her calling though and the monastery’s father (Valeriu Andriuta) won’t take her back if she just leaves for a couple of months (“the man who leaves is not the same when he returns”). Due to this, Alina tries her best to live amongst the nuns at the monastery, but her jealousy and passion drive her to violent episodes which prompt the father and his nuns to take desperate and increasingly drastic measures to restrain and ‘cure’ her.

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Mamo #252: On Ebertfest, Part Three

We wrap up our Ebertfest 2012 coverage from the Valois Cafeteria in Chicago IL, with an in-depth chat about A Separation, Take Shelter, Higher Ground, and the meaning of faith in the universe. Special bonus: surreptitious Q&A audio clips!

To download this episode, use this URL: http://rowthree.com/audio/mamo/mamo252.mp3

Blu-Ray/DVD Review: The Gospel According to Matthew

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Screenplay: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Starring: Enrique Irazoqui, Margherita Caruso, Susanna Pasolini
Producer: Alfredo Bini
Country: Italy
Running Time: 137 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: U

The second Pasolini Blu-Ray/DVD package to be released by Masters of Cinema after Accattone & Comizi D’Amore is the director’s classic retelling of probably the Bible’s most widely known book The Gospel According to Matthew.

For those of you who have been living under a rock (bad semi-pun intended) for the last couple of thousand years, The Gospel According to Matthew tells the story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Pasolini’s film is no different, but skims over the Nativity and other earlier segments, focussing mainly on Jesus’ life as an adult.

This film had a peculiar background. Pasolini was a well-known atheist, homosexual, and Marxist, so for him to approach such material in a country like Italy where Catholicism is the backbone to their entire society is bizarre. What is even more remarkable is that it was filmed by invitation from the Pope himself. With Pasolini’s reputation for making films about controversial and taboo subjects, it’s also surprising how closely it sticks to the subject matter and how ‘un-blasphemous’ (for want of a better phrase) it is.

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Trailer: Red State

 

This trailer gives a fair bit of the feel for Kevin Smith’s Religious ‘thriller’ Red State and the variety of tonal changes in the film by outlining the gist of about 3 of the 5 ‘acts’ in the narrative. But the devil surely is in the details and you get a wonderful flavour of Michael Parks, Melissa Leo and John Goodman here. As I watched this trailer, loaded with Kevin Smith zingers, I suddenly realized that I liked the film more than my review (here) may indicate. Would I pay $60 for that film an a Q&A? Doubtful, as I have seen several of the the directors Q&A videos, but I would happily pay the usual $10 for a regular screening.

The full trailer is tucked under the seat. *Warning, it is loaded with F-Bombs.
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Review: Daddy I Do

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Director: Cassie Jaye
Producers: Cassie Jaye, Nena Jaye
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 90 min.

Sex. There’s a loaded word. Some want it, others have it but everyone wants a say on it. From parents to politicians, everyone has something to say on the subject and a few even have the opportunity to share their thoughts but the discussion that starts with sex isn’t simply about the act of fornication but rather, what comes afterward. It’s the after effects of that romp in the sac that people in high places are worried about. Things like STDs, single parent families, abortion – these are the issues that degrade our social system and show a culture sliding in moral values (or so “they” fear). At the end of the day, it all goes back to sex and education, two things that should go hand in hand but that often don’t.

Daddy I Do Movie StillCassie Jaye’s documentary Daddy I Do starts as an exploration of abstinence only sex education in the form of purity balls and silver ring/purity movements which discourage sex not through education but through a push of faith. The film continues from here to explore the fallout that comes from the lack of sexual education and though it never makes a case either for or against abstinence only programs, it provides enough data and rope to let the movement hang itself.

Yet with all of the talk of sex education and what works and doesn’t work, Jaye’s film does something else that hasn’t really been done in any other films I’ve seen on the subject: it opens the door for discussion on what this sort of education and mentality does to women.

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Review: The Book of Eli

It was only a matter of time before someone took Denzel Washington’s confident teacher shtick (a recurring trait present in his performances all the way back to 1987’s Cry Freedom) and turned the actor into a bonafide preacher. Although the Hughes Brothers are far more interested in comic book appropriation of Spaghetti Westerns, Samurai films and Post Apocalyptic landscapes. It is a winning combination actually, even if the execution is far more John Carpenter than Sergio Leone or Akira Kurosawa. This is not a complaint, in fact, much like Carpenter’s scientist-meet-supernatural Prince of Darkness, it makes the blunt themes around the power of religion and spirituality play better to the material.

There is a dry wit buried in the presentation, of The Book of Eli from Gary Oldman’s town-boss, Carnagie (marvelously chewing scenery) sending illiterates out into the wilderness to find The Bible (they come back with The DaVinci Code and some Oprah magazines) to a brothel room adorned with a poster for A Boy and His Dog. L.Q. Jones’ 1975 cult post-apocalyptic flick is another underrated post-apocalyptic fable with a streak of jet-black humour.

Thirty years after nuclear war, presumably a holy war, as all the religious texts were torched sometime shortly thereafter, a long-in-the-tooth solitary walker, the proverbial Man With No Name (you can call him Zato… -err- Yojim… -err- just Eli) wanders into a one horse town in the desert to get a little fresh water and recharge his iPod (a scene involving a highly pleasurable Tom Waits cameo) but gets sucked into a war over the power of words/religion with Carnagie.

Carnegie has his sights set on empire expansion (he is introduced reading a biography of Mussolini) but feels that the whip and a monopoly on fresh water can only go so far in building an empire – in short, he needs a more powerful weapon. How about the Bible? (“Hearts and minds and all that.”) When he gets wind that Eli, who kills about half of his men in a bloody bar fight, happens to be carrying a copy. It’s a grandiose big old leather bound and locking type, not a pocket sized Gideon issue, commensurate with the budget and size of the film. Carnagie tries several approaches to obtain it before finally setting on heavy artillery. Eli, is reluctant to get involved, like a prophet (or stoic warrior monk), his focus is to stay the course in his journey “west.” But like any good western, he becomes entangled when Carnagie’s prized beauty (Mila Kunis) takes a liking to the good book or the good warrior (or both), and becomes a sort of acolyte slash damsel in distress.

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Bookmarks for December 22

  • God, Gaia, and Avatar
    “The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.”
  • Movie Posters of the Decade: A Follow-up
    “Last week [The Auteur’s Notebook] posted my selection of the decade’s best movie posters: a post which attracted a remarkable amount of attention, not least from the estimable Roger Ebert, who posted his rival choices on his blog. The Auteurs contributor Andrew Grant, a.k.a. Filmbrain, was also inspired to post his own favorites, many of which are absolute knockouts. We also received a phenomenal and rather humbling response on our forum, enough to convince me that I need to do a follow-up post.”
  • Larry Gross’s Four Most Underreported / Misreported Movie Stories Of 2009
    The Hangover, The Road, Zoe Kazan, Funny People. Have at it; Larry is not shy with his opinion.
  • On Brittany Murphy…
    “One of the first things Brittany Murphy did when she showed up on the Oregon set of her indie thriller “Something Wicked” last June was acknowledge — and apologize for — her weight.”
  • When Critics Fight Critics
    IFC goes over many of the tiffs and tats between critics over the banner-year-of-change in the industry, 2009.

VIFF 09 Review: Leslie, My Name is Evil

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While introducing the first screening of his film at VIFF, director Reginald Harkema commented that Leslie, My Name is Evil was a very divisive film. He wasn’t kidding.

Taken from real accounts and transcripts of the Charles Manson trial, using archival footage and intermingling the entire thing with a wicked sense of humour, this is the type of film that would, by any other director, end as a total disaster. The fact that it not only ends well but that it starts off with a bang is a great credit to director Reg Harkema who manages to create a sometimes serious and sometimes hysterical but always entertaining film which pokes a finger at everything from war to religion.

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