Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Here’s a joke: I’ve never been John Malkovich, have you? Then you and I can both be John Malkovich when Guelph Movie Club screens Being John Malkovich on February 25th at 9:00 p.m. It didn’t say it was a good joke. OK, it’s a terrible joke, but it’s not like we’re showing Being Don Rickles, or something.

This is another one I’ve never seen. I say this every time we show a movie I’ve never seen, but it’s one of my favourite things about Movie Club – the opportunity to share an, as yet, unseen movie on the big screen with you. 

If you’re new to Guelph Movie Club, here’s how it works. At each of our screenings, we ask for suggestions. We turn those suggestions into polls. Those polls decide what goes up on the screen each month. We’re calling this month’s poll: It Came From Above. We'll announce the results at the screening of Being John Malkovich.

What Will We Watch in March?


That’s it for this month. See you on the 25th at 9:00 p.m. Bring a friend.

Till then, see you at the movies,

Danny W.

Monday, February 15, 2016


When Do The Right Thing was released in 1989 a few white film critics worried that Spike Lee's film about the hottest day of the summer in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood, which crescendos with a racially charged riot, would incite its audiences (implied black) to similarly riot. "Of course," writes Jason Bailey retrospectively in The Atlantic, "as we now know, Lee's canny examination of race relations did not incite riots in America's cities after it was released in the summer of 1989. Those riots came three years later, in spring of 1992—in response to a very different film, of four white officers beating the hell out of a black man, and to the acquittal of those officers by a (mostly white) jury."

The few wrongheaded critics severely misunderstood and underestimated both Lee and his audience. While full of passion and questions and not shy about articulating and referencing histories of imbalance and abuse, Do The Right Thing is not incendiary. It's got anger, yes, but it's not, itself, an angry film. Newsweek presaged the film would be "dynamite under every seat", when, in fact, Do The Right Thing is an expert disassembly of a bomb, a detailed schematic of the explosive situation that America – not just its black citizenry – finds itself in. 

But let's consider Do The Right Thing as a film before we consider it as any sort of statement. As a big personality, Lee has always run the risk of overshadowing his own work, and as a result he's often considered more a commentator than filmmaker. But as pure cinema, Lee's third film is inimitably energetic and fun. Roving through the niches of the Bed-Stuy block, meeting its varied groups – a mix of individuals and choruses – Do The Right Thing takes its tone from classic Hollywood. The on-location Brooklyn takes on the feeling of an expansive soundstage set, giving the film a contained, theatrical vibe. The day-in-a-life span of the story and the to-camera monologuing intensifies the Hollywood Golden Age feel.  In this first phase of his career, Lee was such an enthusiastic and unabashedly stylish filmmaker. Lee's purview and politics are of course important, but to watch his films as simply soapboxes is to deny yourself the full scope of his prowess.

While the commandment-sounding title might make Do The Right Thing seem didactic, the film is essentially interrogative. The big question being, well, what's the right thing to do? This one block in Bed-Stuy becomes a simulation for race relations throughout the country, as races, cultures, generations, and businesses argue their right to be there. The other essential question is asked: To whom does the neighbourhood belong?  Who has more right to be there? In a predominately black neighbourhood, the two primary businesses are an Italian pizza shop – Sal's Famous – that's been in operation for 25 years and a newly opened Korean-owned corner store. The population itself is a mix of black, Hispanic, and the few gentrification-threatening white Celtics fans. Who owes what to whom? Racism is present from the get-go, but its familiar, harmless-feeling; the collateral damage of different cultures living in such a small space. 

The blatant racism is key to Do the Right Thing. Lee equips all his characters with invective, strings of which get shot out before the final turn to violence. By displaying a stain of hate and resentment – themselves indicative of feelings of superiority – Lee brings us into the apparently controversial crescendo without any heros and villains.

The first jostle of the block's balance comes in Sal's Famous, which features a wall of fame featuring Italians of note, when a young man – Buggin' Out – points out, almost in passing, that a business with an almost exclusively black clientele should feature a few "brothers on the wall." “This is my pizzeria," Sal explains, "American-Italians on the wall only.” It's this fracturing of disparity, and this question about inclusivity and community onus, that – under the pressure of the hottest day of the year, ostensibly – that will, by the end tear the neighbourhood apart.

Exacerbation leads to lines being drawn, allegiances being made. A brawl finally breaks out between the Public Enemy-blasting Radio Raheem (who borrows The Night of the Hunters love/hate tattoos) and famous Sal. When the police show up, Radio is seen as the aggressor and chocked to death by the NYPD – a reference to the 1983 chocking of graffiti artist Michael Stewart, but decimatingly still relevant. In response, the black residents of the block destroy Sal's Famous – a conflagration triggered by the character with allegiances to the whole block: the pizza delivery boy, Mookie (played by Lee).

Upon its release, many critics sided with Sal, effectively valuing the damage of white property over the loss of black life. The consensus: Mookie did not do the right thing. In a move that seemed to echo the lost point, Danny Aiello received the Oscar for Best Supporting Role in an overwhelming black film – another passing detail that has never not become an issue.

The film ends with quotes from both Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, the former making a plea for peace, the latter leaving the door open for violence when necessary. Given these two competing purviews, it's confounding that anyone would misunderstand Lee's film as a blunt statement instead of an articulate and entertaining opening of what has always been and'll always be a difficult as hell conversation. What, given the country's hemmed-in mix of histories and priorities, is the right thing to do? The fact that Do the Right Thing still feels so fresh and relevant suggests that, in the 25 years since the film came out, no one has yet figured out exactly what the right thing to do is. 

We're only left with the resonating demand of Samuel L. Jackson's Mister Senor Love Daddy: "YA NEED TO COOL THAT SHIT OUT! And that's the double truth, Ruth."

- Andrew

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


I’m sure that you’ve heard this before – “You have to meet so and so.” You might be one of those types whose defenses go up immediately. But this is a matchmaking in the unreal world of cinema. So relax, you will never meet these characters and I can confidently say that you have to meet the Patels! They are a lively immigrant family with one foot in the wonderfully rich cultural heritage of India and the other mired in the pressures of the American dream.

Ravi and Geeta are siblings. Ravi has just broken up with his Caucasian girlfriend of two years whom his parents know nothing about. Geeta is the cinematographer and she wields her camera with a terrific zeal, documenting a year in which her parents and all of their many friends and family across the U.S. try to find Ravi a wife. Poor Ravi. He is committed to this project and his exploits make you realize that truth is often wilder than fiction.

One very interesting aspect of the movie was the casual racist subtext – or not even subtext but text. At one point Ravi’s aunt says something like “I will never visit your home if you marry a white girl.” This movie lets it all hang out and you are along for the ride.

Even Variety, the mouthpiece for Hollywood, liked meeting the Patels! "Geeta V. Patel and Ravi V. Patel's documentary offers a sharp, often riotously funny take on the conflicts and compromises that all culturally nebulous families must navigate.”

Meet the Patels is back by popular demand,  Monday Jan 18th and Tuesday Jan 19th, both showings at 9pm!

- Barb

Sunday, January 10, 2016


The January Guelph Movie Club presentation of The Matrix marks our third birthday. That’s right. Three years ago this month, I stood at the front of The Cinema and announced that yes, Guelph Movie Club was a thing, a movie thing where we showed movies, movies we loved that deserved another turn on the big screen. Then we watched Ghostbusters.

This month, we’re showing The Matrix. At least four of you are saying – this very second – that the two sequels ruin the movie for you. And, the Wachowskis haven’t made anything good since. And, so on.

To you I say, “Cool your jets.” Come back with me to the magical year of 1999. It was a simpler time before George W. Bush and Survivor. If, like me, you saw this during its original theatrical run, then this might have been a movie that came out of nowhere and blew your socks off. It might not seem like it now because a million movies have aped its tropes, but The Matrix stands up as something kinda special.

And kinda special movies are what Guelph Movie Club is all about. So, join us on January 28th at 9:00 at The Bookshelf Cinema. I promise to make at least one kung fu joke, and, if someone reminds me, tell you the story about the first time I saw The Matrix in theatre.

If you’re new to Guelph Movie Club, here’s how it works. At each of our screenings, we ask for suggestions. We turn those suggestions into polls. Those polls decide what goes up on the screen each month. Here's our Oscar snub poll. We'll announce the results at the screening of The Matrix.

Which Oscar Snub Should We Honour with a Guelph Movie Club Showing?

Some other things you might want to know:

· We’re on Twitter
· And Facebook

It’s Guelph Movie Club’s third birthday! Come see a movie. Find out if we get that new bike we’ve been asking for.

Til then, see you at the movies.


Saturday, January 9, 2016


Dalton Trumbo was one of the heroes of the McCarthy dark ages when being a communist was enough to have you incarcerated. As one of The Hollywood Ten (and probably Hollywood’s most successful screenwriter) he refused to testify before The House of American Activities – or, in other words, he refused to snitch on any of his friends who may have had communist membership or even leanings. For this he was blacklisted until the 60’s, and in 1950 spent 11 months in a federal penitentiary.

There is a lot that I didn’t understand about that era even though at the time I immersed myself in my mother’s Screen Gem magazines. Trumbo is really worth seeing for a number of reasons, the least of which is an amazing performance by Helen Mirren playing Hedda Hopper, gossip columnist extraordinaire. And Brian Cranston is very believable and likable as Trumbo. He is portrayed as a person who puts his money where his mouth is. But the thing that really hit home for me was how easily the culture of fear, which is taking place presently in American politics, can be so quickly spread and how easily it can infect both the corridors of power and those of us outside that system. We’re bringing this movie back for a reason. Don’t miss it if you haven’t seen it.

- Barb

Sunday, November 22, 2015


The films of David Lynch are full of doors, portals, ways into other (usually dark) worlds. In Twin Peaks, the woods are a conveyance into the mythical White and Black Lodges; in Mulholland Dr., it's a puzzle box that sucks the naive Canadian actress into depravity; something beyond my ken happens in Lost Highway that transforms a middle-age sax player accused to murdering his wife into a young mechanic. In Blue Velvet, the film that arguably laid the groundwork for what we now call Lynchian, it's an ear. Passing through a scruffy field, coming from visiting his stroke-felled father in the hospital, Jeffery Beaumont, while searching through the scrub for stones to throw at an old shed, finds a severed ear acrawl with ants. The camera corkscrews into the dark curves of the thing, and we and the characters are seemingly along for the ride, falling through the thin rime of All-American civility into the sea of chaos beneath.

Blue Velvet introduces the tropes and images that Lynch will spend about two decades sorting through. Before Blue Velvet, he gained notoriety for his avant garde parenthood panic, Eraserhead, which brought him to the attention of Mel Brooks, who hired Lynch to direct The Elephant Man. A Best Picture Oscar nomination was enough to give the mainstream some confidence in Lynch, though a stutter in that confidence lead to meddling and Lynch's next film, an adaptation of Frank Herbert's massive Dune, was a muddled flop. Arguably, the stink of that expensive boner saved Lynch's career, curtailing any interest mainstream investors might have had in him. Dino De Laurentiis had faith enough in Lynch that he gave him carte blanche on his next film and, though he wouldn't put it into the contract for fear every subsequent director would demand it, he gave the director final cut. That level of freedom made it possible for Lynch to pursue the sort of intuitive filmmaking he would come to be known for, where the planned film is always vulnerable to the unplannable randomness of the making process.

Triggered by Bobby Vinton's 1963 performance of "Blue Velvet", the image of a severed ear in a field, and the odd desire to hide in a girl's closet all day hoping to witness the clue to a mystery, Blue Velvet was not immediately beloved, but eventually struck a chord thanks to its juxtaposition of traditional Americana (white picket fences, lawn care, AM top 40 classics) with bizarre seediness (languid night clubs, sadomasochism, amyl nitrate abuse). This tension between light and dark, polite reservation and manic bombast, sort of became Lynch's calling card, but it also falls in line with spate of myth challenging that was occurring in 80s culture at the time. That squeaky clean image of post-war America, the lawns as well kept as the haircuts, the home appliances as rounded and shining as the boat-sized cars in the carports, had been offered as proof that the deprivation of the Depression and the catastrophic horror of the second world war had been overcome through American exceptionalism and sticktoitiveness. Of course, this was a case of dressing for the job you wanted, not the job you had. Underneath that veneer, America was still roiling with political, racial, and moral angst. The attempt to exorcise that repression throughout the 60s and 70s lead back to another false front with the materialistic conservatism of the Reagan era of the 80s. The illusion of 50s prosperity came to be viewed as halcyon days of the country, and what better way to harken back to that veneer than to have a 50s movie star as your president. It might seem odd company, but the weirdo Blue Velvet became one of more than a few films such as Polyester, Back to the Future, and A Christmas Story to both celebrate and criticize the myth of the 50s, which was not fitting quite as snugly in the similarly deluded 80s.

Lynch is maybe the most successful purveyor of these national contradictions because they're thrillingly at work in him. An Eagle Scout from Missoula, Lynch carries over that healthy, confident can-do curiosity to areas that most people would prefer to keep hidden. For a time, Lynch found his perfect avatar in Kyle MacLachlan, who, in Blue Velvet and later Twin Peaks, oozes grinning, clean-cut, innocent inquisitiveness. And the more innocent the protagonist of a Lynch film is, the greater the drama of their possible corruption. If Lynch's work from Lost Highway onward seems less accessible, the absence of that innocent avatar might be the reason. Finding the severed ear, Jeffrey (MacLachlan), possibly an Eagle Scout himself, does the right thing and brings it to the authorities. That's where Blue Velvet might have ended if not for the police chief's angelic daughter Sandy (the still teen-aged Laura Dern) cluing Jeffery into the scuzzy side of their quaint Lumberton, specifically a sultry nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini) she believes might have something to do with this whole severed ear business. Jeffrey and Sandy, brimming with pluck and flirt, put on their detective caps like kids playing around after school. Satisfying Lynch's own animating desire, Jeffery sneaks into the vamp's closet and spies in a way that might call to mind a certain hotel owner with a penchant for birds. Like the world of warring ants that's revealed when the camera explores in the well-tended lawns of the American paradise, Jeffrey's looking closer uncovers a corrupt, violent, and depraved world teeming beneath placid Lumberton.

The embodiment of that chaotic depravity operating beneath the America idyll is Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), the amyl nitrate-huffing, lipstick-applying, blue velvet-obsessed madman. In early Lynch, good and evil exist in extremes, in their purest individual states. In subsequent films, the dichotomy will mingle and become muddy, but especially during MacLachlan's time with Lynch, the risk is always that pure good will be corrupted by pure evil -- evil, it seems, is incorruptible. And, indeed, as Jeffery becomes mixed up with Dorothy Vallens, as he samples the sex and violence of that world, he comes close to becoming a denizen of it. As Sandy -- who got him into this mess in the first place -- jokes, "I can't figure out if you're a detective or a pervert."

In some ways, David Lynch became David Lynch with Blue Velvet. It was here that he met Angelo Badalamenti, who would define the askew noir soundtrack of Lynch's worlds, and it's here that we first see the imagrey of the divided road at night, the luffing velvet curtains (in blue and red), and the guttering flame. The access points in Lynch's later films are, as far as the narratives are concerned, literal doorways which lead to literal transitions and transformations. But in Blue Velvet, the descent into the severed ear is a figurative entry point into the dark. In a larger sense, though, it is does make for an almost literal entry point into the work of Lynch. And, like his protagonists, the viewer, whether they pass through or are sucked through, usually come out changed.

"It had to be an ear," Lynch said about the severed part. "An ear is wide and, as it narrows, you can go down into it. And it goes somewhere vast..."

- Andrew