Thursday, March 28, 2013

Guelph Movie Club: I’m Going to Make You an Episode You Can’t Refuse

We’re going to the theatre seats for the next GMC. That’s right folks, Episode Four of the Guelph Movie Club is The Godfather. Thursday, April 25th at 7:30 p.m., dust off your tuxedo and spend a little time with the Family.

As usual, we hope you'll come early and stay late to share a fine Italian Red (or a pint) in the Green Room and talk movies. After the movie, you'll have a chance to cast your ballot for Episode Five, so start thinking.

Once the short list of movies for Episode 5 is available, you can visit the Bookshelf Facebook and Twitter pages for voting and more details!

Till then, see you in the future (and at the movies),

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Essential Cinema Series

This year the Bookshelf Cinema marks its 25th anniversary. Much has changed, much has remained the same, and much remains worth celebrating. The cinema exists within the larger whole of The Bookshelf, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year as well.

The upcoming year holds many opportunities to celebrate these milestones, but my goal with this announcement is to herald a new, ongoing film series that starts this month: Essential Cinema. This series will give us a chance to re-visit some of the most notable films of our first twenty-five years, and to celebrate repertory cinema in general by screening some of the best movies of all time.

This idea has been stewing on the back burner for a while now. Ironically, it has been made more possible by our new digital projection equipment and the growing list of previously unavailable film prints now available as newly minted digital copies.

The recently established Guelph Movie Club (GMC) has also proven to be an inspiration for the Essential Cinema series. The GMC grew out of audience demand for older movies to be shared in a theatrical setting, and all GMC films are chosen by the moviegoers themselves. Yes, the titles are often available in other viewing formats, but the GMC mandate was for public screenings and informal gatherings before and/or after shows to gather and talk about movies. The initial GMC choices have leaned in the direction of relatively recent Hollywood titles (although who knows what members might pick in the future); the birth of the Essential Cinema series is, in part, a response to frequent requests for older or more international film choices. Regardless of the programming format, one thing is certain, and that is the shared enjoyment of publicly-screened classic movies.

We are launching the series with two notable films from our first year of operation. Wim Wender's award-winning Wings of Desire (Apr 9 & 10) delighted Bookshelf audiences during what was just our second program of Sept/Oct 1988.

And the following year we brought Steven Soderbergh's debut film to Guelph: sex, lies and videotape (Apr 30) is largely seen as the film that started the indie filmmaking movement in the US and is still considered the template for the hundreds of filmmakers working outside of the Hollywood studio system today.

There you have it, the cinema programming birth of a notion.

Join us in this celebration of cinema history, brought to life onscreen in your local rep cinema.

 Hoping to see you in the dark,


Monday, March 25, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

In all honesty, I'm kind of an "every silver lining has its cloud" kind of guy. At the same time, I'm not an egregiously gloomy Gus. I don't have expectations that things will come out shiny and jake in the end, and so can be pleased when they happen to turn out that way and am unsurprised when they don't. I have tried and am trying still to leaven my outlook. A major hindrance is that I just can't stomach the--what are to me--platitudes and homilies that ride sidecar on the way to a friendlier relationship with life's hardships.

Silver Linings Playbook is about coping, and how coping can be either a positive process or a negative destination. Pat (Bradley Cooper) is the one character who has the "insane stamp" on his hand (undiagnosed bipolar with mood swings). Without his father's knowledge, Pat's mother checks him out of the hospital he'd been sent to after finding his wife in the shower with the high school geography teacher and trashing him. Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro) has lost his job and now bets on the Philadelphia Eagles for a living. A superstitious gambler, he interprets Pat's return as good "juju" for the Eagles.

Out of the bin, Pat is driven to get well--jogging, reading all the books on his wife's high school English curriculum, generally trying to adopt a silver linings-riddled outlook--with the endgame of winning his wife back. Invited to a dinner party by his friend Ronnie, himself cracking under the pressures of work, marriage, and a new baby, Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow out to out-crazy Pat. From here we set out on an examination of who's got problems, who knows it, who doesn't, who's willing to work on it, and who refuses still to admit that they've got problems in the first place. On the surface a romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook is one of the most articulate, entertaining examples of the "well" using the "unwell" as proof of their own wellness. It's a troubling way to look at your life: concern for the well-being of others becomes proof of your own well-being. What this movie does best is turn that wrongheaded logic on its head. 

There's also some romance in there. I promise.

Most everyone swaddles themselves in their own melange of self-help sayings. We tend to hiccup them up like tics, I'm sure most of us not even noticing we're doing it, and we do so so readily that any colour of support gets blanched out. What's charming about Silver Linings Playbook, and about Pat as a character, is his insistence to enliven these tossed-off comforts, to actually live by and draw strength from them. He brings to mind Say Anything...'s Lloyd Dobler and his "dare to be great" drive. It's an energy we don't see much of, in our media or in our lives, all so sodden and droopy with irony. Between Pat and Tiffany there's an astounding amount of gumption and positivity that, thanks to Cooper and Lawrence, never feels like tin. These kids breathe a real interesting life into those limp platitudes, so much so that--I'm serious--I caught a few legitimate winks of silver in there somewhere.

P.S. As long as we're talking about coping mechanisms, I also couldn't stop thinking about Serenity Now through Playbook. Any Seinfeld fans out there? 

- Andrew

Friday, March 22, 2013

Get Out of the House, but No Need to Get Outta Town

Here's a heads-up about a couple of movies coming in early April. It means that you have to get up, leave the house, and make your way to the cinema, but I think it's worth it. And if you're in or near Guelph, it's better than driving further away. Both films are playing on the April 5 weekend (exact dates and times are still to be confirmed) and I hope this blog announcement will reach some, if not all, of the many voices requesting them.

Searching for Sugarman Returns!

The Oscar-winning doc is back and it begs to be seen and shared with a cinema audience. For more information, see Barb's reaction to the film and Andrew's meditation on how Sugar Man provokes thought about artistic quality and its sometimes tenuous relationship to actual fame.

Cloudburst comes to Guelph!

This indie film from director Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden) stars Oscar-winning actresses Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker. Thankfully, this film was on our radar before it opened in Toronto (March 8) to strong reviews and we booked it, pronto. It also got an extra media push from Johanna Schneller's great interview piece in the Globe and Mail

To all who have requested these two films, watch our site next week for exact dates and showtimes, and pass the word.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013


I'm one of those hold-outs you hear about; one of those unconverted. I appreciate the place graphic novels and the like have in literature, feel it's deserved and certainly expanding, but I'm just not much of a reader of them. When it happens that I do pick one up, the problem is I bolt the book. I read the bursts of text and look at the artwork for only the barest information. I don't know if Tatsumi will change the way or degree to which I read visual lit, but it was a great experience to have my hand held on a stroll through this movement. 

In North America there's been this underground struggle (which has now entered the mainstream) to have a clear line drawn between comics and graphic novels. It may not be news to you like it was to me that a similar fractioning occurred in Japan--predating, I believe, the revolution in our hemisphere--with manga and gekiga. Translated, manga gives us "irresponsible pictures," and gekiga "dramatic pictures." At the forefront of this ideological schism was Yoshihiro Tatsumi, whose life and work we're concerned with here. As a youngster, he flourished with irresponsibility, but as an adult found that his form didn't jibe with the changes that were occurring both in Japan and the world. In his Gekiga Manifesto (which I can only find quotes of online) he writes,

Story manga has been vitalized through the influence exerted by the supersonic development of other media such as film, television, and radio.... Manga and gekiga differ in methodology, but perhaps, more importantly, in their readerships. The demand for manga, written for adolescents, i.e., those readers between childhood and adulthood, has never been answered, because there has never been a forum for such writings. The hitherto neglected reader segment is gekiga's intended target.
And this target was a youth culture that was becoming increasingly political in the 60s, whose own stories were increasingly dramatic.

Tatsumi draws from Tatsumi's autobiography, A Drifting Life, and intersperses it with animations of his short stories. The autobiographical interstitials can rely sometime too heavily on foreknowledge of the artist and his contexts, but are nonetheless interesting. For the uninitiated, like myself, the film is worth your while for Tastumi's stories, of which there are five: "Hell," "Beloved Monkey," "Just a Man," "Occupied," and "Good-bye." Context aside, these are some of the most compelling, engaging, sometimes parabolic stories I've lately been exposed to. The five stories are at times Bukowskian in their grimness and griminess, each with an almost EC Comics-like twist morality ending. For sheer storytelling prowess alone, Tatsumi is worth the initiated and uninitiated's time.

You may be, like me, essentially out of step with the revolutions in storytelling that have been happening under and aboveground for decades, or you may be entrenched in this stuff. Whatever your affiliation, Tatsumi comes across as a celebration and exploration of storytelling, and of the man who had the right kind of knife to carve out a way to do it.

- Andrew

Friday, March 15, 2013

Stand Up Guys

I haven't seen RED or The Expendables, so I can't speak to the relevance this new wave of what I'll call, if you'll let me, the Geriaction genre has to a movie like Stand Up Guys. I get the sense that any connection would be flimsy, though. Stand Up Guys is more of a tried-and-true buddy flick, a more thoughtful, crimeful Grumpy Old Men with a splash of The Bucket List. Al Pacino and Christopher Walken play aging hoods Val and Doc. After twenty-eight years in the clink, Val is coming back down the river, and Doc is there waiting for him. Doc hasn't done any dirt since his partner went away. He's spent his life watching cable TV, trying to eat healthy, and painting the sunsets; he's seemingly mellowed. But Doc's not the only one who's been waiting for Val to get out. Before going in, Val accidentally killed the son of a crime boss. He expected to be dealt with in prison, but the vengeance didn't come. And so a reunion turns into something of a last hurrah, and Val and Doc cram as much skullduggery as they can into what time they have left together. There's a sort of interesting double-play with this movie. It's a look at the people that characters are, and a look at people wanting one more taste at being characters.

By the late 90s you couldn't swing a samurai sword without nicking a movie one could qualify as Tarantinoesque. Every other flick seemed to be bad men bandying banalities, all set to a soundtrack so cool everyone in the theater was crab-eyeing through their shirts a little. This fad has mostly dissipated, that style having pretty much the last drop of vim sucked from it. However, Tarantino somewhat less notoriously popularized the rounding of theretofore mostly flat genre--or, pulp--characters. He wasn't the only one, but he was the most visible. All of a sudden we have once cucumber-cool jewel thieves arguing about Madonna, once stony hit men rattling on about international fast food and TV. Tarantino presented his gangsters as mostly regular people for whom gangsterism was a job they went home from at the end of the day. This narrative influence has been more long-lasting than the stylistic one, thank God.

Stand Up Guys is a small movie, a quieter and more solemn hour and a half than I assume those other geriaction movies are. And maybe the difference has something to do with that Tarantino influence. You will get some shoot'em up and car chases, but even these genre tropes come about as great effusions of sometimes winsome nostalgia. There's plenty of I'm old levity (read: boner pills) which can be a hoot when executed by heavies like these, but that penchant can sometimes subvert the more thoughtful alleys that the movie seems to want to go down. 

BONUS TRIVIA: Speaking of Tarantino, did you know that Quentin's dad, Tony Tarantino, is in a sort of troupe along with Al Pacino's dad, Sal Pacino? The name of that troupe? The Silver Foxes! Also in the group: Magic Johnson's mom, Cindy Crawford's mom, and Patsy Swayze, Patrick's mom. For the life of me, I can't figure out what this troupe is actually up to. See if you can make any sense of this description:
Together, the Silver Foxes represent a broad cross-section of ages, backgrounds, and abilities. The Silver Foxes work to turn around some of the negative stereotypes about aging and the resulting self-perceptions that adversely affect health and well-being. The Silver Foxes are about recognizing the importance of movement and keeping active no matter what level of ability you have. The Silver Foxes Community is also a research team that takes a holistic view in bringing people aged 50 and above the tools to maximize their body, mind and spirit power.
- Andrew

Thursday, March 14, 2013

GMC: The way I see it, if you're gonna build a movie club, why not do it with some style?

It’s just two weeks until Guelph Movie Club Episode 3Back to the Future (that's Thursday, March 28 at 9:00 p.m).

Like we did last month, we’ll be announcing the movie for Episode 4 just before we show Back to the Future. But right now, the future is in your hands. We've put together a short list for the April GMC movie from the nominations you submitted at last month's Big Lebowski screening, and your vote determines which one gets shown. Here they are:
You can vote on which movie you'd like to see in April by taking this GMC Facebook Poll May the best movie win!

 A few notes on the poll: You don't have to have a Facebook account to vote. Just choose a movie and click Submit. You can only vote for one movie, and you can only vote once. Voting will close Thursday, March 21st at 11:30 p.m. Oh, and don't forget to think about what movie you'd like to see at the May GMC showing, because in addition to announcing the winning movie for April at the Back to the Future screening, we'll also be taking your nominations for the May movie.

For newbies: Never heard of Guelph Movie Club? Follow along starting with our first blog entry.

Last time, a few of us met up early (and stayed late) for a drink at the eBar and Green Room to chat about movies. We’d love to have you join us.

Till then, see you at the movies,

- Danny W.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Impossible (Take 1)

Today we have not one but two people here at the Bookshelf commenting on the Ewan McGregor/Naomi Watts film The Impossible. Here's Michelle; next comes Andrew.

An Appreciation of Family

If you have the ability to carve two hours out of your schedule anytime between now and Tuesday, March 12th, I'd highly suggest heading to The Bookshelf cinema for a chance to see The Impossible.  I saw it last night and haven't been able to stop thinking about it ever since.  Habitually, I kiss my sleeping children before going to bed myself each night, but this movie made me actually climb right into each of their beds—top bunk included—for that goodnight kiss. It permeated my dreams and made me so, so thankful for the husband and family I woke up to this morning.

The Impossible is the incredible true story of a family who were celebrating Christmas in Thailand when the tsunami of 2004 hit.  Far from the average Hollywood disaster movie, The Impossible shows us just how strong the bonds of family can become when tested. It is wrenching and jarring and at times extremely hard to watch, so "enjoy" would not be the right word to use as I send you on your way to see it.  More like ready yourself, bring tissues and prepare for a harrowing journey that will leave you with such a fine appreciation for the loved ones in your life.

 - Michelle

The Impossible (Take 2)

I forget what book it was, but it was new at the time, by a noteworthy Canadian writer, and had something to do a child or children being abducted. I was in a circle of a few other writers, all of them about fifteen years older than me and, most notably, all mothers. They were talking about his book, which I hadn't read. It came out that each one of them, at about the same point in rising action, had jumped to the end to make sure that everything came out fine, that the natural order got mostly reset. I couldn't believe this. As craftspersons, it seemed inconceivable to me that they'd balk the tension that this other craftsperson had so striven to build. And I told them so (there may have been free wine at whatever function this was). Here was their somewhat miffed response (free wine, remember): I wasn't a parent. I especially wasn't a mother. I let the subject drop and, maybe still a little incredulous, sought out another comped cup of vino.

Genuine suspense is no easy feat. It intensifies those fundaments of great storytelling, namely those that get you to care, in a physical way almost, about what will happen to a person or about events that happen in a story. Even more difficult is sustaining suspense in a story that everyone knows the ending to. Though some are of the mind that the final getaway in Argo was overwrought, there was a tangible tension in the theatre every night those faux filmmakers tried to catch their flight. We all know they get away, but still our fundaments scooch to the seat's edge. It really is something else when we can be brought to doubt a turnout we are already aware of. The Impossible was sold on the merit of it being a true story of the Alvarez family being exploded and then reassembled by the 2004 tsunami. So we go into the movie knowing that everything will turn out jake—the end's been skipped to for us—but the movie's job is to make us second-guess ourselves, worry and stress about whether everything actually will be okay.

The Impossible is, among other things, a suspense movie. It's also a horror and disaster movie. And it marries these elements pretty slickly, a ceremony officiated by young Spanish director J.A. Bayona. By all appearances, The Impossible seemed like an incongruous follow-up to his 2007 atmospheric creeper The Orphanage, but a subtly ominous opening dispelled whatever assumptions I had. To begin, Maria, Henry, and their three boys—now white and British—descend into verdant Thailand, mostly all smiles, an affluent family in vacation-y love with each other and their surroundings. The first trope that came to mind was the horror flick stand-by of a cheery family moving into their bright, new dream home, their dark demises the furthest thing from their minds. But the viewer knows better. Knowing the background of the movie informs us that something bad will happen, but Bayona reminds us visually, tonally, that these lives will be circumstantially bent to a breaking point. At one point he even adopts the POV of the oncoming sea, a waft of Jaws.

The family is splintered by the disaster, and most of the film is spent with a severely injured Naomi Watts and her oldest son, Tom Holland. It would seem Watts is drawn to the challenge of being brutalized in film, likes to begin so entirely pearlescent and see just how scuffed she can get. (See Mulholland Dr. or the American version of Funny Games.) In a switch of convention—because this is a real story—Watts, set-up to be the protector, is too hurt to fulfill her role, and so it falls to her young son, Lucas, to be the leader. Disaster, suspense, horror; The Impossible is also an incredibly cogent coming of age story.

The Impossible is good. I stress this because I frankly thought it was going to be fluffy tripe framed by real devastation. I'm a detail guy. A perfect detail can turn an okay work into a gangbusters one. In the calm after the disaster, Lucas and Maria are staggering single-file through the wreckage, and Lucas sees that his mother's calf is severely injured. He calls this to her attention, and Maria turns around. For the first time we and Lucas see that her shirt is torn and a breast is exposed. (ED If I need only one reason to despise Seth MacFarlane's "We Saw Your Boobs" Oscar song, this will do.)  The boy says to his mother, "I can't see you like this." 

I've got to say that this might just be one of the most genuine moments in any movie I've ever seen. It's rare that the puppet of a movie ever turns into a real boy, but that one detail did it. For me, these people became real, and so did their struggle. And I thought of that chat with those other writers/mothers, as muzzy with free booze as the memory was. With just that one line, I needed to know that these people would be okay, even though I knew they would be. Even though I knew that nearly a decade later they'd be gussied up and embracing on a red carpet photo shoot for a movie based on the worst thing that will ever happen to them, I needed to know that it would all work out.

Now I just want a glass of wine.

- Andrew

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Head to the Cinema and Travel the World

Scanning the magazine racks the other day, I was struck by the cover of The Economist magazine loudly (in print, mind you) proclaiming "Send in the Clowns" and featuring photos of Beppe Grillo and Silvio Berlusconi. It has been decades since I've visited Italy, but it got me wondering just how bad or good things are over there. Heck, they don't even have a big guy in the Vatican right now. 

And with no travel plans on the horizon, or in the budget, this makes for a timely presentation of Italy: Love it or Leave it (March 12-14), wherein Luca Ragazzi and Gustav Hofer spend six months touring "the boot." Their film is a colourful and engaging travelogue indeed.

But, looking at the rest of the March film program, I realized that the cinematic voyaging  doesn't stop with Italy. This month we're offering trips to Paris (Hugo, Amour), India and Thailand (Life of Pi, The Impossible), Cold War East Germany (Barbara), Iceland, Alaska, and the polar ice cap (Chasing Ice), Japan (the graphic novel world of Tatsumi), and heck, we've even got some time travel ahead (or behind) of us (Back to the Future).

Look at it like a budget vacation or an entertaining stay-cation where you can forget your boarding pass and leave your passport in the drawer. Just toss a little cash in your pocket or purse and join us for some foreign excursions.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

"Most of us rig our own moral calculuses in such a way that our actions become automatically justified in accordance with our own wishes."

That's William T. Vollmann in Rising Up and Rising Down, his seven-volume essay on when violence is and isn't justified. It's fine that Vollmann's a prolific brainiac, and that RURD contains just about everyone who has ever thought about violence, but the four-eyed Vollmann has also spent much of his career clad in Kevlar. As eyes in a gallimaufry of war zones, Vollmann's borne witness to more atrocity than I think any of us would like to admit exists in the world. The starting pistol for his critical and active interest would seem to begin in the early 80s when he--white, young, and out of shape--went to Afghanistan and attempted to join an American-funded Taliban that was then pitted against the Soviets. "They were my heroes," he says of the mujahedin, "I’ve never met anyone who was so serenely confident of doing the right thing, so willing to sacrifice his life for his homeland, so brave and so disciplined. The case of Afghanistan vs. the Soviet Union is the clearest case of good against evil that I’ve seen in my lifetime. I thought it was terrific the way they got their country back. I’m deeply saddened by the fact we stopped helping them once we got what we wanted, which was for them to be a thorn in the Russians’ side. I feel like we sort of let them down."

Early on, assembling his moral calculus, Vollmann sets down seven points, some "Reasons To Do Harm." The first is "What you've done (You've physically attacked me)." Here's the rest: "What you are," "What you haven't done," "Whom you associate with," "What you might do," "What you are," and "The fact that you are." Most of the reasons stem from the first, from this notion of provocation. Of course, if what someone's done to you was provoked by something you've done to them, then we begin to see why an essay on violence, and all the moral "rigging" we smart monkeys are capable of, might consume seven books.

Zero Dark Thirty is a tricky flick, especially so because of its seeming simplicity. Based on "first hand accounts of actual events," it presents the search for and killing of Osama bin Laden. There are three acts to this search. First, the use of torture to extract information in the aftermath of 9/11. Next, the bureaucratic morass combined with daily on-the-ground struggle in Afghanistan. Finally, there's the establishment of bin Laden's possible whereabouts and the subsequent deployment and killing. Director Kathryn Bigelow presents this process with the sort of moral ambiguity that really charged her previous film, The Hurt Locker. That film's interest was mostly psychological, examining the type of character able to excel and live with modern warfare. ZDT has created a molehill of controversy, because it presents no clear opinion on its subject. Most detractors' opinions of the film's opinion have much to do with their own agendas. Does it condemn or celebrate the use of torture? And what kind of math is the film doing when torture and bribery equals the murder of an unarmed man? And where do we, the viewers--politicized or not--locate ourselves when the characters, the agents of these actions, hardly voice an opinion. Because, subject matter aside, ZDT is mostly about people doing their jobs. Duty trumps morality.

President Obama's declaration of bin Laden's murder turned out to be something of a litmus strip. To some, the slaying was nothing less than triumphant; an eye for an eye. (The fact that bin Laden was shot through the eye comes close to turning the situation into a pun.) For others, the actions reeked of barbarism; very un-Obama. In some ways, the only wrong opinion was no opinion. Another line of Vollmann's comes to mind, vaguely recollected: you may not care about politics, but politics care about you.

Is ZDT political? Or is it about people so entrenched in a task that the larger implications get obfuscated? And if that's the case, then what's the greater implication?

In exploring when violence for the purposes of vengeance is just, Vollmann declares, "Deterrence, retribution and revenge must all be didactic to accomplish their ends." He then goes on to compare the public executions by Pancho Villa and the private ones of Stalin. I can recall a great discomfort accompanying the murder of bin Laden. It was great that it was done, but it had been done secretly, performed by a team of people that must remain unknown, and after all the body got tossed overboard. Regardless of any intrinsic political view, ZDT portrays a protracted, difficult act of vengeance. As a reenactment, the film amounts to a public execution. Never mind whether that settles hackles or raises them.

Maybe I want Zero Dark Thirty to have an articulate opinion of its content. Maybe it's what I've come to expect. Political greyness mostly vanished after 9/11. What's that catchphrase? "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." On both left and right, though, discourse has been replaced by outrage. If there was a tangible intention in Bigelow's film, a firm stance, then I could talk against it, or stand up to it, calibrate my morality against its own. Instead, it leaves me alone to puzzle through my own math problems.

- Andrew