TORONTO—”The Martian” is a man-versus-Mars adventure that pays tribute to those who can geek, with Matt Damon playing Mark Watney, an astronaut-botanist forced to become a kind of space MacGyver after he is stranded on the Red Planet.
Watney is left behind after a storm forces his crew to evacuate Mars, believing him dead. He survives the storm, but he has no way to communicate with his crew or Earth and only a few months’ worth of food to last him the four years that will elapse before the next ship arrives.
Whereas “Gravity,” the Toronto International Film Festival’s blockbuster space movie last year, was a 90-minute scramble for survival—an almost overdose of plot without much else—”The Martian” gives us time to breathe in a landscape where Damon’s character makes the impossible workable by solving one science problem after another.
The adventure works, all the more so with plenty of humor. It would be too easy for a story about being stranded on Mars to veer toward the grim—left alone in a hostile world, abandoned. But that isn’t the case thanks to the dedication of “The Martian” to its source material, a book by the same name that even provided the film’s unusual disco soundtrack.
Like the book, the film is well-steeped in real science, giving it a realism that respects intelligent viewers.Self-published by Andy Weir in 2011, “The Martian” earned rave reviews and was later picked up by Crown Publishing, a subsidiary of Random House, with the film rights picked up by Twentieth Century Fox in 2013.
When Weir finally got to see a cut of the film he could barely hold back the tears, he told a press conference hours before the movie’s premiere at TIFF on Sept. 11.
Andy Weir, author of “The Martian,” which was adapted into one of the hottest films at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, talks about the astounding success of his self-published book during a press conference at TIFF on Sept. 11. (WireImage/Getty for TIFF)
“For the first five minutes of the movie I was choked up, just trying not to cry because this is the kind of thing you fantasize about as a writer, something like this happening, but you don’t really believe it will ever actually happen. It’s like when you’re a kid in little league and you’re like, ‘I’m going to be in the World Series,” he said.
For the film’s acclaimed director, Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Blade Runner,” “Gladiator”), the screenplay was all the reason he needed to do the film—welcome words to screenwriter Drew Goddard, who said Scott was his favorite director.
Goddard, recounted Damon, described “The Martian” as a love letter to science.
“The Martian” plays at times like a Western, and Scott told reporters of his love for that genre, how he had dreamed of being a cowboy until he was 18, raising concerns from his parents.
“I was brought up on Westerns,” he said.
Scott said he has taken basic themes of Westerns—man against nature or man against the odds—with him in every film he has done.
Matt Damon signs autographs outside the premiere of “The Martian” at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
But Damon is not a lone pioneer for the entire film. After connecting his character once again with his friends at NASA back on Earth, “The Martian” reveals the interdependency that humans require but movies rarely acknowledge. Like the book, the film is well-steeped in real science, giving it a realism that respects intelligent viewers.
Damon lands Watney’s often dry humor with aplomb and holds the screen well, given that much of the film is him talking to himself, or recording video journals.
But there are plenty of scenes with the rest of the capable cast, including the NASA crew that includes Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Damon’s crewmates Jessica Chastain, Kate Mara, and Michael Peña.
Sebastian Stan of “Captain America” fame plays a crew member and said he was excited by the realism of the film and the vision it offered.
(L–R) Kate Mara, Matt Damon, and Jessica Chastain pause for a picture prior to a press conference for the cast of “The Martian” at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11. (WireImage/Getty for TIFF)
“This is a very real film, in my opinion. I mean Mars, and going to Mars is definitely going to happen, I think, in our lifetime,” he said, adding that he was a big fan of NASA and the idea of going to Mars.
“I just love being part of a movie that took place on Earth and then Mars but was also very real and grounded.”
Damon said he felt good about being part of a film like “The Martian.” It’s a movie that expects the best from people, a belief that might be lacking in the world but is sorely needed, he said.
“It’s a really optimistic and hopeful movie, and sometimes that’s our job to put something like that out in the middle of really tough times.”
- Published in Entertainment
ISIS beheadings, Mexican cartel beheadings—it’s pretty much the same deal. Parallels between the two evil institutions abound.
Well, as the cartels down there maintain, the drug trade is just supply for the demand up here; we’ve got unprecedented levels of rural and small-town heroin addiction. New England is riddled with it. There’s an enormous market for pills and powders and herbs that make our great American spiritual depression cease and desist for a short while. Hence the cartel feeding frenzy.
“Sicario” is a well-told tale of one attempt to stem the tide of drugs and violence pouring in here from down there. Ultimately, complete drug-flow stoppage won’t happen via CIA, FBI, and paramilitary teams, but through 12-step addiction programs and personal and spiritual cultivation. But that’s a different movie.
Still, it’s interesting to pick up the drug war rock and see what’s crawling around under it. That’s exactly what “Sicario” does. “Sicario” is Steven Soderbergh’s “Traffic” on steroids. It’s got some disturbing imagery you won’t be able to unsee; it’s full of very bad hombres. And the “good guys,” well, the cynicism level of the CIA is like hydrochloric acid. But it’s a dude film; dudes will appreciate it. And the cast is killer.
And That British Chick Is Pretty Great
Emily Blunt, that is. As door-kicker No. 1 on an FBI bust, agent Kate Macer (Blunt) roll-ducks a shotgun blast and puts the shooter down, whereupon her partner (Daniel Kaluuya) discovers a plastic bag peeking through the shotgunned hole in the drywall behind her.
Daniel Kaluuya stars as Reggie Wayne in “Sicario.” (Richard Foreman Jr/Lionsgate)
Guess what’s hiding in there? It’s a stunningly high body-count drywall morgue in a suburban Arizona house. The octopus-like arms of the cartels have grown long.
Macer’s a no-nonsense, by-the-book, morally upright FBI field agent whose ringing idealism puts her squarely in the function of stand-in for the audience.
Emily Blunt got this role because of her immensely believable, perfect-American-accented macho warrior work with Tom Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow,” where her soulful blue eyes, power jawline and cleft chin, and the fact that she was heretofore a Shakespearean kind of girly-girl, gave her a magnetic je ne sais quoi.
Emily Blunt stars as idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer in “Sicario.” (Richard Foreman Jr/Lionsgate)
Interviews ensue in the wake of the Arizona mayhem. They like Kate’s style. Who does? We’re not sure, but it looks like a fantasy football interagency task force of alpha-dog operators is being cherry-picked to follow up on the drywall morgue situation. Macer’s the best kidnapping specialist. But is that really why they want her on the team?
The main auditioner is one Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), a rules-and-formalities eschewing, beach-sandals-wearing, gum-snapping bro with perfect hair and a killer smile. He’s a “Defense Department contractor” (sure he is). Talk about your snake and lady-charmer. Brolin was born to play this kind of slick, boyishly charming manly-man.
Josh Brolin stars as Matt Graver in “Sicario.” (Richard Foreman Jr/Lionsgate)
Macer is expertly schmoozed, bamboozled, and flattered into believing she’s needed on this op because she’s so awesome. She’s still naively seeing bad guys versus law enforcement as black-and-white, but Graver is clearly very, very gray. We highly suspect her idealism is in for a rude awakening.
Right about now, someone who might be the titular “sicario” shows up. That would be Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro). “Sicario” is Spanish slang for hitman. But Alejandro claims to be a “former Mexican prosecutor” (sure he is). Whoever he is, he carries deadly gravitas.
Eventually, the crack agent team (no pun intended) travels down to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to snare one minor cartel boss (linked to the Arizona incident), in order to smoke out an even bigger one. Juárez—you don’t want to go there. Nightmarish images hang off bridges in those parts.
Which brings us to a topnotch set piece: Once they collar the small-fry boss and start heading back across the border (accompanied by a substantial motorcade of Federales), a massive traffic jam sets like cement; the Americans are suddenly sitting ducks.
Cars are spotted, inching forward, packed to the gills with face-tattooed bad hombres packing military-grade hardware. Unfortunately for los hombres, the American convoy contains U.S. Army Delta Force operators, tier-one CIA field-spooks, and one tough FBI chick. Which is like putting a feral dog pack up against dogfight-trained pit bulls. The tension winds tight as a steel winch—dudes will enjoy the ensuing spec ops versus cartel henchmen smackdown.
There are tunnels, illegals, and shady deals, with Macer running around trying to figure it all out, and grinning Graver acting like a camp counselor: “Stick around, learn something.”
Emily Blunt stars as idealistic FBI agent Kate Macer in “Sicario.” (Richard Foreman Jr/Lionsgate)
And as the film throttles up, mystery man Alejandro’s story takes center stage. He’s an independent operative looking for revenge. The CIA benefits from turning him loose, since (to continue the canine metaphors) he’s a bloodhound crossed with a pit bull, looking to settle a score. With whom, we’re not sure, but you can bet it’s someone the CIA wants dead.
Benicio Del Toro stars as Alejandro in “Sicario.” (Richard Foreman Jr/Lionsgate)
Always unpredictable and unnerving, Del Toro’s Alejandro is riveting and complex. He shows us the humanity in the predator, the nightmares haunting his sleep, and the tenderness for the vulnerable female agent who reminds him of someone very close, taken away too soon.
Wolves, Not Dogs
The ominous statement by Alejandro is that the world has become a place where only wolves can survive. The cartels are the wolves; the government operators who used to be sheepdogs are now also often wolves. And the wolves take advantage of the chickens.
The quicker the chickens stop pecking at the cartel chicken feed, the quicker the drug war wolves become a non-issue. Just say no. That’ll help (sure it will). But seriously, when it comes to war—Vietnam War, drug war, whatever (war is war)—the last monologue of “Platoon” says it best: “I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us.”
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‘Sicario’Director: Denis VillenueuveStarring: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Victor GarberRunning time: 2 hours, 1 minuteRelease date: Oct. 2 (Limited: Sept. 18)Rated R3.5 stars out of 5
- Published in Entertainment
Two donkeys. That’s the opening shot. You’ve never seen such artistically rendered cinematic donkeys. Shot in black and white, the framing, the geometry, the rhythm of swaying branches, morphing abstract shapes suddenly recognizable; the image absolutely sings.
Then a slow segue to two female figures, standing in the forest shadows, alongside their furry transportation. Taoist martial artists. Assassins. Master (a nun) and her student. Like two exotic lynxes, stalking prey. Stunning.
Shu Qi as Nie Yinniang, the assassin. (Nie Yinniang 2015)
Then the screen comes to life with color, and one feels instantaneously cracked across the head, as if by dojo stick-warning (pay attention!) from all this cinematic artistry, the degree of which is rarely seen in film these days.
Taiwanese master filmmaker Hsiao-Hsien Hou has made a wuxia film. What’s a wuxia film? Bruce Lee is wuxia. Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” too. But “Kill Bill” is entertainment. “The Assassin” is art. Which is why, as of this writing, it’s been selected by Taiwan as the official entry to the 2016 Academy Awards.
Everything was enlightenment-oriented in the Tang Dynasty.It doesn’t have the flashy, bamboo-hopping and roof-flying acrobatics of the most currently influential, aesthetically fine wuxia film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” It’s more like a walking meditation through a Tang Dynasty museum, each frame a lush, detailed painting, and yet paradoxically spare and subtle. And altogether arresting.
Set In …
Ninth century China. It came to pass that a child of royalty, a general’s daughter, Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi), had been abducted at age 10. She was then raised and instructed by the above-mentioned Taoist master-nun (Sheu Fang-yi) to be a legendary fighter.
Shu Qi as Nie Yinniang, the assassin. (Nie Yinniang, 2015)
By the time she had mastered her art, the Tang emperor’s outlying garrisons had become rebellious. One source of rebellion, Tian Ji’an (Chang Chen), the military governor of the province of Weibo, became a man marked for death.
As a penance for refusing to kill a man because his young son was present, as well as to divest the not-quite-a-master assassin Nie of her remaining human feelings, her nun master sends her to kill this governor Tian Ji’an.
The problem is, he’s Nie Yinniang’s cousin. And she’d been betrothed to marry him.
Chang Chen as Tian Ji’an. (Nie Yinniang, 2015)
If she fails, she’ll be shunned by the Order of the Assassins, the “family” who’ve provided her with home and sanctuary during her original years of exile from her true, royal family. Will she really be capable of living the Way of the Sword?
It’s About the Beauty
Actress Shu Qi is deeply charismatic, and makes the conflict between her lingering vulnerability to human emotion and the demands of the merciless, unswayable emotional state of her profession—very tangible.
“Assassin” has politics, military planning, power plays, and personalities, and is thus complex on one level; but the complexity is balanced by the sparseness, and the meditative pace is rejuvenating. The soundtrack consists largely of birdsong and drumbeat. And the wind.
More impressions: wooden pagodas, moss-roofed abodes that blend with the landscape, rock gardens, glowing candles, an ancient story of a bluebird that refused to sing until placed before a mirror, as bluebirds only sing to their own kind. An otherworldly tableau of a woman in silk strumming a zither, sounding curiously musically current. A fight in a white birch tree forest between two female warriors—primal, like wild birds of prey, ending only when Nie splits the golden face-mask of her opponent with one dagger swipe that bespeaks a supernormal level of accuracy, leaving her opponent unscathed.
The Ultimate Fight
The challenge of relinquishing love and human emotion for complete dedication to transcending human feelings (“qing,” in Chinese) and moving toward an Arhat (pre-Buddha) state is the basis of all serious spiritual paths. Nie’s choice of deciding life or death for the man she once loved reflects the archetype of the sacrifice of qing—she’s not ready.
In the case of Buddhists, this is in preparation to attain true compassion (“cibei” as opposed to qing), necessary for the drive to save all sentient beings. But these are Taoists. For the Taoists, devotion to truth was all-encompassing, and so the notion of a “righteous assassin,” who ends evil deeds in service of the truth, is, to my way of thinking—plausible.
This theme can also be found in modern literature: “The Gray Man” series features Court Gentry, a CIA-trained assassin and mercenary who only takes “righteous” kills to end the bad deeds of bad people. He’s similarly emotionally shut down, but more due to years of plying a dark trade and creeping PTSD—no quest for enlightenment there. Everything was enlightenment-oriented in the Tang Dynasty.
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There are a lot of deep themes here. Go there to meditate and contemplate. Don’t go to be entertained. If you focus on meditation, you’ll be royally entertained nonetheless. If you go expecting “Kung Pow!” chop-socky entertainment, you may doze off.
But you won’t necessarily snore—as mentioned, while the pace moves like slow waters running deep, the visuals alone are arresting, even if you’re not crazy for that sort of thing. But the art-house crowd will be over the moon.
MORE:Why We Like Movies About Reformed Assassins So Much
‘The Assassin’Director: Hsiao-Hsien Hou Starring: Shu Qi, Chang Chen Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutesRelease date: Aug. 27Rated: R4 stars out of 5
- Published in Entertainment
TORONTO — “Mike’s Happy Movie” was the working title of Michael Moore’s latest documentary, “Where to Invade Next,” but few would consider its examination of American ills — from runaway college tuition to mass incarceration — the stuff of bubbly, feel-good delight.
Yet “Where to Invade Next,” in which Moore plunders foreign (mostly European) ideas like Italy’s government-mandated vacation or Portugal’s decriminalized drug use to bring back home to America, has an unmistakable whiff of hope.
Director Michael Moore attends the “Where to Invade Next” premiere on day 1 of the Toronto International Film Festival at The Princess of Wales Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in Toronto. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Yes, Moore, that passionately voluble critic and left-wing icon, is feeling a wind at his back. Moore’s first film in six years, he says, was partly inspired by change he’s witnessed in recent years, from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the success of marriage equality.
In “Where to Invade Next,” which Moore is currently shopping for distribution, he travels to various countries seeking smarter ways to educate, police and work. “Instead of sending in the Marines,” he says in the film, “send in me.”
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In an interview following the movie’s Toronto International Film Festival premiere, the 61-year-old filmmaker weighed in on Hilary Clinton (“a decent soul with a great sense of humor”), Bernie Sanders (“a bit of a crank”) and where he got his international outlook growing up in northern Michigan (“I blame Canada”).
Your film suggests American chest-thumping has blurred its vision.
Moore: This concept of American exceptionalism is the death of us. We know personally it does none of us any good walking around going “Yeah! Yeah!” That’s not the path to self-improvement. I mean, you can like yourself, and I do. I love the fact that I’m an American. I love this country. I love everything about what it means. But I also embrace the other side of it, and in doing so, it’s incumbent upon me as a citizen to want to help fix it.
Does this film signify some optimistic shift in you?
Moore: I am crazily optimistic about things getting better and people having the power to do that and making it better. But remember, I’m a filmmaker and my first concern is always to make a great movie. If I don’t make a great movie, then the politics are what? Nothing’s going to come of it because no one’s going to be watching my movie.
Do you think the protest spirit of America has waned?
Moore: The month before the Iraq War began — that one Saturday — there were millions of people in the streets in towns all over America. Largest collective demonstration in the history of the United States. One month later, it didn’t stop the war. And when it didn’t, people just kind of gave up and there weren’t large-scale demonstrations after that. People just can’t give up so easily here. Things take time.
What are your thoughts on the presidential race?
Moore: I think it’s going to be very interesting. And I think it’s really too early to tell what’s going to happen. I know people are worried about Donald Trump, but what you have to understand about Trump, first of all, is that he’s a performance artist. … There will come a point here, this year, where people go: OK, we’ve had enough of this performance art.
You’re involved with movie theaters in Michigan. Do you still believe in the theatrical experience?
Moore: This is our one populist art form. It’s the one thing everybody can still sort of do no matter what their economic status is. You can’t go to music anymore. If you’re a working person or if you’re poor, you can’t go to a concert anymore because it costs hundreds of dollars now to get a ticket. You can’t go to an NBA game. You can’t go sit in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium for five bucks. Those days are over.
Do you worry that many conservatives won’t consider seeing your film — that you will merely preach to the choir, so to speak?
Moore: I think why I upset Fox News and the right wing so much is because I’m one of the few people on the left that has crossed over into mainstream America that has a large audience in Middle America. And that drives them crazy because the left is supposed to be out there on the left wing of the limb on the tree. And I don’t live out there, I live here. I reach millions and millions of people, and that’s a threat to them.
Will I reach that 20 percent way over on the right? No. But I’m not trying to reach them. I’m doing what I wish more people in television and movies would do, where everyone — they’re broadcasters — is trying to reach a broad audience, and in doing so, you have to mollify the message. … By the time it’s over, what we have is mostly mediocre movies and mediocre television. And it’s only those TV shows and movies that say, “To hell with that. I’m going to give this to you from the heart, from the gut and let the chips fall.” Those are the great movies. Those are the great TV shows.
- Published in Entertainment
VENICE, Italy — Five words sum up this year’s Venice Film Festival: “Based on a true story.”
Inside, movie screens exploded with the forces roiling our world: war, terrorism and the vast migration bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the shores of Europe.
Outside, hundreds of demonstrators — many of them barefoot — marched Friday to the festival’s Palace of Cinema to show support for those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Throughout the 11-day festival, as beachgoers lounged on the sands of Venice’s lush Lido island, filmmakers and actors expressed dismay at the migrants’ plight and their mixed reception in Europe.
Displaced people were onscreen in “A Bigger Splash,” where refugees plucked from the Mediterranean were background players to the story of a rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her emotional entanglements.
Luca Guadagnino’s film drew boos at its press screenings from some who found the juxtaposition crass. But Swinton said the Italian director was simply showing reality.
“The idea that it’s possible to not be aware of this reality — which, by the way, has been a reality for decades — is becoming less and less tenable,” Swinton said.
“The more people’s tendency to want to edit this out and not be aware gets squeezed, squeezed, squeezed, that’s got to be a good thing,” she added. “Everybody has got to grow up about this and take proper, human responsibility.”
Reality was hard to avoid at the festival, which ends Saturday with the presentation of the Golden Lion prize. Many of the movies told stories that seemed to come straight from the news.
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There were African child soldiers drafted into a brutal civil war in Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and Danish troops in Tobias Lindholm’s “A War” and Turkish brothers trapped in escalating political violence in Emin Alper’s “Frenzy.”
Several films depicted real-life criminals and the social forces that made them: The assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, incited by extremist rabbis in Amos Gitai’s “Rabin: The Last Day”; Johnny Depp’s Boston gangster in league with corrupt cops in Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass”; kidnappers protected by a military dictatorship in Pablo Trapero’s Argentine thriller “El Clan.”
Festival director Alberto Barbera said the lineup reflected a feeling among filmmakers that “we seem to have lost control of our world.”
“They feel that they need to face reality, to reflect on reality,” he said.
Many didn’t like what they saw.
MORE:If Prague Is a Fairytale, Venice Is a Painting
“The political atmosphere in the Middle East is horrible,” said “Frenzy” director Alper, whose film premiered amid rising violence between Turkish troops and Kurdish militants.
“It’s getting more and more horrible these days. Of course Turkey is (affected) because it has a border with Syria,” he said. “Now you can see in every city there are refugees coming from Syria and they’re begging on the streets and some of them are trying to go to Europe and you see these horrible, terrible pictures.”
Those pictures — a drowned boy on a beach, a distraught father with his baby in his arms — have moved and troubled people around the world.
Canadian director Atom Egoyan attended the festival with “Remember,” a thriller about the Holocaust. He said images of migrants getting a hostile reception in a European nation like Hungary were chilling.
“Did you think that you would find in Europe that people would still be pushed into a train and taken to a place where there would be police waiting for them?” Egoyan said. “That just seems horrifying and shockingly insensitive. How can that happen again?”
- Published in Entertainment
Most ballets tell tragic stories, but the Maoist-era “Red Detachment of Women”caused them. It certainly contributed to the woes of Lu Yanshi’s family during the Cultural Revolution. Their wounds will never fully heal, even when he is finally “rehabilitated” and released from his prison camp in Zhang Yimou’s straight-up masterpiece “Coming Home,”which opened Sept. 9 in New York.
Lu Yanshi was a college professor—and therefore a class enemy during the Gang of Four’s reign of terror. Further compounding his guilt, Lu escaped from his labor camp, finding the half-starved life of a fugitive more bearable.
Naturally, the Communist Party responded by pressuring his family. Lu’s wife Feng Wanyu will bear any risk to protect him, but their daughter Dan Dan has absorbed too much of the omnipresent propaganda. She is a gifted ballet dancer, but she could very well lose the lead role in “Red Detachment of Women”she has worked so hard to win. Convinced to inform on her father, she learns the hard way what sort of opportunities are available to the children of traitors.
Chen Daoming as Lu and Gong Li as Feng in “Coming Home.” (Le Vision Pictures)
Gaining nothing, Dan Dan’s relationship with her mother is nearly irreparably poisoned. Unfortunately, the years Feng spends separated from Lu are not kind to her. By the time he is released, Feng is already suffering from mild dementia. Due to some cruel form of amnesia, she is unable to recognize Lu.
Worse still, Feng sometimes mistakes her distraught husband for the predatory Officer Fang, who used Lu’s safety to extort sexual favors from Feng, like any good Communist would. However, Lu quickly reconciles with his deeply remorseful daughter.
If you think there is a better performance to be seen in a film this year than Gong Li’s turn-for-the-ages as Feng, you either have profoundly faulty aesthetic judgement or were simply even more struck by the achingly poignant dignity of Chen Daoming’s Lu. Watching Lu as Feng unknowingly tells him about himself is more devastating than a thousand Old Yellers getting shot.
What the actors are doing is actually very complicated. They are playing scenes with each other in the moment, but also with each character’s ghosts from the past. Yet they pull it off brilliantly. It is their work that leaves a lump in your throat, but Zhang Huiwen is still quite touching as the disillusioned Dan Dan—and also convincingly graceful in her dance scenes.
Frankly, “Coming Home”is not trying to be a political film, because the terrible implications of the Cultural Revolution need no belaboring. They are ever-present and inescapable.
If you only see one film this year, you want it to be ‘Coming Home.’Instead, it is an exquisite tragedy, rendered with incredible sensitivity and humanism. Zhang has gone big with epics like “House of Flying Daggers”and made “Fifth Generation”—defining classics with Gong Li, like “Red Sorgum”and “The Story of Qiu Ju,” but with the perfectly balanced “Coming Home” he expresses the pain and confusion of hundreds of thousands of families on a poignantly intimate canvas.
If you only see one film this year, you want it to be “Coming Home.” Very highly recommended, it is playing at the Angelica Film Center downtown and the Lincoln Plaza uptown.
“Coming Home”Director: Yimou ZhangStars: Li Gong,Daoming Chen,Huiwen ZhangRunning time: 1 hour,49 minutesRelease date: Sept. 9Rated 4stars out of 5
Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit jbspins.blogspot.com
- Published in Entertainment
Ottawa’s Music and Beyond festival has long embraced the traditional along with the unorthodox. Sometimes these two worlds collide in an extraordinary way when an artist uses a modern instrument in a classical setting. Such is the case with Theremin player Thorwald Jørgensen.
The Netherlands native is a master of the theremin, a musical instrument that is played using only hand gestures to produce a unique sound that has a haunting, ethereal quality in a seven-octave range.
So how exactly do you play a musical instrument without touching it?
The theremin is a small cabinet with two antennas: a vertical metal rod for controlling pitch and a round one for adjusting sound level.
Inside the cabinet are oscillators, one at a fixed frequency and another whose frequency is controlled by the distance of the player’s hand from the vertical antenna. It is the difference between the two frequencies moment to moment that changes the audio frequency tone. The resulting audio signal is amplified and sent to the speakers.
The position of the fingers of the player’s right hand relative to the rod produces the various notes, while side to side hand movements produce vibrato. The player’s left hand moves up and down over the round antenna to control volume. This setup can be reversed depending on the player’s preference.
In the end it looks like the music is being produced from thin air.
Jørgensen playing Bachianas Brasileiras no.5 by Villa Lobos with harpist Renske de Leuw
Jørgensen started studying classical percussion when just 14. Within a year he was playing with orchestras. After graduating from the Utrecht and Tilburg Conservatory he became a percussionist in a provincial orchestra. Although he still plays with the orchestra he felt he wanted to be centre stage and play full melodies, not just interspersed percussing of short duration.
Around this time he heard Clara Rockmore, a theremin virtuoso from the 1930s and ’40s, and fell in love with the sound. He thought she was playing a violin. When he learned that she was playing the theremin he researched it and decided he would learn to play it.
“When I found the theremin I became obsessed with it,” he said. He bought his first instrument and could play it right away.
“I immediately had a natural feeling for how it worked. Then I practised for six months. After six months I got my first concert with a symphony orchestra.”
Pulling an Invisible String
Eventually, he sought tutoring from a cellist friend who told him his playing method was wrong. She helped him refine his technique by comparing the hand movements that control the notes to pulling an invisible string.
It is the seemingly pulling an invisible string and thereby producing beautiful music that evokes a jaw-dropping reaction in people who see the theremin played for the first time. To some it looks like magic or trickery.
Jørgensen sees it as an instrument in its own right.
“I think that the theremin has its own musical qualities and its own place in the musical field. It has its own sound and its own repertoire. I think it is very important that music is written for the theremin,” he said.
“What I found interesting is the sound of the instrument because if played well it can sound—even though it’s a 100 percent electronic instrument—like it’s almost human or an acoustic instrument. I never heard any other electronic instrument with that quality, that life-like quality. It’s really alive.”
Jørgensen said he starts each recital with one of his favourite pieces, Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise.”
“After that I always explain the instrument, because if I don’t people tend to only look at what I’m doing instead of listening to the music. It should be about the music and not about me playing in the air,” he said.
It is a difficult instrument to play well, and players need to control their body and breathing as such movements can cause the sound to be off-key. Jørgensen said he stands a certain distance from the conductor and the violinists in an orchestra as their movements can also interfere with the pitch.
He said he uses his face rather than his body to express emotions while playing the music.
Jørgensen will perform July 12 through 16 at six venues during Music and Beyond. At his July 16 recital, a cocktail reception at the Diefenbunker, he will be accompanied by Daniel Desmarais on piano and will premiere “The Awakening of Baron Samedi,” written for him by Canadian composer Daniel Medizadeh.
Music and Beyond runs from July 5 to 17. For more information, visit: www.musicandbeyond.ca
- Published in Entertainment
A new reality show is like the Bachelor — on steroids.
So, each season of the bachelor is suspended to end with a proposal, but imagining meeting your new husband or wife at the altar.
What? It’s called Married at First Sight.
It focuses on six strangers who will get married, and then be followed by cameras for five weeks, and that’s causing some controversy.
“Married at First Sight is a social experiment that really seeks to determine if social science can play a role in matchmaking.”(Via ABC/”Good Morning America”)
“But critics say the show’s premise makes a mockery of marriage.”(Via ABC/”Good Morning America”)
At the end of those 5 weeks, the newlyweds decide if they will stay married, or get divorced.
Express.co.uk spoke with Harry Benson, a critic of the show who is with the Marriage Foundation, which calls itself “a champion for marriage”, and supports long lasting, stable marriages.
He had a particularly strong opinion about that opt-out clause offered at the end of the show.
“Even when they get married they’ll be thinking ‘well I can back out of this’…This is not the way to get married.”(Via Express.co.uk)
But a writer for the Chicago Tribune loves the idea, saying “it forces us to reckon with, once again, our complete and utter hypocrisy about marriage.”(Via Chicago Tribune)
She points out that gay couples cannot legally marry in many states, but that this kind of reality show is allowed.
Dr. Logan Levkoff, labeled an expert on the show, wrote on The Huffington Post at first she wasn’t sold on the idea, but “I agreed to be part of the team with three other professionals…This experiment asks people to commit so that they have to fight for something.”
“They have to put work in — the work that we all need to put in — into partnerships.”
We should point out that at least one of the contestants — Jamie Otis, has vied for love before on reality TV in both the Bachelor and the Bachelor Pad.
This time, she’s taking the plunge and swimming all the way to altar.
Married at First Sight premieres on FYI Tuesday at 9pm Eastern Standard Time.
- Published in Entertainment
The Taipei Pet Show kicked off on Friday, and during the event’s opening ceremony, owners dressed their furry companions in national football jerseys.
The show, now in its 17th consecutive year, is expected to draw over 150,000 spectators on its first day.
It is a popular event, and more than 500 dogs participated in this year’s show.
It will be open to the public for three days, and will end on Sunday (July 13).
- Published in Entertainment
There’s no such thing as “Irish” potatoes?
- Published in Entertainment
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