Continuing our coverage of the 20th Toronto Jewish Film Festival we bring you the second part of our ongoing series previewing some of the films that you can catch. Check out part one of our preview reviews here with the next batch below. And if you are looking for some great free screenings, TJFF has those as well. Head over to the announcement for all the details.
See you at the fest!
OSS 117: Lost in Rio Comedy
MAY 5 – 9:15PM Underground Cinema MAY 8 – 7:30PM Sheppard Centre
OSS 117 was a series of books started by Jean Bruce beginning in 1949. They featured Bonisseur de La Bath, an American Colonel from Louisiana of French descent. He worked for several agencies, including the CIA, OSS and NSC. When Bruce died in 1963, his wife continued the series writing another 143 novels, and his daughter wrote another 23 after that. The first film adaptation was made in 1957, and based on its success, several were made throughout the 60′s and were a big part of the Eurospy film series.
In 2006, OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies was made as a spoof of the original series. de La Bath was reinvented as a French spy working French Intelligence, SDECE. The film plays out as an odd mix of Austin Powers meets Our Man Flint with a nod to Dean Martin’s Matt Helm series. Now a comedy character played by Jean Dujardin (The Artist), de la Bath is a bumbling idiot complete with the racism, sexism and overall arrogant xenophobic manner that belies his supposed skills as a spy. The character may be off putting to some, but the point of the character is that he is an idiot, and more than a bit of anachronism even for the age he is in. The film was well received and a sequel was made.
Now, OSS 117: Lost in Rio has de La Bath traveling to Rio to track down an ex-Nazi who has a list of French collaborators. Along the way he is also being hunted by the Chinese, chased by two Mexican wrestlers in hoods, visited by foul-mouthed CIA agent Trumendous (Ken Samuels) and teams up with Mossad agent Dolores (Louise Monot). At times the narrative makes no logical sense but the general silliness and clever humor is really what the film is about, so the film never aspires to be anything other than mildly cohesive. It’s a very pleasant kind of silliness. There are some subtle, and quite funny things going on as well. Some of the sight gags happen quickly, or with little of the fanfare so many other jokes are done with, making the overall film more interesting than those it seeks to emulate.
While some might rankle at the anti-Semitism displayed by some of the characters, this black comedy directed by Michel Hazanavicius makes a point to also show how de La Bath fails to seduce Dolores through his inability to say something not anti-Semitic or sexist. The smug French agent is simply unable to restrain himself in his self satisfied lust and arrogance in his own superiority. That he is about as competent as Inspector Clouseau only makes him that much more of a caricature.
With the era shot in perfect split screen, zoom shots and graphics, the sets, costumes and soundtracks all work well to achieve the look and esthetic of the films it seeks to parody. An opening shot of de La Bath dancing with a room full of girls to Dean Martin’s ‘Gentle On My Mind’, utilizing the aforementioned visual tricks only prepares the viewer for what is to follow. It stays quite historically accurate with Bossa Nova tunes and trick shots until the final scene and credits playing another Martin tune, ‘Everybody Love Somebody’.
While not everyone will appreciate the black humor, and some will think the anti-Semitic remarks go too far, overall it is well produced and fun film. While the first few instances seemed shocking, I soon realized the intent was mocking the mindset that allows anti-Semitism, sexism and xenophobia to be acceptable. Once I realized this intent, I was able to enjoy the film as a fantastic alternative to other spoofs already made.
I recommend this as a fun, but interesting period piece spy spoof.
A.K.A. Doc Pomus Closing Night Film Biography
MAY 13 – 7:30PM Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Directors William Hechter and Peter Miller have made a compelling and thoughtful documentary about the life of songwriter Doc Pomus. Born in Brooklyn as Jerome Felder, he was an unlikely person to become one of the most prolific and sought after songwriters during his career. The Jewish songwriter contracted polio when he was six and spent the rest of his life on crutches or in a wheelchair. Despite this, he chose to become a blues singer at a time when mainly black artists were writing and performing the blues. Despite being a fat Jewish kid on crutches, he began to mange a blues bar where he could sing daily. It was at this point he started using the name Doc Pomus (so his mother wouldn’t recognize his name on the marquee). Still, the record companies saw his disability and color first, and would not sign him. While he was able to record songs, he didn’t have the elusive and ever important recording contract, so he decided to begin selling his songs to others.
Teaming up with Mort Sherman, whom he thought would have a better understanding of the contemporary youth musical tastes than Doc’s own blues based style, the two went on to pen some of the biggest hits of the late 50′s through the mid 60′s. The songs included, “This Magic Moment,” “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Teenager in Love,” “Can’t Get Used To Losing You,” “Turn Me Loose,” “Hushabye,” “I Count The Tears,” “Sweets for My Sweet” and “Seven Day Weekend”. For Elvis Presley, they produced a series of major hit songs, including “Little Sister,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “His Latest Flame,” “Surrender,” “Suspicion,” “A Mess of Blues” and “Long, Lonely Highway”. He also married a young actress named Willie Burke and the two moved out of the city and began having children. The story of how “Save The Last Dance For Me,” came to be is quite touching.
The writing collaboration broke up at nearly the same time as his marriage. Finding himself unable to work without a partner, he collaborated with several artists during this period, but none proved as successful or as lasting as the one with Sherman. Unable to sustain the income he had while writing fulltime, he turned to gambling, ultimately using his apartments to host frequent games. A new generation of songwriters began to seek him out, and by the mid 70′s the self imposed exile was over.
Working with these new artists he was able to both influence and inspire them, they include, but are not limited to, Dr. John, Ken Hirsch and Willy DeVille. It was Dr. John in particular whom Doc had the most profound relationship during this period of his life. Being a native New Yorker, Doc was sympathetic to the downtrodden and overlooked. He helped both the traps and losers in the neighborhood where he lived, but also helped re-start and re-energize carriers of people who once had inspired him to get into the music business. He was a founder and trustee of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, trying to ensure that those artists once so well known and important were not forgotten.
While this has been considered his most important period as far as maturity and complexity of writing, it also saw his health begging to fail. By the late 80′s he was mostly in his bed or wheelchair, and always a heavy smoker, he succumbed to lung cancer in 1991 at the age of 65.His influence on the music industry and songwriters is profound and still continues. Versions of his songs continue to be recorded by each new generation of musicians.
I really enjoyed this film and recommend it to anyone interested in a film about triumph over adversity.
Exile – A Myth Unearthed WORLD PREMIERE Documentary
MAY 8 – 5:30PM AL GREEN
In the documentary, Exile: A Myth Unearthed, director Ilan Ziv asks the question, what if what we know or what we think we know about the Jewish exile from the holy land isn’t as accurate as tradition would have us believe. Archeology within the region, most specifically in the ancient town of Sepphoris in Galilee, are showing evidence of a different narrative than the Biblical one so well known. Using evidence and interviews with leading historians and archaeologists, the film weaves diverse threads into a pattern mare complex and rich than until recently has been known.
Starting with the causes of and major players during the first Roman siege of Jerusalem, the impact of Josephus, Titus Flavius and Tiberius Julius Alexander on not only the destruction of the city, but how the narrative of the events would unfold. Josephus, a onetime priest in the order of the Jehoiarib, was also from a wealthy aristocratic family. He was a military commander during the first Jewish-Roman war of 66–73, and while he fought bravely, was captured by the Romans. Predicting that Vespasian would become Emperor of Rome, and it then happening, saw Josephus freed and in the employ of the Roman Flavian dynasty.
It is here that the beginnings of the Exile story begins. Part of Josephus duties was as historian and in describing the first Jewish-Roman war he suggested that God was punishing the Jews for their sins. The second phase of the Jewish-Roman war came in 132–135, known as the Bar Kokhba revolt. It is this second war that sees the Roman refusing to allow Jews to repopulate Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside. Thus begins the exile, the Diaspora, that lasted until the UN resolution in 1947 making the modern state of Israel possible. The exile myth is extremely important to both Christian and Jewish theology, being the basis of understanding of God’s relationship with man to this day.
The question then asked is this, what happened to the Jews exiled? What of those that lived outside of the immediate area of Jerusalem? What happened to the Jews in cities like Sepphoris, in Galilee, which capitulated to Roman rule, and therefore spared from destruction? Did Jews in these other regions, stay put, and if so, what ultimately became of them? Examining the now known evidence, research is beginning to unravel these questions, showing a much more diverse history of the people of the region, Jew, Muslim and Christian, than was previously understood. While it raises some interesting questions, it also unearths some uncomfortable truths, such as the evidence of what really took place at the siege of Masada.
Director Ilan Ziv has made an interesting and thoughtful film. One that doesn’t seek to question religious belief as much as it takes a historian’s view of events, trying to accurately and truthfully recreate a timeline of events, and how events impacted those that both lived through them and came after.
I enjoyed this film, as much as I find biblical history fascinating, some will find the subject unsettling as it directly questions their faith.
So how did you do in your Oscar Pool? Despite the Awards Ceremony being lacklustre and all of the good moments counted on one hand, we have ourselves another Oscars in the bag.
Here is the full list and see you next year where we get to do it all over again!
Best Picture: The Artist
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress: Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Director: Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Short Film (Animated): The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Short Film (Documentary): Saving Face
Short Film (Live Action): The Shore
Writing (Original Screenplay): Midnight In Paris
Writing (Adapted Screenplay): The Descendants
Music (Original Song): “Man Or Muppet,” The Muppets
Music (Original Score): The Artist
Visual Effects: Hugo
Animated Feature: Rango
Documentary Feature: Undefeated
Sound Mixing: Hugo
Sound Editing: Hugo
Film Editing: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Makeup: The Iron Lady
Costume Design: The Artist, Mark Bridges
Art Direction: Hugo
We are mere hours away from the big show and all the parties are ramping up including the specialty cocktails, the Oscar pools and the Red Carpet commenting. To say that we love the Oscars here at Xavierpop, would be a gross understatement. It is a lovely reminder of what’s fun with movies even though a lot of the time the Academy gets its seriously wrong with their choices…but that is have the fun isn’t it.
It wouldn’t be the Oscars if we didn’t have our say and over the last week I have given my predictions on who is going to take away the Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress statue at the upcoming 84th Academy Awards taking place at the Kodak Theatre hosted by Billy Crystal.
Now onto the big prizes.
I am going to include Best Director and Best Film in one because it seems that the Academy is very much wearing its heart on its sleeve as it has done so many times in the past. This year their laser focus seems to be on the Artist. I am not sure if I really dig the full on lovefest going on here as The Artist is not better than The Descendants, Tree of Life, the Help, Moneyball and my personal favourite Midnight in Paris. But here are we are, on the eve of the ceremonies and everyone seems to be on the same page by crowning The Artist the darling of the 2012 and when there is this much momentum, it’s very tough to go against the grain.
Now the reason that I have paired the Director Award an the Picture Award is because when you have this much momentum with one movie, as goes one award so does the other.
So officially, my choices for the Best Director and Best Film Oscar are :
The Best Director Nominees:
Who should win? : Alexander Payne – I personally believe that The Descendants was the best movie this year powered by a great performance by Clooney and excellent direction from Payne. Hence my choice of him is emphatic and hopeful.
Who will win? : Michel Hazanavicius – The fact is that he put together a fantastic film, maybe not as fantastic as everyone thinks it is, however it is great. The reason is because of the director. He didn’t just make an homage to silent film, he made an authentic silent film. This takes a ton of attention to detail, a full commitment to going all the way and he must be applauded for that. Because his movie has so much hype and momentum behind it, the best Director going to Michel Hazanavicius is not a huge surprise and well-earned.
The Dark Horse : Woody Allen – His Midnight In Paris is easily his best movie in decades, maybe even ever. As mentioned, the Academy is extremely nostalgic and this is right in line with that. They have always loved Woody and an Oscar here would further cement that love.
And now the Best Film nominees:
“The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer “The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer “The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers “Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers “Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers “Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers “The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined “War Horse” Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers
As mentioned, there is a lot of hype and momentum for The Artist and it is probably going to take it. My personal choice is The Descendants because I feel it was a better film. However the Academy does what it does.
So, my official choices are:
Who should win? : The Descendants Who will win? : The Artist
The Dark Horse : Midnight In Paris – To me, this movie embodied everything a movie should strive to be. A great cast, a fantastic script powered by one of the most whimsical stories in film for years. And the directing – so fantastic. Sadly, the chances are very minuscule that it will in, so all I can say is make sure you check it out.