Blog Archives

Blogging is an Art

One of my cousins started a blog. And it’s not simply a commentary blog, it’s a detailed personal blog about life in the Big Apple. I’m not sure I would want to do the same thing for life in Detroit and surroundings, but it does remind me of what I call “the old days” of blogging, first when a long update on life via LiveJournal – sometimes several times per week – was the norm, later in a more public blog off and on for a few years, then morphing into Twitter updates that continue through to this day, and finally embracing the increasingly verbose and visually sophisticated art of Facebook status updates, which now IMO are currently more about the art of the “share” from another source, and less about the actual written status of the friend.

All of which to say is that this blog was originally intended as a way to “go back” to the habit of a more detailed description of daily life, and since its creation in 2009, I’ve come back to that objective periodically. But recently, for one reason or another – starting with no internet in the place I lived over the summer, and then going into a new residence from there and choosing not to have internet – this blog has felt more distant. It’s time to correct that!

SO, this weekend I spent a good deal of time in Canada, which I generally like to do, since it is literally right down the street and there are many subtle, fun cultural differences in going just over the border. At some point I became aware that the artistic culture is different as well, and I also learned that the Canadian film culture is occasionally ahead of the game from its US counterparts, as in a film is released earlier or simply comes to the area but doesn’t come to southeastern Michigan. And this fact is the most apparent when the Windsor Film Festival rolls around for another year, as it did this past week.

On the final day yesterday, the festival director excitedly noted that 17,000 tickets were sold during the five day event, a new record for their offerings. Three of those tickets were from me for three distinct films.

45 years posterFirst up on Friday night was 45 Years, a buzz-building drama expected to be rolled out in the US around Christmas. Star Charlotte Rampling is also expected to factor in the end of year awards season conversation for her role in this film. She plays Kate, a retired schoolteacher living in rural Norfolk, England, with her husband, Geoff. The couple is mere days away from their 45th wedding anniversary as the film opens, and due to some health problems they experienced five years before, they’ve decided to host a large scale celebration this time. The drama gets going when Geoff receives an unexpected reminder of his past, and the narrative moves forward from there.

I notice that the synopsis sounds more like a mystery or horror film, and 45 Years very much treads in that realm at times during its 95 or so minute running time. A crucial choice made by director Andrew Haigh involves leaving many details to the viewer’s imagination and almost nothing spelled out in the narrative. That is something that I greatly approve of in film storytelling, and is yet all too rarely seen!

It’s not a surprise that Rampling (whom I had the pleasure of seeing perform onstage in 2004, sort-of met after the show, and owe my appreciation of her work to this Avengers episode) ably carries the film on her veteran shoulders. But it was refreshing to see her drop a certain steely demeanor she’s become known for IMO in some of her recent roles over the past 5-10 years – she was believable as a person who enjoys the more relaxed side of life, and life in retirement phase. But when her husband’s surprising news affects her as well, there are many questions and she conveys the lonely confusion and disarray that envelops the character’s life.

As for the other two films, I’ll have to do a separate entry.

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From the cosmos to the mind

This past weekend’s filmgoing spanned two countries (and more onscreen) and went from the wide galaxy to the inner mind.

I turned my first visit to Downtown Detroit’s RenCen 4 cinema into a Yelp review, visible in standard form here but I will re-post it below in italics.

I picked the wrong movie (INTERSTELLAR) for my first visit here, but think I will be returning from time to time for the convenience and mostly pleasant experience.

The cinema is nestled in to the checkerboard of the Ren Cen, on the second level of the main atrium area. Signs direct you where you need to go from any of the main entrances, although you need to look closely, as the cinema is highlighted in a different font color than the rest of the signage. A weird circular atrium area is immediately outside the cinema itself, but it does have a small seating area and actual display of the movie posters currently showing; the latter detail seems to be an increasingly lost art of moviegoing.

I was very surprised by the inexpensive $8.50 admission, especially on a Friday night. The box office and concession employees seemed happy and comfortable working as a team. Concessions are also on the lower end of average prices; I paid $5 for a medium popcorn that had smaller kernels than your average offering, and was thankfully not overflowing. The theatre also offers Little Caesar’s pizza slices and cocktail choices, which I may take advantage of on a future visit.

Parking in the nearby Beaulieu Garage is just $2 with validation – be sure to ask for this sweet deal when you buy your ticket! And be sure you’ve parked in the right garage, where the Atwater Garage is confusingly adjacent to the Beaulieu’s entrance. If you’re getting to the cinema via the People Mover, the Ren Cen of course has its own stop.

Finally, the screening rooms themselves. The one I visited, second from the left, was shockingly small by modern standards, with the now-anachronistic “bowling alley” style seating layout and a narrow wide screen. Although this arrangement is not well suited, IMO, for blockbuster-style visually expansive movies such as INTERSTELLAR, I can see it working okay in other settings. Just be sure to sit closer to the front of the room, as long as you are comfortable with that.

The theatre seems selective with its programming, not always grabbing what’s expected to be the #1 movie of the weekend. I’m not sure if this was a trend this fall or has lasted for a longer period of time.

Once I got settled in to the smaller than current standards viewing arrangement, I felt it was an ultimately comfortable experience, and continued to appreciate the ease and opportunity of coming to see a film downtown, rather than driving to Royal Oak, Southfield, Dearborn or some other metro area location. It is this ease, and the pleasant, welcoming demeanor of the staff, that will probably draw me back to the RenCen for another film before too long.

Getting back to the film, INTERSTELLAR, I was impressed (again) by Christopher Nolan’s bold and enormous vision, but felt that this film ultimately overreached and stayed at a cool distance from the viewer… or at least this viewer.

Matthew McConaughey continues his recent acclaimed streak in the lead performance, showing more humanity than ever before (although I did not catch DALLAS BUYER’S CLUB) in the role of Cooper, a veteran NASA astronaut who is led into a mission to save humanity from a dusty, uncertain future. A respected supporting cast unevenly filled out the other central roles. Anne Hathaway seemed more ill at ease than confident in the role of a co – pilot scientist, who is connected to Michael Caine back on Earth as her character’s father and the principal behind the scenes architect of the mission. Caine offered a familiar and comfortable presence, but no unique shadings, to a character he has portrayed before, and I longed for a sense of menace or uncertainty that he’s displayed in some of his other Nolan projects. Jessica Chastain, in really the third lead role, continues to maintain an impressive command and intensity of the screen, but was subject to wide and sometimes incomprehensible swings in character.

Among the secondary supporting cast, John Lithgow makes a notable appearance as a relative of McConaughey’s, while Ellen Burstyn has an extended cameo as another primary character, and a Surprise Hollywood Veteran (an unbilled and well – known actor) appears in a few crucial scenes. Actor Wes Bentley, who seems to be enjoying a modest career revival, also appears as an underdeveloped character.

Technically the film is a masterwork. Nolan and company reach their biggest heights on a series of uncharted planets and universes, including a tidal wave toting water planet, an icy world that is not hospitable to many forms of life, and several variations on what the Earth’s landscape might look like at some point in the future.

While the story makes every effort to tell a humane story, and succeeds at points, I couldn’t shake a broader feeling of distance and observation, thus preventing my full identification with the story. I do have to wonder if the tiny confines of the RenCen cinema affected my perception of the film, and if my opinion would be different having seen it on an IMAX or stadium seating style large format screen.

Yesterday brought an encore visit across the river for one of the final screenings featured in this year’s Windsor Film Festival. I would have liked to have seen more of the films that this festival offered, but am satisfied with having seen at least two.

The Sea has film prints in such short supply that WIFF had to show one with German subtitles. Made in 2013 with Irish backing – and on location along the coast of that country – the film features a notable ensemble of British actors, including veterans Ciaran Hinds, Charlotte Rampling, and Sinead Cusack, younger veterans Natascha McElhone, Rufus Sewell, Bonnie Wright (moving on from Harry Potter fame), and a trio of even younger newcomers.

This film also shows a fine sense of technical craftsmanship, especially for a directorial debut. Shifts in time are keenly delineated with strong differences in filming style, fades in and out of memory, and occasional uses of creative segues between the time periods. An often plaintive musical score adds depth by being selective as to when it fades in and out, and chooses to feature violin solos that also serve to accentuate different thematic strands of the narrative.

The three elder veteran actors offer expectedly strong portrayals, although the two women fare better than Hinds. Rampling, who is always a welcome and intense presence onscreen, and I had the pleasure of seeing onstage in a 2004 production (referenced within this past blog post) brings focus and attention to the role of an innkeeper who knows more than she lets on. However, the character is not a kindly Miss Marple type, and Rampling effectively balances a sense of sharp awareness with a feeling of the character’s past and wider presence. Cusack has a smaller part, but knows just how to bring a brittle awareness to her scenes, which are all opposite Hinds. As for him, he has a difficult role, and only partially succeeds in evoking a sympathetic portrayal. Apparently the source novel adds more shadings and rationale to his character.

Natascha McElhone seems not to have aged at all since her string of mid – 1990’s art house and Hollywood releases, such as Surviving Picasso, Ronin, Mrs. Dalloway and The Truman Show, among others. She portrays a character that is seen by others rather than given her own voice, but succeeds in the portrayal. Sewell has less success as an eccentric womanizer – his role could have been simplified without problems for the narrative. Wright, unrecognizably grown up from her Harry Potter role as Ginny Weasley, also embodies a “seen” character, but is allowed a few moments of strength.

I didn’t feel that this film offered a completely satisfying narrative, but I certainly enjoyed the chance to see the veteran performers shine in new material.