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Recent Movies: Quartet; Yossi; Leviathan; No; Live Theatre: Iceland

April 20, 2013

Recent Movies

Quartet

In England, a retirement home for musicians is ruffled when a former opera star joins the lot and must face her ex-husband, also a former opera star.

The film has a beautiful country estate setting and is blessed with fine performances, especially by Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay as the divorced couple.  The best scenes in the film are in the beginning when these two show their conflict and past bitterness.  When this section moves on (unbelievably too quickly), the film starts to sag.

The story can be cute at times but it is overall disappointing.  It is written by Ronald Harwood who did such great works with “The Pianist” and “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”.  “Quartet” fails by comparison though it is fairly harmless.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Yossi

The film centres around a gay man in his mid-thirties who works as a cardiologist in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Still grieving his lover killed years ago, he lives a repressed and lonely life until things change in the film’s second half.

This is a very compassionate film.  It is occasionally satirical including a great scene that exposes the superficiality of the online dating scene.  In the lead role, Ohad Knoller expresses the loneliness with much subtlety.  He’s quite likeable.

The film could have prolonged a passionate scene near the end.  It also misses an opportunity to explore the apparent bi-curiousity of one of Yossi’s colleagues.  Still, it is fine entertainment.  Points must be given for the avoidance of typical plotline cliches around gay characters.

Rating:   * * *

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Leviathan

This experimental U.S. documentary exposes the fishing industry as it directly films the workers on the job.

There is no narrative in this film and very little spoken dialogue even among the workers.  The camera work includes the hand-held style and other innovative techniques such as keeping a small camera on the head of a seagull.

Much of the time, the scenes in the film seem too long.  Mercifully, the film is less than one and a half hours overall.  There are a few scenes of impact such as the disposal of the wasted fish products.  Some people believe that such scenes might discourage people from eating seafood.  It is more likely that the overall film would discourage people from watching experimental films.

Rating:   *

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No

This fictional film focuses on the Chilean referendum in 1988 on whether or not to continue the rule of dictator Augusto Pinochet for another eight years.  A young advertising expert works for the “No” campaign while his boss works for the “Yes” side.

This film does a fine job in depicting one of the most pivotal times in the difficult recent history in Latin America.  It helps to add a personal touch in adding a side story of the main character’s family problems.

Director Pablo Larrain does a fine job in directing crowds and demonstration scenes but the overall style weakens the film.  Hand-held camera work and scenes where the sunlight blocks much of the screen dilute the overall potential for this film.  He might have learnt from Ben Affleck (Argo) and Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty) for their abilities to create suspense out of a story where the audience already knows the ending.

However, the film succeeds in its fairness of depicting working-class people willing to support the Yes side while also exposing the scary abilities of advertising to manipulate people’s minds.

Rating:   * * *

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Live Theatre

“Iceland” by Nicholas Billon at the Factory Theatre, Toronto

This short play is told by monologues of three different characters whose stories interact with each other.  The themes include extreme greed in Toronto’s real estate market and the desperation of newcomers in Canada to make a decent living.

Billon’s writing is a very powerful critique of the collective worship of money even by those who claim to criticize capitalism.  His words are given even more strength by two very powerful performances.

As a greedy real estate agent, Kawa Ada is superb.  He is joyful in expressing his love of money.  He can also do the near-impossible in making the audience warm up to a character we would normally despise.

Claire Calnan is also very powerful but in a different way as a former tenant who was evicted from her happy apartment home when the building owner sold the property to a condo developer.  Her subtleties and strangeness follow Ada’s exuberance quite well.

This play wins mostly for its relevance in place and time.  Its challenge of modern culture is highly admirable.

Rating:   * * * 1/2

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