Monday, January 28, 2013


I don't know if you know this (nor do I know who you are--who are you?), but we've got a senior's rate at the cinema: eight bucks if you've bested 65. As a ticket seller, however, know that I make no assumptions. Unless I'm told otherwise, I take it for granted that everyone's a spring chicken of 64 years or less. This is not because I'm a stickler, but because I do all I can to avoid the Midsummer Night's Dream-style spell that gets cast when one makes assumptions. There's donkey-headed hell to pay--trust me--if I assume someone under the age of discount is over the age of discount, and vice versa. You can never win guessing a person's age.

I've been ripping tickets on and off at the cinema for a few years, and lately I've noticed a tangible shift in nomenclature. For sure there's still the simple request: "Senior, please." But more and more senior isn't cutting the mustard when it comes to identifying oneself. Old folks is an oft-heard chestnut; people of a certain age is one of my favorite replacements; old farts comes in a lot, and there's even been a fun smattering of geezers and fogeys lately. I guess I'll risk donning the donkey dome here and assume that there's a certain amount of dowdiness and frailty associated with the term and category of "senior" that just doesn't apply to most who find themselves in that age/discount bracket. So in comes the sarcasm and the ribaldry, as if to say, "I'll take the discount, but leave the label." And I'm A-okay with that.

We've had on our program recently a handful of movies that explore this sentiment. I'm thinking The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel specifically, as well as And If We All Lived Together, and I think the Timothy Cavendish section of Cloud Atlas deserves a movie to itself. Not shown at the Bookshelf Cinema (for some reason) but also apt examples are fluffier, explodier fair like The Expendables and Red. At the core of these movies is the message that aging doesn't have to be a winding down in life, but can be a revving up.

Septuagenarian Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with Quartet. Verdant and gazeboed, Beecham House retirement home houses aging musicians. (Maybe Christopher Walken's character from A Late Quartet has a room here....) The status quo is upset by the arrival of a big deal soprano, played by Maggie Smith. Reluctant to enter Beecham, and, ostensibly, retirement, Smith is ushered into this new phase of her life by the likes of Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, and Billy Connolly.

People of a certain age assure me, as they leave the theater, that Quartet is not meant for me. While that's a little reductive, it does raise an important point. There's that old parable about the old fish asking the young fish how the water is that day. "What's water?" the young fish asks. I'm not quite thirty. For the most part, The Media has its bead on me; it makes a lot of donkey spell presumptions about what I like. And the inundation is so incessant that I can't help but take the water that it is for granted. The other side of this inundation is, of course, alienation. If you're not in the sweet spot of culture's campaign, no doubt a lot of it can seem irrelevant. Really, there's so little aimed at territories beyond my age bracket that, when these movies come down the chute--movies for people of a certain age about people of a certain age--it's no wonder they're received so well by the audience they're aimed at.

You can caw about the levity and rose-colouredness of films of Quartet's ilk, and indeed there's plenty of cawing, mostly from fish who don't know what water is. But Quartet and its peers do what any good, nutritious entertainment should do: help us recognize who, how, and where we are, as well as who, how, and where else we'd rather be. If fortune sees fit to get me to the right side of 65, I'm sure I'll be reluctant to identify with such a dry, monosyllabic label as "senior," too. Maybe I'll go with something like "An old fart fogey geezer of a certain age who knows what water is."

- Andrew

The Real Stuff vs. The Artsy Fartsy Thing

The Master's back. Paul Thomas Anderson's brooding dalliance with post-war lostness has certainly been one of the most divisive films that's come along lately.  A weighty meditation buoyed by at times inhuman performances by Phoenix and Hoffman, The Master seems to be giving either too much or not enough to audiences, can be simultaneously too straightforward and too abstract. Today I heard a movie-goer who had seen when it played at the Bookshelf a few months back refer to it as artsy farsty. 

I don't know if I'd go so far as to call The Master artsy fartsy, but I wonder if maybe the aversion some people are having to the film (not me; I love the daylights out of it) has something to do with its sometimes uncomfortable placement between The Real Stuff and The Artsy Fartsy Thing. For a clarification of these terms, here's Werner Herzog:

- Andrew

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Rules of Movie Club

Folks, if we’re going to do this thing, we’re going to do it right. Here are a few ground rules on how Guelph Movie Club is going to work:

Rule 1: There is a Guelph Movie Club--talk about it.

You'll need a ticket. Right now, there are no advanced tickets for the show. So, if you want one, you’ll need to get down to the Bookshelf the evening of movie club. Tickets will go on sale at 7:00. It’s a first come, first served kind of thing. However, a Dinner and a Movie reservation will guarantee you a ticket. It’s a great way to enjoy some delicious grub before a great movie, but spots are limited. Call 519-821-3311 (x155) to make a reservation.

Rule 2: You will be picking the movies.

On movie nights, we’ll give out nomination slips, and anyone who is attending the movie can nominate films for the Guelph Movie Club screening two months from then. We’ll use those nominations to create a short list of films which will be posted online for voting. (Just follow the Bookshelf on Facebook or Twitter for notification of when the list is posted, or become part of the Guelph Movie Club email list by emailing peter[at]bookshelf[dot]ca.) The name of the movie that wins the online poll will be announced at the prior GMC screening.

Rule 3: Other Stuff

We’re still looking for ways to make the experience bigger and better, so stay tuned in the coming months. Your suggestions for things like trivia, contests, and so on are most welcome.

That’s it for now. These rules may change as we go along, but we’ll be sure to keep you posted. Oh, and remember Rule 1: There is a Movie Club, talk about it. You can follow us on Twitter at #guelphmovieclub.

See you at the movies,

- Danny W & Peter

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rust and Bone

"Sex, fighting, killer whales and parental neglect," reads the New York Times's oddly specific content warning for Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os en Français). Maybe we can add dog breeding, expired yogourt, illegal supermarket surveillance, and outer-thigh tattoos to the list and come close to a survey of the film. 

Taking here and there from Craig Davidson's 2005 short story collection of the same name (primarily from the stories "Rust and Bone" and "Rocket Ride"), Jacques Audiard's follow-up to A Prophet certainly has a busy feel to it. The best short story usually has enough soul and fodder to support a feature-length film (Have we had the novel vs. short story adaptation conversation yet?) and it's rare that an entire, unconnected collection gets translated. Robert Altman's Short Cuts, based on the stories of Raymond Carver, was great, and Jesus' Son gets pretty close to the gobsmacked terseness and drugged-out attention span of Denis Johnson's collection (seriously one of the best collections, if you ask me). 

When I call Rust and Bone busy, I don't mean to suggest that it lacks focus. Its many interests (as somewhat represented by the Times's warning) are the organic diversions of life. Story arcs are often represented by a steeply rising graph of action that plummets into denouement. An EKG reading of the peaks and valleys of an abnormal heart's beating might best map the structure of this movie.

The story is sort of this: Impoverished, Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his five-year-old son leave Belgium and the boy's mother for undisclosed reasons (the leaving out of the impetus strikes me as a real short-story move) for coastal Antibes. Having had some experience Thai boxing, Ali lands a job working security in a dance club. One night he breaks up a fight, out of which he pulls a fairly battered Stephanie (Marion Cotillard). Their paths cross, then diverge. Stephanie is an orca trainer at Marineland (get ready for those warned-of killer whales), and in a performance accident she gets her legs gobbled. Beyond Ali and Stephanie meeting again, I don't want to gab about too much more. There's swimming and competitive bare-knuckle street fighting and ice skating without skates.

On the topic of grisly back-alley fisticuffs, Stephanie asks Ali, "You aren't afraid?" "Of what?" Ali asks, as though the idea of being pummeled being a bad thing never entered his mind. In Davidson's story, "rust and bone" describes the taste of getting socked in the puss. The idea of life coming at you with its fists up is a simple one, but just because an idea is simple doesn't mean it's easy. Watching Rust and Bone, you might taste a bit of rust and bone in your own mouth, or at least the metallic, chalky memory of whatever literal or figurative fights you've been in. These are two important questions: "Aren't you afraid?" and "Of what?" To live a life without fear is all well and good, but maybe only if you know what you're not afraid of. "Of what?" is a triumphant question as much as it can be a naive one.

With its focus on the human as body, as flesh, and the ways in which the flesh and body can be equally mangled and loved, Audiard's film reminds me of a brooding, violent version of Almodóvar. Coincidentally, Rust and Bone and The Intouchables (I think it might have been on the cinema schedule a few months back or something...) were contenders for France's Best Foreign Film submission to the Oscars. The themes of both are very similar, but the deliveries couldn't be more different. I've had a lot of Bookshelfers coming out of The Intouchables lauding it for how inspirational and uplifting it is. I'd love to think that those same people who've been back to see The Intouchables three or four times will find Rust and Bone uplifting, but I don't know.... Both films focus on confinement, by whatever circumstances, but in Rust and Bone you actually feel hampered, hemmed, and at times claustrophobic. The shots themselves are tight, the frame feels like a cage that's too small, the characters just barely fit into their environment. Framing aside, look out for how many examples of literal confinement and enthrallment appear in the film. Rust and Bone isn't as light and free as The Intouchables, but I'd argue that the journey of perceiving one's cage, never mind overcoming it, is all the more powerful, and I think you'll be able to offer a more articulate, visceral answer to that question, "You aren't afraid?"

And, if the film does nothing else, it should at least leave you with a new-found appreciation for that insipid, ubiquitous song, Firework:

The Guelph Movie Club

What’s your favourite movie? What movie would make you drop everything if you had the chance to see it again (or for the first time) in a theatre? If you’re a movie lover, that can be a loaded question. Some of us can answer instantly, without equivocation or hesitation. Some of us need to refer to a detailed list of favourites with footnotes, caveats, and codicils.

I fall into the second camp. There are dozens (hundreds?) of movies I’d love to see in theatre. I’m a sucker for seeing a great movie on the big screen – especially if I can see it with people who also love great movies. But, unless you stumble across a showing or you want to see your favourite movie shoehorned into 3D or edited beyond recognition, you’re normally out of luck.

Cue the Guelph Movie Club (or #guelphmovieclub, if you’re on Twitter). Each month, we’ll pick a favourite and bring it to the Bookshelf Cinema for one night only. It’s a chance to see the movies we all love back on the big screen.  And if you really love movies, there’s no substitute for seeing them in the dark on the big screen while munching on popcorn and separating your sneakers from soda-soaked floors. It’s the way movies were meant to be watched. There’s something special about it you can’t get from your flat screen.

This month, the Guelph Movie Club selection is Ghostbusters. That’s right. We’re spending the evening with Doctor Venkman and his associates as they protect New York City from ghouls, ghosts, and a giant marshmallow. So join us, won’t you? The inaugural Guelph Movie Club kicks off Thursday, January 31 at 9:00 and runs until we’ve run out of movie stuff to talk about.

We hope this will become a monthly event where folks come out not only to watch a movie, but to join like-minded movie nerds afterwards for a drink to talk more about the movies we love. Get to the cinema early, bring your friends, and get your popcorn ready. It’s going to be great.

In coming months, we’ll be looking for your suggestions. We want to know what movies you want to see. We really do. For more information, see The Rules of Movie Club.

See you at the movies,

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reacting to Sugar Man

This film has had too many awards to mention, but the latest is an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. Don’t miss it! I spoke to a couple of men last night after the show and they both said that they had to fight back tears. I wondered myself while watching what the huge emotion was that I was feeling. It is the story of a musician from Detroit by the name of Rodriguez who made a couple of albums in the 70s which went absolutely nowhere in the U.S. but who became a hero for a whole generation of South African youth. Many South Africans interviewed claimed that he was more popular than Elvis but that no one knew anything about him. It had been rumoured that he had died by setting himself on fire at a concert.

Two intrepid South African fans decided to investigate the trajectory of their hero. It is a beautiful bittersweet story, and the collage of his life is a wonder to watch. But the music– well, the best way I can describe it, and it doesn’t do it justice, is a combination of James Taylor and Bob Dylan.  His playing and singing is so grounded and his lyrics so thoughtful that you give yourself up to some indefinable feeling. Of course, what he did with the money when he toured South Africa only adds to your admiration and longing that there be more characters in the world like Rodriguez! The sound track is available in the bookstore.

- Barb

Monday, January 14, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson

You weren't allowed to see FDR in a wheelchair. The reason being, ostensibly, that a figure of such power--the bridge between that The Great Depression thing the States had and the Second War to End All Wars--couldn't be shown as weak, or hobbled, or anything less than infrangible. (Maybe this is what Paul Ryan was aiming for in this befuddling photo shoot?) Since that long-term reign (FDR was the only Prez to occupy the position for more than two terms), the culture has thrown off those rose-coloured kid gloves like so much hockey fight. All that stuff with Nixon didn't usher in a new phase of our relationship with our leaders so much as it hoofed the door down. Fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable that a movie like Fahrenheit 9/11 would be released like it was while what's his name...that goofy cowboy with the big ears and bomber jacket...while he was still in power. But as bad as Michael Moore's indictment of Goofus 2's presidency was, it somehow paled in comparison, to me at least, to Oliver Stone's dramatization of the good ole boy (played by former Goonie, Josh Brolin) nearly choking to death on a pretzel. Obama did a lot to return reverence to the office, but really, that depends on whether you're talking to a donkey or an elephant. 

For us Canadians, I think this portrait articulates best our national reverence for our current cold-eyed head.

But it's not just our perception of our leaders that's changed. There's been an important shift in how they want us to see them. They appear tie-less now, with sleeves rolled up as though they're ready to solve some brown crime in any one of our national bathrooms; they appear with backwards hats and earbuds, feeling the burn in a suspiciously empty, ill-stocked weight room. They're just one of us. If you want to blame anybody for the trip our leaders have taken from the ivory tower to the town fount, you can blame Kennedy for not wearing a hat.

Which brings us, I guess, to Bill Murray--or, as he's known to some, "Bill-Groundhog-Day-Ghostbustin'-Ass-Murray." In Roger Michell's Hyde Park on Hudson, not only is FDR seen in his wheelchair (sorry, he doesn't Murderball), but we get a peek into his boudoir. Here's the scandal: following FDR's death, a cache of letters was discovered amongst his stamp collection. These elevated mash notes were penned by Margaret Suckley, a distant cousin of FDR's who is played in the movie by Laura Linney. Without being really read, the letters were returned to Suckley. The tryst (as far as I can find) was mostly mumbled about after Suckley's death in 1991. In Hyde Park on Hudson, we finally have a clearly-spoken story.

In the film, which explores FDR's relationship with the monarchy as much as it does the one with his distant cousin, the attendant media is depicted as being nothing less than respectful of the President's embargo on chair shots. There's not a chance that such respect would be shown today, that the media would participate so reliably in the preservation of an image. But that doesn't mean there aren't attempts. I don't know if you know this, but the Monarchy effected a strong grip on media coverage of the recent Royal Wedding. Images from the ceremony were only permitted to be used in a flattering, supplementary manner. Not an iota of cynicism was permitted, which led John Stewart and The Daily Show to produce an animation of the ceremony featuring Gollum, Paddington Bear, and Adolf Hitler. I can't seem to find footage online, and maybe this is for the best.

P.S. Speaking of the Ghostbustin'-Ass Murray, did you notice that we're playing Ghost Busters at the end of the month?

- Andrew

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Six-Minute Tour of the Year's Movies (and a Prize!)

While most movie fans and pundits are wrangling with the predictability and shortcomings of many of yesterday's Oscar nominations, I decided to walk away from the furor--if only for a day or two, to let the celluloid, er, digital dust settle--and return to Matt Shapiro's annual compilation, an excellent adventure of the last year in movies. My co-worker Stephanie (bookseller and toe-tapping in-house CD and vinyl buyer) turned me on to this six minutes of fun.

Check it out!

And for local moviegoers, there's a the first person to come to the Bookshelf Cinema box office during cinema business hours and tell us who is the actor pictured in the final frame of Matt's collage.

- Peter

Searching for Sugar Man

The story's over five years old, but lately the social/cultural ruse perpetrated by renowned violinist Joshua Bell and the Washington Post in 2007 has been making the meme rounds. Here's the story. But here's the gist: after being paid heaps of money to saw out some classics for the stuffed shirts of the cultural elite, this Josh guys dons some dirty dugs, and sets up in the subway with his open violin case to play for the great unwashed. After playing the same or similar material from the fancy night before, he's accrued barely enough to take a family of three out to see a 3D movie. 

Which reminds me of a story I heard about Toronto's living and breathing Kilgore Trout, Crad Kilodney. Feeling raw about rejections from higher-brow mags, Crad began to retype and submit lesser-known short fictions by the likes of Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Faulkner. All these stories were rejected by the best journals.

Here's the raised questions: To what extent are talent, quality, and the like inherent? How much do we rely on context when making judgements about these things? Pepsi® or Coke®? What do you mean you haven't seen The Wire?

The stones that Sixto Rodriguez threw at culture in the early 70s made little-to-no splash. Apparently his second album sold only six copies. The aptest description of his voice I've come across calls it a mix of Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. The character-driven streetwiseness of the songwriting comes close to Lou Reed. Some of the tracks on Cold Fact and Coming from Reality hit such a sweet spot that you both feel as though you've heard them before and can't believe that you never have. So why didn't this guy take off? How did everybody miss him? 

There are more questions on the other side of this story, questions that come after Rodriguez's two albums landed in South Africa like so much cane toad. What is it about those songs, that voice, that perspective that fit so snugly into the political tumult of that apartheid-riven culture? What elusive chord did Rodriguez manage to strike over there that he missed here? As compelling a documentary as Searching for Sugar Man is, it can't answer this question. Chock it up to striking that secret chord everyone's been talking about.

Grouped with those stories of Bell and Kilodney, Rodriguez's story is an uncanny but apposite argument for inherent quality in art. But quality is like a tree falling outside earshot, unfortunately. All the questions these scenarios raise are, really, silly and otiose, and are maybe better addressed by Dr. John. What's certain and pertinent, though, is that Searching for Sugar Man makes for a great wood to gather in and hear Rodriguez fall.

- Andrew

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Caution: Beware of Children and Awards

The holiday period was finally over and as the working world returned to its normal routines, I was in the kitchen listening to Q, with Jian Ghomeshi, who was interviewing two people with apparently different views on whether child actors should be eligible for acting awards such as the Oscars. I could only imagine how slow things must have been around the cultural news desk for them to hit the ground running with that hot news potato for the New Year kick-off. And I felt for Mr Ghomeshi, who earlier alluded to some of the nastier traits of a flu-bug that was biting him. Safe from Jian's gastrointestinal dilemma and removed from the raging debate, I poured another cup of joe and turned to a sink full of morning dishes.

That was when one of the guests mentioned how it would be unfair to expect a young child to embark upon the gruelling campaign required when vying for an Oscar or any of the other major movie business prizes. Yes, in the land that "elected" George W Bush twice(!), it's the best campaign that carries the day. And who would expect naive, but talented, young waifs to wrestle in the show-biz mud with the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Being on the eve of Oscar nomination day (Jan 10), I pondered just how many new spins can be put on that publicity machine that delivers the Oscars every year. vs adults--yeah, that oughta work. Oh well, with the dishes done I thought about how we might capitalize on some of the award season publicity that is generated by those campaigning adults. Let the kids think of Santa resting after a long Christmas eve and Oscars always going to the best.

Thursday morning I'll greet the nominations with a coffee and a dishtowel over my shoulder, ready to clean up before the campaign cage matches get underway.


Friday, January 4, 2013


Alfred Hitchcock's a queer character. His outre allure seems to rest on the conflict of his Droopy Dog British stiffness with his renowned macabre mind. This, at least, is the caricature he built through Alfred Hitchcock Presents... In some ways, the gimmicky silhouette of Hitchcock became better known to the masses than the actual filmmaker, the innovator. "Hitchcockian" gets bandied so freely these days that it's easy to forget just how crisp and thrilling that porcine Brit's shots and plots were. Now, it happens sometimes that fantastic minds live fantastic lives--I'm thinking of the epic, uncanny existence of John Huston--but more often than not, they're placid and domestic--thinking Kubrick here. Hitchcock, I think, squeezes better into the latter type. Not a lot of grist, maybe, for a scandal mill.

The film takes place in the lull after North By Northwest's success. Mr. Hitchcock (played by a fat-suited Sir Anthony Hopkins) is on the prowl for a worthy follow-up. He finds a candidate with the novel by Robert Bloch, based loosely on the weirdo crimes of Ed Gein, who was notorious for wearing the flesh of corpses. (Bloch's influential novel, if you haven't read it, is really worth reading....) The tension in the film comes from Alma Hitchcock's (Helen Mirren) discomfort with her rotund husband's obsession with torturing blond starlets (said starlet played by Scarlett Johansson in the role of Janet Leigh). 

There's been some mumbles and grumbles about how close to biographical fact Sacha Gervasi's film actually is. Psycho remains a sterling, taut film, and I understand where the desire to dramatise its creation, having Hitch be more like his Presents character, hails from. I can't help but think that any biographical liberties taken are to this end. Interesting things aren't always made so interestingly, unfortunately. If you want a truly wild look at the making a truly wild movie, check out Burden of Dreams or Hearts of Darkness.

One final note: Out of respect for Hitchcock's famous persnickety refusal to allow admittance after Psycho began, I'll talk to the boss and see if I can implement a similar caveat for our showings of Hitchcock. (You Johnny- and Jane-Come-Latelys out there shouldn't fret--I'm pretty sure the boss won't go in for this one at all....)

- Andrew

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A Late Quartet

So here's the thing: I went into A Late Quartet, for whatever reason, ready to scrutinize the finger work of a bunch of actors. Maybe this stems from a weird awareness, when I was bitty, of Michael J. Fox not quite synching his singing and wanking of Johnny B Goode in Back to the Future. Now, when it comes to instruments, I don't know my butt from a golf hole, so ultimately can't say how well Hoffman, Keener, Ivanir, or Walken mimed playing their instruments. (This being Guelph, I'm sure there won't be a dearth of eyes rolling at this mimicry.) But, as Roger Ebert points out, as much as Yaron Zilberman's first feature concerns an accomplished quartet's performance of Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14, it's also a film about a quartet of artists portrayed by a quartet of actors (however deft or otherwise their finger placement may be) at the height of their talents.

Walken is the elder of this 25-year-old quartet, calm and accomplished in both character and performance. Walken's become something of a caricature of himself lately, known and imitated for his halting, syncopated delivery. Here he's reigned in that weird gallop in favor of a more quiet, thoughtful, weighty delivery. Hoffman and Keener play a married couple fractured by infidelity and further tested by Ivanir's--first fiddle to Hoffman's second--smooching around with their daughter. Hoffman's character is classic Hoffman: outwardly confident, podgily masculine, but racked by jangling insecurities. Keener, as always, brings a complicated, human mix of steely and sensitive. Ivanir, heretofore unknown to me, manages just fine to animate what unfortunately is sometimes a cardboard character.

The creation and execution of art can sometimes be too convenient a metaphor, and A Late Quartet can't help stumble in those gopher holes. It's concerned very much with the balance of momentous passion and rehearsed preparedness, in both life and performance. In a way, though, this is not so much a comment on the film, but on the subject matter. In my experience, artists and performers tend to mingle and mangle their craft and life to the point that one can and will often stand in for the other. If art is an expression of life, what is a life lived in devotion to art? This isn't a raging theme in A Late Quartet, but it's quietly there. You may miss it if you're squinting too hard for the flaws of actors acting like musicians.

- Andrew