Friday, May 31, 2013

The Manor Opens Tonight!

Shawney Cohen's documentary The Manor opens tonight at the Bookshelf Cinema, Guelph. The two-week run continues until June 13. Please check the Bookshelf Cinema page for exact show times.

Here is a FAQ on the opening:

  1. The Box Office will open at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 31.
  2. There are no advance ticket sales.
  3. All ticket sales are cash only.
  4. Director Shawney Cohen will be present Friday, May 31 at both 7:00 and 9:00 to introduce both shows and to do a Q&A following both shows.
  5. To reserve a table for dinner and a movie (after May 31), call 519-821-3311 (x155).
For more information on The Manor and to view a trailer for it, see our staff review. See also the Guelph Tribune article on the making of the film.
See you tonight for what should be a very interesting evening!

- Peter

Bookshelf Home

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Manor

I've only been to a single strip club in my life, Montreal's Super Sex. I was taken there and didn't have a good time. (Full disclosure: I spent the meat of the night cornered in the bathroom while a new friend told me about the only time he met his father. The stranger--he'd seen pictures enough to recognize the man--picked this guy up from school on his thirteenth birthday, drove him to a farm in Northern Quebec, took a sword out of the trunk, and had him kill a goat. He drove him back, dropped him off at his house, and took off. This guy never saw his dad again and was really bawling about it there in the bathroom.) Prurient ogling with mostly male strangers at mostly girls and women doing the things they do in a strip club was not appealing to me--still isn't. I'm not saying this to chuck my own shoulder, but I think empathy was the wedge that kept me from having anything that resembled a hoot. Maybe if I could've been certain the dancers were there on account of some absolute joy, then I could've tucked in. Maybe. But because I didn't trust that this was the case, I couldn't get over the feeling that my being there, my looking, was somehow ambiently abusive or mean. This is presumptuous as hell, I realize. Assuming that someone has been circumstantially strong-armed into stripping adds up to a whole different kind of objectification. What it boils down to is I think and worry too much to dig into strip clubs.

The Manor doesn't have an opinion about strip clubs, about their rightness or wrongness, or their worth, or any of the other issues that cling to that business. Those looking for a seedy behind-the-scenes peek at Guelph's sole nudie bar might be a smidge let down. In the doc, The Manor exists as both a fractious and connective element, marring the family as much as keeping it together. A subtle triumph of Shawney Cohen's first film is that he didn't make it explicitly about the club. His father, Roger, who bought the place when Shawney was six, might as well be the owner of a fast food joint or pet store. Saved from overt scrutiny, the business is freed up to do the work of both subject and metaphor.

 If it's not a slick-with-sweat look at the machinations of a strip club, then what is The Manor? At the outset, it would appear to have a Godfatherish trajectory, with Shawney (who, we find out, went to the club for a lap dance on his bar mitzvah) reticent about his role in and obligations to the family business, while his younger brother Sammy is gung-ho; there's even the "adopted" family member (not exactly Robert Duvall), law-troubled French Canadian, Bobby. I get the feeling that this might have been the animating idea at the head of Cohen's filming, the dramatic rack on which to hang his findings, but pretty quickly the focus on the qualms of the individual is enveloped in the ensemble strife.

The Manor, essentially, is about people trying to get well and do well, to do and be the right thing in their lives. Roger strives towards altruism and health, Bobby towards lawfulness, Shawney towards a less clear satisfaction. Such processes, of course, demand a certain degree of sustained self-awareness, honesty, and stripping down; personal assessment and overhaul requires moral, emotional, and intellectual (excuse me) nudity. The documentary has plenty of opportunities to become heavy handed, but maintains a light touch--Shawney the director and Shawney the subject even seem to diverge when the opinion of one might weigh down that of the other--with the opinions of the subjects never quite becoming the opinion of the film.

I said that the cornerstone of my not enjoying strip clubs was my knowing nothing about the performers. I realize now that that makes no sense. How would if feel if I knew the person peeling? No doubt I'd be equally, if differently, uncomfortable. A greater distance from the subjects would have left them laughable in a Reality TV way, would have made Roger an oaf and brute, Brenda spacy and stricken as a bird, Bobby FUBARishly thuggish. But because we come to know these people, and understand them a bit, it can become difficult to see them stripped and struggling to make positive changes in their lives, as it would be to watch your own family, yourself. It was of that one weird night I spent in Super Sex that I thought about after seeing The Manor. My watching felt somehow wrong, as though I was objectifying the Cohens. Shawney's sally into his family's life is incredibly personal. They're (excuse me) stripped down to the people we all are. And this is one of the sources of discomfort. We're in a position to leer at this family, to judge them. A few glittered, oiled, gyrating bodies manage to make it into The Manor, but otherwise the bodies the documentary dwells on are those of Shawney's dad and his mother, Brenda, as they struggle with their opposite health issues. It's the presence of Shawney--the reminder that these are real people, real parents--that prevents any veering towards exploitation.

Upping the local ante, the score by Jim Guthrie, equal parts gravitas and levitas, keeps the doc human, the tone empathetic. Obviously its local ties will make The Manor a must see in Guelph, but hopefully that circumstantial draw will slough away quickly, and everyone will appreciate the film for its sheer emotional locality.

- Andrew Hood

Bookshelf Home

Friday, May 24, 2013

You’re Going to Need a Bigger Screen (June Guelph Movie Club)

Da dun. Da dun. Dun dun dun dun. Dun dun dun dun.

If you enjoy movies (even a little), you already know what I’m talking about. Episode 6 of Guelph Movie Club is Jaws. Earlier in May, I called this movie the granddaddy of summer blockbusters. And I was right. This is the movie that made us terrified of the water and love the big, bad summer movie.

So, mark your calendars: Thursday, June 27, 9:00 p.m.

Before the movie starts, I’ll be announcing the winning movie for Episode 7, the July GMC (the short list for that should be ready for voting soon). And after the movie, you'll have a chance to cast your ballot for Episode 8, so start thinking about what movie you’d like to see back on the big screen.

There’s normally a few of us who stay after the movie to have a pint in the Green Room and talk movies. You’re more than welcome to join us. You can watch me crush a beer can (or a paper cup).

Don’t forget to visit the Bookshelf Facebook and Twitter pages for voting and more details!

Till then, see you at the movies.

 - Danny W.

Bookshelf Home

Friday, May 3, 2013

Blood Pressure

"The people around you don't see how amazing you are. But I do," insists the first mysterious letter Nicole (Michelle Giroux) finds on her doorstep. It's something of a fan letter to a person who didn't know she was someone's celebrity. The letter is riddled with the purple rhetoric of Oprah-spun self-help, is inspiring and flattering and elevating. There's nothing explicitly unlivable about Nicole's life: she's married to a workaholic, the mother of two not-uncommonly demanding teenagers, works as a pill counter at a pharmacy, and is on the cusp of forty-one. No one in her life sees how amazing she is; she doesn't see how amazing she is. Suburban ennui is the trouble: Nicole's life isn't terrible--it's just not phenomenal. The letters continue to come, both comforting Nicole and urging her out of her comfort zone. Though conceptually creepy, the letters, at the beginning, are never anything more than laudatory. I'm sure everyone in the audience would love for themselves to be put under such a loving microscope. And this is the bait at the end of director Sean Garrity's hook. As soon as we're caught, the letters begin to get literally creepy.

Blood Pressure is an unassuming movie. Stylistically it's calm, observant. It maintains more of an interest in its characters than its events. As the letters come in, the style doesn't hang a lantern on the dubious turn that may or may not come. We're never quite sure what kind of movie we're watching. The first half of the movie sometimes threatens to become a typical Meg Ryan popcorn fair: there's a secret admirer out there who wants nothing more than to see our main character happy. What this does is align the viewer with Nicole. Along with her, we ignore the suspiciousness in favor of the flattery--or, also in line with her, we struggle to ignore it. And so when it comes time for the screw to turn, we feel her reticence. And it's this connection to character as much as plot that's fundamental to Blood Pressure, because if this movie's about anything, it's about empathy, about the benefits and consequences of caring for a person and being cared for by a person.

Blood Pressure's carefully-wrought tension is two-fold. One one hand, there's the mystery itself: we know as little about the letters' source or end game as Nicole does. The first half of the film (up until the plot is revealed) cooly sustains a don't-go-into-the-basement tautness as Nicole further engages with her admirer's requests. And, running alongside the thriller-movie element, is the empathetic tension: how will all this sneaky weirdness affect Nicole's life, her family; will she or won't she--should she or shouldn't she--live up to the idea her admirer has of her; will the people around her see how amazing she is?

This sounds like a simple mix, but it occurred to me only afterward, thinking on the movie, how rarely a balance between caring about plot and caring about character is achieved. Blood Pressure is full of chances to devolve into a flat genre film, but it never does. No matter the genre it skirts, it is always a movie about being human, and humane, and the attending rewards and strife.

- Andrew

Bookshelf Home

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Professor of archaeology, expert on the occult, and, how does one say it? Obtainer of votes.

Guelph Movie Club Episode 5: Raiders of the Lost Ark is screening Thursday, May 30 at 6:45 p.m.—note the change in start time.

But we will have other business that evening, you and I, because I'll also be announcing the movie for Episode 6 in June. But before I can do that, I’ll need your help to decide which movie we’ll be showing. The shortlist has been enumerated and I’m pleased to share it for your voting pleasure:
That’s a list of heavy hitters – not a bad one in the bunch.

You can vote for which movie you'd like to see in June by taking this GMC poll:

Voting ends Thursday, May 16, at midnight.

Don’t forget Indiana Jones, Thursday, May 30, 6:45 p.m. Till then, see you at the movies.

- Danny W.

Bookshelf Home