Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Take a bite out of Jaws!

For thirty-eight years, that big, toothy jerk has been taking a bite out of anyone silly enough to get off the sand and into the ocean. Now's our chance for some payback, friends.

Tomorrow, when we show Jaws as part of Guelph Movie Club (9:00 p.m. at the Cinema; beachwear optional), you can have your chance to take some succulent revenge. For one night only, the Greenroom will be featuring fresh beer-battered Lake Erie pickerel with house-cut Yukon Gold fries, tartar sauce, and slaw. Sure, it's not a salt water fish, but we have to start somewhere.

If you're thinking of making it dinner and a movie tomorrow, this is a great reason to take the plunge.

In other news, the ebar will be offering a special drink in honour of Jaws—The Cape Cod (naturally): 2 oz vodka, fresh squeezed lime, and cranberry juice for $6.25.

We're trying to come up with more drink and dinner specials, as well as other ideas to make movie club nights special. We welcome your input.

So come out, see the movie, and enjoy some refreshments.

Until then, see you at the movies,

- Danny W.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

From Sunrise to Sunset to Before Midnight

Before Sunrise, the first film in Richard Linklater's series tracing a trans-Atlantic relationship, begins with a couple spatting on a train through the German countryside. It's the ruckus--the singing of the marital spheres?--that causes Jesse and Celine to meet eyes, roll those eyes, and split together for some quiet in the dining car. They're both in their early twenties, soft with baby fat; Jesse's American and aimless, Celine's French and returning from visiting her grandmother. What follows is the situation I think everyone of a certain age and singleness hopes for when they get on a plane or a bus or a train: Jessie has to fly back the next day and convinces Celine to detrain with him and spend the night in Vienna. They walk around the city together, casting and missing glances, and talking, talking, talking, and it's all romantic as hell.


Before Sunrise is very much of its time, loquacious and earnest, as interested in the offhand things we think as it is the offhand things we do. It follows self-taught director Richard Linklater's cult classic Dazed and Confused, but shares more in common with his first proper film, Slacker. That 1991 indie takes place over one summer day in Austin, Texas, and is a kind of human daisy chain about little more than walking and talking. Appearing around the same time as Douglas Coupland's Generation X, Slacker became something of a touchstone for the burgeoning overstimulated, underemployed generation. As a filmmaker, Linklater was one of the major players in the early 90s American DIY cinema wave, but has since gone on to have a fairly uneven career, matching his mainstream stinkers with thoughtful, interesting volleys. It should be pointed out that since those uneven years of the noughts Linklater's been chipping away at a single film, maybe titled Boyhood. The film's remarkable for the fact that it's filmed in real time, following a boy from birth to adolescence. His commercial stabs aside, Linklater has maintained a very genuine, vibrant curiosity with what film is and what it can do.

Sunrise's "sequel," Before Sunset came on the heels of the not-terrible Jack Black vehicle The School of Rock. Nine years later, Jesse has written a novel about that slacker night in Vienna. His book tour takes him to Paris, and his book brings Celine to the reading. Again, Jesse has a flight to catch, and again the two, now without their baby plumpness, stroll through a European city in real time, talking, talking, talking. And it's all almost romantic as hell.


Standing alone, Before Sunrise can seem a little saccharine--which is perfectly fine, I should add. I saw the movie in my early teens and was completely taken by--what was to me, at that time--the rare combination of romance and intelligence. Watching it now, it still strikes me as very honest and interesting. But in some ways Before Sunset contextualizes the saccharineness of the first movie. Those elements in the first movie that seem trite are also the elements of our youth that seem trite now in retrospect. In the nine years between movies, Jesse has gotten married and has a new baby, and Celine works in environmental law; Jesse has found a way to profit from his idealistic pontificating, whereas Celine has grown a bit more cynical, less trusting of the world--she's hasn't exactly lost her faith in romance or the possibility of the kind of happiness her night in 1994 with Jesse suggested, but she's becoming suspicious. Sunset is still a romantic movie, but it's different from the romance in Sunrise. Before, there was a possibility that romance was something you could do with your life; here it's something you do in defiance of life.

Now we have the third installment of Jesse and Celine's relationship. In nine more years, they've gotten married and, as far as I know, the question now is what happens when a relationship founded on movie-like romance has to live in the real world. I haven't seen the movie yet, but from reviews I've read, it should be interesting to think back to how Jesse and Celine first met. Rolling their eyes at the bickering married couple on the train, I can't help but imagine they both thought to themselves, "That will never be my life."

- Andrew

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Monday, June 17, 2013

Room 237

I get ensorcelled by the terrible History Channel show Ancient Aliens. The program is a sort of a patchwork history lesson, though inhered with conspiracy theories that would have all human advancement nudged forward by extra-terrestrials. For me, the seller--apart from the zany ideas themselves--is the gobsmacked rhetoric of the interviewees. They go on as though aliens are the only sober explanation for any of our past's minutiae. The alien inveiglement is painfully obvious to them; the rest of us are kind of idiots for not seeing these little green truths. But, for all that certainty, the opinion of the show is not necessarily the opinion of its participants. To every supercilious claim is pinned the distancing qualifier "As some Ancient Astronaut Theorists believe."

Room 237: Being An Inquiry Into The Shining In Nine Parts has no such qualifier--it would be something like, "As some The Shining Conspiracy Wackos (TSCWs) believe," I suppose--so its endorsement of the parade of theories can be as grey as our possible progenitors. Does the movie believe that Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of the Stephen King novel is a veiled confession of the genius director's involvement in staging the moon landing, or a rumination on the holocaust of the European Jews or America Indians? Or is the movie a documentary about the people who hold those "truths" to be self-evident? Critical response to the movie (Essay, really.... Or anthology?) seems to teeter-totter on this ambiguity. I would hazard to say that Room 237 does not exactly believe in any of the theories it presents, but it is excited by them. One of the theorists, in describing a hidden pattern he had sussed out, describes Kubrick's insertion of that pattern being "possibly consciously." Much of 237 lives in, explores, and thrives in that by turns clunky and titillating realm of possibility. This apparently annoys the hell out of some people, but not me. This thing really blows my dress over my head. It's been a while since I've been this excited about a movie, for reasons of both content and presentation.

A great deal of the critical misconception I've read of 237 has to do, I think, with how the notions are presented. In Ancient Aliens, for instance, we have the talking heads, gesticulating insistently. (One particular talking head has on it a head of hair so vertiginous that it's earned its own Internet following.) Sometimes the very presence of the theorists discredits them, or at least tethers their claim. Director Rodney Ascher makes the subtle but stylistically interesting decision to not show his subjects. Instead, their voices are disembodied, expounding over relevant Shining footage or other found images, giving them an academic omniscience, a boost of authority; the movie is serving them, not the other way around. This technique also twists the tone of Ascher's film, giving it a surreal feeling at times, casting it more as a collage of ideas than a straightforward documentary. Ideally, one wouldn't have to be a fan of The Shining or conspiracy theories to dig the movie. Visually and structurally it stands on its own, and, in it's own way, punches the arm of what's become a fairly staid documentary structure.

The gaping lacunae of history provide incredibly spacey berths for those Ancient Astronaut Theorists to sashay their wide-hips through. The Shining Conspiracy Wackos, however, thrive on detail, specifically the wealth of meticulous touches Kubrick is notorious for. But it is that trove of detail in collusion with the ambiguity of its meaning that gives TSCWs some cogent-ish footholds. How could an eye as burnished as Kubrick's allow for continuity slips like a missing chair, a colour-changing typewriter, pattern-changing slacks?

In this clip, where Danny is beckoned to "Room No. 237" (notice that the only words you can make out of "room no" are "moon room?"), see how the gaudy geometrical pattern changes between when the ball is rolled to Danny and when he stands up. (Notice, too, that Danny's wearing an Apollo 11 sweater... outside the "moon room.")

Schematically, too, the Overlook Hotel is amorphous, having, for instance, windows where windows don't make sense, and hallways that rotate 180 degrees. These gaffs range from obvious to subtle, but it's difficult to accept that Kubrick let any of them slip. And if we accept that these mistakes are intentional, then what are the meanings and implications of those goofs? It's out of these fissures that the wacky, redolent flowers of Ascher's film grow.

But do any of these dogs hunt? One theorist is certain that, for one frame of the opening titles, just as Kubrick's name scrolls off screen, the director's face can be seen in the clouds. He makes a promise to--for his own documentary he's working on--Photoshop the hidden image, just to make it crystal clear. I've watched Room 237 more times than I'd like to admit and have found myself squinting like hell into that cloudful Colorado sky, finding bupkis. But this insistence makes for a convenient metaphor for the film itself. Can you really be wrong if you see what you see? The huntingest dog in the documentary/essay/anthology makes the case for The Shining as an open text--an "open text" being semiotic argument that validates a reader's response to a work over its creator's intentions. Whether or not Kubrick intended any of the readings arrived at in 237 is an exciting question, but we'll never know. It is fun, however, to imagine. But beware: there are plenty of unsubtle allusions to labyrinths within The Shining, and more than a few TSCWs describe how they've become somehow trapped inside Kubrick's film--one theorist even claims that his own life is beginning to resemble the plot. In this respect, Room 237 can get thrillingly Borgesian in its exploration of the metaphysical ways in which a place is actually created through one's conceiving of it.

- Andrew

P.S. If you see the movie and are at all interested in the unmitigated wackiness, I really suggest you check out a TSCW mentioned, but not featured, in the film, Mstrmnd. I maybe should have made clear just how intelligent the film's interviewees are: they apply an incredibly articulate logic to things they see as illogical. Mstrmnd, whether you believe them or not, is a hell of lot of fun to read. Here's a sample:
How do we decrypt The Shining? By reverse engineering it. By peering into its structure. Pulling apart aspects of its tools and forms that refer to one another, one can see roughly what Kubrick was aiming for. It's actually a pretty simple formula. The structure is largely false and it fools the audience, manufacturing a type of subliminal phenomena.  And why would he do this? Again, it's simple. By making you think something is real while showing you it's fake, he gets to play with the idea of meaning in your unconscious. Where language begins, or is stored. Once neurophenomenologically decrypted, The Shining can be seen as a beginning to a new form of post-Western visual guidance. Perhaps even a new facet of language.

Monday, June 10, 2013

So an alien, a vampire, a Mogwai, a vice principal, and Sean Astin walk into a movie theatre...

Guelph Movie Club Episode 6: Jaws (the one with the giant shark) is screening Thursday, June 27 at 9:00 p.m.

But before we get to the big catch, we’ve got another fish to fry: namely, choosing the movie that will become GMC Episode 7 (July). So get your voting fingers ready. The short list—just imagine me doing an imaginary drum roll here—is:
It looks like Episode 7 is going 80s—and it’s hard to argue with that. You can vote for the movie you'd like to see in June by taking this GMC poll:

Voting ends Thursday, June 20, at midnight.

So come on out to Jaws in June, but stay near shore. Till then, see you at the movies.

- Danny W.

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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Extra-large Popcorn and Martini? A Cinephile's Pilgrimage.

Back in early 2010, my girlfriend Miranda and I saw Facts on Projection, a great short video by Temujin Doran about his experience as a projectionist at Screen on the Green, a repertory cinema in London, England:

We were so inspired, we immediately made a plan to visit Screen on the Green, just so we could say “Hey Temujin, you inspired us!” Needless to say, we booked our tickets.

A few short months later, we were standing in line at the London cinema. It’s safe to say this was probably the best experience I have ever had at a movie theatre. Instead of filing us all in like Kodak slides, the theatre was designed to have a seating capacity of only 125 people. In lounging terms, that means 75 reclining soft individual seats and 48 premier sofa seats with pillows and foot rests. You even get a side table for your martini.

That’s right.


As well as your traditional concessions of popcorn and pop, Screen on the Green serves martinis, fancy appetizers, and a medley of delicious desserts. When our order was ready, it was a nice touch that they brought it right to our seating arrangement.

So what did we see? Kick-Ass. We enjoyed the film, but I remember being more entranced by the preface of vintage concession advertising and rating spots before the trailers. You don’t see those too often.

After the film, we mentioned to the concierge that we were Canadian tourists and that we had been inspired by Temujin’s video to come visit. It was debatable whether we were more excited or she was. But then she became crestfallen.

Temujin was not working that night.

But our journey was not for nought. After learning that I also worked in a similar theatre, she rallied the troops and gave us a friendly tour of the upstairs projectionist booth. I observed that the staircase steps were short and narrowly pitched, likely a result of the old London architecture. I imagined how hard it must be to carry those heavy film cans to the booth.

Because we missed Temujin, I wrote him a note saying that we were from Guelph, Ontario, and that his video was our inspiration for visiting the Screen on the Green. I told him we had a great time and I left the note on the projector.

A year later, I received this email:

Sept 27, 2011

Dear David,

My name is Temujin, I'm the projectionist at Screen on the Green, and on Sunday, whilst the new digital projector was being installed, a small note on lined paper was found behind the sound tower.

It was from you and Miranda, and I think you dropped it into the cinema some time ago, whilst I was not working.

Well, I've just now got it! Thanks so much for stopping by, and I'm sorry I missed you. I'm really glad you liked the film.

Alas, I don't really work at the cinema much any more. The projectionists were phased out (after being told to teach the managers how to use the digital projectors). I do still have many friends there though, and sometimes get to go back and project the old 35mm 'retro' films.

Mostly now I do drawing and film work. I've got a website, where I've been putting a few more films - it's here (if you get a chance to have a look).

Thanks again for your wonderful message, and if I'm about Guelph, I shall surely pop in and say hello!

All the best.


 - David Kucherepa

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Monday, June 3, 2013

The Manor Premiere

What a wild and wonderful crowd turned up this weekend for the gala presentation of Shawney Cohen’s highly acclaimed documentary The Manor. There was our beloved Sister Christine and a bunch of gals taking up one row, many Bookshelf regulars here and there, and, of course, a great assortment of people whom I didn’t recognize. I think that we were all stunned and amazed by the honesty and the nitty-gritty details, the superb editing and camera work, and the very powerful storyline, which was archetypal in so many ways.

If you had thought that you were coming to a movie about the daily drama of a strip club, you would have been disappointed. This was about the reality of life for the Cohen family:  the battles they fought running the Manor, an adult entertainment complex, and the normal power dynamics that we all confront inside our own families, but taken to extreme limits. The main characters—the father Roger Cohen, the mother Brenda Cohen, the two brothers Shawney and Sammy—were so relaxed in front of the camera and so brutally honest and articulate that I cannot imagine finding any professionals who could have done a more credible job.

Shawney and Roger Cohen and film producer Paul Scherzer

Roger Cohen has been running the Manor since 1985. He is addicted to eating and is so overweight that we even get to accompany him on his stomach-stapling operation. He is also very bossy and opinionated. On the other hand, he runs Sue’s Inn, which provides temporary shelter to people with addictions. His big dream is to develop the land around the Manor into subsidized housing. Brenda Cohen is a devoted mother with a severe eating disorder who is consumed with providing meals for her family. Sammy, the younger brother, is the natural heir to the manor, as he seems to love business, fast cars, and beautiful women. Shawney, the oldest brother and director of the movie, is a tender and philosophical person who stole my heart as soon as I met him.

Food and control, addictions and compulsions: we all have them to various degrees, and they are all alive and in your face throughout the whole movie. I can’t recommend this documentary enough. Some of the most poignant parts for me were the stresses involved in running a business and working with your family. The business really becomes an extra sibling, as the Cohens and the Minetts can both attest to.

The After-Party at the Manor

Shawney invited people from the screenings to the Manor for the after-party, so we headed down just after 10:00. There weren’t too many people there yet but we were amazed by a couple of things: the place is very clean and there were a lot of professional exotic dancers. The service was excellent, and we sat enjoyed our drinks while taking in the ambiance and the crowd. A friend who went to the screening with me is a lighting designer for live theatre, and she thought that the lighting and d├ęcor and promo for the movie were pretty impressive.

Roger came and sat with us for a while. He is a very friendly man. He was thrilled that The Manor had opened Hot Docs and said that they were getting calls from around the world to attend festivals. Oliver Stone had called recently. I asked him how the making of the movie had affected the family's relationships. He said that he is closer to his son now than he was before the movie. They really got to know each other. He said that his son didn’t care about money and was a real artist. When I asked him why Shawney was so sweet he said, “He’s just like his mother.”

Shawney arrived with lots of people just before eleven and the place was lively and full. Of course Brenda had an incredible feast laid out for all of her guests and everyone was taking part with gusto. On our way out I thanked them both and told Brenda that she looked well and that her son’s documentary was very powerful. She smiled very ethereally and said, “Thank you.” Roger has lost weight and Brenda has gained weight since the movie has been released. They both looked very proud.

For another view on The Manor, see Andrew's blog on the movie. And you can check out a video of Shawney's introduction and Q&A for the film below:

- Barb

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