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by Michael Barrett

29 Sep 2016


Fassbender as Polizeileutnant Jansen in Kamikaze '89

Near what he didn’t know was the end of his life, iconic New German Cinema filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder played a police detective in a near-future fascist utopia where everyone dresses in ‘80s New Wave/Punk duds and watches a TV marathon of contestants laughing like idiots. In the course of his investigations, Lt. Jansen shoots various people or throws them off buildings. These are recorded as “unexpected deaths” because society has no murders or suicides—on paper.

It’s a world officially devoid of crime except in the realm of fashion, and here we must mention Jansen’s unflattering leopard-print suit with red shirt and bolo tie, which he never takes off even in sleep. Less offensively, he’s a secret alcoholic, with a bottle hidden in a slot machine in his bizarrely appointed apartment because booze is illegal. So is lettuce, for unexplained reasons. Overweight and laconic to the point of telling everyone to avoid unnecessary remarks, our lieutenant becomes embroiled in impenetrable mysteries and conspiracies involving a media corporation and its mythical 31st floor.

by Alex Ramon

26 Sep 2016


The ErlPrince, the Opening Night film of Gdynia Film Festival 2016

It’s fair to say that last year’s Gdynia Film Festival—the 40th edition of Poland’s most prestigious showcase for its national cinema—was a festival like no other. This was for reasons both good (notably, a superb selection of films including works as diverse as Jerzy Skolimowski’s sublime city symphony 11 Minutes, Kuba Czekaj’s mind-blowing candy-coloured puberty portrait Baby Bump, Kinga Dębska’s touching and hilarious These Daughters of Mine, and Małgorzata Szumowska’s wryly austere Body/Ciało, which scooped the main prize) and for reasons truly horrendous: namely, the death of the 42-year-old director Marcin Wrona, which occurred on the penultimate evening of the event.

The emotions were still raw when I posted my final dispatch, and I would only add to that post that many of us who were at Gdynia in 2015 ended up feeling changed by the whole experience, which combined the great joy of seeing so much challenging and inspiring work with shared shock and grief at a talented filmmaker’s passing.

by Michael Barrett

23 Sep 2016


Jeanne Moreau and Orson Welles in Chimes at Midnight (1965)

Criterion has done film buffs a favor (again) with this double shot of hard-to-find Orson Welles films of the ‘60s, both co-starring himself and Jeanne Moreau.

Chimes at Midnight (1965) manufactures a new Shakespeare play by combining scenes from five plays into the story of rollicking scoundrel John Falstaff (Welles) and his carousing friendship with the dissolute Prince Hal (Keith Baxter), the future Henry V. Moreau appears as Falstaff’s girlfriend, while Margaret Rutherford is Mistress Quickly. John Gielgud is the stern and disappointed Henry IV. It’s a rich, human story, anchored by Shakespeare’s language and buoyed by joyous performances. Welles’ portrayal of the massive ne’er-do-well climaxes in a great emotional moment that, according to the Welles biographers interviewed in the extras, resonates with his own feelings about his father.

by Michael Barrett

20 Sep 2016


Rudolf Klein-Rogge in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)

Fans of silent cinema should be alerted to two new Blu-rays of mid-September. One title upgrades a previous DVD release, and the other unveils a once-lost title on video for the first time. Both are directed by masters of silent and sound cinema in close collaboration with women writers with whom they had professional and intimate relationships.

The upgrade is Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, a two-part epic about a ruthless king of crime and master of disguise (played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge having a field day) who manipulates the stock market, blackmails and hypnotizes spineless scions, gambles with money and lives, and commits endless skullduggeries. Proclaiming itself “a picture of the time” and “a play of the men of our time”, this extravagant, big-budget criminal melodrama purports to capture the zeitgeist of Weimar Germany, coincidentally before a similarly self-proclaimed Übermensch, as mad and criminal as Mabuse, would publish Mein Kampf (1925) as part of his bid for political power. The script is credited to Norbert Jacques, the novelist who created Mabuse, and Thea von Harbou, Lang’s most important creative collaborator during the silent era and for several years his wife.

by Stephen Mayne

16 Sep 2016


Woody Harrelson in LBJ (2016)

All good things must come to an end. After 26 films over the past week, my time in Toronto is over. Generally, thunderstorm apart, the weather has been lovely, the films good, and the TIFF volunteers spectacularly helpful and efficient. On the plus side, it will be nice to get back to a diet that doesn’t consist of grabbing junk food in-between screenings, and I should probably see a bit more of the outdoors again.

Before we close, there are three final films to discuss. First up, in a quiet screen, we have LBJ. Rob Reiner’s biopic puts an initially unrecognizable Woody Harrelson into the shoes of Lyndon Baines Johnson, America’s 36th President, the man sandwiched between JFK and Nixon. Using a certain day in Dallas in 1963 ,and a certain motorcade as a base, LBJ ranges back and forth in time to show Johnson the Senator, Johnson the Vice President, and eventually Johnson the Commander-in-Chief.

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