a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘Montreal’

Louise Penny Has Done It Again!”A Great Reckoning” Is Great!

A Great REckoningI admit it! I’m an unabashed Louise Penny fan! And I’ve read every single one of her terrific mystery/crime novels about Quebec’s former Chief Inspector of the Surete, Armand Gamache, but with her newest one, “A Great Reckoning” she’s done it again! “A Great Reckoning” is great! The best so far. She’s really topped herself! I haven’t been able to do anything since I picked up this 12th book in her Gamache series.

I could not put it down!

And neither will you! It’s what a page-turner should be. Suspenseful, taut, fast-paced, totally absorbing and thrilling with a capital “T”.

I’ve read an early critic’s edition, as it were, so there are limits to what I can and can’t say. I can’t quote from it, but I can say there are beautiful descriptions of her beloved Quebec and the irresistible village of Three Pines. You really want to move there and retire, just like Gamache & his devoted, smart, beautiful wife Reine-Marie have. Except of course, it’s a fictional location where corpses and murders abound. And it’s in Quebec, where it’s almost always snowing.And her descriptions of the food Olivier & Gabri prepare in their adorable bistro ~ MOUTH~WATERING!

Also writing about a thriller like this is difficult, because you can’t reveal any of the mysteries, or you’ll spoil it. And suffice it to say that there’s a LOT to spoil. There are twists upon twists, and a really bang-up unguessable conclusion. And all your favorite characters, the colorful Quebecquois townspeople, are all back, Clara, Myrna, Ruth Zardo and her pet duck, Rosa. And the gay couple to end all gay couples, Olivier & Gabri, and their wonderful bistro/B&B, that you’ll wish you could dine at and stay at. But alas! They’re all fictional! But that’s the sign of great writing. It all comes alive for you, Penny tells her stories so well.

Taken altogether as one massive novel, it reminds me of “War and Peace”! That’s how the Gamache series  deepens and grows on you.Throughout the twelve preceeding novels(and you really should read all of them, in order, if you can), the characterizations just build and build and build til you feel you know Clara & Myrna & Ruth etc.,etc. It’s like visiting old friends, in their loveliest of homes. But you can read the Gamache series of mysteries and enjoy them as stand alones, too.

This mystery is set in the Montreal Police Academy, which has made Gamache its’ head and lured him out of retirement, and the scenes shift between the school and Three Pines, but I will say no more than that. No spoilers here! “A Great Reckoning” hits stores August 30. But you can pre-order, mais oui!

And as strong and suspenseful as “A Great Reckoning” is, it’s even MORE amazing how quickly after Penny’s last Gamache book ,N.Y. Times bestseller “The Nature of the Beast”, came out. Less than a year! How does she do it? But then that’s the timetable Agatha Christie kept to and Louise Penny is nothing if she’s not a modern, French-Canadian Agatha Christie. Miss Marple had St. Mary Mead and Gamache and co. have Three Pines. Murder mysteries set in small, cozy, seemingly idyllic villages.

And when you read her acknowledgements at the end, she heart-breakingly reveals that her much-loved husband Michael has gotten dementia. And they live together in a small village in Quebec’s townships. but it’s not Three Pines. So her writing this wonderful, complicated thriller so FAST and so WELL is even more amazing! That she wrote this great book in the middle of all this personal sorrow and tragedy is astonishing. All my best to Louise and to Michael, too.

#Louise Penny # Three Pines # Inspector Gamache # Murder Mystery#Agatha Christie #Canada # Montreal # Quebec

Louise Penny Has Captured My Imagination and Is Holting it Prisoner!

Louise PennyI haven’t yet read all ten of Quebecquois author Louise Penny’s ten novels, but I know that soon I will! I just can’t put them down! She’s amazing! IT’S amazing and she’s been around now for quite some time and I’m coming late to the Louise Penny party, but I’ve just subscribed to her chatty newsletter and I recommend you all, dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of literature and the theatre, so check out http://www.louisepenny.com and you can friend her on Facebook!

What a lovely writer! And how unusual is it for novels that routinely debut at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List (hardcover and paperback) to be set in Montreal?!?! And mostly the tiny little village of Three Pines. It boasts a bar and a bistro and all the characters have French names, but Louise Penny writes so beautifully about them, in English.

Her descriptions of the seasonal changes in her(and my) beloved Montreal and Quebec are just magical. They make you want to be there all year ’round! And I’ve neglected to say just what these novels are all about. Well, believe it or not, they’re mysteries!

Whodunits! Not since Agatha Christie have I’ve found myself so obsessed! Her leading man is the beguiling Chief Inspector Gamache of the Surete. The Montreal police. And Penny doesn’t just stop there. She’s created a GALLERY of adorable characters around him, Clara Morrow, the painter, Myrna, the black Used Bookshop keeper, Olivier and Gabri, a delightful gay couple who run the Bistro and most memorably for me, the foul-mouthed nonogenarian poet (and drunk) Ruth Zardo, who has a pet duck, Rosa! A pet duck! I love that!

And Three Pines is off the grid! Inspector Gamache and his hearty side-kick Jean-Guy Beauvoir are constantly frustrated because there’s no Internet there! I love that!

I love Ruth and Rosa, and I immediately wanted to move to Three Pines, but of course, anyone who does so does so at his peril. Because delightfully hidden getaway to end all getaways, you could very well end up murdered. As many of its’ tiny citizenry do. On a regular basis.

My favorite? So far “Fatal Grace” which is set in Three Pines at Christmas time.

Penny, a former CBC broadcaster, miraculously turned her life and career around, at the midway mark, and began to produce these ASTOUNDINGLY successful, delicately written thriller-dillers. “Fatal Grace” kept me up until 3AM a few nights ago! I couldn’t put it down!

And Penny wrings changes on the tried and true mystery form, which she seems quite frankly at once in love with but also tired of. She does this by continuing her characters exploits and their stories from novel to novel. One saga involving Olivier goes on for two books!

And she develops her characters lovingly as she deepens their stories from book to book to book!

I don’t know which Louise Perry novel I’m going to read next! But I can’t wait!

My advice, start with the first one “Still Life” and then the second “Fatal Grace” and continue reading them in succession. You’ll be glad you did!

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Great Spanish Actress Carme Elias on Almodovar, Venezuela

I had the great privilege and pleasure at the Montreal World Film Festival this past summer to chat with the great Spanish actress Carme Elias, who is just stupendous in the Venezuelan film “La Distancia Mas Larga” or “The Longest Distance”. She also spoke very interestingly about her work with Pedro Almodovar on the film “Flower of My Secret,” one of my all time faves.

Carme played the mistress in the film of Marisa Paredes’ husband.

And in “La Distancia…” she plays an ailing, but determined and very modern grandmother, who goes to the mountains above the Amazon, seeking…she doesn’t quite know what…And Carme plays this end-of-life character with great force and great restraint. She’s utterly beguiling in it. And I hope American audiences soon get to see it. Venezuelan actor Alec Whaite, who co-stars in the film, directed by Claudia Pinto, translates here.

Camera ~ Federico Foa Fuentes
Editing ~ Kevin Teller

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Who is Rosamund Pike? She’s the “Gone Girl”!

So ladies and gentle-persons, meet Rosamund Pike, a big star in her home country, England and picked by film director David Fincher, who is very discerning in these matters of choosing female stars. He wanted the comely Rosamund because she’s “all that” AND she’s a VERY good actress and at the same time not very well-known to world audiences.

This according to Sasha Stone http://www.awardsdaily.com in her podcast with Jeff Wells at http://www.hollywoodelsewhere.com

So you can judge for yourself whether Fincher has made the right choice or not. And Rosamund talks, briefly, about being married to Owen Wilson “for a brief,fleeting moment.” And that she was embarrassed that his blond hair looked better than hers.

She was sitting down to chat about the great dramedy “Barney’s Version” which netted Paul Giamatti a totally surprising Golden Globe win for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical.

And of course, if you’ve enjoyed this interview with Rosamund you can find literally HUNDREDS more at http://www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow

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VIA Rail’s Lovely Elaine McColloch Explaining the Joys of Canadian Train Travel

Thinking of traveling…Always…And as explained to me last year in the brand new Panorama Lounge at Toronto’s new refurbished Union Station, by VIA Rail’s lovely spokesperson Elaine McCollouch, it sounds irrestible!

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ANOTHER Oscar Nominee! “Buzkhashi Boys” Sam French ~ Best Live Action Short!

I know it’s an Oscar category that nobody ever pays attention to ~ until now ~when I give the full-on “Stephen Holt Show” interview experience to the dynamic Sam French, a filmmaker who lives and works in Kabul, Afghanistan! “Buzkashi Boys” is about two street kids who dream of growing up to be Buzkhashi horsemen, which is the national sport of Afghanistan. I’ll let Sam descrbie exactly what it is. Even though a short, this film was really powerful, shot completely on the streets and locations in Kabul, capturing sights never seen before on film.

I interviewed Sam this summer at the Montreal Film Festival. We went to see the final screening of his film in the Cinema ONF of the National Film Board of Canada on one of the days before it was about to be torn down! An historic moment!

Camera-Cody Michaels
Editing-Kevin Teller

“Liv Og Ingmar” Moving New Doc at Festival Des Film Du Monde in Montreal! And soon to be at NYFF, too!

“LIV  & INGMAR” Moving, New Doc Dominates Montreal!

Being at the wonderful Festival des Films du Monde, now for my 14th consecutive year, is like being encased in a delightful, glamorous bubble of film, where all the languages of the world are swirling around you, but mainly French, mais oui, bien sur! Montreal always had that certain je sais quoi, and still does, I’m happy to report. It’s intoxicating atmosphere is something that you never want to end.
This year found the 36th Montreal World Film Festival, which wrapped last night, more multi-cultural than ever, if that’s possible.Over 400 films from over 80 countries!
So many films from all over the world, and so many of them that you won’t ever get to see in America,it’s staggering. And it’s sad that we have such a limited, narrow view of world cinema, with foreign film distribution, being what it is in the States. But wonderful films from all over are all here and all being celebrated, which continues to be a miraculous thing for cineastes in Montreal and cinephiles everywhere.
I thought nothing would top seeing “The Artist” here for the first time last year, with a packed Montrealais audience, who had fought to get tickets to the sold-out screenings. But this year something unexpectedly did!
It was a doc, no less, from Norway, named “Liv Og Ingmar,” about the tumultous love life and relationship of Ingmar Bergman, the late legendary Swedish filmmaker, and Liv Ullman, his great Norwegian actress, who  he starred in a dozen of his films and who had a child by him. They were together for five years,mostly on his isolated island of Faro, and were friends and working partners and collaborators for most of their lives, a 42 year relationship of star-crossed lovers and artists, which is heart-breaking in the extreme. It’s unexpected force and poignancy reduced me to tears.
Dheeraj Akolar, a 20-something Indian director, is making his feature film debut in spectacular fashion with “Liv Og Ingmar.” He was allowed unprecedented access to not only Bergman’s and Ullman’s great films, but also excerpts from his private love letters to her, which are heard here for the first time. The film also quotes extensively from Ullman’s moving memoir “Changing,” which Ullman reads herself.  Ullman more or less narrates the film. It is entirely from her point of view, which is enlightening and refreshing, and not only that, she was here in Montreal to talk about it herself!
According to Akolar, she had no editorial say in the film final, but its utterly unique and persuasive perspective is undeniably hers. In person, Liv Ullman is the loveliest of women, now in her 70s but still absolutely lovely and vital, always verging on the poetic in every question she was asked at the press conference.
Down to earth, practical, a woman of infinite good Norwegian horse sense, she still finds it astonishing that she was involved with and the beloved of the genius Swedish auteur, who seems the direct polar opposite to her in every way imaginable. Nothing about this relationship was easy or politically correct. It was painful in the extreme as the film amply shows. But it was love. And that is what makes the film so universal and so incredibly moving.
When asked if Max Von Sydow and Erland Josephsson knew that they were playing stand-ins for Bergman himself, Ullman exclaimed, “The person who was always playing Ingmar was ME!” and she thumped her chest.
Ulmman also kept emphasizing that she continues to act and direct plays and films herself in Norway and Sweden, and that she has had and continues to have a very healthy and productive creative life away from the late Bergman, including a career in Hollywood that landed her on the covers of Time magazine and Newsweek and garnered her two Oscar nominations.
Though she’s never won one herself, “Liv Og Ingmar” is such an astouding, moving experience for a doc, that it could very well be nominated, and even win in that category, as the forgetful Academy might well wish to finally honor her in this way, while she is still very much with us. And we all now how the Academy likes movies that make them cry, and this film  sure will.
Another film that I found exciting was “B.A.Pass” ANOTHER debut feature by ANOTHER Indian filmmaker making his feature film debut, Ajay Bahl. Before this gripping film, Bahl was a full-time working director of photography in India, where they make over 2,000 films a year, Bahl estimated. He read a short story named “The Railway Auntie” by Mohan Sikka in “The Delhi Noir” collection and decided to make this film himself, also financing it completely.
“B.A. Pass’ is about Mukesh, a 19-year-old boy who loses both his parents in a car crash at the beginning of the film. He has two young sisters that he has to take care of, and is sent to Delhi to live with relatives. “B.A. Pass” is the lowest form of degree one can get in an Indian college, like a liberal arts degree and it qualifies him for nothing, leaving Mukesh to drift aimlessly into the arms of a genuine femme fatale, Sarika. As played by the Bollywood star Shilpa Shukla, she dazzles him, and us, as she seduces him into a life of male prostitution, sharing him with all her rich, female friends.
All the taboos one usually associates with Indian filmmaking are blown out of the water here by director Bahl, as the lovers do more than just look at each other intensely, as is usual in Bollywood. There is no dancing or musical numbers here to lift Mukesh out of the desperate circumstances he begins to slide into. “B.A.Pass” reminded me a lot of “Midnight Cowboy’ as he becomes a gigolo, eventually going with men, as well as women. Newcomer Rajesh Sharma plays Mukesh marvelously in his first leading screen role.
Another film that stunned and surprised me was the Finnish World War II film “Hiljaisuus” or “The Silence.” Masterfully directed by veteran filmmaker Sakari Kirjavainen, it depicts the heroic, heartbreaking Finnish custom of retrieving its’ dead soldiers’ bodies from the battlefields and preparing their remains by thawing, tidying and dressing them for return to their families. A poetic, grim ritual,unique to Finland, that is a morbid and well as a dangerous custom, as soldiers have to retrieve dead bodies that have been sometimes lying in a no-man’s land between Finland and Russia for weeks if not months, most frozen solid by the harsh Finnish winter.
Set in an evacuation camp, “The Silence” compels as it repels, and Joonas Saartamo is riveting and yes, even sometimes funny, as the young soldier Eino, who has to do these difficult heart-renching rescues, even at his own peril.
“Buzhashi Boys”, a cours metrage, or short film, from Afghanistan, also was shockingly indelible. Made by one of the few Americans to actually call Kabul home, director Sam French compellingly told the tale of two very young street kids, one a blacksmith’s son, one a beggar, who are friends and hope one day to become the titular Buzkashi horsemen of title, which is a sport that I will skip describing, except to say that it is played with great gusto and ferocity on horseback. The Kabul that we see is so abjectly poor, with bullet-holes in every ruined building that the two boys innocently play in, that “Buzhashi Boys”  in its’ brevity and toughness, lets us see a glimpse of another ghastly, but human world that we would probably never get to see except at a film festival like Montreal.
Post-script “Liv Og Ingmar” is going to be screening soon in the upcoming New York Film Festival, with Liv Ullman herself in attendance! Not to be missed!

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