Sunday, September 18, 2016

tiff2016 - it's what we do

Blind Sun

Directed by : Joyce Nashawati
Starring : Ziad Bakri

One word drew me to this one:  Greece.  Adding a premise which has a man dealing with the bureaucratic nightmares of waiting for his residency permit while suffering through oppressive heat, I thought how can it miss?  Sounds like a perfect set up for a screwball comedy!  Well, obviously it wasn't.  And, wow, did it miss.  Sure, Greece is hot.  And the bureaucracy is next level crazy (at the moment, the Consulate is refusing to grant me dual citizenship because as per their records my parents never married.  !!!).  But not every Greek is a swarthy imbecile.  Heat may drive us nuts, but we need a reason why it's driving this poor dude this completely nuts.  I totally got the feeling of hot here.  I also got the feeling of a complete hot mess.

The Secret Scripture

Directed by : Jim Sheridan
Starring: Vanessa Redgrave, Rooney Mara, Eric Bana

Set in a tumultuous time in Irish history, The Secret Scripture tells the story of the passionate and tortuous life a young woman (Rooney) confined to a mental institution for most of her adult life.  The whys of how she got there are laid out very well in this adaption of Sebastian Barry's award winning novel, but soon I was thinking to much about the hows and it took me too far out of this film.  We know that adaptions are tricky and you sometimes lose a context of richness that could make a film fuller, here however, I felt we lost vital plot points which left me asking too many questions.  That said, this was a great, often painful, story and it was extremely well acted by Rooney, Vanessa (playing the aged Rooney) and Eric (I miss this guy).   Wish I had read the book.

And with that, TIFF2016 is done!  It was quite the Festival - 23 films over 9 days, a truncated time frame this year and slightly fewer films in total but I'm largely overwhelmed by the terrific movies I saw.

Top picks:  Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Free Fire, It's Only the End of the World, Moonlight. 
Honourable Mentions: Christine, Bleed for This, Their Finest, Trespass Against Us.
Biggest Disappointment:  Loving.

Random observations after spending 9 days in the craziness that is TIFF: 

Lazy Sponsors:  I've been TIFFing for years now.  When you watch 23-42 movies over the course of 10 days, you're watching sponsor ads 23-42 times over the course of 10 days.  I completely appreciate this will get repetitive and that's MY problem.  But try this over years.  I'm talking 5 years.  The same commercials from lead sponsors for 5 years!  I've had enough with the once clever Grolsch People's Choice advert.   I'm here to tell you that regardless of of what RBC wants us to believe, LIZ AND AMY WILL NEVER MAKE IT.  Come on, guys, you're top tier sponsors at a world class festival get it together.  It's not that hard to make a commercial these days - you've got the money, use it.

Oblivious Moviegoers:  This is nothing new, but the guy sitting beside me who decided to take his shoes off during my Midnight Madness screening of Free Fire was next level on all the wrong levels.  Pungent is too tame a word.  It was Midnight.  It was a hot & sweaty day.  There were no socks.  It was beyond any semblance of normalcy.  HOW COULD HE NOT KNOW?!

Obnoxious Moviegoers:  If I hear one more person in a TIFF line announce to no one that they are members of TIFF and receive special privileges I may punch them in the face.  I'M A MEMBER TOO.  NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.  SHUT UP.

Bad Snacks:  The Princess of Wales theatre is a rather majestic place to watch a film.  It's grand and adds an element of elegance to a screening - so much love.  The love stops at the concession stand though - when did scotch mints become movie snacks?  Where's the chocolate?  I can deal with stale popcorn when desperate, but throw me some liquorice guys.

Of course I have more positive memories and stories - the fantastic conversations I had with strangers while waiting in line;  sitting beside the editor of Moonlight and sob crying my thanks to him for being part of such an incredible film ; witnessing Tom Ford ask someone to tell the trucks on Victoria Street to stop beeping so he could concentrate during the Q&A ; breathing the same air as my Oscar date Aaron Eckhart ... the list goes on.  

As always, I have more films on my list from TIFF buzz:  LaLa Land, Burn Your Maps, Brain on Fire, Lion to name a few ... but for now, I sleep, re-introduce vegetables into my diet and re-engage in normal life, or at least my version of a normal life.  I promised I was back ... so stay tuned for more of this.  More of me.  :)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

tiff2016 - it's what we do


Directed by : Arnaud des Pallieres
Starring : Adele Exarchopoulos, Gemma Arterton

Orphan is a character study of a young women's life told over four time periods as she reconciles a harsh upbringing with making amends for past behaviour.  This could have been so much more but it wasn't,  It's interesting to me, as the themes and structure of Orphan are so similar to Moonlight yet this fell so flat.  Nothing drew me in, nothing made me care.  Meh.


Directed by: Antonio Campos
Starring : Rebecca Hall

VERY powerful account of the life of Christine Chubbuck, a television reporter who committed suicide live on air in 1974.  Christine is a tightly wound reporter in a male dominated industry.  She's highly competitive, a perfectionist and a depressive.  These factors culminate to a most explosive boiling point and this film humanizes the life of someone who has become a sensationalized footnote in television news history.  Rebecca Hall is absolutely incredible portraying the troubled Christine - a woman we can all relate to in some way.  No one works as hard as us.  no one has as much integrity as we do, why is no one listening?!  Christine's mental health won't allow her to find reasonable answers or ways to cope with these feelings of loneliness and failure, and it's so very sad.


Directed by: Benedict Andrews
Starring : Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn

Based on the play Blackbird by David Harrower, Una tells the story of a young woman who, a decade later, tracks down the man who sexually assaulted her in search of answers.  The film had moments of intensity, and was extremely well acted by both Rooney and Ben, but it somehow missed the mark on being the powerhouse film I felt it could be.  Perhaps it was the translation from stage to screen - as their world became bigger we lost the intense focus I felt necessary to really tell this story.  Perhaps I was just too damn cold in that bloody theatre.  Either way, Una was solid but ultimately a disappointment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

tiff2016 - it's what we do


Directed by:  Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte

Love me some Almodovar.  Whether intensely dramatic or high camp, Pedro's view of the world is unique and rich.  He's also a champion film maker for women, and in Julieta he takes that one step further by adapting the work of Alice Munro.  Relaying a tale of a mother and her estranged daughter, Pedro tells their story in past and present as we come to understand the complex relationship between these two women.  It's a soft telling, where we want and expect much to happen but very little does.  At the hands of another director this would be an immense problem, but with Pedro's magic touch we are drawn into Mom's suffering sadness and hope she finds her something more.  Compelling score and very well acted.  This one also took me back to #spainsanity for a short while, so all good on all fronts.

Manchester by the Sea

Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan
Starring : Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler

I'm exhausted.  Over tired, really, and when I get over tired I get over emotional.  It's like my mind can't decide how it wants to feel, so it just default cries.  I spent much of this screening silently sob crying in my seat.  Was it because of my over tired state of mind?  Well, maybe 3%, yes.  The other 97% was due to a most beautiful, beautiful film which hits the notes of grief and guilt so softly they take you over unexpectedly yet continuously.  No one can (or should ever have to) imagine the grief and guilt felt by Lee (Casey Affleck) after he suffers an imaginable and horrific loss.  His life is turned upside down again by the death of his older brother (Kyle Chandler) so back home he must go to care for his teenaged nephew.  Casey's Lee suffers a quiet agony so painful it's hard to imagine anything enabling him to break free from it - he's lonely, angry and also kind and sensitive.  Casey's dialogue is sparse but we don't need words to tell us how he's feeling - we have his face and his nuanced mannerisms and sheer brilliance.  This script is not only beautifully written, it's real.  We understand, completely, that Casey can't break out of his suffering - he tells us this flat out - and while we're used to heroes overcoming odds and obstacles as they seek to achieve some sort of betterment, I can't help thinking Casey's Lee is a hero too.  The life he chooses of almost monastic penance is his self imposed punishment for what happened.  He's not being a martyr, he's doing this because it's what he feels he must do to survive.  He must live within his loss to overcome his loss.  Fucking heartbreaking.  It really was.  

tiff2016 - it's what we do

Nocturnal Animals

Directed by: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaaron Taylor-Johnson

Oh, la, la ... wasn't this a stylized masterpiece.  It's obvious every frame of this movie was shot with exacting detail, it looked gorgeous, sumptuous, sexy.  Can we expect anything less from Tom?  But lets not get caught up in style.  This movie also had substance - It's the unique story of a woman (Amy) who is sent a manuscript from her first husband (Jake), and the reading of this manuscript uncovers truths of her own past as she comes to terms with her present.  We see modern day Amy reading and unhappy, ruminating on her life.  Jake takes on two roles here - the protagonist in his manuscript and his younger self as Amy's husband.  Both shine bright.  Amy looks luminous (seriously, Tom Ford needs to light our lives as everyone in his movies looks so damn good) and is brilliant as she portrays a victim of her own insecurity who ultimately needs to let go of who she thinks she needs to be in order to be happy.  Jake is perfect.  Always.  CAN SOMEONE NOMINATE THIS GUY FOR SOMETHING FOR CHRIST'S SAKE.  That face is ridiculous, but his intensity and range in this film alone are cause for applause.  At its heart, Nocturnal Animals is about not ever letting go of that someone who truly understands you (oh, that old chestnut).  This was amazing.  

Their Finest

Directed by : Ione Scherig
Starring:  Sam Clafin, Bill Nighy, Gemma Etherton

I love period pieces.  I love all things Brit.  I love banter.  I love sly humour.  Guess what, Their Finest had it all and then some.  Telling the story of a group of Brits making a film to bolster British morale during WW2, the film was a meta marvel.  It was so charming, and well acted and well, so romantic.  My old man crush Bill Nighy was a bright light as usual, but Sam & Gemma were standouts too.  We have a bit of a surprise ending - reminding us that we must take our chances when we can as we never know what will happen (this again?!) - but it all works in spades.  Loved this.


Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner

Aliens land on Earth and linguist Amy (it's a two-fer Amy day!) works to translate their language.  Admittedly, I'm not 100% sure what exactly happened in this movie - it was kind of a mind fuck in a very good (Inception not Interstellar) way.  But if what I think the story was is what the story was:   Woah.  Oh, man.  YES.  If not, well, oh well?  Arrival's an amazing movie highlighting once again what an incredible actress Amy Adams is.  Her face is so expressive, which makes her acting so nuanced, so real.  So very good.  

Bleed For This

Directed by:  Ben Younger
Starring :  Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart

Second boxing biopic at the Fest and this one takes top prize.  It was edgier, and adds the element of a comeback story, which are impossibly hard to resist.  At the hands of Ben Younger & crew, we're all in, 100%.  Vinnie Paz (Miles) is a boxing champ who suffers a car accident and is told he will never box again.  Undeterred, Vinnie perseveres, training, working, struggling to get back to his former life.  Miles transforms himself into Vinnie, much like he immersed himself in Whiplash.  Aaron is unrecognizable as his coach - can someone tell me why Aaron Eckhart isn't in more movies like this?  Enough playing the President with Gerard Butler, Aaron!  You are better than that!  We are all at the edge of our seats, right along with them as this comeback story comes to life.  Amazing film.

It was a four for four day today ... that almost never happens!  Praise be!  

Monday, September 12, 2016

tiff2016 - it's what we do


Directed by: Barry Jenkins
Starring: Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Janelle Monae, Ashton Sanders, Jharrel Jerome, Alex Hibbert, Jaden Piner

If I never see another movie again it will be okay because I've seen this one. My mind wanders to scenes, and I start to cry.  I try describing the story, and I start to cry.  Great art transcends the artists initial meaning and speaks to the viewer in a personal way.  For me, Moonlight is simply about the importance of finding people - or that person - that gets you even when you don't get yourself.  Our path to this is often fraught with loneliness and self doubt.  Told in three tranches of a very troubled life, lead character Chiron's path was tortured from the get go. Growing up on the wrong side of everything in Miami, he's just searching for anything to hold onto, anything to make sense.  He thinks he finds it, then loses it, again and again.  He has no one.  My heart broke watching this 8 year old boil hot water for his own bath,  the 16 year old get pummelled by bullies and, finally, the adult express true emotion to his person.  Moonlight was intense, immersive, beautiful and real.  I thought perhaps my complete emotional breakdown here was due to the state my heart and head are in right now, but I know that's not it.  Moonlight got under my skin because we all have a story that we may not choose to expose, but when we do - to the right person, to our person - it's the most beautiful thing.  Jesus Christ, I'm crying right now.  Barry Jenkins is a genius.

Certain Women

Directed by:  Kelly Reichardt
Starring: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart

Just.  No.  Boring and disconnected.  I don't care how good the performances were.  These actresses were not given much to do and I couldn't bring myself to care about any of them.  My mind kept drifting back to Moonlight.   I think the only thing that could have made it worse was if it was in Swedish.  Without subtitles.  Just.  No.


Directed by:  Jeff Nichols
Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga

True story of Richard & Mildred Loving who led a legal battle which resulted in the Supreme Court overturning the prohibition of interracial marriage.  Big story.  Compelling story.  Relevant story.  What a disappointing film.  The "action" felt cold and detached.  Joel & Ruth lacked chemistry (my movie critic in training Mom thought so too) and this one just fell flat.  Disappointment of the festival thus far.

It's Only The End of the World

Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Lea Seydoux

All hail King Dolan.  Holy crap this guy.   The Quebec wunderkind has done it again.  He takes us to to anywhere, anytime as a prodigal son returns home after 12 long years.  Why has he returned?  What news to tell his estranged family?  His secret is never revealed to them because they're all too busy yelling and talking to actually communicate with each other.  Think about that.  They're all too busy yelling and talking to actually communicate with each other.   It's a family drama on steroids, with (as per usual) an amazing soundtrack and top notch performances from the entire cast.  Can we all fall in love with Marion Cotillard again please?  And then let's stop yelling and talking and communicate with each other.  King Dolan says so.  *

*Really not sure what's happening with the formatting here, but I hope you'll forgive me.  Sugar & caffeine are running amok on my skin, my eyes are bloodshot from all my crying and I'm almost walking like an 80 year old pregnant lady.  God, I love this time of year. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

tiff2016 - it's what we do

American Pastoral

Directed by: Ewan McGregor
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning

Based on the novel by Philip Roth, American Pastoral tells the story of a family torn apart by the choices of their daughter.  Ewan stars and makes his directorial debut here, in what I felt was a well paced think piece.  Acting was standout, especially from our two female leads - honestly, Jennifer Connelly really has the market cornered on playing tortured wives - and I really liked this (insofar as  you can 'like' a disturbing film).  Overall, the film was not well received and I'm unsure why.  A friend tells me critics are "often very hard on actors directing themselves on what could be perceived as overly self-serious semi-vanity projects especially when the source material has such a prestigious pedigree as it smacks of a too overt bid for artistic self-importance" (my friend is very smart) Well, okay - I don't think Ewan's that guy.  And this film wasn't that film.  I'll stand behind this one and only offer a mild critique that Jen & Ewan didn't really seem to age at all in the 20 year timeframe of the movie.  But, then again, neither have we in the real life, right?  So, never mind ...


Directed by: Adam Leon
Starring: Callum Turner, Grace Van Patten, Mike Birbiglia

The problem with many "meet cute" rom-coms is they're just so .. dumb.  Full of cliches, tropes and predictability.  In simply genre terms, Tramps is a "meet cute" rom-com without all that.  Our unlikely couple are thrown together by their respective shady pals to pull off a classic "drop", what transpires in the action is rather fun and what transpires between them is quite charming.  I enjoyed this one for its dialogue and winsome duo.  It's not going to knock your socks off, but it won't make you poke your eyes out with a chopstick like most rom-coms do these days.  This is winning.

I am the Pretty Face That Lives in the House

Directed by: Osgood Perkins
Starring : Ruth Wilson

I've called his movie many things in the weeks leading up to the screening.  I've put this pretty face under the stairs, in the closet, sometimes there's more than one face, other times it's just a thing - holy crap, what a terrible title!  Was the movie any better?  I'm going to say, not much.  Based on the synopsis, it's the story of a hospice worker (Ruth) who comes to look after an aged former horror writer.  It soon becomes clear that things are not as they seem in this old, abandoned house.  I thought this was going to be a spookier  Misery.  Nope.  Aside from one scene it wasn't very spooky - and remember, I hate and never watch horror movies so don't have a baseline for spooky.  This was not at all spooky!   All around disappointing, aside from stellar work from Ruth who carried what was basically a one woman show. Incredible performance in a rather meh film.

The Bleeder

Directed by: Philippe Falardeau
Starring: Liev Schreiber, Elizabeth Moss, Naomi Watts

Full disclosure: I love sports movies.  The underdog fighting against the odds mythology is incredibly powerful especially if the payoff, in great sports movies, is rewarding and delivered without cliched predictability.   Boxing movies take this mythology to the next level - there's only one guy taking all the punches, and usually in these films the punches aren't only flying in the ring.  The Bleeder is indeed a boxing movie, and also the true story Chuck Wepner, a boxer not known for his talent or skill, but more so for his simple ability to take a punch. This tenacity made him the the inspiration for Stallone's Rocky.  Oh yeah, that little boxing movie.  Overall, this film is standard biopic fare - we move through Chuck's life as he takes on fight after fight, lives his life in Bayonne New Jersey, gets in trouble, loses and wins life's lotteries and tries to find a place for himself outside the ring.  It's not earth shattering stuff, but it's compelling as a character study (how many punches can you take before you just can't get up again) and an acting master class.  Liev was incredible.  Elizabeth astounding.  Naomi brilliant.  You need the best to deliver simple stories and we absolutely got the best here.  Capping off the night was probably one of the best Q&As I've ever been to at TIFF where, of course, Chuck regaled the crowd with his larger than life personality and true love for the people who brought his life to the big screen (again, but for real this time).  This one wasn't perfect, but I loved it all the same.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

tiff2016 - it's what we do


Directed by: Onur Tuket
Starring:  Anne Heche, Sandra Oh, Alicia Silverstone

Telling the story of a chance reunion between 2 former college friends that goes wrong, way wrong Catfight is a unique black comedy which delivers pointed commentary on the haves, have nots and what happens when the haves become the have nots and vice versa.  Playing the college friends - splintered by an unknown incident back in the day which fuels all their subsequent interactions - Anne & Sandra are bitter, cynical, angry and mean.  Their interactions are shocking and jarring, based on physical violence which becomes the cause of these transformations of class.  In a nutshell, they pummel the shit out of each other and lose it all.  The pummelling is completely over the top and cringe worthy.  I react to most violence on screen today with a bit of a shrug.  Okay, an explosion.  Yeah, that building collapsed.  Ah, machine guns.  But physical violence in its most base form - simply punching each other to almost death - is so cringeworthy.  Anne & Sandra were great in this and were completely girl crushing on each other at the Q&A.  Give this one a whirl if you can handle some punches.

Trespass Against Us

Directed by: Adam Smith
Starring: Brendan Gleason, Michael Fassbender

As a complex character study of a man trying to break free from the life he was born into, Trespass Against Us hits all the right notes for me.  Michael is the oldest son born to father Brendan, the head of an outlaw British crime family - they're thieves and thugs, living in a communal trailer park of sorts working jobs as directed by patriarch Brendan.  Michael is married, he has two kids.  He wants to be done.  He wants out.  But we all know this isn't easy.  The core of this film is Michael - his portrayal of the hardened criminal and soft hearted Dad who wants more for his family, but whose own family, and circumstances, will not make this possible is nuanced and real.  As every chance he takes to break free is thwarted he loses hope, gains frustration and our sympathy builds.  This one issn't perfect, it did drag at times, but if you keep your eyes on Michael you won't be disappointed.