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More movies, more mayhem

By September 16, 2016 Film, Performance

Peter’s reviews continue. Let me know what you think in the space below. Should I keep him around?

If you missed the first hits, here’s part one and part two.

REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 5

nocturnalanimals_02NOCTURNAL ANIMALS – Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful but unhappy art dealer in LA. Her second marriage is in trouble. A manuscript arrives from her long-estranged first husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal). Alone in her house, with her husband away, she starts reading the manuscript and is propelled into the fictional life of a teacher (also Gyllenhaal) whose drive to his summer house is about to turn into a nightmare. As Susan gets deeper and deeper into the book, ahe is forced to examine her own past.
Stylish and absolutely gorgeous to look at but much more than an exercise in esthetics. Ford, who was quite the charmer at the Q+A, moves the story effortlessly between Susan’s reality and the Tony’s manuscript, drama and suspense.
Thoroughly enjoyed this film. A must see.

 

jackie_01JACKIE – Chilean director Pablo Larrain masterfully films this fresh take on the Kennedy assassination. Told through the eyes of Jacqueline Kennedy (Natalie Portman), Larrain uses a series of finely-crafted flashbacks that cover that fateful day in Dallas and the events leading to the funeral. You have never seen the assassination filmed from the perspective of the former first lady sitting in the convertible.
Stellar script, unique perspective, and a lock on the Oscar for Portman.

 

screen_20shot_202016-08-16_20at_204-07-15_20pm-0ARRIVAL – Alien space ships arrive on earth. Language professor Amy Adams and physicist Jeremy Renner are in a race against time to learn how to communicate with the aliens and their intentions. Throw in a time-shifting angle and there’s your film.

If the lesson here is “a new language gives you a new perspective”, I got it. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the suspense, the urgency of the mission.
I wasn’t expecting Independence Day 3 from Denis Villeneuve (please, no ID3) but just a little more excitement.

Note from Anne. You’re all wet on this one. More after the smorgasbord.

 

americanhoney_02AMERICAN HONEY – A Dickensian gang of misfits and runaways criss-crossing the Midwest selling fraudulent magazine subscriptions. Drugs, booze, fights and trashed motel rooms. No hope, no future, attitude and bravado to hide pain and insecurity. Shot in verité style realism with mostly non-professional actors with a dead or dying America as a backdrop.
I understand that it is an “important film” but I didn’t need 158 minutes of it. Powerful but way too long.

REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 6

 

BLEED FOR THIS – There is only so much you can do with a boxing film. You overcome adversity and win or lose (in a split decision) the title fight. The real draw for me was Miles Teller, the up-and-coming young actor I last saw in Whiplash. A great performance in a film with a decent script. See this before Rocky 42 or Creed 17.

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BIRTH OF THE DRAGON – One day, someone will make a film about Bruce Lee that does not have a paint by numbers, two–dimensional character script.

salesman_02-useforannouncementTHE SALESMAN – Their Tehran apartment block on the verge of collapse, a couple (Emad and Rana) are forced to move into a shabby nearby flat. Soon after, Rana is attacked by an intruder while taking a shower. In the aftermath, things turn strange and tense for the couple. Feeling vengeful and confused, Emad plays detective while Rana is in a state of shock. Meanwhile, the two are performing as Wily and Linda Loman in an amateur production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
Director Farhadi’s A Separation won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. At Cannes this year, Salesman received prizes for Best Actor and Best Screenplay. Masterfully crafted, great pace and performances.

ASURA: CITY OF MADNESS – Korean crime dramas generally don’t disappoint. This had all the makings of a solid cop film. Formerly good, now bad cop, dying wife, doing dirty work for corrupt mayor, painted into a corner by Internal Affairs to cooperate or go to jail. Big production budget.
Unique angles in the car chase scenes and fights. Solid acting. Unfortunately it gets stupid. A prolonged, over-the-top, lazy bloodbath ending.

 

We’re in the home stretch now.  Peter will wrap up his reviews here on Sunday. For my take on some of these films (we saw many together) and some others he missed, check back here Monday.

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Guest Blog Part 2: TIFF-bits

By September 12, 2016 Film, Performance

Sunlight is my friend in the TIFF line-ups.  So is this guy. Here’s more of Peter’s TIFF-bits. Read More

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Guest Blog: TIFF reviews opening days

By September 11, 2016 Film, Performance

His car is always immaculate. This remains a curiosity to those who know him as the guy who will ask you to join him for a bowl of Chinese soup at midnight or lead you to some other delicious discovery on a street you’ve never heard of in your own town.

A man who loves to eat never has crumbs in his car. Go figure.

I didn’t marry him for his curiosity but it’s kept us intact these years even thought I refuse to play trivia games with him as it’s no fun having him win every time. That he loves rap tickled the fancy of my children’s peers when Dad was on late night driving duty. None of those kids likely guess that he cries at the opera and has gorgeous cover art of all his favourite operas on his office walls. Once he made me sit in the dark on our sofa to listen to Clifford Brown. We held hands as the music filled the room and our children slept above us. Forget the guy in the tux, paid to serenade table-side at some over-priced noshery.  Being married a long time teaches you when to pay attention.

Sitting in the rain to watch soccer isn’t my thing (fair-weather fan, go ahead- shoot me), nor strategic board games that stretch over cottage tables pass their expiration date. Some passions are solo projects.

I do like going to movies with my man. His entry points into the art form were not mine so we often find traces the other missed.

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Here follow’s Peter’s snapshots of films seen over the opening two days.   Read More

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No zombies but chills in the right places

By June 3, 2016 Film

Rare are films that treat audiences as intelligent and capable moviegoers—viewers who appreciate stories without a dictionary of signposts. Into the Forest, directed by Canadian filmmaker Patrica Rozema, is just that: a thriller for grown-ups.

Shot in B.C, this adaptation of a novel by Jean Heglund focuses squarely on the evolving relationship of two sisters in an unspecified forest. Faced with a continent-wide power failure,  the two fight for survival and take us along with them as they adapt to increasingly terrifying new realities. As viewers, we never find out what caused the blackout. Instead, we are treated to a masterful study of grief, courage, and renewal. As siblings, Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page deliver highly skilled portraits.

 

While there are plenty of frights and no shortage of violence (including a terrifying scene sure to break your heart), this is not a page torn from the Walking Dead. It is a narrative drenched with hope as the sisters forage their own depths for strength. I saw this film at TIFF last September and it lingers yet whenever the house lights flicker.

If you have daughters, go see it. If you have sisters, go see it. If you have neither, see it for a rare glimpse of intelligent suspense and female grit. And yes, applaud our gorgeous Canadian topography while you’re at it.

 

Sunday reading: 

What it’s really like to make a movie in Canada right now.

Three young women take on a Queen West iconic club

20 original CanLit names to give your baby (Hurrah. Anne is new again)

Gilmore Girls waiting for the Netflix revival can now wait it out Rory-style and take the Rory Gilmore reading challenge.

Is your bathtub a place to go when you’ve run out of options? Find out in The Bath: A Polemic

Or maybe the bathtub is part of an escape plan.  It was for this dad: In search of Lost Me Time

Happy June. June is a big birthday month for a bunch of people I love. This one’s for all of you-it’s my new jam. Psst-she just turned 50, and yes, I want her hair.

 

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Sugar twin

By May 12, 2016 Film, Performance

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.

–Cheryl Strayed–

1995 was a year of transformation for bestselling author Cheryl Strayed, as it was for me. In March of that year, I became a mother. A few months later, in the summer, Strayed went on a solo trek for 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail. Her journey, detailed in her memoir Wild, resulted in what she calls her “genesis story”.

My transformation from solo driver to infant-seat-in-the-back-mama was certainly more showy (I had a baby:she had blisters) yet the real growth—so much more “discreet” in real life transformations, says Strayed — was equally terrifying. Was I ready?

 

After watching the gorgeous 2014 film adaption of her book at the Books on Film event earlier this week at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Strayed broke it down to a rapt audience.

How do we bear the unbearable?

This very question forms the spine of the forty-seven year old’s memoir, as much a treatise on grief as it is a feminist fable. By now, Wild— her experiences using sex and drugs to escape the pain of losing her mother at age twenty-two, her failed marriage, and eventual epiphanies on the trail— has become an inspiration for many around the world. Wild has been translated into forty languages. Within a week of publication, the book caught the eye of Nick Hornby. The celebrated UK screenwriter and novelist told Strayed he liked the book’s authenticity: she didn’t go on the trail in order to write a book, but waited seventeen years to pen her memoir. By then, she was an award-winning essayist, as well as a mother of two children (Among her writings is an essay about her deep respect for Alice Munro.  As she told the audience this week, this Canadian icon was her literary mother for many years.)

Okay, stop right there, I blinked: enough with all this. Are you my sister from another mother? (fangirl on Munro here)

So I skipped some of her life chapters and am still waiting for a brilliant screenwriter to make a film about my life (an experience Strayed highly recommends. She had Reese Witherspoon*. I’m holding out for Amy Schumer).  What connected me were a series of profound insights only available through age, motherhood, a few wounds and wrinkles later.

Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.

–Cheryl Strayed–

These sentiments; many expressed in Strayed’s popular advice column, and her books Tiny Beautiful Things and Brave Enough; are like warm towels for her thousands of fans, including this writer.  Mostly, I champion her sense of “gathering oneself”. This is what mothering has been for me for two decades. It is as apt a description as I’ve heard yet. If I could, I’d wear it as a t-shirt uniform (loose and baggy, thanks. Those snug little numbers belonged on my twenty-year old self).

The day I gave birth I was a shivering mess. I called my mom on the phone, minutes before they wheeled me into the OR to have a C-section. A newbie to surgery of any sort, I had not responded well to the news of this unexpected procedure, a full twenty-four hours after labour: my very wild state was on full display. My mother (an old pro:I’m one of five) assured me it doesn’t matter how you are to become a mother, embrace the fact that it’s about to happen any minute now!

Still I wailed,

They’re going to cut me open!

Twenty-one years and two daughters later, and I now know.

That was a prophecy.

Scan 68

 

No, I wasn’t ready. Ready is overrated.

 

 

 

*If you haven’t seen the film, Wild was one of my favourites from 2014. See my whole list here.

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Feel better film

By April 22, 2016 Film, Performance

I heard a commentator sign-off yesterday on the untimely passing of Prince as “it’s just the cycle of life”.

Yikes.

Fifty-seven is mid-cycle last time I checked. For some of my peers, it’s also kindergarten.  Rarer still are those pulling over to the curb to quit. A week ago, Prince played two sets in one night in Atlanta. Acoustic sets. Not much to hide behind there. And he had just announced he was writing his memoir. The title was to be “The Beautiful Ones”.

What do we do with these events that confuse our sense of things?

Throw impromptu purple parties and dance all night long. 

Be relentless and daring in our own creative endeavours.

Watch a movie infused with so much spirit that we immediately feel better—Opening today, Sing Street is your prescription. Spunky and semi-autobiographical—the film is based on a year in director John Carney’s life- Sing Street was part of the Next Wave festival at the TIFF Bell Lightbox earlier this year.  As he does handily in this crowd-pleaser, sixteen year-old star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo charmed an audience dotted with Irish Canadians clearly delighted, as I was, to witness the hit parade of eighties music in a gritty 1985 Dublin.

The movie belongs to that soundtrack, but Walsh-Peelo, who trained classically as a soprano before his voice changed, is great fun to watch as he reinvents himself with eyeliner and various costuming familiar to all of us who lived through that decade of music videos.

sing-street-john-carney-pic

Here Carney is on clichéd turf yet he soars high with a tone both tender and as unassuming as his earlier hit Once, and a less successful but still charming Begin Again.  Every member of this cast nails it. Evident too is a simple innocence missing from so many films that navigate this genre with cloying crap instead of the authenticity in abundance here. A nostalgia piece it is not. Rather, an irresistible love fable about youthful dreams that won me over early on.

They saw me coming when they made this one. Romantic? Where have you been? Duh.

Have your own purple moment. Grab a posse and get out to see this low budget winner.

Happy Weekend.

Weekend reading for Earth Day.

Buying seeds at the nursery? Heres the world’s biggest seed bank.

Fellow artists looking for new retreat spots? Here’s one list for people who love nature and science.

And because I like to look at fields of glory today.

#RestinPurple

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Oscar 2016: the stand outs

By February 29, 2016 Film

Forget the snoozefest that is the bulging middle section of the usual Oscar telecast.

Tonight promises fireworks after weeks of protest over the Academy’s lack of diversity, resulting in a vigorous #OscarSoWhite backlash. What will host Chris Rock do?  That alone will boost numbers, declining fast in all demographics in recent years.

And yes, the backlash is long overdue. Any film festival fan knows the world of film is far more expansive than what Hollywood churns out yearly. If I can just plug for one moment the phenomenon of our very own TIFF, a festival where diverse global storytelling is on show daily for ten days every fall.  Of the many reasons I attend, stoking my travel lust right there in my fangirl seat is one of the best.

I don’t get to vote for the Oscars, but if I did, I’d change the rules on a bunch of wonky categories. Why does animation need to be separate? Inside Out belongs among the years’ best list, not sent to the margins. Why aren’t there trophies for whole casts? More than anything, film is collaborative; hundreds of talents creating magic.

What stood out for me this year in this swirling circus of Oscar gold?

1. Canadian geography, the true star of The Revenant. Gasp-worthy cinematography from Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is what I will remember more than anything from this remarkable film, shot mostly in freezing conditions in the Rockies.

2. Subtlety from the masters, seen in 45 Years, a nuanced portrait of a long marriage, and a lesson in how to convey a world of emotion in one look from the wonderful Charlotte Rampling.

3. Reinventing cult classics into feminist fables is not a pipe dream, as 70-year old filmmaker George Miller demonstrated in the dazzling Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth instalment that came thirty years after the last.

4. Novelists can be screenwriters of their own material, despite the stark difference between the two literary forms. Emma Donoghue adapted her own acclaimed novel Room for the big screen and the result is an intense and powerful film with the most gripping escape scene of the year.

5. Finance can be fun. Exhibit A: The Big Short.

6. Charisma can carry an entire film. Saoirse Ronan in the beautiful Brooklyn, Matt Damon in one of my favourites from 2015, The Martian, Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs, and the wondrous Jacob Tremblay in Room.

7. Brevity can be brilliant. The Oscar live action short The Stutterer stole my heart in 13 minutes.

8. The contest for Best Foreign Film is always the most compelling.  This year, two of the best films of 2015 are up for the title: Mustang and Son of Saul. Both are must-see films.

9. Oscar often nods to the right actor but the wrong performance. While her turn in The Danish Girl was excellent, it is as Ava, the humanoid robot in Ex Machina where Alicia Vikander really shines. That film gets my vote for best original screenplay.

10. You can listen to the music and know the bullet points of a tabloid tale. But until I saw the poignant documentary Amy, I didn’t understand fully the tragedy of this British singer’s life.  That’s the power of film.

“Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”

-Ingmar Bergman

 

For more on all my favourites see Best of 2015.

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Red Chronicles Rave: Mustang

By February 25, 2016 Film

Last fall, France selected the Turkish film Mustang as the official submission to the Academy Awards. Directed by Turkish born, French-raised film director Deniz Gamze Ergüven, the film has created nothing but deafening buzz since it premiered in Cannes last May.  Five orphaned sisters are imprisoned in their homes after a neighbour reports “scandalous behaviour”, or rather, simple water play with school chums as classes finish for the year and summer holidays begin. In this remote Turkish rural community, conservative values threaten the sister’s budding sexuality.

 

I saw the film a few weeks ago and it has taken me this long to absorb it fully. Maybe it was the gorgeous sisters and their long-haired, long-limbed intimacy. Immediately it brought to mind this lovely quote about siblings from a favourite book on my shelf, On Beauty by Zadie Smith.

“People talk about the happy quiet that can exist between two loves, but this, too, was great; sitting between his sister and his brother, saying nothing, eating. Before the world existed, before it was populated, and before there were wars and jobs and colleges and movies and clothes and opinions and foreign travel — before all of these things there had been only one person, Zora, and only one place: a tent in the living room made from chairs and bed-sheets. After a few years, Levi arrived; space was made for him; it was as if he had always been. Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.”

Erguven based some of the film on her own experiences growing up in Turkey.

“What seemed striking to me is that there’s this filter of sexualization through which women are perceived in Turkey, and it shapes their place in society,” she said. “It’s something that starts at a very early age — as early as the characters in the film. I wanted to question that deeply.”

Deniz Gamze Ergüven, director, Mustang

What is startling about Mustang is the confidence of this first-time director. This is not fussy filmmaking with precious mise-en-scène, but tightly-wrought narrative, timed with heartracing beats, astonishing honesty. I loved the direct gaze into sisterhood and that universal longing for freedom.  Repression, and its twin- rebellion, are the focus of this agile gem, one of only two Oscar nominated films directed by women. The script was co-written by fellow filmmaker Alice Winocour. The two women met at Cannes and the result is the wondrous Mustang. If it scoops the hotly contested Best Foreign Film Oscar on Sunday, the win for a film shot in Turkey, and featuring Turkish stars, will go to France.

“When I finished this film, it was completely embraced by France. In some way it’s a very radical and modern choice. It’s a way of saying: We are this diverse. It’s a way of embracing me as French with different origins, accepting the complexity of my culture and my identity. It’s a statement that says: We have absorbed many different cultures in France today. It’s a huge responsibility. France has given me this immense honor. Being the adopted child who gets the honor makes me want to do my best very strongly.

 

If that isn’t a reason to get behind the film, go to see a cast(mostly newcomers) deliver a contemporary portrait of life in a part of the world still governed by extreme conservatism, even if the talents at the helm refuse to paint the usual brushes: there is nothing simplistic about this tale.

Mustang is currently playing in theatres.

 

For more on nominated films, check back Sunday for my Oscar stand-outs.

More on my favourite films from 2015

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Giants among us

By January 14, 2016 Film, Performance

If thinking about your own death is supposed to lead you to greater happiness, what of the deaths of others? Of those you just assumed were not of this planet and didn’t live by any rules familiar to the rest of us trudging along our very ordinary paths? Can we weep then?

No, not for long. For they’re not gone really. How can they be? Artists like David Bowie and Alan Rickman leave behind great troves of riches to dazzle us forever.  We can ride forever on the music, listening and watching wondrous performances over and over.

So much has been written about Bowie-just about everyone remembers a seminal moment attached permanently to some stage of Bowie’s career. I’m stuck at the end. Who writes their own requiem? A genius, that’s who. The song Lazarus on his latest album Blackstar, released days before his death, is also the title song of the musical Bowie wrote (with Irish playwright Enda Walsh) that is currently playing in New York City’s East Village until next week. During his illness, Bowie wrote four new songs for the musical and was working until the very end. Phooey to all those pundits pondering the secrecy of his illness. Why didn’t he tell anyone? Why would he? This is a guy consumed with the very business of creation. His art was for all of us.  How very strange and magnificent that his private struggles were just that-private.  Instead he left melancholy messaging all over his last work. I can’t give everything away: haunting, elegiac, utterly original.

For the ages.

 

I saw Alan Rickman at TIFF on stage in 2014 when he came out to introduce his cast for A Little Chaos starring Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts. I liked the film he directed enough, even though it meanders off for a good part of the story about a 17th century landscape designer who falls in love on the job.

Little Chaos Movie

I liked listening to Alan Rickman a lot more. Of course I’m hardly alone.

His voice could suggest honey or a hidden stiletto blade, and the profile of a Roman Emperor.

-Helen Mirren

Rickman’s best work is a matter of passionate debate. Was it Hans Gruber in Die Hard, a film that holds up years later because of his brilliant performance? Professor Snape? Can any of us who devoured the Harry Potter books ever conjure a face other than his for that delicious role? Or Jamie the ghost in Truly, Madly, Deeply Of all his roles, I like to think of him in this bittersweet gem directed by another talent now gone, the brilliant Anthony Minghella.

 

Of the many tributes written this week, Emma Thompson’s poignant remembrance brought me to tears. I interviewed her years ago for a beautiful little film called Remains of the Day and found her to be as charming in person as she is on camera. It was no surprise then to find her so eloquent in her goodbye.

Alan was my friend and so this is hard to write because I have just kissed him goodbye.

What I remember most in this moment of painful leave-taking is his humour, intelligence, wisdom, and kindness. His capacity to fell you with a look or lift you with a word.

That intransigence which made him the great artist that he was — his inedible and cynical wit, the clarity with which he saw most things, including me, and the fact that he never spared me the view. I learned a lot from him.

He was the finest of actors and directors. I couldn’t wait to see what he was going to do with his face next. I consider myself hugely privileged to have worked with him so many times and to have been directed by him.

He was the ultimate ally. In life, art and politics. I trusted him absolutely.

He was, above all things, a rare and unique human being and we shall not see his like again.

-Emma Thompson

Back in 2014, Rickman’s film was the closing night of the festival.  Fangirl that I was, that I am still in these moments, it was no surprise to me or anyone else that he introduced his film with characteristic panache.

 

 

Packrats like me cherish ticket stubs. This one serves as a lovely reminder of that wondrous presence forever embedded in our cultural history.

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Move over Mad Max

By January 10, 2016 Film, Performance

A new classic hit the screens this weekend that wins my vote for the best film of 2015.
Read More

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