2016 was a year to say goodbye to my youngest off to university, and to my childhood home where my parents lived for almost six decades. A year of frights that came deep in the night, some that lingered longer than others: my mother and my oldest child suffered accidents, as did my father-in-law. Caring emergency workers and excellent medical supervision mean we have them all yet to cherish this holiday season.
We will toast them tonight, but first, a peek at some of my favourites of 2016: Read More
Fun’s over and everyone’s back at work including my guest blogger, the other guy in this household of film freaks. Here’s his final tally on the last days of TIFF and his Top Ten. If you missed my list, check it out here.
More TIFF bits from my guest blogger, the nutty film fan that shares my bed and his reviews on movies, some of which this fan skipped. I’ll let you guess which ones I loved too. Tune in Monday to hear my list.
REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 7
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – Lee (Casey Affleck in a performance of a lifetime) is a loner handyman in Boston, who avoids people and small talk. When not working he is alone in his basement apartment or picking a drunken fight at a bar with anyone who looks his way. It doesn’t take long to figure out be has a deep sadness from another life.
His brother dies and Lee returns to his hometown to deal with his teenage nephew, the estate, and his past. Through a series of dramatic flashbacks, we learn of Lee’s personal tragedy. It is a devastating moment in the film.
This film has Oscars all over it. It is a simple story, about ordinary life, extraordinary pain. At times, very difficult to watch. It is the film everyone is talking about in the line-ups. Run, don’t walk, to see it.
HARMONIUM – An uneventful family life is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious man. He is the husband’s old friend, just released from prison. He joins the family as an employee and live-in guest. His gentle manners cannot conceal his disquieting presence and unresolved past.
A powerful tale of crime and punishment within the tight confines of a family drama. Slow-paced but riveting.
PARK – Set on the grounds of the decaying Olympic Village built for the 2004 games. A group of teenagers pass their time playing in this parched concrete wasteland. Victims of Greece’s economic catastrophe with no hope, no future but resilient. The director uses non-professional actors in this verity style realism film. A style and a film that is…not for everyone.
REVIEWS – TIFF – DAY 8
GRADUATION – A young woman is attacked on her way to school just before her final exams are set to begin. Her father, a prominent and well-connected doctor, is obsessed with his daughter’s potential. A scholarship to Cambridge depends on the results of those exams.
Cristian Mungiu won Best Director at Cannes for this morality play in which good intentions cannot ward off corruption. I trace my continued interest in Romanian cinema back to Mungiu’s brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Once again, he doesn’t disappoint with his masterful ability to explore human nature.
UNKNOWN GIRL – The door bell to a clinic rings only once. An overworked doctor, whose clinic closed an hour late to accommodate patients, does not answer. The next morning, the unidentified girl who ran the door bell turns up dead. Our young doctor, consumed by guilt, sets out to find the identity of the girl. In the process, she closes in on the killer.
This film drove me crazy with its convenient plot twists. As luck should have it, all the potential witnesses are her patients. Her Nancy Drew routine of “trust me, I’m a doctor, tell me what you know” was comical. As it turns out the routine was effective because in the end it gets her the confession. All she needed was persistence and her film-long look of permanent constipation. Nonsense.
NEVER EVER – Never ever see this film.
RAGE – The film opens with the aftermath of a grizzly murder. It then follows three different stories. Each one includes a mysterious character that could be the killer. As disturbing questions arise about each suspect and we are challenged to decide who is the killer.
Great idea that worked for most of the film. I really wanted this to work. Unfortunately, it falls apart in the last half hour. The conclusion of each of the three stories ranged from melodramatic to silly. Very disappointed.
NOCTURNAL 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– 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.
ARRIVAL – 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.
AMERICAN 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.
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.
THE 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.
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— 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 haven’t seen any of the nominated plays for the first time in a long time, nor am I one of the lucky ones to have a ticket for Hamilton. On our last two trips to NYC, that ticket was the hottest one in town…at $400 a ticket. Gulp.
The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.
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?
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.
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.
I heard a commentator sign-off yesterday on the untimely passing of Prince as “it’s just the cycle of life”.
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?
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 Streetwas 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.
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.
It was the song my twenty-two year-old self waited for a DJ to spin whenever I found myself on a dance floor. Patience then (and now) as scarce as my bank balance, I’d invariably make an urgent plea, shouting over an already too loud snoozefest of a dance mix, please play Kiss. The song, I mean-by Prince! A nod from the DJ (always male in those days, usually bemused) and I was content enough, sucking back Tom Collins cocktails. Yet to come was an appreciation of wine, my own playlists, and other predilections.
Prince didn’t care.
You don’t need experience
Then came that unmistakable guitar riff and my loins woke up. There may have been others on the dance floor. I wasn’t aware of any. It was just me and Prince, having communion right there. As the song went, I didn’t have to be beautiful or rich (good thing as I was neither) and the cool crowd? Prince mocked them too. We both knew better.
You don’t have to be cool to rule my world.
So what did he want?
I just need your body baby from dusk to dawn.
YOU GOT IT.
In my second year of McGill, Purple Rain hit theatres.
My roommates and I flocked to it.
That’s me on the right. My roommate Tamara may very well have her eyes closed, dreaming of Prince. It’s only a guess.
Prince was a funkmaster, our wizard of weird and wonderful and god, his music was sexy. We didn’t need therapy. We had Prince. The guy understood women’s needs.
Women, not girls, rule my world.
Clearly, he loved women and shared his stage with all female band members. Just ask Toronto guitarist Donna Grantis, recruited to join an all female quartet with Prince.
“I think he likes the energy. He’s mentioned the strength he admires in women.”
Shedding inhibitions is a story of increments. I was headed for the stars, my inner engines chugging cheerfully along predictable tracks. Finish university. Seek higher learning from multitude of sources. Find meaningful work.
Along the way, Prince, guitar god, king of earthy, utterly sensual magic was whispering in my ear:
My love will be your food.
Many musicians have recorded their own versions of Kiss. Prince remains the best interpreter of that masterful groove. The song also has a worthy spot on Rolling Stones Greatest Songs of All Time. As for me, I’d bump it way up on my own list: songs of my life soundtrack. Songs that reminded me of life soundtrack.
RIP Prince. Thank you for valuable lessons. The men man in my life thank you too.