Monthly Archives: September 2016

TIFF: Sing

What do Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, and Matthew McConaughey all have in common? They’ve all got pipes. And boy do they use them in the new animated movie, Sing.

Picture this: a cute and cuddly koala, fuzzy in all the right places, adorably attired in a bowtie and sounding an awful lot like Matthew McConaughey. His name is Buster and his theatre is his passion. It is not, however, much of a sing-animation-movie-wallpaper-02living. The theatre’s bankrupt. He hasn’t had a successful show in – well, maybe ever. The bank’s about to swoop in and take it from him, so in a last ditch effort to save it, he plans a singing competition.

Because his secretary is a bit of a dunce, the $1000 prize is advertised as much more, so people desperate for money as well as those desperate for fame all show up to auditions. From a talented pool he selects a chosen few: Ash, a punk porcupine with a penchant for writing her own tunes (Johansson); Johnny, a gentle gorilla trying to escape his dad’s gang (Taron Egerton); 300773_m1455639411Gunther, a flamboyant dancing pig (Nick Kroll) partnered with Rosita, a shy momma pig with a big voice (Reese Witherspoon); an arrogant crooner of a mouse (Seth McFarlane); and a timid teenaged elephant with stage fright (Tori Kelly).

We saw an “unfinished” version at TIFF, as a sneak peak, but to my eye Garth Jennings’s oeuvre looked pretty near polished. The truth is this film is generic and formulaic. The animation is nothing to write home about. But the songs are catchy as hell, and the talent backs it up. It’s fun. It’s fluff but it’s fun. Your kids will like it. And you may resist, but your toes will be tapping too. It’s that kind of infectious.

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TIFF: Their Finest

London, 1940: most have gone to war but a few are left behind to entertain the people in this bleak time. The department of war is demanding that happy-ending war movies be churned out for morale.

At any rate, Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest was indeed a boost to my morale. Of course I love Bill Nighy, and he’s at his Nighest, with his signature gestures and snorts. He plays a very vain actor who can’t quite believe he’s perhaps aged past leading-man status. Luckily a diplomatic new writer, theirfinestCatrin (Gemma Arterton) hired to write “slop” (ie, the female dialogue) appeases him by enlarging the role of the drunk uncle just for him. Convincing her boss Tom (Sam Claflin) to let her do this is as infuriating and degrading as you’d imagine – until he starts to fall in love with her, of course.

Keep in mind that though they’re writing about the Miracle of Dunkirk, the war is still raging, and Catrin must decide whether to risk losing the thread of her story every time the air raid sirens go off. The cramped office remains nearly a sanctuary but outside the city is badly bruised.

The war was a time when, with young men absent, older gentlemen and women stepped up to get the work done. Catrin is constantly reminded, however, that her employment status won’t hold up when the boys return. untitledShe mustn’t get too attached to feeling useful or creative. The war makes everything tenuous.

But despite this sounding rather dire, it is very much a comedy, and a bit of a love letter to film making. The laughs are plentiful, robust. The stars are endlessly charming. I haven’t much cared for Sam Claflin and don’t have much of an opinion on Gemma Arterton, but both are excellent here. Nighy of course, is a prize scene-stealer, and he deftly makes away with every one he’s in. Sometimes the war is seen through rose-tinted glasses (a nostalgic effect?) but when the war does assert itself, it leaves a crater. This one’s not to be missed.

The Wave

We tried to see this at the Whistler Film Festival but they had both technical and organizational difficulties that meant the movie just didn’t play at our intended screening, and they weren’t able to get us into any other.

the-wave-movie-imageThe good news is, it’s on Netflix now, and you can satisfy your curiosity  as to how Norwegians handle disaster flicks. The easy answer: a lot like us. Sure they sound a bit like the Swedish Chef (yes I really am this ignorant!), but they’re privy to all the same tropes that we are:

  1. One guy knows the disaster is coming. No one will listen to him.
  2. His family is split up. Can he save his wife and son?
  3. His son is of course not paying attention. Doesn’t hear warnings. Impedes escape.
  4. Outrunning the disaster. Usually unsuccessful for most.
  5. Since the disaster is never enough, there has to be a superficial villain, and his or her karmic death.
  6. One word title. You may think the The in The Wave negates this, but it’s just Bølgen in its language of origin.

Kristian (Kristoffer Joner, in a weird combination of Hillary Clinton haircut and ginger pedo mustache) is athe-wave-2015-1080p-bluray-ac3-x264-norwegian-etrg-mkv0109 geologist who knows what’s coming, only no one will believe him. Classic case of ignored scientist syndrome. His wife  Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) and son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) are at a resort hotel in town. He and his young daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande) are of course elsewhere so of course when the alarm finally does sound, it’s too late for most, and this family will have to further test the odds by dividing them.

The disaster: an avalanche causes a rock slide which causes a violent tsunami. And it was such a picturesque fjord up until then. Everyone starts driving  in an up direction, which of course causes deadlock. They abandon cars to run. Some are so stupid you’ll hope to see them die (everyone else screams at this idiot too, right? Like, fuck, your stuffed bunny from the carnival where you had your 3rd best date isn’t literally to die for you motherfucker!!!) But the end for some will be so horrible you’ll take it all back, forgive them all their dumb mistakes. More or less.

There are fewer special effects scenes in this movie, which they make up for with more character, and that’s refreshing in a tired genre. In fact, this setting being relatively unknown is a nice change of pace. There’s no White House explosion or underwater Statue of Liberty. It’s new to my eyes, and likely to yours. Director Roar Uthaug gives us gritty rather than slick but it went down just as easily.

NHFF 2016 – You in?

We’ve still got a few straggly posts from the Toronto Film Festival and the Animation Festival, but we’re already looking ahead to our favourite trip of the year: Portsmouth. Portsmouth hosts the New Hampshire Film Festival and it’s about as scenic as it gets (and getting scenickier by the day, this time of year).

NHFF has just released a pretty stellar lineup of films, which you can peruse at your leisure here. I know I’m already looking forward to several:

Stray, about a Muslim refugee who befriends a stray dog.

The Eyes of My Mother, about a woman consumed by dark desires after a tragedy. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve certainly heard about it from fellow film fanatic, Film Grimoire. I’m just trying to work up the intestinal fortitude.

Things to Come: A philosophy teacher played by Isabelle Huppert soldiers through the pain of grief.

God Knows Where I Am: a heart-wrenching documentary that I’ve seen and can’t wait to show to Sean and Matt.

I’m not sure you can lose with all the great movies they’re screening (we didn’t see a single bad one last year) but I’m not just excited for the movies. Portsmouth is a town with character. It’s such a vivid and friendly place that I can’t wait to revisit. Also clam chowder.

Since so many of you commented last year that you didn’t know about this charming festival ahead of time, consider this your fair warning. We’ll be there for the duration and we hope to see you too. Who’s in?

TIFF: Lion

I was a little caught off guard by audience reaction to this movie at TIFF. I’d read the book and liked it well enough but the movie didn’t strike me as particularly must-see. Boots on the ground at TIFF though had me hearing something different. In fact, had me hearing that it was giving La La Land a run for its money as People’s Choice. People’s Choice! So I did what any sane woman would do: I gave up my tickets to I Am Not Your Negro and secured tickets to a last-minute additional screening of Lion.

mv5bndjimtnhmgmtntewzs00zdazlthhmdutngm4nzfhnjzhy2rjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtexndq2mti__v1_Lion tells the true story of a 5 year old Indian boy named Saroo. Separated from his brother one night, he falls asleep on a train and wakes up miles away from his home, his family, from people who speak his language. He survives on his own for weeks before being thrown into an orphanage and then shipped down to an Australian family who adopt him.

Once grown, Saroo finds himself thinking about the mother he disappeared from, who might very well still be looking for him. So he uses the only tool he has available to him: Google Earth. With little information to go on, he scans the internet every night for signs of his childhood home. It’s an impossible mv5bmdu4zgi4yjgtywzlns00nte2ltg1mmutytk2njflnzhjotrjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtexndq2mti__v1_task but Saroo is miraculously lucky. Off he goes to India, to see if he can locate any family near the place he once called home.

Sunny Pawar will quickly win your heart as 5 year old Saroo. His big, adorable eyes immediately indicate his innocence and vulnerability. His half of the movie is gripping and heart-wrenching because Pawar easily elicits our sympathy. While a lost child living on the streets would surely be attended to here, in India it is unfortunately all too common a sight. His pleading is ineffectual. I felt ready to shout at the movie screen myself. And such a tiny thing navigating the streets of Calcutta – it’s an indelible image that speaks directly to your heart.

When Saroo is sent to his new Mummy (Nicole Kidman) in Australia, it becomes a new movie: a fish out of water experience for a little boy who probably didn’t even know that such a country existed. But for all intents and purposes, Saroo grows up Australian. His brown skin gives him away, but he feels a fraud among other immigrants, his culture and background a mystery to him. Dev Patel plays grown-up Saroo, a man searching the Internet not just for his hometown but really also for himself. He doesn’t want to hurt his adoptive mother though, so he pulls away to protect her.

Unfortunately, Google Earth isn’t all that interesting or cinematic. Garth Davis chose to stick with Saroo’s real-life methods but it’s not thrilling or sexy on mv5bndu0mgqxndmtndc5zc00otm4lwe0zmqtndjmzdiwmju1zjezxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtexndq2mti__v1_the screen. It literally is just a guy staring a screen night after night for weeks, months, years. He’s moody and emotional in between, throwing his relationship (with Rooney Mara, in an underwritten role) onto the rocks. Nicole Kidman gives an admittedly strong and stirring performance as his mother and helps bridge the gap, but there’s a marked lag until Patel goes back to India.

The Indian scenes are triumphant, but they also raise a lot of questions. Where was Saroo better off? What happens to kids adopted outside their culture? Which one is his real home, his real mother?

I worried that Lion was garnering attention at TIFF because the audience, who skews older, might have felt good about watching something multi-cultural while still safely ensconced in a white lady’s movie. The film, however, won me over. Maybe it tries a little hard to be upbeat, but a feel-good ending is hardly a negative. Davis acquits himself well in his first directorial feature. The chapters are perhaps a bit uneven but the victory is not.

 

 

On a TIFF sidebar: While La La Land did end up receiving the People’s Choice award (Lion was the runner-up), the tickets I gave up, I Am Not Your Negro, would have had me watching the People’s Choice documentary winner. Ah well. You win some, you lose some. I can’t regret much since I was watching a great movie either way.

Disney Short: Inner Workings

This past week at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, we were treated to something extra special. Not only did we get to see a preview screening of Disney’s upcoming short, Inner Workings, but we got to hear the director talk about its inspiration and production, start to finish.

2016-06-17-1466185874-8132255-inner1-thumbAs you may know, Pixar started the trend of releasing shorts before their films. It was a great way to showcase some stellar work that often gets overlooked. Disney has taken a page from the Pixar handbook and saw lots of success with its Frozen short, Frozen Fever, which aired before Cinderella. Inner Workings is slated to debut before their November release of Moana.

Inner Workings is going to take its place among the Disney\Pixar best. It’s a charming little short that nominally stars Paul, but really stars Paul’s brain, INNER-WORKINGS_first_look.jpgand his heart. From the moment he wakes up, we see the interplay between his two most boisterous organs, and the way they direct the others as well. The organs have been properly Disneyfied – they are cute, they are funny, but they are never gross or full of blood and guts. Paul is just a regular guy who’s got to get to work. His brain marches him toward the office while his heart is distracted by the many other tempting options. The pace is jaunty, the jokes are clever, the short is colourful.

Director Leo Matsuda and producer Sean Lurie followed up the screening with an in-depth look at the making of their little film. Matsudo was inspired by INNER WORKINGSthe encyclopedias he studied as a child, clear plastic pages holding the nervous system, circulatory system, etc of a man that could be overlaid on a body to see what fit where. Working at Disney as a storyboard artist, Leo along with many others, was invited to an open-pitch, where anyone could present their idea to John Lasseter and one would be chosen for production. Leo wrote his story with those encyclopedia images in mind. Spoiler alert: Leo won. Lurie mentioned that his deadpan pitched coupled with fanciful and humourous drawing really made his presentation stand out.

Matsuda discussed the influence of his Brazilian-Japanese background, the respect he has for the small team who quickly created his vision, the gratitude he feels at seeing his dream realized. We got to see the many iterations characters go through before their definitive look gets locked in, and the “cheats” they use in animation to create a small world as efficiently as possible, and the tiny little details in the drawings that all help to tell the story without words. Fascinating. Wish you could have been there.

 

The Meddler

A widow moves across the country to be with her only daughter. It sounds trite and cliched and we’re only one sentence in. Hold up. Does it help if I tell you that Susan Sarandon and Rose Byrne play the mother and daughter? It should. Keep reading.

In fact, The Meddler may very well be tale as old as time. After her husband’s death, themeddler_trailer1Marnie has a little bit of money and an awful lot of time, so she packs up her New Jersey home and finds herself a condo in L.A. where her daughter Lori writes for television. Marnie’s California awakening is intoxicating. She loves all the things that most of us hate about L.A. But shopping at The Grove and volunteering only fill up so many hours. The rest are spent calling or visiting her daughter. Her daughter is not impressed.

Marnie calls Lori when a new Beyonce song comes on the radio. She calls her when she hears about a serial killer roughly in the area. She calls her when Lori hasn’t called her back, and she calls her again when that one isn’t returned either. Then she texts. Then she knocks on the door with bagels. Or doesn’t knock but just comes in.

Small cracks in Marnie’s Positive Polly act surface: she’s grieving and trying hard not to show it. And she’s achingly lonely. So when Lori suggests that her therapist has meddler_xlargeencouraged her to set boundaries with her mother, Marnie sees the therapist herself. And when that doesn’t go as expected, she finds other people to mother, like the ‘genius’ she overuses at the Apple store, and a friend of her daughter’s who’s more receptive to advice and well-intended intrusiveness.

None of these really get to the heart of her pain though; her meddling is just a bandaid on her very wounded heart. She isn’t prepared to be alone so early in her golden years. She feels guilty about an inheritance that feels like blood money. And the only person who understands her grief is the daughter who’s pushing her away. Marnie wants to hold Lori close because her daughter is a piece of the husband she’s missing, but Lori needs distance from the mother who only reminds her of her father’s absence. The disparity is heart-breaking.

The Meddler is a very interesting meditation on grief and the various ways it’s expressed. The movie is marketed as far fluffier than it is, however with Susan Sarandon in the lead, there’s a lot of joy and laughter mixed in with everything else. She gracefully navigates between the bubbles of emotion as they rise to the surface. The writing is stronger as a drama than as a comedy but Sarandon is talented with any material, and lights the way with her stunning luminescence.