Tag Archives: Gael Garcia Bernal

TIFF18: The Kindergarten Teacher

Lisa is having a mid-life crisis. No, Lisa (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is having an existential mother fucking emergency. She’s been a kindergarten teacher for 20 years and she’s tired of teaching a curriculum she doesn’t believe in. She feels invisible at home, a mother to grown kids who don’t need her anymore, a wife to a man she doesn’t feel connected to. A continuing education class in poetry only highlights her unrealized potential and stifled creativity.

So Lisa is ripe for a prodigy, and what do you know, she “discovers” one right in her own classroom. Five (and a half) year old and full-time cutie-patootie Jimmy (Parker Sevak) MV5BMTYxODY2NDU5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE3MTgyNDM@._V1_composes poetry that is beautiful and eloquent beyond his years. Lisa feels an addictive high when she recites it as her own in poetry class, receiving praise by peers and teacher (Gael  Garcia Bernal) alike. But mostly she just becomes obsessed with this kid, believing she’s the only one who can nurture his talent. Her behaviour becomes increasingly troublesome, though even on the mild end of the spectrum (depriving him of naps, luring him into bathrooms, alone, with candy bribes), I was uncomfortable.

Lisa is a complex character. You’re picking up on that, right? She legitimately believes she’s got a Mozart-level genius on her hands, and also that our current culture crushes creativity. And she’s not wrong, definitely not about one of those things, and maybe not about both. But she believes that gives her the right to overstep her bounds in some pretty major, pretty outrageous ways.

Maggie Gylleenhaal deserves every good word you have to say about her performance. It’s melancholy, human, and desperate. There’s something universal about a woman’s unsatisfied needs. But you don’t quite know where or how far Lisa will take this – it’s just slightly unhinged, which keeps you riveted despite the fact that the film sometimes feels like it’s not quite sure what it should be.

Director Sara Colangelo explores the many facets of her protagonist even when motivations are muddled and compromised. There’s almost a dark comedy running through the veins of this movie, throbbing and daring in a way that’s surprising given it takes place in a kindergarten class. You’ll laugh, you’ll wince, you’ll sympathize, you’ll condemn, but you won’t look away, even when it stumbles, even if it can’t commit. The Kindergarten Teacher offers a confident performance and a fascinating character study.



Catch The Kindergarten Teacher on Netflix October 12.


First, if you haven’t read my piece about John Lasseter, please do. It feels like an important piece of the conversation.

On to the movie. Coco is Pixar’s latest offering about a little boy named Miguel. Miguel comes from a long line of shoe makers and he knows that’s his destiny even if it isn’t his passion. He lives and works with his parents, his grandmother, and his great-grandmother, who all have the same very strict rule: absolutely no music. So guess what Miguel’s true passion is? That’s right: it’s music. He idolizes Mexico’s most popular singer, Ernesto De La Cruz. And on the day of the dead, he’d love nothing more than to participate in the town’s talent show, but not only is this forbidden by his relatives, he must honour the dead at the family altar instead – every single one of them, except for his great-grandmother’s father, who left his young family to pursue music, which is the whole reason behind the curse.

coco-movie-01Of course, this being a movie and all, things do not go smoothly. Miguel’s pursuit of his passion means he accidentally crosses into the land of the dead himself, and he needs the help of his dead ancestors (possibly including that cur, his great, great-grandfather) in order to return home.

Pixar does not miss the opportunity to splash the screen with colour. It’s a riot, and constantly just beautiful to look at. Sean and I love and visit Mexico frequently, and it’s clear the animators do too. There’s something about the juxtaposition of smiling skeletons and vivid colours that just captures the imagination. But the film treats every day Mexico just as lovingly. The opening scene is done through papel picado – those brightly coloured tissue paper banners with intricately cut-out designs. It’s distinctive and impressive Mexican folk art that really establishes the scene for us early on. Coco is a buffet of visual delight, but it also tells a very compelling story. Yes, the following your dreams thing has been done to death (pun intended) but Coco is also a meditation on family, forgiveness, memory, and love. It takes a kids movie about death to truly speak to the joy and the pain of being alive.

And I’m glad Pixar has finally given us a non-white character in the lead role. It’s about time. I feel like the whole movie reads like a love letter to Mexico and its culture and traditions, but Pixar hasn’t acquitted itself entirely honourably during the film’s production. Pixar has a history of distinguishing itself from Disney movies by not really doing musicals. This isn’t technically a musical either, but it’s got musical numbers, so it seems like a missed opportunity, and in fact a bit of an embarrassing blunder, to have not used a Mexican composer. We have to tread a coco-moviefine line between paying tribute to another culture, and appropriating it. Coco was originally set to be titled Dia de los Muertos, and of course Disney tried to copyright that name. You can imagine the uproar this caused – so much so that Pixar belatedly brought some Mexican ‘consultants’ on board just to make sure they didn’t step in any more shit, and as you can tell, they quickly made a name change. At any rate, the movie felt quite respectful to me, but I’m not really the one who gets final say on that. I will say that it feels like a nice offering by an American studio in the age of Donald Trump and his egregious wall.

And a note to parents: Coco has a running time of 1 hour, 49 minutes. There’s also a 21 minute “short” before it (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure), and when you factor in previews on top of that, you’re looking at nearly two and a half hours. The kids in our screening were quite well behaved, but the middle-aged man who felt entitled to sit in the middle of the row despite his flimsy bladder, got up no less than 3 times. So be prepared.

Coco is Pixar’s best since Inside Out. It’s so layered with detail that it begs to be rewatched. It’s charming and lively and yes, it made me cry.





If you can’t get enough of Coco, check out my own Day of the Dead makeover.

A Little Bit of Heaven

My bullshit meter was flashing big red lights when I read Netflix’s description of the Kate Hudson film, A Little Bit of Heaven: she plays a “woman who has everything – including cancer.” Hell yes I was wary, but it seemed like it would be light enough that my head cold could deal with it, so I gave it a go. It was actually a little bit of hell.

I mean, first, kudos for giving Kate Hudson ass cancer. Well, that came out a-little-bit-of-heaven-01wrong. But you know what I mean: usually a pretty blonde will linger with some glamorous kind of cancer that makes you pale but otherwise untouched. Colon cancer is a mother fucker. I mean, you wouldn’t know it from the movie. She even keeps all her hair! But she does get to suffer the indignity of the old camera up the wazoo trick, and has to admit to cute guys that she’s bleeding in her poop. So that’s kind of wonderful. A laugh riot, if you will. At least that’s what they’re striving for. In reality, the movie’s quite tone deaf.

They try really hard to make Marley (Hudson) an edgy, new kind of female character, one that doesn’t need love to be happy. Except of course it’s her Earthbounddying wish. And of course her oncologist happens to be dreamy Gael Garcia Bernal. But there are even worse travesties than this afoot. First, as she lays dying, Marley talks to “God” (Whoopi Goldberg), who apparently is in the business of granting 3 wishes, like a genie. Even more egregious is Peter Dinklage, who pops up as a little person hooker whose nickname is – you guessed it – A Little Bit of Heaven. Because when the jokes about butt cancer dry up, why not make a joke out of someone’s sexuality? Ugh.

But just when you’re about to really give in to this sexy romcom -slash-terminal cancer hilarity, director Nicole Kassall shoves a funnel down your throat to make sure your overdose on sentimentality is complete. It’s the kind of movie that has you wishing Kate Hudson would just die already.



TIFF: Salt and Fire

Pain and suffering. No, those aren’t themes in the movie, it’s just what I felt while watching Werner Herzog’s narrative feature film at TIFF this year. The man is a legend, an icon, a talented film maker. A talented documentary film maker. His stab at narrative cinema was an atrocity worse than the one detailed in the film.

Salt and Fire’s premise: Some corporation is wreaking havoc in South America. saltandfire_03The landscape has significantly changed, the salt flats growing exponentially. A volcano that runs underneath shows signs of erupting as a result, which would mean a global disaster. Like a wiping out of humanity disaster. So, in a strange bid to fix things, a misguided man (Michael Shannon) kidnaps a scientist (Veronica Ferres) and abandons her on the salt flats along with two blind boys.

It’s such a flimsy excuse of a story it’s hard to take it seriously. Gael Garcia Bernal plays another scientist in the delegation, but his character is given massive diarrhea and written out of the script 5 minutes in. Yes, you read that right. We were flabbergasted too.

The film has worse symptoms than just an unbelievable premise and a bad case of the runs. It’s also got the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard in my entire life. At first I wanted to chalk it up to Herzog not being an Anglophone (still, I believe there are things you can do about that, such as hire writers). The “dialogue” (I loathe to even call it that) sounds suspiciously like the narration of a documentary. It’s textbook and stilted and has no business coming out of a person’s mouth.

Salt and Fire was billed by TIFF as an “ecological thriller” but we got it straight from the horse’s mouth that this was not the case. Boy was it not the case. To salt-and-fire-1-620x413suggest that there is a thrill to be had here (other than the panicked state of Bernal’s panties) is laughable. Most of the film is just unending shots of salt. There’s a good 10 minutes just watching the kids play Trouble (the board game) for the blind.

I wondered why in the hell Michael Shannon, celebrated and usually reliable actor, would sign on to such an abortion. I have a sneaking suspicion it might for the same reason I attended the screening – to get close to Werner Herzog. And the truth is, seeing him in person was everything I hoped it would be. He was very Herzogian. He’s a man full of fire and passion. He is animated and dynamic and tireless. And as it turns out, he claims that the things I hated most about the movie are things he did on purpose.

He called the dialogue “highly stylized” (check out the comments for segments from his Q&A). Highly stylized! My highly stylized ass. He also called the film “a daydream that doesn’t follow the rules of cinema.” Which is admittedly a nice way of saying “I have no idea what I’m doing.” The story is so passive that it fails to engage its main theme. We never feel ignited. We never really even understand what’s going on. Does the movie have a purpose? Do the characters?

Werner Herzog is unapologetic, and I like him that way. But in the future, he and I should both stick to his documentaries.

When Dreams Come True at TIFF

Matt got up early to see Christopher Plummer in Remember. Director Atom Egoyan appealed specifically for a spoiler-free review, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

gabriel-garcia-bernal-jeffrey-dean-morgan-y-jonas-cuaron-en-la-presentacion-de-desierto-en-el-tiff-2015Desierto: Described to me as a deranged serial killer stalking Mexican immigrants trying to sneak across the border, I was hooked. And a little worried. Jonas Cuaron (yes, son of Alfonso) directs Jeffrey Dean Morgan (the killer), Gael Garcia Bernal (the immigrant), and the vast and unforgiving desert (a third and equally important character) toward a very tense and thrilling and relentless chase movie. I liked that Bernal’s character isn’t a traditional hero. He’s good, he’s bad, he’s human. Either way, he doesn’t deserve to be slaughtered in the desert. This movie is all about the chase – the philosophy is up to you. A really solid effort.


Our friend Courtney Small at Cinema Axis has all kids of dedicated TIFF reviews, but I’m directing you to one in particular: Room. Room is the film I’m most miffed about missing at TIFF. I read and enjoyed the book and have heard that Brie Larson’s performance is star-making (and it’s about time she’s recognized). She plays a woman who was abducted and kept captive in a windowless room by her abuser for years, where she conceived and gave birth. This child has never seen anything beyond the Room, but this doesn’t stop his mother from plotting their escape. But what will happen to them as they try to become reintroduced to the big bad world?

EDIT: An extra screening was added last minute, and I got my butt into a seat! My own review is coming soon.

You might also drop in on Dan from A Tale of Two Dans. He got to see another one I was sad to miss, Youth. Starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel, you know you’re in for a treat.

jasonbatemanThe Family Fang: Jason Bateman is a little hit or miss with his movies, but I ended up liking this quite a bit. It’s got a strong premise: performance artist parents (Christopher Walken is the dad!) rope their kids (Jason Bateman, Nicole Kidman) into a childhood of pranks and skits. As soon as they’re old enough to get out of there, they do, and the relationship is strained because the art suffers. Then suddenly, the parents go missing. The cops presume them dead but the kids are convinced it’s just another prank. Or is it? Unravelling web-tiff14nw11the mystery is not really the point. The point is a very real and interesting dynamic between neglected siblings (“They fuck you up, your mom and dad”) . If you keep that in mind, you’ll probably quite enjoy this slow-burner. It’s a drama with some funny parts, warns Jason Bateman: not Bad Words. Not his usual stuff. There are a lot of layers here, more than meets the eye. I read the book a while back and now I think I’ll have to re-read it just to hear it in Walken’s voice. During the Q&A, Jason Bateman made a fangirl out of himself, fawning over his hero, Christopher Walken, and likened editing anything with him in it to “killing babies”, as everything of Walken’s is “painfully usable.” Both men were charming, and Bateman clearly proud of his work. As he should be.


The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut in this drama based on the memoir by Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist who, after a Daily Show appearance that was misinterpreted (perhaps intentionally) by the Iranian authorities, was imprisoned for four months on suspicion of being an American spy.

This is not at all the kind of film I would have expected from first-time director Stewart and, as an admirer of his show, I am proud of him for making it. Unfortunately, the road to a bad movie is all too often paved with good intentions and it really is too bad that Rosewater isn’t very good.

Bahari, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, is locked up, beaten, and tormented but even when depicting such obvious injustice, Rosewater rarely inspires much outrage or any emotional reaction at all. Not that it doesn’t have its moments. Bernal actually plays the part quite well. In an early scene, Bahari, at first reluctant to rock the boat too much when in Tehran to cover the 2009 elections, reaches a turning point when he makes a decision to continue filming as authorities open fire on a group of angry protesters. For a second, you can see that his instinct is to make a run for it but, with a look on his face that says “okay, I’m a part of this now” and raise his camera to continue to bear witness. It’s a nice moment and there are others like it, where Bahari continues to make decisions to speak the truth that could put him at risk, even though we can tell that he’s scared.

But way too often, the flow is disrupted and the impact is lessened by amateurish flashbacks and scenes of Bahari alone in his cell having imaginary conversations with his father. Worse though are Stewart’s frequent attempts to lighten the mood with some humour, which suggest a lack of confidence as a first-time filmmaker. These scenes feel more like the jokes I make on a first date that I’m afraid is not going well at all than the political satire I would have expected from the host of The Daily Show. Stewart’s heart seems to be in the right place and he clearly has a lot to say so, with a little more confidence and experience, who knows what he can accomplish as a filmmaker?