Tag Archives: Melanie Laurent

Operation Finale

This movie is a tribute to the unsung heroes of post-WW2 Nazi hunting.

When notorious SS agent (the architect of the final solution, no less) Adolf Eichmann suddenly pops up on the radar, Israel puts a crack team of secret agents on the case. Peter Malkin, in particular, is the loose cannon of the operation, but ten short years after the war, emotions run high for the whole team because everyone who wasn’t in a camp personally lost someone, or several someones, or everyone to Germany’s ethnic cleansing machine.

MV5BNGQ0YmVkMWItOGVlYS00ZWE2LWFhOTgtYzk1ZTAyZGQ5ZjFjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and company manage to pick up Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) thanks in part to his indiscreet son who still hates Jews all the way from Argentina. They sweat it out in a safe house. For safe travel they require Eichmann’s signature, and Malkin vows to get it. The interrogation is heated; Eichmann is emotionally manipulative and he knows exactly which buttons to push. The agents have agreed to bring him back to Israel for a public trial, but not killing him proves to be a very big challenge for almost every single one of them. Eichmann knows this trial is not likely to rule in his favour, so he delays endlessly, which is also to the benefit of the Nazi rescue party determined to find him.

Oscar Isaac is terrific, of course. Malkin plays it cool, almost sympathetic, but he’s always on the verge of an emotional outburst. Isaac draws a haunted man, bent under the weight of his own grief, and the loss of a whole nation. Ben Kingsley strikes the exact right chord – reprehensible. His hypocrisy rankles. I felt it so personally it was easy to feel for the agents and to admire them for their restraint. But overall, director Chris Weitz’s ability to humanize his characters makes for some very watchable performances.

The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley are the best the film has to offer. Operation Finale is otherwise a little still, a little familiar, a little predictable. It has good intentions but you see them coming from a mile away.  At times it can be surprisingly complacent for a ‘thriller’. It’s an Argo wannabe that doesn’t quite achieve its potential, but it’s nice to hear from this side of history, and it’s fantastic to see Kingsley do what he does best.

 

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TIFF18: Female Voices

I am proud to say that the Toronto International Film Festival has been at the forefront of committing to diversity and gender parity in its films. Everyone with half a brain is doing it this year, but TIFF’s been doing it for a while. They have shown us repeatedly that screening a higher proportion of female-directed films doesn’t affect the overall quality of the films shown at all. They have continued to curate fantastic films no matter who’s in the director’s chair. It’s just that programmers have to dig harder to unearth gems that aren’t always backed by studios. For every Wonder Woman or A Wrinkle In Time, there are dozens of indie films with hardly any attention, just waiting for someone smart enough to see it for what it is (Julia Hart’s Fast Color comes to mind as a recent example).

This year at TIFF, 34% of films are helmed by women. A few to look out for:

Can You Ever Forgive Me? Marielle Heller directs Melissa McCarthy in this movie about a sad sack writer (Lee Israel) who can’t get any work so she turns to forgery to pay her rent.

High Life: Claire Denis directs Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, and Mia Goth in a sci-fi film about a bunch of criminals who get sent into space for an experiment on human reproduction that of course goes wrong because IT’S IN SPACE and then they just have to struggle to be, well, not dead IN SPACE. Despite the caps lock, I honestly cannot wait to see this one.

Galveston: We’ve already seen this one, so we can recommend it wholeheartedly. Mélanie Laurent directs Ben Foster and Elle Fanning in a real doozie of a crime thriller, with a distinctly European flavour despite its very American setting.

Destroyer: Karyn Kusama directs Nicole Kidman as an undercover agent who has to reconnect with the gang member she once worked, a situation that ended in life-altering tragedy. There’s already Oscar buzz about Kidman’s performance.

The Weekend: Toronto-born writer-director Stella Meghie directs Sasheer Zamata in this film about a stand-up comedian who gets embroiled in a weird love-triangle with her ex and his new girlfriend on an awkward weekend away.

Quincy: Who better to (co)direct the documentary about Quincy Jones than his talented daughter, Rashida? It’s sure to be an intimate portrait of an influential man, and I can’t wait to see what she does with it.

A Million Little Pieces: After James Frey’s “autobiography” got a lambasting from Queen Oprah for its inauthenticity (read: fabrication, read: lies), this screenplay cooled its heels while the furor died down and apparently Hollywood thinks we’re as ready for it now as we’ll ever be. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays the “Frey” character and his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson directs him and a cast including Charlie Hunnam, Billy Bob Thornton, and Juliette Lewis.

Where Hands Touch: The crazy-talented writer-director Amma Asante tells the story MV5BZDIxNjIwNjktZTQzNS00ODI1LTkyZGItNDhkYjJlM2FhODcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTMxODk2OTU@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,690,1000_AL_of a biracial teenage girl struggling to survive in Nazi Germany, starring Amandla Stenberg and George Mackay.

The Kindergarten Teacher: Sara Colangelo’s film already has tremendous buzz coming out of Sundance. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a teacher (duh) who becomes obsessed with a young student she believes may be a child prodigy (is that redundant? I think adult prodigies are just, you know, educated).

The Land of Steady Habits: Nicole Holofcener directs Ben Mendelsohn in this film about a man who has everything but still feels vaguely dissatisfied so he leaves his job and family and ends up down a rabbit hole of regret.

So, yes, it’s entirely possible to feast on female-directed films alone at TIFF, and leave feeling fully sated. But before you go, there are a couple other initiatives you should know about.

  1. Via Brie Larson, who was herself a director at TIFF last year, the festival announced a commitment toward media inclusion. They accredited 20% more journalists this year to bolster their under-represented numbers. I absolutely believe that female critics are essential to female-directed films being seen and appreciated, and I want and need all voices to be heard and represented. Love this initiative.
  2. TIFF has made a five-year commitment to increasing participation, skills, and opportunities for women behind and in front of the camera, with a focus on mentorship, skills development, media literacy, and activity for young people. Join the movement!
  3. TIFF’s Festival street will host the Share Her Journey rally on Saturday, September 8th. Everyone who’s remotely able to should come fill the streets (King St. West between University Ave. and Peter St.) and talk about the inequality plaguing the industry. Sign up here to live-stream the event if you can’t make it – beginning at 10am we’ll hear from Mia Kirshner, co-founder of #AfterMeToo, the above-mentioned Amma Asante, and many others.

 

Thanks for helping make this the best TIFF yet – because movies only matter when everyone’s represented.

 

SXSW: Galveston

Roy (Ben Foster) is a hitman on his last legs. Things have gone terribly wrong when he regains consciousness tied to a chair, discovering that instead of doing a job, he IS the job – his mobster boss has it in for him. He manages to escape, and to free the frightened young prostitute, Raquel, on his way out, but he knows it’s only temporary.

Raquel (Elle Fanning) doesn’t have anywhere to go, so they pick up a third wheel (Raquel’s baby sister Tiffany), and head for Roy’s home town of Galveston to regroup MV5BMTc4ODk2MTc5N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjcxMzY3NDM@._V1_and hopefully plot some revenge. Of course, Roy’s zero-fucks lifestyle is not quite as becoming now that he’s got a ready-made family, but forgiving-and-forgetting isn’t really in Roy’s repertoire, or his boss’s, for that matter.

On paper it sounds like a typical noir crime thriller, but in fact, in the hands of director Melanie Laurent, it becomes something else. It gets filtered through a distinctly European lens. The pace is sometimes languid, the cinematography often plain old gorgeous. It’s a slowed-down piece that gives both the audience, and the protagonist, time to think, time to plot, time to savour, time to say goodbye. And that drives us off-kilter because the material can be so dark while Laurent’s picture looks so sweet: the difference between what we know and how we experience is jolting.

Roy and Raquel are interesting to watch because we feel that they’re living on the edge – perhaps even on the outer edge of their lifespans. They’re stuck in Galveston and running out of options. Laurent is poetic with her lensing but make no mistake: the reality here is quite gritty and desperate. And Roy is not exactly a redemptive character. He’s kind of an asshole, and Foster, who is good, is not quite sympathetic. And Fanning, also good, isn’t going to go easy on him. Galveston turns the genre on its head, but it’s not smooth watching, and the prognosis isn’t pretty.

SXSW: The Remix

Sean and I loved SXSW so much last year that we’re headed back again this year, and this time we’re staying for the whole 10 days – because at the very least, the rain in Austin is warmer than the rain in Ottawa. Last year we saw lots of great movies, but it’s hard to beat the adrenaline thrill of seeing Baby Driver‘s world premiere with Edgar Wright in attendance. Of course, this year we’ve got Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs closing the festival down. Along with Taika Waititi, that’s my top three favourite directors right there, so I’m kind of in heaven.

SXSW is not just a movie festival – in fact, it’s not even primarily a movie festival. It’s actually the world’s coolest music festival that has just grown and grown and grown, to include movies, gaming, comedy, and a whole bunch of conferences and panels and networking events that are 100% not lame at all. This year’s not-to-miss speakers include Darren Aronofsky, Melinda Gates, Barry Jenkins, Ernest Cline (author of Ready Player One!) and Bernie Sanders. There’s a documentary called The Director and The Jedi being screened that’s about Rian Johnson’s process – both he and Mark Hamill will be in attendance. The cast of This Is Us is doing a panel discussion which will almost certainly melt my face off.

But what’s really REALLY cool about SXSW is the stuff you do in between all the talks and movie premieres. Last year there was Breaking Bad\Better Call Saul event where they recreated Los Pollos Hermanos. Not only could you go inside the restaurant, you could sit and order and eat real food. Saul’s car was parked out front, and both Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito were there. This year there will be a Roseanne pop up that includes the Lanford Lunch Pail serving their infamous loose meat sandwiches, the iconic Roseanne couch and living room, and even Dan’s garage.

AMC is celebrating their new show The Terror by inviting us to  enter the Arctic as the real-life crew of this ill-fated expedition. The fully immersive, multi-sensory experience offers guests a first-hand look as a crew member aboard the ship’s disastrous trip through the desolate polar landscape. Guests will feel the bone-chilling air, smell the fear and despair and hear the horrific sounds of men fighting for their survival. So, fun times.

HBO is building the entire town of Sweetwater to celebrate Westworld where we’ll be given either a white hat or a black hat (depending on an interview selection process) before entering the 2 acre theme park and having a drink at the Mariposa Saloon. Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright, and James Marsden will be on hand.

Showtime is toasting Shameless with a pop-up Alibi Bar where stars Shanola Hampton and Steve Howey will be serving drinks. Which reminds me – last year we were served by Jason Sudeikis – he played a bartender in Colossal, which screened at the festival.

Viceland is bringing a party bus and baby goats. C’mon!

And believe it or not we’re going to squeeze in some movies between all this! Director Mélanie Laurent is hosting the world premiere of Galveston, starring Ben Foster and Elle Fanning as a hitman and a prostitute, and who knows which is which.

Directors Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting made a documentary about AI called More Human Than Human and guys: THEY’RE BRINGING ROBOTS WITH THEM. So if you never hear from us again, know that we loved you all. Matt, take good care of the place. Marginally cooler\less cool, depending on your perspective: director Stephen Kijak is bring Lynyrd Skynyrd members Gary Rossington, Johnny Van Zant, and Rickey Medlocke to the premiere of his doc, If I Leave Here Tomorrow (sorry for the earworm).

Jim Gaffigan and Nick Offerman, two of my favourite funny people, have films at the festival and I’ll be trying not to fangirl myself into embarrassment.

As for shorts, you cannot miss Briar March’s Coffin Club which is a hoot to see and just a heartful of joy. And Bola Ogun’s Are We Good Parents? is a thoughtful, funny piece about sexuality and our assumptions.

And there’s also some movies we’ve already seen! We saw Lean on Pete at the Venice Film Festival in August, and Outside In at TIFF in September.

 

As always, we intend to keep our Twitter feed @assholemovies crammed full of SXSW goodies, so please do stay tuned!

Tomorrow

Greetings, Earthlings!

Today is Earth Day. This year’s campaign is all about environmental and climate literacy. Historically people have “celebrated” Earth Day simply by shutting off their lights in the evenings, perhaps playing a board game rather than watching TV, which requires electricity. The Earth actually needs us to do more. This year there is a March For Science in Washington, DC, a rally and teach-in to defend the vital public service role science plays in our communities and our world. Is it crazy sad that such a rally is necessary? Yes it is.

In 2012, Nature published a study led by more than 20 researchers from the top scientific institutions in the world predicting that humankind could disappear between 2040 and 2100. Like, extinction! But it also said that it could be avoided by drastically changing our way of life if we take appropriate measures right now. Scientists are always telling us this and we’re always not listening. Well, listening maybe, but not really willing to change our lifestyle. But a bunch of French film makers got together and decided to try to rattle our cages a bit.

Tomorrow is a documentary that doesn’t just hit us over the head with the problem but rather offers solutions. For the coming food MV5BNzc5MzVkZTQtNmU1Yy00YTQ3LTk3ODMtNjY5ODc0MzU0MGE2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzMwODMxMTQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,936_AL_shortage, they explore urban agriculture, microfarming, and permaculture. As to our reliance on fossil fuels, they visit places that are moving successfully toward renewable resources, cities declaring themselves carbon neutral. They also tackle some of the big things holding us back: economy and government. Since democracy runs on the steam of big business, how can we ever move away from consumerism?

There are lots of important questions to consider in this work by Cyril Dion and Melanie Laurent, but the greatest takeaway is that of hope. If the documentary is a little too ambitious to keep laser focus, it at least presents viable solutions , things you and I can do in our very own communities that will make a difference.

Tomorrow is in theatres in New York and L.A. in time for Earth Day, and a wider release will follow. It’s required viewing for those of us who want to leave this planet in better condition than we found it.