Tag Archives: tiff

TIFF19: Marriage Story

Marriage Story picks up long after most romances have wrapped up. Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) were once in love, but as disagreements piled up, they grew apart. Now, as the film begins, they can barely tolerate each other, and they now have to figure out how to uncouple. Of course, since Charlie and Nicole have had trouble agreeing on day-to-day things, agreeing on terms of separation is next-to-impossible.

UNB_Unit_09413_rgbMy synopsis might make the film seem dry, boring, or depressing. Marriage Story is none of those things. Certainly, it is often sad and difficult, but just as often, it is sweet and funny, and all the while, it is insightful and real.

There are many wonderful moments in Marriage Story, and the starting point for all of them is that neither Charlie nor Nicole is a bad person. Director Noah Baumbach never asks the audience to choose sides and never assigns blame for this breakdown. Charlie and Nicole are simply two people who have grown apart and who are being pulled in different directions.

Many films try to gloss over these stresses or claim that love will overcome them. But sometimes love is not enough. Marriage Story tackles that reality in a way that will ring true to anyone who has ever been in a serious relationship.

Marriage Story is one of those rare films that transcends genre. More than that, it is a film that is remarkably relatable and has something to offer for everyone. It is one of the best films of the year, and one you should watch as soon as it becomes available on Netflix on December 6. And if you have the chance to catch Marriage Story sooner (a limited theatrical release is scheduled for November), take it. It’s that good.

 

TIFF19: Parasite

The Kim family squats in their dank basement apartment, assembling cardboard pizza boxes and trying not to breathe too deeply as fumes from the street extermination waft in from the open window.  The piece work doesn’t pay well, but since the whole family is out of work, they can’t afford to pass up an opportunity.

And then, a stroke of luck: the Kims’ son is offered a job tutoring a young girl from a rich family.  With some forged credentials, he’s in.  Recognizing an open door when he sees one, the son soon proposes his sister (posparasiteing as a mere acquaintance) as an art tutor.  A few more forgeries later, the Kims have secured two high-paying jobs from a family they increasingly see as gullible.  Do they quit while they are ahead?  They do not.  Mom and Dad are found jobs as well, though by “found”,  I mean they set up other employees to be fired, thus “creating” positions for each other.

Their pursuit is so ruthless, you start to question who, if anyone, you should be rooting for.  Bong Joon-ho, the visionary director of Snowpiercer, has once again presented us with a treatise on class systems; indeed, class warfare.

A parasite is an organism that needs to leech off something else in order to live.  Of course, our impoverished protagonists rely on jobs from their privileged employers, but Bong makes it clear that it works both ways: the rich, unable or unwilling to care for their homes or their children, rely on workers who must do much for little pay.  The degree to which the rich allow virtual strangers into their homes and lives is ripe for abuse, and this posh, architectural marvel of a house soon becomes an upstairs/downstairs rebellion with deadly consequences.

As we’ve come to expect, Bong is a master at ratcheting up the tension.  The film could stand to be a little shorter, but with so many parts working so well to stun and enthrall, it would be a shame to see any of it go.

TIFF19: Sweetness in the Belly

Though not ironically titled, the fact remains: Sweetness in the Belly is actually quite bland. I suppose there are worse things than blandness, but if you are going to spent several million dollars and the better part of a year to make something, it better be worthwhile.

Perhaps you’re a fan MV5BMWQ4NDEwZDktZTcyMC00M2VmLThlNjEtMzdmZmZiMDc4MTMxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQxOTM1NTc@._V1_of the novel by Camilla Gibb, and of course I read it myself about 500 books ago. I have little memory of it, but had the vague impression of not having appreciated it much.

In 1975, in the wake of Haile Selassie being deposed, many Ethiopians flee, fearing for their lives. Many others do not have the opportunity, and pay with theirs. In the chaos of so many people emigrating at once, Lily Abdal (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in London without knowing what happened to her lover, Aziz (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II).

Lily is a special case. Though she is Muslim like the other immigrants fleeing Ethiopia, her skin is white. This means she is plucked from a long line of black women and given special treatment. While hundreds of others share cots in a community centre, Lily gets an apartment to herself, though it’s not long before she invites another woman, Amina (Wunmi Mosaku), to join her. Together they start trying to reunite families amid all the chaos.

It’s hard to dump on a movie with such noble subject matter – but hi, I’m Jay, and I’m an asshole. I watch a lot of movies and I guess I’m fairly critical of them. Sweetness in the Belly is more like a Mild Irritant in Your Eye. I just kept waiting for it to start, and when it didn’t, I started waiting for it to end. Zeresenay Mehari, the director, seems content with banality and the film never gathers any momentum. It’s occasionally moving and competently performed, but you will spend the whole movie waiting for it to get interesting.

TIFF19: Hustlers

It’s hard out there for a ho.  You’ve got to be a certain kind of broke, maybe a certain kind of desperate, to take to the pole.  When Dorothy (Constance Wu) a.k.a. “Destiny” does it, she’s saving her Nana from debt.  She makes money but not loads – the club takes a big cut, and maybe she’s just not that good.  So call it Dorothy’s lucky day when stripper extraordinaire Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) takes Destiny under her wing.

Ramona makes it rain.  Er, well, money rains down hard on her.  The stage is coated so thickly in cash it looks like it’s been blanketed in snow.  After rolling around in it, Ramona clutches the bills to her like it’s fur.  Ramona IS money.  But then the recession hits, and with Wall Street hit hard, the strip club’s big spenders disappear.

hustlers_0HERO-ForWebsiteONLYThat’s when Destiny and Ramona make a little luck of their own.  Both single mothers, they are struck with the entrepreneurial spirit.  Sex, money, drugs – they’re a match made in heaven.  Or in a gentlemen’s club.  Where the men are ANYTHING but gentlemen.

You can try to extrapolate themes of…friendship, greed, revenge?  Sure.  Let’s call it a rebellion where the poor and disenfranchised rise up against the rich, entitled assholes.  But the truth is, the film is rather light on theme but heavy on girl-on-girl action.  Lots of skimpy costumes that mostly just consist of strings with which to cling dollar bills to glitter-streaked bodies.  There’s lots of booty shaking and titty popping and hip gyrating and pole humping.  Which, let’s face it, is what the people want.  On that score, you couldn’t possibly be disappointed.

Is it hard to root for the protagonists?  Absolutely.  Is it even harder to feel sorry for their victims?  Darn tootin’.  Is it morally murky?  Of course.  It’s a movie about strippers who want more and get it.

Should we bother objectifying the women?  Let’s not.  Jennifer Lopez: you’ve seen her.  She’s amazing.  And she’s 50.  That woman works the pole like her thighs are made of margarine.  So while this isn’t the most fervent review of Hustlers, it’s a 1000% endorsement of J-Lo’s fitness regimen.

TIFF19: The Lighthouse

Two men are dropped off on a rock in the middle of the ocean, left alone to tend the lighthouse.  The men, let’s call them Wick and Winslow, though they mostly go by “Sir” and “lad”, are strangers about to get extremely cozy during the four weeks of their isolation.

Winslow (Robert Pattinson) is a young guy, a bit of a drifter, here to make some serious money and go home.  Wick (Willem Dafoe) is gruff yet poetic, exacting yet frustrated by Winslow’s rule-abiding nature.  The two rub each other wrong right from the start, and the thing about having absolutely nothing but each other’s company is that you’ll either become best friends or the worst of enemies.lighthouse

The weeks pass slowly, marked by back-breaking work.  There’s wanking and drinking and farting, but eventually their time is up.  They’ve made it!  Except that’s really just where the story starts.

A storm blows in, which means no boat can come for them.  They’ve been stranded, but for how long?  Days?  Weeks?  Time becomes meaningless, reality blurred.  We’re witnessing a descent into madness, but the question is: whose?  Winslow’s? Wick’s? Our own?

Shot in stark black and white, with an aching cinematography and an arresting sound design, Robert Eggers (director of the Witch) returns with a dizzying, disorienting film about madness.

The candlelight serves perfectly to illuminate Dafoe’s lined face, his fevered eyes leaving us to wonder whether he’s a psychopath or just a drunk.  Dafoe and Pattinson spar thrillingly on screen, each pushed by the other to unravel even further.  It’s magnetic even if it’s not always easy to watch.

The Lighthouse is full of omens and mythic imagery awaiting decoding.  This film doesn’t have the same sense of unending, unbearable dread that the Witch did, but it will surprise and confound you in new and unique ways, daring you to look away.

TIFF19: Human Capital

Drew is an ex-gambler who has borrowed money he doesn’t have to invest in a hedge fund. When it tanks, he’s pretty desperate, with bills piling up and not one but two babies on the way. Drew (Liev Schrieber) also happens to be the father of a teenage daughter, Shannon (Maya Hawke), who is dating Jamie (Fred Hechinger).

Jamie’s parents are rich, which gives Drew a lot of envy. humancapital_0hero-hr__1_2Jamie’s dad, Quint (Peter Sarsgaard) just happens to be the manager of that hedge fund I was talking about, and he’s super stressed, selling assets to stop the bleeding. He’s not a particularly nice guy, it probably goes without saying. His wife Karen (Marisa Tomei) is fairly pragmatic about their flawed marriage, but she cries a lot. She recently bought a theatre to renovate and run, but with the hedge fund having a coronary, she’s about to lose it.

Jamie and Shannon are actually recently broken up because Jamie is gay and Shannon has a new boyfriend, a bad boy with a record. But for now, both families are together for a high school fundraiser, after which there will be a hit-and-run, and one of them will be responsible.

Human Capital is a tale of guilt and innocence, and how much they’re worth, and to whom. It’s about greed and compromise. It’s based on a novel, and another movie besides, and ultimately fails to justify its own existence. It’s moderately interesting and the performances are fine, but there isn’t a single aspect of this movie that distinguishes itself. Even the whodunnit feels beside the point.

With nothing to uplift it, it may as well have stayed on the page.

TIFF19: The Personal History of David Copperfield

Dev Patel is David Copperfield – it’s an inspired bit of casting that’s instantly a perfect fit. In fact, the whole film is so overwhelmingly cast to perfection it’s almost embarrassing.

I worried about this film because though director Armando Iannucci’s previous film, The Death of Stalin, was extremely well-received by critics, it was not my the-personal-history-of-david-copperfieldcuppa, not by a long shot. As an introduction to this film’s premiere at TIFF, Iannucci informed/assured us the two films could not be more different. And while I’m not sure that’s true, I was relieved and elighted to find myself really enjoying it.

I hope it’s obvious that this movie is inspired by Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, though TIFF Artistic Director & Co-Head Cameron Bailey rightly called it an “audacious” interpretation, and it is that. Iannucci was struck by how timeless the themes of love and friendship were, so though the film is undoubtedly a period piece, Iannucci reminds us that for the characters, it’s present day.

As for myself, I was most struck by how convincingly Copperfield is portrayed as a budding writer. Even as a child he’s wildly observant, with a knack for accents and a fondness for “collecting” lovely turns of phrase. The way this movie explores and plays with language is unlike anything I’ve seen onscreen. It was setting off fireworks in the verbal parts of my brain. And there are plenty of visual treats too – beautiful costumes, dingy apartments, bustling markets, whimsical seaside abodes, and blooming gardens teeming with donkeys.

Sean did not feel so positively about the film – though he liked it, he also found it boring and meandering. Well, he said slow. I thought meandering sounded better.

The Personal History of David Copperfield is a funny, perceptive, and inventive twist on an old favourite. I can’t help but think Dickens would approve.