Tag Archives: tiff

Living Proof

When I was a little girl, my school had an annual “read-a-thon” to raise money for MS. Finally, a “thon” that little unathletic Jay could win! And boy did I: hundreds of books read, and hundreds of dollars raised.

Film maker Matt Embry was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was only 19 years old. A debilitating, incurable disease, both Matt and his family were devastated by it. His father, Ashton Embry, was frustrated at the paltry support offered by their doctors and with the lack of long-term results offered by any of the medication available. So he did his own research, and thanks in part to Judy Graham’s book about living with MS MV5BMjZhYmVmNTctNTlhZC00YmQ5LWJkZTUtM2ExN2RiMTc3ZWEyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzc4MTI1OTQ@._V1_naturally, he developed a diet for his son to follow. Matt eats unprocessed food – no gluten, no dairy – mostly fruit, veg, and lean meats. And since MS occurs more often in northern countries, like Canada, he takes a big ole dose of Vitamin D, like sunshine in a bottle. Yes, it’s a strict diet and requires constant preparation and vigilance. But if you’ve known someone cut down by MS, their bodies just literally abandoning them, you’d probably find such a possibility to be suitably motivating. And thanks to this lifestyle, Matt is still symptom-free, TWENTY YEARS after diagnosis. He has never taken any medication, but he has had a procedure called CCSVI – many people with MS have significant blockages in their jugular vein, which means not enough blood flows through to the brain.

Staving off MS without expensive drugs is reason enough for a documentary. Though it’s likely not the answer for everyone, it seems harmless enough to try, so Matt and his family have been devoted to disseminating the information, free of charge. But MS patients must happen upon it themselves, because none of the official avenues will so much as suggest it as an alternative. People my age are confined to wheel chairs and nursing homes because big pharma is only interested in medical alternatives that will make life-long paying customers out of patients. Diet and exercise are not profitable.

But you and I expect no less of the pharmaceutical industry. It’s unconscionable.  What really got my goat was the complicity of the MS Society of Canada, and its many chapters around the world. They raise millions of dollars, give a fraction to research, and literally suppress invaluable information from the people who suffer from MS and depend on them for resources. They accept donations from pharmaceutical companies, they endorse their drugs, and they funnel the money back toward research for medicine that will not cure MS. I am enraged to know that I ever gave\raised money for the MS Society. I was even more enraged to see them using the donations of well-meaning, hard-working people to sue the likes of Matt Embry. No wonder there have never been any significant advancements in MS research. It’s enough to make you sick.

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TIFF18: A Star Is Born (2018)

When Angelina Jolie directed herself in By The Sea, they called it a vanity project. When Barbra Streisand starred in a remake of A Star Is Born, they called that a vanity project too. Bradley Cooper directs himself in yet another remake of A Star Is Born, and: crickets. Nobody says toot about no vanity project. And it’s not that I begrudge him this project at all; we all choose to do things that will show us in the best light. We just need to be more careful about the language we use when women do the same thing that men have always done.

Have you seen any or all of the previous remakes? This one is really well-done in a lot of ways. Bradley Cooper plays Jack, the established rockstar who can’t get through a show, or life, sober. But one night, in search of his next gin & tonic, he sees Ally (Lady Gaga) perform in a drag show and he’s a goner. Ally’s been unable to break into the music business because of her “looks” (ugh) so he gives her her first big break…and then regrets it? Her star shoots up while his pummels down. His hearing loss and his drinking problem and his anger get in the way of his career, but he still finds time to be condescending about Ally’s career trajectory, which he deems less authentic than his own (ugh again). And well, if you haven’t see the previous remakes, I won’t spoil it for you (yet), but: ugh.

Bradley Cooper turns out to be an excellent director who’s hooked up with an excellent cinematographer, Matthew Libatique. And he’s terrific in this. I was particularly astonished in the earlier scenes in which he’s a charming, functional alcoholic. It’s very subtle what he does, and very right – nothing big and sloppy, but there are tell-tale tics suggesting a man who has spent decades drunk. It’s brilliant. And Sam Elliott is fantastic, truly, tearfully terrific. And Dave Chappelle is great for what little he’s in it. And Anthony Ramos manages to stand out amongst all these stars – his face, beaming with pride for his friend, feels so honest. And okay, yes, Lady Gaga is good. Not great, but she doesn’t flub anything up, she’s not wooden, and she’s not even a big distraction. And of course when she’s singing she’s on fire. It’s disingenuous to cast her of course – the biggest thing to happen to pop music since Elvis. It’s insulting to brunettes everywhere (anywhere from 75%-97% of the world’s population) that they just made her hair a little mousy and suddenly the woman whose music cannot be separated from her style, her beauty, her glamourous image, is playing a woman discriminated against on the basis of looks? Let’s take a moment just to remember but a few of the low-key looks she sported to this very movie’s premiere, and ask ourselves again if she was really the best choice for the role.

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And to have her particular hang-up be her nose in this remake, the remake following Barbra Streisand‘s…it’s just rich. Barbra has her own kind of beauty of course, but a much less conventional one. It meant something. Putting Lady Gaga in this role almost makes me feel like they’re laughing at us. And every time they do their “cute” reference to her being ugly, my stomach turns. In fact, this whole idea that a big, rich star could fall for an ugly duckling, could see past her looks and discover talent…it’s quite patronizing. Meanwhile, if my eyes do not deceive me, this imperfect woman has glowing skin and luscious locks and a tight, size-0 figure. And yes he still deigns to look down on her when her career necessitates a makeover. But what does he know of such things? He gets to show up in the same sweat-stained hat every day. The privilege! The privilege to not even recognize that gender divide, to not even have it occur to you. But that brand of career has never been viable for a woman, not in 1937 with the first A Star Is Born, and not in 2018.

[Spoilers ahead]

This movie is ostensibly about how fame is a trap, how Hollywood can eat you up and spit you out, but in the end, it’s still portrayed as the only dream worth having. Ally accuses her father of being a star-fucker but their relationship spontaneously brightens as she gets famous, and she brings him to the Grammys as her date. This is the story Hollywood loves to tell about itself (obviously, they can’t stop remaking it). But the truth is, these ideas are toxic as hell.

Like in all the remakes, when she gets her makeover, her beau is quick to wipe her face clean. We’re so trained to think of this as somehow empowering or worse, romantic, that Bradley Cooper has even admitted to doing the same thing to Lady Gaga in real life. But there’s nothing empowering about a man deciding what your face should look like, and it’s never his place to wipe your face like a child. I was so upset when I heard him repeat this story in the press it made me not want to watch this movie. Lady Gaga’s makeup has never obscured her art – it is her art, or part of it.

I’m not sure how long Cooper and company kicked this movie around  before it eventually made it into production, but it feels like it’s about 20 years late to the conversation. If anything, it’s a death sentence for grizzled old guys like Jack; those who cannot change with the times will be left behind. Of course, I realized right from the opening credits that this movie was never going to get anything right about the music industry. I called it when I spotted the studio behind it: Live Nation Productions. You know, the people who merged with Ticketmaster and forever ruined your actual concert-going experiences? Their service and “convenience” fees add half as much again to ticket prices even though you do all the work yourself, online, and then print out the ticket at home, with your own ink. Since the merger ticket prices have risen 142%, and that’s just for the tickets that scalpers buy up in rigged advanced offerings. In 2018, there isn’t a single venue that Jack could play and not be selling out himself. But the movie of course looks the other way.

Meanwhile, Ally is no cowering Vicki Lester. When the label pushes her, she pushes back. Yes, sometimes she compromises, but she’s paying her dues, she’s happy to be there, and her career is a collaboration in which she has final say.

[Serious spoilers ahead]

Except even in 2018, the man is determined to take that choice away from her.

Ally is ready to sacrifice her career in order to stay home with him, stabilize him. When he realizes this, he kills himself rather than hold her back. Now think about your own loved one deciding that for you – deciding to commit suicide in order to preserve your job. In most fairy tales, we believe in love above all else, but not Hollywood. In Hollywood, fame may be cannibalizing, but career is king. It’s everything. Jack would rather end his own life and break his beloved’s heart rather than risk her tour in Europe. He believes he is saving her from herself. It’s so many flavours of fucked up it made me sick.

I think this movie tried to say something real. It knows that music legends like Jackson Maine are already a thing of the past (is there a single modern-day equivalent?) but even as it pokes holes in the cloudy mythology, it can’t help but place value in his “integrity.” But even as he positions his own career path as the only legitimate one, his jealousy and fear are activated. He, and this film, and the 3 before it, are fueled by the Hollywood fear that for every new star, an old one is pushed out. He rails against it, but his subconscious has a firm grip – “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die” – and Jackson dies along with them.

There are a lot of good elements to this movie and I get that many of you will enjoy it. I’m just finding that 2018 has left me angry, really angry, and I can’t watch movies without that filter of rage and indignation. Movies are the stories we tell of our time, and I don’t really like what this one is saying.

TIFF18: Ben Is Back

Ben is back. Believe the title. It’s Christmas Eve and Holly (Julia Roberts) has been out and about with her kids, running last-minute holiday preparations. But when she pulls in to her driveway, her eyes light up. Her Christmas wish has come true: eldest son Ben (Lucas Hedges) is back. He’s been away at rehab, and so has a piece of her heart. What a wonderful thing to have him back, to have her precious family all together for the holiday. But her happiness is tempered. It’s obvious without her saying so that she doesn’t quite trust him, that he’s given her lots of reasons not to.

MV5BMTgxMTk0MDgyMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTI1MzkxNjM@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Her teenage daughter is skeptical, but her husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) is downright wary. Not only has he also put up with Ben’s ups and downs, he’s been the one putting his family back together afterward. But with Ben’s sponsor’s blessing, they come up with some boundaries and agree that Ben can stay for 24 hours of holiday magic and memories.

Well, there will be memories. Just not the cozy ones Holly was hoping for. This is what addictions are really about. About how they make a whole family sick. About the lies and the broken promises. But it’s also about a mother and her boundless love. About how she is afraid to enable him and afraid not to. Afraid of the danger and the toll and the consequences, but mostly afraid to lose him – lose him to drugs, lose him by pushing him away. So she jumps off the cliff alongside him. So now, instead of a sweet Christmas reunion, we’ve got a sketchy, seedy, underground drug movie. Holly’s concerned family at home remind us what the consequences are.

There were lots of movies about addiction at TIFF this year. Beautiful Boy was similar in theme – it too is told more from the parent’s perspective but its content is totally different. Steve Carell stays at home and frets for his son’s safety – the horror is in not knowing whether he’s alive or dead, in anticipating that phone call. For Julia Roberts, the horror is watching it all happen, finally understanding the extent of her son’s problems but still feeling just as helpless. Roberts is fucking fantastic in the role. Ben Is Back is heart breaking and intense. It is further proof that we still don’t know the best way to help an addict, and lord have mercy on any parent who has to learn that first hand.

TIFF18: Giant Little Ones

Giant Little Ones is post-gay, mid-spectrum, pro-fluid. It’s a very specific adolescence, and except for a few details, it could be mine or yours.

Franky (Josh Wiggins) is on the swim team at school – the kind of swim team who showers together, shaves together, slings homophobic slurs together, apparently without irony. Franky’s best friend Nic is on the swim team too. They do almost everything together, but for Franky’s 17th birthday he’s planning something without him – the loss of his virginity, to his girlfriend, who is nice enough and pretty enough but just not that interesting. Is that a problem? Nic is emphatic: no. Nic and his girlfriend do it 6 times a day!

Franky’s mom (Maria Bello) leaves the house unattended for the party but things don’t go exactly as planned, and at the end of the night it’s just Franky and Nic, like the sleepovers of their childhood. Except this one ends in a blow job. In the morning, Franky is surprised by this turn of events, but Nic is many more things: ashamed, upset, angry. Nic destroys their friendship, and Franky’s reputation, and makes Franky’s life at school hell. The only person who doesn’t desert him is Nic’s sister, Natasha.

I really love Franky’s openness to this experience.  Josh Wiggins is a big part of this: he is giant-little-ones-e1536901112178charming and sweet, handsome and approachable. Franky doesn’t question his identity, he just absorbs it as part of it. It doesn’t need a label or a judgement. But there is a complication: Franky’s father (Kyle MacLachlan) has recently left the family because he’s gay. Franky’s resentment is mostly due to the abandonment and not the sexuality, but his feelings are complicated and confused and it makes dealing with this just a little harder than it has to be.

Every generation has its own set of unique problems and we’re still uncovering and discovering what it means to be young right now. High school is as hard as ever, but it’s fascinating to be able to peek in through the window to see today’s particulars. I saw Giant Little Ones on a whim and an inkling and it ended up being a really nice find, which is a happy festival occurrence. We go in with such high expectations for the Oscar hopefuls and at best all they can do is meet them. But a little Canadian indie like this can genuinely catch you off guard, and in reinvigorates you when you’re on movie #32 of the festival.

 

TIFF18: Colette

When Matt and I were perusing the TIFF titles this year and came across Colette, we thought it must be this year’s Big Eyes (in which a husband, Christoph Waltz, takes credit for his brilliant wife’s, Amy Adams, paintings). We weren’t wrong, but we were giving Colette insufficient credit.

Colette (Keira Knightley) is a young country bumpkin who didn’t even know how to operate a snow-globe when she met her husband Willy (Dominic West), who dazzled her. He was a writer, worldly, enamoured with his own success and reputation. But the well is dry and they’re broke. To keep her husband happy and their household afloat, Colette sits down and writes a book about her own school girl experiences. Although Willy MV5BM2Y4MzdhMGUtNGE3My00NWZkLTkxMTEtMmU4ZThmNTZlZWQ3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjU3MTYyOTY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1399,1000_AL_criticizes it for being too feminine and “full of adjectives” he signs his name to it and sends it off to be published. Of course it gets gobbled right up. Does Willy eat crow? He does not. He celebrates “his” success without a trace of irony and then gets mad at his wife for “implying” that she wrote it. Which, again, she did. This book does worlds better than any of his ever did so he’s eager to keep the gravy train going (imagine an actual gravy train! what a weird expression, especially since the carafe gravy is traditionally served in is called a boat). Anyway. He can’t help but lock her in a room until she produces another best-seller. It’s only logical! And she does. And when, oodles of success later, it begins to chafe and she suggests getting at least partial credit, her name alongside his, he bucks. Preposterous! Women writers don’t sell, he reminds her.

Living under those circumstances, it is perhaps not surprising that she explores her options, by which I mean, sleeps with women. She is emboldened, solely by the women in her life, to assert herself. And though the laws and the norms of the day prevent her from claiming all that she may, they also inspire her to finally break free from the leash that kept her bound to a husband who viewed her as a meal ticket, their marriage as a business transaction. Even a long leash chafes.

Keira Knightley has earned herself the crown for period films long hence, but finally she has found one that is worthy of her – or, better stated, a film that can maximize her limited gifts has found her. She sparkles here, breaking outside her box to march up a hill of empowerment. Colette is familiar but not generic. It relishes the vibrancy of the period, but it also embraces its grittiness. The messaging here is anything but subtle but it doesn’t take a gentle hand to sit back and hear her roar.

TIFF18: Driven

Jim Hoffman is a family man and cocky arse whose greed has him punching just above his pay grade. One day this gets him into trouble – the plane he’s just used to pilot his family to Disney World is stuffed full of cocaine, and Jim (Jason Sudeikis) is busted as his wife (Judy Greer) and kids look on. But the FBI handler (Corey Stoll) gives him an out: if he’s willing to go undercover and help take down bigger fish than himself, he can avoid prison and maybe even keep his family in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.

He accepts and they get relocated, which means there’s almost a full minute before Jim is plotting again. Turns out, his new neighbour is none other than John DeLorean (Lee Pace) and Jim sees nothing but opportunity. Which is too bad because you get the sense that there may have been genuine friendship here if Jim wasn’t such a selfish ahole. So just as John is designing and funding and marketing the famous gull-winged “car of the future” that would bear his name, Jim was plotting to entrap him. With friends like these, you don’t need enemies.

Lee Pace is wonderful of course. Even playing a quiet character, your eye naturally MV5BMTI5MzA3ZDEtNDk4Mi00OGQxLTgzMTYtYTczZDEyMTBmNjg1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTc4NDkxOA@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_gravitates to him as he steals every scene. DeLorean could turn it on when he needed to, and that charisma bleeds through Lee’s performance – it’s only thanks to Sudeikis’ presence that I remember this isn’t a documentary.

Nick Hamm’s Driven is about idealism and capitalism and what explosive, misinformed things can happen when the two are combined. It also makes you think about the nature of good and evil, and who the true heroes and villains of this (true) story are, if indeed there are any of either. But most of all it makes you think of what this movie would be like if it was better. Acting aside, this movie is just kind of meh. It describes itself as an ‘intense thriller’ but that’s a pile of baloney. It’s funny, if anything, but not quite a comedy. It’s not consistently anything. It suffers from a lack of identity. Possibly it only skates by because the story is interesting, but long enough ago that we’ve forgotten it, with an iconic piece of pop culture at its centre to orient us. For Lee Pace alone, Driven is worth checking out eventually, but this is one you can afford to skip at the theatre.

This Magnificent Cake!

There’s a definite trend toward using gimmicks to give depth to films, and it’s particularly prevalent in animated movies.  These days, almost everything is available in 3D, and often for new releases it’s hard to find a screening that’s NOT in 3D.  This Magnificent Cake! (Ce Magnifique Gateau!) is not in 3D but in no danger whatsoever of feeling two dimensional.  ThereCMG_concert is so much texture here, you’ll want to pet the screen.

The texture comes from the animators’ use of felt and yarn for basically everything you will see on screen.  Co-creators Emma de Swaef and Marc James Roels have ensured that the characters, the animals, and even the water are fuzzy.  All the texture will captivate you throughout the film’s short 45 minute run time.  Every frame is packed with a ton of details and textures for the viewer to notice and absorb.  So even if you are lost in the narrative, which will happen due to its nature, you never mind all that much and are happy to just absorb what’s on screen.  The animation is incredible, and I would say that the visuals are the main reason that This Magnificent Cake! was the Grand Prize Winner (Best Feature) at the 2018 Ottawa Inter
national Animation Festival
.

The narrative is easy to get lost in because it’s left to the viewer to determine what is real and what is a dream or a hallucination.  This Magnificent Cake! features five interconnected episodes that revolve around Belgium’s colonization of Africa in the late 19th century.  The episodes begin and end abruptly and usually the next in the sequence starts soon after the previous one ended, but tells the story from a different perspective.  Most of the episodes unfold in Africa, but there is also some Belgium backstory as well as some bonding to take place during the several months (?) it took to travel by steamer from Europe to the colony.  How many of these events were imagined is hard to say (intentionally, I’m sure) but I “felt” at least half of it only happened in the characters’ minds, which hopefully includes a particularly memorable snail adoption by a lonely colonist.

This Magnificent Cake! is a unique experience that may leave you scratching your head when it ends, but your eyes will thank you for taking the trip.