Tag Archives: tiff

The Drop In

I enjoy short films because they are their own genre with their own rules.  Unlike feature-length film, there’s no standard runtime, only an upper limit of 40 minutes (including credits) in order to qualify for Oscar consideration.   The fact that shorts usually jump right into the action makes the genre feel freer and less predictable than feature films.  I also like that shorts tend not to use a standard three-act narrative structure (exposition-rising action-climax), forsaking it for the sake of moving right to the heart of the story.

The Drop In is only 12 minutes long, but in that time the film manages to delivers two big twists that took me by surprise (which I won’t reveal here).  The film starts with a seemingly innocuous encounter that soon turns into a tense, high-stakes confrontation.  Even before anything significant is revealed, that tension is apparent between the film’s only two characters. We may not understand why these two are in conflict but we know, whatever the reason, that this face-off means big trouble for Joelle, a Toronto hairstylist who agreed to stay late to help out a new client.

This short feels like the start of a TV series and the abrupt and inconclusive ending left me curious to see more. That’s often the best place to be, with interest piqued, trying to guess both what came before and what comes next.  But sometimes both past and future are better left unknown, and I think The Drop In makes the right choice by telling this story in short film form, rather than to try to make it feature length.  After all, the first rule of show business is to always leave them wanting more, and The Drop In does exactly that.

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TIFF: Gaga: Five Foot Two

Whether or not you love her music, you know Lady Gaga. You know the stunts, the hair, the makeup, the crazy costumes, the meat dress, the Madonna feud, the constant nudity. But when Lady Gaga wanted to rebrand herself with a new album,  Joanne, in which both she and her music would be stripped-down and very different from their former selves, she decided this documentary would be just the thing to introduce Lady Gaga-lite to her fans.

Like way too many documentaries of this sort, Lady Gaga only offers up what she wants us to see, nothing more, and definitely nothing very personal. It’s all about the music, so your enjoyment of this film will depend a lot on your appreciation of her music. Director Chris Moukarbel grants us backstage access to her shows, her recording studio, her music video shoots, and the preparations for her Superbowl halftime show.

I’m not a huge fan of hers, but I can appreciate her voice and her musicianship. I am a little less forgiving of the rich and famous who star in documentaries whose sole purpose is to tell you how hard their cushy lives are. As a fellow sufferer of chronic pain, I want to have sympathy for her plight, but watching doctors who treat the rest of us as drug seekers literally throw them at her is a little disheartening. And that’s not mentioning the personal masseuse and physio therapist she staffs round the clock, or the makeup artist who accompanies her to doctor’s appointments to make sure she never looks less than her best.

Lady Gaga arrives on the red carpet for her film "Gaga: Five Foot Two" during the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto

I suppose if you’re a big enough fan you can likely look beyond the privileged whining and appreciate the work she pours into her music, and the family story behind the album in question, which is actually quite interesting.

 

I did, at times, feel a little sad for her. In the documentary she seems ready to shed the more outrageous parts of her “performance”, wants to be taken seriously out of the crazy high fashion and in just a pair of jean shorts. Will her fans accept this transition? If you saw her at the TIFF premiere of the film, you’d be inclined to assume the answer is no. She seems to have already reverted to her old ways before the movie even hit Netflix. I guess my biggest takeaway is that yes, compromises have been made. Money and success don’t insulate from that.

TIFF: Brad’s Status

Save yourself $12 and some heart burn. Brad’s Status is midlife crisis. Anyone who calls a Millennial whiny, entitled, or self-indulgent has cleary never met Brad (Ben Stiller) or his ilk. He seemingly has everything a Millennial may never get: a great house, a job he’s passionate about, a family who adores him. And yet.

And yet his son’s success has led him to do some deep introspection. His son Troy  (Austin Abrams) is applying to college and his good grades and musicianship mean he’s a shoo-in wherever he might apply – including Harvard, which is the school they’re going to check maxresdefaultout over the weekend. Brad is surprised his son is so high-achieving, proud of course – but maybe also a little jealous. And he’s reminded of his own youth, when life was still before him and anything was possible. His best mates in college have all gone on to stunning success – Craig (Michael Sheen) is a best-selling politico, Billy (Jemaine Clement) is enjoying early retirement in paradise after selling his company, Jason (Luke Wilson) is a hedge fund guy with his own private jet, and Nick (Mike White) is a Hollywood director with a palatial home. Brad gets unforgivably mopey about the fact that his sweet wife (Jenna Fisher) didn’t encourage him to sell out, and his job helping people connect with charitable giving is peanuts compared to just being a rich guy with money to give.

We get treated to so much of Brad’s whiny inner monologue that you’ll want to punch him, repeatedly. Various Millennials have to literally hold his hand and explain to him that he’s being gross: that everything he’s complaining about is white privilege, male privilege garbage. And he still doesn’t get it.

Brad’s life only seems pale when he compares it to the 1%. He burns with first world problems. He seems like a not fantastic guy who doesn’t get an ounce of my sympathy. Of course, Ben Stiller is well-suited to this kind of neurotic self-pity. With anxiety written all over his face, we know 5 minutes into this movie that we hate him and regret having to spend the next 100 minutes listening to him be ungrateful for his charmed life. Thank goodness for his son who sees things a little more clearly. Mike White may have some interesting things to say on the subject, and I pray that he’s just as contemptuous of Brad as we are, but for me, he was just too unlikeable a character to really inspire much empathy from me, and I mostly just wanted to turn him off.

TIFF’s Famous Dates

George-Amal-Clooney-Venice-Film-Festival-2017George and Amal Clooney welcomed their twins Ella and Alexander in June (at the same hospital where Kate and William’s royal children were born), so people were ecstatic to see them looking terribly in love at the Venice Film Festival in early September. George was there promoting his directorial effort, Suburbicon, starring pal Matt Damon. Clooney has a home on Lake Como (in Italy) where he retreats from the world every summer. It’s where he brought his newborn twins home this summer, and where a paparazzo snuck in to take surreptitious pictures of the babies at their most vulnerable. He started coming to Lake Como 16 years ago, when he and his friend Rande Gerber (Cindy Crawford’s husband) stumbled on the Villa Oleandra while george-clooney-villa-oleandracrisscrossing Italy on their motorbikes. After one of the bikes broke down outside its gates, the owners ushered them in and proceeded to sell Clooney their house for $7.5 million. And it was in Italy where George first met Amal and it was in beautiful Venice itself where they later wed. After the Venice Film Festival, Clooney and family flew to his hometown of Kentucky to show off the twins to his father, who’d been 1297989661099_ORIGINALtoo ill to travel to meet them overseas. Then, sadly, George had to put down his beloved dog Einstein (who co-starred with him in an ad campaign for Omega watches in 2015) in L.A., before dashing back up to Toronto for TIFF, without wife Amal or darling babies.

Another new mum TIFF goers were eager to carey-mulligan-3e906d22-ef3a-484c-9e91-b0398151d67aspot was Carey Mulligan. She made her first public appearance since having her second child in August. Her husband, Marcus Mumford (frontman for Mumford & Sons), stayed home with the kids while she graced TIFF with her presence; she was there for her new film, Mudbound.

 

 

Image_uploaded_from_iOS__2__0006_2017-09-12_09.53.14_2Annette Bening, who was the jury president in Venice, was at TIFF to promote her new film, Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool in which she plays a Hollywood leading lady who catches the interest of a much younger actor, played by Jamie Bell. Both stars brought their famous counterparts: Warren Beatty and Bening have been married since 1992, whilst Jamie Bell and wife Kate Mara have been married all of 2 months. Incidentally, Bell walked the red 2017-09-10_05.07.09_2carpet in kind at the premiere of Mara’s TIFF offering, Chappaquiddick.

2017-09-09_07_0002_Background.jpgAmelia Warner walked the TIFF red carpet. She’s the composer for the new Mary Shelley reincarnation starring Elle Fanning. Her famous date: husband Jamie Dornan. Married for 4 years, they have 2 kids together, who were evidently being babysat elsewhere while Mom and Dad enjoy a glamourous night out.

The Mother! premiere was full of famous dates: star Penelope-Cruz-Javier-Bardem-Venice-Film-Festival-2017Jennifer Lawrence is currently dating her director, Darren Aronofsky (they are usually careful to sneak one or more costars between themselves when taking group photos).  Her co-star Javier Bardem is married to the lovely Penelope Cruz (7 years and counting). Bardem and Cruz star together in a film on offer at the Venice Film Festival, Loving Pablo. And let’s not forget Michelle Pfeiffer and her longtime 843077622partner, David E. Kelley, who accompanied his wife to her photo call in Venice and then she in turn went to the Emmys with him, where the show he was writing for, Big Little Lies, scored some major gold.

Nicole Kidman always has some heavy weight nicole-kidman-cannes-24may17-10arm candy. Her husband, Keith Urban, was on hand for the TIFF premiere of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and was also by her side at said Emmys (she was nominated and won for her work on the very same Big Little Lies – it’s very good, you should watch).

nicole-kidman-cannes-24may17-09.jpg

2017-09-11_01_0013_2017-09-11_08.25.40_1Alicia Vikander attended the TIFF premiere of Euphoria solo (she was also there with Submergence), but last year she and her boyfriend Michael Fassbender were all over TIFF red carpets since they starred together in The Light Between Oceans.

Also flying solo this year: Jason Sudeikis, who stars in Kodachrome with Elizabeth Olsen and Ed Harris, and appears in Downsizing alongside Matt Damon as well. His better (and prettier) half, Olivia Wilde, stayed home with the kids.rachel-rachel-tiff-11sept17-01

No word on where Daniel Craig was hiding this year but he wasn’t on the arm of his lovely wife Rachel Weisz, who was there for Disobedience, her new film costarring next to Rachel McAdams, even though Craig himself appeared in another TIFF selection, Kings.

I did get to spot Sam Rockwell on the TIFF red carpet for Three Billboards Outside woodshock_050917_03-777x560Ebbing, Missouri and of course in Venice, where he posed with his wife Leslie Bibb, even though I didn’t know until I saw them together that they were together. I know her from all the way back on Popular (and on The League, where she plays Mark Duplass’s nasty ex-wife), but you may have seen her more recently in To The Bone. In this photo, Rockwell’s Three Billboards costar Woody Harrelson poses with his wife, Laura Louie.

I spied Dave Franco on the red carpet for The Disaster Artist, a real family affair. His James+Franco+Dave+Franco+Day+Three+IMDb+Studio+-tqDqQZ9XDFlbrother James directs and co-stars, and their other brother Tom Franco also appears (briefly!). So does Dave’s very new wife, Alison Brie – she plays his sometime girlfriend.

Greta Gerwig debuted her first solo directorial effort at TIFF this year and her partner let her lap up all the attention on her own, but in other years she and beau Noah Baumbach have 2017 Toronto International Film Festival - "Lady Bird" Premiereattended together – particularly when they’ve done a movie together, like Mistress America. This year, Greta posed alongside some of her Lady Bird leading ladies: Lois Smith, Odeya Rush, and Beanie Feldstein (left) who has a famous sibling rather than a famous date – Jonah Hill is her big brother.

 

We’ve had a very crazy month, having attended 3 festivals in as many weeks, and we’re about to do it again in October, so stay tuned. For now, here are a few snaps from Sean and Jay’s big adventure in Venice.

 

 

 

 

TIFF: First They Killed My Father

Angelina Jolie first visited Cambodia in her mid 20s to film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. She fell in love with the country but having to dodge landmines made her realize how much about world history she hadn’t been taught in school. While there, she bout Loung Ung’s memoir for $2 on the street, and it changed her life.

She went back to Cambodia two years later in 2002 for her work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. She spent time with local schoolchildren and realized that her son was in this very country. She adopted Maddox there that same year. The book she’d read always stuck with her, and she knew it was the story she wanted to tell in order for her son to know what his countrymen were like.

Loung Ung is a survivor of what we now call the Cambodian genocide. She was just a child during the deadly rule of the Khmer Rouge led by the dictator Pol Pot. 25% of the MV5BYmI4YzY3MTAtZjk1My00NmYwLTg4MTgtMDdlZjFhZjQzM2NlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_Cambodian population died from malnutrition, forced labour, and mass murder in the time period between 1975-1979. Almost all Cambodian artists, actors, and film makers were killed during this regime, so getting the story out has been a difficulty. Cambodia’s film community had all but expired and is only now starting to recover. With Netflix fronting $24 million for this film, First They Killed My Father is the biggest movie shot entirely in Cambodia, and director Jolie was careful to use as many Cambodian cast and crew as she could (she herself in a Cambodian citizen since 2005). Some of them are genocide survivors themselves (such as producer Rithy Panh), so therapists were on standby on the set to avoid re-traumatizing the people who’d already lived through events depicted in the film. Jolie’s son Maddox worked on the film as well.

Though the film avoids showing us the worst of the gore, the threat and undercurrent of violence is still there. It sits quite heavily as we watch a young family try to survive the unimaginable, with constant reminders that death isn’t even the worst of it. But the camera lingers on the beauty of Cambodia too – particularly the lush greenery. The cinematography is pretty stunning.

Little Ung was only five when the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh and all of sevel whens he made it out, and the film reflects her child’s eye view. Although there are plenty of emotionally powerful moments, there are also times when we struggle to MV5BZDcyYmUyZjItYmUyNS00OWIyLWIwZTQtOTllYWE2MDEyY2FmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkzNTM2ODg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,937_AL_adsorb all that is happening around her, like she herself must have been at that young age. The film also engages our inner protectors: watching this little girl plant land mines and fire guns is just too much to process.

For the most part, the film’s most tragic scenes are deliberately underplayed, almost but not quite detached, because we come to understand that this story is being told in retrospect. There is a greater context but mostly the film is not so much interested in the historical facts as it is in giving the genuine experience of what it felt like to live (or die) through it. There’s no triumphant spin, no big, redeeming moment. It was a bleak time and it is painstakingly recreated through the camera’s lens. Jolie avoids any typical Hollywood ending and keeps our focus right where it belongs: on a little girl who surived.

 

TIFF: Downrange

A group of 20-something kids are driving through some deserted part of California when they experience a tire blowout. They’re carpool strangers but the sniper\serial killer hiding in a tree doesn’t care about that. He’s going to ruthlessly pick them off one by one whether they’re going to die in the arms of strangers or not.

Welcome to Midnight Madness at TIFF, folks! Director Ryuhei Kitamura is back with another offering and he promises that this one is buckets and buckets of a bloody good time.

Anyway, what more can I even say? 6 actors, an untold number of bullets, and a sadistic MV5BYzgwM2Q2YzAtM2M0ZS00MGNiLTkzNWYtNDg3ZmI5MTJhODBlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,801_AL_director who loves to really probe each and every gaping wound. It’s not enough to kill them, we must make them suffer, and the audience along with them. Every hole blown into every body must be explored. Former body parts hang like meat curtains. Quick deaths are verboten. Noisy, sucking, death rattles are preferred. And even dead bodies are not safe: there are still plenty of ways to disrespect them, hard.

That said, I felt like the director oversold the insanity of this piece. It takes a while for the killing to start but once it does, there’s absolutely no tension in this film. The onslaught is relentless but it’s so consistent you’ve really got nothing to worry about. It’s hard to be properly scared of something so unequivocal. There is, however, plenty of syrupy prop blood to soothe your black soul, and all the bugs to go along with it. Plus, a score actually derived from the rhythmic firing of a rifle. If you don’t like gore, you won’t like this film. If you don’t like bad acting, you won’t like this film. But if you’re the kind of person who just wants to pass the day watching strangers get brutally slaughtered, Downrange is an obvious choice.

 

TIFF 2017: Chappaquiddick

I contemplated walking out on Chappaquiddick before it even started.

Those who’ve been following TIFF this year may know that the festival chose this year to experiment with assigned seating for their Roy Thomson Hall and Princess of Wales screenings. I really hope they don’t try it again.

The Roy Thomson Hall screen looks surprisingly tiny from the second to last row of the furthest balcony. I know because that’s where I got stuck sitting despite arriving nearly two hours early and waiting near the front of the line. From that distance, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy or even follow a complex political drama. I was afraid it would be like trying to watch my neighbour’s TV from a living room across the street.

It turns out I was able to follow the film just fine but I’m not nearly as confident in my review of Chappaquiddick as I am in my scathing review of the assigned seating policy. Following a complex political drama from that distance takes concentration and every time someone takes a bite of popcorn or unwraps a candy counts as a distraction that threatens to take me out of the movie.

I’m still pretty sure that director John Curran (Tracks, The Painted Veil) intended his docudrama about Ted Kennedy and his team’s handling of the drowning of aide Mary Jo Kopechne to be far more gripping than it turned out to be. Jason Clarke does a pretty good Kennedy and Kate Mara is heartbreaking in Kopechne’s terrible final hours. Ed Helms is especially good as Kennedy’s cousin, lawyer, and conscience. But there’s something missing.

Or maybe I missed it. Maybe that missing element that would have made Chappaquiddick truly powerful was a line that was uttered while my neighbour distracted me with a coughing fit or by checking their phone. Probably though, the missing element is truth. There’s just so much that we don’t know about the Chappaquiddick incident and so much of what happens onscreen is conjecture. The story feels incomplete and maybe that’s the point. It just makes for an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying and forgettable movie.

 

TIFF: Outside In

Chris has just been released from prison after serving 20 years for a crime he didn’t really commit. That sounds like a cop out but the shades of guilt were complicated and I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. But he was sentenced at the age of 17 as an adult and it was only thanks to the hard work of his high school teacher Carol that he’s now out.

A couple of things: Chris (Jay Duplass) had developed quite an intense relationship with said teacher (Edie Falco) but now that it’s not a strictly phone friendship, things are different. She’s married. She has a teenage daughter, in fact. But Chris doesn’t really have MV5BMTc3MTE2MzU2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDg4ODMzMzI@._V1_very many other people in his life, so he’s leaning very heavily on her. His brother isn’t a lot of help – yeah, he’s staying in his garage, but things are pretty tense since Ted (Ben Schwartz) never visited him in prison, and seems to have had something to do with the crime that sent Chris away. Things are very, very tense.

Also: freedom isn’t quite as free as Chris has imagined. I mean, being outside the walls of his cell is intimidating. But he’s also dealing with the confines of probation – not drinking, not traveling, finding a job suitable for an ex-con, etc, etc. And I couldn’t help but feeling like Carol’s less than ideal marriage is a little more prison like than she’d like to admit. So shit’s complicated.

Duplass and director Lynn Shelton wrote the script together and though it’s not very action-oriented, it’s packed with emotional awkwardness and personal growth. Duplass doesn’t make for a typical criminal, whatever that means. Even 20 years of prison doesn’t seem to have hardened him, he’s sensitive and introverted and a little lost and needy. The movie really follows his struggles to readjust to this life, and it’s quickly obvious that the superficial stuff like texting and bike helmets are the least of his concerns. The world has changed, but more importantly, so has he. He’s struggling to catch up; the film shines in small moments, like when Carol’s daughter (Kaitlyn Dever) teaches him it’s no longer okay to use the word ‘retarded.’

Edie Falco is a wonder. I especially loved the complicated relationship between her and her daughter. But the movie flounders a bit, with Chris’s plight a little too internalized. The story’s predictability makes this film good, but not great.

TIFF: Lady Bird

ladybird_01In making a coming of age film about a high school student, Greta Gerwig has come into her own – as a writer, as a director, as a woman with a voice.

Lady Bird is the name that Christine (Saoirse Ronan) has given herself. It’s her senior year of high school and all she wants is out. Out of Sacramento, out of her parents’ house, out of her own skin which doesn’t quite seem to fit anymore. Like most teenagers, Lady Bird is kind of a d-bag. She thinks she knows more than any adult she’s ever met. She’s self-centered and blind to the needs of others, but in the sympathetic hands of Ronan, we don’t hate her and we certainly never tire of her. Her flaws should push us away but instead they endear us – maybe even remind us of ourselves at that age.

Her relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf) is relatable as heck and among the best I’ve ever seen written or performed on the big screen. Their relationship is a series of clashes between pragmatism and whimsy. Lady Bird doggedly indulges one artistic pursuit after another while her mother does the precarious high-wire act of balancing the needs of an entire family. Ronan and Metcalf are incredible together, the chemistry is electric and complicated and feels so real you’ll intermittently want to send your mother a fruit bouquet of thanks, and a nasty hate letter condemning her every decision. Or was that just me?

But the real kicker is that Lady Bird is not just a mother-daughter movie. Lady Bird’s life is full of characters and it’s amazing how fully realized they all are. We spend time with her father, her brother, her best friend, and several love interests, and Gerwig’s fabulous writing doesn’t lose sight of a single one of them. And her cast – her cast! Have I said yet that Saoirse Ronan is a vision and she brings so much to the role and this is truly the best I’ve ever seen her? Fun fact: she and Greta first met at TIFF two years ago, and Gerwig couldn’t imagine the role going to anyone else. And even though the writing is so, so good, and the character is absolute perfection on the page, Ronan just makes it even better. Even wonderfuller.

And Metcalf. This is such a great role and she really makes it her own: loving, frustrated, conflicted, supportive, scathing. Goddamn. She plays opposite Tracy Letts, who plays her husband and Lady Bird’s dad. He’s the good cop parent but not without his own challenges – believe me, the script does not neglect him. Lois Smith, Timothee Chalamet, and Lucas Hedges all help bring Lady Bird’s world into bold, bright, living colour while also contributing a little of their own. I’m telling you, this has got to be a contender for best script. The layers are many and I have never wanted to peel anything faster in my life! For my money, though, the lovely, luminous Beanie Feldstein has got to be the breakout star here. She plays Lady Bird’s BFF Julie. Don’t mistake her for a second banana. She may have shades of wallflower but she never gives you a second to discount her.

Lady Bird is absolutely one to watch, so do.

TIFF: The Wife

I chose this movie because it’s based on a novel of the same name by a fantastic writer, Meg Wolitzer. I read it several years ago but I can confidently tell you it was an interesting and provocative read. Why then, did I feel the movie was kind of a bore?

It’s about a woman, Joan (Glenn Close), who is thinking maybe she’s had enough of her husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) just as he’s about to win a Nobel prize for literature. She’s supported him and his career for years but being the supportive wife is just not a role she’s comfortable with anymore. It’s kind of bad timing, especially since they’re being trailed by a hungry writer (Christian Slater) gunning for juicy details for his unauthorized biography.

They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Being a woman, I absolutely MV5BY2E1ZDU1ZDEtNzRkMi00M2U1LWIzZTItZWU0YmFiYWQ5MDMzL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTA0OTQ3NDY@._V1_loathe that sick expression, but you know who hates it even more? Joan. And you’re about to find out why. I won’t give anything away, but I think the “reveal’ (which is a bad word for what it actually is, but let’s just say there’s information being withheld) comes too late – it would be a way more interesting story if this little tidbit was part of the journey. What we do know is that she literally runs his life: she checks his beard for crumbs and sets his watch for pill time and does nose hair checks because she’s a goddamn boss and he doesn’t deserve her.

The truth is, this whole thing is a very weak. The story is so diluted that it lost all interest to me. Sean felt a smidge more positively about it, perhaps because he wasn’t comparing it to the book. The acting is good, very good actually, Glenn Close is a queen, which really just made me all the sorrier that this film couldn’t step up and be the thing she deserves.

I imagined that The Wife is perhaps a bit of a TIFF bookend, with Battle of Sexes being the other end. Bille Jean King is reminding people just how different it was for women when she was playing tennis. At the time (1973ish), women still couldn’t have their own credit cards – the applications needed a male signatory. In The Wife, too, women are being held back. Joan should have had her own career as a writer, if only editors, publishers, and critics weren’t all male. She was stifled, and that’s how she became merely The Wife.