Tiff 2017: The Death of Stalin (2017, Armando Iannucci)

Categories: 2017 and Movies.

Iannucci’s new film is, as I understand it, a bit of a left turn for him: it’s an adaptation of a graphic novel based upon the real event of the title. Though I had no such fears, one could be understandably trepidacious about Iannucci turning his satirical eye to something historically accurate. Read More

Confederation Part I: Confederation and Riel (part of The History of the Village of Small Huts) Live at Soulpepper Tuesday July 11, 2017

Categories: 2017 and Theatre.

This is the second staging of a 1988 set of two 1-act plays which are part of the 21 1-act play cycle, The History of the Village of Small Huts, performed by Video Cabaret, a troupe that uses tableau and total darkness to give essentially soundbite snippets of Canadian history. I can honestly say I have never seen anything like it. Read More

Bronson (2008, Nicholas Winding Refn)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

There are probably two types of people: people who think Winding Refn is a genius and people who think he is ponderous, boring and way too interested in style over substance. You can count me among the latter. Despite all the praise over Valhalla Rising and Drive, I found both movies to be flawed. I wanted to like the former more than I actually did, for example. Anyway, I appreciate someone who is trying to chart their own course, even if I don’t like his aesthetic, so I still watch his movies. And, for once, watching Bronson, I think maybe Read More

Boy (2010, Taika Waititi)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is an engaging an affecting coming of age story set on a Maori reserve in New Zealand. Though we’ve seen movies like this before, I have definitely never seen a coming of a age story set on a Maori reserve. It’s the kind of film that makes me wonder why we don’t have a similar film set in Canada. (Maybe we do and I’m unaware of it.) Read More

Bonneville (2006, Christopher N. Rowley)

Categories: 2006 and Movies.

This film is absolutely not for me but I’m glad that such movies exist. This film takes the evil step mother of so many Hollywood films and imagines the loss of the father from her perspective instead, and it feels like that’s been a long time coming. Combine that with a road movie and you have an interesting idea, even if it’s geared at a different gender and age than I am. Read More

Bright Days Ahead (2013, Marion Vernoux)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This is the kind of film that I am glad exists but that I don’t get much enjoyment out of. Were I older – and were I female – I’d probably enjoy it much more. But I am super happy that people make movies like this and I wish there were more of them. (Also, I wish this particular one was better.) Basically, this is a November-July romance dramedy that probably feels great to watch if you’re a retired woman, but doesn’t resonate with me, personally, as I am nowhere near that part of my life. The result feels middling Read More

Bird People (2014, Pascale Ferran)

Categories: 2014 and Movies.

This film tells the stories of two people who accidentally meet. In that sense, it is much like numerous other films that tell individual stories and combine them with chance meetings. Only this one has a fantastical twist hinted at in the title. Why it has that twist I can guess at but I’m not sure one story having the twist and the other not adds anything to the film. Rather, why have both stories, when you can just have the one? This film is just over two hours but is deliberately paced and feels considerably longer and, when you Read More

Being Julia (2004, István Szabó)

Categories: 2004 and Movies.

I haven’t read the novel (I gather it’s one of Maugham’s lesser regarded works) but I feel like the edge that I have always felt in his writing is present here, which is no small accomplishment. Benning gives a bravura performance in the title role (though everybody’s good) and the production design is excellent. But it’s all a little All Above Eve. 7/10 Read More

Behold the Lamb (2011, John McIlduff)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

This is one of those movies where quirky characters – who don’t like each other – spend a day with each other and learn some kind of profound lessons about life. If this was an American movie it would come complete with a particularly quirky score. I don’t like these people, but though I learn more about them and they grew on me I’m not sure why I care about their hijinks and their life lessons. It’s well made and all that, but I am just bored of these types of films, even Irish spins on them. 6/10 Read More

Beeswax (2009, Andrew Bujalski)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This is a bare-bones indie dramedy about two twins at a particularly crucial point in their lives in Austin. It’s one of those indie movies where there isn’t much of a plot – though this has more than most – and there is not much in the ways of production – the actors are shot giving their lines but it feels as if some of the dialogue is improvised (or under-rehearsed), lighting is natural and so on. This is a very particular style of movie and I guess if you really like the style, you might really like this movie. Read More

Les invasions barbares (2003, Denys Arcand)

Categories: 2003 and Movies.

I stupidly watched this without having seen the first film, however I don’t think it matters. This is an affecting and amusing dramedy about mortality, friendship and, above all, family. However, there are some major issues with either the film itself or the characters. It could just be Quebec, but the men and women in the film appear to be living in a different century than the rest of us. (Like I said, it could just be Quebec.) The mild misogyny of the male characters is viewed as not only integral to their beings but as being something endearing. The Read More

The Band’s Visit (2007, Eran Kolirin)

Categories: 2007 and Movies.

This is a moderately amusing and moderately affecting film. It’s a simple story of a band getting the wrong directions and ending up in the wrong place. The movie plays off familiar lines – Arabic vs. Israeli, etc. – with have been mined many times before. It’s certainly much less obnoxious than many of these types of movies, in part because of the simple story and because of the understated performance. Maybe I was in the wrong mood but it didn’t grab me. I chuckled a bunch of times and felt the poignancy a few times, but if this is Read More

Beautiful Girls (1996, Ted Demme)

Categories: 1996 and Movies.

I think I understand why some people look back fondly on this film. For a ’90s film, it’s got a huge dose of (relative) feminism. The men are awful but at least the women realize (sometimes) that they are. So that’s something. But this is one of any number of these films where the protagonist goes back to their small town and learns something. This is more of an ensemble, and so I guess it should work better. But it doesn’t connect with me, like it should. And I guess that’s because I’m not from a small town. Instead, I Read More

Bakjwi aka Thirst (2009, Chan-woo Park)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

The idea of vampires being used as some kind of metaphor for sex has probably been around for as long as vampires have been in literature. It’s not a new thing. And so, initially, this film feels like yet another in the endless line of erotic vampire films. However, the film has enough twists and turns in the usual story that it does not feel at all like a conventional vampire film. SPOILER ALERT For one thing, once the A Place in the Sun type act is committed, the film takes a darkly comic turn into more of a comedy Read More

Red-Headed Woman (1932, Jack Conway)

Categories: 1932 and Movies.

This feels like the direct inspiration for Baby Face – in fact Baby Face feels like a rip off. But Baby Face is the superior film: better plotting, motivations for the characters higher production values and, on a personal note, I prefer Stanwyck to Harlow. Baby Face is at least motivated by lust for money and power – and inspired by Nietzsche – whereas it’s not clear that Lil is motivated by anything beyond girlish crushes, until final scenes when this misogynistic film adds money-grubbing to her sluttiness. This film (and its theme song) comes from a time when people Read More

Away We Go (2009 Sam Mendes)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This is one of those moderately funny, moderately affecting American indie romantic dramedies that were just everywhere in the aughts. The soundtrack – filled with the music of a man named Alexi Murdoch – is perhaps the most obvious clue that you are watching something made in the aughts, but the whole vibe is just too similar to too many other films of its era to really make it distinguished. It’s the kind of film I think I would like had I not seen 50 other movies like it. But this one is better than normal – it’s more over-the-top Read More

The Portable Chekhov (1947), edited and translated by Avrahm Yarmolinksy

Categories: 1947 and Books.

This is a pretty great collection of selected short stories from Chekhov, plus two plays (one major, one minor) and a few letters. I am not a man who cares about an author’s letters, so I won’t be discussing those. Chekhov helped set the standard for the short story – you might say he invented the ‘modern’ short story – and this collection gives you a good idea of how. Before Chekhov, stories were always concerned with Plot (with a capital P) – i.e. the only thing that mattered was narrative. Chekhov introduced a greater focus on character and nuance. Read More

August: Osage County (2013, John Wells)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This is an adaptation of a play that fits in a long tradition of American melodramas for the stage which focus on awful families and mental illness (though, earlier in the tradition – such as with Tennessee Williams – the mental illness is implied). Frankly, beyond the better acting and the use of modern medicine instead of alcohol as the medication, there isn’t much difference between this and something like a Tennessee Williams play, or Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And that’s one reason why I can’t love what is a well-filmed adaptation of this play featuring great actors. It’s Read More

All About My Mother (1999, Pedro Almodovar)

Categories: 1999 and Movies.

I struggle a lot with Almodovar’s films, as I cannot normally relate to where he’s coming from. But here he seems to have assembled something rather impervious to any criticisms I can come up with (aside from, perhaps, the overly episodic nature of the film). This is a melodrama, sure, but it the actors in it are all excellent. And Almodovar’s awareness of the history of melodrama (Sirk in particular) and his use of all sorts of film conventions (including some noir ones) in weird and wonderful ways, makes it really easy to digest what might be rather hysterical in Read More

TIFF 2015: La calle de la amargura aka Bleak Street (2015, Arturo Ripstein) (13/15)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

This is an utterly gorgeously shot film about life in particularly downtrodden corner of what I must assume is Mexico City or some other major Mexican city. It’s practically Dickensian in its depiction of life in the shittier parts of a city. Honestly, the film is so well shot that I was rapt by it and really didn’t spend too much time on whether or not the plot was actually solid, or anything like that. It was amusing, at times, though. But everything about the production design is so well done that I didn’t care about anything else. This guy Read More

TIFF 2015: The Club (2015, Pablo Larrain) (6/15)

Categories: 2015 and Movies.

This is an extremely black comedy – as black as black comedies get – about a group of delinquent priests that have been forced to “retire” in a house in a small town in Chile. Unfortunately my experience of this film was affected by a couple things. First, I saw it with one of the least receptive audiences I could possibly imagine – only a couple of us were laughing and the general tone of shock in the audience actually made it feel like we were doing something wrong. Also, the guy next to me was using his phone and Read More

Another Year (2010, Mike Leigh)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is an affecting and amusing dramedy about one year in the life of married couple (who are seemingly so happy it’s not even funny) and their dysfunctional family and friends. The couple are introduced in the most roundabout way, as if they are not even the protagonists, and the entire film unfolds as unconventionally. This is one of those movies that drives people crazy with its lack of plot – there isn’t one – but which really makes a big impression upon you if you let it. It’s really quite funny – in that awkward British way – and Read More

The Anniversary Party (2001, Alan Cumming, Jennifer Jason Leigh)

Categories: 2001 and Movies.

This is one of those great ensemble dramedies where everyone is on and a balance is struck between (dark) laugh-out-loud humour and pathos. Though it gets a little over-the-top acting-wise by the end, it’s hard to dislike it, as watching these actors for two hours is hardly a chore. All the characters feel developed, even though some of them we barely meet, and all the humour is rooted in character (and is appropriately dark). Yeah, it’s Hollywood. We shouldn’t care. But I did, so that works for me. 8/10 Read More

Angels in America (2003, Mike Nichols)

Categories: 2003 and TV.

There is a part of me that wants to say this is one of the great works of American literature of the late 20th century but I don’t know enough late 20th century literature to say that with any kind of authority and, specifically, I can’t tell you how few American plays I’ve seen written from then, so, really, I don’t know what I’m saying. It is, mostly, a magnificent work of art. And the staging of it for HBO is, mostly, magnificent (though the CGI has dated horribly). There are a few parts of the play that I think Read More

Les amours imaginaires aka Heartbeats (2010, Xavier Dolan)

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

This is one of those love triangle films we have all seen a million times, where two people vie over another. But, wait, there’s a twist! It’s a woman and a man vying over a man! Never seen that one bef…oh wait. I feel like this is how women must feel when they watch something like Sabrina. I cannot even tell if the male who is supposed to be so attractive is, in fact attractive, so everything else sort of falls apart after that. (It doesn’t help that, whether or not he’s attractive physically, the character’s an ass and not Read More

The Physicists (1961) by Friedrich Durrenmatt, adapted by Michael Healy, live at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, July 25, 2015

Categories: 1961, 2015, and Theatre.

This is a play about the social responsibility of scientists posing as a murder mystery-cum comedy, set in an insane asylum. The play uses comedy and the teensiest bit of mystery to dilute it’s overwise very heavy-handed message. The play itself is so prescient (and so relevant to our time) that I am shocked I had never heard of it or its author and I’ve had to add him to my list as I suspect that he’s written more interesting stuff, even if this is his most famous work. The cast was excellent and the staging was particularly clever, using Read More

All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse)

Categories: 1979 and Movies.

I am not a fan of Fellini. Well, that’s not exactly true, I like early Fellini. But I find “peak” Fellini highly overrated and I pretty much can’t stand late Fellini. Of all the “Great Directors” I a have attempted to appreciate, Fellini is among my least favourite. And, well, this is among the most Fellini-esque American films I’ve ever seen. It might be the most Fellini-esque “musical” ever made (or at least up until 1979). As much as this film is all about Bob Fosse, it is all about Bob Fosse in pretty much the exact same way that Read More