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

Beowulf and Grendel (2005, Sturla Gunnarsson)

Categories: 2005 and Movies.

Note: I have never read anything more than a child’s abridged version of Beowulf. This appears to be an attempt to make a more “realistic” and revisionist Beowulf: Grendel is presented as humanoid, there is a lot of focus on Grendel’s reasons for terrorizing the Danes, there’s focus on the coming Christian conversion, and Beowulf is ambivalent about the whole thing. I think there’s probably something worthwhile in this. Unfortunately: the budget is lacking (this is, unsurprisingly, a Canadian film) and that is even more in relief in part because of the knowledge of the big Hollywood version from a Read More

Baaria (2009, Giuseppe Tornatore)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This is one of those movies that tries to tell the story of a town/place/region/country through the lives of a character or family of characters. In this case, it’s a man and his family in a town in Sicily. There are inherent problems with this type of film and that’s evident through much of this movie. The filmmakers assume way too much knowledge on the part of the audience – they assume, in this case, that the audience is Sicilian or, at the very least, Italian. I don’t know my Italian history like Italians and so I found a number Read More

Austeria (1982, Jerzy Kawalerowicz)

Categories: 1982 and Movies.

This is a Polish neo-realist film covering the first day of World War I as it affects a community of Jews. It breaks with realist tradition by having flashbacks, but those are treated in the same way as the present. (I believe it only covers 24 hours, outside of the flashbacks.) This is pretty unexplored territory, to my knowledge. And that makes the film rather unique. It is also believable and naturalistic, like the best realist films. It’s interesting that Kawalerowicz NARCed on his fellow filmmakers who were in the Solidarity movement because this film feels like a bit of Read More

Barbara (2012, Christian Petzold)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

This is one of those note-perfect dramas that unfold slowly, choosing to reveal their mystery like a good novel. It doesn’t hammer us with context or plot, and let’s the characters (particularly star Nina Hoss, in a bravura performance) interact. The film subtly and patiently builds to its climax and doesn’t beat us over the head with anything. I love movies like this: they tell a good story and they treat the viewer as smart. So why not a higher grade? Well, this movie doesn’t have too many moments that stand out as exceptional. Rather, everything is just very well Read More

Atonement (2007, Joe Wright)

Categories: 2007 and Movies.

This is an ambitious adaptation of a novel that I have not read, so how it works as an adaptation, I can only guess. The film it itself is, as I have said, extremely ambitious. It jumps around in time (as, I assume, the novel does), it let’s us know fairly early on that maybe the narrator isn’t so reliable, but it does this perhaps a little too subtly, it contains a fascinating score that waivers from utterly conventional to downright provocative (using a typewriter as percussion – or percussion that sounds like a typewriter), it’s got an incredible extended Read More

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007, Andrew Dominik)

Categories: 2007 and Movies.

This is a fascinating film, one that attempts to take a novel that tells a tale as if it was written at the time and translate that to the screen. The cast is incredible and the movie is well shot. But the pacing is not great even though the film appears to take up well into the novel’s storyline (based on something I read about the novel online). It’s a long film and that becomes problematic when the pacing isn’t great. I feel like it’s a near miss – some better pacing and we might have a masterpiece on our Read More

Amazing Grace (2006, Michael Apted)

Categories: 2006 and Movies.

How like us white people to make a film commemorating the British abolition of the slave trade by focusing entirely on the efforts of a rich, white man. Yes, I understand that his efforts were important, and it’s not like slaves outside of Haiti were in a position to do much themselves, but this is such like us westerners to tell only one side of events. Anyway, this is a decent period piece, with very good performances (from a who’s who of British actors – this is quite a cast) and the typical British attention to period detail. There are Read More

Albert Nobbs (2011, Rodrigo Garcia)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

This is an interesting film centered on a bravura performance from Glenn Close. It’s not only that she plays a woman playing a man, but how she plays him. For most of the film Nobbs is all coiled up, as you might expect a woman playing a man to be. And you can feel her daily terror. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Close is so good that the film around her kind of pales. And this is a movie that gets more things right than it gets wrong, but I just feel like it’s a one man, excuse Read More

Belle (2013, Amma Asante)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This would be a nice corrective if it was true. Otherwise, this is a typically stuffy period drama with the usual whispering, out-bursts and marriage-arrangements; a genre I usually cannot abide. Telling the story of a mulatto woman in this position is a nice take on it, as would telling the story of a judicial ruling that helped to overturn slavery. But quick googling indicates that the two aren’t really as related as they are portrayed in the movie. Now, I don’t always quibble with historical accuracy – I believe in poetic license – but in this case it’s too Read More

Zero Dark Thirty (2012, Kathryn Bigelow)

Categories: 2012 and Movies.

Much like Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, this is a film that, at least in part, seems to aim to tell the “human” story – or the “ground truth” – of a particular conflict the US is involved in. In this case though, it’s obvious something of a little more import. Anyway, it reminds me a lot of Blackhawk Down, a film similarly unconcerned with the “why” and pretty much solely concerned with the “how”. In that, it’s pretty successful: it’s dramatic, tense, thrilling, and you absolutely have to watch the whole thing, even though you know how it’s going to Read More

12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

This may seem a weird thing to say but I think this is McQueen’s least difficult material to date. Obviously, slavery is a difficult subject – this is not an easy film to watch – but it is not morally difficult subject, at least for most of us. Hunger may not have been morally difficult for anyone who wasn’t British, but it was presented in a difficult – and brilliant – manner. Shame did concern morally difficult subject matter, at least for the majority of us who still wish this was the Victorian Era. But this film does not have Read More

A Field in England (2013, Ben Wheatley)

Categories: 2013 and Movies.

I don’t really know where to begin with this film. Experimental or avant garde cinema – whether that cinema forsakes narrative or not – rarely has a sense of humour. So I must say that it is a bit of a delight to watch an obviously “experimental” narrative film – kind of a rare thing these days, I should think – that has a strong sense of humour. I’m pretty sure it is the humour alone that saves this film from being either a disaster or boring. I have never been big on film effects unless I see a point Read More

The Children of Huang Shi (2008, Roger Spottiswoode)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

This is an incredible story and it deserves a great film, unfortunately this is not that film. The film is not exactly historically accurate – though that really isn’t the problem – as a quick investigation discovers a number of really big liberties the filmmakers took with the story. The real issue is pacing related. I guess they already had a pretty long movie on their hands, but the opening, for example, is extremely rushed – so rushed that a minor character never speaks and is only discussed. And the pacing is that problematic throughout. It might have been better Read More

The Secret in their Eyes (2009, Juan Jose Campanella)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

This is a very good movie that manages to balance a number of threads extremely well. It’s a rare movie that manages to balance a crime mystery and some level of romantic drama. It is also quite poetic about memory (though there is a little too much cliche Latin stuff about seeing someone’s soul through their eyes and about Love and stuff). The one thing keeping it from absolute classic status is a montage that happens right around one of the reveals. It is a little confused and feels like someone was watching the Usual Suspects too much. Oh, and Read More

Walker (1987, Alex Cox)

Categories: 1987 and Movies.

I think going in that one must accept that Alex Cox made this movie. If one doesn’t like Alex Cox (or Godard, or filmmakers like that) one should probably not watch this film. That being said:Cox appears to rarely get great performances out of his decent to great actors. I don’t why that is, but this is yet another example where the lead performances draw attention to themselves in not so good ways. I wouldn’t say that Harris is terrible in this, but he is curious and I think a better performance from him – and from a few others Read More

Did “Boardwalk Empire” Jump the Shark at the end of its third season?

Categories: 2013 and TV.

Spoiler alert! I try to wait until I finish a show before judging, but I can’t this time. I’m not sure I’ll make it further. We’ll see when it comes back for its fourth season. But I’m just not sure I want to now. I have generally enjoyed Boardwalk Empire, but I don’t think it’s a great show. It seems lacking in additional-meaning department that so many other great “cable” shows excel at. I think you can easily view Deadwood, Mad Men and The Wire and even Breaking Bad as allegories, and a show like Six Feet Under has enough going on in it Read More

An Education (2009, Lone Scherfig)

Categories: 2009 and Movies.

One of the things this film does is remind you how it wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t really culturally attuned to the idea that just because a man is older doesn’t mean he knows better. This gets under your skin in part because even though we know where it’s going and we know this relationship is pretty much a terrible idea, nobody else seems to. We forget that not that long ago (and still, in many parts of the world) an older man expressing interest in your teenage daughter was a great thing. The unease I felt in Read More

Bottle Shock (2008, Randall Miller)

Categories: 2008 and Movies.

Apparently nobody making this film was sure whether they were telling the story of a family wine-making enterprise in 1970s northern California, or the competition they happened to win. As a result, the movie veers between the two stories very haphazardly. We get scenes that belong in one of those movies mixed with scenes that would belong in the other. Characters disappear for an eternity because of the editing. We have a romantic triangle subplot that does absolutely nothing for the film. And this is a pretty unfunny comedy. Perhaps they should have stuck to docudrama? 5/10 Read More

A Dangerous Method (2011, David Cronenberg)

Categories: 2011 and Movies.

I think the major problem with this movie is that the filmmakers were not sure what story they were telling: the story of Freud and Jung, the story of Jung and his patient, or the story of the birth of psychoanalysis. All three things appear at times. That being said, I can’t say I disliked the film despite this rather major problem: Fassbinder is excellent, Mortensen is rather unrecognizeable (a good thing) and though Knightly is perhaps a bit over the top she is believable. Moreover I find that I want to know more about Knightly’s character in particular (and Read More

Rome (2005)

Categories: 2005 and TV.

The first season is some of the best historical fiction you will ever see on TV, despite some pretty strong creative license. The second season is a mess: the show was canceled and they attempted to cram 2 seasons of story into 1 (though it feels like it was 3 seasons of story to me). The smarter decision, I think, would have been to just keep the story the same and end it like Deadwood, in mid story arc. 7/10 Read More

The Piano (1993, Jane Campion)

Categories: 1993 and Movies.

Usually I can’t say I like Campion. Everything else I’ve seen of hers has rubbed me the wrong way. But I really can’t say anything against this, save perhaps that it does seem a slight bit contrived (I have no idea if mute women of yore traveled the globe with their pianos, but I am slightly skeptical). The film goes pretty much where we might expect it to, but there are effective detours along the way and the acting is solid all around. (Keitel in particular is thankfully not his usual self). 8/10 Read More

TIFF Day 5

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

I woke up at 7 and almost turned off my alarm clock. I ran over to catch the night bus only to wait for 40 minutes. Saw 4 going to the other way and 3 going our way but with “Not in Service” clearly posted. I don’t know what happened. Barely made it to the movie. Love Sundays in Toronto. The Poll Diaries (which seems an inappropriate translation, since the German name appears to be Poll) is probably the best movie I’ve seen this year. Much more consistent, though less compelling, than Route Irish, is is yet another great German Read More

TIFF 10 Day 2

Categories: 2010 and Movies.

I couldn’t see Julia’s Eyes, a Spanish horror movie I have might have liked, because Mike was sleeping and / or couldn’t make up his mind about what movie he wanted to see. So I ended up giving up and picking a later film (because by that point Julia’s Eyes was off sale). I only ended up buying a ticket to one more film today: Boxing Gym. I bought the GF a ticket to Midnight Madness this Friday and and I bought us two tickets to some strange teen movie the next day. Then I bought another ticket for me Read More