TIFF 2016: Canada presents…

These came out a couple of days ago (and I glanced at the titles) but I’ll post them for future reference so anyone curious can see what these are about. (Plot descriptions are courtesy of http://www.reelcanada.ca/canadian-films-at-tiff-16/)


BELOW HER MOUTH, April Mullen, Canada (World Premiere)
Below Her Mouth is a bold, uninhibited drama that begins with a passionate weekend affair between two women. Dallas, a roofer, and Jasmine, a fashion editor, share a powerful and immediate connection that inevitably derails both of their lives.

Starring Erika Linder, Natalie Krill, and Sebastian Pigott.

IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD, Xavier Dolan, Canada/France (North American Premiere)
After 12 years of absence, a writer goes back to his hometown, planning on announcing his upcoming death to his family. As resentment soon rewrites the course of the afternoon, fits and feuds unfold, fuelled by loneliness and doubt, while all attempts of empathy are sabotaged by people’s incapacity to listen, and tolove. Starring Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, and Léa Seydoux.

MEAN DREAMS, Nathan Morlando, Canada (North American Premiere)
Mean Dreams is a tense coming-of-age thriller about a 15-year-old boy who steals a bag of drug money and runs away with the girl he loves. While her violent and corrupt cop father hunts them down, they embark on a journey that will change their lives forever. A potent fable at its heart, Mean Dreams fuses the desperation of life on the run with the beauty and wonder of first love. Starring TIFF Rising Star Sophie Nélisse, Josh Wiggins, Bill Paxton, and Colm Feore.

TWO LOVERS AND A BEAR, Canada (North American Premiere)
This film is set in the Great North, near the North Pole, in a modern town where about 200 souls live precariously in minus 50 degree weather, and where roads lead to nowhere but the endless white. It is in this eerie lunar landscape that Lucy and Roman, two young tormented souls, fell in love. But now, ghosts from Lucy’s past are coming back, and she needs to run away or she will burn. Together, these lovers decide to make a leap for life, a leap for inner peace. Starring Tatiana Maslany and Dane DeHaan.

WEIRDOS, Bruce McDonald, Canada (World Premiere)
Nova Scotia, 1976. It’s the weekend of the American Bicentennial and 15-year-old Kit is running away from home. With girlfriend Alice, Kit hitchhikes through the maritime landscape towards a new home with his mother, Laura. Along the way, Kit and Alice’s relationship is tested as Kit approaches a realization that will change his life forever. Starring Dylan Authors, Julia Sarah Stone, Molly Parker, and Allan Hawco.

WINDOW HORSES (THE POETIC PERSIAN EPIPHANY OF ROSIE MING), Ann Marie Fleming, Canada (North American Premiere)
Window Horses is a feature-length animated film about a young Canadian poet who embarks on a whirlwind voyage of discovery — of herself, her family, love, history, and the nature of poetry. Featuring the voices of Sandra Oh, Ellen Page, Don McKellar, Nancy Kwan, and Shohreh Aghdashloo, the film is filled with poems and histories created by a variety of artists and animators, who set out to blend a vast myriad of differences between cultures, philosophies, arts, and time frames.


ANATOMY OF VIOLENCE, Deepa Mehta, Canada/India (World Premiere)
In 2012, a young woman was gang raped by six men inside a moving bus in New Delhi. She was beaten senseless and thrown naked out onto the street. Eleven actors collaborated on Deepa Mehta’s devastating fictional dramatization of the lives of the rapists.

WE CAN’T MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, Alanis Obomsawin, Canada (World Premiere)
In 2007, the Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a landmark discrimination complaint against Indian Affairs and Northern Development Canada. They argued that child and family welfare services provided to First Nations children on reserves and in the Yukon were underfunded and inferior to services offered to other Canadian children. Veteran director Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice documents this epic court challenge, giving voice to the tenacious childcare workers at its epicentre.


Investigative journalists Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Matt Taibbi, and others are changing the face of journalism, no longer tied to mainstream media, choosing independent alternatives. Cameras follow as they uncover government and corporate secrets, just as ground-breaking and influential American journalist I.F. Stone did decades ago.

BLACK CODE, Nicholas de Pencier, (Canada World Premiere)
Based on the book by Professor Ron Deibert, Black Code is the story of how the internet is being controlled and manipulated by
governments in order to censor and monitor their citizens. As they battle for control of cyberspace, ideas of citizenship, privacy, and democracy are challenged to the core.

GIANTS OF AFRICA, Hubert Davis, Canada (World Premiere)
On a continent where dreams are often displaced for necessity and survival, the game of basketball brings hope to many young men in Africa. Masai Ujiri, president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors, returns to Africa each summer to stage basketball development camps. Young men from across the continent overcome staggering odds, with an unwavering spirit, to attend these camps that are held in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and Rwanda. As Masai and his team of coaches work to train and inspire the raw talent that they encounter, Giants of Africa captures the amazing physical and emotional journey that these young African men pass through.

MOSTLY SUNNY, Dilip Mehta, Canada World Premiere
Growing up in small-town Sarnia as the daughter of strict Sikh parents, no one anticipated Sunny Leone’s remarkable transformation into an adult film star and Penthouse cover girl — not even Sunny herself. More astonishing still, she has reinvented herself in India as a mainstream reality TV star and Bollywood actress, beloved by millions despite widespread awareness of her spicy past. Mostly Sunny asks what makes Sunny tick, and explores the birthplace of the Kama Sutra’s paradoxical relationship with sex.

THE RIVER OF MY DREAMS, Brigitte Berman, Canada (World Premiere)
Actor-writer-director Gordon Pinsent is one of Canada’s most beloved artists. Filled with humour, passion, and complexity, this film by Academy Award–winning filmmaker Brigitte Berman tells Gordon Pinsent’s story, as well as a universal story about the human condition, while making creative use of state-of-the art digital technology.

THE SKYJACKER’S TALE, Jamie Kastner, Canada (World Premiere)
The Skyjacker’s Tale is a documentary thriller about Ishmael Muslim Ali (né Labeet), one of the most wanted U.S. fugitives ever, who successfully hijacked a plane to Cuba after being convicted of murdering eight people on a golf course owned by the Rockefellers.

THE STAIRS, Hugh Gibson, Canada (World Premiere)
The Stairs tells the story of Marty, Greg, and Roxanne, each of whom survived decades of street involvement in Toronto. Using that experience, each works in public health to help their old neighbourhood, while struggling to maintain their newly-found stability. Told over five years, The Stairs defies stereotypes about drug use, sex work, and homelessness through an intimate portrait that is by turns funny, surprising, and moving.


ARQ, Tony Elliott, USA/Canada (World Premiere)
In a future where corporations battle against sovereign nations over the last of the world’s energy supplies, Renton and Hannah relive a deadly home invasion over and over again. The intruders are bent on getting the ARQ, an experimental energy technology that could end the wars — and is also creating a time loop that is making the day repeat.

HELLO DESTROYER, Kevan Funk, Canada (World Premiere)
A young junior hockey player’s life is shattered by an in-game act of violence. In an instant his life is abruptly turned upside down; torn from the fraternity of the team and the coinciding position of prominence, he is cast out and ostracized from the community. As he struggles with the repercussions of the event, desperate to find a means of reconciliation and a sense of identity, his personal journey illuminates troubling systemic issues around violence. Starring TIFF Rising Star Jared Abrahamson.

JEAN OF THE JONESES, Stella Meghie, Canada (Canadian Premiere)
Writer-director Stella Meghie’s debut feature is an acerbic coming-of-age tale that revolves around the troubled Jones family, one of whom dies at the start of the film. When the paramedic who answers their 911 call falls for rambunctious Jean, the courtship goes south during a calamitous funeral. Starring Taylour Paige and Gloria Reuben.

OLD STONE, Johnny Ma, Canada/China (North American Premiere)
When a drunken passenger causes Lao Shi to swerve and hit a motorcyclist, the driver stops to help the injured man. When no police or ambulance arrive, he drives the victim to the hospital, checks him in, and finds himself responsible for the man’s medical bills. The repercussions of Shi’s selfless act expose a society rife with bone-chilling callousness and bureaucratic indifference. On the verge of losing his cab, his job, and his family, Lao Shi has to resort to desperate measures to survive. Starring Chen Gang.

PRANK, Vincent Biron, Canada (North American Premiere)
Stefie, a lonely young boy, is approached by Martin, Jean-Sé, and Lea to record their daily pranks with his cellphone. The four prankmeisters decide to set up a stunt which goes beyond anything they’ve done so far… but who will be the victim? Prank is a funny and sometimes scary coming-of-age story about friendship, curiosity, peer pressure, and the loss of innocence.

WEREWOLF, Ashley McKenzie, Canada (World Premiere)
Blaise and Nessa are marginalized methadone users in a small town. Each day they push their rusty lawn mower door-to-door begging to cut grass. Nessa plots an escape, while Blaise lingers closer to collapse. Tethered to each other, their getaway dreams are kept on a suffocatingly short leash.


BOUNDARIES, Chloé Robichaud, Canada (World Premiere)
The paths of three women cross in Besco, a small isolated island facing an important economic crisis. Starring Macha Grenon, Emily VanCamp, Nathalie Doummar, and Rémy Girard.

X QUINIENTOS, Juan Andrés Arango, Canada/Colombia/Mexico (World Premiere)
Three separate but powerful stories of three teenagers who must come to terms with their new reality when they are forced to migrate to different parts of the Americas after the loss of someone they loved.


NELLY, Anne Émond, Canada (World Premiere)
A film inspired by the life and work of Nelly Arcan. Nelly is a portrait of a fragmented woman, lost between irreconcilable identities: writer, lover, call girl, and star. Several women in one, navigating between great exaltation and great disenchantment. The film mirrors the violent life and radical work of its subject, paying tribute to a writer who insisted on taking risks. Starring TIFF Rising Star Mylène Mackay.


nirvanna the band the show, created by Matt Johnson and Jay McCarrol; directed by Matt Johnson, Canada (World Premiere)
Two lifelong best friends and roommates are planning the greatest musical act in the history of the modern world. If only they could book their first gig.


A COOL SOUND FROM HELL, Sidney J. Furie, Canada
A striking record of hipster Toronto in the 1950s, Sidney J. Furie’s long-thought-lost second feature follows a bored young man who kicks his middle-class destiny to the curb and plunges into the Hogtown netherworld of jazz, sex, and narcotics.



“The Age of Shadows (Miljeong)” Kim Jee woon (South Korea)

My first bias of the day: South Korean cinema. If you know the names of Hong Sang-soo, Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Jee-woon, Kwak Jae-yung, or a plethora of others just getting started, you know the 2000s have been a boon for South Korean cinema and on my word, I believe that country has the most consistency in terms of quality films.

This is from one of the names just mentioned, Jee Woon-kim, whose A Bittersweet Life made waves in 2005. While The Age of Shadows has yet to get an IMDb plot spec, AsianWiki claims the film is about an anti-Japanese independence organization called “Heroic Cops” who fought for South Korea’s freedom during Japan’s occupation of the country.

It stars Song Kang-ho (Oldboy, Thirst) and sounds like the most

“All I See Is You” Marc Forster (U.S.)

One of the bigger director names in the SP programme (and a TIFF regular with films such as Stranger Than Fiction. Starring Blake Lively (The Shallows, The Town) and Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless), this is a film about a married woman who gets her sight back, only to see the unsavory truth in her relationship. Co-written by Sean Conway, who’s writing accomplishments include films with the titles The Orgasm Diaries and Older Women. It’s almost needless to say that this film might border tawdry or voyeuristic at times.

This will be one of those hit or miss movies, to be sure, because it’s got a few interesting names attached to it, but no American distributor insofar. It’s also worth noting that every filming location is Thai or Spanish, so this will probably also have to do with surgeries and intimacy away from home. I will say that, if there is nothing much playing against this one, it will be worth a shot for the pairing of Lively and Clarke, actors who have shown great range and depth in recent years. (7/10 priority for TIFF, only distribution holdings are by the Lebanese company Eagle Films, who are scheduled to release Blair Witch this year)


“American Honey” Andrea Arnold (U.K./U.S.)

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Andrea Arnold at this festival (in 2011) and even more the pleasure of following her work since 2006’s Red Road, so not only is my bias showing, but I don’t care.

She is one of the finest directors working today. If Fish Tank didn’t eloquate that, well Wuthering Heights certainly did. If only the stories she told were a bit tighter all around… but I digress. Her stories are conveyed very naturally and emotions are exposed without a veil. With this, a story that sounds reminiscent of Almost Famous, this film is about a young woman (Sasha Lane) getting caught up in . Arielle Holmes and Shia LaBeouf lend support, which honestly, when coupled with who is directing the feature, is enough for me to just do it. (8/10 priority for TIFF; would be more, but A24 holds distribution rights and the film is slated for a September 30th limited release.)

“American Pastoral” Ewan McGregor

The directorial debut of Ewan McGregor (Velvet Goldmine, Star WarsBeginners) comes after Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, The Quiet American) stepped away from the project. This had been a project of Noyce’s since 2003 when Lakeshore Entertainment held the rights, but for almost that long, Ewan McGregor has been attached to play the protagonist.

I say all of this because no matter what the content of the film, this is most notably the directorial debut of a fine actor, who is now a veteran in the industry. The film is about an American family, parented by Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly as the Levov’s, whose set of values and unity are questioned after their daughter (Dakota Fanning) commits a violent act in the name of politics. For fans of McGregor, of course you have got to see this, and I know I eventually will, but I’m personally kind of tired of these domestic ideas turned into films. We Need To Talk About Kevin was the last great one and I hope the best in reception for this one. (6/10 priority for TIFF, Lionsgate is releasing the film on October 21st nationwide)


“Asura: The City of Madness” Sung-su Kim

TIFF’s rundown of the film sounds simple enough: a shady cop gets in over his head when he’s caught between a corrupt mayor and Internal Affairs. However, the highlight of this selection is the film’s director, who is known for a few under-the-radar works from a decade ago. He’s worked with Ziyi Zhang (The Warrior) and City of the Rising Sun is a film that, if more people had seen it, may actually be highly regarded in America as it is reminiscent of 1970s works.

That said, the film is world premiering at the festival and no one can attest to its quality. But if you have a penchance for South Korean cinema, and some free time on your hands, I would blindly recommend this because it’s been made by a man who is 20+ years into his career and there is a chance that given its two hour run time, this material will go interesting places. (7/10 priority for TIFF, no distribution announced)


“Barakah Meets Barakah (Barakah yoqabil Barakah)” Mahmoud Sabbagh

A self-financed (re: independent) film about a blossoming love in Saudi Arabia. The man is named Barakah, the woman is also (nickname Bibi) and romance is described as a couple trying to bloom in a loveless environment.

This movie premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival this year and the only thing (slightly) off-putting to me is that it is labeled as a comedy. As it were, I would be more inclined to watch a more dyspeptic love story. (7/10 priority for TIFF, no North American distribution as of yet)


“Barry” (Vikram Gandhi)

So here it is: our first official Barack Obama biopic. Not unlike W., this film is making its premiere at TIFF and is about an American president who will, after his eight years in office, leave the White House. Starring Jason Mitchell as the current commander-in-chief, Barry is about President Obama during his years in college.

While the film already has Canadian distribution (with no scheduled date for release), it’s hard to say whether or not this will play theatrically before Barack Obama leaves office. However, with a writer (Adam Mansbach) and a director who have been critically untested, it’s also impossible to estimate how good or bad this might be. On that alone, there is curiosity. Co-starring Ashley Judd, Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood) and Anya Taylor-Joy. (8/10 priority for TIFF, no American distributor as of yet)


“Birth of the Dragon” (George Nolfi)

The title for this one sounded reminiscent of a Bruce Lee-esque martial arts film – lo and behold, it’s actually another moment-in-time biopic of the very legend.

All I know is that the film is set around a no-holds barred fight with Wong Jack Man (Yu Xia) in California and that Phillip Ng (Once Upon a Time in Shanghai) will play Bruce Lee. Director George Nolfi only has The Adjustment Bureau to his credit when it comes to feature films, but it was written by the duo who penned Nixon and Ali, so expect an expansive and honest look at Bruce Lee. (8/10 priority for TIFF, with no distribution rights owned anywhere yet)


“The Birth of a Nation” (Nate Parker)

Here’s some more of my bias: You can count me in already. Nat (Nate Parker) plays slave who was raised literate by the family who owned him, so that he could preach to the other servants growing up. He is taken across America to preach to other slaves and in doing so, bears witness to the ungodly scope of his people’s indescribable torment and begins to orchestrate change.

I don’t know if my words do what Nat Turner thought or did, and I don’t know if the film will unearth those accounts and truths perfectly, but I do know that I must see this film. (10/10 priority for TIFF, with an October 7th limited release across North America)


“Bleed for This” (Ben Younger)

The fourth biography I’m describing in a row. From the director of Prime (2005, Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep – in case you’ve forgotten) is the story of Vinny Pazienza, a multiple time WBC champion in each the lightweight, super lightweight and middle-lightweight weight classes, and I’m going to go off-topic, but why is Miles Teller so entitled? I’ve seen the trailer for this one, and it looks just fine, and Aaron Eckhart plays his boxing coach, but this actor – and that is all he is – comes across as too damn smug to have the brains or heart of a boxer. Perhaps he’ll have his moments; perhaps I’ll be dead wrong and this will turn out to be a big-time Oscar player.

But this guy, man. A very fine and affluent performer – he clearly conveys what he believes is the right emotion in every scene, but this is a triumphant story and I love boxing. I’ll probably even go see this without thinking twice, but I hope this joins the catalog of fine boxing films that dates back even beyond 1949’s The Set-Up (but that is an unforgettable one). Co-starring: Katey Segal, Ted Levine and Ciaran Hinds. (9/10 priority for TIFF, scheduled for a November 23rd limited release in North America by Open Road Films)


“Blue Jay” (Alex Lehmann)

Ah damn, my heart hurts already. From writer Mark Duplass comes the story of high school sweethearts who have a serendipitous reunion when they both return to their home-town in California.

Starring the writer alongside Sarah Paulson (American *insert word* Story), and set at an effective 85 minutes, this promises to be tender and emotional, and I would hope as audacious and sincere as The Puffy Chair, which, to me is a lot, but when cinema honestly looks at imperfect people, I don’t care who’s on the screen or what the budget.  (9/10 priority for TIFF, no distribution as of yet – also, world premiere)

“Brimstone” (Martin Koolhoven)

This movie sounds crazy if you read the description on IMDb. From what I gather, this is some kind of period mystery about a young woman (Dakota Fanning), her family (Carice van Houten, Kit Harrington, Jack Roth, presumably) and the preacher (Guy Pearce) who terrifies her.

The film is also classified as a thriller and western, and if it weren’t directed by a man whose last film was Winter in Wartime (which you should check out if you like sleek European war films; finer than Max Manus and even The Counterfeiters, I thought) I would have no words for what to expect with this. However, you have great actors (and you can dispute Fanning’s worth, but she is a desired actress who turned down roles to be in this), so there might be something here, especially given its epic 140 minute runtime. That said, at two and some-odd hours, I do wish to see an ambitious film that features women in lead roles, but these almost-long films fit oddly into schedules. It does sound worth a watch, though. (8/10 priority for TIFF, with no set release dates anywhere, though the company in France that released The Neon Demon and The Duke of Burgundy holds its rights)

“BrOTHERHOOD” (Noel Clarke)

I haven’t seen KiDULTHOOD or AdULTHOOD, so I can’t really comment on this. Noel Clarke is a gifted individual, though, and if you have the time I would suggest checking them out because my friends often say they are great films. (0/10 priority for TIFF, unless I somehow see the first two, and it has a late August release date scheduled in the U.K.)


“Carrie Pilby” (Susan Johnson)

Starring Bel Powley from the recently acclaimed Diary of a Teenage Girl comes yet another film about a young woman struggling to find peace with her sexual desires and personal relationships. This time, however, it is about an “extremely intelligent” woman and is labeled as a comedy.

It comes from the director of Mean Creek and is an adaptation of an acclaimed 2003 novel. Co-starring Gabriel Byrne as her father and Nathan Lane as her therapist, it’s almost promised to pack a few witty punches and could wind up being the surprise hit of the festival. It was also made out of earnest – through Kickstarter crowdfunding – and was co-written by the scribe of Death at a Funeral. (8/10 priority for TIFF, with no distributors yet)


“Catfight” (Onur Tukel)

Now this sounds like a probable miss at the festival (although, again, I hate being negative, but there are always a handful of trite and cliche films that make it through virtue of name recognition).

Starring Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, this dark comedy has the image of two bloodied women fighting each other on its TIFF page and could be a little bit crazier than imagined. However, I don’t like the title and I know I’ll hate myself if it turns out to be a hilarious film everyone can’t stop talking about (because the talent is there for greatness). I just can’t see myself wanting to watch another story of former high school friends who now rival one and other because they are in each other’s lives. (6/10 priority for TIFF, no distributor as of yet)


“City of Tiny Lights”(Pete Travis)

From the director of Vantage Point and Patrick Neate, writer of 2003’s Tesseract, comes a BBC produced crime/mystery about London private eye Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed) investigating the disappearance of a Russian prostitute. In following this task, he is confronted with personal demons (or something like that).

It sounds good solely because it stars Riz Ahmed and not because the character’s last name sounds like “actor”. Ahmed is an undeniable talent in film and if he’s in every single frame of this one, I can promise you that I will watch it. But without anyone I know in the supporting cast, and nothing much to go on except a half-racist sounding IMDb plot synopsis, I can’t promise I’ll have enough gall to see this there. But if I do, it’s for Riz Ahmed. (7/10 priority for TIFF, no distributor as of yet)


“The Commune (Kollektivet)” (Thomas Vinterberg)

Not having seen The Hunt, I will still blindly walk toward the call of a new Vinterberg film. With Ulrich Thomsen and Trine Dryholm, I can almost guarantee that I will watch this somewhere down the line. However, this is a film festival, and this isn’t ones I’m going to select. Mostly because it’s been out in Denmark since January and that means that it will come to Bell Lightbox somewhere down the line and I can see it there.

However, for those visiting Toronto, this story of a community crumbling by way of clashing priorities might be exciting to watch. I’m sure it’ll be a lucid film and an accurate account of what it’s trying to represent, and to any huge fan of Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration, Submarino, Far From The Madding Crowd) it’s a must. (7/10 priority for TIFF, with many release dates across Europe, but the next being January of 2017 in France)


“Daguerrotype (Le Secret de la chambre noire)” (Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

Oh wow, a French-Japanese fantasy-horror from Kiyoshi Kurosawa? If that weren’t enough it stars Constance Rousseau, Tahir Rahim, Olivier Gourmet and Mathieu Amalric.

Sitting at 131 minutes runtime and stars Gourmet as a photographer obsessed with the techniques of 19th century photography for its supernatural/life-sustaining powers. Rousseau plays his daughter and Rahim his assistant who falls for the daughter. I have no idea how it will play out, but it was purchased by Celluloid Dreams at Cannes last year, so all of those boxes it checked obviously intrigued many from the jump. Hopefully it’s as good as it sounds. (9/10 priority for TIFF, with an October release in Japan and one in France come February of next year)


“A Death in the Gunj” (Konkona Sensharma)

Set in 1979, in the town of McCluskieganj (which had been colonized by England until 1933) the story of Shutu (Vikrant Massey), a young Indian student who begins to unravel as he and his family embark on a road trip. I imagine “the Gunj” will be a town wherein there is a penultimate moment for the protagonist, but apart from this being Kon Kona Sensharma’s directorial debut, I can’t say much more about this.

It’s making its world premiere at this year’s film festival and I hope Ms. Sensharma the best of luck in her first reception as a director. The vague outline sounds like there is a lot of room for plot and character development. (7/10 priority for TIFF, no distribution as of yet)


“Denial” (Mick Jackson)

From journeyman director Mick Jackson (everything from 1992’s The Bodyguard to 1999’s Tuesdays with Morrie to most recently the television-adaptation of Temple Grandin’s life) comes another real-life story to add to his catalog.

This drama about a historian and the Holocaust denier who sues her for libel stars Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall. Now, this isn’t a story I know anything about, but if history serves correctly, there was a Holocaust and yeah, this film will be a cacophony. However, with Tom Wilkinson in support, alongside Weisz and Spall, this will undoubtedly be one of the finest exhibitions of actorly talent this festival. With a screenplay by David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) this even has the potential to be Oscar-nominated because of the familiar names attached. (7/10 priority for TIFF, in North American theaters October 7th)


“Elle” (Paul Verhoeven)

I have heard a lot of good word from a few friends out of Cannes about this film. It’s heavily been on my radar for its star, Isabelle Huppert, and to be honest, if there’s anyone I would hope to meet this year, it’s her. She’s been a favorite actress of mine for years now and if you see Story of Women or The Ceremony then she just might become one of yours as well.

The film, directed by someone I’m sure you feel one way or another about, concerns the life of the head of a video game company (Huppert) and the ruthlessness with which she lives her life. When there is a domestic problem, I don’t know what happens because I don’t want to know anything else. This is another bias and this is me being sold on yet another title. (9/10 priority for TIFF, with a November 11th release in the U.S.)


“Foreign Body (Jassad Gharib, Corps Etranger) Raja Amari

This Tunisia/France co-production is about a young Tunisian woman who, after informing on her radical Islamist brother, immigrates to France and, as the TIFF website says, finds a world full of hope and danger.

This is Raja Amari’s fourth feature and she has some acclaim across the globe. While I haven’t seen any of her work, she is a frequent collaborator of Hiam Abbass and she shows up again in this film. If I were more familiar with Amari’s work, I would feel some way about whether or not I would see this, so, to make sure I don’t miss something I may love, I will check out something of hers (perhaps Red Satin). (6/10 priority for TIFF, no distributor as of yet)


“Frantz” (François Ozon)

I’ll always regard Francois Ozon because he’s one of two directors (the other being Jan Hrebejk, Divided We Fall), that directed a work of R.W. Fassbinder since his passing in 1982. With a long list of work, from the playful 9 Women to the provocative In the House and many films before, between and since, Ozon’s work ethic is as prolific as the many genres he has dabbled in.

Starring relative unknowns Paula Beer and Pierre Niney, and filmed in black and white, Frantz is set in post-WWI France wherein a widow develops a relationship with a stranger who she finds mourning by his grave. It sounds interesting, it’s 113 minutes long, and Ozon seems to have been on a roll as of late, so I imagine this will be a very good film. But, once again, this is a film that will be released in Canada (it already has French distribution lined up for September 7th) and unless it’s scheduled at a convenient time, I’ll pass on it for something I can’t wait for. (7/10 priority for TIFF, no North American distributor yet, but it has a home in ten countries and counting.)


“The Handmaiden (Agassi)” (Park Chan-wook) 10/10

Park Chan-wook. That is enough of a reason for me. Thirst, Oldboy, Joint Agent Security — if you’ve seen a film of his, you’ve probably fallen in love with his visual aesthetic and the way with which he translates the roughest human emotions and experiences so delicately to his audiences.

Who’s in it? Kim Min-hee, Ha Jung-woo, Kim Tae-ri. What’s it about? A handmaiden-turned-crook and I stopped reading there because I want it to be as much of a surprise as it can, personally. There’s a trailer out. It looks Victorian from the stills I’ve seen. I highly recommend you see this if you’re unfamiliar with Chan-wook’s work. (10/10 priority for TIFF, Amazon owns the distribution rights.)


“Harmonium (Fuchi ni tatsu)” (Kôji Fukada)

There is an elegiac style to Koji Fukada. With this story, a tale of quiet tension, Toshio owns a workshop and hires Yasaka, an old friend who has just been released from prison. Yasaka begins to meddle in Toshio’s family life and again, that’s where I stopped reading.

I have a bias toward Japanese films as well. It could be viewed as a stereotype, but from the most acclaimed ones of recent memory (Departures) to the most obscure I’ve seen (Ramblers, Vacation) there is an ordinariness to the approach of storytelling, as well as visual compositions, that I find mesmerizing. It doesn’t mean every film is good, and of course each director is different, but I’m keeping my eyes out for this one. (8/10 priority for TIFF)


“I Am Not Madame Bovary” (Feng Xiaogang)

Shot through a circle the entire time, Feng Xiaogang’s latest film is about a woman (Fan Bingbing) who fights against her country’s legal system after her ex-husband was able to leave her broke.

I watched two trailers for this one, but couldn’t make much of it, except that it looks almost as ambiguous as it does ambitious. That said, those are some of the best films to see, in my opinion (I loved Post Tenebtas Lux), so, I’m more interested in this than a few of the others, although the visual conceit might become bothersome at some point. We’ll see. (8/10 priority for TIFF)


“The Journey” (Nick Hamm)

This almost sounds like a television film, but it’s a couple of great actors running the show, so surely this showcase will not disappoint.

Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney play two political leaders in 2006 who brought about an agreement to end the fighting between Republican (those for Irish freedoms) and Unionist (those for continued political relations between Great Britain and Ireland) after decades’ long violence. I’m not crazy over the sound of this, but again, Timothy Spall is enough of a reason to see any film, so one where he is a lead is a must. (6/10 priority for TIFF)


“King of the Dancehall” (Nick Cannon)

First of all, this is a film directed by Nick Cannon. So I guess it being a musical about an American man, from Brooklyn, travelling to Jamaica and getting lost in the dance culture is not a crazy scenario to imagine. It even sounds fitting – and given the amount of enthusiasm and general joy Nick Cannon seems to have been generating all his life, it could be a great fit. We’ll see what happens.

Directing himself alongside Busta Rhymes (Finding Forrester), Beenie Man and Whoopi Goldberg, this definitely promises to boom with personality. (7/10 priority for TIFF)


“La La Land” (Damien Chazelle)

I was considering skipping this one at the film festival because, well, it stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, is a musical and is undoubtedly going to come out to a lot of love when it his theaters. Damien Chazelle just proved his aptitude with Whiplash and that alone is enough to get a ticket. I don’t know what it’s about, but it’s a hot ticket right there.

That said, the head of Venice Film Festival recently proclaimed to be the best film he’s seen submitted to the festival in years and will be “an American classic” which is the heaviest praise I can think of, so I’m going to have to get a ticket. Doesn’t matter what it’s about – if a film is good, you’ll understand it all when it’s over. (10/10 priority for TIFF, set for a North American release in November)


“The Limehouse Golem” (Juan Carlos Medina)

From Juan Carlos Medina, a rather new director (one feature to his credit from 2012), comes this story of skepticism in a British town. From IMDb: A series of murders has shaken the community to the point where people believe that only a legendary creature from dark times – the mythical so-called Golem – must be responsible.

It stars Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Bill Nighy and Eddie Marsan – and with the latter two you’re definitely in store for a couple of dependable and committed performances. The story also sounds interesting, but with over 300 films playing at the festival annually, this horror/thriller isn’t quite in my wheelhouse. (6/10 priority for TIFF)


“Manchester by the Sea” (Kenneth Lonergan)

While You Can Count On Me was an accomplished film and commendable for its amount of compassion, despite its lack of shine, Margaret was even more of a compelling viewing for me personally. The three-hour cut was fantastic to behold and ever since the debacle, and not knowing whether or not that long-gestated film would ever be released in a form approved by its director, I have wanted to see everything this man makes. Forever. He is a legend of someone who has fought distribution companies for his voice to be heard and whether or not he feels he accomplished that, he’s back with a new story and I couldn’t be more excited.

I’m sorry to be so vague, but I don’t know much about this film – I did around the time of Sundance – but thankfully drinking has helped me to forget most of it. What I have retained is that Casey Affleck is the lead (an actor of fantastic highs), Michelle Williams (potentially the best actress working today and that Kyle Chandler deserves an Oscar nomination. I don’t know how everyone will be, I don’t know what will come together, but I’m absolutely anticipating this one. (10/10 priority for TIFF, set for a limited release on November 18th in North America)


“Maudie” (Aisling Walsh)

A film set in Canada (Nova Scotia) and pretty extreme in length (150 minutes). This, I guess you could call it an epic, is about Maudie (Sally Hawkins) an artist with arthritis who works as a housekeeper. She has a husband (Ethan Hawke) and with time, she becomes a pillar of the community. At least that’s what I imagine how it will unfold.

It’s a shame that I will probably find the film too long to fit into my schedule because I love Sally Hawkins and any chance I get to watch her demonstrate her mercurial talents is one that I’ll seize. Ethan Hawke is a great actor, too, so to anyone who wants to get more bang for their buck, I doubt you will be very disappointed. It also has a release date in Canada – not yet America – so if I want, I believe I can see it in a few months, (6/10 priority for me, set for an October release through Mongrel Media)


“Neruda” (Pablo Larraín)

From IMDb’s page: An inspector hunts down Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, who becomes a fugitive in his home country in the late 1940s for joining the Communist Party.

Luis Gnecco plays the titular character, but the task of inspector is Gael Garcia Bernal’s, who you probably have adored in anything from The Science of Sleep to The Motorcycle Diaries. Alfredo Castro also stars in what looks to be a significant role, and if you’ve seen Tony Manero, then you know what kind of chaos Larrain and his familiar co-stars can get up to. (That film, by the way, is the reason I will always be excited to watch a Pablo Larrain flick; his unpredictability can leave one aghast) (9/10 priority for TIFF, slated for a December 16th release in North America)


“Nocturnal Animals” (Tom Ford)

I remember back in 2009, I thought  A SingleMan sounded kind of tame and potentially too soft, especially with actors like Colin Firth and Julianne Moore. Then, there was this buzz surrounding the festival about it and no one who didn’t own a ticket could get one. Waiting until December to see what it was all about was one of the longest waits I’ve had for a movie and when I finally saw it, my mind changed completely about what I could ever assume about a plot outline or the capacity of anyone. Tom Ford instantly became a director I wanted to see more from and now is the opportunity.

Starring Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals is the story of an art gallery owner who, after the publication of her ex-husband’s latest novel, feels as if what was written is what he plans to do to her. I suppose this will have some stalking and many ominous tones, but with Jake Gyllenhaal as the potential maniac, I’m very excited to see the visual acumen of Tom Ford against what could be considered a Hitchcockian tale (from the logline). I know I have to see it, so that’s me. (10/10 priority for TIFF, schedule for a December 9th release date through Focus Features)


“The Oath” (Baltasar Kormákur)

From the TIFF website: Icelandic auteur Bathasar Kormakur directs and stars in this psychological thriller about a father who tries to pull his daughter out of her world of drugs and petty crime, only to find that danger can be found in unexpected places.

His daughter is played by Hera Hilmar and while I’m sure this will be another good action film for Bathasar Kormakur to add to his already solid resume (Contraband, 2 Guns) I think I can wait a few more months for what sounds like another version of the Taken plot. It could be better than that, but who knows? (7/10 priority for TIFF, no distribution in North America yet)


“Orphan (Orpheline)” (Arnaud des Pallières)

Damn, dude. Why does the world have to do me like this?

Starring Adele Exarchopoulos and Adele Haenel, two actresses I adored based on one performance each, comes a film about orphans. That said, Arnaud des Pallieres has the distinct honor of making a film called Parc, which I think is the most tonally uneven foreign film I’ve seen at the festival (but then, I have pretty good taste, ha). So I don’t know what to say about this except that I want to see it, but also don’t want to see it. So I’ll probably see it. (8/10 priority for TIFF, no North American distribution as of yet; world premiere)

“Paris Can Wait” (Eleanor Coppola)

The debut of Francis Ford Coppola’s wife, Paris Can Wait is about an unfaithful movie producer’s wife (Diane Lane) who, en route to Paris from Cannes, is joined by one of her husband’s associates (Alec Baldwin) in this wistful and light-hearted affair. 

I don’t know where the film intends to go, but it’s being marketed as something that Nancy Meyers’ might have directed. Not only that, but even as a film directed by a woman married to a big-time American producer and director it comes across as a bit of a privileged storyline. A rich person with emotional crisis? I don’t think the world cares about those stories anymore. (5/10 priority for TIFF, no distributor as of yet)


“Paterson” (Jim Jarmusch)

I did myself a disservice by watching the trailer TIFF uploaded for this one. I know what Jim Jarmusch is like – I even moderately enjoyed The Limits of Control – but this movie looks very stifling; as if we’re meant to accept that Adam Driver is a ruminative and harrowingly existential poet/bus driver. It doesn’t even seem funny or amusing, but maybe it’ll be deep? 

Call me presumptuous, but this one looks a bit too solipsistic for me. Adam Driver is a very good actor (still waiting to see Hungry Hearts) and Jim Jarmusch is an independent legend (if you’ve yet to see Night on Earth, please do so). I just don’t think that, with the myriad films playing, I want to be subjected to a downtrodden protagonist on any of those days. Maybe some lonely winter day, but for now… (7/10 priority for TIFF, slated for a late December limited release through Amazon)


“The Salesman” (Asghar Farhadi)

While A Separation wasn’t my cup of tea, and I found The Past even more melodramatic by comparison, you cannot deny the effort that director Asghar Farhadi gets from each member of his cast. With The Salesman, a four-person ensemble about the deterioration of a couple’s love for one and other during their stage production of Death of s Salesman, I can’t help but be drawn to the romantic truths Farhadi will look to convey. 

Admitting that he is a sincere filmmaker — or at least tries to be — is undeniable. This movie has played at Cannes and already has North American distribution (which is a huge sign for an Iranian film, no matter who directed it). Amazon holds the rights to this film, as well, so while missing this wouldn’t be a tough pill to swallow, I would prefer to get at it as soon as possible. (9/10 priority for TIFF, a December 9th release date at select cinemas is scheduled)


“Salt and Fire” (Werner Herzog)

There are quite a few people doubting the prowess of Werner Herzog these days, but I don’t think I’ll ever be one of them. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Michael Shannon, this film is about the nature in South America and man’s hand in destroying it the ecology. IMDb’s synopsis is vague, but it sounds like Gael Garcia Bernal plays a man aimed at bringing down the corrupt power of Michael Shannon, but before he can see his resolve, the two men must come together to overcome a more immediately pressing crisis. Adapted from a short story by Tom Bissell.

I love those two actors – I love the director. The film has distribution lined up for November in Germany and December in France, so if it were absolutely terrible, I think France of all places would have avoided a winter release. Pure speculation, but there’s no reason for anyone to say whether or not it will be good. I’m just hopeful. And if you haven’t seen Herzog’s work from the 70s until Fitzcarraldo, you’ve missed out on the best streak of any actor in cinema’s history (my words). (9/10 priority for TIFF, with no North American distribution yet)


“Sing” (Garth Jennings)

From the director of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Son of Rambow comes Garth Jennings’ first film in almost a decade. With an all-star cast supplying the voices for his first animated film, it’s impossible to know exactly how good versus how popular Sing will be after its American release in December, but I can promise you that if this film has the same type of comedy as his previous films, it will be the perfect counterbalance to the R-rated Sausage Party

If madcap, family-friendly animation is your bag, and if you like Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World, then this is probably the perfect movie for you. Featuring dozens of chart-topping songs from the 1940s ’til now, it’s about a koala bear (Matthew McConaughey) who tries to get more business at his theater by sponsoring a singing competition, which sounds like a movie that is going to be either really entertaining and jovial or outright annoying. For the latter possibility alone, I think I have to skip this. With Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlaine, Leslie Jones and John C. Reilly in support. (7/10 priority for TIFF, scheduled for a wide release across North America in December)


“Souvenir” (Bavo Defurne)
“Things to Come (L’Avenir)” (Mia Hansen-Løve)
“Toni Erdmann” (Maren Ade)
“Trespass Against Us” (Adam Smith)
“Una” (Benedict Andrews)
“Unless” (Alan Gilsenan)
“The Wasted Times (Luo Man Di Ke Xiao Wang Shi)” (Cheng Er)

I imagine The Light Between Oceans would be here if not for its September 2nd release date.

TIFF 2016: The First Wave

The inactivity on this blog is done. At least momentarily. I’m back in Toronto, but lived in Portland for four years (where I had my TIFF hiatus) and now, I’m going to get back to focusing on cinema.

Here are the GALA films announced by the Toronto International Film Festival Group today (and reminders to myself on which I intend to see):


Arrival — directed by Denis Villeneuve (Paramount Pictures : Canada/U.S.)

An adaptation of Ted Chiang’s 1999 short story Story of Your Life, the film is about beings from spacecrafts on Earth, a doctor (Amy Adams), who becomes the seminal figure in sustaining communication between them and us, and her the team that unifies with her in preventing global calamity. A keynote is that this film centers around nascent psychic communication and the metaphysical beyond a close encounter.

Count me in. Also starring Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Tzi Ma and Michael Stuhlbarg. (8/10 priority for TIFF, American theatrical release is November of 2016)


Deepwater Horizon Peter Berg (Lionsgate / Summit Entertainment : U.S.)

From the writer of The Kingdom and World War Z (Matthew Michael Carnahan) comes another spectacle-type film. Seemingly about the circumvention of all types of laws and incoming calamity, Berg and Carnahan’s latest collaboration documents the 2010 BP Oil Spill and stars Mark Wahlberg.

Although the Peter Berg film of the year has already been released (and directed by Michael Bay), the Friday Night Lights director’s latest film is scheduled for a late September release and if his track-record can speak for itself, Berg’s latest should be a provocative enough action-drama. It also has the largest budget of any film ever shown at the festival with $150,000,000. (6/10 priority for TIFF, American theatrical release is September 30th)


The Headhunter’s Calling Mark Williams

From one of the co-writers of The Judge (Bill Dubuque) comes a film about a corporate headhunter, a person who seeks the best opportunities/deals they can for their employer, his domestic unraveling and the competitiveness of his career. With Dafoe, Molina, Brie and Gretchen Mol co-starring, we can assume the rival he’s pitted against is probably Dafoe, with the boss being Molina, because Brie might be too young to be Butler’s wife and Mol seems the right fit for that part.

The writer also has The Accountant slated for the year (the Ben Affleck/Gavin O’Connor awards prospect), so you know, you can wish the best for this one. This is the director’s debut. (5/10 priority for TIFF, with no American distributor or release date as of yet, although Spain’s Inopia Films has it lined up for a year-end release)


The Journey is the Destination Bronwen Hughes

While there is very little information about this project on IMDb, it is co-written by Jan Sardi of Shine and most recently TIFF lauded Mao’s Last Dancer fame.

Actually, I decided to do a little research and thanks to THR, a Maria Bello interview reveals much about the film. It’s about a young photojournalist (Ben Schnetzer), his adventures, and his mother who emotionally deals with his journey; sounding almost reminiscent of Into the Wild, I know that I will certainly get around to seeing this. As for Hughes, her credentials speak for themselves; an accomplished television director who has a cult favorite under her belt, Harriet the Spy. (8/10 priority for TIFF, with no distributors)


JT and the Tennessee Kids Jonathan Demme

It’s a Justin Timberlake concert documentary. I don’t know what more I can say about that, but um, if you love Justin Timberlake, he’s most definitely going to be at Gala of this one. It would be ultra cool if he stuck around for the second-run morning screening for big-time fans, though. (5/10 priority for TIFF, with no distribution yet)


LBJ Rob Reiner

Rob Reiner is a name in American cinema that will stand by it forever. Like Oliver Stone, like Brian DePalma, like Steven Spielberg, while Reiner isn’t nearly as accomplished as his peers of the 80s, he’ll always be known for his off-camera personality and genuine love of cinema. Even in a film such as Flipped, you can sense that Mr. Reiner enjoys filmmaking.

Since Ghosts of Mississippi, he has seemed content making the stories he enjoys come to life. While they haven’t garner Oscar nominations or been very prestigious, this latest offering is a Lyndon Johnson biopic starring Woody Harrelson and it might be a return to a form people have wanted from him since The Bucket List sounded like it could be macabre. With Jennifer Jason Leigh as Lady Bird Johnson and Bill Pullman, as well as Richard Jenkins in support, this might be the film champions of Reiner have been waiting for. (7/10 priority for TIFF, with no distribution anywhere as of yet)


Lion Garth Davis

I’m just going to copy and paste the IMDb synopsis because the first thing I thought was “Wow, sounds like an attempt at another Slumdog Millionaire-type award run by The Weinstein Company”.

“A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.”

From the writer of the Ledger/Cornish romance Candy (interesting) and the director of some Top of the Lake, this encouraging and probably uplifting film stars Nicole Kidman and David Wenham with Rooney Mara as the good white people and DEV PATEL?! (Get out/10 for TIFF anticipation, set for the late November release in America)


Loving Jeff Nichols (Focus : U.S.)

Even with as dissatisfying as his framework has become since Shotgun Stories, or perhaps for it, Jeff Nichols’ is the most salt-of-the-Earth director today. He works at an incredible clip – Midnight Special premiered in Berlin this year, Loving at Cannes – but beyond that, the actors in each of his films and the stories they create together are always convey a level of personal revealing that is seldom matched at as consistent of a rate.

That’s why I say, of all the Galas, this is assured to be a good ticket. Lion will have a lot of people fawning for it, especially with the more gentle attendees of the festival, but with Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton playing an interracial couple in 1950s Virginia, I doubt you will find a more sincerely tender film all festival. With Michael Shannon in support. (9/10 TIFF priority, set for a early November U.S. release)


The Magnificent Seven Antoine Fuqua (Sony Pictures / MGM : U.S.)

I know I won’t see this one at the film festival (opening night gala, I usually don’t even go on the Thursday unless there’s an interesting midnight madness movie), but I figure it is a gala presentation, so…

Denzel Washington is one of the few actors who, when not paired alongside Mark Wahlberg, will get me to see his film. That said, I’ve seen both Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven on the big screen, so I’m hoping for a more modern, perhaps manic (see: 13 Assassins) approach to the material, rather than an attempt at working the script into something for everyone. However, it is rated PG-13 and co-stars Chris Pratt so I don’t know. Also starring: Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio (watch out for him) and Byung Hun-Lee (frequent Park Chan-wook collaborator). Set for a late September theatrical release across North America.


A Monster Calls Juan Antonio Bayona

This will be a spooky film. From the director of The Orphanage, this one is a fantasy (probably bordering on horror) about a child (Lewis MacDougall) who copes with his mother’s terminal illness by befriending a tree monster. Felicity Jones is his mother and Sigourney Weaver is in a role called “Grandma,” and with Toby Kebbell in a role and Liam Neeson as a monster, this should be an emotionally devastating, if family friendly film. (7/10 TIFF priority, set for a theatrical release in North America come October)


Planetarium Rebecca Zlotwoski

The film debut of Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose, this promises to be a special interest viewing to many tabloid-reading folk. Co-starring Natalie Portman as her older sister, the pair star as psychic-mediums in France (the country of Zlotwoski’s most recent feature). There, they are discovered by a producer who surely wants to exploit them.

The film festival has a handful of these films in the Gala Presentations every year. These aren’t necessarily bad movies – especially since no one has seen them – but they serve more as cultural fodder or a commodity and this sort of fits both categories. It’s foreign, it’s undoubtedly well-produced; it’s co-written by Laurent Cantet collaborator Robin Campillo. I just hope those who go to its world premiere enjoy it for more than the prospect of seeing its stars because if not for the who, this would not be a Gala presentation. (7/10 TIFF priority, only scheduled for a mid-November theatrical release in France so far)


Queen of Katwe Mira Nair

Lupita N’yongo and David Oyelowo. If seeing great actors, who oftentimes do not get the interesting lead roles they deserve finally get them appeals to you, then this is a must-see. While N’yongo is the more untested talent, she has proven her capabilities in the past, and in this role, she plays a Ugandan woman training to become a chess champion. 

It may sound dry, and from well-regarded director and one of the co-writers of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, this may be one of the well-liked, but ultimately forgettable films of the festival. However, it won’t be for some, and I really do hope for Nair and Oyelowo to find more success soon. From ESPN writer, Tim Crothers. (7/10 TIFF priority, set for a September 23rd release across North America)


The Rolling Stones Ole Ole Ole: A Trip Across Latin America Paul Dugdale

There’s no IMDb page for this one, but I’m going to take shelter and assume that this one is self-explanitory. If not, I will be shattered. (6/10 priority for TIFF)


The Secret Scripture Jim Sheridan

The names attached to this one are intriguing to say the least, with the director being the largest wild card of the bunch. Starring Rooney Mara and Vanessa Redgrava as Roseanne McNully, a woman who spent time in a mental asylum and kept a diary. 

Knowing Sheridan, this will have sentimentality in spades, but hopefully it’s the kind of approach administered in In America and not of the Brothers remake. (7/10 TIFF priority with no date set for its release, although Relativity Media holds its rights and is probably going to see if this is the right movie to release for awards’ play)


Snowden Oliver Stone

A biopic about Edward Snowden, the former TSA employee-turned-government traitor, who exposed the lies about the American citizen’s privacy. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has recently been exploring a lot of biographical films of late, this will undoubtedly be a good movie, but how good will it be? 

We know Oliver Stone has the potential to deliver with explosive material, but also that in recent years he has become less angry in his approach to cinema and more empathetic to his subjects. If this is met with the coldness and odd humor of W., it may serve the almost surreal material a little better, but until we see this, it’s impossible to know what kind of Oliver Stone film this will be. Co-starring Shailene Woodley and Zachary Quinto as the first journalists to interview Snowden in Russia. (6/10 TIFF priority, the film is set for a theatrical release during the film festival (September 8th to 18th)


Strange Weather Katherine Dieckmann

From the director of 2006’s Diggers (and an apparent Uma Thurman disaster called Motherhood I missed), Katherine Dieckmann is back with her first feature since 2009. It stars Holly Hunter who travels back home, to America’s south, after the death of her son. I don’t know if she’s there to settle a score or rectify a situation, but IMDb describes the film as a movie about grief and forgiveness. 

Co-starring Carrie Coon. There are two fine actresses to view here, but this doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. I like my southern flicks directed by David Gordon Green, anyway. (5/10 TIFF priority, no release date slated yet, although Great Point Media holds world-wide distribution rights)


Their Finest Lone Scherfig

A comedy about propaganda? Well, okay. 

Starring Jack Huston, Gemma Arterton and Bill Nighy, the film is set in England during WWII. I don’t know who’s in charge, but after Germany’s Blitzkrieg, members of this cast are tasked with creating films (or a film?) to raise morale of the civilians at home, fearful of Hitler’s rise. This is also an adaptation of a novel by the same name, so if you’re curious, by all means run out to a bookstore and let me know if this sounds good. Shoot, if I do it first I’ll post a one-two. (7/10 TIFF priority for me with no distribution anywhere set) 


A United Kingdom Amma Asante

Potentially on-par with the message of Jeff Nichols’ latest offering, Amma Asante (director of Belle) and the writer of the quietly explosive Eye in the Sky and Five Minutes of Heaven (Guy Hibbert) come together with David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike to tell the story of love beyond race in a racist world. 

Co-starring Tom Felton (DRACO!), Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) and Jack Davenport (you’ll know him if you see his face), this film about the Prince of Botswana marrying a British woman in late 1940s will undoubtedly slap the pro-UK taste right out of your mouth, especially if you’ve just seen the aforementioned Their Finest at the festival, Amma Asante will probably crush the sophomore curse and we can all expect an American distributor soon. (7/10 TIFF priority, slated for a mid-November theatrical release in the Kingdom. I would say U.K., but I don’t know if the U exists anymore.)

Alright, thanks for reading, or skimming this post. I’ll try and keep at it for the next few weeks. On that note, I’ll work on a piece for Special Presentations tomorrow. Peace.


Anomalisa is the pet name Michael Stone, a traveling lecturer (voiced by David Thewlis) gives a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) after a brief sexual encounter that he initiates. He calls her this after she calls herself an anomaly, as well as many misanthropic, belittling things. She is uncomfortable in calling herself an anomaly, but only sometimes. She reads the dictionary when she reads books with large vocabularies, thinks her friends are prettier than her, and doesn’t ever believe anyone will love her. Michael, on the other hand, has spent the night trying to find any woman he can to satisfy his sexual sadness.

This is past the halfway point of Charlie Kaufman’s latest film about a solipsistic male with literary success passing through life without appreciation. It is also the first time I’ve realized what a paltry writer this most critically lauded man is. In the form of an animated film, however, the purpose of his work becomes more scant and it is clear that he most successfully communicates in quirks. When you hear two characters speaking candidly, you’ll see that it’s always one who is more vulnerable and the other who is incapable of empathy. It is as if he is always writing in front of a mirror.

Much of the wry humor from this film comes in the form of dejected people moving through life in the same patterns they always have. A cab driver will recommend the city’s zoo time and time again; the bag boy at the hotel will be as mechanic as they all are, but because he is a stop motion figure, it’s refreshingly funny. These are little moments that work, but only because of the implemented gimmick. If this were a film starring David Thewlis, it would nonetheless be acclaimed, but I personally take less from an animated film expressing existential ideas, unless the atmosphere or scope is equally mature (When The Wind Blows), but here, the animation is precisely monotonous to a fault – it would have worked better in the hands of Spike Jonze.

I could write more about this movie, but I honestly hated it. This is from a fan of all of Charlie Kaufman’s past work, but now, I’m starting to wonder if any representation of women in his movies make any sense. Upon reflection, they are loose caricatures meant for their male counterpart to deal with – and most of the time, they lack the depth of intelligence. Even in Adaptation., Susan, the author Meryl Streep plays, is an aloof mind hopped up on drugs compared to even the more asinine Kaufman persona. Just take these things into consideration when characters are speaking and you think the writing is so honest and true because honestly, I believe that this writer only knows how to examine himself and depreciate others in his own self-depreciation.

The conversation when Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voice turns into a Tom Noonan is most telling. You don’t like people? You don’t like yourself? Fine. But explain that more than having the words she’s saying “Oh we can go to the zoo” seem like the worst piece of shit he’s ever heard. It isn’t. If he really wanted any joy in life, he might have thought that was okay, but if he can’t appreciate anything, then why did this movie exist? Why did Lisa feel any happiness despite knowing the worthlessness of their encounter? That makes no fucking sense, Charlie. From me to you.

12 Years a Slave.


“You’re a slave!” is yelled at Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the early stages of the film while he has his back intermittently beaten on with force by some unknown Southern captive in the nation’s capital. He is chained to the floor.

The film opens in Saratoga, New York, 1841, where Solomon was and has always been a free man. He has a wife and family, though he does not seem absolutely close with his children it is clear he is just like all of us. In fact, he might have married into the family.
As with Shame, Steve McQueen opens on a dizzying montage that, at once, feels like an introduction to the film, but later is realized as a middle part of the story, the narrative later told. Sleeping on the floor in a room of a dozen or two, he is next to a woman he doesn’t know. This stranger presses up against him, grabs his hand and longs for some true loving feeling; perhaps she will never see any person she has loved again. Solomon allows her to use him to fulfill her desire, but when it is done she turns away and sobs while he turns over and looks evermore astonished. He is silent. Before she touched him, his face was full of unhappy thought and unrest. 

The conditions of slavery are equivocal to being a horse brought up on a barn. It is hell. These men and women work are considered someone else’s property and are beaten for not performing up to whatever standard their owner wants them to and sometimes just to break them into being who they want them to be – their perfect labor. Some slavers simply want extra hands around to maintain what they have – some of them are just lost souls looking for a way to make it work in the South, perhaps to compete with other men who do have such “free” labor. In any case, it is wrong and while Solomon knows that in his heart, there is nothing he can do about it. The same applies for the first man who buys him, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is a preaching kind of man who views the black people he procures less as property and more as a fellow working being. That is what makes it absolutely heartbreaking when Solomon does good by him — in a way that will generate more productivity on his land — and his reward is a violin, followed by Ford’s happy supposition, “I hope this will bring both of us much happiness in years to come”.

The expressions Chiwetel Ejiofor brings to the forefront of the film are palpable beyond comprehension. It may be easy to assume you know what a character is feeling at any given moment, especially if they are trapped into slavery, but his eyes always carry with them an observation of the time that reaches far beyond any indignation or suffering. When he arrives with Mitsy (Adepero Oduye) after she has her children taken away from her and sold, William Ford’s wife says “My poor child… have some food and rest, soon your children will be forgotten”. He is wearing a sunhat as he passes by this dialogue and his face speaks a thousand words more than “You have no idea what kind of pain this is” or “Wow, you ignorant woman.” In this moment, I believe he also fears for his own future and why the ending, where he apologetically embraces his family, is more appropriate and dramatic than I first realized.
Though it isn’t heavily touched on verbally, though it is sometimes implied through emotion, it is clear that Solomon Northrup was at odds with his mind and thinking about his family. On one hand, perhaps he feared his family would forget about him — they didn’t know where he went off to and it’s impossible for anyone to have heard a word about him. Selling a free man into slavery requires much conspiracy and discretion. He’s lost his name now and is known only as Platt. At some point in the film, perhaps he doesn’t even know himself anymore, it has been that long from the city and people of whom he has developed a home, but one thing is for sure – his family is bereft of him, his presence and his income and he of their love. Before he was sold into slavery, his wife was preparing to work for the season. Black civilians don’t really have many people around them supporting them in 1841, or if they do then there are an equal amount of dismissive and outspoken dissidents, so maybe his wife has taken to another man, simply for the love and support of her family. None of this is explicitly stated in the movie — if I have only one qualm with the film it is that, even at 134 minutes, it is too short to fully chronicle the twelve years of Solomon’s pensiveness and its sense of time, where and when, is nonexistent — but perhaps that is because, though the narrative is particular for the time (a free black man sold into slavery) and compelling, like all film’s about slavery it is about slavery, that most dark time in American history three generations ago, and all of the encompassed slaves, their conditions and lives more than having an inexorbitant focus on one man and his journey. Slavery is bleak and timeless in its cruelty and here, it separated one man from everything he had known and loved, including his family.

For as much lamenting and apologizing Solomon does to his family at the end of the film for what has happened – being gone from home, forcing himself to forget about them, thinking they forgot about him (when he finds out his daughter named her son after him he is at his most sentimental yet, it is a heartbreaking and tear inducing moment for me) for his becoming hopeless and returning to them in this way – I would’ve liked to have seen him feel more devastated in forgetting his family from introspection. As it is, his fleeting hope for ever being reunited with his family slowly burns out as he watches his fellow people lose everything, their families too, and vanish. None of these are hopeful examples and there is no precedent. That is not to say these scenes do not do enough to help understand the deterioration occurring within Solomon, but it could have been reinforced by showing him alone more with his own conspicuousness and better see the concessions he makes; we could have had a better understanding as to what depths. You can see him repressing beautiful memories in the day time and in the night, but only seldom throughout and there, it is never explicitly stated; only felt. He is a thinking man and abates himself, but the only degrees of that we see are when his expectations fail him – which happens on a few occasions throughout – and ultimately cultivates in an emblematic moment when he destroys his violin; the one that William Ford presented him, the one that he carved the names of his family into, the one he was working toward to someday see them again. He does so after he snaps a string while haphazardly tuning them in the woods. He also poos in the woods but this is faintly touched upon. So faintly you may not even know he does it in the film, but he does. That is his life now. These are all of his concessions.

With them, we see men, gagged, bound and hung, women raped and widowed, children being brought up to be slave lovers and families torn apart. These are theirs. People without voices. People that have spoken with metal guards over their mouths. People, one of whom is named Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o), have been brought up on plantations and who only know how to work for massa, sing for their souls and speak. These black people are people, but if they don’t relent and concede to being work-animals, then they will be beaten within an inch of their life or altogether disposed. What makes this story so extraordinary is that Solomon was an educated man in New York and before being brought to any ranch, a former slave gave him some inside understanding on how to survive on a plantation — “Do not speak, do not let them know you can read or write unless you want to be a dead nigger”. Clearly, there is self-deprecation and much sadness in his words – he is as helpless as Solomon and on a boat to be someone else’s property, too. Ironically, he is freed, his master saves him — he runs, like a lost and frantic pet right off the boat and into his arms. As a man born into freedom, he has never had to sell himself to another for shelter and work, he has never needed any master. Now he is alone left only with his thoughts. If he speaks he may die, but in order to be set free, he must speak (or magically break free from his chains).

From Paul Giamatti, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) buys both Solomon and Eliza. He wants to buy her two children as well, but the auctioneer will not allow that. In fact, he sells her son to another man in front of her eyes. Her daughter will be brought up to be a “beauty queen”. The expression on Mr. Ford’s face is of utter disbelief. He buys the two that he can and leaves. Cumberbatch’s performance in the role is perfect – not quite as limited as the few scenes he has, but far from limitless as I’d like it to be. He plays a man who owns slaves, has them work on fields, heartfully preaches gospel on Sunday’s and does right by Solomon, in that he treats him as an equal, if not for that he owns him.

Once William Ford passes “Platt” onto another slaver, a man to whom he owes a debt by the name of Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who quotes scripture, but is by no means as eloquent or forgiving as Mr. Ford.

I could write a three-page paper on what Michael Fassbender brings to the role of Edwin Epps alone, if I so desired, but I will be brief because there is so much he does that is so good. Apart from being the main antagonist in the movie, the slave-owner Solomon does his best to subserviently appease and they are together along time. Edwin Epps is not an easy man to please if you’re another person, however, if you are alcohol or considered his property, perhaps you can make him happy the way a game of chess could. Some nights he’ll excitedly roust the slaves he owns and bring them into his house for a dance he despotically overseas. The crazy feeling Epps sometimes experiences when inebriated and restless is madly captured by Michael Fassbender, who I would venture to say actually got liquored up before said scenes. He turns a man from a story into someone wild and the evidence of his psychosis is overwhelming. In the role, Fassbender is that wild, unpredictable force.

There is a disturbing way to introduce a character into a movie and John Ridley has found one. Upon looking down at his slaves, he quotes scripture to justify lashings. Many lashings. When they have collectively worked very hard and done much for Epps and maggots and caterpillars destroying his cotton fields. “It’s that Godless lot… they are heathens and have brought me God’s scorn”. He looks, at once, on the verge of tears and seething with spite for his slaves. He decides to lend them to an associate of his for the summer one years and has some funny lines like, “Don’t give him any Biblical plagues, you hear?” When he is challenged and asked to ponder on a world where black men owned white men, his response is “…the hell?”

He’s very self-entitled and arrogant. Edwin Epps is clearly crazy. There is something wrong with his head. He might even have some mental disorder considering how twisted up he seems, lost in the Bible and surely feeling sinful as he gives in to the lustful desires for Patsy time and time again. Between quoting scripture and raping her, crying about her lifelessness and confusion as to why he wants this for himself, choking her to vent his frustration and to keep her aware (to the point of popping her blood vessel), you don’t need to see him threaten Solomon with a gun or chase him with a knife to see his unraveling. But he keeps it together with alcohol, or rather, it could be what’s causing his craziness. That is what fuels and motivates him daily and it might be the reason for all of his confusion.

Michael Fassbender intricately interprets Edwin Epps and the all of his decisions in developing his character strongly registered with me. The emotion in him is most human and to his character, he is empathetic by the way that he grants him understanding despite his vocation. It makes him very relatable and the performance shows you how people who could afford slaves probably felt in the ways that they lived. In that one scene, he almost illiterately preaches scripture to justify his means. He might be the most ignorant person in the world. I mean in an intellectually as well. For all this and more, he leaves an unforgettable impression as a raging and hatefully racist slave-owner in the South.

As Patsy, Lupita Nyong’o gives quite an incredible performance, too. She is so very subtle with her mumble/speech impediment – I think developed from years of not being allowed to cultivate the language – and gently devastating in that way. We see her go through a lot and at one point, she wants Solomon to end her life. He turns away from her, ignoring her plea so he might go to sleep, but these are the kinds of stakes we’re dealing with. In an early scene, she had an incandescent spirit, singing in the sun and living in bliss where everyone else around her – including Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson) – look like they’re living in hell. She is beautiful, but has her beauty taken away from her and spirit put out – time and time again. Though her resilience is profoundly beautiful, it is absolutely devastating when she faints.

A seemingly perfect amount of significance put on every scene and shot. Thanks to this, there are moments where Solomon gets momentary revenge on one ‘master’ in particular and it feels really justified and good. There is bluntness within the dexterity. Then, there are some soft, timely beats impressed upon interactions – some of which are between Mrs. Epps and Solomon after Edwin says he prefers Patsy to her in just about as many words. Therein lies some sexual tension that most tacitly layers the film in ways you would not anticipate, between Mrs. Epps and Solomon at a point or two, although the woman has no idea what to do with it and it leads nowhere, (but that is frequently true in life anyway. This movie is universal.) If she were to sleep with him would it be fair retribution, would her intimate feelings for him be legitimate, or would it ruin her current way of life? Solomon evidently has no interest in her and has no concern for her situation, so she rescinds her independence to the abuse of her husband and is along for the “luxurious” ride.

Those men and women are all lost and looking for comfort, where, adjacently the slaves have all been gathered to one place and have none. The Epps’ and all slave-owners have a need for control and feel astonished when they don’t have a firm grasp of events. Edwin Epps quickly unravels when Patsy disappears one day, so when she returns with a bar of soap (that she claims she had to go next door to get because her mastress, Mrs. Epps, won’t allow her to clean herself with any) It is as pleasurable as anything for Patsy when Solomon has to lash her; he pops her with the whip and that feels like relief until Epps is forced to slice her because Solomon isn’t punishing her enough. Epps overwhelms Solomon, he hates his nonplussed way of being dissenting, especially in this moment now he has to take the whip to the object of his affection, though there is no love between them, only obsession and whips her so relentlessly that his sadness afterward confounds him. With his own inner torment, Solomon adds that there will be karmic retribution for the flesh he has inflicted off of her body, but it seems Edwin forgets about all that because we never see Solomon punished by him again. In this scene, there are so many different waves of emotions that rapidly change as time goes on, and it’s masterfully done in one take. For all I know, for as fraught has he felt Edwin Epps enjoyed whipping Patsy. This is why Michael Fassbender is the actor I would most like to work with. He is a fragmented soul; very dangerous and very confused.

Justice lies in karma and universal truths and the guilty convince themselves with any kind of justification until they are unaffected. That is said by some of the film’s characters late on in the film and is the basis for everything that happens in 12 Years a Slave. For all the pain and suffering we see, the filmmaker is trying to communicate that, on some level, this is okay. It is not okay in the sense that “this is the way the world works,” because no, it is fundamentally corrupt and inhumane; no, rather, they are saying it is okay in the sense that whoever passes on graciously from this life will be rewarded in the next, or if not some form of reincarnation then these slaves are beautiful souls and eventually, the walls surrounding these men who think they’re kings will fall onto them. We know what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is deceitful. We know Solomon is right in looking for a way home and his masters are wrong for holding him and anyone else captive. That is a universal truth. This is not pressed upon too much – through visuals or the text – but this theme is stated and tips its hat toward poetic justice in a world that may sometimes not feel so just.
I know seeing Patsy torn up the way she was broke Solomon’s spirit. The bloody reality of this flower was simply too much. I think in this moment he forgets about his family and loses himself to the reality in front of him. Too many unreal things are happening, things he never thought he would see are causing him to capitulate hope; he’s been dreaming about his family for so long and this world has broken him. It was perfectly captured on the face of Chiwetel Ejiofor and how he holds himself.

For some actors and the films themselves, the scene where Solomon becomes part of the group singing for Uncle Abe, who died in the field, might be played as a crowning moment as the actor has a loud moment and his character is submitting to being a slave; he’s finally participating in group song. Instead of being in a state of contagion with melancholy, they sing and raise their spirits and with it, their blinkered hope. But here, he does not want your attention. Not Solomon Northup, nor Steve McQueen. They play it straight; in this scene, Solomon is a man in pain bellowing out his catharsis. He’s played a violin for a living, but he has never opened up this throat in this way. He probably doesn’t want anyone looking at him either, but he’s singing like nobody’s looking and it is a powerful for that reason. Competently handled in one shot, but powerfully acted.

And then he quietly waits in the wind as the clouds overhead change his light to dark. He is vulnerable and looks over at the camera. What an amazing movie.

That reminds me of the scene where Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is hanging by his neck waiting for someone to save him. Kudos to Chiwetel Ejiofor for that scene. It is the most vulnerable position I have ever seen anybody be in in a film. It was amazing, even breathtaking to watch, to see as my stomach sank. There is a reason why I have loved him for years and will always be grateful to watch him perform. He gives himself to the role with his heart, soul, undivided focus and all and demonstrates here that he can do anything, all the while maintaining a solid front to bide the time he needs in order to make it out alive.

Drenched with emotion and pensive ideas, the script does not entirely focus on the endurance of Solomon Northup and in almost every sequence he is reacting to an event or the words of other McQueen protagonists (Bobby in Hunger, Brandon in Shame), where the film, the protagonist and its emotion is slowly built in meticulous silence. For the lead character of not just this movie, but of any film, he spends a lot of time in the background; sometimes not even drawing any attention to himself in shots with five or six people in the frame. This film is highly emotional and artistically inclined; it is very text-heavy and verbose, yet concurrently stoic. In this sense, the film almost entirely captures Solomon’s journey in a symbolic and cinematic way, but on the same token I feel the writing leaves a little to be desired. There is more to be explored and felt with Solomon on his lonesome, I am sure. In one part of the film, on the boat with the other captives, it reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Perhaps if this film had as many silent sequences alone with Solomon the way that and There Will Be Blood do this would be the masterpiece it is crying out to be. It is far more elegant and soundly paced than what you might expect from a 135 minute film steeped in slavery to be, but that is part of the reason I find Steve McQueen’s direction to be flawless. It is beautiful without being sentimental. The last shot is picturesque and sets up Solomon’s retribution. Now, he can rebuild himself and take his life a new, happy direction. With the love of his family once again surrounding him, he has risen above it all.   ****

Blue Is The Warmest Color (La vie d’Adele)

Blue Is The Warmest Colour
 is a great film about love and confusion and is sometimes good in communicating themes about taking that next, important step in your life. 

It begins on Adele in her junior year of high school, age 16 or 17. In walking to her bus stop, she has to use her hand to pull up her pants because they’re too big for her – she hasn’t grown into them yet – and at home, her parents are always drinking and uptight, but provide her with warmth in the form of a shelter and plentiful homemade food. If you’ve seen The Secret Of The Grain (also titled Couscous) you know how sumptuous Abdellatif Kechiche can make food look. Don’t see this movie on an empty stomach. (Especially if you love spaghetti which I do.) 

This sumptuousness visually translates into and all but becomes Abdellatif Kechiche’s misc-en-scene. The sex scenes, which is what a lot of the film is getting attention for, which is inevitable for any NC-17 rated film, are also compelling in that same way. 

One can call the images beautiful or pornographic – like everything, it is subjective and up to the viewer to decide – but I personally felt the acting in those scenes was perfect – both Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux were evoking a higher level of openness in their love – so what is performed is truly compelling on an emotional level. It is also adds interest to the character development as the actresses add layers to their characters when they are together and uninhibited. It’s comparable to, but not quite like Don’t Look Now. However, on another hand I felt there was a superficiality to the sex scenes in how they were composed visually, which is not at all present in the Nicolas Roeg’s film or those sex scenes. 

For this film, Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, I noticed how different the lighting between this scene and any other in the film – especially the preceding one. Before Adele and Emma explore each other’s naked bodies they are together outside smoking under a tree on a sunny Parisian day. They kiss and they’re happy. They’re breathing in fresh air and it is so natural. One is a little dulcet-minded and the other a little pragmatic – we’re seeing how they play off each other as they’re only now becoming more and more acquainted. They haven’t really spent too much time together or even kissed much, that we’ve seen. Then, they’re naked and candles light them from behind — which would softly and romantically illuminate them — but what primarily lights the scene is a bright, additional light source that comes from behind the camera and (softly) shines onto them. Both sex scenes have this exact same lighting scheme. Not only that, they have the same establishing shot and utilize a very plain, almost complacent camera angle — which wouldn’t be bad but they revert to it a few times and one time again — that observes both women, their naked bodies and all their splendor. It even feels like it was shot in one day is how similar those sequences look. That strikes me as artificial, perhaps even a little devoid of artistry, which can be said for much of the film if these key sequences are not fully developed or explored a little more creatively within that time. Not in how it is edited or anything – on the contrary, it is cut together as marvelously as any sex scene(s) could be and without exploitation – but its look is a distraction. The passion is adamantly shown on Exarchopolous and Seydoux’s strewn faces, the acting of its open and intuitive stars. That is its greatest strength. However, I do feel the director provided them with great artistry and it not very compassionate, so it lacks a cinematic element — it’s like the book equivalent of a film — so for as dedicated as I’m sure they all were, it can feel like an emulsion of individual efforts and not a graceful mix of them. 

On top of this, there is no foreplay. Okay, I get it if you think it’s typically soft and artistic to show two young women situated beneath a tree playfully growing on each other in their own maturing ways, but then to have them stark naked in one of their empty apartments without the grace of showing them undress each other or maybe do something else is kind of ignorant. They don’t even show them light the candles. I mean that within the context for as much sex as is shown there is not much but two people really projecting their hormones onto each other. There is definite passion, sure, and some softness later on, but nothing that reaches the magnitude of these sex scenes. 

In my opinion, the acting is actually more thoughtful than how their characters were written. For the most part – the character-heavy writing is certainly good enough to invent and create enough interesting situations and circumstances for three hours to feel like two and a few minutes, so the writing is not without purpose and structure (unlike something like Shame which could have gone different ways depending on who directed it; implying incest for one, implying absolute hopelessness for another), so this isn’t so much a director’s piece as it is a vitally vivid realization of a good, solid script with some superb and bare performances. 

For the first forty-five minutes or so, maybe an hour, Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) has an emotional arc that I felt a lot of empathy for and some sympathy. The film is also called Adele: Chapters I and II and opens on Adele beginning a day and walking toward a bus for school. figuring herself out with some growing to do (pedantically symbolized in her having to pull up her jeans time and time again), but not knowing exactly who she is. At school, the clique of girls around her project her interest in a boy named Thomas and outspokenly support his in her. At some point, she has a realization about herself sexually–and when she does, she wonders it is worth embracing. Where it loses me is when it first explores the dynamic of Thomas being with Adele. In the story, it is understandable that she goes with it because of peer pressure and her own inner feelings of sort of friendly sympathy toward the nice boy in her school, but she has sex with him and it could have been her first time. The film isn’t explicit enough to explain that side of her, at least I don’t remember it so, but if so, the subtitles didn’t allude to her being a virgin. They are young and it hasn’t been implied that Adele has had sex, so if it was, it kind of ignorantly passes over the entire emotional arc going on inside of her during that first experience – one that she rolled with despite her true feelings, which are observed and compelling, sure, but there could be a lot more going on there. If she had lost her virginity in the past, I wonder what she feels about that, especially now. She knows she likes this Emma women, even if she only knows her by her blue hair on the street corner. Is the director making a commentary on how easily sexual young adults/teenagers are (in Paris/France)? That seems somewhat disparaging to say the least, but there is heavy rumination within Adele Exarchopolous’ face during every moment and subsequent moment in those sex and post-sex scenes that are laden with feeling and give off honest energy. 

I could really feel sad for her and want to help her, listen to her and counsel her, if I could, but there’s no way I could. I just had to watch her suffer and then, struggle with her isolation in grappling with her sexual confusion and frustration (having sexual thoughts about someone she may never see again, plus it’s a woman), so I did feel sad – but when hope came (in the form of Lea Seydoux) I felt happy – she would be relieved. I could relate to loving Kubrick and Scorsese, loving it all but “hard rock” and eating my scabs too when I was an adolescent. I can still relate to the former. 

Adele Exarchopolous is so good in this film that the movie’s simply a meditation on Adele. It’s almost entirely her story and she makes you feel for this docile creature – if Lea Seydoux didn’t do so well at capturing the determined artist that is the blue-haired twenty-year old Emma it would have. To Emma, Adele is ambrosial and the essence of her flowering sexuality; the feelings are mutual for her love. 

But in that formulaic kind of way. There’s seldom any tension or tumultuous between the two characters; it was a very agreeable and soft relationship, nice and simple, like two peas in a pod or two tacos in a combo box. No, the three hours warrants it in a way because why does it not? A film is a film – whether it be 70 minutes or 640 minutes, you take it for what it is. But for three hours, I’ve seen many more complicated scenarios depicted and this one takes its time to resolve it in a very “every day” sort of way, sort of like the Dardenne brothers do, but less powerfully. The writing/scripting of this film leaves a lot to be desired and in a way, it feels like an hour was missing. 

This might be because not much happens to her after she and Emma first become intimate. Adele is a solitary character – we never see how she deals with high school and society after being “outed” (or does it all just disappear? or does she stay those girls’ friends?) nor do we see her relationship with her parents evolve or dissipate. There might be a lot more of this character to know within the time frame of this movie that is completely ignored, so for three hours they didn’t do much more than cover the basics of adolescent Adele, her hormones and ambiguous confusion as to what to do with herself in life after making a regrettable “mistake”. 

You see, in the film Emma leaves Adele – forces her out of the house she lives in with her. It is more than that she is an ingenue or likes sex, she is crazy about Emma; her emotions and sex drive are absolutely integrated into that woman and she knows it. To Adele, it feels she is as her as she can be in Emma’s midst’s – naked or not – but when she loses her, it’s like she doesn’t know where to go. This is where a lot of heartbroken individuals will be able to relate to the story, but it doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It doesn’t, for example, hit you so deeply the way Blue Valentine does – or at least not to me, anyway – but the acting is a whirlwind and forcefully leaves an impression on you. 

I wondered why Emma castigated Adele and pushed her away from her as I didn’t find that side of Emma or their relationship thoughtfully explored one bit. Okay, I get it, she is an artist and passionately communicates her anger and distrust to the woman that cheated on her, she is outspoken and bursts at the seams when betrayed, but Emma might have done the same thing; she might have slept with another woman while they were together and there is never any clarity on that. Although it was never spoken of as a possibility that was a big part of the reason Adele went out and actually spent time with the male co-worker she sleeps with  (Benjamin Siksou) . She felt lonely and abandoned. Adele is left to resent herself with no sameness, compassion or lightness present – no one to say “It’s okay” and only one love who degrades her and maybe forgives her. Though her nature is changing to function within society the way her parents do – work to be stable – it feels like Kechiche left her to twist in the wind with the open-ended doubt Adele harbors and absconds with at the end of the film. That is, as she walks away from us. 

There is also this flaw in the direction. Time lapses are a problem – there is a lack of sentimentality in how the film communicates the time spans between from one moment to the next, so sometimes Adele’s state of emotion has little or no sense of context; we simply see her as a woman in some distress and there is sometimes a vague idea behind it, but mostly these are ten second shots of her tear-strewn face and it’s well-acted, but repetitive and yields her emotional arc for awhile, while generating lackluster drama for most of the second/third hour. A lot of drama not plundered leaves the film ultimately light and similar throughout for the two hours after the first and to little poetic reward. Now that isn’t Kechiche’s fault, but there is no elegance. There is no music or cross-fades. No love shown in the face of great sorrow — Adele has to escape the biting judgment of her classmates after being outed, she has to run away from Emma when she wants her out and she has to run away from the party when she is a success. This is beauty. This is love, is it not? But you do not show her love. Why? Director, you could have extended a tissue to her from behind the camera it would have meant something, but you chose to ignore her. It’s pretty sad, man. 

For example the film skates over Adele’s rendez-vous with her co-worker from the school where they teach. Apparently they slept together on three occasions, but we never see one of them. We see them passionately dance once and kiss twice, once before Adele is dropped off at Emma’s so it looks like it’s just a kiss goodbye from a night out or something, but in a film with some rather long and graphic sex scenes – not to mention being three hours long – this part of the plot is completely dismissed. It makes for a somewhat disenchanting scene when Emma confronts her about it. When she accuses Adele of sleeping with him, I was thinking “No? Why are you being so mad about this, don’t you love her?”

Adele, her guilt, desperation and the inception of her romantic confusion, or at least how she deals with loneliness and the feeling of abandonment are all avoided, so when that confrontation arises it lacks the thoughtfulness, pathos and the overall acknowledgment needed to help realize where she is in life – at that juncture – as the first part does so well in amalgamating. It seems the more the story progressed the less inclined the director seemed to create a whole, flowing picture; it is as if he was focused on Adele the helpless ingenue and didn’t allow her to grow with time; it’s as if he knows what he wants to passionately explore, does so and leaves the details — the small, human incongruities — for the audience to think about, neglecting to think deeply himself. 

Latter parts feel anticlimactic whereas the opening act has a flow; the film is so long, though, that the lack of climax in any particular spots and jarring, popping bits work as a kind of kinetic energy for the film. This may be because she is earnestly an ingenue in that time of her life, but does not grow later on in the film, so when things happen to her, when she is sad and all of a sudden she is no longer 16 but 20, you think, wow. That is the same technique imposed on the other feature of his I have seen, The Secret Of The Grain, although without the time lapses. This style works in a documentary kind of way in that it is inoffensive to the eyes and ears, it appears as if we are watching life as it is, so we can happily follow it as long as it is professionally observed. It is. 

If it’s any testament to the two actresses who forefront the film, it is that I have something to say about the romance and romantic love they displayed. They, Adele and Emma, both had their problems – Adele was still precocious and innocent, growing into a big change and learning to be herself in the world around her and Emma was fixed in her self-deprecating and hedonistic ways. Though I would have liked to have known why she ended things with her previous partner of two years before meeting Emma – I thought that perhaps the flame between she and Adele burnt so strong that her undeniable attraction separated them, but a little more elaboration on others matters like those would’ve added texture to the whole picture. 

This is a film about young people discovering and accepting themselves while growing up in the city – or if not, it mostly works when it focuses on the world around it – so for it to encompass more subplots and supporting stories would’ve been a good thing. Some of the best scenes are when Adele is in high school with her somewhat openly gay friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek), who she can be open with and who takes her out to the “gay social scene” district where she first meets Emma. These are all very good sequences, and so are the dinner scenes with Emma’s parents and then, Adele’s. They’re not the most emotional of scenes, but each piece adds a different and helps invest us in the worlds of these characters. That’s why I felt most cheated that the movie spans a year or two here or an uncertain amount of time (but probably another two years) there without any indication – I felt cheated of a lot of this journey because for as much as the two women clearly mean to each other, there is no real understanding between them. Whatever the reason, it feels spurious to span that much time and not have some, or at least some closure and hope for Adele. What are her days like? What are they now – is there any focus? If so, why? If not, okay… because of Emma? Wow. This doesn’t feel like Adele: Chapter 1 and 2. It feels like Adele: Chapter 1 – a very long chapter, but one nonetheless.

There is clearly a lot more story than what is depicted in La vie d’Adele’s three hours. For me, it is a base-level observation of a relationship that probably intertwined much more deeply and dwelt on a lot more feeling, the pain and the profound love, than shown in the movie. This film is mostly about passion and confusion. Adele’s curious passion for Emma, her identifiable passion for life (she loves kids, she loves food), Emma’s passion for art and her work, and her passion for Adele’s youthful openness and body. It works as a simple prose on those feelings – passion, romance and confusion – especially as they often play into each other, but they are different rewards that are taken from the story other than the profoundly beautiful sides it has to offer – like the dynamic shift in personalities the main characters undergo from before their relationship begins to well after. They have changed each other and it is for the better, but there is no way Adele sees that. That’s why I think Adele was more than some unforgettable person with whom Emma sexually bonded, if anyone thinks otherwise. They facilitate each other’s growths in a personal way – I think for Emma it was a big way, it made her feel more safe and want to have a family, whereas in high school that’s something Adele would’ve wanted, but now she only wants love. That right there is universal, but so is the pain of rejection and having to find yourself. There is great reward in finding yourself and for how much destitution Adele feels – from the beginning of “chapter one” to the ending of “chapter two” – she ultimately feels bad about herself and uncomfortable. 

It’s a great relationship movie. However, very little of it is elaborated on within the film’s text. The writing is very conversational, but there will be stretches of no dialogue, so there is an honest flow, but a lot more could have been explored. It’s pretty stripped down and stretched out. 

Django Unchained


I haven’t fully written my opinion on a film in awhile because I’ve
grown to feel that film criticism — or criticism in general — can be
like starting a fight; sometimes critics take their criticisms too
seriously (like me, previously unbeknownst to me) and deflate the films
they discuss or themselves feel deflated if their view and articulation
does not resonate with the world. These days I feel like writing about
anything related to cinema can only be viewed as an extension of my own
creative mind, so before you read this, know that this will be, maybe,
some unusual type of write-up on Quentin Tarantino’s latest film – of
which I’m sure you are anticipating or have seen and have probably
liked because it’s a likable film.

Prior to the 1PM advanced screening showing that my wife and I snuck
into this afternoon, I had seen the seven films by Quentin Tarantino,
most of them more than once (Death Proof being the only exclusion). If
you are unfamiliar with his work, the man’s style hearkens back to and
is a hodgepodge of cinema past and present. This means spaghetti
Westerns (Sergio Leone, Franco Nero and Sam Peckinpah), the Nouveau
Vague (until now, mostly Jean-Luc Godard, but this film reminisces
Francois Truffaut more), the Samurai films of Tomu Uchida and Hiroshi
Inagaki, and others – even Blaxploitation. That’s why when you enter a
film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, you should try to
remind yourself not to feel offended during the movie you’re about to
watch. Because his mind, his heart, his vision is all deeply founded in
cinema. He is rooted in it. So when you hear his overt use of the word
n-gger it isn’t that he is too cavalier about it – it’s because
filmmakers before him have decided that it was okay – because he
relates back to them for clarity – because he grew up watching and
loving those movies. That’s what I believe is the case, anyway, and if
so, it allows his films to be as sprawling and carefree as he is.

In Django Unchained’s case, it gets in the way of the film having a
real moral or emotional catharsis, but as was Inglourious Basterds this
is a sort-of wonky look at a rough patch in history with the intention
to send the audience home feeling like they’ve won, like mankind has
won. Here, I feel as if Jamie Foxx’s carnation of Django wasn’t raw
enough, wasn’t a slave enough, to get the hairs on the back of my neck
to stand up the moment he succeeds. He succeeds often – he is the
stallion, the hero climbing the mountain to slay the dragon and free
the princess, he is Quentin Tarantino’s chosen character for Quentin
Tarantino’s film, and that means you’ll have to like him, and that
he’ll do all the things Tarantino wants his good guy to do. He’ll do
everything you expect him to do, and in that, Jamie Foxx’s beautiful,
reflective eyes and nice charisma gets the film by with the tone I
think Quentin Tarantino intended this film to have, and that’s a kind
of tongue-in-cheek, but violently harsh tone with, of course,
victorious undertones.

However, there are moments where you’ll wonder where he’ll go with it.
An hour* into the film, Dr. King Schultz and Django enter Calvin
Candie’s house — on a cotton plantation, with a plan to get Django’s
wife Broomhilda from him — to see, before them, two Mandingos (they
are called) fighting each other to the death. For game. And it is
violent. And it is brutal. To see and feel – and what isn’t seen is
heard, and what isn’t heard is still thought and felt. This is how
we’re introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s villain.

The writing/justification for his character’s wild behaviour isn’t
quite understood. I mean, it is written to be understood – his
character hasn’t left the plantation all his life, it’s a time before
any sort of society or real civilization, at least to him. He is very
insecure, very insecure, and that is an issue too. Is this because the
times made him that way — that his situation was simply as ruinous for
his mind as the time was for his slaves’? If so, Quentin Tarantino
spares no expense allowing us to feel sorry for his antagonist – or
anyone like him. It’s very black and white and right here Tarantino is
going black, baby – even Dr. King Schultz’s charisma is almost
identical to that of Col. Hans Landa’s, but because the character sides
(even if incidentally) with the slaves (ie. Django) his actions, the
same ones he would take to the Jews in Inglourious Basterds, are
considered triumphant. It’s moralistically slippery because its only
stance is a superficial one, a judgmental one, and therein lies the
film’s only major problem – its lack of humanity.

Storytelling and dialogue have always been Tarantino’s strong suit.
While his tale of vengeance is fully realized, narratively, I feel the
cleverness in Tarantino’s verbosity wavering – at least in these
historical pieces. I feel he’s trapping himself in the times, using
language that might be relevant, might be clever, might even be funny,
but it’s mostly flowery and possesses not an idea, but a point – a
point his character wants to make, and none of them really have
anything to say except to each other, and that just leads to more plot.
That’s okay – that makes a movie pass by really fast if it has panache,
and this does, Tarantino’s films always will – but it does lack that
soul quality. (Maybe if someone more deeply rooted themselves in the
lead role the film would have possessed more humanity – well it would
have – but it would have just skated over the underlying scriptural
issue.)The best actors in the film do bring a lot of themselves into
their roles and that helps bring to life the dark, yet colorful cast of
characters: Christoph Waltz is wonderfully composed and precise as the
sharp-shooting Dr. King Schultz, Leonardo DiCaprio (whose performance
is ever growing on me) is wild and triumphant, but also edgier than
I’ve ever seen as Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson is perhaps the
most interesting as Stephen, who appears to be – or at least I
interpreted him as – the sadistic male version of Hattie McDaniel’s
mammie from Gone With The Wind; when he cries at the end, you will
laugh and be mind-blown. These are three great performances.

As I said before, I think Quentin Tarantino is absolved from any
vilification, morally or otherwise. I think his intentions are as pure
as cinema, but this is a daunting film, and while you can play with any
subject matter to entertaining effect, it’s clear to me that with
stories like this one, ones where all of its characters are living some
sort of hell, you have to have humanity; you have to try and understand
people. Sometimes he’s rather play a Rick Ross song to convey his
protagonist’s charged blood-lust instead of his face – and that’s okay.
(Actually, the song that plays was produced by Jamie Foxx, so in a way
that is him. By some extension, it’s all him.) For the most part, the
violence of the film is gruesome – a hot topic for a lot of people to
talk about because it has effected them all. Unfortunately, very few
people seem to be raving how satisfying the film was. People can take
pain but not unless you give them the right pleasure, and sadly that
ending felt too much like artifice. He built up something real – the
violence, too, was real – but ended it so foolishly, like a cartoon.

So, it is my opinion that Django Unchained is entertaining and has a
lot of things to be enjoyed. There’s beauty (Robert Richardson’s
cinematography is picturesque), there’s excitement (the story unfolds
interestingly enough, it moves along) and is an undeniably finely tuned
and well put together motion picture. Ultimately though, there’s
nothing more to think about when those credits close, save a few of the
scenes and the acting throughout. Oh, and of course the technical
production – for the beautiful homage of a world they all created
through collaboration. All of them.

* The first hour is one in which Django and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) get to know each other after the former is bought by the latter in the film’s opening scene. You will notice that the slave walking montage that plays with the opening credits features a lot of panoramic shots, far-zooms, cinematic playfulness and beauty. This will be featured a lot in the film to fine effect. Not quite how Robert Altman handled the lens, but still not bad.