Monday, September 20, 2010

Casino Jack

In brief:
Kevin Spacey is great in this role but the complicated back room deals are not that interesting to watch.

Might be of interest to those who are addicted to TV shows like "The Apprentice."

Small Town Murder Songs

Ed Gass-Donnelly
In brief:
I have to admit that I slept through part of this film and had to watch it from the front row -- not ideal conditions; however, what I saw were earnest characterizations by well-meaning actors with a tepid story. I would like to see it again in a more comfortable screening position. Jackie Burroughs is wonderful in one of her last film performances. Music by Bruce Peninsula.

Q & A with director, Ed Gass-Donnelly.

The way it was filmed.
The use of scripture.
Where did the idea come from?
The Mennonite setting.
The radio playing in the soundtrack.
The casting.

Addendum afer second (complete) screening:

As I said, it's much better sitting a bit farther back and you have to be awake for the whole movie to get the plot. We had it at our OS Reel Festival in January and it was well worth seeing, though not your traditional story-telling movie. Use of locale was evident -- it was meant to be set in Canada and didn't pretend to be elsewhere.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Route Irish

In brief:
Another Ken Loach winner. Excellent characters. Engrossing story. I could even figure out when the story was in flashback. Bitter ending.



In brief:
"Based on the inspirational life of Betty Anne Waters, Conviction tells the story of the unstoppable love between a brother and sister and the lengths to which one woman will go to save her family." And it works.


In brief:
Glorious premise: the same day keeps repeating itself until the three main characters "get it right." It falters a bit in the middle when there are just a few too many repetitive days that don't further the plot that much and Richard de Klerk hasn't quite thrown off enough of his "Cole" persona to be believed as the out of control psychopath -- but the final scenes are enough to forgive these lapses.

Friday, September 17, 2010


In brief:
Great photography and great access to what goes on in Afghanistan, this documentary about a group of Danish soldiers is unflinching in its portrayal of a seemingly unwinnable conflict.



In brief:
This is a harrowing story about sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia and the UN peace-keeper who brought the story of UN officers' part in it. For some reason, it's not as engaging as it might have been. Rachel Weisz doesn't engender any sympathy but comes off as an earnest and bull-headed protagonist.

Even the Rain

Producer Juan Gordon
In brief:
It is early in 2000 during the protests in Bolivia in response to the the government’s decision to privatize the water company. A filmmaker is making a film about Columbus's first voyage to the New World. His actors and non-actors are caught up in both events.

Sounds complicated. But it isn't.

Very captivating story, this film makes parallels between the film makers' use of extras for their movie, the water company's treatment of the peasants, and exploitations past and present.

Q & A with producer Juan Gordon:
How did the scriptwriters collaborate?
Did the people of Cochabamba influence the script?
Did you have problems with the politicians currently in Cochobamba?
How did you cast the non-actors?
Weren't you afraid of exploiting the extras and actors?
What is the current situation vis a vis privatization of water distribution?


In brief:
"This tight psychological thriller was improvised during its sixteen-day shoot by Demers and his cast" according to the write-up on the TIFF website. Unfortunately the director did the editing himself and makes a mess of a good story. He might have had a better movie if he'd left some of the improvisations on the cutting room floor.

High Cost of Living

Director Deborah Chow
In brief:
Zach Braff and Isabelle Blais are outstanding in this film about a car accident that brings them together: he, a drug dealer in Montreal, she, eight months pregnant with a neglectful husband.

Q & A with director Deborah Chow:
Was that the original scripted ending?
Do you find it easier or more difficult to direct a script you wrote?
Can you tell us about the body makeup for Isabelle Blais?
Locations used in Montréal.
At what point did Telefilm get involved?
How did you pay the bills during the five years of pre-production?
What is your next project?
Will this film be at any other festivals?
Can you talk about the weather problems of filming in February?
What are your influences?
How was TIFF convinced since you finished it two weeks ago?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

L.A. Zombie

In brief:
Might have been better if they hadn't taken out the porn scenes. Certainly wasn't worth the 63 minutes spent at this year's festival.
Bruce LaBruce with producers.
This is the version of the film that was banned at an Australian film festival ... but this was the soft-core version which we saw at TIFF. Not sure why. It's just a badly-made movie with lots of leaps in the action and bad continuity. I think there was one main character played by Francois Sagat, but his makeup kept changing. I'm not sure if there was more than one predatory gay zombie or several.


In brief:
Excellent story. Well-acted and believable. A husband and wife have an affair with the same man and keep it a secret from each other. Lots of laughs and lots of twists in the story keep the audience guessing.

Black Ocean

In brief:
The story of three sailors taking part in nuclear tests over the Pacific Ocean in 1972, this film is too long and too uninteresting.


Blue Valentine

Ryan Gosling & Director/Writer Derek Cianfrance
In brief: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are outstanding as a couple in a rocky marriage. Flashbacks show them in happier times. Well-acted and thoroughly riveting portrayals.

Q & A with director Derek Cianfrance & Ryan Gosling:
How much of the script was written and how much improvised?
How was it edited since there was so much improvisation?
Where did the story come from?
What was the inspiration for using the Grizzly Bears music?
How close was the final film to the original vision?
Audience member admires Ryan's singing.

Bang Bang Club

In brief:
Too much story. Characters that look too much alike. Supposedly many of the extras are re-creating what they did during the civil war in South Africa before the end of apartheid. More time was spent on the re-creations than on character development so that, in the end, it's impossible to connect with any of them.

Q & A with director Steven Silver:
Why is this story relevant to you?
How was the story optioned and the process? How did being a documentarian help?
When to shoot and when to help?
What happened to the child?
How was it for the South African actors to revisit these events?
How do you balance your South African and Canadian identity?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Director Gregg Araki, TIFF staff,
actor Thomas Dekker
In brief: Billed as "outrageously over-the-top" this film went right over my head. I can't remember too much of the complicated plot and won't spend much time trying to think back on it.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

In brief: Well worth seeing in 3-D. Absolutely mesmerizing look at drawings in the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc cave, created more than thirty thousand years ago. Since no one except archeologists are allowed in, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the drawings on the curved walls of the cave -- made all the more real by the 3-D cinematography.


Blessed Events

In brief:
She has a one-night stand on New Year's Eve and when she runs into the man again and tells him that she's pregnant he decides he should marry her. Boring story. Unappealing characters. A waste of time.



In brief:

How can a movie that takes place inside a box have the most inventive cinematography? When you build several versions of the box as the director did for this one.

Ryan Reynolds is outstanding as the buried truck driver in Iraq. It was impossible to take a breath as the story was told in real time.

As the final minutes unfold, there was a hush in the audience. Not for the claustrophobic.


In brief:
Potiche is the French word for "vase" ... or in the case of a "femme potich" we would label it a "trophy wife." That's what this film is about and if you like Francois Ozon's films you'll love this one. It's told in his trademark stylized way. But the best thing in the film is Catherine Deneuve as the trophy wife and if you love her, you'll also love this film. The story might seem to be a light comedy but there is a feminist streak which keeps it from being overly frothy. Lots of laughs and Deneuve is excellent eye-candy throughout.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Director John Sayles
In brief:
This is the story of the American takeover of the Philippines around 1900. Amateur actors and professionals interact in stagey scenes. John Sayles was proud to tell us that many of the extras were able to re-create the farming duties of the past because they still knew how to do it. Verisimilitude does not always make for great movies.

Q & A with director John Sayles:
How was the script developed?
What was different about shooting and editing digital with the Red Camera versus film?
Was the phrase "hearts and minds" contemporary? And lots more background history.
Were the Filipino actors professional? And more about language difficulties.
How did you get American actors and extras?


In brief:

Xavier Dolan didn't have enough script to fill up the full hour and a half so he shot a lot of the scenes in slow-motion to make them last a bit longer. Boring characters who are full of themselves. Like his earlier movie, this one is tedious to sit through -- although it does have a satisfying ending.


Rabbit Hole

In brief:
Incredibly engrossing and believable film about a young couple dealing with the death of their son. The story is told in scenes that reveal a little bit more about each of the characters and how they handle stress as it goes along. Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart are superb. The ending scenes are beautifully shot and a perfect resolution for both main characters.
Director John Cameron Mitchell, Scripwriter David Lindsay-Abaire,
and actors Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Nicole Kidman.
"Rabbit Hole" won Broadway's Tony Award for Best Play, and the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Screenplay written by the playwright David Lindsay-Abaire who also wrote "Shrek, the Musical" and "SpiderMan 4." Nicole Kidman bought the script and her company produced it. Who would have imagined this as the next film for the director of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and "Shortbus."
Q & A with cast & crew:
Rabbit Hole Q & A?
Questions: How did Nicole choose John Cameron Mitchell. Plot: Did Howard do it? Audience member predicts Oscar. How was the casting done? How did the actors balance the grief and humour? Nicole answers. Aaron shrugs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Little White Lies

In brief:
French version of "The Big Chill" had too many characters and too many intertwining stories in this two-hour-long film. Too long and might have been better if some of the stories could have been omitted -- especially the unbelievable gay story-line which seemed to be included just for laughs.


127 Hours

Danny Boyle
In brief:
Danny Boyle gives us a gripping story and James Franco gives us a believable role. We know what's going to happen but that doesn't mean we're not held in suspense. Perhaps it's horrendous to watch but it only lasts for one-tenth the time it happened in real life. True story well-told.

Q & A with director Danny Boyle:
How true were the video messages?
How and where was it filmed?
How did you choose James Franco?
How do you film something that really happened?
How did you work with the editor?
Was the storm sequence real or added by the scriptwriter?

Outside the Law

In brief:
Billed as "sweeping, dramatic and grand in scale" this film tries to be everything to everyone but characterizations are lost in the action which overtakes them. Another of the many recreations of true events at this festival that struggle to put a human face on history and end up burying the people in the stereotypical roles.



In brief:
Not your normal super-hero but someone who decides to take the law into his own hands, using a tool he finds at hand. Later he is joined by an equally psycho partner. Rain Wilson (of Six Feet Under fame) and Ellen Page are perfectly cast. Not for the squeamish, however.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cool It

In brief:
Thought provoking film followed by a half-hour Q & A with the subject of the movie. Badly advertised and misrepresented as a movie which took exception with "An Inconvenient Truth" and global warming -- viz. the title -- but was no such thing.



In brief:
The actions goes back and forth in time enough to make your head spin. I had no idea that some of the scenes were flashbacks to childhood till it was too late to care. Disorienting.

Apparently the director based this on his own life but he assumed we knew more than he was willing to tell us.

The Conspirator

In brief:
Pedantic script. Re-creation of what happened after the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Waxworks actors quoting "authentic" lines from history. Good for schools perhaps, though the kids would be bored to tears no doubt.


Easy A

In brief:
Perfectly plotted, acted, and designed. Even the opening credits were uniquely handled as were the closing credits.

Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as the parents were superb.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Amazon Falls

Amazon Falls Q & A
In brief:
Quite interesting story but the actors didn't have time to develop their characters and left us with a flat performance. Unnecessary and extraneous plot bits. Plagues of Job visited on an aging actress in Hollywood.

I kept waiting for the actress to say "I'm ready for you now, Mr. de Mille."

By the way, it was mainly shot in BC with second unit picking up the Hollywood scenery. Very cleverly edited.


In brief:
Excellent actors in search of a plausible script. Each actor seemed to be in his or her own movie. No connection between them. Robert De Niro phoned in his part.


The King's Speech

Director Tom Hooper, Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush
In brief:
True story of King George VI overcoming stuttering with the help of an Australian Henry Higgins. Absolutely compelling and flawless performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.


Behind Blue Skies

Actors Bill Skarsgard, Peter Dalle
In brief:
Swedish film that started out as a coming-of-age movie and became something more. Apparently based on a true scandal that happened in the seventies in Sweden.

Crimes and misdemeanors in cottage country.


Friday, September 10, 2010


Director, José Luis Guerin
In brief:
A documentary not for everyone. Gave us portrait(s) of people who would not ordinarily be given a chance to talk. Certain scenes were head-scratch inducing but it was fascinating when it showed ordinary people doing ordinary things talking about their lives.