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#drTIFF Is In: Fill Your #TIFF16 Prescription Here – Updated Daily

TIFF

With the passing of Labour Day and the return of students to school, it is time for the annual migration of Movie Buffs, Cinephiles, Stargazers and Film Geeks to Toronto for our beloved film festival. Whether you like blockbusters, independent film, documentaries, foreign language or shorts there is something here for any type of movie enthusiast. Yes, the line-ups can be long but they are the friendliest ones you will ever wait in as you compare notes on what and who you have seen and what you are looking forward to.

This year’s line-up once more will amuse, challenge, shock and generate discussion about aspects of the human condition that might otherwise never make
it into day to day conversation.

Last year I had the pleasure of many standout movies. Brooklyn, Room and Spotlight come to mind, but there was so much more. I look forward to getting an early peek at some upcoming buzz-worthy features and sharing my opinions with you here on sheblogs Canada!

Fill your #TIFF16 prescription with the hashtags #2ndOpinions, #drTIFF and #sheblogsTIFF. Don’t forget to follow @sheblogsMedia on Twitter and @sheblogsCanada on Instagram for all of the action!

Enjoy and happy TIFFing!

 

** The Edge Of Seventeen **

#DrTIFF’s favourite

The coming-of-age story, full of teenage angst, is well worn territory. If the formula is going to work it requires something fresh. Jelly Fremon Craig, directing her first feature and doing double duty as writer, has done just that.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) has always been socially awkward. The fact that her older brother, Darian, is so adept at relationships and seems to be a “winner” at every turn only exaggerates her ineptitude. 

At least she is able to manage one long term relationship, with her best friend Krista, which has stabilized her through many a storm. Nadine’s first impression of her friend was that she dresses like “an old person”. She refers to herself as “an old soul” and offers a backward complement to a classmate saying that he seems elderly. Clearly, she is one that feels more comfortable with senior folk than with her peers. 

Her world goes tipsy-turvy when her brother starts to date her best friend. A rift develops and she demands that Krista chooses between her and Darian. That, as you can imagine, doesn’t go well.

As condemning as she is of the conventional behaviours of other teenagers, she is just as egocentric and has similar desires….she just can’t relate to them.

The writing is hilarious, there were frequent laugh out loud moments, especially when Nadine interacts with her teacher, Mr Bruner (Woody Harrelson). Let’s just say his motivational techniques are not mainstream and could have a hard time standing up under today’s scrutiny of teacher-student relationships. However, he is a pillar in her life and the superficial insensitivity belies a foundation of trust and mutual respect. 

This was my favourite of the films that I saw at Tiff this year. Though it didn’t win any awards, I’m going to bet that it will be very popular amongst critics and moviegoers alike.

Una

Una was one of the most unsettling and challenging movies I saw at tiff this year. It is based on a play called Blackbird by David Harrower. Rooney Mara stars as the title character, a victim of sexual assault at the age of 13 by her adult next door neighbour, Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). The trouble is that Una does not feel she was abused. When the sexual relationship is discovered and Ray is arrested and convicted in court, his victim is not out for revenge but rather proclaims her love for him and wants to know why she has left him.

It is now 15 years later and Ray is out of jail. He has established a new identity with a new name, in a new location. He is working and has a family. He has made no attempt to reconnect with Una. However, she has come looking for him, arriving at his workplace, looking for answers about their relationship. Initially he is angered by her presentation, he wants no part of her. But she is persistent and it is clear he remains conflicted about his feelings for her. Meanwhile, Una seeks out the reassurance that she was more than a sexual object to him, that she held a special place in his heart.

The film walks a dicey tightrope. It does not take a moral stance, it lets the character’s behaviours speak for themselves. It runs the risk of creating sympathy for a pedophile but instead of that, I feel it succeeds in humanizing a man who has indulged in a heinous taboo. It seeks similar understanding for Una. A mainstream American version of this film would likely have her set out to destroy Ray and the new life he has created for himself. This UK production opts for a less histrionic approach, not formulaic nor predicable. It was engrossing and tension filled and it keeps you guessing. 

For those reasons, if you can leave judgment outside the theatre, perhaps at the concession stand with the overpriced popcorn and soda pop, this is a film that is definitely worth viewing.

In Dubious Battle

James Franco, he of the stoner comedies, has loftier ambitions especially when it comes to directing. Here he takes on a Depression era story based on a novel by John Steinbeck.

The setting is Southern California in the 1930s, where employment is hard to come by. Local apple orchards, initially promising three dollars per day, are now squeezing the vulnerable workers by cutting the salary by two-thirds. If they aren’t willing to take it, there are a lot of others willing to work for slave wages as these are desperate times.

Mac McLeod (Franco) and his partner Jim Nolan (Nat Wolff) arrive on the scene with an agenda of organizing a union. Initially met with suspicion, they win over the worker’s unofficial leader Al Anderson (Vincent D’Onofrio) when they assist with the delivery of Al’s grandchild. Lisa (Selina Gomez) is the mother, abandoned by the baby’s father and, try as I might,  I could not see her as anyone else but a Milennial pop star in thirties clothing.

Mac has a passion for what he strongly believes in but he’s not against being smarmy or deceptive in getting his way. Once the orchard owners resort to criminal activity to split the unionists his convictions are put to the test.

It’s a star studded cast, deserving of a better fate, but I found that the movie dragged and it was unable to satisfactorily convey the emotion necessary for the audience to care about what happens to these characters. Besides, I already know Lisa can fall back on her singing career if apple picking doesn’t pan out.

City of Tiny Lights

You’ve likely come across this scene before. A beautiful woman enters a Private Investigator’s office trying to convince the reluctant gumshoe to take her case.

But Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed) is no Sam Spade, he’s a West Londoner of Pakistani descent. If he thought he might turn away Melody, the high end escort that seeks his help in finding her missing friend, he might want to increase his fees. His daily rate matches her hourly one.

Tommy gets more than he bargained for in taking the case,  being thrust into a complicated world of murder, politics, fundamental Islam, drugs and a traumatic event from his past that takes on renewed significance.

It’s a gritty BBC film noir with some kinetic, over exposed camera work when the chase is on. However, I found the darkness and blur at times also extended into the plotting.

In the end, it comes together. By no means a perfect movie, I would be interested in seeing the further adventures of this detective.

Bleed For This

Based on a true story, Bleed For This documents the incredible comeback story of boxer Vinny  Pazienza (Miles Teller).

Sports movies thrive on the underdog overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, usually in the guise of a dominant opponent. Sometimes it’s an internal struggle our hero has to deal with, like a battle with addiction. The twist in this story occurs when Vinnie, already basking in the afterglow of a comeback championship title, has his neck broken in a head-on motor vehicle accident.

His Doctor recommends a spinal fusion, to stabilize his neck and minimize the chance of a spinal cord  compression. Vinnie is told that this is the best option for ensuring he will be able to walk again. However, it would also nullify any future boxing career.

Never one to do things the conventional way, Vinnie opts for Halo traction. For those unfamiliar with this surgery, it involves immobilizing the neck fracture with a large, circular metal “halo” that is bolted into the skull and attached to a vest. It’s a large, cumbersome device that interferes with the most basic activities of day-to-day life, from getting out of a car to kissing his girlfriend.

While everyone seems to write off his chances, this boxer is determined to not give up his title without a fight. Initially skeptical, his coach Kevin Rooney (an almost unrecognizable Aaron Eckhart) gets on board. Incredible progress is made but no one want to spar with him for fear of landing a paralyzing blow.

When he is offered a title match against Roberto Duran, Vinnie can’t turn down the opportunity. Meanwhile his father, to date his most ardent supporter, can’t bring himself to be in his son’s corner during the fight. Can he possibly win? Or at least get through the bout unscathed?

Despite a slow start, this film won me over with a dogged persistence worthy of it’s protagonist.

The Secret Scripture

Irish director Jim Sheridan has an impressive resume, including My Left Foot, In the Name of the Father and In America. In this adaptation of fellow countryman Sebastian Barry’s novel, he tells the past and present story of Roseanne McNulty (Rooney Mara/Vanessa Redgrave) the last resident left in a Psychiatric Hospital that is scheduled for demolition.

Roseanne has been there for more than half her life, a result of her being accused of nymphomania by a local Priest and the subsequent death of her newborn in an attempted escape from the facility. She was accused of drowning her child, something she continues to vehemently deny. Her chances of convincing anyone are low given her Psychiatric history.

Psychiatrist Dr William Grene (Eric Bana) has been consulted to carry out an extremely detailed history and mental status examination in order to expedite her transfer to a new place. Meanwhile, Roseanne stubbornly insists she is not going anywhere.

Through this clinical history we see flashbacks of Roseanne as a young woman, a lovely, free spirited character who attracts the attention of many suitors. This includes the jealous aforementioned Priest and a fighter pilot that she saves after he ejects from his plane.

With flashbacks set in the 1940s, Goverment, Religion and Psychiatry do not come off well. All are presented as male dominated, authoritarian social structures that seek to control and oppress the free will of an innocent woman. (Doctor’s note: Let me assure you that electroconvulsive therapy, as shown in this movie, is an archaic thing of the past. ECT as practiced today is a very safe and
humanely practiced, potentially life saving treatment for severe depression.)

The movie is a history lesson in the abuses of power told through Roseanne’s story. I cannot claim to have enjoyed this movie as much as I did the book. Also, I have major qualms with it’s good and evil dichotomy and it’s convenient resolution. So, my ultimate recommendation is, if you have the time, read the book.

Amanda Knox

This documentary, chronicling the events leading to the arrest of American college student Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend for the murder of Amanda’s roommate in Perugia, Italy, comes to Netflix this fall.

Reminiscent of another Netflix true crime drama, Making a Murderer, the film reviews the crime’s circumstances and how Amanda came to be a defendant. Prominent in the story are interviews with the Italian prosecutor and a British journalist.

Two prominent themes are theorized as contributing factors in the wrongful arrest. First was the tremendous pressure applied to the Italian police to come up with a suspect. Second was the insatiable appetite of the Newspaper readers for a sex scandal. Theories, with little to base them on, were propagated in the media and took on a life of their own.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you likely know something about this case. It’s unlikely, though, that you know the further details that this most infesting film uncovers and makes public.

Amanda says it herself…, she is either a psychopath or an Everywoman. The audience is left to ponder the choices and to come up with most likely answer.

Headhunter’s Calling

Gerard Butler is best known in action hero roles, so this film is a bit of a departure for him. That being said, he approached his role as Dane, a
headhunter/recruiter for high level candidates, with as much gusto as any of those more physically demanding parts.

His boss (Willem Dafoe) has announced his impending retirement and has set up a competition between Dane and his co-worker (Alison Brie). Whoever is most productive in the next few months will earn the top job.

Now, Dane is a workaholic and is not all that available to his wife and two young kids when business calls. He justifies his  absences by playing the sacrifice card, ie he only does it in order to keep his family in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed. Also, he is not above some very distasteful behaviour in order to advance his career aspirations.

When his son is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Dane is faced with the challenge of going against his competitive nature by being there for the family.

His son, who loves drawing and architecture, has a list of Chicago buildings that he wants to visit. Dane takes him on this tour and develops an increased appreciation of the beauty of these man-made structures.

Beautiful buildings, just like beautiful loved ones, can easily be overlooked if one doesn’t stop and take the time to appreciate them. The message of not losing sight of priorities, what’s really important, is the focal point of the film.

With a well written script and impassioned performances, director Mark Williams navigates a potential cliche ridden minefield. Despite the emotionally manipulative nature of the film (nothing like child endangerment to provoke a tear jerker response) and the sanitized medical presentation of the son, I was still charmed by this life lesson movie.

Christine

In 1974 Christine Chubbuck, a TV news reporter in Sarasota Florida, committed suicide on air during a broadcast. This film, based on this true story, tries to piece together what lead to this tragic event.

Christine (Rebecca Hall) has a lot going on in her life. She lives with her mother with whom she has a conflicted relationship. She is approaching 30 and has no intimacy in her life, though she is enamoured with a co-worker that she cannot bring herself to approach. She and her boss are at odds over her work….he wants sensationalism, she likes the human interest story. Meaningful reporting, not ratings, is her goal and her integrity is both her defining quality and her fatal flaw.

Rebecca Hall does a fine job portraying Christine’s mounting despair, hopelessness and paranoia.Those around her seem to want to help but don’t know how. The final straw seems to produce a quiet resignation within her, culminating in her final statement/act.

Despite the fact it is based on a true story, this movie is predominantly speculation. Not a lot was known about Christine and most of those who could have clarified information are deceased. The screenwriter knew only of the sensational story of her on-air suicide but wanted to know the story beneath. This movie’s message is that the person’s life is the story, not the death.

As sad as it may sound, this is  a character study worthy of a watch.

The Salesman

 

Anyone who has seen any of Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s previous works (A Separation-Academy Award winning Foreign Language Film, The Past) should appreciate his ability to present complex stories laden with moral ambiguities.

The Salesman continues in this same vein. Emad and Rana are a married couple, currently acting together in a local production of Death of a Salesman.

At the outset of the movie, their comfortable existence is shaken by the near collapse of their apartment building. For safety sake, they are forced to move and a fellow actor invites them to take on his rental property.

However, the previous tenant has yet to take all of her possessions which remain locked in one room of the apartment. In addition, it’s believed that this tenant worked in the sex trade with regular traffic of male visitors to her unit. Emad and Rana are blissfully unaware of this and it comes as a total shock when Rana is traumatized after an unexpected encounter with one of these visitors.

Emad sets out to solve the mystery of who the intruder is, though his wife wishes he’d just leave it alone. As he closes in on a potential suspect it shifts from seeking information to seeking revenge. His anger escalates much like that of his Willie Loman character on stage.

Layered and intriguing, The Salesman entertains and reaffirms that appearances are not always what they seem.

Brain On Fire

 

Chloe
Based on a memoir by New York Post journalist Susannah Cahalan, we follow Susannah (Chloe Grace Moretz) as she develops and endures progressive disabling symptoms without a diagnosis.

She has behavioural changes, wild mood swings, hallucinations, seizures, headaches, amnesia, attentional disturbances, etc, etc. Her friends and co-workers know she is acting strange but don’t attribute it to ill health. Despite multiple medical investigations her physicians cannot define a cause. They fall back on Psychiatric explanations (stress, alcohol abuse, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) as diagnoses of exclusion and appear to threaten her with institutionalization.

At the point of last resort in steps Dr. Najjar who comes up with an answer, a to-date little known diagnosis. (I will not spoil it beyond that). Hope of recovery is restored and the family’s determination to resist the abandonment of the medical establishment is reaffirmed.

I am torn by this movie, as I applaud any attempt to educate the general public about medical conditions and their various presentations. At the same time the Doctors in this movie, for the most part, are presented as clueless, judgemental and dismissive. The exception is Dr. Najjar who is idealized and seems to solve the case without breaking a sweat. He nullifies any question of a Psychiatric diagnosis through the simple task of having Susannah draw a clock face ( a common cognitive test which I’ve administered thousands of times as have many
non-Psychiatrists, Occupational Therapists and other medical professionals).

I work in this field, so I find it hard to believe that the recognition of a delirium would be so difficult. The very idea of using Haldol or Olanzapine (both anti-psychotics but also employed in the treatment of the behavioural manifestations of delirium) is demonized. The universal reaction to her potentially having a mental disorder is as if it would be the greatest insult or ghettoization through misdiagnosis.

The dilemma here is that these are neuro-psychiatric symptoms, not either/or medical/psychiatric. There should not be silos dividing the two. The real Dr. Najjar was at the Q and A and, to his credit, he made comment on this.

So, though I commend the filmmakers on attempting to educate, this movie oversimplifies the situation and devalues or idealizes in a black/white fashion. It needed a bit more grey matter.

Rats

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock is best known for Supersize Me, where he ate nothing but McDonald’s food for one month and documented the results on his health. His latest film is all about rats and, from the looks of things, a few of these rodents have had a steady diet of McDs.

Spurlock traverses the globe (Paris, England, India, Cambodia, New York, New Orleans) to find stories about these creatures….where they hang out, what allows them to flourish, how to get rid of them, knowledge obtained through research on them and even how some parts of the world (Vietnam) think they make good eating.

The movie is packaged like a horror documentary, with the musical score playing up the eerie factor. There are lots of laughs, assuming you find someone kicking garbage bags outside a Manhattan restaurant late at night in order to watch the rats scurry out into a sewer drain funny (I do).

This movie was certainly not endorsed by the Humane Society as many rats appeared to be harmed in the making of this film. I will spare you the gruesome details but we do follow a group of Indian rat killers for hire (paid by the kg), a pack of cute terriers that aren’t so cute when a rat is nearby and some researchers who have a whole lab set up for rat dissection.

Recommended for the Rat Pack.

 

Wakefield

wakefield

People often fantasize about escaping the hamster wheel of their day to day existence but, beyond a holiday or an occasional mental health day, how many of us really do anything about it?

Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) is a Manhattan lawyer and at the outset of Robin Swicord’s new feature we watch as he navigates his way through Grand Central Station and his arduous commute home. His annoyance and irritation navigating the crowd is obvious as he abandons his attempt to dictate a report on the train.

Waiting for him is his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) and his two teenage daughters. He receives a call from home on his mobile but declines to answer. As he arrived and prepares to enter his house he is distracted by a raccoon which
has run up into the attic above the garage. He acts to remove the critter but in the process he surveys the dusty living space with its’ stored relics and, rather than going back to the house, he settles into a pull out chair for the night.

The attic, with a conveniently placed circular window that offers him a generous view of many of the interiors of his home, becomes his secret residence for the weeks and months to come. He takes on the persona of a homeless person, growing a scraggly beard and competing with the local scavengers for food out of the trash. His family remain oblivious to his close proximity.

Howard and Diana had been having some marital conflict leading up to this. Howard watches from a distance as Diana goes through initial distress and eventual adaptation to his absence. In his isolation he reviews their past
together with flashbacks highlighting his penchant for competition and self absorption.

Wakefield relies heavily on the performance of Bryan Cranston and he does not disappoint. The other characters become secondary and are not as fully realized. Introspective and projective, amusing and serious, it is a character study of someone at life’s crossroads.

Two Lovers and A Bear

Two Lovers

Tuesday Sept. 13

Often the setting of a movie acts as a character. In the case, Kim Nguyen’s Canadian entry into Tiff this year could have been called Two Lovers, a Bear and Nunavut.

The stark white Arctic environment with it’s harsh weather and extreme temperatures provides a beautiful yet dangerous backdrop to the story. Add to that the mystical elements (the breathing landscape, a talking polar bear), it’s geographic isolation and snowmobiling culture and you’ve got a combination rarely seen in popular cinema.

Lucy (Tatiana Maslany) and Roman (Dale DeHaan) are not originally from the Arctic but that is where they have met. What binds them as lovers is not immediately apparent but one may assume that they have both travelled north to escape something from their respective pasts.

When Lucy finds her troubles have followed her, she applies to a biology program to the south. Once accepted, the impending separation sends Roman into a tailspin as he cannot bring himself to go back with her. Yet their bond is strong and they will not easily be separated.

You may try to escape your troubles by running but it’s impossible if they exist within you. Great chemistry between the leads and their adventure through terrain both emotional and environmental makes this a recommended film.

Arrival

Monday Sept. 12
Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners, Sicario) continues to show his versatility with his sci-fi offering Arrival.

Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a linguistics specialist/University professor who has previously collaborated with the US government on top secret projects. When mysterious spacecraft materialize and hover over twelve different sites throughout the world, she is asked to assist with finding a way to dialogue with the aliens.

The reason for the arrival is the mystery. Do they mean harm? Is this a hostile invasion? Is this a space exploration? Joining Louise is Dr Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist. She is an expert in communication with words, he an expert in communication with numbers. 

They are in a race against time as the Chinese and the Russians are planning to attack their respective ships. Meanwhile, these governments are refusing to share their Intel with the US. How can we expect to get along with these otherworldly beings when we can’t work together ourselves?

I saw this as a metaphor in being able to have the patience and tenacity to learn new ways and embrace foreign ideas when confronted with that which we don’t understand. 

This is an ethereal, ambitious and thought provoking work that I recommend you see when it arrives in theatres.

Brimstone

Dakota

Monday Sept. 12

Set in 1800s America, Brimstone is Horror story in Western clothing. Liz (Dakota Fanning) is a midwife in her small frontier town. Mute, yet not deaf, she lives with her husband, step-son and daughter in seemingly peaceful rural existence.

That is, until a darkly mysterious Reverend comes to town (Guy Pearce). Scarred and menacing in appearance, the clergyman generates an instant dread within Liz prompting her to avoid him at every turn.

At the conclusion of church, a parishioner suddenly goes into labour and Liz’s midwifery skills are called upon. It’s a complicated delivery and the outcome is tragic. The father holds Liz responsible and the Reverend literally and figuratively fuels the flames.

The film is in divided into four chapters, told in reverse order (three, two, one), returning to the final conclusion. This creates a mystery that would not otherwise exist as we learn more about the back stories of the two leads.

The movie is artful but not heartful. I found it dispassionately and gratuitously violent towards the female characters. The Reverend has no redeeming qualities, basically evil incarnate, ironic given his demonization of Liz.

The movie has the Western setting and archetypes, the Horror violence and hellfire but this mash up is a mess up.

 

 Jackie

Jackie

Monday Sept. 12

Natalie Portman seamlessly transforms into Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s retelling of JFK’s assassination and the days to follow.

The film is told from Jacqueline’s perspective and she is in essentially every scene. Frequent use of close up conveys a sense of isolation as the First Lady grapples with the event in her unique circumstance.

Portman approaches the role with subtlety and dignity, so much so that you forget that you are watching a Hollywood star performing. The movie is shot in a way that blends in actual stock footage from 1963 which gives it further authenticity.

The mood is somber and mournful, slow at times but appropriately funereal. The film is structured around Jackie’s interview with a print journalist and covers events both pre and post JFKs death, As she contemplates her responsibility in framing the Kennedy presidential legacy.

Worth seeing for Natalie Portman’s performance and the fresh perspective on that fateful November.

Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals

Sunday Sept. 11
Nocturnal Animals arrived with a lot of buzz at tiff this year. Director Tom Ford, whose “day job” is Fashion Designer, obviously has an eye for style which translates well to the movie screen.

The opening credits roll alongside stark images of naked, morbidly obese women shaking their loose folds to and fro with the unabashed confidence of a Victoria Secret runway model. It’s part of a gallery exhibit organized by Susan (Amy Adams) a curator who is going through some rough times with her second husband (Armie Hammer).

Meanwhile, Susan receives a package from her long absent first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). It contains a draft of his new novel and out of nowhere he attempts to reconnect with her to get her opinion. His motivations are not entirely clear.

With her husband once more leaving her alone for a business trip, Susan settles in to read the manuscript. It isn’t long before she is engrossed by the intense tale of a young family coming under the attack of a trio of merciless sociopaths.

The movie cuts back and forth between Susan’s life and the fictional story, with parallels to be drawn. Meanwhile, she also finds herself thinking more about Edward and his renewed interest in contacting her.

The movie is definite eye candy, I enjoyed the view. The story, however, is sparse and there Is no clarification of the reasons or the roots of the violent acts. But, hey, it is just a book within a movie, right?

Ultimately, the significance of the novel is related to events in Susan’s world and the audience has to connect the dots. The results are not pretty.

While the grotesque dancers at the film’s outset celebrate their beauty, this beautiful movie revels in it’s inner ugliness.

 

Katie Says Goodbye

Katie Says Goodbye

 

Sunday Sept. 11

Wayne Roberts presents his first directorial feature at tiff. It’s the story of a young woman (Katie, played by Olivia Cooke) with dreams of falling in love, leaving rural New Mexico and going to San Francisco.

She lives in a trailer park with her unemployed, heavy drinking mother who is fooling around with a neighbours husband. Katie cooks the meals, goes to work at a diner, pays the rent money (as long as Mom doesn’t get her hands on it first) and basically parents her parent. Her father is absent, Katie is told that he died years earlier but doesn’t quite believe it.

The movie starts off slowly as we learn that though Katie does a lot of extra shifts at the diner, she supplements her income by providing sexual favours to a wide array of the male townsfolk. Yet Katie is so naive about the nature of her activities, so eager to please, so responsible to her mother and her goals, she is a very likeable, though tragic character.

When Bruno, a new worker at a local auto body shop comes to town Katie falls in love at first sight. He doesn’t have much to say, it’s hard to know what she sees in him beyond a blank slate that she projects her dreams and wishes upon. Oh, and it’s rumoured he’s an ex-con, by the way.

Katie’s pursuit of Bruno leads to a chain of events that would test the strongest of personalities, yet her adaptations are ones of compliance and self-sacrifice. With the exception of her boss (Mary Steenburgen) and one of her truck driver suitors (Jim Belushi) she gets little compassion and mostly derision and abuse from others.

I should also point out that when any movie character saves large sums of cash in a shoebox, the audience knows what will happen later.

The movie was very well received at my viewing with a partial standing ovation. Though difficult to see the suffering of this young woman, it’s the exemplary empathy-inducing performance of Olivia Cooke that makes this film worth seeing.

Queen of Katwe

Sunday Sept. 11

We are all familiar with the sports movie where time slows down at a pivotal moment…the wide receiver making a diving catch for a winning touchdown…the slap shot placing the puck top corner for the overtime winner….the safe slide home in extra innings to seal the game. I never, however, anticipated a slo-mo checkmate would be added to this list.

Chess achieves official sports status as it joins the Disney canon of underdogs reaching new heights (see Cool Runnings, Miracle, Invincible, McFarlane USA, etc) in Queen of Katwe. Based on an ESPN Magazine article, it tells the “based on true events” story of Phiona Mutesi,  a young girl from an impoverished area of Uganda who comes to represent her country on the international chess stage.

There’s a proud and determined widowed mother (Lupita Nyong’o) who models a life of sacrifice and responsibility for her daughter. There’s a dedicated mentor who sees the potential in this disadvantaged young girl (David Oyelowo) as he guides her through life’s challenges with chess as a metaphor.

Paramount of all these chess concepts is “Promotion” or “Queening” where the pawn, upon reaching the end of the board, transforms into a queen.

Despite all the travails, the ending is never in doubt but the enjoyment is in reaching the destination. Stay till the end for the classy end credits and an entertaining music video.

 

Mascots

Mascots

Saturday Sept. 10
Christopher Guest returns to Tiff with a familiar but welcome formula. He has made a number of mockumentary comedies (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, For Your Consideration). Mascots is his most recent addition.

The structure of the film is documentary style with Guest’s distinctive comic twists. The dialogue is largely improv and highlights the comic skills of the cast. Jane Lynch, Parker Posey and Fred Willard are just a few of the repertory company that frequents Guest’s previous works.

Mascots from around the world are competing in the World Mascot Championship, which is in search of a television contract with the Gluten Free Network. We meet the contestants through interviews and examples of their work.

There are too many different characters too mention them all. The highlight for me was The Fist, a large clenched hand in hockey equipment, the”Bad Boy of Mascottery”, known for his poor impulse control in support of his hockey team from “Manitoba, Canada”.

Wacky, zany, not high cinema but definitely worth a watch. Comes to Netflix in mid October, 2016.

 

Elle

paul-verhoeven-elle
Saturday Sept. 10

This offering from director Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Robocop, Total Recall, Showgirls) came to Tiff with a cloud of controversy. There were accusations of misogyny and gratuitous depictions of violence towards women. The opening scene, in fact, is a brutal sexual assault upon Michele (Isabelle Huppert) by a masked intruder in her own home.

Michele’s response to the assault is much more controlled than what one might expect. She quietly cleans up the mess caused by the physical altercation. She has a bath. She goes to work. For reasons we only understand later, she does not report it to police.

As it turns out, Michele is a successful businesswoman who runs a company that produces video games. In fact, the game her company is in the process of developing depicts women as sexualized victims. She quietly goes about investigating the identity of her assailant with dogged determination. Many potential suspects are introduced and the film takes on a who-done-it structure.

However, once the identity is revealed the film switches gears into her ongoing attraction and sadomasochistic interest in this man. Suffice it to say, she has a history of many dysfunctional relationships throughout her life, Ground Zero being her father.

You would be hard pressed to find any healthy individuals in this movie, male and female alike. Okay, perhaps the baby grandson born partway through the movie has yet to show problems but given the situation I’d say it’s just a matter of time.

This is a complicated, messy story and to judge it prematurely does it a disservice. If the subject matter described above disturbs you, definitely don’t see it. If you are up to mucking about the psyches of some truly messed up individuals then this might be a film for you.

French with English subtitles.

 

Colossal

jason-collosal

Saturday Sept. 10

In life we all face problems. Some are small, like an argument with a loved one after you drank too much at a party. Then there are large ones, for example a pervasive dependency on alcohol that eats away at significant relationships slowly but surely. Finally, there are the colossal ones, such as when you get so drunk that you black out without realizing that a monster sized lizard, carrying
out the exact body movements as you are making in a playground in small town America is simultaneously destroying large portions of Seoul, South Korea, crushing skyscrapers, vehicles and innocents in it’s wake.

Such is the dilemma faced by Gloria (Anne Hathaway), recently kicked out of her boyfriend’s big city apartment for her excessive drinking and irresponsible behaviours. Returning to her childhood home, she tries to put her life back into some semblance of order. She hasn’t been back long before she comes across Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a childhood friend who has held on to a crush over all these years.

Oscar seems eager to help Gloria out, but he’s got some colossal problems of his own, embodied by a giant transformer-like robot man. When these two can’t get along Seoul seems to pay the price and Gloria begins to realize the catastrophic ripple effects of her choices.

Yes, this movie is completely weird but it is also wildly original. The acting and direction is strong though it does have lulls and could benefit from some cuts here and there.

Ultimately, the challenge seems to be how Gloria can take 12 steps towards sobriety without flattening some Koreans.

 

Carrie Pilby

Vanessa Bayer

Friday Sept. 9

The titular character in this world premiere at Tiff 2016 is a prodigy when it comes to the books but still has a lot to learn in the world of human relationships. A Harvard grad at the age of 19, this London import now finds herself holed up in her Manhattan apartment, financially supported by her overseas father,  jobless and socially isolated. She ventures out for her weekly sessions with her therapist Dr. Petrov (Nathan Lane in a non-warthog role), often arriving late and appearing too smart for her own good. She is brilliant, but far from well adjusted.

Dr. Petrov assigns her a to-do list, hoping to get her to take some risks in pursuit of at least a modicum of happiness but she is resistant and guarded to say the least. She’d rather spend time with some classic literature than with another human being….so it seems. Bel Powley, who was so wonderful in last year’s Diary of a Teenager Girl, carries this movie with her ability to make this cynical doubter such a lovable character. She’s funny and she’s tough but also vulnerable. She struggles with the ambiguities that are raised as her desires conflict with the rules by which she has chosen to live her life.

Vanessa Bayer, a Saturday Night Live alumnus, is hilarious in her role as she offers counterpoints to Carrie’s relationship beliefs. The sessions with Dr. Petrov are much more witty than any reality I’ve ever known and some boundaries are blurred with the therapist but it serves the comic tone of the film. My greatest critique would be the cookie cutter representation of most of the males in this story. They were present to advance the storyline but I found them to be a bit two-dimensional and convenient. In the end, though, this is Carrie’s story and it’s a good one. Kudos to director Susan Johnson on a fine directorial debut and screenwriter Kara Holden for the snappy screenplay!

 

Nocturama

Nocturama

Friday Sept. 9

A film set in Paris following a group of disenfranchised youth as they carry out co-ordinated bombings would be considered topical nowadays. However, given that this film began production more than five years ago, it’s perhaps more appropriate to consider it prescient.

Director Bertrand Bonello, though, gives the audience no rationale for this group’s actions. It is a multicultural group with no stated religious agenda. Targets include a bank, a government building, a business skyscraper, a car lined street and a public monument. One assumes there is an issue with the powers that be, rebellious young adults taking on the establishment and all that, but the details are left to the audience’s imagination.

The first part of the film features the individuals separately going about their plans in dynamic fashion with minimal dialogue. After the explosions, the setting shifts to an upscale department store, after hours, where they plan to hide out overnight while the city is in a state of emergency. Surrounded by the luxurious trappings of capitalism, each member of the group indulges in their own personal fantasy with the store inventory, seemingly oblivious to the harsh reality of consequence coming their way.

Nocturama succeeds in slowly building tension until it’s inevitable release. Atmosphere and mood are well conveyed but plot line and character development are not. In a film where the question “What time is it?” Is frequently raised, I wish there was more precision with the story as opposed to with the clock.

French with English subtitles.

 

The 6th Beatle

6th-Beatle

Thursday Sept. 8

This documentary tells the story of Sam Leach, a concert promoter who played a little known but significant role in the eventual success of the Beatles. Testimony of Beatles historians and musician cohorts speak to how Leach, with a gentlemanly and fair-minded demeanour and strong belief in a handshake, set the stage for Brian Epstein to take the Fab Four to the next level.

Post-war Liverpool was a blue collar port town with a vibrant music scene. Ships arriving from America brought with them the latest in music which influenced a generation of musicians. There was little acceptance of bands from Liverpool in London and, as a result, many grew their stature through playing in Hamburg, Germany. The Beatles, with Pete Best on drums at the time, eventually abandoned Leach for the wealthy, well-connected Epstein in order to try and get a foothold in the British capital. Best also gets left behind along the way and contributes greatly to the story.

What is missing is the involvement of either of the surviving Beatles, nor is there any Beatles soundtrack. Epstein is painted as an upper class opportunist who didn’t hesitate to alienate and ostracize those who threatened his control over the band. Meanwhile, Leach is portrayed in a positive light without significant spite over the one that got away.

Acknowledging the diverse recollections of those interviewed as history, after all, is written by the victors, this is an entertaining story highlighting a phase of Beatles history often ignored. Highly recommended for fans of the band.