TIFF ’17 Day 2: Stronger, The Insult, What Will People Say

Tatiana Maslany and Jake Gyllenhaal in Stronger.

Stronger (USA, 2017. Dir: David Gordon Green): This year’s second feature inspired by the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings approaches the matter from an individual perspective. The film zeroes on Jeff Bouman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a flaky Bostonian who loses both his legs in the blast. The film covers Bouman’s rehabilitation and his relationship with his ex-girlfriend (Tatiana Maslany), who was the reason Jeff was at the race in the first place.

Even though the direction and acting are top notch (although the Boston-personality traits border the caricature), Stronger is a very standard affair: Every beat can be seen from a mile away. The movie hints at the emptiness of platitudes like “Boston Strong”, but doesn’t have the dramatic courage to quite go there. The most subdued characters (Maslany, Carlos Sanz as the man who saved Bouman’s life) are the brightest ones.

Stronger also flirts with the notion that no matter what major event, sooner or later people return to their default settings (once a screw-up, always a screw-up). Predictably, it folds on itself by the third act. All things considered, as meat-and-potatoes dramas go, you could do a lot worse. Two and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

The Insult (Lebanon/France, 2016. Dir: Ziad Doueiri): A classic festival film (a movie that thrives in this kind of environment, but is unlikely to flourish outside), The Insult deals with a specific rift in the Arab world, one that doesn’t get much attention: The strain between Christians and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

Tony is a mechanic with a simmering resentment against Palestinians, which flares up when an illegal contractor starts working on his block. A spat over a drain escalates when the worker insults Tony, the mechanic responds with a racial slur, and the contractor punches him in the ribs. Soon the justice system, the press and even the President of Lebanon get involved.

Despite some minor issues (the score is -to put it charitably- blunt; one of the twists is soap opera-worthy), The Insult remains firmly grounded in reality, even as the squabble spirals out of control. The approach to the matter is refreshingly earnest, even when the conflict is ripe for cynicism and irony. I was slightly distracted by the very attractive actress playing Tony’s wife (she is the spitting image of Emily Ratajkowski), but that’s on me.

Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Likely theatrical.

What Will People Say (Norway/Germany/Sweden. Dir: Iram Haq): Scandinavian cinema tends to look at the subject du jour directly, never mind how controversial it may be. What Will People Say is a veritable minefield, but writer/director Iram Haq’s vision doesn’t compromise… until the last three minutes of the movie

Nisha (newcomer Maria Mozhdah) is the eldest daughter of a traditional Pakistani family living in Norway. While respectful of her heritage, Nisha has grown as an average Westerner teen. Her two worlds come into conflict when her father finds a boy in her bedroom. Shunned by her family and community, Nisha is forcefully relocated to Pakistan. Her attempts to reach out for help are regularly thwarted by her relatives and a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Regardless of the number of setbacks Nisha must face, What Will People Say never feels like misery porn. In fact, it’s gripping. Every mishap, every poor decision is firmly rooted in reality, which is why the denouement stroke me as false. On a bad movie, I wouldn’t mind. The problem is that What Will People Say flirts with greatness. Four planets. Distribution in Canada: TBD.


TIFF ’17 Day 1: Call Me by Your Name, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Loveless

Call Me by Your Name.

Call Me by Your Name (Italy/France, 2017. Dir: Luca Guadagnino): How about a stone-cold masterpiece to kick off TIFF’s coverage this year. A filmmaker who has already shown considerable potential (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash), Luca Guadagnino finds a new gear with the thorough, compelling coming-of-age drama Call Me by Your Name.

Set in Northern Italy in 1983, the film revolves around Elio (star-making turn by Timothée Chalamet), a well-liked teen and beloved only son of an archeologist and a translator. The idyllic boredom of summer in Italy becomes disrupted by the arrival of Oliver (Armie Hammer), an American scholar in town to intern for Elio’s dad. Oliver’s presence triggers unknown feelings in Elio, who tentatively begins pursuing the American, while simultaneously exploring his sexuality with a girl his own age.

There is no high drama in Call Me by Your Name, just a teen assimilating new experiences and shaping his personality accordingly. The film (adapted by James Ivory) is beyond lovely and methodical, covering every aspect of the life of an adolescent at a critical moment of his growth. True to form, the climax is as low impact as a loving father comparing his own experiences to his son’s, and suggesting what to do of them. Think Stealing Beauty, but twice as good. Five planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Ireland/UK, 2016. Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos): Lanthimos’ latest starts suspiciously like his previous film, the darkly comedic The Lobster. Colin Farrell introduces his character -a renowned cardiologist- in a monotonous, detached fashion. However, as the movie progresses, The Killing of a Sacred Deer hits a more relatable note: The costs of the greater good.

Unbeknownst to his family, Dr. Murphy (Farrell) meets with a very polite teen named Martin on regular basis. The nature of this relationship is kept in the dark for a good chunk of the film, but doesn’t appear to be very wholesome. As Martin demands more time and dedication from the surgeon, Murphy becomes spooked. An attempt to ghost him triggers a devastating reaction.

Lanthimos keeps his cards close to the chest until the second half, when the (somewhat) standard stalker drama morphs into an exercise in ethics and morals I don’t wish to spoil here. Suffice to say, the good doctor finds out there are limits to the power of modern medicine. As it’s traditional with the Greek filmmaker, the pitch-black sense of humor is perfectly calibrated. The novelty here is the sense of despair that comes with the comedy. Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

Loveless (Russia, 2017. Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev): By far the better known Russian filmmaker at work today, Andrey Zvyagintsev doesn’t mince words to depict a morally bankrupt society. In Leviathan, the director portrayed the political world as a haven of corruption. In Loveless, Russian middle class doesn’t fare much better under Zvyagintsev’s unflinching eye.

A couple going through the most acrimonious of divorces is forced to live under the same roof until liquidating their apartment. They have a kid, a sad boy no one pays any attention to. Their utter disregard for the child is such that, when he disappears, it takes them over a day and a half to notice. More out of obligation than genuine concern, the bickering duo must navigate the unhelpful Russian bureaucracy to get some help. Not that the disappearance puts a dent on their hatred for each other.

If you think this description is dour, just wait until you see the movie. From Zvyagintsev’s perspective, the pursuit of material riches has corrupted the soul of the country to such point, people willing to help are the exception and money is the only parameter of success. The filmmaker is thorough in his description of modern Russia’s malaise and even takes a few swipes at Putin while at it. Loveless is a bit thick to swallow, but highly rewarding. Three and a half planets. Distribution in Canada: Theatrical.

Sunday Matinee: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

It’s been 40 years since Close Encounters of the Third Kind first hit theatres. It’s playing in theatres this weekend to celebrate its anniversary and despite nothing opening sadly Close Encounters of the Third Kind hasn’t rewowed audiences back like it did when it first came out.
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Sunday Matinee: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

I was saddened to hear that filmmaker Tobe Hooper has passed away at the age of 74. His body of work started off strong in the 1970s with his legendary classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He would several other horror movies like Eaten Alive and Salem’s Lot. The 1980s had Hooper working with Steven Spielberg on Poltergeist which has long remained a rumour that Hooper didn’t really direct it.

He also made some fun B horror movies like Invaders From Mars and Lifeforce. Once the 1990s hit though Hooper didn’t really anything significant. In fact other than some OK TV work his movies tended to be awful. But looking back at his career I realized somehow I have never actually tackled The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I’m not sure how I could write all those 31 Days of Horror and never feature The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Strange.
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Sunday Matinee: The Wailing

Jong-goo (Do-won Kwak) is a police officer in a small village and lives with his wife, young daughter and mother-in-law. Jong-goo is woken up and called for duty because a woman has died in the village. Upon arriving the scene it’s actually a gruesome double homicide and the killer is a catatonic blood soaked man who was caught at the scene of the crime.

It seems that there have been a lot of gruesome murders in the town lately. Jong-goo buddy and fellow police officer tells him that folks think that it’s all caused by the arrival of a Japanese man (Jun Kunimura) who is living outside the town. He also tells him that a friend of his saw the Japanese man running around in the woods, naked except a loin cloth feeding on deer like an animal. Jong-goo doesn’t believe the story and both men are startled by a naked woman standing in the doorway of the police station. She disappears when they go look.
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Sunday Matinee: Bonnie And Clyde

Man lots of great movies are celebrating anniversaries this year. And celebrating it’s 50th anniversary today is Arthur Penn’s classic biographical crime film, 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde.

The movie was a biographical if somewhat streamlined, comedic, violent and action packed version of notorious outlaws Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barker (Warren Beatty). The movie takes some liberties with the actual events but it’s an awesome and entertaining movie.
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Sunday Matinee: Police Story 3: Supercop

One of Jackie Chan’s best movies turns 25 this year. It was the third in his Police Story series and the stunts in this film are nothing short of amazing.

Police Story 3: Supercop continued follow the adventures of Jackie Chan’s “supercop” Ka-Kui Chan. This time Ka-Kui has been requested by Interpol to work undercover with mainland China to capture a notorious drug dealer named Chaibat (Kenneth Tsang). The plan has Chan pretending to be a criminal and bust an associate of Chaibat’s out named Panther (Yuen Wah). Helping Chan out is a mainland Chinese cop Michelle Yeoh. Yeoh ends up posing as Chan’s sister and the two end up working for Chaibat after they bust Panther out of prison.
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Sunday Matinee: Kiki’s Delivery Service

Starting today for the next several months Cineplex is having a Studio Ghibli Anime Series added to their monthly screenings. Today and Wednesday August 2 they are playing Kiki’s Delivery Service. Today’s showing will be dubbed in English but Wednesday’s show will be in the original Japanese with English subtitles.

The next film in the series is Castle in the Sky and it will be played August 27 in English dub and August 30 in Japanese with English subtitles.
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Sunday Matinee: The Fabulous Baron Munchausen

Karel Zeman was a fantastic and amazing Czech filmmaker and animator whose work is wondrous to see. Zeman used live action and combined it with animated both hand drawn and stop motion to create amazing fantasy worlds.

Today’s Sunday Matinee is Karel Zeman’s 1961 The Fabulous Baron Munchausen. Loosely based on the Munchausen stories, this incredible fantasy follows the adventures of an astronaut who lands on the moon only to discover the crew from Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, Cyrano de Bergerac, Baron Munchausen and others already on the moon. The group assumes that the astronaut is a moon man and the Baron decides to take him to Earth to show him what Earth is like.
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REVIEW: Dunkirk’s Imperfections Add to its Brilliance

It took me a while to figure out what bothered me about Dunkirk. All those five-star reviews were right: Breathtaking scenes, daring structure and emotional payoff. It was all there, at a scale seldom seen before.

Then it hit me: There isn’t a single original narrative in the film. Portraits of down-to-earth heroism have been done before and Dunkirk doesn’t break any new ground. Furthermore, writer/director Christopher Nolan’s favorite trick, messing with chronology for maximum effect, is more distractive than anything and I have serious doubts there was need for it.

That said, Dunkirk hits such highs, any shortcoming dwarves by comparison.

The film unfolds in three setup entwined together, but not necessarily concurrent. The first is the beach of Dunkirk, France, where 400,000 Allied soldiers wait for evacuation, surrounded by Nazi forces and intermittently attacked from above. We witness the havoc through the eyes of Tommy (newcomer Fionn Whitehead), a young private initially without other calling than coming out of this alive. Continue reading “REVIEW: Dunkirk’s Imperfections Add to its Brilliance”