Simply the best movie I have seen this week and maybe the best movie at the Festival and maybe the best movie of the year. I loved this film as you can see. It is a dramatization of the story of Burmese political activist and leader Aung San Suu Kyi over 15 years of her life struggling to bring democracy to Burma. It is also about her love for her English husband and children who support her throughout her isolation and house arrest in Burma. Separated for years from her family she hangs on to their love and her love of her country. It is brilliantly acted by Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis (who is also in Anonymous) both of whom deserve Oscars for their work. The director and writer did not know the woman whose story they were telling but they researched it thoroughly and clearly did a great job. They filmed it in Thailand primarily but many shots were from Burma where members of the crew travelled incognito as tourists and shot film with their Nikon cameras. They reconstructed the home in which she was under arrest off and on for nearly 15 years to perfection and filmed in the actual home the family shared in Oxford.
The director and writer were there for a Q and A and were congratulated by members of the audience who knew The Lady herself and remarked how perfectly Yeoh played her, how true to the story the film was and how evocative of the struggle and ongoing struggle to bring democracy to Burma. The plea of Aung San Suu Kyi at the end of the film is to the audience to use their liberty to bring the same to the people of Burma. The audience gave a rare standing ovation at the end of the film.
Yes we should work to free the people of Burma and encourage our government to lead this struggle but there is also a message to all the bored and jaded voters of our own country not to take their right to vote for granted and exercise it every chance they have. When one sees a film like this and watches the sacrifices people make to exercise the right to vote there is simply no excuse for any of us to remain unengaged in our own democracy.
This was the first costume drama of the week and really a lot of fun. It is a tale of Elizabethan court intrigue layered over the theory that Shakespeare’s plays were really written by the Earl of Oxford – Edward De Vere. Ben Johnson is the go between carrying the plays to the Globe theatre where a rather poor but wily actor William Shakespeare took all the credit. The movie is directed by Robert Emmerich who has done such classics 😛 as 2012, 10,000 B.C., The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day. The latter is classic trash but the others are not so great. So this movie is bit a of a change for him although he plays fast and loose with the history and even the “Shakespeare didn’t really write those plays” theories. Nonetheless he creates a great atmosphere and has some good actors to work with including Vanessa Redgrave and Elizabeth, Rhys Ifans as the Earl and Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson. Although it doesn’t have any aliens seeking to destroy the world or other cataclysmic events and it’s a bit long and over dramatic, basically I liked it. If it’s a cold night out this winter and you have nothing else to do then definitely do up some popcorn and enjoy this bit of fluff.
A quick observation. On September 11th, TIFF decided they needed to acknowledge the events of ten years ago. I was at the Festival myself that year and actually watching a movie when the planes hit the Twin Towers. They did not stop the movie but afterwards the staff came out to say somewhat mysteriously that ” due to events this morning, the Q and A was cancelled”. That was it. All they said. No one in the audience had any idea what they were talking about and assumed it related to some incident involving the director. After all we were all in a movie all morning. So happily I went off to my next movie. Standing in line I was expecting my daughter to join me for a showing of the classic Rollerball to be introduced and discussed by Norman Jewison the director. She arrived to tell me what had happened. I was stunned and then they cancelled the showing and we went home to watch the news. The Festival carried on that week with just the films and all the parties cancelled.
So …. I remember, at the time, thinking this was the only thing they could do or they would be ruined economically and there was really no reason not to continue. Obviously it was a difficult communications and PR issue but basically only that for the Festival directors and staff. However…… this year they did a 2 minute short that they showed before each film on the 11th and then cancelled all the repetitive and now pretty annoying ads and promotions they run before each film. The short they ran starred Piers Handling the TIFF co-director and other staff being interviewed about events 10 years ago. Phenomenally it was not about the people who died or the impact on the world or anything moderately selfless. It was all about them!! How devastating it was for them. How difficult it was to decide whether to continue or not. How selfless and courageous it was of them to carry on. I couldn’t believe it and I had to watch it three times I think. The only good part was that they cancelled all the other dumb pre movie stuff and got right on with showing the movies.
A documentary by a BBC director Nick Broomfield. A UK film about America’s scariest politician. He states in the film that he wants to do an objective 360 story about Sarah Palin’s startling ride to prominence. He traces her career from her high school career to her current plans to challenge for the presidency. While he does get to interview her parents he really can’t find anyone else who knew her to talk to, including Palin herself, who was willing to say anything positive about her. There is some amazing archival footage including her playing high school basketball, placing third in the Miss Alaska competition (apparently she won Miss Congeniality). The stories are very scary. She talked the mayor of Wasilla (her home town) to help her run for her first political office as councillor and at the next election she ran a nasty attack campaign against her mentor and took his job as mayor. This backstabbing, throw them under the bus approach to climbing to the top is clearly her style. One of the pastors in the town told the camera that Sarah is a born again Christian who believes we are living in the end times. She has no conscience about doing harm to those who might oppose her. He said that if she could kill her opponents she would with no regret and if she had access to nuclear arms she would not hesitate to use it to achieve her goals. It was very scary to hear as he painted a picture of a sociopath. The “thrown them under the bus” theme came up time and again with different people. One woman was going to write a book about her called “Under the bus”. As they run the credits they also play the phony call when a local radio station in Quebec called her purporting to be President Sarcozy. Very funny.
A really good, witty, scary documentary – Sarah does not smoke by the way.
Okay the first really violent downer movie of the week. This one stars Woody Harrelson and if none of his previous films has driven Cheers from your mind, this one will. He plays a really mean, racist, sexist, misogynist, violent, sociopathic, need I go on? Cop. It is set in 1999 in Los Angeles and Rampart is the district that came under investigation for a police force that was racist, sexist, misogynist, violent, sociopathic etc. It focuses on one cop who becomes a scapegoat for the force which is unfair on one level but not unfair on another. He is guilty. Harrelson is basically the major focus and is in every scene in a virtuoso performance. He may get a nomination for this and likely deserves it but this movie is ugly in lots of ways and gritty in story and film style. This may lose it the credit it deserves. At any rate it’s not just Harrelson. There is a great supporting cast including Sigourney Weaver, Harrelson’s character’s two ex-wives (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) and two daughters are also wonderful as is Steve Buscemi. This movie is written by James Ellroy a very noir mystery writer and Clarke Peters of Treme and The Wire. Tough stuff. – watching this movie was like being a voyeur of a nasty nasty scene.
Side note: Everyone in this movie smokes. Actually everyone in almost every movie I have been to this year smokes. This is really a change and mostly completely unnecessary to the plot or the characters. I have started to wonder if in fact this is subtle product placement. No brand names or anything but hey! Everyone smokes! If you have seen Thank you for Not Smoking from a few years back you would definitely share my paranoid perception here.
Another hockey movie. It’s like a trend. This one is basically The Mighty Ducks for Sikhs – The Mighty Sikhs? Director Robert Leiberman actually directed The Mighty Ducks. Basically this is the story of a group of Sikh kids who play pick up hockey and have one player who is really good. They are victims of a local team of bullies and decide to take a chance at skilling up to challenge the bullies for a championship. The story is about breakaways in hockey but also breakaways from traditional Sikh values. The star of the team is rebelling against his rigid traditionalist father who forbids him to play this white Canadian game. Of course at the end they are reconciled. (oops a spoiler)This is a Canadian movie with some big Bollywood stars but also starring Russell Peters, Rob Lowe and a cameo by Ludacris. Predictable but fun the kids find a Canadian coach and make it to the finals which they win in dramatic fashion (oops – another spoiler). The fun is in the Bollywood dance scenes on top of the traditional North American story line. Some funny scenes and charming performances so go see it and enjoy.
Interestingly there is another perspective on this film from a friend of my son who suggested that such films are a bit racist (well he felt they are very racist). Why he argues is it okay to replace traditional values with new Canadian ones and why are the traditionalists like the boy’s father portrayed so negatively? All good points and while I think the movie is respectful in the end of Sikh culture the comment lingers with me nonetheless. Others may be better judges of this than a 7th generation Canadian blogger.
Final remark. The director and several of the stars including Russell Peters were there to introduce the film. I wore a blue collarless shirt that looked a bit like a Nehru shirt. As Peters walked past me he looked down and remarked: “Hey – nice shirt” I am so happy to be dissed by a movie star.