Monthly Archives: September 2012

Byzantium – United Kingdom/Ireland – Neil Jordan

This is a vampire movie and I figured to broaden my experience of horror films I should get beyond Bella Lugosi and “I don’t drink……wine”. So I swallowed my aversion to Anne Rice and went to see this new film by Neil Jordan(Interview with a Vampire and The Company of Wolves among others). I was attracted because he also did Michael Collins which was amazing and not a horror film at all. Disappointed I was. It was so booorrrrriinng right up until the end when suddenly there was action and resolution but until then it was just gothic in the worst sense of the word. While sitting with another TIFF veteran waiting for my next film we got chatting about what movies were good and bad this year and I mentioned how much I was unhappy with Byzantium. He was surprised, had seen it with me as it turns out and thought it was wonderful. I guess you have to like vampires. I should note that this guy sees five movies a day and will see between 40 and 50 movies this week. I am not sure he isn’t confusing Byzantium with something else at that rate but who am I to judge. Let’s just say that if you like vampires you will likely enjoy this and if you don’t stay away. It is not a great film to introduce you to the horror genre.

The director was there for a Q and A afterwards and that was somewhat interesting but the movie is based on a book and part of the story was about how people became vampires. In the book they were taken off to Turkey and bitten by a giant bird but they didn’t have the funding for this so instead they used this isolated little island of the west coast of Ireland (The director is Irish afterall). At any rate this saved them big bucks and maybe that says something about the movie overall.


Inch’Allah – Canada – Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette

From those wonderful people who brought you Incendies and Monsieur Lazhar comes another politically tinged dramatic film. Incendies won international praise as did Monsieur Lazhar, which by the way I thought to be pretty close to being a perfect movie, so my expectations were very high for this one. It is about a young Quebec woman and physician who is working at a United Nations sponsored women’s clinic on the West Bank in Palestine. She lives in Israeli Jerusalem but crosses the checkpoint every day to Palestine to her job. The film does an admirable job of portraying the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis through this lead character who has friends and lovers on both sides. I began to lose touch with this film when the Quebec physician basically chain smokes (I do not know many doctors in this time who smoke) and basically lives a very wild lifestyle while all the time pining for her home in Quebec. Also there is absolutely no explanation of why she would volunteer to work in a highly dangerous location. Her motives are completely mysterious.

So having already lost confidence in the reality of the character I was further disappointed in her relationship with a Palestinian man who really has nothing to offer her except his leaning toward terrorism and rebellion. This all the while her best girlfriend is an Israeli border guard. I think the producers and director wanted to write a pro-Palestinian story and support the case by having it observed through the eyes of a Canadian/Quebec Physician. Not sure if there was some line to be drawn here between the oppressive condition of the Palestine and Quebec but I will not go there. Nonetheless, having lived in Israel (which colours my perspective I suppose) I was very disappointed with the way in which the current conflict is portrayed and very unhappy with the way it is played out in this film. There are two important scenes in this movie. One is when her Israeli girlfriend confronts her and asks her why she is even there. The second is when her Palestinian friend and patient tells her go back where she came from. Since this had been crossing my mind throughout the film, I almost said out loud, “Right! Go home.” Politics from this production group are not nearly as sophisticated as those of Costa-Gavras. Enough said. I cannot recommend this film – go see Gatekeepers instead.


Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God – United States – Alex Gibney

This film is a documentary that begins with the attempt by four men to confront the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a Catholic priest while children at a School for the Deaf in Wisconsin in the 1970’s. It goes far beyond that however as the director suggests this is the incident that opened the door on sexual abuse within the Church and the efforts of the Vatican to hide or deny it. The interviews with the four victims are very moving and this is interspersed with interviews with priests and clergy who either were instrumental in exposing the problem and those who worked to hide it and all those in between. It is a complex and difficult issue to pick apart but the director does a superb job. Chilling and yet intriguing we hear from a Canon law prosecutor/priest who to this day continues to bring charges against the guilty clergy, a Benedictine monk who treats the perpetrators and the victims, a retired priest who once covered up for the guilty, a gay archbishop who tried to intervene but backed away when his own misdemeanours were exposed and on and on. But ultimately this film is about the victims and the courageous fight they still wage to bring the Church to acknowledge its crimes and act with dignity to the victims rather than the priests who committed these crimes against those entrusted to them.

Mea Maxima Culpa

The Company You Keep – United States – Robert Redford

This was fun movie for a child of the 60’s. It is set in 2012, 30 years after the Weather Underground, homegrown terrorists and anti-Vietnam activists have gone truly underground following a botched bank robbery and the murder of a security guard. The FBI is still hunting them but they have all managed to find new identities and roles and, of course are now older and wiser. Redford stars as one of the group who is exposed after a fellow activist (played by Susan Sarandon) is arrested. Tracked by a young, naïve but intrepid journalist (Shia Lebeouf), he runs but where and why is the story of the film. I am not sure if anyone born after 1980 will understand all the elements of this story but it certainly took me back to the days of the late 60’s and early 70’s, the SDS, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, and the Chicago Seven trial. Redford is a very good director and this movie smacks of Hollywood big time. This is not all bad. Redford is also able to command a great array of stars to give cameo but key roles in the movie including Stanley Tucci, Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Sam Eliot, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard and Julie Christie to name a few. Well-paced, well written, a fun ride particularly if you are over 60 but even if you aren’t. Not Oscar worthy but worthy of the price of admission. Enjoy.

The Company You Keep    

Writers – United States – Josh Boone

Again we had the whole cast and the director there for the presentation. Biggest name? Greg Kinnear who is the star in name but is overshadowed not unwillingly but a superb young cast who play his coming of age kids and their first loves. The Chair of the Board of Directors of TIFF introduced the film and clearly was out of place and unsure how to introduce the cast. It was sadly very awkward but still great to see them. The Chair suggested to us that the movie was a hilarious look at relationships as the come apart and come together again. Well… hilarious it’s not, touching, warm and insightful it is. I found myself thinking alternatively that this was a typical melodramatic Hollywood treatment of love lost and won, but the young cast kept it from becoming that and it became very moving for me. So while not hilarious, there is humour and the story is entertaining, well-paced and you really care about all the characters. It’s a film about writers and it is very well written. It will be out this fall and definitely worth a night out. Hey even Stephen King has a cameo.


Le Capital – France – Costa-Gavras

We all know Costa-Gavras right? “Z”, State of Siege”, “Missing” all great left wing (far left wing) brilliant films that highlighted major issues of their time. This year Costa-Gavras has given us his look at the banking crisis and the banking industry in general and it is a brilliantly satirical look too (although not funny at all). It tells the story of a young and ambitious banker who has definite insight into the moral and ethical lines he is crossing as he is promoted CEO of a major European Bank at a critical time in it’s development. He is placed there by manipulative investors who hope to take advantage of his inexperience through greed and seduction. I will not give away the plot but racing back and forth among Paris, Miami, New York, London and Tokyo, it is an exciting and sexy economic thriller if such a thing can exist. It follows many twists and turns right up to the final lines (which are great!!) and the fade to black. No matter what your politics you cannot help but enjoy a master film maker and story teller in action.

Big thrill for me was having the man himself there as well as the lead actor. I have loved his films from when I first saw “Z” in 1969, (yes I am that old!), and I urge you all to hunt them down on DVD and watch just to be entertained and to have your eyes opened. He is a great Director. Enough said.

Le Capital

Thermae Romae – Japan – Hideki Takeuchi

Hmmm…. Thermae Romae? Roman Baths? This is a Japanese film? Yep!

This was a total surprise for me. I saw it at Roy Thompson Hall which was maybe half full but almost entirely of the Toronto Japanese youth. I felt old and very European. The movie is a comedy that is currently one of the most popular films in Japan and the connection between Japan and Rome is that both cultures are very keen on public baths. It is based on a Manga (look it up) novel. Basically a graphic novel as we know them here, that tells the story of a Roman architect ordered by Emperor Hadrian to build a personal bath house for him alone. Lacking confidence in his own ability he is not sure where to start but as fortune has it he accidentally tumbles on a time vortex that takes him to modern Japan. Hilarity ensues as ancient European culture encounters modern Japanese culture. Some of the funniest scenes include our Roman architect and hero encountering modern Japanese plumbing (toilets). Let’s just say the modern Japanese toilet has many features our common household toilets lack. He takes back the ideas he finds to ancient Rome and of course succeeds beyond Hadrian’s and the Roman public’s wildest dreams. There is much more the story and he make multiple trips and there is a love interest in Japan and political challenges in Rome to overcome.

A surprising film and story that is wholly Japanese. Even the Romans are played by leading Japanese actors. The lead in this film is Hiroshi Abe who is a young and handsome heartthrob in Japan. He and the director and many of the cast were there and as he was introduced the Japanese fans (particularly the women) were greatly appreciative. I hope it comes to general release in Canada and if it does I really urge you to see it despite is being all in Japanese but with good subtitles. It is a funny movie that will introduce you to a new cultural experience.

Thermae Romae

Gatekeepers – Israel – Dror Moreh

I love the documentary program at TIFF. There are always some amazing films that may not see the light of general release but challenge us with new perspectives and ideas. This film is no exception. I saw it at the recently renovated Bloor Cinema, home of the Hot Docs Festival. It is a great venue and well worth the visit near Bathurst and Bloor. But enough of that – on to the movie.

It is an series of interviews with the current head of Shin Bet and five of his predecessors. Shin Bet is the successor to the Mossad, the Israeli secret service charged with preventing terrorist attacks within Israel and against Israelis. It is a highly effective agency as Israel has been incredibly successful at preventing attacks against its citizens. These men are stunningly open about what they have done and why and their own moral evaluation of what they do and have done. They are also apolitical, non-ideological and incredibly insightful, self-reflective and intelligent. The interviews are interspersed with video of the outcome of terrorist attacks and targeted strikes against the perpetrators. The film is not all about defence against the PLO, and later Hamas and Hezbollah but also about taking down Israeli conspiracies to kill hundreds of Palestinians and destroy the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

The director was there and stayed for a Q and A after the film. He is a crusader for peace in the Middle East and his film has already had an effect. The men he interviewed were supportive of his efforts. Rather than right-wing ideologues dedicated to the destruction of Israel’s enemies they are much more complex. As one said, “When you have done what I have done, seen what I have seen, — when you leave, your politics are left wing”.

This film may have some international attention. It will feature at the New York City Film Festival later this fall and after that it would be great to see it in general release. See it if you can.


Argo – United States, Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck was there!! I have pictures!! This was at the Elgin Theatre so there was a huge audience and Ben was charming but I do have some complaints. This film is based on the recently released CIA files relating to the rescue of 6 American Diplomats who escaped the US Embassy in Tehran in 1980. Ben was very complimentary to the Canadian audience for the help offered to the diplomats but the film really minimized the courage and risks the Canadians took to save the six Americans. While at the time all credit for the escape went to Canada it was the CIA who ultimately led the escape. Nonetheless the Canadians took them in, arranged the passports and kept them hidden for 79 days at great risk to their own lives. Ben’s film basically gives full credit to the CIA and the Canadians are portrayed as flunkies essentially. Very bad on you Ben but thanks for making an otherwise thrilling movie (fictionalized as it is.) This is Affleck’s third film as a director and the previous one –The Town was amazing. This one is also very good (some say his best) but misrepresenting Canada eats at me I have to admit. Still, I was just as thrilled as the rest of the audience when Ben (who also stars in the movie) rescues his compadres.

One other complaint and one other word of praise: The film does note that the current Iranian government and militant Islamic regime is a direct result of the British and American Secret Services overthrowing a left wing democratic government that had nationalized the oil industry and putting in place the brutal Shah who later was overthrown resulting in the current regime bent on revenge. Nonetheless we are to sympathize (and do) with the US diplomats who are dealing with the sequelae. The film also is really well written and two supporting characters played by Alan Arkin and John Goodman offer some the best comic relief I have ever seen. So… despite my whining about Canada, this will be a big hit when it is released shortly. Leave your Canadian pride behind and go see it if you like thrillers. You can’t miss.


It Starts Again!!

TIFF kicked off last night with its opening gala – a somewhat odd pick really – Looper, a sci-fi blockbuster film that will be in theatres very shortly. I think the idea was to move away from opening with a Canadian film that has been hit and miss in the past and go with a potentially “hot” popular film. Personally I thought it was a dumb idea and there are some amazing Oscar worthy films scheduled that would have attracted the TIFF crowd and been far more appropriate. So to counter that today I am off to my first movie – Gatekeepers – a documentary about the Israeli Secret Service which I will see at the new Bloor Cinema that hosts the Hot Docs Festival every spring. This year I have about 20 movies to see which are fewer than I had hoped but should still be a good week. If you come back and check in on “tiffable” on a regular basis you will find a good mixture of possible Oscar nominees and some more obscure but I hope interesting foreign films and documentaries. I also promise to rant on about whatever comes up during the week that thrills me or irritates me. Hopefully it will all be very entertaining.