Monthly Archives: September 2015

Dressmaker – Director – Jocelyn Moorhouse

The last film of the week for us at least. I hoped it would be good fun as it was promoted as a comedy in which a former resident of a small Australian town comes back from her travels to wreak revenge on the town citizens. Kate Winslet plays the heroine of the film. She was sent away for reasons unclear at the start of the film and travelled to England, Italy and France and became and accomplished seamstress and fashion designer. However her ghosts require her to return to her past, her mother and the town she clearly hates. In the course of the film there are some truly hilarious scenes as the movie slowly reveals the secret that drives Winslet’s character. There are some wonderful performances from the cast including the mother, the local police sergeant (who saves the film in many ways) and other townies. Still the film turns somewhat dark and upsetting while trying to resolve the whole story. Winslet falls in love with one of the guys in town who appears to be her only ally. Her mother is elderly, and as things begin to come together they suddenly all fall apart in a somewhat random and unnecessary way. One reviewer said the following: “The film can be funny and quirky but it comes from the silliness of the film. ‘The Dressmaker’ has woven confusion caused by too many things thrown into the fray. This has left many critics bewildered on where the film was really trying to go.” I think this sums it up perfectly. There was also the suggestion that you can enjoy the film if you just relax and ignore the random events thrown in. Unfortunately you really can’t ignore them and you leave a bit unsettled. Still it gets high ratings on the fan sites so I may be completely wrong but on the other hand I voted for the people’s choice award for most of the films I saw but not this one.

Women He’s Undressed – Director – Gillian Armstrong

This is a truly great documentary about Orry-Kelly who is perhaps the most influential costume designer of his time — the golden age of Hollywood. He was Australian from a small rural town and the most unlikely to end up where he did. As a costume designer he worked on over 250 films including Casablanca. Some Like it Hot, Irma la Douce and An American in Paris. He won three Oscars and worked for MGM, 20th Century Fox and Universal Studios. He dressed Marlene Dietrich and Betty Davis and Marilyn Monroe and of course did the gowns for Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like it Hot. His sense of design allowed him to make the careers of many female stars of his time.

He was also gay and had a long term relationship with Cary Grant and shared the lifestyle with many other stars and artists of the time including Randolph Scott among others. However being gay was illegal and increasingly frowned upon by the industry leading to Grant and others having to abandon their obvious lifestyle and even getting married to cover the reality of their lives. Orry-Kelly was not so willing to cover his real life. It led to the end of his relationship with Grant but he moved on and found another lover who was not in the business and who he kept secret.

The documentary uses an actor to play the role of Orry-Kelly as a narrator which works very well as well as some great scenes from his movies and interviews with other costume designers, directors and film critics who know his work and aspects of his life. The Director, Gillian Anderson introduced the film and told us not to leave before the credits run since she inserted a final scene in the middle of the credits. The last scene of the film before the credits tells us that Orry-Kelly wrote a tell all memoir that has been repressed and prevented from publication by Cary Grant. The manuscript was lost. However Gillian Anderson made a great effort to track it down and in the final final scene inserted in the credits we learn that the manuscript was with his mother in Australia and is still in the hands of the family. One can only hope that the legal obstacles can be overcome so we can buy the book. Apparently it is available there but I can’t see how to get it shipped to Canada. Rats!!!

At any rate this is a great film, funny, interesting and educational all in one. Go for it.

Youth – Director – Paolo Sorrentino

This film will likely be on the OSCAR track if not for best film then for best actor for Michael Caine. The director is Italian and noted for several previous films that were generally pretty depressing in theme and plot. They have been lauded for quality but not for fun. This film takes him in a new direction. The story is lighter than anything he has previously done and offers a theme of redemption. I found some of it very beautiful to look at, very funny in several places, moving in others, but he insists on inserting scenes and images that as far as I can see are a tribute to Fellini and have nothing to do with the plot or theme. Nonetheless I was entertained more than I was irritated and the acting is top notch. I am reminded at how effortlessly the old pros like Caine and Keitel can act while being impressed with the Paul Dano a young actor who has a great career in front of him.

The story is about two old friends, Caine and Keitel who are at Swiss spa to rest and regain health. Keitel is a film director and Caine a retired composer and orchestra conductor. Both have hidden issues in their lives that remain unresolved and which come to light in the course of the film. I can’t tell you how the plot evolves but will intrigue you with the fact that Miss Universe is also there and prone to walking about with minimal clothing, and a small subplot in which Caine and Keitel bet on the quality of the relationship between ta couple who eat dinner at table near them. The picture above has them observing a change in that relationship. All very funny.

On the whole a good movie and one that will be out this fall and worth the time to see.

No Men Beyond This Point – Director – Mark Sawers

This was the funniest movie of the week. A mockumentary that the director told us was more about mocking documentaries than mocking the topic of the film. Still the topic was great and the film very funny. Filmed in Canada with a Canadian cast and director, the film speculated on a world in which women begin getting pregnant through parthenogenesis or asexually. They just become pregnant without requiring male involvement and worse, at least from the male perspective, all these pregnancies result in female babies. After a few decades men are becoming a smaller and smaller percentage of the population and as no new males are being born, older and older. The film focusses on the youngest remaining man, a 37 year old who is working as a nanny and housekeeper for an all-female household. Among the speculations is that sex becomes something to be refrained from at least in the policies of the female government and a new naturalist religion evolves. Men are forced to live in compounds and the title of the film comes from signs restricting males from leaving their compounds.

The film lacks good scientific background but it uses great documentary style and while you do not laugh hysterically you do chuckle continuously and in a good way. It is a very funny movie. The director was there for a Q and A and was asked some pretty silly questions like why he did not address issues of gay/lesbian sex, his lack of multicultural or racial variety in the cast, the problem of reduced genetic diversity in parthenogenesis etc. It was after all a comedy and a joke and needed to be accepted as such and not as a serious sci-fi film. On the other had he was asked how he came up with the idea and he confessed his starting point was that he wanted to make a movie, he had limited funds so it would be shot in his house, use only 6-7 actors and involve a love triangle. The idea for the movie came from a story he read about komodo dragons who can reproduce without male/female intercourse. He felt bad for the komodo dragon and speculated on this possibility in human populations. Thus a movie is born.

I think this is well worth your time if you can track it down. I suspect it will show up at Hot Docs but not in general release but if you can find it, see it.

Victoria – Director – Sebastian Schipper

I am not entirely sure about this movie. It is not the best I have ever seen and it is a wee bit too long but all in all very entertaining. Victoria is a German film but most of the dialogue is in English. Set in Berlin it tells the story of a young Spanish student who hooks up late one night or really early one morning with four guys who are out for the night partying. What starts out as a fun encounter and a blossoming romance with one of the guys slowly turns darker as the guys are coerced into a bank robbery and the girl – Victoria – becomes the driver of the getaway vehicle. I will not give away the whole story but needless to say it all starts to go awry until the climactic ending. The characters speak English because the guys are German and Victoria is Spanish. The common tongue is English which they all speak relatively well and which makes for interesting dialogue.

What is unusual about this movie is that it all happens in real time and is shot in one continuous take. Apparently they did three versions and the final one is the one that was released. The dialogue is all ad libbed which is a credit to the actors since it is mostly in English which is a second language for them all. The pace of the movie picks up slowly over the time and ends in a rush. Great fun really and although one can punch all kinds of holes in the plot, the nature of the filming is unique and the story compelling so you really want to see how it all comes out at the end and definitely stay hooked. Not sure when this might be released. The film will be at several film festivals including Vancouver and Berlin and hopefully will get general release in the New Year if not before. Definitely worth the effort to see.

Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr – Director – Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard

I really wanted to see this one since I have been outraged by the treatment of Khadr by the Harperites. They like to use him totally for propaganda purposes and paint him as an evil, murdering terrorist. However the worst case one can make against this guy is that at age 15 as the only survivor of a fire fight against US Special Forces, with all his companions dead around him and severely wounded he may (and no one can really prove he did) have thrown a grenade in self defence. It was a battle, he was a child caught up in a situation he did not fully understand and certainly couldn’t control. To accuse him of murder as the US wishes to do is simply absurd. Harper however has done all in his power to crush this person who has been in some of the world’s worst prisons since age 15. Thanks to Dennis Edney his lawyer who has devoted his life to defending Khadr the boy who is now nearly 30 has been free on bail for the last few months. This film tells the story including moving interviews with one of the men who tortured him, a retired Special Forces soldier who was in the fire fight and with Khadr’s family. The best material however are the interviews with Khadr himself. While in prison even here in Canada Harper denied the media access to Khadr clearly fearing that humanizing this person would undercut their propaganda campaign. Edney got him free however and the chance came to introduce him to Canadians and the world.

The film is a strong indictment of our pathetic government and Stephen Harper in particular. We were lucky to have the Director, Dennis Edney and his wife who have allowed Khadr to share their home while he is free on bail and Michelle Shepherd, the Toronto Star journalist who has been following this story for the last 12 years. It was a very good Q and A – one of the best I have attended. I am not sure when the film will come out for general release but there is a shorter version done for a CBC broadcast in May of this year and you can watch it here: It’s just over 45 minutes but well worth the investment of time.

My Internship in Canada – Director – Philippe Falardeau

After seeing Black Mass we headed off to see this new Canadian satire. It was a relief. Light and funny and definitely to the point in its skewering of politics not only in Canada but in any democratic society. The issue the director wanted to address was the fact that politicians are not really free to vote their feelings or conscience on any issue. In parliamentary democracies particularly they vote the party line. The film speculates on the possibility of a politician actually having to make a free decision. The hero of the film is an independent member of parliament from a Quebec rural riding. He finds himself in the situation of being the deciding vote on whether or not Canada should send troops to a foreign war. He is aided in his situation by a young intern from Haiti who is there to learn about the political process. The result is a hilarious look at the political system we all suffer under. Although the story is entirely fictional (wink wink) there is a not too subtle portrayal of our Conservative PM, Quebec politics and the situation on which the film based really happened when Harper asked parliament to approve his latest military adventure. The twist is that the deciding vote rests with a poor independent MP who just wants to do what is best for his constituents.

Falardeau is a very good director responsible for one of my favourite movies of all time Monsieur Lazhar and several other critically acclaimed films. He was there along with the lead actor Patrick Huard. They were charming, funny, and totally engaged the audience. Among the things we learned in the Q and A was that the young Haitian actor Irduns Exantus who played the intern is not a professional actor and this role was his first ever in any kind of acting capacity. He was wonderful. Much of the cast extras – first nations people, truckers, average citizens etc were all locals from the region where the fictional riding existed. It made for a really natural and real portrayal of the situations in which politicians find themselves. Without going into specific scenes I cannot express the simple joy of watching this film unfold. Really enjoyable and out shortly so no excuses, support Canadian cinema, this great director and enjoy yourselves.

Black Mass – Director – Scott Cooper

I try not to see too many films that are scheduled for release during or just after TIFF but this was an exception this year. I really wanted to see if Johnny Depp could still act after a series of pretty light and silly stuff and it turns out he can. While I enjoyed Legend, my other gangster movie of the festival more it was not a log more. Depp can be an accomplished character actor and as Whitey Bulger the infamous Boston mobster he creates a truly scary role. There are several scenes where you cringe more in your seat than the poor victims on screen. The movie covers Bulger’s career as he rose to become the most notorious crime figure in Boston during the seventies and eighties. He is a totally local boy from South Boston or Southie as its residents call it. At the time of the film Southie is a rough and poor part of town that spawned street toughs and gangs and Bulger rose from that to push out the mafia and other competition to make a crime kingdom that lasted for 20 years. His brother played by Benedict Cumberbach chose the more legitimate route of politics becoming a senator and later chancellor of the University of Massachusetts. Bulger manages to corrupt FBI agents and uses them to help wipe out the competition from the mafia and other gangs. He himself was ruthless and violent and made sufficient numbers of enemies that he is eventually brought down. He himself escaped and hid out for 13 years before he was finally caught and convicted for his crimes.

I have not said too much about the overall quality of the film I suppose because the story is very compelling and that may say it all. It is well scripted, brilliantly acted by a stellar cast, and shot to evoke the darkness of the story. Well worth taking in but again be warned that the violence is sort of omnipresent and the suspense will kill you. Again reflecting on the Hitchcock film, Cooper does a great job of cranking up the suspense and releasing it in sometimes surprising ways. Great film so since it is already out – get out and see it.

Born to be Blue – Director – Robert Budreau

This movie is brilliant. Maybe the best movie I have seen so far at the festival. Ethan Hawke portrays the legendary jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker in a tightly scripted film that covers an early part of his career about his struggles to deal with heroin addiction and the connection between that and his music. It’s a complex story but handled very well. The filming, much of which happened in Sudbury, and the acting are at the highest level. The music is great with Canadian jazz artists doing most of the work although Ethan Hawke apparently did much of the singing and he is very good. Jazz stalwarts like Mike Murley and Terry Clarke back him up and really enhance the movie. Baker rose to stardom at the time of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis but when jazz was still a domain of black musicians in New York. Baker was part of a new style of west coast cool jazz and he sang as well which was not well regarded by the New York artists. A great quote from the film has Ethan Hawke in a kind of soliloquy saying: Hey Dizzy, Miles, there’s a white boy coming from California and he’s gonna eat your lunch.

The biography of Chet Baker is a novel in itself and this film only touches on the early part of his career. His most productive time for playing and recording occurred after the end of this film but we see how he gets to that point and it is a moving story. Going back to Hitchcock and Truffaut, one of Hitchcock’s techniques or skills was to portray feelings and thoughts of the characters in a glance or a look rather than dialogue. In the last scene of this movie, Baker is on stage at Birdland. Playing at Birdland in NYC is the sign he has finally made it back to the top. He struggles however to go on stage and although he has been clean – no heroin for years – he is tempted to use again just to get the confidence he needs to go on. The tension builds and we do not know if he will resort to heroin he has in his dressing room or take the methadone that has kept him clean so long. His fiancée who has helped him stay clean all this time did not come with him to NYC and he felt abandoned by her however she shows up unannounced just as he comes on stage. She has told him she will leave him if he goes back on the drugs and she will know he is using just by his manner when he is high. He comes out, sees her and starts to play My Funny Valentine. He brushes his cheek which is the sign he is using again and she sees it. He continues to play as he watches her take off her engagement ring and walk out. He however has made it back, the heroin helps him play to his full potential while destroying him at the same time. His eyes say it all: goodbye, I’ve made it, I am never going back. Fade to black. Great scene, great ending, great performance.

No release date for this film yet but some critics who have seen it say it is Ethan Hawke’s best performance in film. It is bound to come out and it will be well worth your while to see it.

Into the Forest – Director – Patricia Rozema

This is officially the worst movie I have seen so far at TIFF. I was intrigued by the theme about two sisters in an isolated house in the US northwest when all the electrical power goes out for good all over the world. How will they survive? Some will remember back in 2003 when the entire northeast of the continent lost power for three days. It was survivable but a wee bit scary when you realize how dependent we are on electricity and how fragile it really is. This movie promised to help us understand that but it fails on many levels. I was not overly impressed with the script which was written by the director. The story fails to make any sense on so many levels as to be unbelievable and basically it was really boring. To go back to the Hitchcock film – there was really no suspense. The events were so predictable there was literally no tension in what should have been a very scary or at least anxiety provoking movie.

I think the director was trying to explore how a crisis like this might affect the relationship between two people particularly family members who are caught in a trap from which they really have no way out. The problem is that this scenario was not believable. The film is not science fiction or apocalyptic particularly so it was just too artificial and in the end overly melodramatic. It was also way way too long. We got the point about 30 or 45 minutes in and the rest was denouement. Oh yeah a story generally has a climax and then a denouement but this film has no climax because it really never goes anywhere.

I was also irritated by the fact that no explanation of the power outage was ever given or any sense that the country was at least adapting in some way to the crisis. The result was really a plot and story that was totally unengaging. I should tell you that this movie is well liked by many and has a high rating on IMDb for some reason yet to be made clear to me. So if you like the actors and like the director by all means go but don’t say you weren’t warned.