This was the best movie of the week and I do not expect it to be surpassed in the remaining days. I was with the second audience to see the film and apparently the most enthusiastic. We were at the Elgin, so a huge crowd, and as the director and cast came on stage for a Q and A after the final credits they received a standing ovation that lasted it seemed at least 5 minutes. They were clearly stunned and did not know how to respond when we just kept clapping and cheering. So why?, I hear you ask.
The film is a classic road trip film but based on real events. A black jazz pianist (and very well to do gentleman) from New York City, Dr. Don Shirley, decides to take his trio on a tour through the southern US in 1964 at a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws and customs were still very much in place. He knew he was going into difficult places so he decides to hire a driver/protector to accompany him on the 8 week trip. Enter Viggo Mortensen in maybe his best acting performance ever. Mortensen plays a third generation Italian New Yorker, working class background, who has recently been laid off from his job as a bouncer for the Copacabana Club which is undergoing “renovations” following a “fire”. The mob is a part of Mortensen’s community shall we say. Mortensen’s character is also not exactly comfortable with those not of Italian extraction shall we say although he is clearly at heart a good guy. He takes the job a bit reluctantly because he needs the money. The two leave in a car rented by Shirley’s recording studio and we are taken through the 8 week trip during which we learn much about Don Shirley’s and Mortensen’s characters as they slowly bond into good friends. The film is funny, heart warming, does not shy away from the racism of the time and is brilliantly scripted and acted. I can’t say too much more except to tell you this movie comes out in November, is headed to the Oscars and if Viggo doesn’t get a nomination and even a Best Acting Oscar there is no justice in the world. The title is from an actual guide for black travelers in the deep south. It was called The Green Book and listed all the hotels and restaurants where blacks were allowed to eat and sleep while in the south.
Peter Farelly, the director is maybe best known as the director of Dumb and Dumber among other comic classics but this film goes far beyond his other work. The actors all praised his talents and dedication to the film. During the Q and A the actors were asked to tell stories about their time working on the film and how they all came to bond with each other as well. There were several good stories but I liked best the one told by Mahershala Ali who plays Don Shirley. One day while filming at one of the Green Book hotels that still exists, an elderly black man who was watching and lived across the street asked about the film. When he learned it was about Don Shirley he got excited and told them he had lived there for decades and remembered that not only did Don Shirley stay there but also Little Richard, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke among many others. He knew them all it seems and partied with them. Ali say it lent a reality for him as to what the film was about, how sad those times were and how accurate this film was in documenting that time.
I want Oscar nominations for the writing, the director, Viggo and Ali, and for the music. I did not know Don Shirley’s music and went home to listen to some more. It is superb jazz. The film has a great music score and features many examples including a great set in a blues bar near the end of the film. Look him up. See the film.
After a series of films with political overtones it was really relaxing to see this one that just tells a very nice story about three old guys robbing banks. That is a bit unfair. The cast is great with Robert Redford, Danny Glover and Tom Waits as the Over the Hill Gang, Sissey Spacek as the love interest and Casey Affleck as the cop who is reluctantly chasing them down. Not really a comedy and not really a romance but just a nice telling of a mostly true story of life long bank robber Forrest Tucker and his last run after escaping San Quentin prison. The story is understated, no violence, great subtle acting and really relaxing. Not sure I can say a great deal more about it. I suspect it will not show up at the Academy Awards but this is not a reason for you not to track it down when it is released at the end of the September. With all the evil news we deal with every day it seems take an hour and a half to just calm down with Redford and gang.
This was my first film of the 2018 TIFF festival and it proved to be a great way to start. Denys Arcand is an Oscar winning Canadian director probably best known for his films Decline of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasions. I was not sure what to expect from this film but it proved bitingly satirical while being light and entertaining at the same time. There are few movies where I don’t look at my watch at some point but this time my attention was kept the whole way through the two hours. The connection to the American Empire was explained by Arcand in the Q and A when he was asked about the title. He said his working title was The Triumph of Money but he didn’t like it in the end and since his first big film was The Decline of the American Empire which he took from the classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire he thought “Why not The Fall of the American Empire”. He figured that 400 years from now if anyone looked at the film they would say “Oh yeah, that was made at the time of the fall of the American Empire”. Cute. At any rate what I really liked about the film was an incredible ensemble cast, and brilliant scene after scene that were all perfectly crafted. The opening scene has our hero, who had a Ph.D. in philosophy, telling his girlfriend that what held him back in life was being so intelligent. Intelligence he argued was the greatest obstacle to success anyone can have. He was currently employed as a delivery man. It was simply brilliant, and I am now convinced very true. There were many other scenes as equally well crafted. After the opening scene our hero is witness to a robbery of several millions of dollars in cash during which all the perpetrators and those trying to stop them are killed leaving the money lying in the road. Our hero grabs the loot on an impulse and the rest of the film is about how he tries to cope, evade being killed by the original criminal owners of the cash, the police and government taxes. All very funny, poking fun at all kinds of social issues and institutions. Definitely worth your time to see this film.
There are no bad nominees for Best Picture this year. All the films are worthy and while some (Bladerunner 2049) were snubbed I can’t find fault with anything that made the list. However, all the buzz is about The Shape of Water and Three Billboards with an occasional pitch for Get Out but I am pretty sure that the most deserving film is I, Tonya, and it also got snubbed. The story of Tonya Harding is ugly and brutal and no one who remembers “the incident”, the breaking of Nancy Kerrigan’s knee ostensibly to guarantee that Tonya made the US Olympic team, has much sympathy for Harding. However the real story (and I am not sure how much of this movie is true) is much more complex as this film suggests. The story is brutal, funny, and in your face with some absolutely stunning performances from Margot Robbie as Tonya and Alison Janney as her mother as well as a great supporting cast. The film is a dramatic recreation of Tonya’s career that is interspersed with pseudo documentary style interviews with the main characters and brilliant little soliloquys to the audience. What is one of the most infamous episodes in US Olympic history is brought to life with great writing (what no nomination?) acting and direction. I had a very emotional response to the movie that had me going in many directions. Trying to figure out how to convey that was hard until I found this quote from Colin Covert the reviewer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “Scene by scene, it made me laugh, cringe, get angry, upset, confused, enlightened, entertained, almost tearful and awed”. Spot on Colin. Other reviewers have noted the clever editing that gives the film an incredible energy. You will not look at your watch I promise. It is nominated for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress and Best Film Editing. I think it deserves all three but will likely win for Best Supporting Actress (Best Actress is going to Frances McDormand I suppose) and maybe just maybe it will win Film Editing. Damn it, it deserves something for being one of the best movies I have seen in a long long time.
I really like Marvel Comics movies and of all those I love the Thor movies. With Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Tom Hiddleston as Loki it’s a no miss buddy God franchise. What can I say. Instead of saving the Earth this time Thor saves Asgard from his sister – the evil Hela played but Cate Blanchett. The special effects are great, the supporting cast of Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbach, Anthony Hopkins, Karl Urban, Idris Erlba and especially Jeff Goldblum you really can’t miss. Goldblum is classic in a totally comic role and a new comer – Tessa Thompson also provides great comic relief. I have to admit that comic relief from a script that is totally tongue in cheek is not really necessary, but it is really fun anyway. Not Oscar stuff but truly Great Trash!! I promise. If you like super heroes you will love this movie. Oh by the way, the director Taiki Waititi is a New Zealander and plays a cameo role. You won’t recognize him except by his broad New Zealand accent since he plays a rock creature. The movie is up there with Guardians of the Galaxy in my opinion and I really like Stan Lee taking such delight in having fun with his characters. Oh yeah, Stan Lee also has a cameo. Look for him when you go to see it.
I am sort of surprised to see this film in the Best Film category, not because it isn’t good enough but because it is so unusual and has a director who is not mainstream. Jordan Peele is one of my favourite comics and with Keegan-Michael Key was part of a comedy team (Key and Peele) who did some very out-there sketches around issues of racism and the experience of being black in a white society which you might still find on the Comedy Channel or samples on YouTube. But on to the movie. Following on the theme of being black in white America, the movie creates a horror film around that experience. It plays on the dehumanizing experience of what it means to integrate for white American society and it is very scary. Peele can’t however avoid his comic roots and there are great comic scenes that overlay the horror. The more I try to describe this movie the more I realize how complex it really is and I mean that in a good way. An interesting note is that this movie cost only $4.5 million to make and so far has earned over $250 million in release. Definitely worth a watch but I suspect it will not win any of the big prizes in this year’s competition. Nonetheless having four major nominations says a lot and makes me look forward to Jordan Peele’s next project.
Coming of age is a fairly common theme for directors and film makers and I often avoid films when the review starts out “This moving, funny, insightful, profound (whatever the descriptor) coming of age film…” Fortunately I did not read the reviews of Lady Bird before going to see it. Otherwise I would have missed a well crafted coming of age story. There see… I found another way to describe one of these. At any rate Saoirse Ronan, who plays the young woman and Laurie Metcalf who plays her mother are very much worthy of their nominations for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress. They battle each other as Lady Bird fights to realize her dream of escaping boring stupid Sacramento and head to where the action is – New England and Ivy League College. Her mother supports the family working as a nurse while her father is unemployed. So you get all the usual stuff, fumbling through first sexual relationships, rebellion against social pressure to follow a certain path, parents who provide love and hope but also strings that need cutting. While the themes are not new the acting more than overcomes the usual prejudices I have against this kind of movie. Worth its five major OSCAR nominations and winning Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes. Golden Globes is right to have a Musical or Comedy Best Film award and I suppose Lady Bird was lucky to be nominated in this category but I would hesitate to call it a Comedy other than that it has a relatively uplifting ending. Still a deserving film and well worth your time to see it.
Martin McDonagh has done two of my favourite films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Both are thrillers/dramas with a black sense of humour that are totally engaging. Three Billboards lives up to his reputation. The story is more drama than thriller and the focus on character is better than McDonagh’s previous efforts. The black humour however survives. The basic story is about a mother who has lost her daughter to a horrible murder that is as yet unsolved. She decides to take action and force the police to do a better job of finding the killer. As the story unfolds a series of some very improbable and in some cases irrelevant events take place all to develop the characters more so than the plot but this flaw is more than compensated for by the clever writing which draws out humour in the midst of tragedy. The film won the writing award at the Venice film festival and is likely to win several Oscar nominations particularly for the lead Frances McDormand who carries the film and without which this film might well go unnoticed.
Armando Iannucci is the director of great political satire most notably VEEP starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Seinfeld fame. This movie is very much in that tradition. As satire both VEEP and this film move between comedy and making you feel slightly uncomfortable. This film tells the story of Stalin’s death and the subsequent events as members of the politburo fight for power and control. Stalin was one of the world’s most cruel and controlling dictators and his sudden death left a void that created a real crisis for the Soviet Union. The contest mainly between Khrushchev and Beria, the head of the secret service, was a devious and ruthless competition for power. Iannucci however manages to create a comic look at the struggle without taking away from the cruelty of the regime or the power struggle. The film did not shy away from the violence and reign of terror that Stalin created but managed to build comic relief and distraction in the relationships among the surviving members of the politburo. The cast is amazing including Steve Buscemi and Michael Palin among other lesser known character actors. The acting was smart with all the key roles contributing to the overall story. The Q and A was one of the best I have attended. Iannucci and four of the actors including Buscemi were there. Iannucci and Buscemi were particularly eloquent, funny and informative in their comments and we learned a lot about how the film was put together including rehearsals and use of improvisation when necessary. All in all an excellent experience and a film worth your time to see.
Paterson was a popular film at TIFF last year and one I couldn’t fit into my schedule which I now regret. I just saw it at a local review cinema and totally loved it. The cast consists of some not very well known character actors who turn in an ensemble performance that is captivating. Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in the small New Jersey town of Paterson. Yes, he has the same name as the town he was born in and has lived in all his life. The film follows a week in Paterson’s life, each day much the same as the next and giving us a glimpse into the day to day lives of our hero and his community. The unique aspect of our bus driver is his love of poetry and he himself is a poet, writing his poetry in a small secret notebook during his free time. As far as I could tell, Paterson kept his poetry to himself and shared only snippets to his wife. His wife urges him to make a copy of his work and he promises to do so but in the end never gets around to it.
The film’s charm lies in the dialogue and the quirky characters including Paterson’s flakey artistic wife, the bartender at his local pub and its customers, the conversations of the bus riders, and Marvin the English Bulldog Paterson takes for a walk each evening. The climax of the film, if one can have a climax in a film with no real plot, comes when Paterson’s secret notebook is destroyed and all his poetry is lost. He is clearly devastated but the emotion is hidden. He clearly wrote the poetry for himself and meant it only to record his personal view of life and the world. At the end of the film he has an unexpected encounter with a visitor to the town that reopens the door to his poetry and redeems his loss. A simple but moving end to a simple but remarkable look at an ordinary life. For an entertaining evening and a relaxing hopeful look at life, I can’t recommend this film more. Enjoy!