Category Archives: Drama

The Laundromat – Director, Steven Soderbergh

Like Jojo Rabbit this film has been somewhat polarizing in the critic world. With a 50% rating on Rottentomatoes one would think this is not worth seeing but I would beg to differ. The reviews of the critics are either very pro or very con and not much in between. I found the same to be true of the critical response to Jojo Rabbit. The division comes down to whether or not you feel satire is an okay response to events that have caused great harm or are undeniably evil. Fair comment but I think one needs to be more nuanced about the message. While the Nazis who are mocked in Jojo Rabbit might rightly be called the epitome of evil the film was intended as a warning to us all about how easily populist movements like Nazism and leaders like Hitler can rise to power.   In the case of The Laundromat Soderbergh has taken a satirical approach to the release of the Panama Papers that exposed a small part of the international financial structures that allow the very rich to hide their wealth and avoid taxes. The ease by which money laundering is done and tolerated was well known but the Panama Papers made it very transparent for a brief time and represented only a small part of the overall problem. I am not sure how else one can take on this story without being satirical. The docudrama approach is narrated by Jurgen Mossack and Ramon Fonseca of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca and played by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas. Meryl Streep is a recurring character who has been impacted by the international money laundering scheme after she is denied an insurance settlement after her husband is killed in a boating accident. She continues to pursue the people behind the scam.

The reality is that this scheme has had impact on ordinary people but the real crime is tax avoidance and the impact that has on the those of us who do pay our fair share. The people who fall with the release of the Panama Papers are very wealthy or well connected politically. The film uses a series of stories about individuals to highlight the nature of the financial scams but the point at the end is that despite the revelations nothing has really been done to resolve the problem and only a handful of very wealthy people were forced to resign their jobs or suffered financial ruin. Mossack and Fonseca themselves spent only 3 months in prison for their actions and continue to do the work they always did. I thought Oldman and Banderas did a great job of putting it in our faces. The scene where they are released from prison is great satire as they mock the viewer. Personally I would take issue with the critics that say the crimes were treated lightly by this film. Satire is all we have left when nothing of substance as been done to address the issues and I was definitely left angry at the lack of reform but got to at least cheer Meryl Streep at the end. I can’t tell you why I cheered or I would spoil the end but I will put myself in the positive column and urge you to see this film. It’s a Netflix production so should show up on your app soon.

Burnt Orange Heresy – Director, Giuseppe Capotondi

This looked like a fun romp particularly with Donald Sutherland and Mick Jagger as supporting actors. The director wanted to make a Hitchcockian thriller about an art forgery that goes wrong in a very creepy way. The idea was to build the story and tension slowly so that you and to some extent the characters really had no idea where things were headed. The trouble is that the result was incredibly boring up until the final 20-30 minutes. The story opens at a lecture given by the lead actor – Claes Bang — and ultimate villain of the piece. The scene is clever and points to the issues of truth and fiction that the director wants to play with. Enters the female lead Elizabeth Debicki who comes to seduce him but you really have no idea why she is there or why she chooses him or really anything. At any rate for the next hour or so we follow these two around as they plan a trip to interview a famous artist played by Donald Sutherland. It takes literally forever to get there. Boring would be too nice a word. The only thing that makes you think Hitchcock and only when you look back is that the lead occasionally hints that he may not be all he seems. Still boring. The pace picks up at the very end as Jagger and Sutherland enter the script and the screen. Jagger is a rich art collector who is hosting the artist Sutherland on his estate in hopes of acquiring a new masterpiece. Sutherland however is playing his own game and while he pretends to work on new creations is actually doing nothing. When this is revealed to Claes Bang he loses it and decides to burn the studio and steal a blank canvas labelled Brunt Orange Heresy on which he intends to paint a fake creation and sell it as the real thing. The action does pick up all in a rush as there is a murder (of Elizabeth Debicki) as the psychopathic nature of Claes Bang’s character is revealed for what it is. Still it all is very contrived and does not make up for the boredom of the first 2/3rds of the film. I will say that the few scenes with Sutherland and particularly Jagger are fun but maybe not worth the wait.  

The Report – Director, Scott Z. Burns

After the terrorist strike on Sept. 11, 2001 the US reacted with an enormous effort to shut down Muslim terrorist organizations. There was definitely a belief that the actions of the terrorists had to be met with equally ruthless reaction and that this had to happen to protect the US from any further attacks.  Hundreds of suspected terrorists were captured in an effort to stop attacks and hunt down Osama bin Laden. The CIA instituted black sites in other countries and established a prison in Guantanamo that would all be outside US legal jurisdiction. Questioning of the prisoners included what was euphemistically called enhanced interrogation techniques but was actually brutal torture. While the CIA moved on there were those in the US Senate who suspected what was going on and wanted to stop it. A senate investigator named Daniel Jones was the one who hunted down the evidence and brought it forward. This film documents this endeavour in dramatic form. Daniel Jones is played by Adam Driver, Senator Dianne Feinstein is played by Annette Bening and Dennis McDonough, the White House Chief Staff was played by Jon Hamm lead and excellent cast. This was one of most shameful episodes in recent US history and the film does and excellent job of following its development over more than a decade. There is some graphic film of the torture itself which I could really have done without, but the director has made a film that reminds me of All the President’s Men and similar political thrillers. Although the whole thing was about research and report writing it was a real edge of your seat thing. Worth your time although not likely Oscar stuff.

The Q and A was a treat. The director came out with Jon Hamm and although Adam Driver was not there we got the real thing – Daniel Jones. It was a good talk with good questions from the audience and Hamm was a major wit that had us all laughing. Maybe the best line was when an audience member asked Jones how the writing of the report and its ultimate release has affected his life. His response: “Well they made a movie about me.” Not many can say that.

Bad Education – Director, Cory Finley

I was attracted to this film by Hugh Jackman in a non superhero role and in part by the story. The film dramatizes an ugly event in the public education system in New York. Based on a real story it chronicles the years long embezzlement of funds by senior administrators and how easily they are able to do it and cover it up because of their senior positions and the academic success they brought to the schools over which they had authority and the communities in which those schools existed. Jackman is superb as the evil administrator who is manipulative and greedy. (I really liked him last year as Gary Hart in The Front Runner and he does even better here.) What jackman’s character does not anticipate is a young student with ambitions to become a journalist who slowly but inevitably exposes the crimes. The remarkable thing is that the exposé is first published in the student newspaper and only after that picked up by major media like the New York Times. Jackman and his accomplices in crime are arrested and convicted. End of story. The interpersonal aspects include the fact that Jackman’s character is gay and, in the closet, although he has been living with his partner for 30 years. In the course of the film and completely unrelated to his crimes he starts an affair with a young man in Las Vegas that he eventually tries to join when the embezzlement scheme starts to collapse around him. In the end we have a great acting performance that left me thinking so what? There did not seem to be any point to this film other than to dramatize a crime and the ending was literally pointless. Even the affair with the guy in Vegas was irrelevant. I think the film would have been far far better if the focus had been on the young student who brought the crimes to light and the impact her work had on her but that all seems a sidelight to the story. So unless you are a huge Jackman fan you can give this film a miss.

Jojo Rabbit – Director, Taika Waititi

Jojo is the name of a young German boy growing up in Nazi Germany near the end of World War II. In order not to cause any trouble his mother has allowed him to join the Hitler Youth and he in on the surface a proud Nazi and keen to get better. He has an invisible friend in a caricature Adolf Hitler (played by the director Waititi) who visits him in times of crisis to encourage his devotion to the fatherland. However, Jojo is not really into the whole Nazi thing. He is asked to prove his devotion by killing a rabbit during a Hitler Youth training day and he can’t bring himself to do it earning him the name Jojo Rabbit. While home alone one day he learns that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is actually part of the resistance and is hiding a young Jewish woman in their house. Jojo is conflicted as he grows to be friends with the young woman and realizes that Jews are not the monsters he has been led to believe. All this sounds very dramatic and serious but Waititi is a great satirist and the film manages to be very funny while wrestling with very serious issues. It successfully makes mockery of Hitler, Nazis and anti-Semitism while not minimizing the destructiveness of the kind of populist politics that led to the rise of the Nazis. The audience at the Elgin gave the film a huge standing ovation and the Q and A was excellent. When asked about the theme and his satirical approach, Waititi said that the he felt it was important that the issues of populism and anti-Semitism needed to be brought forward again and again because as a society we very quickly and easily forget the horrors that come with this kind of politics. He noted a recent survey that found over 60% of millennials in the US could not say what Auschwitz was or what happened there. That in itself is frightening. I thought the film was a huge success and it is interesting how it is being received. While the audience was clearly loving it and making it a challenger for the People’s Choice Award, many reviewers have panned it. A quick look at gives it a 55% rating based on 11 reviews: 6 loving it and 5 not so much. Clearly it is a controversial way to take on the issues but my bottom line is that it does it very well.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Director, Marielle Heller

As many of you know I am big fan of Fred Rogers and I loved the documentary that came out last year. I am also a fan of Tom Hanks, but I was not sure a dramatic film about Fred Rogers would work or that anyone could capture his unique character. My fears were unfounded. The film is excellent, and Hanks does a remarkable job of capturing him on and off camera. The story is not focussed on Rogers himself but rather on a journalist who is struggling with many personal problems and is assigned to write a short 400-word piece on Rogers for Esquire magazine as part of a series on American heroes. He resists because he sees himself as a serious investigative journalist and has zero respect for some guy who entertains kids. As the film progresses, we learn more about the journalist’s family and his deep anger and hatred for his father. He reluctantly heads off to interview Rogers and slowly is drawn into his character and authenticity. I will not go into the details of the relationship that grows over time but needless to say it is worth your time and is a very honest and challenging film. One spoiler, the journalist ends up not writing a 400 word profile but rather a 10,000 word article that headlined Esquire in 2017. I highly recommend you see this and try to see the documentary Won’t You Be my Neighbor. Director Heller recommended we all see both films even in conjunction if possible. I totally agree and also read the Esquire article you will find here:

I am Woman – Director, Unjoo Moon

I warn all readers that I saw this movie suffering from hypoglycemia and annoyed at TIFF for not accepting my printed ticket and making me get in line to get a new one printed. TIFF organization is really really bad. That said – this is a pretty mediocre film. This is a biopic about Helen Reddy (played amazingly well by Tilda Cobham-Hervey). I admit to finding the song, I am Woman, very powerful and I understand how and why it has become an anthem for the woman’s movement. I confess to having a bit of a heart flutter when I hear Reddy sing it however, I did not find this biopic to be particularly inspiring and in many ways directionless. Reddy had 12 top 40 hits during her career, she was a good singer, she had a difficult career and many personal challenges in addition to her strong feminist activism. She was also surrounded and supported by some remarkable people who also had their own personal challenges. This film failed to figure out what part of her life or that of the ones around her to be the focus of the film. The only hit that was well presented was I am Woman which was done twice. Her other hits were not presented well if at all. Her husband and manager is a cocaine addict and was abusive until that was confronted but the relationship between them is left unresolved in the film other than hinting at the fact they broke up. Her friendship with Lillian Roxon (played by Danielle MacDonald) is equally poorly developed and left unresolved other than learning that she dies and Helen doesn’t go to the funeral. That she stopped singing and took up a quiet unpublic life is not explained – it is just presented. i saw this at the Elgin with a full crowd who were totally into Reddy and her activism. If that had been the focus it might have worked better but sadly I found the whole thing a bore. It is not horrible or anything just not very good. I suggest it might be worth watching in bed late at night if you can’t sleep but otherwise, if you like Reddy’s music, just get Spotify or Google Play to stream some songs for you. It will be more satisfying.

Okay – having had some food I need to say that Helen Reddy is a remarkable woman and her anthem is a great song. Listen here if you do not know the song:

The Favourite – Director, Yorgos Lanthimos

I was very interested to see this movie given all the praise and awards it has won. In addition it has managed ten Oscar nominations including all the big ones. So I settled in to be entertained by what was a rare comedy nominated for Best Picture. Disappointed. This is a terrible movie and I had to fast forward through the final interminable last half hour. Promoted as a comedy, the film is a tedious two hour trip as two women compete for the attention and control of  Queen Anne who is a troubled and unwell monarch not really qualified for her role in life. In the end…. Well there really isn’t an end just the sense that what you have been through for two hours will just continue. A comedy it is not. It is a cruel, pointless take on the British monarchy and is boring to boot. The performances of the three leads are good but not great and do not merit nominations or awards. The script is wordy and desperately needed editing. I found I cared nothing for the characters who were immensely unlikeable. This is the second film by Lanthimos I have seen, the first being Lobster. I hated that one and should have been forewarned before paying money to see this film. I truly hope it wins nothing but might garner Best Costumes which I would crudgingly give it. A sad waste of talent. Avoid it at all cost.

A Star is Born – Director, Bradley Cooper

This is the third remake of the original 1937 A Star is Born and like the others really didn’t need to be made. The original and two of the three remakes including this one are highly rated but I am not sure why. I should confess that I really don’t like movies about romances between successful musicians or the troubles they have. In this case Bradley Cooper a burned out rock musician wanders randomly into a gay nightclub/bar and hears the only female performer sing and “instantly” sees her as a major talent and falls deeply in love with her right away. She has given up on her career (stop me if you heard this plot before) but he encourages her to persist and of course she becomes hugely successful while he crashes and burns. Yawn. I really like Lady Gaga but as a singer not an actor and Cooper, who has been nominated for Oscars in the past, really does nothing for me in this film. Still somehow A Star is Born has been nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director etc not only by the Academy but also by the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s. So far it has only won for Best Song and Best Music which may be justified. After all I like Lady Gaga and if her song wins I will not complain but I will beg Hollywood to stop making and remaking this stupid movie.

Bohemian Rhapsody – Director, Bryan Singer

As the title makes clear this is a tribute film to Queen and its leader and lead singer, Freddy Mercury. Rami Malek plays Mercury and is without a doubt the star of this movie and I think deserving of his Oscar nomination for Best Actor although not deserving of winning it. The movie itself also managed to get nominated for Best Picture and in my opinion it is not deserving. In addition to the two big nominations, the movie also has some technical nominations for editing, sound editing and sound mixing and of all the nominations may only deserve sound mixing. Malik puts in a dominant performance outshining the other characters and this may explain why he won nomination for Best Actor. I do not mean to take from his performance which is very strong however, the script is very weak. It makes out that Freddy Mercury was a complicated person professionally and personally but what motivated him or drove him to reach for stardom is never clear and this weakens the film considerably. If you are a Queen fan, however, you are going to like the tribute to the music and to Mercury’s performance style. Also the conclusion of the film is Queen’s performance at the 1985 Live Aid Concert and the recreation of Queen’s contribution is stunning. So in conclusion, if you are a fan of Queen this movie is likely a must see but if you are not a big fan don’t bother.