Category Archives: Drama

22 July – Director, Paul Greengrass

On July 22nd, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, a lone right-wing gunman, killed 77 people in Norway as a protest for what he saw as a threat to white supremacy and European purity. While he argued in his later defence that he was part of a world-wide movement he clearly acted alone but his attack was well planned and one of the most devastating terrorist actions of our time. This film is a powerful dramatization of the event itself but much of its power comes from following the aftermath including the trial, the impact on the survivors including one family in particular and on the country as a whole. It is a long torturous run. The recreation of the two attacks is graphic and had the audience gasping with shock. Breivik started by planting a massive bomb near the offices of the Norwegian prime minister to kill as many members of the Labour government as he could. Due to some poor timing he managed to kill only 8 people but his real target was a summer camp 40 km north of Oslo where many of the children of Labour Party members were spending a weekend. He arrived dressed as a police officer and then methodically killed 69 children, teenagers and staff before he was stopped. Once we were through with this as an audience we were then shown the emotional impact of these attacks on family, lawyers, police and government members. The major focus in on the family of a Labour party mayor from a small far northern town. Her younger son manages to escape being shot but the older boy is badly wounded and suffers physical and mental anguish that is portrayed powerfully and really hits the audience in the gut. I confess I found the film almost too much and might well have left but this is not because the film was bad but because it was almost too real. The acting by an all Norwegian cast is superb and the portrayal of the far-right agenda and the suffering caused by Breivik’s actions is brilliantly presented. The TIFF programmer who introduced the film apologized that the film makers were not able to be there for a Q and A after this showing and then said “Please enjoy the movie” “Enjoy” was hardly the word to use. 22 July  will be released on Netflix in October. I cannot promise you will enjoy it but you will be educated and be treated to some great film making.

The Front Runner – Director, Jason Reitman

Many will remember the dramatic rise and fall of Gary Hart when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination to run against George H. W. Bush. Seen as the front runner he ultimately resigned when evidence of an extra-marital affair surfaced. Many thought he would easily beat Bush should he win the nomination, but the fallout of the affair ruined his chances and Michael Dukakis was nominated only to lose by a huge margin to the Republican Bush. The fall from grace happened over three weeks and Reitman’s dramatization follows the events almost as a documentary. He focusses on Hart but also includes an ensemble cast representing political operatives working on the campaign, journalists, Hart’s family and the woman Donna Rice who became the focus of the story. The cast is excellent including Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, Vera Farmiga as his wife, J.K. Simmons as Hart’s campaign manager and many others in supporting roles. The film moves from intimate scenes between the leads to scenes of the chaos of media scrums, bar scenes and campaign offices. Jackman is superb in the role and portraying acting ability that was not always demanded of him as Wolverine, the role I know him best for. I did comment to friends that I wondered as the press closed in on him why he didn’t pop his adamantium claws and rip them all apart as Gary Hart clearly wishes he could. That aside, the film cannot help but contrast Hart’s fate with that of Donald Trump. Reitman was present for the Q and A and was asked whether he felt that now only someone with no morals could win political office. He responded that it wasn’t morals but that it was only someone with no shame. He asked the audience if we believed the political system was broken and he clearly believed it was. In the film Hart argues that the chasing after every aspect of a politician’s history and personal life has driven most people of quality from entering politics. It is simply not worth the risk or suffering to do it so that now only those with no shame are willing to try. It means we are only left with candidates with little or no values or principles. The other aspect of this film that is important is that the focus is not entirely on Hart and whether he is a tragic hero or not. Reitman makes a point of showing how the fallout of the affair affected Donna Rice, the woman with whom Hart had the affair. She is as much a victim of the media as Hart’s own demise as a candidate and the film does not shy away from that.

Reitman does not pass judgement one way or the other on Hart as a person or as a politician but very much leaves that up to the audience and lets us go away to talk and debate the story and the situation especially in the context of today’s political reality. An excellent film and highly recommended not only for political junkies but for anyone who enjoys thrilling drama.

I, Tonya – Director, Craig Gillespie

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.

The Post – Director, Steven Spielberg

The Post is a movie I was not that keen to see despite being about the release of the Pentagon Papers and the start of the end of Richard Nixon. It stars Meryl Streep who I have not liked in most if not all her films and lately I have not been overly impressed with the ability of the Post and the NYT etc to hold the US government to account. Not like the good old days so I was not sure I could stomach a film that was going to point to the journalistic integrity of this newspaper now owned by Jeff Bezos who cares only for money and not for truth. As many may be aware the Washington Post was a family owned paper until 2013 when it was sold to Jeff Bezos at which point I decided it could no longer be trusted to be a bastion of integrity. Besides two of my favourite movies are All the President’s Men and Spotlight both of which illustrated investigative journalism at its best and I didn’t want that good taste to be spoiled.

However, I girded myself and headed off to see it. I will confess I was pleasantly surprised. Meryl Streep is very very good as Kay Graham the owner of the paper and Tom Hanks was also excellent as the editor Ben Bradlee. There is a superb supporting cast that all lead to a great movie experience. Unlike the President’s Men and Spotlight, the film does not focus so much on the crime as on the process of acquiring the Pentagon Papers and deciding to publish them. The NYT actually beat them to the punch, but Nixon closed the story done with an injunction against the Times. Daniel Ellsberg turned next to the Post and gave them the same documentation. The Post had to decide if they could publish the story and avoid prosecution for violating the injunction against the Times. The issue was freedom of the press but at the same time the Post had just gone public and a bad legal situation could seriously hurt their chances of attracting investment. So…. They decided to go with the story to defend the first amendment and the freedom of the press. Nixon erupts and takes them to court. In fact all the way to the Supreme Court and…he loses. The story breaks and while there is much more to the Daniel Ellsberg story than the fate of the Washington Post this still made a great movie and… damn it… Meryl Streep deserves her nomination for Best Actress too.

Oh by the way Mathew Rhys played Daniel Ellsberg who has a small role in the movie. Still it is important and recently I heard a couple of interviews with him about his new book, The Doomsday Machine. Ellsberg actually stole documents related to two secret studies undertaken by the US government. He delivered the Vietnam War Pentagon Papers first and hid the other document which was all about the impact of a thermonuclear war which the US clearly was looking at conducting. The title relates to the movie Dr. Strangelove very deliberately. The papers were hidden but then lost (a long story) but Ellsberg now thinks it is worth revisiting given the current president. So I left the theatre and bought the book. I am guessing the movie (Strangelove) and the book by Terry Southern has already been done but this book will be interesting and feed my paranoia.

Blade Runner: 2049 – Director, Denis Villeneuve

If you liked the original Blade Runner you will love this sequel. Set decades after the first film you will find the dystopic future has not improved much. This time however our hero is Canadian actor Ryan Gosling and his director is also Canadian which in itself makes this a must see for all us north of Trumpland. Villeneuve clearly was a fan of the first film and his recreation of the world first dreamed of by Philip Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, is perfect in every way. What is really special is that that the story extends the themes and takes us in some new directions. To tell more would be to spoil what is a great story. This movie I think should have had a Best Picture nomination but instead we get 5 nominations for technical awards such as cinematography and editing. While this film definitely deserves these nods I think the nominators missed out on what is a very special film with a great story to tell. Nonetheless for quality production values and a really fun ride (and as a huge fan of the original) I cannot recommend this movie more highly. May it be blessed with some well deserved wins unlike its predecessor.

A comment – while some movies win awards and are celebrated over others, it is often the case that those winning films are long forgotten while movies that won nothing at the time are the enduring ones. Blade Runner is such a movie. Nominate for only two technical awards in 1983 and losing both to E.T. and Gandhi, I suspect Blade Runner will endure as a classic. While E.T. might also endure I would ask those reading this blog to put up their hands if they have even seen Gandhi or will ever see it again. See? No one. LOL.

Dunkirk – Director, Christopher Nolan

Gotta love a good war movie. Dunkirk counts up there with some of the best but I confess I was a bit disappointed. Dunkirk is one of those amazing stories of the Second World War and was one of the major reasons that Britain was able to withstand the German onslaught at the start of the war. The expeditionary force that had been driven to the edge of the French coast by the Nazi Blitzkrieg and might have been totally lost if not for the courage of civilians who took to their small sea going craft to cross the channel and bring the boys home when the navy could not do the job. So I was expecting something like The Longest Day without John Wayne of course. In other words a series of mini stories that all add up to a big story. Instead, Nolan chose to focus on a small number of focussed stories that, while interesting on their own, never really gives the epic size of the story. Kenneth Branagh plays a general caught on the beach and we visit him every now and then to get some sense of the enormous challenge but neither he or the scenes really succeed. Once he gets back to the few personal stories of rescuers and pilots etc it is more engrossing but I still felt a bit cheated. On the plus side this movie has been nominated for most of the technical awards like cinematography, editing etc that tell you it has been very well crafted and in many ways beautiful to watch. Look for it to capture one or more of those awards but Director and Best Picture are not happening.

Get Out – Director, Jordan Peele

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.

The Shape of Water – Director, Guillermo del Toro

With 13 nominations, The Shape of Water is up there with some of the biggest if not the best films of all time. Only three movies have more nominations, a total of 14 each: All About Eve, Titanic and La La Land. If I had to rank these three against Guillermo’s masterpiece I would allow that All About Eve is better but The Shape of Water is way better than Titanic or especially La La Land. Getting nominated does not necessarily mean winning. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won all 11 categories it was nominated for and only two other films have won 11 awards: Ben-Hur and Titanic. However La La Land and All About Eve only managed to win 6 awards despite being nominated for 14 each. So it really comes down the competition and this year The Shape of Water is up against some excellent films. Nonetheless The Shape of Water is maybe the most interesting film of the year. The story is unusual and superbly presented. It is worth all the nominations and I would have given one more. While Richard Jenkins gets a nod for Supporting Actor I can’t understand why Michael Shannon does not get a nod for his role as the villain. He is just super evil and creepy. So I will not spoil this movie for you who have not seen it yet but I will say its a love story, a sci-fi story, a fantasy story and a fairy tale so it will appeal to many. The acting is amazing, the script is great, it was filmed in Toronto, what more can I say. Guillermo del Toro has an imagination that defies definition as demonstrated by his earlier Pan’s Labyrinth that won him 3 Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Makeup. He will do better this time around.

Lady Bird – Director, Greta Gerwig

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.

Molly’s Game – Director, Aaron Sorkin

Molly’s Game is nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and in my opinion should win. Based on a true story it is a smart rapid-fire script delivered in style by Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain as the leads. Given the high quality of films last year this one got left off the Best Picture list but certainly was worth consideration. It tells the story of Molly Bloom whose career as a world class Olympic skier is dashed by injury. While her father’s coaching drove her to Olympic quality she was not without ambition herself and with her skiing career in ruins she moved on. Through a series of lucky breaks she ends up running one of most exclusive high stakes poker games in the world attracting movie stars, millionaires, sports stars and, initially unknown to her, the Russian mob. The latter leads to her downfall and arrest by the FBI. Idris Elba is the lawyer who takes her case and we move from the game to the courts. Sorkin who is debuting as a director with this film is one of my favourite screenplay writers if not my favourite, Credits include movies like A Few Good Men, A Social Network and Moneyball and TV series like West Wing and The Newsroom. Fast, smart, witty scripts that make you sit up and pay attention are his thing. Try to see this movie for a great entertaining time.

Postscript: Kevin Costner plays Molly’s father in a small but important role. At the show I attended I heard several people comment how much they liked his performance. Its true. He is very good.