Category Archives: Good

Icarus – Director, Bryan Fogel

This documentary is about the recent Russian doping debacle. It starts with Bryan Fogel, an amateur bike racer and film maker wanting to see if doping would make him better in a major amateur bike race in France called the Haute Route, a seven day race through the mountains that is incredibly difficult. The first time he competes he is totally clean. There are 400 racers and he hopes to finish in the top 100. He finishes 14th but that is not good enough as he sees he is well below the standard of the top 10 and he wants now to be among them. He is also aware now of Lance Armstrong’s story and he wants to see if he can, like Armstrong use doping to advance his performance and not be caught. So he recruits Grigory Rodchenkov a Russian physician and doping expert in the Russian anti-doping lab to help him. Its really just planning to be a film about how doping works and if it works and the first part of the film takes us through the injections, urine collection and finally the race. Sadly while the doping likely improved Fogel’s physical ability his bike develops mechanical problems and he finishes well down in the standings. However the film now takes a sinister turn and he and Rodchenkov actually become part of the exposure of the Russian doping plot that has led ultimately to the banning of athletes in Rio and most currently in Korea. The story is told very well and you will learn a great deal about how doping works, how it can be hidden, how it can only be exposed by those involved and how dangerous it can be to cross Vladimir Putin. I must admit I watched the whole thing… all over 2 hours of it… which to be honest was too long by far. For this reason, I would not want to see it win the Oscar but it was very interesting and damn it, I did watch the whole thing. If you are interested in athletics and politics this is the film for you.

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail – Steve James

This is one of the movies nominated for Best Feature Length Documentaries. It is a classic documentary in style as it follows the trial of the owners of a small federal bank based in Chinatown in New York City. In 2008 when the mortgage fiasco brought down the world economy this small bank was caught up in the disaster. Despite the fact that the crisis was brought about by huge unregulated banks and finance companies on Wall Street, the New York District Attorney’s office decided to make and example of the Abacus Bank which is the only financial institution to be charged with wrong doing out of the whole financial collapse. A total joke. Abacus was founded and owned by the Sung family with a goal of supporting the Chinese community especially new immigrants. As 2008 crept up the bank had a couple of employees who did do some illegal money laundering and outright theft that the family was not aware of. It was picked up and the DA’s office went into action. After a five-year investigation they charged the bank with fraud and larceny. The case went to trial and the documentary crew followed the family and trial over nearly 3 months. I will not tell you the outcome since you really should see this movie if you like documentaries or you can look it up but I can tell you that you get a close up look at the struggles of a family that truly wanted to do good for their community and got caught up in a crisis to which they contributed almost nothing and it also gives you good insight into the whole financial crisis. Great stuff.

Faces Places – Director, JR and Agnes Varda

Filmmaker Agnes Varda and photographer JR teamed up to make this charming film and while I think it is worth a nod for Best Documentary, it may lose out for not being political or serious enough. Together they tour the French countryside looking for places to put faces on. Sounds bizarre but JR’s latest thing is a van that takes giant photos and then he and a team post them on the sides of buildings, rail cars or whatever seems most appropriate. Sometimes it is just gratuitous and funny and sometimes it makes a political point but what makes this film special is the relationship between its two stars. Varda is in her 80’s and JR in his 30’s could be grandson. He clearly thinks she is something special as an artist and the friendship and mutual admiration that grows between them is great to see. For a relaxing but often thought-provoking documentary I cannot recommend it more highly. Enjoy.

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.

Living Proof – Director, Matt Embry

 

Living ProofThis is a somewhat unusual documentary. It is a very personal protest against the way in which MS is treated and how the pharmaceutical industry and the MS Society actually prey on victims of the disease and those who would help to fight it through charitable donations. MS is a complex and poorly understood illness that is treated with some powerful drugs by many neurologists while others support diet and exercise as alternatives. The director himself has a diagnosis of MS and so far, has done well by avoiding drug treatments and relying on diet and exercise. Sadly there is little long term research on the methods and effectiveness of various approaches. Embry argues in the film that such studies are discouraged by the pharmaceutical industry because evidence that their treatments are not effective in the long term would hurt them financially as would proof of alternative methods. Of course, the other aspect of the illness is its unpredictable prognosis. Some people decline rapidly while others appear to survive for many years with no significant symptoms and with no treatment. The lack of research is a huge problem that could be addressed by charitable associations like the MS Society but… there is another issue. The fact is that the MS Society solicits millions of dollars but spends over 80% on salaries and marketing and only 16% on research. A fact that Embry makes very clear. He has set up an alternative charity – MS Hope – that promotes his alternative approach to care but also does not have much more than anecdotal evidence to support it. I had mixed feelings about this film but it did convince me that charities like the MS Society are compromised, that we really can’t trust the pharmaceutical industry to look out for out best interests and we really need to fund some serious long-term studies on MS and MS treatments. I suspect this movie might have a limited audience unfortunately

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/living-proof/

Mudbound – Director, Dee Rees

 

MudboundI had mixed feelings about this movie. It is a powerful film full of stories about many different people. The main focus is on two men who return to their homes in Mississippi after serving over 4 years in the Second World War. One is black and served as a tank commander, the other white and served as a bomber pilot. Both suffer from some form of post traumatic stress. They return to a viciously racist society that they had left behind when they were in Europe. On their return they bond over their previous war experience and the feeling of being cut off and exiled in their country and their homes. But there are several other stories going on in support of these two. All the stories are good and well done but to be honest there is just too much for a movie like this. After a while the movie started to drag and became hard to watch. In the end, and although the ending is not tragic, thank God, I was exhausted. Dee Rees was there for the Q and A and was articulate and helpful in understanding the overall story. She admitted that the story was huge and that she wanted to blend many aspects of life at the time for blacks and the poor white farmers and the omnipresent racist tensions. So… a good movie but sadly flawed by over-reaching.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/mudbound/

Battle of the Sexes – Director, Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton

Battle of the Sexes

This was my second film about events that occurred when I was much younger. This time the original male chauvinist vs feminist battle that captured imaginations back in 1973. Bobby Riggs was a retired tennis champion who saw a chance to make some money by setting up matches against women and cashing in on the proceeds. Women’s tennis was struggling to get attention and adequate pay days for champions like Billie-Jean King but it was slow to come and male dominance in sports, at least at the gate, was a real road block. Organizers believed that women were not as good as men and therefore could not attract any paying audience. King was out to change it all and set up a competitive women’s tennis association. Riggs played the chauvinist card saying that at 55 he could beat any woman tennis player including the champion King. There was going to be a huge payday at least from King’s perspective plus a chance to humiliate Riggs and put women’s tennis on the map. I won’t tell you the outcome because you can look it up if you don’t know but just to say, women have never looked back. I was again worried that this would not be a good movie but with Steve Carell and Emma Stone as the leads I decided to take a chance and… winner. This movie is superb and much deeper than being just about the match. It delved into the real state of male chauvinism (Riggs was more a clown and opportunist than a chauvinist) exhibited by the US national tennis association and America at large, the rise of feminism as a force in modern society and of course King’s own lesbianism and the prejudice about coming out or being outed at that time. The emotional conflicts around this and Rigg’s own personal battles are explored with drama, humour and great depth. An excellent film and worth seeing. Oh.. all right… King crushes him in straight sets.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/battle-of-the-sexes/

The Current War – Director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

*FIRST LOOK* Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison CR: The Weinstein Co.

I chose this film because of the actors primarily. I really like Benedict Cumberbatch whether he is Sherlock or Dr. Strange but I  am also a big fan of Michael Shannon. The subject of the film is the fight between Edison and Westinghouse to build an electric grid to light our cities and run our machines. Edison favoured direct current and Westinghouse favoured alternating current and ultimately won. The film is not about the physics or the engineering but more about the men themselves. I was afraid it might be amazingly boring but it is anything but. Filmed with interesting special effects to recreate the era and with a great script and acting it was very entertaining. Electric grid? I hear you ask. Yawn. Well we just take it all for granted but it was only just over a 100 years ago that these two men managed to envision and create the grid that basically runs everything we have today. How we even lived before then is a wonder if you think about how ubiquitous electricity is today and how incredibly upset we are if the power goes off for even an hour. So it was a really big deal and these guys were its inventors. The director captures all that and more. Definitely worth your time to watch. Oh yeah, Edison invented sound recording and film as well so bear that in mind as you watch the movie, listen to the music and remember that it’s the electrical grid that brought that all to you.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/the-current-war/

Kodachrome – Director, Mark Raso

Kodachrome_01

I was not as keen about this movie as some. I chose it because of Ed Harris being the lead and because it was about photography and Kodachrome which is one of my favourite Paul Simon songs. It is a story about a professional photographer played by Ed Harris who is dying and has four rolls of film he took many years ago that he wants to develop. Sadly, the last place that will develop the film is closing soon and there will be no one who will be able to develop the film. He asks his son to drive him to the developer before it closes and before he dies. The problem is that the two are estranged and have been for many years. The road trip will bring them to reconciliation of course. This comment is the reason I did not like the film. It was a tear jerker that was totally predictable and so I quickly wanted to fast forward to the end. However there are many things in the favour of the film. First and foremost, the cast. Harris is great as the terminally ill photographer/dad and the supporting cast of the son and full time nurse who accompanies them are also very good. Secondly, the film was shot pretty much entirely in Toronto although it is supposed to be happening in New York, Chicago and Kansas. Third it was shot on 35mm Kodak film just to be true to the story. So… I can’t really hate it too much. Also I was totally happy with the Q and A that featured Ed Harris who is really funny and saved the whole experience for me. He was brilliant dealing with some dumb audience questions like: How do you play a dying man? He responded that he was not really so much younger than the character in the film and he had experience of seeing close family members die recently and well “I’m an actor and like… I act”

Glad I saw it and particularly glad to have heard Ed Harris talk about his acting.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/kodachrome/

The China Hustle – Director, Jed Rothstein

chinahustle_01

This movie is a documentary that will likely cause you to consider taking all your invested income and put it under your mattress for safe keeping. You may have thought the 2008 market crash was bad but you just need to see this film to see how easily money can be taken from your mutual funds and pension investments to settle in the back pockets of Chinese capitalists and North American investors who are expert in shorting stock market investments. The film is scary to the max as you learn how ordinary people have been hurt by Chinese entrepreneurs who managed to fraudulently draw major investment into fake or nearly fake Chinese companies. The money lost by investors is in the billions and the scams are still going on. They take advantage of the deregulation of the stock market and the underfunding of the agencies set up to protect investors. This is an important film that deserves more attention but may very well not get it. Nonetheless it was interesting to see and the audience present for the screening were not just lefties like me but clearly many more well to do investors. The Q and A afterwards included the star of the film, an American investment company CEO who has lobbied hard to increase regulation but who freely admitted that he currently shorts these stocks and benefits from the lack of regulation. His opening line in the film is: “All the people in this film are evil…. Including me.”

Great stuff.

http://www.tiff.net/tiff/the-china-hustle/