Category Archives: Loved it

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.

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:

Knives Out – Director, Rian Johnson

I was not expecting the turn this film took but I thoroughly enjoyed my time. In what I took to be a police procedural is in fact a tribute film to classic whodunits from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to Columbo. The cast is amazing including Christopher Plummer as the victim, Daniel Craig as the detective and suspects including Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans among others. A crime novelist is found dead in his study. Police arrive with private detective Craig to investigate if it was suicide or….. murder. Craig is convinced he was murdered and knows someone in the family is guilty but as the investigation proceeds the twists and possible motives spin out. The script is hilarious, and nothing is taken too seriously by the writers so we are all laughing along as we try to piece together the clues. We get flashbacks to the night of the murder with Christopher Plummer playing the victim as he gives all family members a reason to kill him. I confess the dialogue was rapid fire and I really need to see it again to fully appreciate the whole story. We had a great Q and A with insightful questions that led to some great insight into how the film was made, what was scripted and what was ad lib and directorial decisions. Finally it included a great story from Jamie Lee Curtis about one of her very first on screen appearances with Peter Falk in Columbo. If you see me I will tell you the story. Its hilarious. In conclusion I think this movie has a good chance to make the People’s Choice Award but if not you should still try to see it. Rian Johnson was asked if Craig would be back in a sequel and his answer was to shrug and recommend we tell all our friends and acquaintances to go see the movie when it is released and … we will see. So since Craig needs a new job after 007 lets support this new direction.

Greed – Director, Michael Winterbottom

I confess this movie was not exactly what I expected from Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan. My favourite film collaboration these two have done is The Trip which is a very funny road trip movie that all should see if you haven’t. Greed, although full of absurdity and humour has a very serious message. Basically the message is that its time to cut capitalism and capitalists off at the knees. The sooner the better. Steve Coogan plays a hugely successful High Street billionaire who has made his fortune in the fashion industry but also by taking advantage of all the lack of rules and regulations that favour the rich. The main plot line is about his plans to celebrate his 60th birthday with a huge Roman Empire themed party on a beach in Greece including building a fake amphitheatre to host a gladiator fight with a real lion. Everyone is to dress up as Roman aristocrats or slaves and party all day and night. As preparations proceed over the days leading up to the party flashbacks take us back to his origins as a student in private school, his initial start financing of various fashion start ups and his realization that the way to make money in fashion is to take advantage of the poverty level wages and horrendous working conditions in countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. We have scenes of Coogan facing down a parliamentary enquiry showing the impotence of our politicians to stop the abuse and we watch as Coogan abuses everyone around him as he marches relentlessly forward. David Mitchell of the Mitchell and Webb Look plays a writer who has been hired to write a sympathetic biography of Coogan’s character but who becomes increasingly horrified at what he learns about this ruthless capitalist ripping off everyone around him for his personal gain. Nonetheless like many others around Coogan he proceeds to do his job and paint a sympathetic picture of the man.

I know all this sounds extremely serious and scary but in fact Winterbottom manages to do all this with a brilliantly satirical script that keeps you laughing as you watch in horror at what is unfolding and it may be needless to say, but the lion who we visit several times in his cage during the film plays a key and cathartic role in the climactic scene. The closing credits include a series of statistics about the incredible inequality between the greedy rich and the very poor that the system we live in maintains and encourages. It helps give perspective to what you just watched. We were lucky to have Winterbottom and Coogan at the showing for a brief Q and A during which they emphasized the message of the film. Coogan and Michell were my two favourite actors in the film. I was particularly impressed by Mitchell who I have only seen in sketch comedy before but who showed some really acting depth. The rest of the cast are also great including a group of actual Syrian refugees who now settled in Greece were playing the role of recently arrived refugees occupying the beach where the party was to be held and really annoying Coogan by their presence.

This is movie I will watch again because the dialogue is rapid and full of wit. I missed some of it that I dearly want to catch on a second viewing. Great fun and a great message. I highly recommend this one to all.

The Art of Museums – Musée d’Orsay & Uffizi Gallery – Directors, Julie Kirchhoff, Sylvie Kürsten, Ralf Pleger, Kurt Mayer

Took a break from TIFF to go the Hot Docs cinema and see part of a remarkable German TV documentary series. We saw two episodes from the series which highlights some of the world’s great art museums with a focus on some selected works they exhibit. Each episode is an hour and is hosted by a really bright and funny British art historian and academic. He hosts from a darkened production room with multiple video screens that reminds you of something like the Tardis from Dr. Who. Meanwhile you are entertained with great video of the museums and the artwork they contain described by a host who is present and takes you to their favourite paintings or sculptures and give their reasons for liking them. The hosts are not artists or art experts but rather from other artistic fields. In the case of these two episodes a modern dance choreographer for the Musee d’Orsay and at The Uffizi a fashion designer. The descriptions are therefore more about how the art impacts the viewer rather than a boring art lesson. The series looks at the museums themselves and their history and design and rather than looking at all the amazing art contained within we look in detail at a handful of great works. I really enjoyed the two episodes and look forward to the whole series being more generally available on one streaming service or another. If you enjoy museums and art keep you eyes open at the Hot Docs schedule for further episodes.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse – Directors, Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman

I was not sure I wanted to see this movie. I like Marvel movies for the most part but they are normally live action while this was not only animated but not a very traditional story – for example Peter Parker dies right at the start. The premise of the film is the creation of a new Spider-man, Miles Morales, the son of a black New York cop and a Latino mother. The villains are the traditional Marvel baddies like The Kingpin and some variations like a female Dr. Octopus. The Kingpin has built a device to create a bridge to other dimensions which draws several spider-men/women into our universe and who team up to train Miles to use his new powers and save our universe from destruction. I was prepared not to like this movie but ended up loving it. The animation was great, the script had humour and paid great homage to the original comics and to the Marvel live action films that preceded it. Some have suggested it is one of the best ever super hero movies and I would not disagree. There is even an animated cameo of Stan Lee. Just perfect. You do have to be a bit of a Marvel comics fan to get into this one but even if you are not I recommend having a look. If it is not obvious from this review, I suspect this is a cinch to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It has already won the Golden Globe and BAFTA so… not likely it can lose.

Isle of Dogs – Director, Wes Anderson

I will start this review with full disclosure. In my opinion Wes Anderson has not made any bad movies and has made many great movies. This one is one of his best. The hard bit is assessing his animated features and comparing them to his live action films but one constant is that none of the films are conventional.  

If you are dog lover this movie will be good reinforcement. It is set in Japan and a city where the mayor is a dog hater. An epidemic spreads among the dogs in the city and the mayor uses this as an excuse to exile all the dogs to an island off the coast that is used as a garbage dump. The dogs are left to fend for themselves but a young boy – the adopted son of the mayor – has lost his pet dog to the island and he goes in search of him gaining the support of a pack of exiled dogs. They explore an immense wilderness of waste, garbage and processing Meanwhile scientists are working on a cure for the epidemic and there is a resistance among the young people in the town who support repatriation. The story is very complex and the film is a wee bit too long but the animation is superb and the story is ultimately charming and engaging. I particularly like the personalities of the dogs we meet as performed by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.

This film is up for a 2019 animation award as Best Animated feature film. I find it hard to evaluate animated films. They are all so different in style and design and of course there is the script and acting to evaluate. I feel like they are not adequately respected by the industry or at least by the academy. They get their own category but it’s a bit of a nod to a group not to be taken to seriously. Few are ever nominated for Best Picture and never win. I think they should be considered for Screenplay, Directing, most of the technical awards and of course, Best Picture. This ends my short rant.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – Director, Ron Howard

Disney now owns Star Wars for better or for worse and they have done better and worse. The first spin off from the original 6 movies was Rogue One which many argue is the second best Star Wars movie ever after The Empire Strikes Back and I would have to agree. If I could list the second best Disney spin off it would be Solo. The writers had a ball working on this film. They have played with Harrison Ford’s lines from the original films and had fun with explaining lots of things. Like we find out how Solo hooked up with Chewy, how he got involved with Lando, Jabba the Hutt and how he acquired the Millennium Falcon. If you are not sure what all that is about you do need to see the first three films. Also we learn what on earth he meant when he tells Obi Wan and Luke that he made the Kessel (not bloody Phil Kessell) run in under 12 parsecs which makes no sense until you see this film since he is apparently talking how fast the Falcon is but parsecs are a measure of distance not speed. No worries. Once you see this film you will understand all. What I loved about this movie was its respect for the story and its decision not to take itself too seriously. Despite my praise all this movie get is a nod for visual effects. It certainly deserves this but I think so much more. Oh, a final note. Han’s love interest in the movie is played by Emilia Clarke….that’s right, Daenerys Targaryen!

Why doesn’t the academy have a category for Great Trash?

Christopher Robin – Director, Marc Forster

I really liked this film which managed only a visual effects nomination despite its charming storyline and writing. The story is about Christopher Robin all grown up with a wife and daughter and who is totally lost in his work and increasingly isolated. He is still a good man who, charged with coming up with a way find efficiencies at his firm, sends his family away for the weekend while he works. Luckily he is found by an old friend. Winnie-the-Pooh crawls into his isolation and calls him back to the 100-acre wood to save his old friends from a rampaging Heffalump. The encounter results in Christopher’s redemption as he returns to the real world and reengages with his daughter and wife. He also finds a way to save his firm from downsizing and instead grow and find new direction to the dismay of some of his superiors. If you are entranced by A. A. Milne’s old stories I think you will find this movie captures the language and the characters very well. That said I am disappointed that this film did not get nominations for animation, writing, or even Best Picture. I note that on most film websites it is highly rated and much more highly rated than other films like Bohemian Rhapsody for example. I suspect that the film awards need to rethink some of the categories. There may need to be one for films aimed at children for example. I think this may require me to write a blog post about this issue and it will be forthcoming. The other point to be made here relates to my review of Incredibles 2. There I was critical of Disney studios for milking old franchises with mediocre sequels. While this is true of the Incredibles and some Star Wars sequels, this time they scored with a quality product.