Category Archives: Loved it

Fahrenheit 11/9 – Director, Michael Moore

My second day at TIFF ended with Michael Moore’s latest film which I think may well be his best yet (although Roger and Me remains a classic). The title if it is not obvious is a play on the title of his previous film Fahrenheit 9/11 and instead of referring to a terrorist attack it refers to the day after Trump was elected president in 2016. It is a long movie but you will not be bored. He starts with what got Trump into the presidential race mostly by accident and not to win but soon saw how he could actually become “King of the world”. The opening sequence ends with Trump’s inauguration and Moore’s narration:

“How the Fuck did we get here?”

Moore was one of the few to predict Trump could win the election in 2016 and he is also the one who called out the lie about weapons of mass destruction that got the US into unending war in the Middle East. For all of this he was dismissed as alarmist… but he was right. In this film he points out that Trump can easily win the mid-terms and win the presidency in 2020. We need to pay attention. But the film is not just about Donald Trump and his insane antics. Moore sees Trump as a symptom of a much deeper and far more dangerous trend in American politics and society. He returns to Flint, Michigan this time to address the lead poisoning crisis and the role of the Republican Governor in making the changes that resulted in poisoning thousands, mostly black and poor citizens in Flint. The decision was made to support the Governor’s business partners taking over the water supply as well as privatizing other municipal services. Moore goes on to show that the problem in Flint is still not resolved and was in fact allowed to continue even by President Obama who came to help but simply confirmed the Governor in his cover-up and lies. It was shocking, and many black voters were disappointed and abandoned the electoral system, the Democrats and Hillary Clinton in 2016. Moore does not pull any punches and points to how from Reagan to Obama the trend to Trump was clear and that Americans should not be surprised. It has been a trend to compromise, relying on old time political machines that rely on capitalist right wing funders and less and less on ordinary citizens. Democrats are just Republicans with a different name. He points to the withdrawal of nearly half of eligible voters in the US to even become engaged in elections or political discourse. (see Monrovia, Indiana).

While Moore does point to some hopeful signs in the recent primaries leading to this year’s mid-term elections, he is not hopeful. The film ends with Moore drawing a clear connection between Trump’s rise to power and Adolf Hitler. This is a comparison that many have dismissed or called over the top, but it is a trend I completely agree with and Moore is very convincing. There is literally no difference between Trump or other populist politicians and Hitler’s own rise to power in the 1930’s. Moore’s call is for people to become engaged in political discourse and elections. He is very worried that his call to arms will be ignored or countered by the incumbents who have their hands on the levers of power. The film is major warning to us all, not only Americans, and sadly it is not a hopeful film. This is Moore’s best movie yet and very important for everyone to see. Oscar is in his future I hope.

To demonstrate that America is not the only democracy at threat I will return to one story in Moore’s film. The Flint water crisis started with a decision to declare a false emergency and fire the elected municipal governments in Michigan’s five largest cities and replace them with unelected administrators giving Governor Snyder the means to implement privatization of services. This led in turn to the decision to change Flint’s water supply and the resulting poisoning. My reaction was to look to our own Doug Ford and his interference in Toronto’s civic election. I worry that if Toronto elects the wrong mayor or too many left-wing councillors Ford will decide to do the same here. Given Ford’s recent behaviour this is not beyond thinking and is certainly within his power to do. As Moore notes let us not be distracted by Trump and impeachment but understand that Trump reflects a systematic threat to our democracies that must be addressed.

Monrovia, Indiana – Director, Frederick Wiseman


Monrovia, Indiana is a 2 ½ hour trip to small town rural middle America. You spend your time looking in on high school classes, local bars and eateries, the veterinarian, tattoo shop, hair dresser, local town council meetings and farm work listening to the people and what is top of mind for them on any given day or moment. All these scenes are interspersed with absolutely beautiful images of the countryside, the endless horizon and the clouds in the sky.  There is absolutely no political talk at all despite this film being shot in 2016-17. I am not sure how many readers are fans of Frederick Wiseman documentaries. They can be challenging to watch but worth the effort as he has documented aspects of our culture and society in great detail while letting them speak for themselves. The films are long and there is no narration but only the voices and images of the people and things he is observing. Of course, how he edits and structures the films also sends a message. We were lucky to have him present for a Q and A after this showing and it added a lot to understanding the film and his glimpse into the daily lives of people living in Monrovia. While Indiana voted Trump and Monrovia is as white a community as one could find anywhere, I went expecting to hear the voices of outrage and to understand who people could vote the way they did. Instead I got a look into a community completely preoccupied with their daily lives, people discussing their health or lack thereof, local sports, getting their hair done, very local community issues like where the fire hydrants are and are they working, and… nothing more. The major political statement if there was one to be found was that no one even thinks about national politics or really about very much beyond the town borders. One of the longer and more revealing scenes was a tour of the local high school looking at pictures of football and basketball teams from decades past and graduating classes from the 1920’s and 30’s. We then listen in to a teacher giving a lecture to a class about the proud tradition of sports in the community including former Monrovians who made it to the NBA, state championships etc. During the Q and A Wiseman was asked to tell us what subject the class portrayed in the segment were studying. He responded, “Well that was a history class. Couldn’t you tell?” Enough said.

Wiseman spent 10 weeks in the town filming and he told us politics never came up. And that sums up Monrovia and maybe sadly much of US society in a nutshell. I would guess most of the people we saw know nothing about what is going on Washington and the world and could care less. Given the state of US politics today one can see that there is no way to explain what is happening without including the lives and actions of the people in towns like Monrovia all over the US. It was an revealing introduction to middle America which was then to be followed by going off to see Michael Moore’s latest film Fahrenheit 11/9 and the different message he had for his audience. My guess however is that Michael Moore documentaries do not play in Monrovia.

Sharkwater Extinction – Director, Rob Stewart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After seeing Fall of the American Empire this documentary was an entirely different experience. I confess that I have not see Rob Stewart’s other films of which Sharkwater, released in 2006, is the most well known. The latter film was instrumental in an international banning of hunting sharks for Shark Fin Soup – a Chinese delicacy — which was resulting in the mass slaughter of sharks worldwide. While the original film had an enormous impact, the killing of sharks continues today not only for soup but for a variety of other uses including shark meat sold as other fish products like tuna and swordfish, pet food, and even cosmetics. 150 million sharks are killed each year illegally and sharks are facing extinction. While Stewart focussed his films on shark hunting he had a much larger agenda. Driving animals to extinction, he points out, destroys the environment and sharks are not the only victims of human destructiveness. The problem is that humans also depend on a stable and balanced environment and our actions are leading to our own demise. The film is powerful statement, but the emotional impact of the film is tied also the director who died during the filming, suffocating while diving to shoot scenes. Rob Stewart is a Toronto native and his parents undertook to complete this film as a tribute to their son and his work. They were present at the premiere and gave a powerful introduction. One can only imagine how difficult this project was for them since Rob, their son, appears in nearly every scene of the documentary. I would recommend this film to everyone and Stewart’s other films which I will be seeking out shortly. The message is critical.

On a political note, the film was funded in part by an Ontario government grant through an agency called Ontario Creates. The current minister in charge was asked to address the audience even though the Ford government had nothing to do with the film or the grant or the agency. She brought greetings from the government and particularly Doug Ford. When Ford’s name was mentioned there were some groans and boos from the audience although muted in respect for Rob Stewart’s parents I suspect. I really wondered at the lack of thought that went into inviting the minister to speak. Here was a film about the damage we are doing to the environment, the need to change our ways and greetings are invited from a government that totally denies there is any problem and who are doing all they can to move in the direct opposite direction from Rob Stewart. Also given the record of this government one wonders how long Ontario Creates will have any money to support any films or other cultural activities other than labels for Buck-a-Beer cans.

Fall of the American Empire – Director, Denys Arcand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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 Breadwinner – Director, Nora Twomey

I think this should win the Oscar for being the by far the best animated film I have seen in a long time. I am basing this not only on the quality of the animation art itself which is superb but also on the importance of the story and the need for us to see more stories that make us think about Islamic culture and people. I would compare this to the live action short Watu Wote which you can read about here: https://wordpress.com/post/movie-rants-and-raves.net/1241

The film tells the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a boy to get a job and support her family after her father is arrested by The Taliban and her mother is beaten for going out after curfew for women. The story is full of hope and courage and while open to a young audience is a moving story for adults as well.

I am making this judgement on the basis of only seeing one of this year’s nominees but I am not going to vote for Boss Baby or likely even see it, I am totally opposed to Disney or Pixar winning anything in the animation area despite Coco being the likely winner this year. When our choices to recognize films are so limited in areas like animation and documentary we need to support and recognize people and films that take a bit further than simply making $200 million dollars as Coco did. That shows its popular, well promoted and put in many theatres. The Breadwinner made less than $230,000 or .01% of what Coco made. I suppose it is lucky the film even got a nomination but it clearly deserves more in my opinion.

Thor: Ragnarok – Taiki Waititi

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.

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.

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.