Category Archives: TIFF 2011

Killer Joe – September 13

I had a really difficult time deciding what to say about this movie and I am not sure I know even now, but here goes. This is film by William Friedkin who has done some great films in the past including The Exorcist which is arguably one of the best ever horror movies ever made, Sorcerer (little known but great thriller), The Night they Raided Minsky’s and of course The French Connection. He has also done some really bad movies and I am not sure into which category this fits. It is based on a play by Tracy Letts that ran off-Broadway for nine months. On stage it might very well have been better. The story is of another sad set of family and friends from, where else? Texas. Poor, uneducated, alcohol and drug addicted, the son, daughter and former husband plot to hire a killer to do in their mother for the insurance money. Mathew McConaughey plays Killer Joe – the man they hire. He demands to be paid up front but since they need the insurance money to pay him he accepts a retainer instead – the daughter. The film is able to enhance the sex and violence really to the point of being near pornographic in both cases. Of course everything goes horribly wrong and the ending is a huge question mark – literally. I can’t reveal the story because it has several surprise twists and to know ahead what happens would be to spoil the movie for you. Needless to say, however, this is not a movie for the faint of heart, or for anyone at all squeamish about graphic violence. McConaughey is very good at playing total, menacing evil. So if that is at all attractive to you then you are in for treat. Although I can assure you, you won’t be bored, I am still not sure if this is a good movie so if you see it, perhaps you can tell me. McConaughey is actually a very good actor – if you have not seen The Lincoln Lawyer yet and you want to see McConaughey act and avoid the violence, it’s a good alternative.

The Lady – September 13

Simply the best movie I have seen this week and maybe the best movie at the Festival and maybe the best movie of the year. I loved this film as you can see. It is a dramatization of the story of Burmese political activist and leader Aung San Suu Kyi over 15 years of her life struggling to bring democracy to Burma. It is also about her love for her English husband and children who support her throughout her isolation and house arrest in Burma. Separated for years from her family she hangs on to their love and her love of her country. It is brilliantly acted by Michelle Yeoh and David Thewlis (who is also in Anonymous) both of whom deserve Oscars for their work. The director and writer did not know the woman whose story they were telling but they researched it thoroughly and clearly did a great job. They filmed it in Thailand primarily but many shots were from Burma where members of the crew travelled incognito as tourists and shot film with their Nikon cameras. They reconstructed the home in which she was under arrest off and on for nearly 15 years to perfection and filmed in the actual home the family shared in Oxford.

The director and writer were there for a Q and A and were congratulated by members of the audience who knew The Lady herself and remarked how perfectly Yeoh played her, how true to the story the film was and how evocative of the struggle and ongoing struggle to bring democracy to Burma. The plea of Aung San Suu Kyi at the end of the film is to the audience to use their liberty to bring the same to the people of Burma. The audience gave a rare standing ovation at the end of the film.

Yes we should work to free the people of Burma and encourage our government to lead this struggle but there is also a message to all the bored and jaded voters of our own country not to take their right to vote for granted and exercise it every chance they have. When one sees a film like this and watches the sacrifices people make to exercise the right to vote there is simply no excuse for any of us to remain unengaged in our own democracy.

Anonymous – September 12

This was the first costume drama of the week and really a lot of fun. It is a tale of Elizabethan court intrigue layered over the theory that Shakespeare’s plays were really written by the Earl of Oxford – Edward De Vere. Ben Johnson is the go between carrying the plays to the Globe theatre where a rather poor but wily actor William Shakespeare took all the credit. The movie is directed by Robert Emmerich who has done such classics 😛 as 2012, 10,000 B.C., The Day After Tomorrow and Independence Day. The latter is classic trash but the others are not so great. So this movie is bit a of a change for him although he plays fast and loose with the history and even the “Shakespeare didn’t really write those plays” theories. Nonetheless he creates a great atmosphere and has some good actors to work with including Vanessa Redgrave and Elizabeth, Rhys Ifans as the Earl and Sebastian Armesto as Ben Jonson. Although it doesn’t have any aliens seeking to destroy the world or other cataclysmic events and it’s a bit long and over dramatic, basically I liked it. If it’s a cold night out this winter and you have nothing else to do then definitely do up some popcorn and enjoy this bit of fluff.

Sarah Palin, You Betcha – September 12

A documentary by a BBC director Nick Broomfield. A UK film about America’s scariest politician. He states in the film that he wants to do an objective 360 story about Sarah Palin’s startling ride to prominence. He traces her career from her high school career to her current plans to challenge for the presidency. While he does get to interview her parents he really can’t find anyone else who knew her to talk to, including Palin herself, who was willing to say anything positive about her. There is some amazing archival footage including her playing high school basketball, placing third in the Miss Alaska competition (apparently she won Miss Congeniality). The stories are very scary. She talked the mayor of Wasilla (her home town) to help her run for her first political office as councillor and at the next election she ran a nasty attack campaign against her mentor and took his job as mayor. This backstabbing, throw them under the bus approach to climbing to the top is clearly her style. One of the pastors in the town told the camera that Sarah is a born again Christian who believes we are living in the end times. She has no conscience about doing harm to those who might oppose her. He said that if she could kill her opponents she would with no regret and if she had access to nuclear arms she would not hesitate to use it to achieve her goals. It was very scary to hear as he painted a picture of a sociopath. The “thrown them under the bus” theme came up time and again with different people. One woman was going to write a book about her called “Under the bus”. As they run the credits they also play the phony call when a local radio station in Quebec called her purporting to be President Sarcozy. Very funny.

A really good, witty, scary documentary – Sarah does not smoke by the way.

Rampart – September 12

Okay the first really violent downer movie of the week. This one stars Woody Harrelson and if none of his previous films has driven Cheers from your mind, this one will. He plays a really mean, racist, sexist, misogynist, violent, sociopathic, need I go on? Cop. It is set in 1999 in Los Angeles and Rampart is the district that came under investigation for a police force that was racist, sexist, misogynist, violent, sociopathic etc. It focuses on one cop who becomes a scapegoat for the force which is unfair on one level but not unfair on another. He is guilty. Harrelson is basically the major focus and is in every scene in a virtuoso performance. He may get a nomination for this and likely deserves it but this movie is ugly in lots of ways and gritty in story and film style. This may lose it the credit it deserves. At any rate it’s not just Harrelson. There is a great supporting cast including Sigourney Weaver, Harrelson’s character’s two ex-wives (Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) and two daughters are also wonderful as is Steve Buscemi. This movie is written by James Ellroy a very noir mystery writer and Clarke Peters of Treme and The Wire. Tough stuff. – watching this movie was like being a voyeur of a nasty nasty scene.

Side note: Everyone in this movie smokes. Actually everyone in almost every movie I have been to this year smokes. This is really a change and mostly completely unnecessary to the plot or the characters. I have started to wonder if in fact this is subtle product placement. No brand names or anything but hey! Everyone smokes! If you have seen Thank you for Not Smoking from a few years back you would definitely share my paranoid perception here.

Breakaway – September 11

Another hockey movie. It’s like a trend. This one is basically The Mighty Ducks for Sikhs – The Mighty Sikhs? Director Robert Leiberman actually directed The Mighty Ducks. Basically this is the story of a group of Sikh kids who play pick up hockey and have one player who is really good. They are victims of a local team of bullies and decide to take a chance at skilling up to challenge the bullies for a championship. The story is about breakaways in hockey but also breakaways from traditional Sikh values. The star of the team is rebelling against his rigid traditionalist father who forbids him to play this white Canadian game. Of course at the end they are reconciled. (oops a spoiler)This is a Canadian movie with some big Bollywood stars but also starring Russell Peters, Rob Lowe and a cameo by Ludacris. Predictable but fun the kids find a Canadian coach and make it to the finals which they win in dramatic fashion (oops – another spoiler). The fun is in the Bollywood dance scenes on top of the traditional North American story line. Some funny scenes and charming performances so go see it and enjoy.

Interestingly there is another perspective on this film from a friend of my son who suggested that such films are a bit racist (well he felt they are very racist). Why he argues is it okay to replace traditional values with new Canadian ones and why are the traditionalists like the boy’s father portrayed so negatively? All good points and while I think the movie is respectful in the end of Sikh culture the comment lingers with me nonetheless. Others may be better judges of this than a 7th generation Canadian blogger.

Final remark. The director and several of the stars including Russell Peters were there to introduce the film. I wore a blue collarless shirt that looked a bit like a Nehru shirt. As Peters walked past me he looked down and remarked: “Hey – nice shirt” I am so happy to be dissed by a movie star.

Last Call at the Oasis – September 11

The first film this morning was a documentary about the threat to our water supply in the US and around the world. Unlike many documentaries this one had a decent budget and a great director. It was very easy on the eyes, beautiful cinematography and a great script. The message however is very frightening. Basically large parts of the US will be without water in the next very few years. There is an increasing population that is totally dependent on the Colorado River Valley for water and the snowpack in the High Sierra mountains. Both are in severe decline as the result of climate change and there is no real alternative source of water. There are similar threats in the US Southeast and Midwest. The worst places are not the US however. The worst are in South Asia dependent on the Himalaya snowpack also in decline and billions of people dependent on it. There are some possible solutions and sources including recycling waste water. The problem with this is the “yuck” factor. No one wants to drink toilet water. So the film makers went to the people who successfully got to pay for filtered tap water and asked them to sell recycled water. This was a very funny part of the film as they came up with possible names for the new product and got Jack Black to help them sell it. The winning name? Porcelain Springs. Funny but serious because we will have to be taking our water from Porcelain Springs before very long. Our water availability is not only declining but we are also polluting what little we have. Erin Brockovitch is still an activist working to save our water and she has a big part in this movie. We were lucky enough to have Erin there at the film for the Q and A and interestingly she looks just like Julia Roberts who plays her in the movie of her name. Great movie with an important message. Everyone needs to see this as we complacently rely that when we turn on our taps we will get as much hot and cold running water as we want. It won’t be like that for much longer.

Ides of March – September

I still have to see Descendants which is the real George Clooney movie at the Festival. This one does actually have George as a supporting actor but he also directs this one which really stars Ryan Gosling. It is a tightly scripted film about the backroom political action as a Governor (Clooney) runs for the Democratic primary. Gosling is the media guy on Clooney’s team led by Philip Seymour Hoffman and the competition is led by Paul Giamatti both in good supporting roles. There is also a really good performance by Marisa Tomei as the NYTimes reporter covering the race. I would not say this is Oscar material but it does point to how messed up the US political system is and how little it has to do with issues. As a result it is rather depressing but it is smart and tight and over in under 90 minutes. I should note that Woody Allen is of the opinion that no movie can really be sustained beyond 90 minutes and there is some truth to that. There are exceptions, Lawrence of Arabia being one, but there is something magic about 90. This movie is good so I recommend it and if you are a Ryan Gosling fan then I really recommend it. It will not win Oscars however.

Goon – September 10

After taking a break from hockey to see The Ides of March – directed by George Clooney and starring Ryan Gosling (more about this below) I next saw Goon, a comedic take on The Last Gladiators that I feared would be in really bad taste but which turned out to be insightful and oddly powerful in light of having just been through the Chris Nilan story. This movie is directed by Michael Dowse (FUBAR and FUBAR 2) and written by and starring Jay Baruchel (The Trotsky and Tropic Thunder) promised to be very funny and off centre and it lived up to its promises. The story is actually based on a real life minor league enforcer so it actually has some depth of character and plot (not too deep mind you). I decided to hold it to the standard of Slap Shot – the classic Paul Newman hockey flick and it more than met the challenge. It is now my favourite hockey movie. It will be in theatres shortly and I urge those who loved The Trotsky and Tropic Thunder to go see it. A warning, however, it does not hold back on the violence of the fighting scenes or our baser appetite for fights in hockey and the beer drinking that follows. Oh… if you have not seen The Trotsky or Tropic Thunder – see them as well. Baruchel is crazy brilliant in that order.

The Last Gladiators – September 10

The first movie of the day and likely the best I would see. This film is about the hockey enforcers of the 80’s NHL and in particular about Chris Nilan who played this role for the Montreal Canadiens. This is a great movie and you don’t need to be a hockey fan to enjoy it although if you of my generation and remember the Bruins and the Broad Street Bullies you will get a lot out of it. Although the film centres on the career of Chris Nilan and long interviews with him and images of his career, it also looks at and interviews many of his fellow goons and enforcers. Marty McSorley, Bob Probert, and Donald Brashear feature prominently. One is retired, one is dead and one is playing out his career in the minor leagues and is dabbling in mixed martial arts. If you have seen the movie The Wrestler you will understand the depressing truth. Nilan himself who is the centre of the story is in his 50’s now and still battles addiction and injury. The sad thing is that they were required to fight, to defend the skill players on their teams but themselves often had nothing in the way of education or skill themselves to fall back on once they retired or were too injured to continue to play. The movie pulls no punches so to speak. I highly recommend it. The nice thing was that Chris Nilan was there for the Q and A and received a standing ovation for his simply eloquence and his dedication to the game and his loyalty to the Habs and his team mates. His description of his struggles after retirement is powerful and deeply emotional. For his openness he deserved the applause he got.