This was my last film of the week and was one of the best. For those who may not know him, Miyazaki is the founder of Japan’s best animation studio — Ghibli Studios. He and his studio have created some of the most beautiful animated films of recent years including Ponyo, Spirited Away (Academy Award winner), From Up on Poppy Hill, and The Secret World of Arrietty (based on the Borrowers stories). Many of these films are oriented toward children but the stories are so sophisticated and the films so beautiful to look at that they attract audiences of all ages. This film is aimed an adult audience and tells the compelling story of the man who designed one of the world’s most successful planes – the Zero fighter plane used by the Japanese in World War II. The plane was revolutionary in design and changed aeronautical engineering forever. The movie however focusses on the man and his life and despite the focus of his career the film has a major pacifist message while acknowledging the brilliance of Jiro Horikoshi the engineer. It is also a charming but tragic love story and explores the tension of love and career in time of war. From what I can find out it will be given limited release in the US to allow for Academy Award recognition and full release in early 2014. I recommend it to everyone and in the meantime if you have not already become a Ghibli/Miyazaki fan be sure to look at the other films listed above.
Rock the Casbah is set in Morocco and is all in French and Arabic with just a smattering of English. This was really fun to watch. Although if I tell you the whole plot you will wonder how I could have found it so. It includes a suicide resulting from a pregnancy from an incestuous relationship, a bastard son who only learns who his father is at the end of the movie, a father who has an affair with the maid/nanny who has lived with the family for 30 years, an estranged daughter who has run off to America and… well so it goes. Nonetheless the movie is charming, humane, funny, and very entertaining and it all works out in the end. The stars are the women (the mother, maid, and three daughters) and they all play an equal role in making the film come together. The members of this apparently dysfunctional family come together for a three day funeral event for their suddenly deceased patriarch who is, of course the source of all the problems, and who is played by Omar Sharif. How does Sharif play a dead person? Well he is the narrator and appears as a character watching the events of his funeral unfold and he is wonderful in the role. Over the three days of the funeral event the secrets all come out one by one creating division and distress but in the end bringing everyone closer together. There is a great scene near the end of the film with them all at a window welcoming the arrival of the American husband of the estranged daughter. His arrival of course brings the entire family together at last. At the very end with the entire family laughing and clearly reconciled, Sharif faces the audience and comments: When I was young, my mother told me: “Never cause a woman to cry my son because God will count all the tears.” He smiles and shrugs and shuffles off down the garden path. Lovely film.
Ron Howard’s new film” Rush” is about the infamous personal and professional rivalry between the two best Formula 1 race car drivers of the 1970’s – James Hunt of England and Niki Lauda of Austria. The performances by Chris Hemsworth as Hunt and Daniel Bruhl as Lauda were great …and looking at Olivia Wilde is never hard to do. The people around me said she was sitting 2 rows in front of us and when that person left, it certainly did look like her. The movie was exceptionally good. Don’t miss it, unless racing car scenes that are probably unlike any ever seen before are not your thing. The true story is very well told and the F-1 race scenes are breathtaking. The movie keeps your emotions on a tightly drawn string pulling you from moments that have you laughing aloud to others that will find you with a huge lump in your throat or crying seconds after you were white knuckled from gripping your armrest as though you were the one in the driver’s seat of the Ferrari going 170 mph in a driving rainstorm. The packed house audience (at noon on a Monday I thought only old retired people would be found at the movies) (Hey Cal, this is TIFF!! – comment from P.R.) was made up of what looked like equal numbers of men and women of all age groups. The film received a thunderous and prolonged ovation at the end and everyone leaving seemed to agree they had been thoroughly entertained and would recommend this one as a “can’t and don’t miss experience”
“12,12,12” – the documentary of the Concert to raise funds for the victims of Hurricane Sandy was great. It was the World Premiere of the film and was attended by Harvey Weinstein,the noted Hollywood producer who produced the concert and the movie. George Stroumboulopoulos led a very entertaining and insightful post film Q and A with Weinstein and 4 of the 5 other main producer/ directors(the only one missing was Paul McCartney who sent regrets at the last minute. The big screen and Dolby surround sound made both the scenes of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and the on stage performances during the concert something special.It was a real treat to see and hear some very memorable musical moments offered by many including Bruce Springsteen, McCartney,( backed up by Dave Grohl( Nirvana )and the Foo Fighters, Pete Townsend and The Who, Pearl Jam, R.E.M., Coldplay, Billy Joel, Alicia Keys, The Rolling Stones (although Keith Richards and Ron Wood look like death warmed over, they can still play and rock hard – and it’s incredible to watch Jagger perform and move on the stage like someone 50 years younger – yes 50! What a role model he is for some of us 😉
There is also a hilarious rendition if Leonard Cohen’s classic” Hallelujah! – performed by Adam Sandler (a performance which, IMHO, exceeds anything he has ever done in the movies)
If you get a chance be sure to see this movie – it’s worth it.
The Last of the Unjust was too long (4 hours) but excellent – a riveting history of the Nazi ghettos and the ruthlessness of Eichmann and the Gestapo- but it differs from most accounts in that the story is told by and focused not on the Nazis or their victims who did not survive – but on one who did – Rabbi Benjamin Murmelstein the chief Rabbi of Vienna when the Nazis occupied his city and destroyed every temple and every torah or other valued Jewish religious article they could find . Murmelstein was sent to a ghetto where he was appointed by the Nazis as the “Jewish Elder”. the Nazis did this as one of many acts to camouflage what was really happening by making it appear as if their victims were really in charge of their own destinies in these ghettos when in reality these were nothing more than temporary stopovers for Jews then being packed up and herded onto trains taking them to the gas chambers . Murmelstein claimed he actually saved many lives by using a strategy that included making it seem he was befriending and assisting Eichmann and other Gestapo in some of their tasks and by carrying out many Nazi orders. While thousands were still exterminated, he says the need for his services and the trust that many of the Gestapo placed in him allowed him to spare the lives of many who would otherwise have perished. The price he paid for this was that he was seen by many of the Jews in the ghetto as being in collaboration with Eichmann and others in the Gestapo . He was the only Jewish Elder to not be killed by the Nazis and when he survived the war he had war crimes charges brought against him by other ghetto survivors. Although the courts exonerated him, his guilt remained steadfast in the minds of many of the ghetto survivors and the families of thousands who died. His story, documented in this French subtitled film created by the producer/ director / narrator who is also a French Holocaust archivist , is an important addition to the history of WWII and the holocaust. But it should and could be edited to around 150 minutes max.
Second and final film of the day was Prisoners from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve who is perhaps best known for Incendies which was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film and Polytechnique, a dramatization of the 1989 massacre of female engineering students in Montreal. This time he is working in English with a couple of major acting names: Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman and Paul Dano and making a very Hollywood thriller about a psychopath and two missing girls. Jackman plays the father of one of the girls and is a bit of a survivalist who decides to take a vigilante approach to the hunt for the perpetrator. Gyllenhaal plays the cop who takes the more measured approach, at least at first. Dano plays a really creepy guy who is a suspect but not the real villain. Dano also plays a totally creepy guy in 12 Years a Slave. He seemed typecast at the festival this year. So what did I think? Its okay, Gyllenhaal is very good as the cop but I was less impressed with the rest of the cast including Jackman who, as the vigilante, refused to use his Wolverine powers!! The movie is also way too long at 150 minutes and the tension is hard to maintain. I was also a little bit irritated that the director did not show up for the only showing of this film. Clearly this was a bit of a ruse to get some buzz going before the release. It’s okay I guess and if you like the lead actors and can stomach little girls being kidnapped by nasty homicidal maniacs well this is definitely your fare. Myself? Meh.
So Friday started out with another light heist/romantic comedy story starring Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson. Unlike The Art of the Steal, this film is “sophisticated” and not just because everyone in it has an English or a French accent. It is a light hearted romp as four amateur thieves plot to steal an enormous diamond from one of the world’s richest and nastiest men. What makes this movie a treat is not so much the absurd plot but rather the acting chemistry between Brosnan and Thompson who sparkle on the screen together. I also have to give great credit to Timothy Spall, far right in the picture, who brings some great comic relief (if that is possible in a comedy) to the film. The dialogue in this one is witty and bright rather than fast paced and sharp like the Art of the Steal. Also the director could not resist poking fun at Brosnan’s run as James Bond. There are not a few scenes where he mocks that period in Brosnan’s career including a great car chase scene in which Emma Thompson makes a total fool of the former Bond. Oh right – the romantic comedy part. Brosnan and Thompson play a long divorced couple forced to come together to steal the diamond. I won’t spoil the movie by explaining why they are pushed together but only that of course the old flames are re-ignited. A wonderful and relaxing movie with two old pros having fun.
Awesome movie. Great trash. After a very insightful but depressing and emotionally draining day in the Middle East I was ready for this movie. A comic con/heist film in the grand tradition of same and Canadian as maple syrup. The cast is pictured above with the exception of Jason Jones (Canadian comic seen most on The Daily Show.) and Terrence Stamp. The director is from Niagara Falls – our side — Jones is from Hamilton and, turning in a tour de force performance, from Montreal, is Jay Baruchel (Tropic Thunder, Goon, and The Trotsky to name but a few of his credits). This a smart, well written, fast paced comedy with some accomplished actors clearly having a great time. Kurt Russell plays an ex art thief who now, down on his luck, works as a third rate motorcycle stunt driver. He is drawn into a plot to steal and sell a Gutenberg Press edition of the Gospel of James by his half-brother (Matt Dillon) who years earlier had betrayed Russell and sent him to a Polish prison. It’s complicated but Russell is clearly out for revenge. The story races along until the inevitable twist ending that is entirely satisfying. Jay Baruchel plays Russell’s incompetent sidekick and Jason Jones is the Interpol agent chasing them all. Great fun. If you need a night out at the movies to forget your troubles and woes head for this one and you will leave completely refreshed.
Sometimes when you go to TIFF in a serious way you encounter unique experiences. That happened on Wednesday for me when I attended the last two Middle Eastern films of my week’s schedule. Both films deal with Palestinian collaborators and their Israeli contacts. One, Omar, is directed by a Palestinian and the other, Bethlehem, is directed by an Israeli. Despite being filmed completely separately from one another and by different sides of the West Bank occupation, the stories are stunningly similar. Neither film tries to paint one side or the other as either good nor evil. Omar portrays the Israeli’s as more ruthless to some extent but what one sees in both films is both sides caught in a situation in which they are trapped with no way out. Both sides are depicted with the understanding that comes from living the reality of the struggle over Palestine. The acting in both films is superb often with amateur actors and both draw in your sympathy for all the characters on both sides. The action and tension keep you on the edge of your seat until the final predictable but brutal endings. I do not want to spoil the films for you so I will not tell you how they end except at the climactic moment (the same in both films) they both go to black and run the credits leaving you gasping. Needless to say these are not “fun” movies but very very good and I will be disappointed not to see them nominated for awards and winners of many. I think to understand what you read every day about the Middle East it is very important to see these movies along with Palestine Stereo (previously reviewed). Also needless to say – Night Moves which was described as an excellent thriller is really more a FWP (first world problem) kind of movie (Hollywood sometimes just doesn’t get it) and is boring and irrelevant in the face of these two films. (well to be honest it was boring all on its own) What a great day at the movies I had.
Second film of the day and the last of the day. To be honest I did not make to the end of this one. I chose this film because of the description which noted that it had been made in Damascus during the current insurrection and was about living with that reality. I have chosen a few movies this year about the Middle East and this fit that pattern as well. I wanted to learn about how film directors from that region looked on their current lives and state of affairs and what messages they might have for us all. This film at least depicts the lives of ordinary people trying to live their lives in a perpetual war zone. The violence is never far away but the film focuses on other themes somewhat to the detriment of what I wanted to learn. So a bit disappointing for me but that may very well be my own fault. If you understand Arabic and enjoy films from this region go for it but otherwise… well go see Palestine Stereo instead.