Category Archives: TIFF 2014

Charlie’s Country – Rolf de Heer, Director

This was my final film of the festival and a masterpiece in my opinion. It tells the story of an elderly aboriginal in Australia who is angry and sad and confused about what has happened to his country and his people and their traditions. The film is slow but deliberately so and the lead actor David Gulpilil does an amazing job portraying Charlie as he struggles with his demons. It is hard to describe the movie because it is so unusual but I can confirm it is a very good look at the struggle of first nations peoples and will help you understand our own first nations as well. Definitely worth the time and it will almost certainly be here in Toronto at some time in the near future.

Pasolini – Abel Ferrara, Director

I was looking forward to this movie since I really like Willem Dafoe who plays Pasolini. In the end I was super grateful this movie is only 87 minutes long and that seemed long to me. It is very confusing, conducted in English, Italian with subtitles and Italian without subtitles and really gave very little insight to Pasolini or much else. I guess I should have been wary when the director was described as incendiary. I think if anyone uses a random word like this to describe a director then you should avoid the film at all costs. Other warning words are “challenging” “innovative” or “unique”. These generally mean ” really awful” in the opinion of this reviewer at least. Avoid this film.

National Gallery – Frederick Wiseman, Director

Today we decided to try the rush line and go for tickets to this 3 hour documentary about the National Gallery in London. The director is well known and has been doing docs since the 1960’s. His style is simply to film and let the images and dialogue speak for themselves. There is no narration but after 3 hours you feel like you have had a tour of one of the great art museums in the world. The film takes you through the galleries, offers you short lectures on individual pictures, visits management meetings, goes back to see the work done by restorers and gives you insight into how much thought goes into shows and how they are set up and lighted. Sounds long I know but it is fascinating and well worth your money and your time. Some of the images tied into earlier films including a significant look at a Turner exhibit that tied into Mr. Turner for me at least. The speakers in the film describing the art, the restoring process and the management of the gallery are all excellent. Hard to say too much more but it was really entertaining and I learned a ton. Go see this if you can.

Love and Mercy – Bill Pohlad, Director

If you are a fan of the Beach Boys or Brian Wilson you should see this movie. Not the best film by far but interesting as a biopic. Wilson is played by two actors, John Cusack as the older Wilson and Paul Dano as the younger. Wilson suffered terribly from mental illness and yet managed to create a musical opus that will be enjoyed for years to come. I will not spoil this by telling too much of the story but Cusack wins the acting battle and Paul Giamatti has a great supporting role as the devious psychiatrist who tries to take advantage of Wilson. He does slime extremely well. Not enough of the music in my opinion and a bit of a confusing story line that jumps back and forth in time but worth a view.

Pawn Sacrifice – Edward Zwick, Director

Best film of the day. This is the story of the 1972 chess match between Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer and the performance of Tobey Maguire in the lead role is superb given he likely is a foot shorter than Fischer was. The movie was focussed mostly on Fischer’s mental illness and how it affected the match so no major analysis of the games or the chess playing so if you are a chess geek this may disappoint. We follow Fischer from his youth as a child prodigy to the end of the 1972 match in which he crushes Spassky 12 ½ to 8 ½ in points and one of Spassky’s points is due to a forfeit when Fischer refused to show up for the second game. For the geeks however – look at Game 6 of the match which is arguably the greatest match ever played. When Spassky resigned he stood up and applauded Fischer’s brilliance in the game. The focus on the personalities however gives the film great dramatic energy and you will forget at the end that Maguire ever played Spiderman.

Revenge of the Green Dragons – Andrew Lau, Director

This is a Chinese film in the Hong Kong gangster tradition directed by the man who brought you Infernal Affairs later remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed. This time around it is Andrew Lau’s film and Scorsese is the producer. Set in Queens New York City rather than Hong Kong this is brutal (and I mean brutal) film about Asian gangs, drug dealers and human trafficking. I found it very hard to take and would recommend it only to those who know what they are getting into. The action is non-stop and violent and the twist ending is really contrived and while surprising made no sense in my mind. I sense I was however not holding a universal opinion. One aspect of going to so many movies in such a short time is that your view of the film can be influenced by what you had for breakfast or an upsetting email or whatever. It follows that if a review is super negative – like this one – it is to be taken with a grain of salt. So…. If you know Lau and like Hong Kong gangster films this may very well be up your alley. I can attest to the fact that there were no empty seats.

Good Kill – Andrew Niccol, Director

Second film of the day and also excellent. Ethan Hawke is the star and he is superb. The story is about a former US fighter pilot who now guides drones in the fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups. He sits in a metal bunker in the Nevada desert and guides drones over Yemin, Afghanistan and Pakistan to blow up and kill terrorist targets in what is essentially a first person shooter video game but which is for real. The film could have been as good as The Hurt Locker but it suffers from a Hollywood happy ending. Still even that does not take from the horror of what these drone pilots do in the course of a day’s work. While they do kill bad guys they also kill innocents as “collateral damage” and they suffer post traumatic stress despite being so distant from their victims. The director also introduced this one by saying that it was made with no help from the US military so we, the audience could be confident the film was telling the truth. It is very good despite my whine about the ending which is just fine as far as Hollywood endings go but just disappointed me a bit from what was otherwise a hard hitting film about the nature of war in the 21st Century. Definitely put this on your list of films to see this fall.

Red Army – Gabe Polsky, Director

I was not sure what to expect from this movie but being a hockey fan and having grown up with Canada vs the Red Army I was intrigued. Luckily we had a chance to hear the director introduce the movie. He is a first generation American born in Chicago of Ukrainian parents who had grown up in the Soviet Union. He played hockey as a kid in Chicago and was also interested in his Ukrainian origins and this led him to consider making this movie focussed on the incredibly successful and skilled Red Army team of the 70’s and 80’s. The movie is less a hockey movie and much more an exploration of the soul of the Soviet society of the time. The protagonist of the film was Fetisov, likely the greatest hockey player of his time. A defenceman to challenge Bobby Orr as the greatest defensive player ever. Interestingly Fetisov refused to be interviewed for the film until the final day of filming when he agreed to give 15 minutes. This turned into 5 hours and two more subsequent sessions. This saved the movie because he is a tremendously charismatic figure who led the Red Army team as captain and… well there is much more that teaches you why Putin is so successful today and much much more about Russian society and thinking. There is much here to learn about hockey, why the Red Army team was so successful, how oppressive the regime was as well as the team leadership itself. There are some amazing lines from the interviews with players, former KGB agents, coaches and others. The one coach Tikhonov was particularly brutal and at one point one of the team members tells the interviewer that if he had to have a heart transplant he would want Tikhonov’s heart because he never used it. The film is full of lines like this and even if you don’t know or like hockey you will love this movie. It is simply a brilliant documentary and well worth your time. Highly recommended to all.

Mr. Turner – Mike Leigh, Director

Timothy Spalding stars in this incredible story of the 19th century landscape painter, J.M.W. Turner. Turner was a true eccentric and iconoclast who had a remarkably successful career as a painter and made an incredible fortune. He was also a remarkable artist and creative genius who took landscape painting and particularly the use of light in new directions. His personal life was complicated with a very close relationship with his father, a broken marriage, two daughters he basically denied the existence of and an affair at the end of his life with a women he was deeply in love with. He himself, if the film is to be believed was a remarkably unlikeable individual. The movie is stunning. The cinematography is spectacular as Leigh clearly tries to compete on film with what Turner created on canvas. This film is hypnotic, well written and acted and wonderfully filmed. I will have trouble choosing the best movie I have seen this week but this one definitely rates as one of the best movies at this year’s festival.

Hector and the Search for Happiness – Peter Chelsom, Director

I had high hopes for this movie. Simon Pegg is one of a group of British comic actors who did films like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. He also was the perfect Scottie in the Star Trek reboot but here he is trivial and trite. The film follows a psychiatrist who goes off on a round the world quest to find himself and the meaning of happiness. All we get are a bunch of clichés like “Happiness is being loved for who you really are.” Or “Nostalgia is not what it used to be”. It was stupendously disappointing. Now I caution that some may like this film and you really have to like Simon Pegg (and I do) but if you don’t want to be disappointed as I was in the star. I could not find the words until I found this review that says it all.

“Looking to run fortune cookie writers and the post card industry out of business in one fell swoop, Peter Chelsom’s Hector and the Search for Happiness is not a film meant for cynics. With its pithy musings on what it means to be content, and slideshow approach to giving those musings an air of worldly wisdom, it asks the viewer to suspend not just disbelief, but emotional continence. If you’re capable of that, it will no doubt prove a wildly exciting and uplifting story of self-discovery. Keep even a shred of your self-awareness about you, and the empty enlightenment Hector and the Search for Happiness is offering becomes as grating as it is pat.”