Category Archives: TIFF 2015

This Changes Everything – Director – Avi Lewis

We were lucky enough to be the first audience to see this film. It is based on Naomi Klein’s most recent book about the relationship between climate change and capitalism and is I think her best book in a large opus. The film is directed by her husband Avi Lewis – son of Stephen Lewis and with a long NDP heritage. The movie is different from the book in that rather than focus on political analysis it instead focusses on communities that have been affected by pollution, climate change or corporate nastiness of one kind or another. The film moves from first nations struggles in Canada to save their lands to similar situations in Greece, the US Midwest, India and Germany. It was important in my mind to move from our tendency to use first nation struggles as the lever on this issue and realize that their struggle is really no different from that of people all over the world. Very effective.

At the end of the film we were lucky to have several of the people from those communities present to tell us where their stories have developed. It was a very friendly audience as would be expected and they got a standing ovation for the film and for being who they are. Interestingly the introduction was introduced by 2 vegan activists who held up signs and urged us to stop eating animals in order to save the world. They have a point although I confess I did eat a nice filet mignon that evening. The protestors were ushered off politely amid scattered boos from the audience. It was somewhat hypocritical of the audience however as this crowd would likely have cheered similar protests at a Harper rally but that aside it was a pretty friendly event.

The movie is excellent and everyone who sees climate change as our biggest challenge as a species needs to see it and get on board. The film is hopeful that we will get our act together in time to save ourselves but that is still debatable unless something happens soon. This December there is world conference on climate change that will make or break us I fear. Avi let lose a great Freudian slip at the end. He told us that we need to push our political leaders to make meaningful change at the climate conference which will be held “at the end of the world”. Got lots of laughs before he realized what he had said and cried out “end of the year! End of the year!!

Legend – Director – Brian Helgeland

In 1990 a film called The Krays dramatized the life of two east London gangsters from the 60’s. They were twin brothers, notorious, violent and for many years untouchable. They were also quite psychotic. Those you who know Monty Python well will remember the sketch about Doug and Dinsdale Piranha which was inspired by the Krays. In that first film the brothers were played by two actors who were also brothers. This year we get Legend also about the Krays and this time played by the same actor – Tom Hardy. The film is a bit too long but I did have trouble deciding what could have been cut. I don’t mean to be too critical however. This movie is hypnotic and Hardy as both Ron and Reggie Kray is simply brilliant. Yet another possible nomination for an OSCAR. The rest of the cast is also brilliant and the story very compelling. This new film focusses a great deal on the romantic relationship between Reg and his girlfriend which is an interesting add on to the violence and psychotic elements of the rest of the story. The opening line is from the girlfriend who tells us she is going to describe the relationship and her love/hate relationship with Reggie. She says: It took a lot of love to hate him so much. Great line as it turns out.

The film plot follows the relationship between Frances and Reggie over several years leading finally and tragically to her suicide. It sort of falls apart at the end because the story continues after Frances’s death and it is not clear how she can continue to narrate the story however that is beside the point in many ways and does not really effect the impact of the film.

Fair warning, this film is extremely violent and the characters have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. There is no attempt to justify these two or their actions but there is no question that this story is legendary in London and ranks with any mobster/gangster story you can think of and I can’t think of any American gangster film that can compare with the Kray twins. I can recommend this movie to everyone and especially Tom Hardy’s performance as long as you can handle the graphic violence. Enjoy.

The Lady in the Van – Director — Nicholas Hytner

There are two obvious reasons to see this movie, Maggie Smith and Alan Bennett (the writer). Those of you who do not know Alan Bennett are clearly not Beyond the Fringe fans. Beyond the Fringe was the most brilliantly funny stage show ever (yes funnier than Monty Python or the Goons and starring Alan Bennett, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller – okay my random plug for my favourite comedy troupe). Bennett however became and is an accomplished playwright and is a very funny and observant writer about the human condition. This autobiographical story is a great example of his style, wit and insight. The story is based on a real life situation in which a remarkable homeless woman played by Maggie Smith takes up residence in her van in Bennett’s driveway in an upper class neighborhood in London. Its intended she will squat there for a few months but ends up living there for 15 years until her death. There is mystery about her. She is in many ways a typical homeless person, malnourished, rude and cranky, and unsanitary. On the other hand she is clearly well educated, had trained to be a nun at one point and as it turns out is an accomplished pianist. None of her story is evident at the start but is slowly revealed over the course of the film. Maggie Smith gives an OSCAR worthy performance and the film will be in general release this fall so you can all judge for yourselves shortly.

The story of the film is about the relationship between the two and juxtaposes their relationship with Bennett’s relationship with his own mother who declines into dementia over the course of the film. While his mother declines, Maggie Smith’s character, who suffers from her own mental illness, thrives in her van. I, like most of the audience I am sure, could not stop thinking of their own mothers as the story unfolds. I confess to shedding a few tears not so much out of sadness as sympathy for the woman and the story.

We were lucky to have the director present for a Q and A and he was wonderful. It turns out he was Bennett’s neighbour through part of the 15 years the Lady lived in Bennett’s drive and continues to live just around the block. He also directed all of Alan Bennett’s plays in the West End including the theatrical debut in 1999 on which the film is based. Hytner is the former artistic director of London’s National Theatre and as I noted a charming, thoughtful speaker. He gave us much background about the film, the people and the neighbourhood. He also concurred with me that Maggie Smith is the best actor working today and possibly the best actor ever or certainly of our life time. I also would be remiss not to mention the performance of Alex Jennings as Alan Bennett. Apparently Bennett believed Jennings gave a far better performance as Alan Bennett than he could so Jennings got the part. I suspect Jennings deserves a nod at awards ceremonies too. I can’t recommend this film more highly to everyone. One of the best I have ever seen at TIFF in over 20 years.

Return of the Atom – Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola

I chose this movie, the only Finnish movie at the festival this year, mostly because of the topic. It’s a documentary about the 2002 decision to build a new nuclear reactor in a small town in Finland but also the first reactor to be built in Europe since the Chernobyl disaster which occurred in 1986. Since that time of course Germany had shut down all of its nuclear reactors and the fear of another Chernobyl has sent most Europeans down the wind, hydro or solar route to renewable energy sources. Not so in Finland which still generates something like 25 percent of its power from the atom. The building of the reactor has been plagued with delays and a project that was to be completed in 2005 is now scheduled to come online in 2018 at the earliest and has cost over runs that are 3 times the original estimates. All this plus the health concerns of course and the risk of melt downs, earthquakes etc. The film is too long and in Finnish with English subtitles. Sadly much of the story is lost unless you speak Finnish but it is still a very important story. It shows, not what one would expect: namely a town mobilizing to stop government imposing a dangerous new technology but Instead the story of a town oblivious to the dangers or the policy errors or else strongly in support of the economic boon it would bring. Only a handful of locals oppose the project and they are ostracized as cranks and trouble makers. The film makers take the side of the cranks but show inertia of the town in the face of government decisions and the resulting frustration and impotence of the small group in opposition.

The film is promoted as full of humour and presenting the clear lies and machinations of the corporations behind the plan and the dangers of public/private cooperation. However because of the language issues and I think cultural differences between Finland and really the rest of the world, most of the jokes were missed by the audience including myself and at the end there was no applause which is very unusual for a TIFF presentation. I think in part because the audience was not aware the film had actually come to an end until the credits started to roll. It was a very confusing story and presented in a way that did not engage the audience I fear. However, after lots of thought I was glad I had seen it and have thought more about the issues raised in the time since. The scariest thing is the acquiescence of the community to the imposition of the reactors (there are two already there and more are planned) as well as the decision to store the reactor waste nearby the town. It is really not so different from Alberta’s and Canada’s decision to allow the tar sands exploitation. The risks are not dissimilar and the lack of engagement of the communities is much the same. If we can’t wake ourselves up to these issues we are doomed. The humour of the film therefore is hard to react to because it is very black. You have to laugh or you end up crying with the cranks.

Demolition – Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

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Although the description and this image posted above gave me pause, I am glad I ignored my premonitions and ended up thoroughly enjoying this movie. Jake Gyllenhaal stars along with an excellent cast that includes Naomi Watt and Chris Cooper among others. The story is of a man who is lost in his career and marriage but whose life is shattered with the sudden death of his wife in a car accident. He is totally thrown and the film follows his attempts to come to terms with his loss and his wasted life by demolishing all the aspects of his life prior to his wife’s death. We follow him as he literally takes apart all his possessions and his job in an attempt to understand his life to that point. His grief and guilt through this process are explored with humour and sensitivity until the resolution at the end. We were treated to a Q and A with the director and some of the cast. Last night, when we saw Hitchcock/Truffaut, the TIFF programmer suggested it was a great film to start with because we would learn so much about directing and the making of film and that it would colour the rest of the week for us. This was certainly borne out with this movie.

One of the aspects of Hitchcock’s style was that he cared nothing for his cast. They were tools to be used to realize his vision of the film. He compelled them to act as he wanted the scene to be done over all their objections. In the Q and A, Vallée was asked how it was that he was able to draw out such great performances from his cast. He, in contrast to Hitchcock, suggested that it was the quality of his stars that made the job so easy. He gave them their freedom and only tweaked scenes to his vision. However his further comment was that the cast were already in sync with his vision so I suspect that Vallée also “used” his cast just not so controlingly. It made one think however about the nature of working creatively with others in a project as complex as a movie.

Another aspect that came out of the Hitchcock film is harder to describe. One theme discussed was the importance of transfer of guilt in the resolution of the plot in some of his films. This is something that comes out very clearly in Demolition and leads to the resolution at the end. Quite striking and I might have missed being conscious of that without having seen Hitchcock/Truffaut.

One final theme from Hitchcock was the notion of suspense and how suspense need not be just about fear but more about anticipation of an emotional resolution. Hitchcock liked to play with this notion of suspense and surprise his audience with an unexpected outcome. Again, Demolition does this very well right up to the final twist scene and the transfer of guilt. So I fear now my entire week will be coloured by the Hitchcock film but that will not be a bad thing just another benefit of taking the time to enjoy TIFF to the fullest.

Go see Demolition when it comes out. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Hitchcock/Truffaut – Director Kent Jones

My first film of the festival was this wonderful documentary exploring the films of Alfred Hitchcock. In 1962 Truffaut sat down for a week long interview with Hitchcock to discuss his films and craftsmanship. Truffaut was a huge fan of Hitchcock’s films and believed that Hitchcock was much more than an entertainer but introduced great innovation into film making. The outcome of the interviews was a book that itself has influenced many contemporary directors, several of whom are interviewed in this film about the book, and Hitchcock’s films and legacy. The documentary delves in detail into the making of Vertigo, Psycho and The Wrong Man as well as a wonderful analysis of the Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant kiss in Notorious. Look it up if you have not seen the movie. At the end of the film you want to get the book, watch all of Hitchcock’s films again, see some of Truffaut’s work and maybe watch this movie again. It was a wonderful tribute, enhanced by interviews with the likes of Martin Scorsese, Wes Anderson, David Fincher and Kurosawa. Perhaps my favourite scene was near the end where photos were taken of the two directors. Hitchcock was having a great time promoting himself as master to Truffaut’s student role. A series of the shots can be seen on IMDb’s website – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3748512/mediaindex?ref_=tt_pv_mi_sm

TIFF 2015

toronto-film-festival

Hi everyone
Welcome to my 2015 blog site and movie reviews. I am looking forward to the next 10 days and will keep you posted on the films I see. Tonight I am off to Hitchcock/Truffaut to kick it all off. I hope for some guest posts as well from a couple of agents out there. This year’s lineup looks good with some excellent films scheduled. I am looking forward to seeing some first run films but not too many this year. I will be after some non-Hollywood things as well – actually more than usual this year. So I hope you all enjoy the reviews and I look forward to your comments. All for now – see you here again shortly.