I love The Band and have listened to their music for years.
Not long before Levon Helm passed away he did a concert tour and I saw him
perform at Massey Hall in one of the best concerts I have ever attended so I
had to see this documentary. It is notable in that it is the first Canadian documentary
to be named the opening gala at TIFF and perhaps more so because the director is
a young 26-year-old Canadian. Quite an accomplishment for someone starting out
on their career. All that said I must say I did not think this movie was spectacular
or worthy of its place in the festival. It is a pretty ordinary documentary
about a remarkable rock band. One of the weaknesses might be that it is based
on Robbie Robertson’s book: Testimony so it is very much a film about his
career as a member of The Band and his memories of the members and its history.
It is no secret that the group broke up after 16 years together and that Helm
was extremely angry with Robertson as evidenced in his book: This Wheel’s on
Fire. I think I hoped for a more objective doc about The Band and its rise and fall.
Instead we get a very focussed look from Robertson’s perspective.
That was my disappointment, but the film does go into depth
about The Band’s origins in Canada and the role that Ronnie Hawkins played in
bringing the group together. It also puts real emphasis on the initial
closeness of the members – hence the title—and how that influenced the unique
sound they created. I also learned more about their personal struggles than I cared
to know including drug addiction, car wrecks and health issues I did not need
to know. I think my favourite member of the group after Levon was Garth Hudson
who was much older than the others and the quietest. I did not learn enough,
and the director was asked about that in the Q and A after the film. He did
interview Hudson but said that the interview was cut because of Hudson’s age, describing
him as quite elderly and that the interview did not work. This I guess
contributed to what I found missing from the film. Again, Roher defended this
by saying that he was hired to do a film about Robertson and his career which is
fair enough but if you choose to see the film be aware that you will be looking
through Robertson’s eyes. On the plus side you will see some amazing classic
footage from the years they all lived in Woodstock in a house that is called
Big Pink, from concerts and from archival interviews with the members and others
like Eric Clapton and Bruce Springsteen among others. All very interesting. So
the bottom line is that if you are a fan of The Band you should likely try to
see this movie but I suspect you will be left thirsting for more.
I warn all readers that I saw this movie suffering from hypoglycemia and annoyed at TIFF for not accepting my printed ticket and making me get in line to get a new one printed. TIFF organization is really really bad. That said – this is a pretty mediocre film. This is a biopic about Helen Reddy (played amazingly well by Tilda Cobham-Hervey). I admit to finding the song, I am Woman, very powerful and I understand how and why it has become an anthem for the woman’s movement. I confess to having a bit of a heart flutter when I hear Reddy sing it however, I did not find this biopic to be particularly inspiring and in many ways directionless. Reddy had 12 top 40 hits during her career, she was a good singer, she had a difficult career and many personal challenges in addition to her strong feminist activism. She was also surrounded and supported by some remarkable people who also had their own personal challenges. This film failed to figure out what part of her life or that of the ones around her to be the focus of the film. The only hit that was well presented was I am Woman which was done twice. Her other hits were not presented well if at all. Her husband and manager is a cocaine addict and was abusive until that was confronted but the relationship between them is left unresolved in the film other than hinting at the fact they broke up. Her friendship with Lillian Roxon (played by Danielle MacDonald) is equally poorly developed and left unresolved other than learning that she dies and Helen doesn’t go to the funeral. That she stopped singing and took up a quiet unpublic life is not explained – it is just presented. i saw this at the Elgin with a full crowd who were totally into Reddy and her activism. If that had been the focus it might have worked better but sadly I found the whole thing a bore. It is not horrible or anything just not very good. I suggest it might be worth watching in bed late at night if you can’t sleep but otherwise, if you like Reddy’s music, just get Spotify or Google Play to stream some songs for you. It will be more satisfying.
Okay it’s the day before TIFF actually starts but I nonetheless took in a great documentary at the Hot Docs cinema. I confess that I really enjoy books and films that describe how movies or plays were created and presented. Two of my favourite books are Jaws: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard by Matt Taylor and We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie by Noah Isenberg. This time I saw a movie that falls into the same category as these books. I confess I am not a huge musical fan although I have developed a taste for older musicals like Oklahoma and West Side Story. I should thank the Stratford Festival for drawing me in. Fiddler on the Roof is not one that I have really liked but this documentary made me pay attention. The musical is based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories about the lives of the Jewish population in eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. Not a good time for the Jews who suffered poverty and persecution. To make a musical about this time and these events is likely not the first thing to come to mind but the composers, lyricists, producers and directors who have undertaken this task are portrayed and interviewed particularly those who put together the first production in the 1960’s. The people include the producer Harold Prince, the director and choreographer Jerome Robbins and the composers, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick. Happily many of the original people involved are still with us and made for great interviews. I learned a great deal about Jerome Robbins I did not know and I learned a great deal about how a Broadway Show gets put together and staged successfully.
has been in continuous production for over 50 years not only on Broadway but in
such disparate locations as Korea and Japan. It has been cast with all black cast
members, and of course in schools and festivals like Stratford. The documentary
shows us that the theme of the film – Tradition – and the suffering and struggles
of these Jews are universal themes that speak to all cultures and communities. It includes film from productions all over the
world but what is really cool for Canadians is that they return again and again
to a classic production in Stratford.
I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and recommend it anyone with an
interest in film or theatre. You will learn a lot and not be disappointed whether
you like musicals or not.
I was very interested to see this movie given all the praise
and awards it has won. In addition it has managed ten Oscar nominations including
all the big ones. So I settled in to be entertained by what was a rare comedy
nominated for Best Picture. Disappointed. This is a terrible movie and I had to
fast forward through the final interminable last half hour. Promoted as a
comedy, the film is a tedious two hour trip as two women compete for the attention
and control of Queen Anne who is a troubled
and unwell monarch not really qualified for her role in life. In the end…. Well
there really isn’t an end just the sense that what you have been through for
two hours will just continue. A comedy it is not. It is a cruel, pointless take
on the British monarchy and is boring to boot. The performances of the three
leads are good but not great and do not merit nominations or awards. The script
is wordy and desperately needed editing. I found I cared nothing for the
characters who were immensely unlikeable. This is the second film by Lanthimos
I have seen, the first being Lobster. I hated that one and should have been forewarned
before paying money to see this film. I truly hope it wins nothing but might garner
Best Costumes which I would crudgingly give it. A sad waste of talent. Avoid it
at all cost.
This is the third remake of the original 1937 A Star is Born
and like the others really didn’t need to be made. The original and two of the
three remakes including this one are highly rated but I am not sure why. I
should confess that I really don’t like movies about romances between successful
musicians or the troubles they have. In this case Bradley Cooper a burned out
rock musician wanders randomly into a gay nightclub/bar and hears the only female
performer sing and “instantly” sees her as a major talent and falls deeply in love
with her right away. She has given up on her career (stop me if you heard this
plot before) but he encourages her to persist and of course she becomes hugely
successful while he crashes and burns. Yawn. I really like Lady Gaga but as a
singer not an actor and Cooper, who has been nominated for Oscars in the past, really
does nothing for me in this film. Still somehow A Star is Born has been nominated
for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director etc not only by the
Academy but also by the Golden Globes and BAFTA’s. So far it has only won for Best
Song and Best Music which may be justified. After all I like Lady Gaga and if her
song wins I will not complain but I will beg Hollywood to stop making and
remaking this stupid movie.
I was not sure I wanted to see this movie. I like Marvel movies
for the most part but they are normally live action while this was not only
animated but not a very traditional story – for example Peter Parker dies right
at the start. The premise of the film is the creation of a new Spider-man, Miles
Morales, the son of a black New York cop and a Latino mother. The villains are
the traditional Marvel baddies like The Kingpin and some variations like a female
Dr. Octopus. The Kingpin has built a device to create a bridge to other dimensions
which draws several spider-men/women into our universe and who team up to train
Miles to use his new powers and save our universe from destruction. I was
prepared not to like this movie but ended up loving it. The animation was
great, the script had humour and paid great homage to the original comics and
to the Marvel live action films that preceded it. Some have suggested it is one
of the best ever super hero movies and I would not disagree. There is even an
animated cameo of Stan Lee. Just perfect. You do have to be a bit of a Marvel
comics fan to get into this one but even if you are not I recommend having a
look. If it is not obvious from this review, I suspect this is a cinch to win
the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It has already won the Golden Globe and
BAFTA so… not likely it can lose.
Nominees: Bao, Weekends, Animal Behaviour, One Small Step,
and Late Afternoon
The Short film categories are always interesting and a
refreshing break from the feature film categories which this year are, for the
most part not very memorable or have been sullied by the behaviour of the
actors, writers or directors. This year’s nominees for Best Animated Short film
are all very different from each other in style and design. Three are from Canadian
directors and if you are from Toronto you will recognize the skyline in Bao and
Weekends despite both being credited as from the USA. Animal Behaviour comes from the perennially nominated
National Film Board. So comments. With the exception of
Animal Behaviour all the other nominees have some heart-breaking elements to
them which gives them a dimension that some, who are not fans of animated films,
may find difficult.
Lets start with One Small Step which was I think the weakest
of the five nominated films. It’s a story about a young girl from humble origins
that realizes her dream of being an astronaut and going to the moon. The story
about her dreams and her relationship with her father is engaging but there is
nothing very surprising or interesting in the story so while it is pleasant to
watch it is not the winner.
Late Afternoon is more touching as it shows a young woman
helping her mother pack up her belongings. It is clear that the mother has early
dementia and the packing up is the packing up of her life. At first she doesn’t
seem to recognize her daughter but at the end the connection is made making the
film bittersweet. Still I would say more sweet than bitter.
Weekends is about a young boy whose parents are divorced and
he has to deal with visiting his father on the weekends and coping with his
mother as she enters a new relationship. I am not sure the writers and
directors knew what they really wanted to do with the story but the animation
was very interesting to watch. It speaks somewhat to the issue I have with
animated films. This is not the sort of animation you are used to with Pixar or
Disney films but it is still excellent and interesting and evocative of the
theme of the film.
Animal Behaviour is the NFB entry and was a bit of a relief
from the heavier themes of the other films. It is set in a group therapy
session with a dog as the therapist and slug, a pig, a small bird, a cat, and a
female praying mantis. All goes relatively normally until a huge gorilla with anger
issues joins the group. Hilarity follows. I liked it a lot but must admit that
this may have had something to do with having something to laugh at.
Bao is likely the best of the lot although I confess, I
found the story a bit difficult to follow and I am not sure I like the fact
that it is a Pixar production. The animation is exquisite as one would expect
from Pixar and it has a sense of humour but some sort of shocking elements as
well. It focusses on a Chinese family making bao (a steamed bun with a vegetable
or meat filling). One of the bao comes alive and becomes a child that grows up
into its difficult teens. I will not spoil the rest but while it sounds humourous
I would warn you that it has some heavier elements to it. I suspect it will win the Oscar but I think
maybe I would prefer Weekends or Animal Behaviour.
I will start this review with full disclosure. In my opinion
Wes Anderson has not made any bad movies and has made many great movies. This
one is one of his best. The hard bit is assessing his animated features and
comparing them to his live action films but one constant is that none of the
films are conventional.
If you are dog lover this movie will be good reinforcement.
It is set in Japan and a city where the mayor is a dog hater. An epidemic
spreads among the dogs in the city and the mayor uses this as an excuse to
exile all the dogs to an island off the coast that is used as a garbage dump.
The dogs are left to fend for themselves but a young boy – the adopted son of
the mayor – has lost his pet dog to the island and he goes in search of him
gaining the support of a pack of exiled dogs. They explore an immense wilderness
of waste, garbage and processing Meanwhile scientists are working on a cure for
the epidemic and there is a resistance among the young people in the town who
support repatriation. The story is very complex and the film is a wee bit too
long but the animation is superb and the story is ultimately charming and
engaging. I particularly like the personalities of the dogs we meet as
performed by the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton. Bill Murray and
This film is up for a 2019 animation award as Best Animated feature
film. I find it hard to evaluate animated films. They are all so different in
style and design and of course there is the script and acting to evaluate. I feel
like they are not adequately respected by the industry or at least by the academy.
They get their own category but it’s a bit of a nod to a group not to be taken
to seriously. Few are ever nominated for Best Picture and never win. I think
they should be considered for Screenplay, Directing, most of the technical
awards and of course, Best Picture. This ends my short rant.
Disney now owns Star Wars for better or for worse and they have done better and worse. The first spin off from the original 6 movies was Rogue One which many argue is the second best Star Wars movie ever after The Empire Strikes Back and I would have to agree. If I could list the second best Disney spin off it would be Solo. The writers had a ball working on this film. They have played with Harrison Ford’s lines from the original films and had fun with explaining lots of things. Like we find out how Solo hooked up with Chewy, how he got involved with Lando, Jabba the Hutt and how he acquired the Millennium Falcon. If you are not sure what all that is about you do need to see the first three films. Also we learn what on earth he meant when he tells Obi Wan and Luke that he made the Kessel (not bloody Phil Kessell) run in under 12 parsecs which makes no sense until you see this film since he is apparently talking how fast the Falcon is but parsecs are a measure of distance not speed. No worries. Once you see this film you will understand all. What I loved about this movie was its respect for the story and its decision not to take itself too seriously. Despite my praise all this movie get is a nod for visual effects. It certainly deserves this but I think so much more. Oh, a final note. Han’s love interest in the movie is played by Emilia Clarke….that’s right, Daenerys Targaryen!
Why doesn’t the academy have a category for Great Trash?
I really liked this film which managed only a visual effects nomination despite its charming storyline and writing. The story is about Christopher Robin all grown up with a wife and daughter and who is totally lost in his work and increasingly isolated. He is still a good man who, charged with coming up with a way find efficiencies at his firm, sends his family away for the weekend while he works. Luckily he is found by an old friend. Winnie-the-Pooh crawls into his isolation and calls him back to the 100-acre wood to save his old friends from a rampaging Heffalump. The encounter results in Christopher’s redemption as he returns to the real world and reengages with his daughter and wife. He also finds a way to save his firm from downsizing and instead grow and find new direction to the dismay of some of his superiors. If you are entranced by A. A. Milne’s old stories I think you will find this movie captures the language and the characters very well. That said I am disappointed that this film did not get nominations for animation, writing, or even Best Picture. I note that on most film websites it is highly rated and much more highly rated than other films like Bohemian Rhapsody for example. I suspect that the film awards need to rethink some of the categories. There may need to be one for films aimed at children for example. I think this may require me to write a blog post about this issue and it will be forthcoming. The other point to be made here relates to my review of Incredibles 2. There I was critical of Disney studios for milking old franchises with mediocre sequels. While this is true of the Incredibles and some Star Wars sequels, this time they scored with a quality product.