TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net

Trespass Against Us
Trespass Against Us

Trespass Against Us (UK, 2015): I would normally praise an A-lister for going back to his native land to do a cheaper movie, but Michael Fassbender is rather miscast in this mildly compelling drama. Fassbender is Chad, the second in command of a band of outlaws living in the forest. Chad is good at what he does and is one hell of getaway driver. He is also a family man and has slightly more common sense than his fellow thieves.

When it becomes clear his son is likely to end up as one of the inept criminals that surround him, Chad begins to consider the possibility of jumping ship. The only obstacle is his father (Brendan Gleeson), a powerful figure that keeps Chad under his thumb using putdowns and guilt-tripping.

It just takes one look at Fassbender to realize he is no shrinking violet, a detail that makes his character hard to swallow. He is not the only problem: Trespass Against Us often feels aimless, the premise is stretched over ninety minutes for no apparent reason. While we care about the outcome, the film could have use a rewrite and a less-chiseled star. Three prairie dogs. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net”

TIFF ’16 – Day 8: The Girl with All the Gifts, Ma’ Rosa

The Girl with All the Gifts
The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts (UK, 2016): Between The Walking Dead and all the low-rent undead flicks, it’s hard to give a fresh twist to the zombie subgenre. The Girl with All the Gifts does its darndest to achieve it, but the surplus of ideas ends up hurting the outcome.

The film opens intriguingly enough. A group of inoffensive-looking children are treated like Hannibal Lecter by an overzealous military unit. One of the kids is the dependably polite Melanie (newcomer Sennia Nanua), who hangs pictures of a cat on her wall when no one is looking. Slowly we come to realize the children are partially zombified, but retain a semblance of humanity.

The matter of the kids’ right to be treated as people is one of the many issues the movie hints at, but doesn’t develop (likely, the novel that inspired the film is more thorough). One element I haven’t seen in other zombie movies is the suggestion that mankind is screwed anyway and we should just let it happen. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 8: The Girl with All the Gifts, Ma’ Rosa”

TIFF ’16 – Day 7: Christine, Sand Storm

Rebecca Hall is Christine.
Rebecca Hall is Christine.

Christine (USA, 2016): In 1974, Sarasota news reporter Christine Chubbuck responded to management pressures for more exciting stories by blowing her brains off on live TV. Since there is no mystery about her fate, this biopic focuses on the many factors that led her to take such drastic decision.

As depicted in the film, Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall, Vicki Christina Barcelona) was the smartest reporter in the room, with hopes to go to a bigger market. Christine was also struggling with depression, infertility and an unrequited crush on the news anchor (Michael C. Hall, Dexter).

The film is broad but successful at exploring all the elements involved in Chubbuck’s suicide. But the movie’s biggest asset is a powerhouse performance by Rebecca Hall, who builds a sympathetic character without betraying the integrity of the person who inspired it. If Christine wasn’t an indie struggling with distribution, I would call Hall a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Three prairie dogs. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 7: Christine, Sand Storm”

TIFF ’16 – Day 6: Deepwater Horizon, Mean Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman

Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon (USA, 2016): Given director Peter Berg’s previous output (the disreputable Lone Survivor), I was honestly expecting this movie would be on British Petroleum’s side. Thankfully, Deepwater Horizon sticks to the official story and slaps some action scenes for good measure.

Berg’s go-to leading man, Mark Wahlberg, is Mike Williams, the second in command at the ill-fated oil platform. Because of greed inspired BP directives, a number of security checks are bypassed, so when they finally agree to a checkup, all hell breaks loose.

Even though Berg goes way over the top with the jargon, the filmmaker does a good job explaining the events that lead to the oil spilling (the environmental catastrophe that ensued is only mentioned in passing). But for all the didactic exposition and superb execution of complex action sequences, the characters are one-trait ponies. Kate Hudson is in this movie solely to pace around the house and look worried (and gorgeous). Two and a half prairie dogs. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 6: Deepwater Horizon, Mean Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman”

TIFF ’16 – Day 5: La La Land, Window Horses, Paterson

La La Land
La La Land

La La Land (USA, 2016): Director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the superb Whiplash shows a filmmaker willing to explore outside his zone of comfort. Narratively, La La Land is pat, but the visuals, music and choreographies more than make up for it.

The story is pure Hollywood lore: Mia is a small town girl (Emma Stone) struggling with getting her acting career off the ground. As she makes her way through Tinseltown, she encounters a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) with whom she falls in love with. Opportunity doesn’t have a sense of timing and their careers get in the way of a fulfilling relationship.

La La Land is visually stunning and goes from feat to feat (the opening sequence set on a freeway is one for the books), yet it remains profoundly human. Gosling and Stone are top notch, both as song-and-dance partners and in the more dramatic sequences. The film features a coda so brilliant, it practically eclipses the rest of the movie. A strong candidate to best of the fest. Four and a half prairie dogs. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 5: La La Land, Window Horses, Paterson”

TIFF ’16 – Day 4: Denial, Julieta, American Honey, It’s Only the End of the World

Rachel Weisz in Denial.
Rachel Weisz in Denial.

Denial (UK, 2016): A fascinating story that could be more at home on TV than on the big screen, Denial rises above pedestrian filmmaking thanks to the power of the material and strong turns by Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).

The court drama pits American historian Deborah Lipstadt against British rabble-rouser David Irving. Lipstadt accused Irving of fabricating and misrepresenting historic documents in order to support his belief that the Holocaust never took place. Rather unexpectedly, the neo-Nazi icon sued the academic for libel. Since in the UK the burden of proof lies with the accused, Lipstadt found herself having to demonstrate the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners during World War II.

The film is bursting with fascinating info (even when defeat seemed unavoidable, the Nazis went out of their way to hide all evidence of the Final Solution) and serves as a primer on Britain’s justice system. Just as important as the Lipstadt-Irving showdown are disagreements within the historian’s defense team. While Irving’s position is indefensible, the debate over calling Holocaust survivors to the stand is a riveting one. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 4: Denial, Julieta, American Honey, It’s Only the End of the World”

TIFF ’16 – Day 3: Queen of Katwe, Personal Shopper, American Pastoral, Moonlight, Boundaries

Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe (USA, 2016): A calculated risk for Disney, Queen of Katwe fits among the uplifting sport movies the House of Mouse puts out every year, but it’s also distinctive enough to stand apart. The biopic is set in Uganda, has a mostly African cast and is directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Reluctant Fundamentalist), a filmmaker with a knack to capture cultural nuances without been patronizing.

The Queen of Katwe in question is Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), an illiterate teen struggling to survive in the slums of Kampala. She falls in the radar of an outreach volunteer (David Oyewolo, Selma) who teaches underprivileged kids to play chess. Turns out Phiona is a prodigy, but no matter how much natural talent she possesses, when you live under the poverty line, basic necessities take priority. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 3: Queen of Katwe, Personal Shopper, American Pastoral, Moonlight, Boundaries”

TIFF ’16 – Day 2: Free Fire, Elle, Snowden

Free Fire
Free Fire

Free Fire (USA/UK, 2016): Ben Wheatley is without a doubt one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers at work, but his filmography is far from immaculate. He often engages in self-indulgence and glamorization of violence.

Free Fire embodies both of Wheatley’s main flaws. In fact, more than a movie, Free Fire feels like an exercise in style, following the infinitely more complex and ambitious High-Rise.

1978, Boston. A group of IRA members intents to purchase a number of automatic weapons from a shifty South African dealer at an abandon warehouse. The already tense exchange shifts into hyper-drive when men at both sides of the transaction succumb to the pressure. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 2: Free Fire, Elle, Snowden”

TIFF ’16 – Day 1: Toni Erdmann, Werewolf, The Commune, Neruda

Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann (Germany, 2016): A Cannes sensation, Toni Erdmann has already been celebrated as one of the comedic achievements of the decade, even making its way into the 100 Best Movies of the 21st Century list, according to the BBC.

Guess what. It’s overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, Toni Erdmann is far from a bad movie, but the 160 minutes-long comedy doesn’t deserve such unrestrained praise.

Winfried, a music teacher and incorrigible joker, tries to reconnect with his daughter Ines, a serious businesswoman on assignment in Rumania. The prankster fails in his first attempt, so he brings out the big guns, namely his alter ego, Toni Erdmann. The character is an obnoxious bore, but at least gets a reaction from Ines, noticeably depressed but unaware of it. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 1: Toni Erdmann, Werewolf, The Commune, Neruda”

TIFF ’15 – Day 9: Before Jorge

Julie Delpy is wonderful. Her movie is not.
Julie Delpy is wonderful. Her movie is not.

I’ve nursed a crush on Julie Delpy since I was 17 and I saw back-to-back Europa, Europa and Voyager. It crystalized upon watching Before Sunrise, the movie that launched thousands of backpackers in pursuit of their own feisty French gal (few were successful).

This Friday I met her in person. The circumstances weren’t ideal: I was accompanied by three journos unable to come up with half a decent question, and she was escorted by her co-star in Lolo, Dany Boon. She was less than bewitching, but vivacious, funny and talkative, very much like her character in the Two Days saga.

Hopefully I’ll get another chance to talk to her (minus inept reporters).

Lolo (France, 2015): Julie Delpy has built a nice side career for herself as a film director. True, none of her movies have made an impact at the box office, but her portraits of complex, smart women has at least being acknowledged by critics everywhere. Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 9: Before Jorge”

TIFF ’15 – Day 8: No Country for Old Jorges

Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as sisters. Seriously.
Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood as sisters. Seriously.

Must… review… movies…

Into the Forest (Canada, 2015): In her first movie in seven years, Patricia Rozema takes on Jean Hegland’s high school classic and amps the ante to unbearable levels. Set in the proverbial not-too-distant future, Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are sisters holed up in a cottage in the forest following a massive power outage.

As the lack of electricity lingers, it becomes clear civilization has collapsed and the girls will have to fend threats real and apparent by themselves. Rozema makes great use of Page and Wood apparent fragility to keep the tension going. This is not one of those post-apocalyptic dramas in which one of them succumbs to dementia while the other becomes “the strong one”. Both have virtues and shortcomings, and their complexity makes them compelling. Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 8: No Country for Old Jorges”

TIFF ’15 – Day 7: Jorge’s Bogus Journey

A Guy Maddin movie, obviously.
A Guy Maddin movie, obviously.

The cellphone situation is getting out of hand, even at press and industry screenings. It seems like the notion of cinema as an immerse experience is lost in quite a few people.

Here are some common sense rules to follow if you don’t want me to tap your shoulder and gently tell you to TURN OFF YOUR EFFING PHONE.

  1. If you are waiting for a text or e-mail, maybe you shouldn’t be at the movies.
  2. Trying to cover the screen often makes no difference. Neither does dimming the screen.
  3. One person alone cannot make a difference. If someone is using a cellphone during a movie and you are nearby, it’s your civic responsibility to shame the culprit.

The Forbidden Room (Canada, 2015): Trying to explain the plot of a Guy Maddin movie is a thankless task. One of the few directors to explore surrealism in film -and certainly the most prolific- Maddin’s fame precedes him: A number of recognizable faces pop up in The Forbidden Room, even in tiny roles (Charlotte Rampling, Geraldine Chaplin, Udo Kier, Mathieu Almaric), just to work with the Manitoba native. Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 7: Jorge’s Bogus Journey”

TIFF ’15 – Day 6: Jorge Strikes Back

45 Years is Charlotte Rampling's career best.
45 Years is Charlotte Rampling’s career best.

Anyone wants to hear about my day today? Nobody? Alrighty then.

45 Years (UK, 2015): This slow simmering drama is bound to be part of every best-of-the-year list. A terrific script is enhanced by spectacular performances by Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, both doing the most of silences and pauses.

Kate and Geoff have been married for nearly 45 years. A week before their anniversary, Geoff finds out a former flame of his, Katja, has been found frozen in a glacier and he has been named next of kin. The memories create a rift between the long-standing couple, as Kate begins to feel more and more as the one Geoff settled for. How could she compete with a ghost?

Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 6: Jorge Strikes Back”

TIFF ’15 – Day 5: Jorge Lives!

Not the Beeba Boys.
Not the Beeba Boys.

Halfway through the festival, my longest day: Six interviews! Here are the headlines:

Michael Nyqvist (Colonia): The star of the Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy has a Christopher Walken-quality to him.

Andrew Haigh (director of 45 Years): The filmmaker has the best film of the festival, but he doesn’t seem to know it. Humble, interesting fella.

Anders Thomas Jensen (director of Men & Chicken): According to Jensen, star Mads Mikkelsen is more like the socially inept lead of his film than the suave Hannibal.

Burghart Klaubner and Lars Kraume (lead and director of The People vs. Fritz Bauer): Important German movie, committed team. I told them I was originally from Chile and Klaubner went on singing “Venceremos”.

Atom Egoyan (Remember): The Canadian is in fine form following his best movie since The Sweet Hereafter. He may take a break after this one.

Nanni Moretti (My Mother): Interviews through translators slow the proceedings to a crawl. Add Moretti’s thoughtful responses and you could be typing in real time.

Spotlight (USA, 2015): If you were concerned about Tom McCarthy’s otherwise spotless filmography following The Cobbler, you shouldn’t be. The writer/director is in fighting form in Spotlight, a dramatization of the Boston Globe‘s coverage of the Catholic Church systematic cover-up of cases of child molestation in 2001. Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 5: Jorge Lives!”

TIFF ’15 – Day 4: Jorge vs. Predator

The Beeba Boys are going to get you.
The Beeba Boys are going to get you.

After a couple of rough days, a perfect game. Five strong interviews that you will get to read in the magazine in the near future. One of them, Kiernan Shipka (Sally Draper herself), is grown up enough to star in her own horror movie. I feel old.

Beeba Boys (Canada, 2015): In an apparent departure from her usual output, writer/director Deepa Mehta (Water, Midnight’s Children) tackles gang violence in Vancouver in the lively Beeba Boys. Their lifestyle is uniquely dangerous: Gangsters’ life expectancy doesn’t surpass 30. Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 4: Jorge vs. Predator”

TIFF ’15 – Day 3: The Wrath of Jorge

Helen Mirren again, rocking a bird on her head in Trumbo.
Helen Mirren again, rocking a bird on her head in Trumbo.

These are the kind of journalists you’ll meet at a roundtable at TIFF:

The keener: The one who write original questions in advance, doesn’t digress and makes faces when other reporters make silly questions. These are my people.

The slug: The one who doesn’t open his mouth the entire time, but will profit of his/her colleagues work.

The loudmouth: The one who speaks on top of others, often to say something completely obvious.

The rambler: Someone pathologically unable to make a question without a ridiculously long preamble, which often ends in no question.

The “in it for the famous people”: Sample question: “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” Also “What’s like to work with Russell Crowe?”

The prickly pear: Someone (likely a guy) who thinks his knowledge of film is so vast, no other opinion matters. Could be easily confused with a keener, but the questions are often mediocre.

Trumbo (USA, 2015): As biopics aiming for gold go, Trumbo packs a bigger punch than your average awards chaser. The film chronicles the ten years Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) spent on the black list, alongside nine other scriptwriters whose livelihood was destroyed because of their affiliation with the communist party. Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 3: The Wrath of Jorge”

TIFF ’15 – Day 2: Jorge Unchained

Helen Mirren in fatigues: Hot.
Helen Mirren in fatigues: Hot.

Not my finest day of interviews. The directors I talked to –Jay Roach, Gavin Hood- were gracious, interesting and fun, especially when you talk shop with them. The actors were also gracious, but not nearly as talkative. Not necessarily their fault: Journalists out of breath are rarely good conversationalists. Luckily, there are plenty of filmmakers (and a few thespians) coming my way for me to hone my craft. Or screw it up royally.

Eye in the Sky (USA/UK, 2015): As morally debatable as the use of military drones in civilian areas is, everybody agrees the flying killing machines are not particularly cinematic. After watching several drone movies involving conflicted pilots drowning their sorrows in alcohol, it seems that once you have seen one, you have seen them all (looking at you, Ethan Hawke). Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 2: Jorge Unchained”

TIFF ’15 – Day 1: Jorge Begins

We Monsters
We Monsters

This is the sixth year I cover the Toronto International Film Festival and I’m getting jaded. I’ve always avoided the press conferences (most of the questions are mind-bogglingly stupid), but now even the roundtables annoy me (people trying to talk on top of each other, just to lay the most obvious inquires). One-on-ones are ideal, but also the rarest of beasts.

It doesn’t seem there will be a Ben Affleck, a Marion Cotillard or a Ralph Fiennes for me this year. I’ve a fairly decent roster lined up, but nothing ground-breaking. At best, the fans of Ray Donovan (all the two of you) may get a kick of my interview with Liev Schreiber.

Well, let’s get this party started! (I’ve not been invited to any parties yet. Except the Toronto Film Critics Association one, which was full of critics.) Continue reading “TIFF ’15 – Day 1: Jorge Begins”

TIFF ’13 – Day 9: Gone with the ‘Wind’

The Wind Rises.
Miyazaki says goodbye: The Wind Rises.

For the media, the Toronto Film Festival ends today (there are two more days of screenings for the general public). The event says goodbye to the press on a high note: Hayao Miyazaki’s swan song, The Wind Rises.

At 72, the founder of Ghibli Studios has decided to retire, leaving behind a filmography full of classics (Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro). His heir apparent is his son Goyo (From Up in Poppy Hill), although it seems the entire company has adopted his trademark sensibility by now.

The story he has chosen to say goodbye is an adult one. A biography, no less, set in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  As depicted by The Wind Rises, Jiro Horikoshi was a great guy: Stood up to bullies, assisted those in need and had a social conscience. He was hoping to become a pilot for the Japanese army, but he was too shortsighted to fly a plane. Instead, he decided to follow the steps of his idol, Gianni Caproni, and become an aeronautical engineer.

Horikoshi would eventually join Mitsubishi and become the man responsible for the A6M Zero, Japan signature fighter plane during World War II (slightly controversial topic? You bet.) Workaholic as he is, Jiro has his heart set on Naoko, a fragile and beautiful girl for whom Horikoshi would leave it all, nevermind he is the cornerstone of the Japanese armed forces.

While still whimsical, The Wind Rises is Miyazaki’s most grounded film. The Japanese animator goes out of his way to establish that Horikoshi’s real interest were passenger ships and that he was a true pacifist at heart. There is no historical proof of any of this, but the Miyazaki’s efforts to revindicate his hero are commendable. The structure of The Wind Rises is quite odd for Ghibli standards. It’s episodic and by-the-numbers plot-wise, until Jiro begins courting Naoko. Then the film becomes this engrossing romantic journey with heart-tending scenes and a Kleenex-worthy finale.

Miyazaki’s decision to retire is a bit sadder after appreciating his talent as an animator. A recreation of the 1923 earthquake in Tokyo is more palpable and tension-filled than a 3-D Pixar action sequence. Here is hoping the master will reconsider. Four hand-drawn prairie dogs.

It has been a blast. Next stop: The Vancouver International Film Festival, an under-appreciated, two-week long event that scored Alexander Payne’s Nebraska for opening night.  See you in the dark.

TIFF ’13 – Day 8: The Cell Phone Wars

The best joke about Night Moves is the origin of the cheesy title.
The best joke about Night Moves is the origin of the cheesy title.

One of the biggest perks for the media attending the Toronto Film Festival are the Press & Industry screenings. A seat is almost guaranteed (except for the main titles) and you don’t have to spend most of your day in eternal queues. However, a recent phenomenon is pitting media against the vaguely defined “industry”: The cell phone issue.

Most of the critics are hell-bent against second screens as part of the moviegoing experience (myself included). The industry people claim they have the right to use of cell phones to conduct their business. This has led to shouting matches in the theatres that climaxed when the head critic of FirstShowing.net CALLED THE COPS on an obnoxious dude who refused to kill his phone during a public showing of The Sacrament (more on the movie later). I thought I was hardcore on this matter, but some of my fellow reviewers are seriously intense.

The organization of TIFF is remarkably ambiguous on the matter. While on screen they request to the public to turn off all electronics, in person they would claim industry is allowed to use their devices.

It’s a war out there people, and it’s time to pick sides. If the reflection of cell phone screens affects your enjoyment of a movie, speak up. Otherwise, self-involvement wins. Now let’s talk movies.

Continue reading “TIFF ’13 – Day 8: The Cell Phone Wars”