Tuesday, 9 September 2014

TIFF 2014 - Lots of movies Monday

Monday was a monumental day for me in TIFFing (sure, it's a verb) with my first ever 4 movie day.  Even better than that - they were all various degrees of good to great.

The day began with This Is Where I Leave You the star studded adaptation of Jonathan Tropper's novel (who also wrote the screenplay).  I loved the book and have really been looking forward to seeing the movie, which is frankly how I justified seeing it at TIFF when it's actually hitting theatres in less than 2 weeks.  Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver play siblings who are brought back to the family home with their mother (Jane Fonda) to sit shiva after the death of their father.  It's a great family drama, with wonderful touching, funny and sad moments throughout and includes a bunch of other fantastic cast members including Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn etc etc.  

Director Shawn Levy showed up for the morning screening to introduce the movie and seemed very excited to be presenting the movie at TIFF.  I would highly recommend it when it opens later this month (A).

My afternoon movie, Whiplash, was a giant hit at Sundance this year, winning both the jury and audience awards and generating buzz for the performance of Miles Teller, with very good reason.   Teller plays Andrew, a student at a prestigious music school trying to make it as a jazz drummer under the abusive tutelage of J.K. Simmons' Terence Fletcher.   Teller is has been on the cusp of breaking out over the past few years and this movie should definitely do it for him.  The scenes of Andrew pushing himself to improve, with bloody hands to show for it, where pretty mesmerizing.

The movie was written and directed by Damien Chazelle based on his own experiences and it was clearly a very personal story.   He took to the stage along with the two stars of the movie for a Q&A to the effusive applause of the audience.  Teller spoke about his background as a drummer and how much work he did to prepare for this very demanding role (after which Simmons added that he had to work on waving his hands around).   Chazelle discussed casting Teller (who he had thought of for the part based on his performance in Rabbit Hole) and Simmons (he credited Jason Reitman for hooking them up).  He also discussed the challenges of filming the musical performances and a little about the 18 minute short that he screened at Sundance in 2013 that served to generate funding for the feature length production.  The movie was quickly snapped up at Sundance this year and will be getting a release - I'd highly recommend seeing it when it does (A).

Adult Beginners, with a story by Nick Kroll who also produces and stars, is a great little movie.  An adult coming of age story about Jake (Kroll) an entrepreneur who has blown his savings and that of his investors on a product launch and retreats to his childhood home to crash with his sister  Justine (Rose Byrne) and her husband Jake (Bobby Cannavale).  They agree to let him stay if he will care for his 3 year old nephew to help alleviate some financial pressures of their own.  Jake and Justine have some unresolved family issues to deal with and Jake also unwittingly finds himself in the middle of his sister's marriage as he figures out what to do with the rest of his life.

Pretty much the entire cast attended and held a Q&A after the screening (Rose Byrne was there for the intro but had to catch a plane to get back for her Broadway performance today).  When you get a bunch of comedians and other funny people on stage you can expect an entertaining Q&A and these folks did not disappoint.   Kroll talked quite a bit about how 'the love of the game' got people involved in making this small movie, from short shooting times, people sharing small dressing rooms and girlfriend Amy Poehler doing craft services (that one was a joke, and a nice deflection from someone who asked why she was included in the thank yous at the end of the credits).   They compared the tone of the movie to wanting to make a more comedic You Can Count on Me and I think they succeeded.  I expect it will get picked up and it's worth putting on your list (A-).

The day ended on a somewhat heavier note with the Canadian premiere of 99 Homes, the story of Dennis Nash (Andrew Garfield), a father struggling to make ends meet and get his family home back after being evicted under shady circumstances.  The disreputable and greedy real estate broker (Michael Shannon) who evicts them recognizes his capabilities and makes him an offer can't refuse, putting him to work forcing other families out of their homes and through the same awful situation he just experienced.  Inevitably, as he justifies doing this in order to get his own house back, he finds himself getting pulled into the business and a little bit seduced by the things that money can get him.  At some point things come to a head as he faces a crisis of conscience and the movie doesn't leave us with a clean cut ending with simple answers.  Newcomer Noah Lomax does a good job as Dennis' son and Laura Dern is terrific as his struggling mother - why doesn't she work more?

Garfield, Shannon, Dern and Lomax and director Ramin Bahrani gamely took late night questions from the crowd.  As I expected with the subject matter of the film, much of the focus of the questions for Bahrani was fairly political, and he referenced many statistics about the wealth disparity that exists across the world (but most particularly in the US).    My favourite moment was when discussing the history of rather dark roles that Shannon has played over his career Garfield suggested that he would love to see him in a Disney movie.  My suggestion for Garfield would be to shave off that awful beard - it is not a good look for him.  This one goes solidly into 'middle of the pack' for me so far (B).

Monday, 8 September 2014

TIFF 2014 - Do I Sound Gay?, Jon Stewart and The Last Five Years

Busy day Sunday, and a lovely sunny day to stand in line, with two Mavericks presentations and the world premiere of The Last 5 Years.

First up was Do I Sound Gay? from first time filmmaker David Thorpe.  The documentary traces Thorpe's attempts to sound "less gay" after a breakup with his boyfriend and at a low point in self confidence through visits to speech therapists, vocal coaches and discussions with friends, random strangers and well known members of the gay community.   I thought it was very well done and entertaining, with a lovely message about knowing and feeling comfortable with yourself and your own voice.

The presentation was followed by an extended Q&A/discussion with Thorpe and Dan Savage (who is featured in the film).  Savage is always good for a sound bite and the conversation was lively and interesting.  Thorpe was understandably excited for his 'first' movie/screening and seemed very appreciative of the warm response of the audience for the film.  I would hope that the documentary will show up on Netflix if nothing else and it's a good way to spend 90 minutes of your time: A-.

The afternoon brought my one of my most anticipated (to the surprise of absolutely no one who knows me) tickets of the festival with the Mavericks Conversation with Jon Stewart.  Jon is in town for the screening of his directorial debut Rosewater tonight, the film about the imprisonment of reporter Maziar Bahari (at least partially due to his appearance on The Daily Show) following the 2009 elections in Iran.  This movie was what led him to give up his day job to John Oliver last summer while filming.

For the first half of the discussion, Stewart was interviewed by local boy Jian Ghomeshi.  They discussed Jon's process of getting involved in writing and directing the film, how his experience on The Daily Show translated to the director's chair and his satisfaction with how the movie turned out.  He is always a great interview and very much knows how to play to his audience (he had to make sure to get a Rob Ford reference in for the Toronto crowd).  There's nothing more attractive than a smart, well-spoken man :-).  They were then joined by Maziar Bahari himself to speak in a little more detail about his experience and how he and Jon formed a relationship that led to the movie.  I was a bit disappointed that there was no time at the end of their formal discussion for audience Q&A, though there was nothing I would have asked that wasn't covered during the roughly 90 minute session.  All in all, a damn fine way to spend the afternoon.

Last on the schedule was the world premiere of the off-broadway musical adaptation of The Last 5 Years.  A basic story about the beginning, middle and end of a relationship with the unique framing device of being told in reverse chronological order from Cathy's (Anna Kendrick) perspective and forward from Jamie's (Jeremy Jordan).  The two only actually sing together when their stories meet in the middle with the proposal and marriage.

5 Years premiered off-broadway in 2002 and has a rather cultish fan base. Basically if you were to try to find a bullseye for the target market for this film I would be it, so of course I loved it.  Jason Robert Brown's score is fantastic and Anna Kendrick is rightfully being cast in every movie musical being made right now.  A cameo by original Cathy Sherie Rene Scott was icing on top of the cake.

Director Richard LaGravenese, Jason Robert Brown, Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick fielded questions from the audience afterwards.  They discussed how they got involved in the project (Jordan mentioned he was ready to sing basically an song from the score for his audition), the differences in bringing the story from the stage to the screen and how the movie was made on a relatively low-budget and rapid schedule.  For me (and fellow broadway geeks) the movie gets an A, for the average audience I'd put it at a B+.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

TIFF 2014 - Clouds of Sils Maria and Nightcrawler

TIFF opening night on Thursday highlighted just how big of a spectacle the festival has grown to over the last few years.  King Street has been closed to traffic for the first 4 days of the fest and walking to join the line for my first screening I worked my way through crowds, noise and lots of corporate/branding "entertainment".

I must remind myself next year that maybe a late show on opening night is not the best selection if I don't want to start off the 10 days with a very late night and cut into the sleep bank right off the bat.  The movie, which started closer to 10:30 than the planned 9:45, was Clouds of Sils Maria and was introduced by director Olivier Assayas and star Juliette Binoche (who apologized for the fact that she would not be back for the Q&A after the screening since she was jet lagged and it was going to be so freaking late - my words not hers).

Binoche plays Maria, an actress who got her big break playing Sigrid, the younger half of a lesbian couple with a disastrous end to the relationship.  20 years later, and after the sudden death of the playwright, Maria is asked to play the older half of the couple against a new up and coming ingenue (Chloe Grace Moretz) in the role that made her famous.   Maria and her assistant Val (Kristen Stewart) head to the alps to spend some time rehearsing, deal with the loss of her friend and her own struggles with aging.

There were some interesting scenes, and Binoche was lovely but I didn't love the movie.  There were a couple really disjointed moments and it was a tad long for my liking...B- I'd say. Assayas returned after the screening for a Q&A discussion and was lovely and charmingly french.  He spoke about how he had written the movie for Juliette and dropped a tidbit about the fact that when casting the two young women at one point Kristen was looking at the ingenue role which he said we have made it into a different film.  And then someone got up to ask a question and went down a long rambling road with no end in sight (people, please give some thought to keeping your questions concise and relevant!) and I slipped out the back door and home to bed.

Friday night's screening was Nightcrawler (aka the one where Jake Gyllenhaal lost a bunch of weight) and I ended up liking it much more than I expected to.  Jake plays Lou Bloom, a clearly intelligent but socially awkward man who sort of falls into the world of freelance crime journalism in LA.  A chance encounter on a highway, where he observes a seasoned pro (Bill Paxton) making quick work of selling grisly footage of a traffic accident victim arouses his curiosity and gives him the motivation to try it for himself.  He is soon spending his nights listening to a police scanner and racing to crime scenes with his video camera in hand to capture footage worth selling.

Based on the trailer I was expecting a dark thriller, and while I'd say that it does fall into that broad description it was quite a bit more darkly comic than anything else.  Jake's performance is terrific, as is Rene Russo as the news director who buys the footage and enters into a twisted symbiotic relationship with Lou as his daring (over the line) behaviour delivers shocking and ratings grabbing material for her struggling early morning news program.

Gilroy, Gyllenhaal and Russo all took to the stage after the film for a Q&A.  Gilroy discussed his motivation for the story, his transition from writer to director and praised the performance and commitment of his leading man.  I've had the opportunity to see Jake in these types of settings a few times now (a talkback after his off-broadway performance and a screening/discussion with Denis Villeneuve for Enemy) and he is consistently well-spoken, quick-witted and charming (he's well suited to his chosen profession :-)).    I found his comments about the character and how he saw Lou really interesting and they've stuck with me, and raised my overall perception of the movie from a B+ to an A-.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Here we go again...back for another year of TIFF

It’s September again, which means that the days are getting shorter, kids are back at school and the attention of the pop culture world shifts its gaze to Toronto for 10 days for the unofficial kickoff to Oscar season! 

And while I’ll pause to offer my usual complaint about the continued growth in the number of screenings classified as ‘Premium”  - seriously 9 of them this Saturday – I’m looking forward to getting started with screenings, Q&A’s and discussions with fellow movie lovers in line.  My movie schedule is a bit lighter this year with 14 screenings booked (something about starting a new job is taking up a lot of my time) and my selections fell solidly into what I'd call mainstream indie.  Here’s what is on deck over the next 10 days:

-          Clouds of Sils Maria
-          Nightcrawler
-          Do I Sound Gay
-          Mavericks Conversation with Jon Stewart (!)
-          The Last Five Years
-          This is Where I Leave You
-          Whiplash
-          Adult Beginners
-          Rosewater
-          Miss Julie
-          The Cobbler
-          Before We Go
-          The Riot Club
-          X+Y

We'll see which one steals my heart, the inevitable one that lulls me to sleep and how my selections end up matching up with the buzz coming out of the festival...

Monday, 16 September 2013

TIFF 2013 - The Final Word

The red carpets have been rolled up for another year and now it's time to get into the new TV season.  Before I do, here's a summary of TIFF for 2013.  I saw a total of 20 movies this year, nothing that made me want to leave the theatre, and had an enjoyable time talking film with my friends and line-mates.

My Favourite movie of the festival

Can a Song Save Your Life from director John Carney and starring Mark Ruffalo, Kiera Knightly, Adam Levine, Catherine Keener and Hailee Steinfeld in the story of the making of an album.  Great music, performances and if you don't feel happy when the credits roll you have no heart.

Great Movies (they will -or should- factor in come Oscar time)

12 Years a Slave - the People's Choice winner and presemptive Oscar frontrunner in the early stages of the award season.  Chiwetel Ejiofor gives an amazing performance as a man forced into slavery dealing with all the horrors that encompasses.

Gravity - an absolutely visually stunning, original story about two astronauts lost in space, featuring a wonderful performance by Sandra Bullock.

August: Osage County - Meryl rocks.  As does most of the sprawling cast telling a story of family dysfunction.

The Railway Man - the true story of a man dealing with the torture he endured during WWII anchored by the performances of two pairs of actors playing younger and older versions of the same character.

Devil's Knot - Atom Egoyan's dramatization of the West Memphis Three case is hard to watch...as it should be.  And will make you want to learn more about the injustice if you haven't seen the documentaries already.

Labor Day - Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin spend the weekend in her home.  He's an escaped convict...is she his hostage or his saviour?

Very Good Movies (I would totally recommend that you see them)

Bad Words - Jason Bateman's directorial debut about a 40 year old spelling bee contestant is foul and funny and a bit heartwarming too.

Third Person - Paul Haggis brings us three stories in three differents cities exploring the meaning of love and relationships.  Of course they do all connect in some way in the end.

Hateship Loveship - Kristen Wiig proves she can tackle drama in the story of a quiet woman searching for happiness.

Enough Said - a grown up rom-com about two real people, made bittersweet as James Gandolfini's last performance

Ok Movies (a worthwhile plane selection)

Don Jon - JGL makes his filmmaking debut with the story of a guy who is too obsessed with porn to form a real relationship with a woman.

The Face of Love - Annette Bening is great as usual as a woman trying to get over her husband by getting into a relationship with a man who looks just like him.

The Invisible Woman - the true story of the young woman involved in an affair with Charles Dickens.

A Promise - a classic love triangle story.

Meh (don't bother)

A Story of Children and Film - a bit on the pretentious side.

When Jews were Funny - I found it a little aimless and disjointed.  Others didn't agree since it won Best Canadian Feature at the awards.

You are Here - Matt Weiner's first foray into movies was not a success.

The Double - most of the critics liked this one way more than I did.

TIFF 2013 - Hateship Loveship, 12 Years a Slave and Enough Said

I finished off TIFF this weekend with two movies that are both going to be in theatres in the next little while and one last indie still looking for distribution.

The first, the aforementioned indie, was Hateship Loveship, a drama based on an Alice Munro story brought to the screen by director Liza Johnson.  The movie stars Kristen Wiig as Johanna Perry, a mouse of a woman who has worked as a caretaker for her whole life.  Her current gig is in the home of Nick Nolte's Mr. McCauley, who has hired her to care for his granddaughter Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld).  She finds herself attracted to Sabitha's ex-con addict father (Guy Pearce) after he is kind to her on a visit and sends her a brief note in a letter to his daughter.  When Johanna writes back, Sabitha and her friend Edith turn all mean girl and start corresponding with her as him leading her to eventually take off (with some stolen property) to show up on his doorstep unexpectedly and all sorts of complications follow.

I had seen Wiig at TIFF last year in a more serious role and this movie illustrates again that she is a very good actress.  My heart just broke for this woman who has never really had a life of her own taking tiny steps towards her own happiness.  I also thought the relationship between Sabitha and Edith dealing with all their teenage shit was really natural and well done.

Movie Grade: B+

Next up was 12 Years a Slave by director Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) which premiered at the beginning of the festival (geez that seems like a long time ago) to both critical and audience acclaim.  In fact, it was anointed as the festival's People's Choice winner at the awards ceremony yesterday.  And it is an excellent movie that I'm sure you'll be hearing more about in the months to come.

The true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free man living in Syracuse in 1841 who is kidnapped and sold into slavery and the horrors he endured at the hands of the men (and women) who enslaved him.  Ejiofor will no doubt be nominated for an Oscar for his performance as Soloman, and rightfully so, but he is also surrounded by a great supporting cast in roles big and small including Michael Fassbender, Sarah Pauley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Alfre Woodard and Lupita Nyong'o.   There are some scenes that were just brutal to watch (I will admit to averting my eyes on a couple occasions)  but I would absolutely recommend seeing it.  It will be hitting theatres next month.

Movie Grade: A

Finally, my last movie of TIFF for 2013 was the charming, bittersweet romantic comedy Enough Said starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in one of his last roles as Eva and Albert, two divorcees who end up finding love together.  Of course, it can't be that easy, and it turns out that one of her clients and new friends (she plays a massage therapist) is his ex-wife and she just can't stop herself from listening to her complaints about Albert and starting to internalize them herself.   It's a grown up movie about real relationships and both leads turn in great performances in roles that are very different than we're used to seeing them in.  It actually opens next weekend and I hope it does well.

Movie Grade: B+

Saturday, 14 September 2013

TIFF 2013 - A Promise and The Face of Love

Thursday and Friday were light days for me with only one film apiece which allowed for some catch up on both sleep and laundry.

A Promise is the first english language film from French director Patrice Leconte and tells the story of a love triangle in pre WWI Germany.  Alan Rickman plays Hoffmeister, a wealthy industrialist who brings Ludwig (Richard Madden), a new up and coming employee into his home.  The young man quickly forms a bond with his  son and more importantly with his much younger wife (Rebecca Hall).  From there the story is a pretty basic love triangle with complications including Hoffmeister's health, Ludwig's ambitions and the war itself.  The three actors all turn in good performances and and there are some lovely sequences but the movie as a whole was a bit anticlimactic for me.

Leconte introduced the film and came back onstage with an interpreter to take questions from the audience.  He was charmingly french and discussed the filming locations and working with his English speaking cast.

Movie grade: B

Friday afternoon was the second screening of The Face of Love from director Arie Posin.  It stars as Annette Bening as Nikki, a solitary woman who five years after the traumatic death of her husband runs into his virtual double and goes to great lengths to form a relationship with him.  Ed Harris plays both roles and manages to make both men distinct characters.  Nikki becomes fixated on trying to recreate her relationship while also trying to keep the new man in her life secret from her daughter and well meaning neighbour (Robin Williams) who clearly wants more than friendship from her.  It's not really a matter of if she'll be found out but when, and how her life will explode when that finally happens.  Benning turns in another great performance and it's a solid movie, with a lovely message about the way we can move on from tragedy.

Posin introduced the movie and returned afterwards with Benning (which was a lovely surprise) to take questions from the audience.  He talked about the genesis of the idea for the film which was a discussion with his mother.  Both he and Benning talked about the character's motivations and the process of coming together to make the film.

Movie Grade: B