Friday, August 28, 2015


We're heading to TIFF 2015 in a mere 13 days!

Have any suggestions on movies we should really see? Celebrities whose photos we should really try to take (you know who you are)? Take a look at the film list.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: The Double

I picked The Double for pretty much one reason, and somewhat silly one at that. We saw Bunny and the Bull at the 2009 festival, directed by The Mighty Boosh veteran Paul King. I saw that this film was directed by Richard Ayoade, who acted in several Mighty Boosh episodes. Decision made. The silly part is that we haven't seen a single episode of The Mighty Boosh.

Ayoade developed the screenplay from the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel of same name. He updates the story's landscape from Russian bureaucracy to an American company.The lead character, Simon and his Doppelganger James are both portrayed brilliantly by Jesse Eisenberg. Mia Wasikowska plays Simon's love interest, Wallace Shawn easily nails the role as Simon's abusive boss, and Noah Taylor rounds out the headliners as Simon's coworker friend Harris.

Simon is not a man comfortable in his own skin. He has a job, and believes in his value to the company, but is entirely incapable of communicating that belief to anyone else. His day is consumed by people with whom he works disrespecting him: guard at the secured entrance, his boss, even the lady in charge at the copy room. Things worsen when James, Simon's extremely confident doppelganger starts at the company. Everybody loves James, who begins to take credit for Simon's work.

I can best describe the style of the film as "retro futuristic", like someone in the 1950's made a film about the future and got it rather wrong (see Blade Runner and most every movie about the future once The Future rolls around). The film is packed with surreal events, odd humor, paranoia, and a general sense of discomfort. Think early David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, and the like. Ayoade worked extensively with sound designer Adam Armitage to further advance the feeling of other worldliness.

This is not a film for people who like a clear narrative with things neatly wrapping up at the end. We spent a while after the film sharing our ideas about what happened, though neither of us were particularly strong in our beliefs. If you like the occasional quirky challenge, give this film a go. My imdb rating: 7/10.


As an added bonus, I'll leave you with a nugget of the film festival experience. If Ayoade were doing stand-up comedy, I'd say he killed during the film's introduction. Paraphrased gems (from memory, so quite possibly inaccurate): "This film is... 93 minutes long. So there's that. And 7 of those are the credits. So 86, really. It was written... [end of thought]" He was barely more serious for the Q&A after the film, but about as funny. I think we'll track down some of his other works, including (finally) The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd.

Review: Therese

I don't remember the precise reason we picked Therese, directed by Charlie Stratton. It could have been simply that the plot sounded fun - adultery, murder, guilt - you know, the standards. It could have been that it starred Draco - I mean Tom Felton and Elizabeth Olsen, whose life was spared the early fame of her older sisters.

Therese is an update of a 19th century novel by Ă‰mile Zola, set in mid 19th century France. The updates essentially consist of showing things merely implied in the original version, namely the sex and violence. Still, neither is done in explicit fashion.

The movie begins with Therese (Olsen) being dumped in her aunt's lap. Her mother is dead and her father has no idea what to do with her while he's gallivanting around Africa. She's close in age to her cousin Camille (Felton), who is sickly, weak, and doted upon by his mother (Jessica Lange). The kids grow up, and Camille's mother arranges for the marriage of the two cousins.

Therese is certainly not attracted to the idea of marrying her wheezing, sniveling, pale faced cousin. However, she is also made aware that, while she is a pretty young woman, she lacks the connections, money, or social standing required to bag another man. Meanwhile, no one else would have Camille either. It's a match made in heaven - what could go wrong?

Enter Camille's friend Laurent (Oscar Isaac), who Therese finds attractive, alluring, and doesn't seem to mind sleeping with his good friend's wife. Things get hairy when they decide to take their relationship past the affair stage and into the "get rid of the wheezer" stage.

The first couple acts seem to set things up pretty well, with nice comedic moments. In one, there was a new take on the tried and "hide the secret lover under the bed" scene. Other good bits were provided by the supporting cast, which includes Shirley Henderson and another actor whose name is frustratingly missing from both the festival guide and imdb. Check back with the latter and see if they've updated the page.

The film falls apart a bit in act three, with the characters' actions seeming a bit random. Lange is great down the stretch, and the final scene isn't bad, but I can't forgive how the film gets there. Perhaps they'll clean it up a bit in the editing room before the release. My imdb rating: 6/10.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: 12 Years A Slave

We saw Steve McQueen's (not that Steve McQueen's) Shame at the 2011 festival. It was the first of his films I'd seen, and on the strength of that one film, I knew I wanted to see this. McQueen is not one to shy away from challenging subject matter - Shame was about a functional sex addict in New York City - and this year's film, 12 Years A Slave, is no different.

This is true story of a free black man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery for (you guessed it) 12 years. It begins when Solomon Northup's wife and two young children leave their New York home for a few weeks. Solomon, a free black man and professional musician, is lured by two men to Washington, D.C. where they promise him good pay to play for a circus. There, Solomon is wined, dined, drugged and, when he awakes, sold into slavery.

The rest of the movie shows Solomon's fight for survival, the occasional shred of dignity, and ultimately, freedom and a return to his family. The people he meets along the way, from plantation owners, white hired help, and other slaves, paint a grim picture of the reality in the slave-era south. Conditions are brutal, and McQueen doesn't turn the camera away, even though you might choose avert your gaze for a moment or two.

The cast is top notch. Smaller supporting roles are filled by Paul Giamatti as a slave trader and Brad Pitt as a Canadian carpenter. Alfre Woodward puts in a nuanced performance as Mistress Shaw, who enjoys life as "slave nobility". Benedict Cumberbatch builds on his recent portfolio (see Star Trek Into Darkness, Sherlock, and War Horse), playing a plantation owner who, aside from buying, selling and owning people, seems like a decent man. Paul Dano is a guy who must have had a bad childhood and later becomes a plantation manager to take it out on slaves (we just see the latter). The always impressive Michael Fassbender was terrific as a plantation owner who is brutal and despicable, but much more than a simple villain to be despised.

The best, though, came from unknown (to me) actors. Adepero Oduye is incredible in her heartbreaking portrayal of Eliza, a fellow slave on one plantation and object of its owner's desire. Sarah Paulson is wicked as that plantation owner's spurned wife. Anchoring the entire production, in another Oscar worthy performance is Chiwetel Ejiofor. He is magnificent as Solomon Northrup, taking us along for his journey from free man to kidnap victim to his basic fight for survival.

All of this is navigated expertly by McQueen, a director of great intensity. Mr. McQueen is not without a sense of humor, but he is very serious about the art of film making and the results show it.

Okay, I'll gush a little more. This is my 13th trip to TIFF, and this is one of if not the best film I've seen here. I think it's worthy of many Oscar nominations; supporting roles, best actor, score, screenplay, direction and film. I'm probably leaving out things like costume and art direction because I seem to be clueless as to which films win those awards. Go see this film. Bring a tissue. Weepers, bring a box. My imdb rating is a solid 9/10.

Side note: Mr. McQueen and several cast members were on hand for a lengthy Q&A after the film. It was a wonderful Q&A, with good questions and thoughtful and insightful answers. And thanks to Mr. McQueen for insisting on a few more questions after TIFF tried to shut down the session.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Review: Lucky Them

We picked Lucky Them on the strength of the cast, which includes Toni Collette and Thomas Haden Church, and that the film was advertised as an "edgy comedy", which seemed right up our alley. I hadn't seen any of Megan Griffith's first three directorial efforts.

This film's central character is Ellie (Toni Collette), a music critic working for a small independent magazine in Seattle. Ellie is charged with the task of tracking down Matthew Smith, an either deceased or reclusive musician, ten years after his disappearance ended both his career and their romantic relationship. Adding to the mess, she finds herself needing the help of a millionaire wanna be documentary film maker, Charlie (Thomas Haden Church).

Ellie has a blend of alcohol, man, and brooding after Smith problems. This leads her to bad decision making, like sleeping with her interview subjects. Coupled with her fixation on unknown artists, she's  not performing well at her job. Given the ultimatum of tracking down Smith or losing her job, she reluctantly opts for the former, but does not seem well-suited for the task.

The film, aiming to be both an edgy comedy and a drama about a woman who has become lost after the devastating abandonment by her lover, ends up missing on both. Many of the jokes fall flat, and in the end, I really don't feel Ellie's pain. A **Major** cameo in the film's climactic scene seems distracting, only subtracting from the emotion your supposed to be experiencing alongside Ellie.

Geez, I wanted to like the film, willing myself to laugh at some of the bits, but in the end all I felt was "meh". My imdb rating: 5/10.

As a side note, the Q&A after the film was quite nice. Some in the audience appeared to have enjoyed  the film more than us, even going so far as to gush that it was "something special". There is an interesting effect associated with movie going at a festival that, in some cases, enhances your feelings about a film. That's part of the fun about the film festival experience.

Friday, September 06, 2013

One Leg Down

We're in Minneapolis. The mimosas are going down nicely. Flight #2 is on time, according to the big board, though we haven't been to the gate yet, so who knows if we have a plane. I've learned, over the years, not to be presumptuous. Really, until you're in your local accommodations, keep on your guard.

On the road

Smooth sailing so far. Alarm went off, taxi showed up on time, and we only hit two red lights. The security line was not impressive. Still, it's no time to get cocky. Our plane isn't here yet, and we do have a connection to make. Also, I'm going through my morning travel panic - what have I forgotten?

Stupid twitter isn't working this morning, but I can live with that.

Maureen got me a magazine. Onward...