Toast of the Town

The Town ★★★★
(USA, 123 min)
Dir: Ben Affleck; Writ: Peter Craig, Ben Affleck, Aaron Stockhard.
Starring: Ben Affleck, Jon Hamm, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlewaite.
Only a quick one for today – I’m sure you’ve already heard a lot about The Town the past few weeks. All the hype is certainly justified, too. The Town marks Ben Affleck’s second trip into the director’s seat (Gone, Baby, Gone was his first) and it seems the man’s found his true calling.

Sarah's Choice

Sarah’s Key (Elle s'appelait Sarah) ★★★★
(France, 111 min.)
Dir: Gilles Paquet-Brenner; Writ: Serge Joncour & Gilles Paquet-Brenner
Starring: Kristin Scott Thomas, Mélusine Mayance, Niels Arestrup, Frédéric Pierrot, and Aidan Quinn.
Much like 2008’s The Reader, Sarah’s Key is a powerful film that explores the ethical and humanist dilemmas posed by the Holocaust. Like The Reader, Sarah’s Key is based on a best-selling novel (Elle s’appelait Sarah by Tatiana de Rosnay). Sarah’s Key is just as powerful as its cinematic predecessor and it also delivers a retrospective analysis of guilt, innocence, loss, and survival through a dual narrative of past and present.

The past occurs in 1942 Paris, when the French authorities (not the Nazis) began rounding up French Jews and ushering them to the Vélodrome d'Hiver (aka Vel d’hiv). The film frantically begins when the police arrive to remove the Starzynski family from their small apartment. Unsure what to do with her children, the mother hesitates before opening the door. In that moment, Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) locks her little brother in the closet. Assured of his protection, Sarah accompanies her parents to Vel d’hiv, taking the key with her so that she can free her brother shortly after their release.


Who's Afraid of Becca Corbett?

Rabbit Hole ★★★★
(USA, 91min)
Dir: John Cameron Mitchell; Writ: David Lindasy-Abaire
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Aaron Eckhart, Sandra Oh, Dianne Wiest, Miles Teller.
Something remarkable has emerged from the rabbit hole. It seems that Nicole Kidman is back from a long winter’s nap. True, the statuesque strawberry-blonde has been active in Hollywood the past few years, but she’s either been doing her best work in films nobody saw (see Dogville or Margot at the Wedding) or comparatively lesser work in high-profile bombs (see Nine and Australia…though I’m among the three or so people who will passionately defend that film). With Rabbit Hole, Kidman marks a return to form. Not just in performance, but she’s finally found a film worthy of her talents. Quite simply, Kidman and Rabbit Hole are to die for.

Death is also what motivates Kidman’s performance. As Becca Corbett, Kidman plays a mother overcoming her grief from the death of her son in a car accident several months earlier. Becca seems to cope with Danny’s absence better than her husband, Howie (Aaron Eckhart). But is her stoic “life must go on” attitude just a front? Is it a defense mechanism, or is it really possible to move on from grief so quickly? Judging from how seriously she protects her garden, Becca’s still in stage four: depression.


Sound the Alarm!

The Whistleblower ★★★★★
(Canada/Germany, 100 min)
Dir: Larysa Kondracki; Writ: Eilis Kirwan & Larysa Kondracki
Starring: Rachel Weisz, David Strathairn, Vanessa Redgrave, Roxana Condurache, and Monica Bellucci.
Bursting onto the film scene with the bravery and skill of a seasoned veteran, Larysa Kondracki is a born filmmaker. Her debut feature The Whistleblower is pretty much as big a powerhouse as first features can be. Kondracki delivers this important tale with the flair of a mature dramatist and the passion of devoted humanitarian.

The Whistleblower is the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), an American police officer who goes to Bosnia for a short term peacekeeping contract with the United Nations. Bolkovac chooses the job out of necessity: she’s recently divorced and needs the extra cash so that she can move closer to her daughter. During the mission, however, Kathryn uncovers a human trafficking operation that involves several of her co-workers.


Capitalism and a Love Story

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps ★★★
Dir: Oliver Stone; Writ: Allan Loeb and Stephen Schiff
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Carey Mulligan, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Eli Wallach, and Frank Langella.
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps reintroduces the all-American slimeball Gordon Gekko in a fun, but dangerous scene. The film begins with Gekko’s release from prison. Stone frames the camera on a prison guard as he catalogues Gekko’s list of personal effects and hands them over to the free man. There’s a fancy watch, a gold money clip (empty, of course), and a mobile phone – from the 1990’s. When Gordon (Michael Douglas) grabs the oversized and out-dated device, it’s a playful way of informing new viewers how the first Wall Street ended. However, the antiquated phone also draws attention to the time span between the release of each film. As fun a character as Gordon Gekko may be, was it really necessary to resurrect him twenty-three years later? Before Money Never Sleeps, the answer was an obvious “yes,” but after seeing the film, I’m not so sure.

Following the opening scene, Gekko disappears while the new characters are introduced in the first act. Taking the lead is Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore, an enthusiastic up-and-coming Wall St. broker with a hunger for making money. Jake works for Louis Zabel (Frank Langella), an old-school stockbroker who gets screwed by his rival firm, led by the evil suit Bretton James, played by Josh Brolin. Zabel’s poor turn of fortune hits him hard, and Jake finds himself in both a fiscal and an emotional predicament. Aiding both matters, however, is his relationship with Winnie (Carey Mulligan). Winnie is a hot ticket because not only does she agree to marry Jake, but her last name is Gekko.


America on Trial

The Conspirator ★★★★
(USA, 122 min.)
Dir: Robert Redford; Writ: James D. Solomon & Gregory Bernstein (story)
Starring: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Evan Rachel Wood, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Danny Houston, and Alexis Bledel.
One need not be a history buff to appreciate The Conspirator. With very little set-up prior to the main action, Robert Redford throws us into Civil War America as the conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln prepare for battle. As the guilty parties make their way to their victims, and the narrative cuts back and forth between them, the viewer is put in a state of disorientation. When the assassination occurs and it’s difficult to decipher who are the key players in The Conspirator, the film effectively replicates the chaos and confusion that must have been rampant in wartime America.

Once things begin to settle, America’s looking for someone to blame. Leading the witch hunt is Edwin Stanton (Kevin Kline), the US Secretary of War. Stanton’s quest for visible justice soon extends to the arrest of one Mary Surratt (played by Robin Wright), the owner/proprietor of the boarding house at which Lincoln’s assassins were alleged to have conspired.


Games of Love and Chance

Love Crime ★★½
(France, 104 min)
Dir: Alain Corneau; Writ: Alain Corneau & Nathalie Carter
Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patrick Mille.
Funny how after Last Night comes another story about infidelity. Whereas Last Night raises a lot of interesting questions about adultery, Love Crime mostly exploits it for a cheap thrill. In this case, the love dance is basically between two parties:  Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier) and Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Sure, Christine’s partner Philippe (Patrick Mille) is involved too, but Love Crime is hardly a love triangle.

The risky business begins immediately when, in the opening scene, Isabelle is working at the home of her boss Christine, and Christine makes a pass at her. Isabelle passes aside Christine’s effort, but her boss persists as their relationship becomes more involved and intimate. To complicate things, Isabelle is the rising star of the company, until Christine takes credit for her much-praised work. To thicken the plot, Isabelle is also sleeping with Philippe. From this affair comes much of the thrill of Love Crime: although Isabelle is physically involved with Philippe, she is enamoured with Christine both mentally and emotionally. Moreover, Christine is fully aware of Isabelle’s affections, and she takes a twisted hold over protégé. 


A 'Night' to Remember

Last Night ★★★★½
(USA/France, 90 min)
Written and directed by Massy Tadjedin
Starring: Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Eva Mendes, and Guillaume Canet.
What constitutes infidelity? Sex with another partner? A date? What about kissing someone else? Or does fidelity extend all the way to having warm thoughts about another person? Such questions are posed by writer/director Massy Tadjedin in her fun, smart, and refreshing debut feature Last Night.

The question of fidelity arises one night after Joanna and Michael Reed (played by Keira Knightley and Same Worthington) attend a friend’s party. At the party, Michael introduces Joanna to Laura, his bombshell of a co-worker played by Eva Mendes. Not one to ignore the fact that her husband spends so much time with such a beautiful woman, Joanna keeps a watchful eye on her husband throughout the evening. When they return home, Joanna confronts Michael about why he discusses Laura so vaguely, since their conduct at the party disproves his disinterest.


Dance with the Devil

Black Swan ★★★★★(plus a very high level of distinction)
(USA, 103 min)
Dir: Darren Aronofsky; Writ: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin.
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder.
Black Swan is a film so good it almost defies explanation. One might try and toss about a few ballet metaphors to express Aronofsky’s triumph, but to call Black Swan a grand jeté or a symphonic pirouette would be to mute the film’s greatness. Rather, this Swan is of an infinite wingspan, and its ability to soar is unparalleled by virtually every film this year.

Much like Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes, Black Swan is an astounding psychological drama driven by the artistic obsessiveness of a young ballerina on the rise to stardom. Aronofsky’s film is much indebted to its predecessor – the opening dream sequence of Black Swan is but a mere nod of thanks to the iconic nightmare of the centrepiece ballet of The Red Shoes.


Maul in the Family

A Night for Dying Tigers ★★★
(Canada, 90 min.)
Written & directed by Terry Miles.
Starring: Gil Bellows, Jennifer Beals, Lauren Lee Smith, Tygh Runyun, John Pyper-Ferguson, Kathleen Robertson, and Leah Gibson.
Oh, family get-togethers. They’re probably the best example of the love-hate relationship that exists within all households, be them dysfunctional or “normal.” A Night for Dying Tigers, then, is about the ties that bind - provided that one keeps in mind that “bind” has more connotations than just “connection.”

This first feature by Canadian writer/director Terry Miles is like most family reunions: fun, but frustrating; painful, but cathartic; and endearing, but annoying. The family gets together because Jack (Gil Bellows) is going to prison for five years. His wife, Melanie (Jennifer Beals) is already on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and having to face Jack’s dysfunctional family for a night of smiles and tears is hardly something to look forward to. Nevertheless, she knows that the family is already at a breaking point, and with Jack going to prison, they’re about to lose the one person that holds them all together.


TIFF: Weekend 2

Massey Tadjedin, Eva Mendes, and Sam Worthington at the World Premiere of Last Night
Not as much to report on this weekend of TIFF. Well, not in terms of technical headaches or celeb sightings, but there were some really great movies. Overall, I think this year's trip to TIFF was even better than last year's. Hat's off to Cameron Bailey, Piers Handling et al for putting together such a great lineup!

I left for Toronto at 12:30 am Friday and arrived at my brother's apartment shortly before 6. I took a quick nap and then did what any logical moviegoer would do after less than four hours sleep: I saw a Holocaust movie. Sarah's Key was a very powerful film and a great way to start the weekend. This French adaptation of the popular novel stars Kristin Scott-Thomas as a journalist investigating the history of one girl's struggle to survive during the Second World War. The film was very well received by the crowd, and director Gilles Paquet-Brenner was on hand to do a Q & A.


Brit-Pic a Real Crowd Pleaser!

Made in Dagenham ★★★★½
(UK, 113 min.)
Dir: Nigel Cole; Writ: Bill Ivory.
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Bob Hoskins, Geraldine James, Andrea Riseborough, Rosamund Pike, and Miranda Richardson.
“Chick-flick” is such an unfair term. Many have dubbed Made in Dagenham as such, but to do so reduces it to the level of mindless fluff like Sex and the City 2 or a Katherine Heigl movie. Rather, Made in Dagenham unabashedly celebrates girl-power, but this crowd-pleasing film should appeal to everyone from Joe the Plumber to the ghost of Pauline Kael, and it can be enjoyed by anyone from teens to grandparents.

Sally Hawkins stars as Rita O’Grady, a factory worker in Ford’s Dagenham plant. Rita and about eighty-odd other women work in what are basically sweatshop conditions: literally, it’s so hot in there that the workers whip their tops off and do business in their brassieres. Rita’s best friend Connie (Geraldine James) also happens to be the shop steward for the women’s division, and they’re both well aware of the gap between efforts made on behalf of their employers. When it comes time to finally play hardball with the Ford bigwigs, Albert (Bob Hoskins), their aid in the all matters union, enlists the quick-witted Rita to come along as his “extra man.”


Lust: Caution

The Housemaid ★★★★½
(South Korea, 106 min)
Written & directed by Im Sang-Soo.
Starring: Jeon Do-yeon, Lee Jung-jae, Yeo-Jong Yung, Seo Woo
Few films open with as brilliantly ambiguous an opening sequence as The Housemaid. A young woman steps out onto her window ledge overlooking a busy Korean market. The camera then abandons the girl and trolls around, taking note of the daily workings of delivery boys, short order cooks, and fishmongers. After she jumps, the crowd’s sent into a frenzy – as are we because we have no idea who she is or why she jumped. However, although no further reference is made to the suicide, the masterful workings of director Im Sang-Soo make the path of the girl’s fate painfully clear.

The ensuing scenes introduce the girl’s replacement, and, by consequence, the film’s next victim. Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon) is first picked up by Mrs. Cho (Yeo-Jong Yung). As Mrs. Cho observes, Eun-yi acts a little young for her age. She just assumes that Eun-yi’s slow. Eun-yi gets the job nonetheless, and soon becomes the new housemaid for Hoon (Lee Jung-jae) and his very pregnant wife Haera (Seo Woo). Like the elder housemaid, Hoon and Haera see Eun-yi as a bit of child, but considering how well Eun-yi gets along with their son, they accept her anyways.

All the Right Chords

Trigger ★★★★★
(Canada, 79 min)
Dir: Bruce McDonald; Writ: Daniel MacIvor.
Starring: Tracy Wright, Molly Parker, Don McKellar, Lenore Zann, Sarah Polley, and Callum Keith Rennie.
I saw Trigger at the Premiere screening at TIFF, which was also the Grand Opening of the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Trigger was the perfect movie to open the Bell Lightbox, since it was such an important project to many artists within the Toronto film industry. Moreover, as in many of McDonald’s films, Toronto figures prominently, and the cityscape is but one of Trigger’s memorable characters. Additionally, the film features several new groups within the city’s indie rock scene, which is a nice gesture to the emerging performers in Toronto’s cultural community. Trigger also acknowledges the legacy of women in rock – “Save it for Carole Pope,” Vic (Tracy Wright) says to the gushing stage hand played by Sarah Polley.

The inclusion of the bands is most appropriate because Trigger is very much a rock n’ roll movie. The film stars Molly Parker and the late Tracy Wright as Kat and Vic, the two halves of the rock group Trigger, which disbanded a decade ago. Things fell apart due to Vic’s drug abuse and Kat’s alcoholism, as well as the inevitable jealousy and rivalry that come from sharing the spotlight. The dissolution of Trigger is rendered in flashback during the opening credits: it’s amazing how well McDonald et al involve us in the film without a single word of dialogue.


CFC cooks up some good times!

As I said in my recap of weekend 1 of TIFF, I was fortunate to attend the annual barbecue held by the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). Norman Jewison hosted the event, and guests included Paul Haggis, Kathleen Robertson & Leah Gibson from A Night for Dying Tigers, Nadia Litz (director of How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!) and more.
 Norman Jewison and director Nadia Litz
Paul Haggis and friend pose with Norman Jewison.

Full gallery available at the CFC's Flickr account.


Got TIFF Fever?

I know I do! I can't wait to be back in just two days, but for those of you who can't, Visa has posted some fun videos of the Red Carpet events at the Elgin theatre/ Visa Screening Room. Although I didn't make the cut in the Made in Dagenham video, maybe you'll get a chance to see me rushing in to Saturday's screening of Last Night!

Made in Dagenham was among the movies I saw this weekend. I really liked it, so here's some footage and celeb bites from the premiere.


TIFF: Weekend #1

Callum Keith Rennie, far left; Sarah Polley, middle; Molly Parker, far right; and crew at the World Premiere of Trigger at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Well, weekend one of TIFF was quite eventful. Things got off to a bumpy start on Thursday when the train to Toronto pulled in to Union Station almost an hour and a half late and I arrived at my brother’s apartment shortly after 1 am. However, when my brother returned from the Gala of Score: A Hockey Musical and handed me a souvenir TIFF hockey puck, all was well.

My first screening on Friday wasn’t until 8:45 pm, so after picking up tickets, I walked around Yorkville to creep on celebs. My stalking began quite well. As I neared the Minto York, I walked right past Will Ferrell (he looks a lot older in person). Then, I saw a crowd gathered around the Intercontinental: apparently I just missed Jennifer Aniston. I stuck around for a while to see if anyone else showed up. After half an hour of waiting with the crowd, the only sighting was the guys from Fubar II. Meh. I left: off to the movies!


Two 'Short' Reviews

Sarah Allen & Joe Cobden in  
How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused by You!
If you’re visiting the big T.O. this weekend to do a little movie-going, keep in mind that there’s a lot more to see than the star-studded pics that are already slated to open in theatres. Remember, TIFF is a great showcase for Canadian film, which really doesn’t get a proper opportunity to reach a wide audience. In addition to some good-looking Canadian flicks like Trigger, Barney’s Version, A Night for Dying Tigers, Oliver Sherman, Incendies, and more, there’s also the Canadian Short Film program. For people who may not be able to attend a dozen or so films throughout the festival, the shorts provide the perfect opportunity to see such a high number of titles – all within the same night! The added benefit of the shorts is that the movies are all short:  if one sucks, festivalers can find relief in knowing that it will all be over within the next five minutes or so. (Unlike some features that go on for almost two and a half hours once you realize how much you hate them…I’m looking at you, Mr. Nobody.)

This year, the Canadian Film Centre (CFC) has two entries in the shorts package. Both are unique and quirky ditties. If these two are reflective of the rest of the Shorts program, it should make for a great night of Canadian film.


I laughed, I Cried, I Loved It!

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work ★★★★½
(USA, 84 min)
Dir: Ricki Stern & Anita Sundberg
Featuring: Joan Rivers, Billy Sameth, Larry Thompson, Melissa Rivers, Kathy Griffin.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work opens with a startling shot. Rivers, the aged comedienne, is framed in close-up: she’s naked – not literally, but she doesn’t have any make-up on. As her crew began to apply her face during the opening credits, I rolled my eyes and assumed that this was to be a self-indulgent portrait of a woman I find funny, but often presume to be gaudy and classless. I may have never been so wrong in my judgement.

Later on in the film, there’s a similarly lengthy sequence in which Joan gets herself ready to perform. At this point, though, one realizes that she’s preparing for battle. When she gets in front of her audience and lets her quick acerbic wit take control, she’s on fire. One would never guess that this is a woman who struggles to stay on top.

Trigger Teaser!

So excited for this one! Only 5 days til the TIFF screening!


Three and a half hours later...

Natalie Portman in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan
So, this morning I decided to be super prepared and roused myself out of bed at 6:30 so that I could be well caffeinated and ready when the TIFF tickets came on sale at 7:00. Foolish. At 7:01, I logged in with no problems, saw that all my number ones were available and happily clicked away at my good fortune. Then I read "Error".



And so it went until 10:30.


'Herbes' Follies

Wild Grass (Les herbes folles) ★★★
(France, 104 min)
Dir: Alain Resnais; Writ: Alex Reval & Laurent Herbiet
Starring: Sabine Azéma, André Dusollier, Anne Consigny, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Almaric.
Just a short one for tonight.

Wild Grass is a mostly delightful black comedy by the legendary French filmmaker Alain Resnais. Wild Grass is a masterful piece of storytelling: it delights in odd aside notes from the unseen narrator, it has all sorts of oddball characters, and it’s all played out in a vibrantly coloured palette that’s accented by a jazzy score. The film is an engaging romantic-comedy that unfolds in that magically convoluted manner that exists only in the movies.  

Tu vuò fà l'americano

The American ★★★★
(USA, 103 min)
Dir: Anton Corbijn; Writ: Rowan Joffe
Starring: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten.
As the summertime movie season officially draws to a close, I’ve decided for there to be one unrivalled star of the summer: Italy. In July, I am Love made us swoon over Il Belpaese in a glorious ecstasy of artful camera arcs and operatic overtures. Next, in Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts toured through Rome in a gleeful celebration the idiosyncrasies that make Italian culture so intoxicating. Now, with The American, the beauty of the Italian countryside pierces through the steely veneer of this fascinating spy-thriller from director Anton Corbijn (Control).

After seeing the first few frames of The American, it comes as no surprise that Corbijn’s background is in photography. The film has a beautiful emptiness to the staging of the exterior scenes. Perhaps it’s symbolic of the American himself – Jack, an aging hit-man/ arms manufacturer played by George Clooney. Interestingly, Jack’s cover story is that he’s in Italy as a photographer. The American is composed of striking deep-focus landscape shots blended with an array of scenes bathed in arresting artificial lights. The American will probably be enjoyed most as a one-hour and forty-three minute exercise in contemporary photography.