Movie Reviews

And So it Begins…

Today is the opening day of the festival and so far I’m still feeling pretty happy about my picks. Sure, there are movies I’d love to see that I sacrificed for others… But all in all, I’m pretty excited.

Bracing too, for 10 days of little sleep, eating badly, and running between movie theatres. It’s also ragweed season and I have terrible allergies which always seem to get aggravated by the no-sleep-bad-food-spending-too-much-time-in-movie-theatres thing. I have tickets for 45 films this year again. And while that sounds like 4.5 per day… I only have 2 screenings today and so there are a few days when I have 6 films. ACK. Time will tell whether I get to them all. As excited as I am about seeing each of the films I’ve picked, there comes a point each year where sleep, or getting a real meal, starts to take precedence.

On deck for today:

Fugitive Pieces. A Canadian film based on a novel by Anne Michaels, about a young Holocaust survivor who comes to Canada via Greece after the war. I remember liking this book when I read it (at least 10 years ago) but only a few strong images have remained in my mind. And often it’s tricky to translate literary fiction to the movie screen… but it’s directed by Jeremy Podeswa who directed many episodes of Six Feet Under and some other interesting TV stuff. And it got a 3 star review in the Globe today… So I’m hopeful. It’s also the first time I’ve gotten a ticket for the opening film. I was so lucky in the lottery this year.

Next is Persepolis, an animated film that’s a coming of age story of a girl in Tehran during the rule of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. Not your average Saturday morning cartoon from the sounds of it.

I’m going to try to blog about at least one of the films each day. I’m not sure what the camera situation is going to be this year, but if I can take some snaps I’ll post those too… Last year in some screenings they had big thugs trying to prevent people from taking snaps
Not sure what the situation will be this year. But depending on how it seems, I’ll bring my camera to the opening of Jesse James on Thursday night. How could I not take a picture of Brad Pitt????

Maureen is happy…

What is making Maureen happy? Her TIFF pick envelope ended up in box 70 of 75 and the number drawn out of the hat (well, box) was 66. That means she has a better than fighting chance of getting all her first choice movies. Yippee! Let’s hope she didn’t make too many mistakes on her selection form at 4:00 am this morning…

Festival Time

So, it’s festival time again and I’m up late trying to make my picks which are due by 1:00 PM tomorrow. Not that I’m guaranteed to get my first choice picks, but I’ve been incredibly lucky the past few years, which, of course, makes me think this is the year that my second choice picks will be more important or even relevant…

I blogged last year a bit about the festival and I’m always faced with the what-kind-of-festival-do-I-want-to-have question when trying to make my selections from the 350 plus films they’re showing.

Do I go for the avante guard? Foreign films? Base it on trying to stick to one theatre for a few films in a row, rather than dashing around Toronto? Do I try to maximize the number of celebrities I see? I mean, is seeing The Assassination of Jesse James only a week or so before it’s released, but seeing Brad Pitt in the flesh during the introductions, worth passing up on Alan Ball’s new movie Nothing is Private? How does one decide these things?

And to get more absurd, do I choose to see Michael Clayton, which opens Oct 5 (in NY, LA and Toronto) but have a possible Clooney sighting — he is going to be in town, but will he show for the second screening? — or see My Kid Could Paint That, a documentary about a six year old girl whose paintings sell for big bucks. I’ll see Michael Clayton regardless of the festival, which makes me think I should go for the documentary… And what about the new Elizabeth film which looks amazing… Is it worth missing Jason Reitman’s (Thank you for not Smoking) new film Juno that starts Michael Cera who’s in Superbad right now??? And the only other screening of Juno is the same time as the new Coen brothers’ film No Country for Old Men.

A few films in the festival, I want to see regardless of the fact they’re opening in theatres soon. First is Across the Universe, mostly because it just looks so cool and if it gets reviewed badly I don’t want the reviews to spoil my possible amazing movie-going experience. Of course, seeing a trippy film like that at 9:00 in the morning may not be so trippy… The other is Eastern Promises, David Cronenberg’s new film. It’s the film that Toronto’s NOW Magazine picked as “THE FILM” of this year’s festival, plus the reviewer seemed to think that it’ll get slashed to pieces once the US censors see it… And I’d rather see it uncut.

So, back to my picking… Must get this done… I know. Tough life.

Intelligent choices…

I went to see The Lookout last night. And while I can’t say it was the best movie I’ve seen this year or anything quite that strong… it did strike me once again what interesting and intelligent choices Joseph Gordon-Levitt has made in his career.

I mean, here’s a kid who got famous very young and presumably made a lot of money for acting in a very silly sitcom. How easy would it have been to move from that into either another silly sitcom or into teen-exploitation movies. He’s cute and looks even younger than he is, easily passing for a teenager even now. I’m sure he must have been offered tons of hollywood teen movies.
Instead? He’s been doing really interesting smaller films.

(Okay, he was in 10 Things I Hate About You. But I’d argue that was, as teen movies go, a pretty smart one. I mean, doing a modern remake of Taming of the Shrew is a pretty bold idea. And that director was smart enough to cast an almost unknown at the time Heath Ledger, too.)

I first saw Gordon-Levitt, post 3rd Rock, (which, for the record, I thought was hilarious when it first came out, but quickly tired of), in a film at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival called Mysterious Skin. It’s my favourite type of film to see at the festival, but a hard kind to pick just based on the programming schedule. Maybe if I knew more about directors, etc… but I usually find these ones by luck alone. By favourite type, I mean interesting, bold, smaller films — usually with a young, new director, and often with hollywood stars or up-and-coming young actors — but which, in spite of its impressive cast, will never be released into the theatres, or if it is released, will be hard to find because of a very short run/small number of screens.

I picked this film totally by luck. I think I was literally at the theatre, had a few hours to kill before my next screening (or was too lazy to truck over to whatever theatre my next screening was at) and there were tickets available.

What an interesting film. His performance is still with me. Now, a small warning before you go out to rent it. Here are the “Plot Keywords” listed on for Mysterious Skin. “Gay Lead Character / Disturbing / Nose Bleed / Alien Abduction / Coming Of Age”

Interested yet? I’m re-interested and will have to see it again.

Also very interesting was Brick, made in 2005, but which I’m pretty sure I just saw last year some time. Very cool movie. The director completely transfers the film-noir genre into a high school setting. Worth it for the stylized dialogue alone.

And The Lookout, in theatres now. A slowly building suspense film with great character development and, for me anyway, tons of quiet tension.

Gordon-Levitt is either a very smart young man, or he has very smart people around him. Oh, and I just noticed on imdb that he was in A River Runs Through It when he was only 10. Huh. Must have been one of the boys as a kid? Will have to see that again. Okay. For more than just Gordon-Levitt :-)

Good fun and entertainment

I did a blog yesterday on Drunk Writer Talk about how Will Farrell, Jack Black and John C. Reilly’s “comedy doesn’t get respect” number during the Oscar ceremony reminded me of how genre fiction doesn’t either… And how I’m learning to be “okay with that”.

And on that same vein, I wanted to tell everyone about two really fun movies I saw the other night. I know I mostly talk about indie and/or foreign films — but that’s mostly because I’ve seen a lot of cool movies ahead of their release dates, because of the 45 or so films I see every September at the Toronto International Film Festival. And if I loved them… I want people to know about them.

Doesn’t mean I don’t go to see tons of commercial films, too. (That don’t need my “help”. LOL)
I went to the movies on the weekend with pretty low expectations for two films and loved them both.

Music & Lyrics and Ghost Rider. I guess Ghost Rider surprised me more than Music & Lyrics but both were better than I expected.

Music & Lyrics probably wouldn’t have worked as well with different actors, but Hugh Grant, in particular, was perfectly cast. I loved how the entire movie pokes fun at 80’s pop songs (not to mention current baby Pop Divas) and all those early videos which were so, so cheesy. But at the same time, it wasn’t mean spirited about it and Hugh’s character wasn’t completely pathetic. Sure, he’d given up on trying to be great, but he was still earning a living at what he loved –performing music — and seemed pretty content with his life. Of course, as in all great genre storytelling, he was a better man by the end of the film and had rediscovered his passion for music.
I actually liked the Drew Barrymore character too and think she was well cast as someone a little ditsy and vulnerable whose confidence has been seriously shaken. And at the same time, Drew has that seductress thing about her, so you could wonder whether the Campbell Scott character was right about her. (LOVE him by the way. Have never seen him do anything not interesting.)

After seeing that perfectly satisfying little dessert of a movie, I actually snuck into Ghost Rider (don’t tell on me) not really expecting to like it and prepared to walk out early if my expectations proved true. But I really enjoyed it. I’m not normally into those comic book type movies but the religious element added a deeper layer to the premise and I thought the story was well told. And seriously. We do not see nearly enough Wes Bentley on the screen these days. He makes an AMAZINGLY sexy evil demon dude.

Ode to Jodie Foster

Posted during the Oscar red carpet….

I don’t know what it is about Jodie Foster. Maybe it’s that we’re almost exactly the same age, (okay, I’m 6 months and 15 days older) maybe it’s because I saw her in so many Disney movies when I was a kid, maybe it was because we’re both blonde (well, I was) and tomboyish and (she says humbly) smart (or at least we both did well at school, which isn’t always the same thing as smart)….

I don’t know exactly what it is. I just know if I could be anyone in the world other than myself. I would be Jodi Foster.

And it’s not the fame (although I wouldn’t hate that) it’s the brains and the class and the confidence and the way her blue eyes matched her dress at the Oscars. I’d die for that. (But my dress would have to be green and my eyes would have to be a different colour of green to look that great in a dress…) How great was it that she told Ryan Seacrest that she had her eyes specially died to match her dress? Wit people. That’s called wit. Okay, I want her wit, too.

I once dated a man who thought I looked likd Helen Hunt (okay, before you laugh, I was thinner then) But if I was going to pick an actress my age I identify with, it wouldn’t be Helen (though I love her) it would be Jodi.

Speaking of actors I remember from childhood — Jackie Earle Haley. God I hope he wins. That would be so cool. I’ve blogged about Little Children before. Amazing movie. Need to read the book.

Okay, just about to post and Celine Dion walzes down the carpet… Okay, I know she has the ESL issues, but “we’ve been to the Oscars before”. Who is she? The Queen? What’s with the royal we?

Oscars — Writing and Acting Etc.

Just a few more comments about the Oscar nominations–because I can’t stop myself.

First, in the best foreign language film category, I would be remiss as a Canadian (and an avid movie-goer) if I didn’t mention the film Water, by Deepa Mehta.

Ms. Mehta had a lot of trouble making this film. She was kicked out of India (where it was filmed) more than once, I think, and picketed a number of times because of its controversial subject — the treatment of widows in the Hindu culture. The movie is set in the 1930’s — which is not that long ago — and I think this is a film every woman should see. But while its subject is serious and sad, the film isn’t all darkness and depression. It really has a lot of hope and humor, too. (and even a little romance.)

I was super annoyed last year at whomever it is in Canada who picks which film to put forward for the Academy Awards. (It’s my understanding that each country can make one official entry to this category.) Last year, Canada put forward the French language film, C.R.A.Z.Y — which didn’t get a nomination and I was angry that Water hadn’t been put forward in its place. (Don’t get me wrong, C.R.A.Z.Y. is a good film, too. I saw both at the 2005 TIFF, but Water is better.) What I didn’t understand is that Water wasn’t released in the US until 2006, so couldn’t be put forward last year. Phew. At least it was put forward, now, and got the nomination it deserves. With the other great films in this category, I doubt Water will win… But at least it’s getting some well-deserved recognition.

Because I’m a writer, albeit not a screenwriter, I should also talk a bit about the writing awards. (Always listed at the very bottom of the nominations…. like the writers don’t really matter. What’s up with that???)

“Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” is up for best adapted screenplay. Huh? I loved this movie, but don’t get this nomination, at all. To me, it’s like nominating Survivor for best writing at the Emmys. Sasha Baron Cohen is clever… but really, how much of this film was “written” other than his stand up-ish stuff. Doesn’t seem right to me.

Of the other films in this category: “Children of Men”, “The Departed”, “Little Children”, “Notes on a Scandal”…. I’d have to go with Little Children. I know I’m not a screenwriter, but I’m not sure if adapting a foreign language screenplay (Infernal Affairs) into an English language screenplay is all that much “adapting” compared to adapting a complex novel. It bugged me a few years ago that Cameron Crowe (who I’m a big fan of, generally) took a writing credit on Vanilla Sky. I’ve seen the original, Open Your Eyes, and thought he should have taken a translation credit, not a writing one… I admit I haven’t read the novel Little Children , (but would like to), but this was a very interesting film and I loved the way the screenwriter integrated some narration into it in a clever way. Children of Men and Notes on a Scandal were both excellent films as well, but I want Little Children to win. (It won’t though. Too dark. Didn’t make enough money.)

While I’m talking about Little Children, it would be amazing if Jackie Earle Haley won for best supporting actor. A creepy performance to be sure. But amazing. It was driving me nuts while I was watching this movie, trying to figure out where I’d seen him before. Turns out he hasn’t worked for a while. The two films I remember him in were the original Bad News Bears, 1978, where he played the love interest for Tatum O’Neil and then in Breaking Away, 1979. If you haven’t ever seen Breaking Away, rent it. It’s worth it to see a very young Dennis Quaid, in what I believe was his first film performance. But a great film in other ways, too.

The original screenplay nominations are: “Babel” Written by Guillermo Arriaga; “Letters from Iwo Jima”, Screenplay by Iris Yamashita, Story by Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis; “Little Miss Sunshine” Written by Michael Arndt; “Pan’s Labyrinth” Written by Guillermo del Toro; “The Queen” Written by Peter Morgan.

I would be happy if any one of Babel, Little Miss Sunshine or Pan’s Labyrinth win this category. I think Little Miss Sunshine deserves recognition because it seemed so tightly written to me — particularly for a comedy where often scenes are added just to be funny, but don’t advance the story. I want to see it again to study it more, to think about it rather than just enjoying it… But the other two were more complex and also amazing, so I’m torn… I’ll be ticked if either The Queen, or Letters from Iwo Jima wins…

Okay, I promise to stop talking about the Oscars for a while.

Oscars — Best Picture Nominations

Here’s my take on the nominations for “Best motion picture of the year”, all of which I’ve actually seen…


Loved this film. Have already talked about it a few times… It’s a fairly depressing, but I think realistic, look at the world today. How not listening and jumping to conclusions can lead to tragedy. This director, Alejandro González Iñárrituis, is amazingly talented, as is the writer, Guillermo Arriaga. This writing/directing pair also did 21 Grams, which if you haven’t seen, you should. Rent it. Tonight.

I need to post a photo of Alejandro, too. Just ’cause he’s so damn cute. That should count for something. (He’d get my vote for best director, based on his looks, alone.)

“The Departed”

Loved this film, too. Interestingly though… although Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Wahlberg have been getting all the awards attention re: this movie… It was Matt Damon who blew me away in this film. Okay, they were all good, I just thought Matt was super interesting and unexpected. One of the most charming bad guys I’ve seen on film and (I’m quoting Molly) you could see his ulcer’s growing through changes in his smile.
I need to see Infernal Affairs — the movie this was based on… (Back on the Matt topic. He really had a good/interesting year. The Good Shepherd was not a perfect movie, but his performance was perfect and so different from other roles I’ve seen him play. Why are all these award granters ignoring him? His buddy Ben even got nominated for a Golden Globe.)

“Letters from Iwo Jima”

I actually saw this film. I’m not big on war movies, so the idea of sitting through a war movie in Japanese with subtitles was daunting… But I did enjoy it. Don’t think I’d pick it for a best picture nomination, though. It was certainly an interesting history lesson — I hope at least some of it accurate — regarding that battle from the Japanese side, but the whole story structure etc. just seemed a little too pat to me, a little too easy. (and it got nominated for writing, too???? Maybe the Academy just authomatically nominates anything Paul Haggis worked on, now?)
“Little Miss Sunshine”

Loved this movie and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that it got this nomination. I’m actually hoping this one will win. Not because I necessarily think it’s better than some of the others — just that it would be so much fun to see it win over those other more serious, more likely to win, films. I do love an underdog. This is already out on DVD. Rent it. (It will be a nice emotional break after 21 Grams which is pretty heavy.)

“The Queen”

Again, really, really enjoyed this film, (more than some people I know… Molly?) but not sure it deserves a best picture nomination. Helen Mirren’s performance was fantastic — she’ll surely win best actress — but the film as a whole wasn’t that exciting or interesting to me. Films like Volver, or Pan’s Labyrinth or Notes on a Scandal or I’m sure there are others… (this is just off the top of my head) seem so much more deserving to me.

Lead or supporting???

Does anyone know how actors end up in lead or supporting actor categories for award shows?

I mean, why were Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the lead category for Babel where Adriana Barraza was in supporting? She certainly had a bigger and more pivotal part than Cate, anyway, who spent 90% of the movie practically unconscious.

And more to the point, why was Beyonce in the lead category when Jennifer Hudson was in supporting?
I’m glad that it gave Jennifer Hudson better chance to win, (since she didn’t have to go up against Helen Mirren) but she was definitely the lead of Dreamgirls — which I finally saw tonight.

She was a revelation. I’d heard she was good, but she actually made me cry. And I don’t get how anyone could say Effie isn’t the protagonist of that movie. How does that put her in a supporting role category?