You’ve got to see: Room

One of the best films I saw at TIFF this year was also one of the best books I’ve read over the past several years. ROOM. And it won the coveted People’s Choice Award.


roomThe past few years’ winners of the People’s Choice Award include:
The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave, Silver Linings Playbook, The King’s SpeechSlumdog Millionaire etc. etc. 
And going back a few more years, winners include: Hotel Rwanda, American Beauty, The Princess Bride, The Big Chill, and Chariots of Fire.

All this to say that the People’s Choice prize at TIFF is typically a “this is a great film” stamp of approval (voted on by actual movie goers, not critics) and often the winners go on to be nominated for multiple Oscars.
So, back to Room.

This film covers difficult topics–abduction and rape–but because the film (and the book) are anchored in the point of view of a five-year-old boy, the film is also surprisingly upbeat and sweet. Look at the poster for the film. Sweet, right?
The performance from Brie Larson (who was amazing in Short Term 12 — find it, if you haven’t seen that one yet — and as Amy Schumer’s sister in Trainwreck was astounding. She is definitely one of the most unaffected and talented actors in Hollywood these days.
And the boy, Jacob Tremblay, who plays her son! Wow. The kid was actually eight when it filmed, but you totally believe that he’s five and he’ll steal and break your heart–then ultimately warm it.
I’ve spoken to a few people who are afraid to see this film, thinking that the subject matter is too difficult, but I say don’t worry. Just go. You won’t be sorry. Especially if you’re a mom, or have one. 😉
And for me, personally, it was fun to see so many shots of Toronto and to see a Canadian film (well Canadian/Irish co-production) doing so well. (Even if it’s supposed to be somewhere in the US.)
If you go see it, let me know what you think! I hope you love it as much as I did.

Favorite TIFF Memories — Crash

It’s time for the Toronto International Film Festival again!

I swore I wasn’t going to go this year (for the first time since 2002) but when a friend offered to go online to buy me some tickets I couldn’t resist. I’m seeing 7 movies. A record low for me, but I have other things going on at the moment….

That said, I hereby promise to share my thoughts on all the films I see. :)

In the meantime, I decided to revisit some of my favorite memories from TIFF over the years.

One of the first TIFF moments that came to mind was the world premiere of the movie CRASH.

crashWhile Crash won the Oscar for Best Film in 2005, I actually saw it on September 10, 2004. And was one of the very first people, ever, to see the film. Writer and Director Paul Haggis, during his introduction, told us that he didn’t have any industry or press screenings prior to the public premiere at TIFF–he cheekily told distributors who might want to bid on the film, to show up to the public screening–and that in itself was exciting. (Distribution rights sold at auction later that same night, or very early the next morning.)

The feeling in the beautiful Elgin theatre that evening was electric. And I was buzzing. I’d selected the film knowing almost nothing about it, and it was during one of my years where I’d purchased a Festival Pass, good for 50 films, so was on a serious movie overload.

But while waiting to get in, I was lucky to be admitted to the lobby ahead of time (thanks VISA Canada) and Sandra Bullock (in a beautiful pink satin gown if I’m remembering correctly) literally tapped me on the shoulder to get by to the elevator, saying, “Gotta pee. Excuse me. Gotta pee.” In real life, she was just as amazing as you want her to be.

And the film… It simply blew me away. I gasped, I cried, I marveled at the connections and the riveting performances from actors (including Bullock) who I’d underestimated before.

And I became a lifelong fan of Paul Haggis. Remember, I saw Crash several months before Million Dollar Baby came out, and as of that night he was mostly known for being a writer on The Facts of Life.

Few other TIFF nights have lived up to that one… but over the next week or so I plan to share a few more that did.


By far the best film I’ve seen so far this TIFF.

In other news…

Compliance is a finalist in the Golden Leaf contest!

And today, Deviants hit #11 in the kindle store!  And #1 in a whole whack of categories. Very excited and grateful.

Maureen’s TIFF 13 Schedule

Barring moments of weakness when I purchase individual tickets for other screenings (for way too much money…) Here are my picks for this year’s TIFF:

Only Lovers Left Alive
Tom Hiddleston,Tilda Swinton, Jim Jarmusch dir
(North American premiere)
Tom Hiddleston (aka Loki) plays a David Bowie-style rock star. And Jim Jarmusch films are usually very cool — never mind anything Tilda Swinton is in
Stars should be there.
Hateship Loveship
Kristen Wiig, Guy Pearce, Hailee Stanfield, Jennifer Jason Leigh (Based on Alice Munro story)
(World Premiere)
Stars should be there.
Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple
(World premiere)
Looks very strange to say the least. Notes say it’s “uncomfortable” especially for people with an aversion to snakes. Yikes.
Stars should be there.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman
(World premiere – but I’m at 2nd screening)
Looks awesome. I’ve already seen the trailer for this one in theatres, so it’s likely coming out soon.
Stars unlikely to be there. But one never knows…
The Double
Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska
(World premiere)
Looks really interesting. Filmed in Toronto.
Stars should be there. Plus they are adorable and a couple.
Idris Elba
(World premiere – 2nd screening)
Idris Elba. Nelson Mandela. Enough said.
Stars unlikely to be there.
The Grand Seduction
Taylor Kitsch
(World Premiere)
English Canadian remake of an awesome French Canadian film.
Stars should be there
Child of God
Directed by James Franco
(North American premiere)
Looks very “challenging”…
Franco will likely be there.
The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Him and Her
Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy..
(work in progress)
I didn’t realize this was a WIP when I picked it. No wonder it’s so long… About 3 hours. Who the heck knows whether the stars will be here, as the film’s not finished yet…
Under the Skin
Scarlett Johansson
(North American Premiere)
Stars should be there.
Third Person
Liam Neeson, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody – Paul Haggis dir
(World premiere – 2nd screening)
Stars unlikely to be there.
Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver
(North American premiere)
Stars should be there. This film got great buzz in Venice and sold to the Weinsteins for distribution.
Tom Wilkinson, Joel Edgerton
(World Premiere)
Stars should be there.
How I Live Now
Saoirse Ronan
(World premiere – 2nd screening)
Stars unlikely to be there.
The Husband
Bruce McDonald (dir)
(World premiere)
Stars likely to be there. But I don’t recognize any of the names… Edgy Canadian director.
The Railway Man
Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman
(World premiere – 2nd screening)
Stars unlikely to be there. :(
Words and Pictures
Clive Owen, Juliette Binoche
(World premiere – 2nd screening)
Stars unlikely to be there. :(
Palo Alto
James Franco, Emma Roberts, Gia Coppola (dir)
(North American premiere, 2nd screening)
Stars unlikely to be there. :(
Story of my Death
Spanish film about Casanova and Count Dracula
(North American premiere, 3rd screening)
This one just sounded very cool… And I figured it was unlikely to show in theatres, so this would be my only chance.

I’ll try really, really hard to blog about some of the movies this year during the festival.

End of Watch

The first film I saw at the Toronto International Film Fesitval this year was End of Watch, which actually opens today.

For me, this was a really good film if a difficult one. It becomes clear, not that far in, that there’s no chance this movie is going to end well… and I kept thinking, D’uh, you dummy, of course it’s not going to end well, it’s called END of Watch.

The performances were really strong and ultimately it’s a story about two men in a working relationship who really care about each other and about their jobs. A bromance.

Sadly, it’s also about how sometimes it doesn’t pay to do the right thing. It was kind of depressing to see this demonstrated so clearly–why some police officers would choose to look the other way at times. Almost like the worse the criminals the more the police have to lose by pursuing them.

But it’s also about the real (friendship) love between two men and a glance into the lives of police officers in one of the most dangerous parts of LA.

I was at the second screening for this film, so the actors weren’t there :( but the director was :) and he did a brief Q&A.

Interesting things learned:

– that the part of LA these police work in is as dangerous as was depicted in the film. Police officers there see more action in a typical day than most others do in their entire careers
– an AK 47 is a highly inaccurate gun. I can’t remember the exact stats the director gave on their accuracy, but basically it made sense of all the scenes I’ve seen in movies where the hero is being fired upon by multiple  automatic weapons, yet manages not to get hit…
– Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña did not get along well (according to the director). This made me more impressed with their acting performances.

If you’re in the mood for a tension filled not so happy film, check this one out.

TIFF People’s Choice Winner

And the winner is:

Silver Linings Playbook

SAt easth

Alas, I did not see this one–it was already sold out when my number came up to book tickets :-( –but I definitely will see it when it comes out.

 At each screening during the festival this year, they reminded us of past People’s Choice winning films that premiered at TIFF and went on to greatness. There have been many such films, but the 3 they reminded us of were: American Beauty, Slumdog Millionaire and The King’s Speech.

The rags-to-riches story that was most dramatic was that for Slumdog Millionaire — for a few reasons. First, it was destined to be a straight to DVD release before it screened at TIFF and it went on to gross a huge amount globally and second… I was in its premiere screening at TIFF in 2008.  Because it was a premiere and no one knew anything about it, (other than the director was Danny Boyle), the reaction and atmosphere at the premiere were electric.

I remember only hesitantly putting Slumdog on my list of picks that year. I wanted to see it because I’ve been a huge fan of Danny Boyle ever since I saw Shallow Grave… but on the down side the photo they put in the program made the film look bleak and I thought it would be a kids suffering in the slums of Mumbai kind of movie — and I try not to do too many of those kinds of films at TIFF. (Many films at the festival are on the dark side… and it can get overwhelming if you don’t balance it with a few lighter ones.)

But I’m so glad I picked Slumdog that year. I was blown away. Here’s my rambling blog post about Slumdog Millionaire during the 2008 TIFF.

Can’t wait to start posting more about the films I saw this year. :-)

Melancholia — Oddly Beautiful

I will get to some slightly more accessible movies, I promise, but I wanted to say a few things about Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia.

First, I’ve been a fan of Danish director Von Trier since Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark and Dogtown. I also saw a very bizarre documentary about him and one of his mentors at the festival one year. I wish I could remember the name of it, but I suppose it would be hard for people to find anyway.

He is one strange dude. But strange in a fascinating if unlikeable way. And his movies are often kind of like that, too. Strange and somewhat unlikeable. He definitely has a point of view and isn’t afraid to express it. (Even to the point of that horrible quote he said at a press conference in Cannes this year that got him kicked out.)

But even given that the movie’s strange and unlikeable, I really enjoyed Melancholia. It’s about the end of the world and two sisters, one of whom is very seriously depressed. To the point she spends a good chunk of her lavish wedding reception hiding out in the bathtub. (and she married Eric from True Blood–that she wasn’t joyous enough about that to get through her reception is proof enough of her serious mental illness. 😉

The depressed sister is played by Kirsten Dunst and I liked her in this more than I’ve liked her in anything since Interview With a Vampire–when she was about twelve. I really believed her character. Hard to play someone that severely depressed and not make it one note. Her sister is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg who is always fascinating in films. I find her real life, or the idea of it, fascinating enough, as she’s the child of French singer/songwriter/icon Serge Gainsbourg and the sixties fashion icon Jane Birkin (yes, the Birkin bag was named after her mom.) Kiefer Sutherland plays her brother in law. And both Alexander and Stellan Skarsgaard are in it, playing father and son, in fact.

Anyway… the film is very surreal and has two parts. The first is essentially from the Kirsten Dunst character’s POV and covers the night of her wedding reception. (The first five minutes at least are a scene of a long limo doing endless tiny adjustments trying to get around corners on a steep narrow road to take them to their reception. Symbolism…) The 2nd part is from the Charlotte Gainsbourg character’s POV, but it’s not quite that clean cut. The first part shows the disastrous wedding reception where the bride is an unbelievable mess. And that night they all spot a strange star in the sky no one’s seen before.

Turns out it’s not a star, but a planet that was previously undiscovered because it was hiding behind the sun. Don’t quibble about the science. You kind of just have to go with it. Point is, this planet is moving toward the earth and may or may not destroy the world if it gets too close as it passes or actually hits. The second part is about the characters preparing for this disaster/possible doomsday.

The irony here, or von Trier’s “message” is that the one who was already clinically depressed is the one who deals with this impending doom the best. And the cheeriest, most “together” character (Kiefer Sutherland’s character who is the very wealthy husband of the Gainsbourg character) is the one who handles it the worst.

Since I think it’s fair to assume that Mr. von Trier has struggled with a few mental illnesses himself, it’s not hard to get his point here… Maybe the mentally ill among us are actually the most sane.

If you hate surrealism, or strange movies, and didn’t like, for example, The Tree of Life, then you probably shouldn’t see this one. But it’s beautiful to look at, seriously beautiful, (the first ten or so minutes have no dialogue and are just a series of very surreal images), and the performances are astoundingly good (Dunst won best actress at Cannes or maybe Venice… or maybe both) so if this description hasn’t turned you off…. go see it. And keep an open mind. :)

Another Olsen Kid — Who Knew?

I hereby vow **holds hand up** that I will blog at least once a week, more often if I can, until I’ve covered more of my TIFF films.

I thought I should start with some of the ones that have already hit theatres…

One I really liked:  Martha Marcy May Marlene. (It’s easier to remember the title and order of the names after seeing the film…)

This is not an “easy” film but I was completely enthralled and mostly because of the performance by its lead, Elizabeth Olsen, pictured here with Sarah Paulson who’s always interesting to watch.

I didn’t know until after seeing the film that the actress was the younger sister of the Olsen twins and I’m glad I didn’t know, because I might have been distracted thinking about it. But maybe not. She was pretty remarkable in a not very easy part. Time will tell whether or not her performance in her debut movie was fluke but I’m guessing not.

The real challenge of this part is that she has to play this young woman in several different states of mind. One is a lost teen searching for approval and a place in the world. One is a happy, eager new member of a cult, thinking she’s finally found acceptance and love. One an obedient soldier in the cult, broken but steadfast. One a desperate escapee on the run. And finally a girl trying to adapt to the real world again and figuring out how to live with her sister and brother in law.

The timelines interweave. If memory serves (this is the problem with blogging more than 2 months later) we first see the escapee version of her character, then the girl trying to cope, then we flash back to when she first met the cult members etc. The tension continues to build as we see more and more of what this girl went through and understand why she’s so messed up and acting in such a bizarre manner in the present.

The cult leader is played by John Hawkes from Deadwood and Winter’s Bone. He was also fabulous in this. When I was a teen everyone was talking about cults… Maybe because the idealism in the 1970’s and the disillusionment with “society” (remember antidisestablishmentarianism?) led more young people toward cults… But this film reminded me why being brainwashed haunted my twelve year old nightmares.

The ending of this movie will likely tick some viewers off. I saw it with a festival audience and even then a few people shouted at the screen at the very abrupt ending. But those people might not have been angry… more startled. That’s all I’m going to say, except that with hindsight it was the perfect ending. The only other way they could have gone would be to add a big third act climax with a Hollywood ending… (think the hilarious last act of Adaptation after Charlie Kaufman goes to Robert McKee’s Story seminar) but it’s just not that kind of film. And we’ve seen enough at that point to deduce what’s about to happen after the projector shuts off.

If you have any tolerance for “art films” this is one you should see. I think Elizabeth Olsen might end up nominated for some awards and might just be a new rising star who will make people think of Kate and Ashley as Elizabeth Olsen’s older sisters rather than the other way around.

Ides of March

Dang, I am a bad blogger. I promised I’d get around to talking about some of the other TIFF films I saw last weekend. My how time flies.

While I haven’t found time to blog in the past 10 days, I did manage to see three movies 😉 . All films that were at TIFF, but I didn’t pick to see there (mostly because I knew they were coming out right after the festival.) I think all three of the fest movies I saw post-fest were great: Drive, 50/50 and Moneyball. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to go with 50/50, (because it’s the easiest to “like”), but if I had to pick the one I thought was “best” I’d go with Drive.

But back to The Ides of March.

This is a political film starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling (sounds great, right?) and co-starring Paul Giamatti and Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood (sounds even better, right?). I mean stellar cast, stellar performances, interesting topic… It should have been a home run (to use a metaphor more suited to Moneyball).

But it wasn’t home run for me. Don’t get me wrong, it was very good. But I wanted to be blown away and I wasn’t. I keep trying to put my finger on why…. I think it’s because there’s really nothing new or groundbreaking about this story. Call me cynical but it’s not news to me that otherwise good people with strong values and ideals can do unethical and immoral things in pursuit of power. And in this case in order to get the democratic nomination for the US Presidency.

I feel as if Primary Colors already covered that ground and while this movie is more serious and dare-I-say smarter than Primary Colors, I’m not sure it was as entertaining.

I’m not saying don’t go see it — especially if you’re a fan of either Clooney or Gosling — but don’t get your hopes up as high as mine were, because super-high expectations are hard to live up to. :)

Drive and 50/50, on the other hand, both lived up to my expectations. But I’ll talk about those soon. :) I promise this time.

The Ones Coming Out Soon

After promising to post some reviews, I guess I should follow through. I’ve hit that evil just past the middle place in my current WIP and I’ve been spending a lot of time banging my head against the keyboard and haven’t felt much like blogging.

But here’s my take on a couple of films that are out or will be out soon.


I actually already talked about this one here.  According to imdb.com it was released in the US on September 16th. I don’t think it’s showing up here in Canada.

I give this a “maybe worth a rental” rating. I love Mia Wasikowska–think she’s incredibly talented–but the screenplay didn’t live up to her performance for me.


This was the one “second choice” I got this year. I’d chosen A Dangerous Method (which doesn’t open until December) but wasn’t that disappointed to get this screening instead. Both screenings were “day after the gala” showings so it’s not like there was any red carpet action going on anyway.

This one releases Oct 28th, and if you haven’t already seen the trailer (they’ve been showing it for MONTHS already) it’s set in Elizabethan times (not QE2) and posits another theory for who actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays, plus some interesting theories about the rightful heir to Elizabeth’s throne.

At least this theory was a new one to me, although I certainly don’t pretend to be all that informed about Shakespeare theories. I was definitely aware of the theories that Will could not have been the true author, since there’s no historical evidence he was educated, never mind being able to write. The Shakespeare character in this movie (a minor role) was very funny and I enjoyed him a lot. I also like the young Earl of Oxford, played by Jamie Campbell Bower, who plays Arthur in the TV series Camelot. But I’m not certain I really bought Rhys Ifans (photo above) as his older self. I didn’t immeditately recognize Ifans, so I don’t think I was affected by other goofier parts he’s played, but I just didn’t buy him as a leading man. I honestly thought he was the villain in the first few scenes he was in and it took me a while to figure out who was who and what was going on. My overall reaction might have been different if I’d seen him differently from the start. (One reason to see again is to see if the screenwriter or actor or director missed an opportunity to make me like/identify with the protagonist…) I think the problem is that they make you think that Ben Jonson is the main character, but he’s really not….

Talking about Ifans not really working for me and my issues with identifying a main character probably leads me to my overall reaction to this movie which is:  I’m not sure… I think I’m going to see it again when it comes out. My biggest problem had nothing to do with the movie (I don’t think) but to do with the couple who were sharing my row near the front right side of the Elgin and destroying my concentration. Both of them had their phones out through the movie, frequently flashing in my eyes, in spite of my telling them to shut up and turn off their phones a number of times. People have suggested I should have called an usher (or one of the big burly men with night vision glasses) but I figured that would just cause more disruption for other people, and I’m not sure if the the big burly men care about phones shining in people’s eyes as long as you’re not filming…. Generally festival goers are better behaved than this pair, but it was a weekend screening and I don’t think they were true “festival goers” if you know what I mean.

Anyway, it was brilliant to cast mother/daughter acting team of Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as the younger and older versions of Queen Elizabeth I and the obvious age difference between Richardson and Bower (who plays the young version of Oxford) made one major plot twist even more deliciously creepy.

I think this one is worth seeing on the big screen–it’s beautiful if nothing else. Full of interesting conspiracy theories about an fascinating historical time. And like I said, I plan to see it a second time. But it didn’t blow me away as much as I’d hoped.

Will post my review of The Ides of March some time over the weekend. :)