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TIFF’12: Day 9

September 17, 2012 — 3 Comments

Finally! I have come to it. The end of TIFF’12. Okay, so there were actually two more days. But I skipped them! Including Day 9, I saw 29 films and a special live event. That’s 30 ticketed events in 9 days. I know some people who do more than that, but those people are crazy and my load just about killed me. But before I could officially call it quits, I did have to, you know, watch some more movies.

For my last day at TIFF I decided to go all out. I had four tickets, plus I planned on rushing one of two possible movies. It would be a long day, beginning with a movie at 11am and ending with a movie starting at midnight. I was also pretty confident that my line-up of films would be stronger than the last couple of days. As it turns out, I was right. Click to read more.

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TIFF’12: Day 8

September 17, 2012 — 3 Comments

Ah, what a pleasure it is to only start my day in the evening. Of course, that didn’t stop me from waking up early for no reason and being extremely exhausted throughout the day, but at least I could sit around and do nothing until 6pm. I’d considered heading down to check out the new Barry Levinson horror film, The Bay, but despite the solid word-of-mouth I just didn’t feel like sitting through a found footage movie.

I won’t make any bones about it. The back half of my TIFF’12 experience was not as great as the front. I mean, sure, I was still having a blast, but the films were mostly not as good. I attribute this to my front-loading  the films I most wanted to see in the hopes that I’d add in several films with great word-of-mouth for later. I did do that, but I was also still adding in random films that fit my schedule and looked decent. Either way, my Day 8 started very well, but took a sour turn. Click to read more.

TIFF’12: Day 4

September 16, 2012 — 2 Comments

Day 4 and already I’m hit with film festival exhaustion. It might sound like an easy thing to do nothing but watch films for several days. I’m here to tell you, nothing could be further from the truth. Films require a kind of mental attention. Watching more than two in a row tires out the mind. Factor in the fact that at a festival as big as TIFF you’re also running all over town, standing in line-ups, getting up early, going to sleep late, and by the end of it you feel like you’re going to collapse.

All that being said, a film festival is a gloriously fun thing. It’s exhausting, but also rewarding. And even when the films themselves aren’t rewarding, the people you meet and hang out with make it all worthwhile. The night before I’d stayed up until 3am finishing off Cloud Atlas so that I’d have read it all before seeing the new film adaptation. It was worth it. Click to read more.

Movie Review: Brave

June 15, 2012 — 7 Comments

A good, constructive mother-daughter relationship is hard to come by in film. They crop up here and there. Terms of Endearment comes to mind. But they just aren’t done that often. More common is the Carrie/Black Swan variety of horribly destructive relationships between mothers and daughters. So, in comes Pixar, producing the company’s first ever film centred on a female protagonist. Brave, conceived by Brenda Chapman and co-directed by Chapman and Mark Andrews, brings to the screen one of the most affecting mother-daughter relationships I’ve seen in quite some time.

Brave is a bit of a schizophrenic movie. It’s an uproarious slapstick comedy surrounding a very tender fairy tale about a mother and daughter coming to terms with each others’ views. Amazingly, the two tones work harmoniously almost all the time. (I’ll get to the “almost” a bit later.) Merida is a feisty Scottish princess who wants nothing more than to shoot arrows and climb cliffs. Her mother, Elinor, is Queen of the land, and particularly due to the boisterous nature of her husband, Fergus, she’s left to actually run the show. Part of that responsibility is teaching Merida to be a proper princess and to have her betrothed. Of course, Merida wants none of it. She just wants to live freely and take things easy. Classic conflict; a simple and effective set-up. Click to read more.

This week I got to see a big screen presentation of the animated shorts nominated at the Oscars. Along with the five nominated films were four “highly commended” shorts, a welcome addition considering the five nominated shorts don’t even fill an hour of viewing. What I generally love about animated shorts is that they’re effectively silent films. Where live-action shorts generally try to be like small versions of the kinds of movies you might see at the art house, animated shorts tend to be conceived as a way of showing off skill in animation. That makes sense, of course, but the result is usually a total lack of dialogue, focusing on expression through character animation.

Onward, to the reviews! Click to read more.

“They sure don’t make ’em like they used to.”

That’s the thought that was running through my head after I saw War Horse for the first time. It took a few minutes before I realized the irony of that notion. War Horse is a brand new film, yet it feels so old-fashioned that my immediate reaction was to think of it alongside old John Ford and Frank Borzage movies. I’m not the only one to have picked up on this. It’s been mentioned in almost every review of the film out there. What I found more curious was the reaction of people to the sentimental and melodramatic aspects of the film.

The most common complaints about War Horse relate to its sap and sentimentality. What’s weird to me is that many of these complaints seem to take for granted the idea that sentimentality is a bad quality in a film. How did this become the case? Why is it a bad thing to be sentimental, or sweeping, or even sappy? The way many critics and film lovers talk, you’d think that for sentimentality to be acceptable it has to be couched in raw reality or ambiguity or even an ironic wit and cynicism. It doesn’t make sense to me that films like Casablanca and It’s a Wonderful Life can be called masterpieces, but War Horse can be taken to task for its sweep and romance. Click to read more

Review: The Muppets

November 17, 2011 — 7 Comments

Words are useless for reviewing this movie.

Completely useless.

Instead, here’s a close approximation of my facial expression during the entire movie: Click to read more

Board games are fun. Obviously. But maybe not so obviously. Board games are also the bane of good friendships and family stability. They are explicitly designed to create competition, and competition leads to people getting frustrated with each other. It’s a wonder that family murder-suicides are not more commonly sparked by long games of Monopoly. That’s why I was so impressed when I sat down with some friends to play a few rounds of the game, Pandemic. Instead of fostering intense competition, it encourages intense cooperation, and it’s fun as hell. Click to read my full review

Honestly, I don’t have much at all to say about this film, so I’ll keep it relatively brief. Watching Olympia I could see the talent behind the camera. Leni Riefenstahl, lover her or hate her, knew what she was doing. Olympia is impressive on two technical fronts. The first is in how much it resembles modern sports coverage, which is remarkable because this film covers the Olympics of 1936! The second is that in may of the events, Riefenstahl forgoes standard sports highlight coverage in favour of showing off the human form and the beautiful feats it is capable of accomplishing. These sequences are definitely quite beautiful to watch, in particular the diving sequence at the very end of the three and a half hour, two-part film.

But honestly, as well made as it is, it’s basically three and a half hours of Olympic highlights made for those who wanted to re-live the games or who couldn’t catch them on a television set. Just as I wouldn’t care to pick up a set of highlight footage from a modern Olympics, I don’t really care all that much to see the highlights of the 1936 Berlin Olympiad. There are a couple cool notes, like the fact that Canada won some medals, and that the US and Germany won lots of medals, and that Hitler got really excited during some of the track events. But other than that, it was kind of just like watching two weeks of Olympics coverage condensed down to under four hours, with only some of the beauty left over and none of the suspense.

The last note is about the context of the film. Riefenstahl, no matter how much she claimed otherwise, was a part of the Nazi machine. Without understanding the historical context, Olympia is a fairly simple highlight reel that gives more than its fair share of time to covering the other countries competing, especially the US. But within a historical context, Olympia is a film with a mission that was made within the Nazi propaganda apparatus and was used at the time to show off the glory and “peacefulness” of a Germany under the Third Reich. Leni Riefenstahl would have been aware of this, and this is extremely troubling. While it isn’t as inherently despicable as her clear propaganda film, Triumph of the Will, and while it can be viewed as a perfectly okay movie to watch without that context, I do still think it’s important to note.

Divorce is a difficult subject to tackle honestly on film. There is an experiential element to it that makes it highly personal, and when done incorrectly it can be alienating rather than universal. A Separation is a film that gets divorce. It understands divorce through and through. But, more importantly, A Separation also uses divorce as a means to explore much grander issues of honesty, death, social class structure, religion and institutions. It also happens to be one of the best films I’ve seen all year.

Set in Iran, Asghar Farhadi’s film tells a somewhat complex story. Nader and Sirin are a married couple who have decided to separate due to differences over whether to leave the country. Nader cannot leave because he must take care of his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Their daughter decides to stay with Nader in an attempt to get Sirin to stay in Iran and get back together with Nader. That’s not even the main plot, though. Nader ends up hiring a woman to take care of his father during the day. The woman, Razieh, is pregnant, and one day Nader comes home early to find that she has gone out for a couple of hours and left his father alone, locked in his room, his arm tied to the bed, nearly suffocating. Nader pushes Razieh out the front door of his apartment, seemingly causing her to fall down the stairs, causing her to miscarriage.

From there, the film follows the fight between Nader and Razieh and their respective families. Nader is being charged with murder, and much of that hinges on whether he did or did not know about Razieh pregnancy. It is often difficult in the film to figure out who is telling the truth at what time, but more important is when we actually see these characters choose to lie, and the motivations for and effect of those lies.

You see, A Separation is not just about one family being torn apart, it’s about the whole of society being torn apart by the selfish and often fearful motivations of individuals. Farhadi brings us right into the world of these characters. Many of the things they do are awful and devastating, but we always understand why, and in some cases we actually sympathize. These are all real, flawed people who make poor decisions in the face of grave consequences.

The issues that A Separation examines are of great social importance, but they are also personal and universal. By letting us get to know the characters so well, we get to feel their pains and struggles. It all adds up to a film that raises many questions that are difficult or impossible to answer, and that’s where the magic lies. It shines a light on the difficulties of trying to share your life with the people around you, and for that it’s a film that’s very difficult to shake.