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163 reviews in total 
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Mia Madre (2015)
Moretti's Magnum Opus, 20 September 2015

Nanni Moretti is an accomplished filmmaker who won many awards as an actor, writer, director, producer across Europe for 4 decades, and a few in South America. He is a Cannes Film Festival favourite and won the 2015 Prize of the Ecumenical Jury with this fine film "Mia Madre" (aka My Mother) who was inspired partly by the recent death of his mother.

It was thus with immense pleasure that I was able to attend his TIFF first screening in his presence with an interpreter (even though his command of English is quite good especially understanding) and hear first hand a few details from the master.

First in terms of prizes, his 2001 film "La stanza del figlio" (aka The Son's Room) seems to be a contender for his masterpiece yet even though it is an extraordinary film, I can think of other films who dealt with the subject of losing a child much better, namely two in the same year with riveting "In the Bedroom" and even better Australian "Lantana", and later "Rabbit Hole (2010)" with Australian actress Nicole Kidman.

For "Mia Madre", we explore the dying and death of a parent but this time, this movie sets itself apart. It is dark and light with humour, showing scenes with conflicted and strong characters with multiple layers, exploring emotional and intellectual depth. It weaves between multiple layers of reality and meta-reality, time, thoughts, dreams, desires. It goes beyond death, before, in between... It is beautiful!

Moretti speaks of his inability to tell his actors to "be besides the character" (as opposed to being completely immersed in them) although that is what he would like to tell them. He feels too many acting awards go to people who become characters and lose themselves. He also mentions that he is closer to the distraught Margherita character (played by marvellous Margherita Buy who is a accomplished actress to say the least) than to the brother he plays in the film and wishes he had a better handle of the dying mother situation in real life. These small details show a level of maturity and complexity of thought with a crisp vision and appreciation. A non-assuming but assured wisdom can be felt from the man and the magnus opus I just saw.

Margherita's character is a director like Moretti so the piece is self-reflective in many ways and involves an interplay of many realities, possibilities and problems to deal with at the same time. Then he brings John Turturro to play the role of Barry Huggins who is a now barely able to remember a line actor of old fame and prestige with a sharp tongue and Hollywood arrogance. This creates some comic relief and hilarious scenes but also serve to contrast the work problems with the life problems and the miscommunication and misunderstanding of everyone.

The movie is a dream of sort, but a vivid one. Moretti's life distress gave us his Pièce de résistance.

Thank you for sharing. Thank you for caring.

Italy / France 2015 | 106 mins | Toronto International Film Festival | Italian (English subtitles) + some English

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
TIFF and Tim Godsall, 19 September 2015

Len and Company is a lean and mean cinematic machine. A gem of a genuinely funny, quirky and heart-warming film you don't want to end.

I saw an early morning screening at TIFF to a pleased crowd and with writer-director and the two lead actors.

Tim Godsall is a Toronto native who is behind some of the world's most innovative and funny commercials in most part including Axe and XBOX, but now he express himself fully in his first feature, filmed in Ontario but representing upstate New York contemplative country setting.

The character of Len, played brilliantly by Rhys Ifans, is the main draw of this story because it could have been a cliché rock star satyr, but breathes instead of freshness, frailty and lots of humanness without losing its rough edges and "coolness" factor. Balanced with a lost son looking for acceptance, estranged wife, friendly younger neighbour and a talented but tormented young artist (Zoe) played by Juno Temple, the story reaches a near-perfect portrayal of a man who had it all, but is lost in the world. This multi-character interplay is spot on from both acting and directing standpoint and you could see that the a real synergy had developed between all of them.

Every scene had dramatic tension but with a lot of humour throughout and actual exploration of human, artistic, psychological and philosophical truths or realities. You got to know and care about all this characters, feel for them and laugh with them. See the world through their eyes for a while and wish maybe you could have been in their less than perfect world a little longer but also appreciating your less than perfect world more when the credits rolled all too soon.

Jack Kilmer plays the son, Max, in perfect opposition to Rhys Ifans, Juno Temple and the other supporting cast. He keeps the movie grounded and real as opposed to Len (and Zoe)'s eccentricities. But Len is Len and scenes like his autobiographic rant in the classroom are classic comedy at a high degree, but not without the levity and bitterness both felt by the character and omnipresent in the farce, making it never far-fetched.

Tim Godsall took the right script with the right people, added some choice music and made it magic! Script, silence, dialogue, images, music and mood mixed to perfection.

May we see more movies (and dare I say less commercials) from a clear storyteller with a welcome edge. Best movie of 2015 so far? You got it. Other critics point out some petty underutilization of some story elements, supporting acting (compared to Ifans unanimous monster performance) or pace (note: the movie seems to have been trimmed down from 102 to 97 mins). I rather see this film to be a self-contained contemporary concoction that does not try to be all-encompassing but rather fleeting but with feeling like all its characters. In this aspect, its achieves this with extraordinary efficacy. The emotions, laughter and struggle resonate and the resolution or (lacktherof) is a recipe for enjoyable repeat viewing.

Canada 2015 | 97 mins | Toronto International Film Festival | English

Drawers (2015)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Sexual liberation or depravity?, 5 September 2015

Caner Alper writes and collaborates with Mehmet Binay to direct their second successful feature together after Zenne Dancer (2012) which won a dozen awards and also screened at the Montreal World Film Festival. Having already won best film and best actress at the Nuremberg Film Festival, Drawers (2015) did not draw a huge audience at its Montreal first screening but was able to draw viewers into the complicated cohesive storyline.

The intricacy of the picture probably requires repeated viewings for its full force, but from the initial experience, it seems like the pieces of the puzzle and the pace at the beginning took a while to develop and deliver. It drifted off like the main character before being more focus for the second and third acts.

Ece Dizdar's acting is indeed remarkable and we are faced with a psychologically troubled, traumatized young individual who faced problems, fears, hopes and dreams with self and external love issues. The story and directing take interesting directions with a few strong scenes that start to coalesce. Ece becomes sexy, sensual, sleazy, sentimental, sick, spiteful and soul-searching. Her character, Deniz, battles between levity, libido, limits and liberty constantly.

Family and art creation/performance themes are well explored. Friendship, hardship and alienation is felt, but the focus on temptation and sexual exploration versus the father and societal pressure to repress all sexuality is the crowning achievement of the picture. Brought about gradually and tastefully, it explores and exposes women sexual power and desires but also projects its failings and it fragility in contrast to love and constance. Where is the fine line? Many questions are asked and powerful scenes speak for themselves and linger in the viewers mind. How much is enough? What is the underlying point? What is a whore and why is it potentially 'bad'?

In that aspect, it is reminiscent to Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac (2013) and Steve McQueen's Shame (2011) and continues the recent trend of exploring sexual addiction beyond the more comically approach of Chuck Palahniuk's movie adaptation Choke (2009). Even so, it is a very distinct piece of that pantheon and pursues the same aim in a much more convoluted way. The high level screenplay is indeed interesting and inundated by innuendos and intellectual thought-provoking details. As mentioned, there is enough solid material for further meditation on the subject and the subtleties.

Waiting for some technical tests before the beginning of the viewing, I met a cinephile Turkish woman recently in Montreal for her PhD whom I befriended and we happened to have lunch later and discuss the finer points of the movie. She enjoyed its themes, execution and complexity. We also contrasted the realities, norms, customs and taboos surrounding sex in Turkey to what was portrayed in the picture and ultimately to ultra-liberal Montreal. She stresses that the father's obsession with the asexuality of his daughter in the movie is still a reality even in the more modern top 5 Turkish cities and even more so in rural area. Sex is hidden for fathers, family and boyfriends who all see the blood on the wedding night as ultimate sign of respectability in the, dare I say oppressing, culture. There is a dire need for sexual liberation in many other cultures and even in North America with religious rhetoric and reverends dictating sex lives like priests did in Quebec until the 1960's Révolution tranquille (Quiet Revolution). Yet this movie is in no way preachy and invites reflection on those themes at a personal, family and society level without pointing fingers and without omitting to observe the opportunities for unbalance caused by this pervasive perpetual pressure.

A thinking kind of film for a much needed subject, but that doesn't spare the emotional element. May sex be linked with health, safety and sanity in more and more regions...

Turkey 2015 | 112 mins | Montreal World Film Festival | Turkish (English subtitles)

American Dream and Real Life, 31 August 2015

Takeshi Fukunaga's promising first feature film focuses on Cisco, a complex character who is revealed throughout the movie with good writing, contemplative directing with a vision and inscrutable non-verbal acting. Liberian-born Bishop Blay plays Cisco with all the right cues and he will, like the character he portrays, come to America for the first time to film the New York part of the story. As fate would have it, he is still in the USA now as the 2014 West African outbreak of Ebola who greatly affected Liberia prompted him to try to make his life there and try the acting scene.

Takeshi Fukunaga himself came to America from Japan in hopes to find a better life more than a decade ago, even though in no way to the same disillusion and desperation as is seen in Liberia and most of the third world. He examines this false American Dream and land of opportunity or "land of milk and honey" very well. Another film to life parallel is that as the director's long time collaborator, cinematographer and brother-in-law, Ryo Murakami, came to Liberia to film both the documentary on the rubber plantation workers and this feature film, but came to pass from complication of malaria he contracted there.

Coming back to the movie, it offers nuanced scenes in Liberia with powerful dialog and a documentary visual style very close the the action and actors and non-actors. In New York, the focus is switched (metaphorically and physically as Owen Donovan has to take up the lens to capture the metropolis' chaos) to delve into Cisco's demons, dreams and fears. Two new important characters are introduced, a pimp and a whore, to bring about the perspective of past, present & future as well as pleasure & pain. Economic and emotional realities and restrictions reach the screen but with a distance like the Atlantic ocean who separates Cisco from his wife and children.

Fukunaga's achievement is in staying in the subtleties without losing the viewer's interest or intensity. While the engagement may be more intellectual at first, the underlying emotions, messages and thought- provocative portrayal are longer coming, but perhaps also longer-lasting.

USA & Liberia 2015 | 88 mins | Montreal World Film Festival | English & Liberian Pidgin (English subtitles)

Marshland (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Near perfect thriller, 4 August 2015

A two detective meticulous murder mystery thriller that reminded me of the Korean masterpiece "Memories of Murder (2003)" and to a lesser degree of the more gruesome and graphic "Se7en (1995)" and the precise Prisoners (2013)" although all together different films who set the bar high. Isla Minima or "Marshland (2014)" is a complex enough entry and cinematographic delight who delivers the story straightforward and matter-of-factly and immerses the viewer into the thriller/drama.

The directing utilizes everything we love about movies: images, story twists, sound, music, intrigue, dialog, surprises, tension, tender moments, doubts, threats, threads and resolution. It is beautifully shot, from the expansive aerial views to the acerbic interiors. The changing antagonists are multi-dimensional, mysterious, mighty and add mitigated motives and messages. The interplay between the two detectives is monumental and the back-story beneficial to deepen the scope with secondary elements. The acrimonious action sequences are frightening. The ending is fitting and does not close all the loose ends - leaving at least an important fact at the forefront for further pondering. A powerful production Spain can be proud of.


Spain 2014 | 104 mins | DCP | Spanish (English subtitles)

Tag (2015)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Sono still pushes boundaries, 4 August 2015

With an opening sequence that tops 'Suicide Club" in shock value, aesthetics and eeriness, "Tag" targets a gore-hungry audience, but goes deeper with the many philosophical and psychological themes of determinism, power, fear, reality and identity.

"Tag" tackles greater issues than most films and does so well with a brisk pace that takes the viewer along the joyride (or hellride depending on how you see it) and makes him/her identify with the lead character's distress. The three leads who play the same persona are very well cast and effective in edging us into our seats. Their acting is grounded while the rest of the movie is often over the top at parts.

The daring premise, edgy editing, themes and tones are strong, yet Sono falls slightly short of his best work by making a clearly uneven piece at times with some easy thrills and instances with little coherence or content sneaking in. He proves showy, self-indulgent, eager to please the crowd and even uses questionable short-cuts instead of going deeper into the surreal, suspenseful and sublime narrative.

We are left with many questions like many of Sono's films, but in this case, we also understand that perhaps he could have asked himself more questions in the making in order to overcome some unwanted extraneous confusion and loss of focus. This is especially troublesome as it clocks less than 90 mins (uncharacteristic for long-winded Sono - see 237 mins "Love Exposure" as extreme example) and still shows some filler farce instead of sure hit fire-power.

Some superficial moments over subtlety and substance holds this film back, but the brute force and fantastic screen-writing and directing defy denying this fresh film its place into the pantheon of path-breaking provocative piece of cinema.

Despite its minor and more blatant flaws, this film holds well to a metaphorical mirror and is not in search of identity like its main character. It is disconnected beyond its useful purpose, but parades around arguably able to arouse sympathy and separately speak volume on our psychological individual and societal brink of breakdown.

Try to be spontaneous. Accept the surreal and tolerate the slapstick and silliness.

Japan 2015 | 85 mins | DCP | Japanese (English subtitles)

3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Ballet, beauty and mystery, 19 July 2015

This anime is fresh and free-flowing. It follows the trials and tribulations of Alice who moves to a new neighbourhood and school. She soon discovers the harsh realities and related fictions around some recent incidents and its repercussions still affecting the surrounding school life.

The narrative keeps you guessing and has great depth in character exploration and philosophical musing, including a mysterious old man. It physically and metaphysically moves with the colours of the beautiful drawings. There are a few chases, intertwined with moments of peace, pose and beauty like the underlying aesthetics of ballet.

A rare mixture of quirkiness and quintessential existentialism, married with some strong storytelling elements to make it a superb artistic whole that will stand multiple viewing and the test of time.

In terms of story, imagine Old Boy but with teenagers and love theme instead of grown-up violence and revenge. But it terms of tone, it is light-hearted yet intellectual, artistic and emotional.

A great addition to the top-notch anime productions we come to expect from Japan. This time as a first animation feature from gifted and acclaimed Shunji Iwai who writes, direct, edit and even provides music to this miraculous masterpiece.

Japan 2015 | 110 mins | HD | Japanese (English subtitles)

Slumlord (2015)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Smart suspense and social commentary, 19 July 2015

Having its world premiere at FantAsia in Montreal, I discovered this dark take on the expansion of the world public and now home surveillance (& "security") camera market. Ingenious, funny and freighting this horror fare is fairly straightforward but has 2 elements going for it. 1) It focuses on the well written and acted familial drama of a couple with real life-changing and challenging issues. 2) It has a voyeurism background with a choice actor and appropriate filming angles to capture the imagination, instantly instilling discomfort and distress.

The editing and crisp pacing make it move along nicely and the only move you do not want to make is in this house with the slumlord watching attentively...

Kudos to Victor Zarcoff for building tension and a multi-layered cast of characters in a captivating setting and to the four convincing main actors for bringing us close to the abyss.

A sure hit.

USA 2015 | 84 mins | DCP | English

Ex Machina (2015)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Oscar Isaac and Alex Garland, 15 July 2015

Oscar Isaac tops even his Golden-Globe nominated conflicted Cohen character performance in Inside Llewyn Davis. He is crisp, charming, alarming and aptly takes control of the movie in almost every moment.

Alex Garland for his part tackles his directorial debut with his best screenplay to date, an intelligent and refined intellectual intrigue in the tradition of the minimalist science-fiction genre, and with four fine actors that play off each other perfectly.

The setup, story and suspense are successful even if the climax denouement is missing a certain element of evolution and realism. Minor faults cannot weaken the strength of the perpetually powerful dialogues and decidedly perturbing thoughts about artificial intelligence and its implications. The characters are nuanced and noteworthy and the setting is that of natural and architectural beauty.

Oscar Isaac and Alex Garland are both to watch in the future at the Oscars and other awards.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Epic and excellent, 13 July 2015

I went to see this critically acclaimed film with my friend photographer who had studied and emulated Sebastião Salgado well received and revered black and white work.

I had seen a suggestive and interesting movie trailer and was later pleased, doing my research, to see Wim Wenders involved. He had done the daring, decisive, eclectic, artistic tribute to Pina (2011) which I loved and to a lesser extent was able to catch some of the essence of Cuba and its music in Buena Vista Social Club (1999). Wenders is remarkable here and sets the tone. Now the other revelation as the co-writer/director as well as co-cinematographer is Sebastião Salgado's son: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.

Juliano documents his father (and parts of his own) life and journey and makes the piece even more personal. This reminded me of the moving tribute of Nathaniel Kahn to his dad Louis Kahn in My Architect (2003) with a huge difference being that Sebastião Salgado (and even the grandfather Sebastião Salgado senior) were still alive to film together as opposed to a posthumous search for the trace of one's father through his work and people's anecdotes in the case of Khan.

As for the movie itself it is a treat to the eyes, heart, head and soul. It combines beautiful and often haunting photographs with story, narration, interview and introspection. It tell the tales in three prominent continents of the continuous search for understanding of humanity's worse and best achievements and attitudes. It conveys, loss, fear, hopelessness, innocence, injustice and intolerance. It talks about war, politics, environment, economics, etc. Salgado was surprisingly an economist before leaving his steady job with a dream and his wife's camera to wander in Africa in search of human truth.

He found that and more. A talent and an eye for camera, for capturing the man and the moment. The past, the future, the present and the context. The composition and the subtext... the sublime!

Will everyone appreciate this film? Probably not. Yet for those who have the interest, the patience and the chance to see this documentary and delve into the decades of work, thoughts, themes and realizations of one man (and his loving, equally brave and brilliant, supportive family) will be greatly enriched and inspired by it. This film is like talking to a father wise beyond his years. A wisdom shared and mutually understood if not lived. Lived through his words and pictures. Because beyond all the darkness and difficulties, there is a light.

Photography come from phōs meaning light

Another documentary for the ages.

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