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Blue Jay (I) (2016)
The movie everyone strives to make
13 September 2016
I love this film. It's perfect. I would not change a thing.

It's the gem I always hope to discover when I go to TIFF, and it's ironic that the large costly studio films seen earlier in the week fell flat… and here's this little two-character indie film shot in just 7 days… and it blows the heavyweights out of the water.

Sarah Paulson is at the top of her game. She should be nominated and win many awards for her portrayal of Amanda. Yes, she is that good.

The direction, acting, cinematography, editing, script, music... all coalesce to create this perfect little gem. It is bliss to watch and experience.


Jim is back in his childhood home sorting through family belongings after this mother's death.

Amanda is back in town to visit with her sister who's expecting a baby.

Jim and Amanda run into each other at the local grocery store and have a difficult and awkward time acknowledging each other's presence. What is making them so uncomfortable? Grab your popcorn and watch their story unfold.

That's it. That's all I'm saying about the film's story line. The less you know, the sweeter the experience of finding out about these two. But I fell in love with both of them.
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Trespass Against Us (I) (2016)
A small movie with great actors
11 September 2016
First time feature-film director Adam Smith establishes much in the opening minutes of the movie.

Our first image has the camera on the heels of a bullet-fast hare being chased and running for it's life through an endless meadow. Chasing, it seems, is a way of life for the backwoods thieving Cutler clan who we're about to meet.

The local British constabulary is usually doing the pursuing.

Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) squirms under the thumb of Colby, his domineering father, whose never-ending lifestyle of thievery sees no happy end. With a brother already trapped in prison, Chad looks at his young impressionable son and wonders whether he can offer him a different future.

To create a different path he must reassess Colby as a role model, and contemplate the unimaginable… to trespass against his father's wishes and put his own young family's well-being above the clan's. Ensuring an education – something his father denied him – seems to be the only escape route for his children's otherwise ill-fated future.

Colby, played by the indomitable Brendan Gleeson, is an uneducated patriarch whose limited worldview is a creeping cause for concern. His knack for planning successful robberies is now questionable, and he senses growing desperation and worry since it's become apparent his schemes are outdated and flawed. But knowing no other way of life, he hangs on, using whatever resources he can to keep his son, Chad, with him.

Michael Fassbender is an extremely talented actor and makes a powerful presence on the screen. Through him we witness Chad's struggle to be a dutiful son, loving husband and responsible father. With no formal schooling, no ability to read or write, his strongest skill is seen behind the wheel of a car in hot pursuit, he wrestles to make a choice on what kind of future he can offer his young family.

My rating: 76 /100

20 /25 – Overall

11 /15 – Directing

12 /15 – Acting

13 /15 – Cinematography (colour, angle, camera position)

06 /10 – Editing (rhythm, pace)

08 /10 – Script (dialogue, storyline)

06 /10 – Music/score (sound foley, costume, make-up casting)
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Toni Erdmann (2016)
Film's potential is squandered.
9 September 2016
My expectations were high. This film came away from Cannes with that rare combination of rave reviews from both audiences and critics. The title popped up on many 'must see' lists so I was thrilled to get a ticket to the Canadian premier, a screening on TIFF's opening night and at my favourite venue. The stars were aligned… but alas, for me this film failed on so many levels.

Part of the problem was that the movie opened up with a sensational scene. Our introduction to the main character, a brusque, elderly white-haired father (Peter Simonischek) is riotous and delightful. Within the first 5 minutes we 'get' who this wonderful personality is.

However, it only sporadically hits that soaring comedic note again. With the bar set that high there's an expectation to deliver. It didn't. At an excruciatingly long 2 hrs 42 min (almost 3 hours!) this film needed a serious edit and revamp. Wasting this film's tremendous potential left me feeling sad. And checking my watch. Not what you want with a comedy.

You know those hand-held contraptions used to gauge audience reaction at a political debate? On my subway ride home I imagined its outcome at tonight's screening. Sure there'd be a few off-the-chart moments, but for the most part this movie would flat-line.

  • Yawning gaps between lingering scenes. - Vague characters who did little to serve the movie. - Secondary plot lines that meandered off like loose threads you wanted to snip away. - Expectation of a scene's culmination to share heart and wisdom… so close you could taste it… but then to watch it slip away into a growing muddle.

It's sad to see a movie with so much lost potential. In different hands... a director with tighter control, a more 'lean and mean' editor, a scriptwriter with a more focused bottom line… such 'coulda-woulda-shoulda' possibilities. Sigh.

I don't think I've ever entertained this thought before, but here's a foreign film that could use a Hollywood makeover. Ouch!

MOVIE SYNOPSIS: It's a father (Winfried) and daughter (Ines) relationship story. One dances uninhibited through life; the other marches with precision and focus.

A parent realizes his daughter's pursuit of success is driving away her chance of happiness. In his attempt to redefine what a successful goal in life is, he steps into her world and tries to bring along his devil-may-care perspective, hoping to entice her with frivolity and silliness.

My tagline: Sometimes you have to go to an extreme to scramble back and find the balance.

Extraordinarily funny at moments, heartbreakingly tender at others, but ultimately a feeling of dissatisfaction as the film's potential is squandered.

58 /100

14 /25 – Overall 10 /15 – Directing 11 /15 – Acting 07 /15 – Cinematography (colour, angle, camera position) 04 /10 – Editing (rhythm, pace) 06 /10 – Script (dialogue, storyline) 06 /10 – Music/score (sound foley, costume, make-up, casting)
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A relationship movie that feels fresh
19 September 2011
My rating: 88/100

I ended up seeing this movie at the Toronto film fest in a rather circuitous way but I'm awfully glad I did.

Nary a car chase nor explosion, but instead a quiet and thoughtful film. It touches on relationships, death, siblings, betrayal, unrequited love, honesty, fears, and forgiveness… and does so in a very believable and refreshing way.

Most of the movie takes place at a secluded rustic waterfront cottage, a family cabin that Iris (Emily Blunt) has suggested her 'bestie', Jay (Mark Duplass) visit to clear his head; he's still emotionally stuck at the one year anniversary of his brother's death.

The secluded locale - without phones, computers and the usually daily distractions - is the conduit which allows the abundance of emotions and introspective feelings bubble up and expose themselves to a trio of characters connected in various and interesting ways.

These three individuals are both frustrating with their flaws, yet endearing with their fragility and weaknesses. How easy it is to identify with all of them! … which can perhaps be attributed to the impromptu conversation Director Lynn Shelton nurtured and encouraged from the mere 70 page script. She confessed that 75% of the dialogue was improvised allowing a unique honesty to develop within each character, thanks to a stellar cast.

I'm thankful Shelton stuck around Toronto for this third screening – she's originally from Seattle which is where this was filmed - and was more than willing to open up to the audience at a post Q&A where we heard her speak passionately and reflectively about the 12 day shoot (wow!) with almost no funding and how she lucked in to Emily Blunt coming on board (thanks to a shared agent) who was keen on the challenge and experience. Also it was nice to hear that during the festival the film had found distribution through IFC, and that cast and crew would now be compensated for this wonderful collaboration.

This film's a winner to me. I hope you have an opportunity to see it.
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Trishna (2011)
A thrill for the senses
10 September 2011
My rating: 66/100

I saw this movie at the Toronto film fest. In the lead role is the lovely Freida Pinto of 'Slumdog Millionaire' fame. The director, Michael Winterbottom also wrote the screenplay which was adapted from Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles".

Even though this film marked it's premiere gala the night before, today's screening had a festival perk - both the director and lead actor were at hand to introduce the film and also reconvene afterwards for a short Q&A. Certainly makes the occasion more special. An added bonus - Freida Pinto looked stunningly beautiful.

The setting of this romantic tragedy is India… at its most beguiling and also at its fetid worst. Winterbottom successfully transported me into the story by deftly creating a montage of the sights and sounds… bright, brash, beautiful and bleak… that appealed to all my senses. I could almost taste the gritty dust on the dry country roads and smell the dank alleyways that he took us through. I was particularly enamoured with the warm colourful music and background score which really enhanced the visual experience. The director's ability to engage all my senses was the key in opening the door to believing Trishna's spiralling tale of love and survival.

Culture deals a cruel hand to females in India, placing them and their future at the whim and mercy of the men in their lives, whether a father, an employer or a lover. I felt a sense of anger and defiance watching this, but Winterbottom so successfully conveyed this strange and different lifestyle that I found it believable to witness Trishna's series of unwittingly short-sighted decisions. We root for her, but deep inside feel there is no escaping the life of woe and deceit she finds herself in.

Even though I enjoyed this film, there were a couple of weak areas.

First, the director opted to have the actors create much of their own dialogue and I felt the absence of a hard and fast script was rather apparent. The two lead characters lacked depth and fullness, mainly because the words weren't there to give us the nuances needed to know who they were. Although as Ms. Pinto stated, it was a wonderful challenge for her as an actor – unfortunately it was her gain and the audiences' loss.

Second, this film ran 117 minutes in length. Perhaps it would be advantageous to edit some 8-10 minutes to tighten it up in a few spots.

Otherwise this was a visually satisfying film with a moving and compelling story.
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Deserves a look
18 April 2008
Seen at a September 2007 Toronto Film Festival screening.

First time director, Helen Hunt, said this movie was 10 years in the making. Her passion for the film and subject matter is evident, but also sets her up for her biggest downfall. She indulges the movie (her baby) which is interesting given this is relationship themed (mother/ daughter). Had she struck closer to that thread, the movie would have a tighter, more focused feel.

As it is, the outer reach of her film, a foray into her intimate, romantic relationships, with the intent of colouring her main character (April) instead seems like an untrained hand that colours outside of the lines. As a movie director, if this was her greatest weakness; I still give her kudos for doing a pretty good job. The woman took on a heavy load: first time directing, co-producer, co-writing the screenplay, and acting in the main role, all done on a 27 day shoot schedule! I almost feel guilty for any criticism.

At the post-screening Q&A Ms Hunt told us that the original story centred exclusively on the mother/daughter relationship. She wrote in the characters of Ben, her passive husband (Matthew Broderick) and Frank, her 'quickest rebound in history' mate (Colin Firth) herself. Understandablly she wants to add subtext to April's world and all the issues she's dealing with, but I felt somewhat 'pinballed' from scene to scene without feeling a smooth transition. A little more editing of these extra layers would help.

I can't leave it unsaid that what repeatedly struck me was why April loved her husband and continued to connect with him. He was such a shallow and thoughtless person. To me, that particular character was the weakest link in the movie.

Overall, I found many funny and poignant moments in the movie and think it deserves a look by a larger audience.
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Enjoyable to watch with a great ensemble cast
14 September 2007
I saw this movie at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival and made a point of learning as little as possible about what it was about and who was in it. Such a refreshing way to be invited into a story.

Though this movie will never win an academy award and it's premise revolves around a well-known British author, this is a very "Hollywood" movie.

The ensemble cast is like a large-scale painting with each character portraying different colours and brush strokes. Their diversity brings perspective and depth to the story.

I loved Bernadette's (Kathy Baker) ballsy and ebullient pseudo-matriarchal figure; and I silently cheered for Jocelyn (Maria Bello) to break out of her disciplined and 'in-control' habits, but it was Emily Blunt's portrayal of Prudie that shone a light giving the sharpest and most emotional contrast of all. She, who steadfastly distanced herself from the social class she grew up in, and worked tirelessly to elevate herself "to the manor born", convinced herself, with her stylish bob, Chanel-esquire attire and fanciful forays into french phrasology, that she was beyond the mundane and ordinary. She convinced me she was both strong and fragile, and my heart broke along with hers. What a lovely performance.

This isn't high-brow film by any means. The audience's biggest challenge is listening for and extracting the many Austen quotes that get zipped and zinged throughout the film. We are ultimately drawn to watching the ever-changing relationships, like petri dishes being poked and provoked.

This movie will be enjoyable even for those unfamiliar with Jane Austen's novels. A visually appealing, emotionally satisfying, safe and somewhat predictable film. Most likely to be pegged as a chick flick because it's heavy on relationships. Guys' loss.
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A satisfying flick, but you have to pay attention.
14 September 2007
Saw this at a screening at the Toronto Int'l Film Festival.

This movie is appropriately titled "Michael Clayton" because in it we are introduced to the man in his many life roles; father, ex-husband, brother, son, friend and businessman. Some things he's good at, others not so much.

Terry Gilroy's debut directing showed a controlled and restrained hand, allowing the multi-tracked storyline to expand and grow, but always with a pull back to the core. For a fairly busy plot with numerous sub-characters, he did a good job of turning over pieces of the puzzle to bring the audience back full circle to the opening scene.

Michael Clayton fixes things, but we see in his own personal life there are a trail of problems he's dealing with. It's when he works alone that he seems to do his best work. Once those close to him come into his decision-making process, he lets emotions rule rather than his head.

George Clooney always seems to have a message in his movies, wanting us to be aware of the evil-doers out in the world. His boyish charm and general likability makes you root for him. We can relate to him.

Michael Clayton is a flawed individual who has good intentions but often gets beaten by the world and the people around him. Can't we all relate to that too? This was a satisfying suspense flick. Key to enjoying it is to pay attention.
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Don't mess with perfection - this movie is great
14 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Toronto film fest. It almost leaves me speechless.

It's not a chick flick, but it is about relationships and love and understanding and compassion. I laughed. I cried.

I knew a smidge about the movie's storyline going into it... that an odd but likable fellow meets a companion online. It just happens that she (Bianca) arrives at his home in a box and is a full-sized doll! I wasn't sure where the story would go from there. Boy, did it take me on a sweet, sweet ride. I loved this movie and everything about it. All the actors/characters surrounding 'Lars' carried their roles perfectly. There's not one criticism I can think of. Pretty near perfection.

In answer to one of the questions at the post-screening Q&A, Craig Gillespie, the director, said he didn't have to pitch the movie to Ryan Gosling. The day after Ryan read the script he fell in love with the story and said he wanted to do it.

Ryan Gosling gives an incredible and believable performance. Man, oh man, this guy is good.
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