Friday, 24 December 2010

Hey, Barney! Where's Miriam? Barney's Version Reviewed

I have never read Mordecai Richler's version of Barney's Version. I have read, heard and been told that it is one of the author's best and that it is a beloved tome. Well, it will be a while before the Toronto Public Library (TPL) informs me that my copy has arrived at my pick up location because right now I am 187th on the list of 187; the TPL has 45 copies. At over 400 pages, I didn't expect the screen adaptation written by Michael Konyes and directed by Richard J. Lewis to give me every single detail of the book, so I won't be surprised when I do get my copy of the book that some things did not make it to the screen.

The book and movie is about movie producer, Barney Panofsky, his relationship with his Dad, his three wives, and his two children; it also includes a gun shrouded in a past mystery. A tactless curmudgeon with a bit of the sad sack about him, Barney is played competently by Paul Giamatti, who over the past decade has gone from "That Guy" (remember him as a hostage in the Sam Jackson/Kevin Spacey flick, The Negotiator?) to Oscar-nominated actor. I expected Giamatti to be good, and I expected the same of Dustin Hoffman (Izzy Panofsky). Playing father and son, Giamatti and Hoffman are a tag team of insensitivity and brash humour. In a pivotal scene, Barney chases after Rosamund Pike's character, Miriam, on his wedding day, while father, Izzy (Hoffman)gets drunk and imposes himself on the wedding guests and the bride's (Minnie Driver) family.

I also expected British actress, Rosamund Pike (left) to be good. She's been in a few things, but I really noticed her as the ditsy blonde in An Education and as the under-appreciated brainy wife in, Made In Dagenham. She made an impression on my in both roles, so I was pleased to see that she had been cast in this film. What I didn't expect, and was thrilled to see, is how superbly she held her own in a film with Giamatti and Hoffman. In my opinion, she surpasses both men, displaying a range in acting that takes her from a young woman in her twenties to a middle age wife with grown children. Rather than relying on heavy make-up, someone made the wise choice to go light on the aging process and have Pike use her body and voice to project her progressive maturity as the film spans the decades. We know that Barney is drawn to Miriam. We are made very aware that she is his romantic focus whom he loves with a depth that he cannot show to anyone else in his life, and as such, we are drawn to her, too, but it is Pike's acting and what she brings to the role that locks in our attraction to her. I don't know who thought of casting her in the role, but kudos to them for giving her this chance to shine.

Barney's Version is a respectable film, with a respectable cast, but is it an excellent film? No. While it merits viewing because of the fine acting by Rosamund Pike, we have seen Giamatti and Hoffman play their respective roles before. I also felt as if I was watching an abridged movie rather than a complete film, despite the 132 minute run time. I don't know how the mystery of the gun plays out in the book, but in the film it seems like a made-for-tv plot point that just doesn't seem to work with the rest of the film. When I get the email from the TPL, I'll let you know what I think of Mordecai's version.

My rating: 3/5 stars
Film Opens December 24th

Photo Credit: Takashi Seida. eOne Pictures

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

A Feast, 8 Women and a Candle

I had a fun chat last Saturday with a couple of my film buds, Kirk Cooper (founder of Film Market Access) and Moen Mohamed film lover, and man about town. We spoke about our Christmas/Winter DVD faves, but we didn't get a chance to mention all the films on our lists so here they are. Kirk and I have a couple of theatrical releases on our lists, but for the most part you can find the films on DVD. If you can't find the films at your local video store, try Queen Video, Bay St. Video or the Toronto Public Library. Please feel free to leave a comment about your favourite cold weather films, so we can all check out something we may be missing.

Moen’s Faves
Babette’s Feast
Bullets Over Broadway
City Lights
Flowers of St. Francis
Imitation of Life
Make Way for Tomorrow
The Ice Storm
The Red Shoes
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Kirk’s Faves
8 Femmes
Bad Santa
In Bruges
It’s a Wonderful Life
Scrooged (Bill Murray and A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sims)
The Fighter (theatrical)
The King’s Speech (theatrical)
This Christmas
Trading Places

donna g’s Faves
Bell Book and Candle
Black Swan
Brooklyn Lobster
LA Confidential
O’ Horten
One Special Night
Rare Exports
Sleuth (Lawrence Olivier/Michael Caine and the remake with Michael Caine/Jude Law)
The Ref
Three Wishes for Cinderella
Black Swan (theatrical)

Monday, 13 December 2010

5 Disco Balls for Priscilla Queen of the Desert!

It is the gayest thing I have ever seen! Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical is a stunningly over the top, gay musical that hits all the right notes, and glitters in all the right places. The transition from screen to stage is exceedingly well done, with the elimination of material that is dated or too awkward to fit the stage, and with the inclusion of new scenes and songs that surpasses the film in some respects. Then there is the bus. Holy moly, the bus! Yes, it is pink--very PINK, and a multitude of colours that are as bashful as a jacket by Liberace. After all, she is the Queen of the Desert, and what queen, gay or otherwise, isn't sometimes bedecked in all her bejewelled splendor?

Drag queens, Tick/Mitzie, Adam/Felicia and Bernadette (don't call her Ralph!) trek across the Australian dessert (from Sydney to Alice Springs) with humour, feathers, arguments pizazz, and, ahem, a few road kills. Joining them along the way is Bob, the mechanic who lubricates Priscilla and romances Bernadette, his nostalgic favourite from her days as a member "Les Girls".

Of course, where there are drag queens, there must be costumes, right? Well, lucky for us the memorable costumes from the film's Oscar®-winning designers Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner (remember her American Express dress from Oscar night?) are included in the stage version, as are a plethora of eye-popping, to die for regalia. Even the funeral scene (Bernadette's off-stage boyfriend, Trumpet, dies at the very beginning of the play) is a cavalcade of corsetry and lace. Hello! to my man en pointe in the short black number! Fabulous legs, darlin'! André Leon Talley would have been proud.

Olivier Award nominee, Tony Sheldon steals the show as Bernadette, and Tony Award nominee Will Swenson does an excellent job as Tick, the straight man (forgive the pun) to the other two's schtick, and Nick Adams (Felicia) is just all out sex on platforms. Question: is it wrong that I found him sexy in his pink mini? Go see it and tell me if you didn't feel the same. The man is hot. Worthy of being studied in Anotomy class!

Catch this musical now while it's in Toronto or you will have to skip south of the border to see the same cast on Broadway! Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical, runs until January 2, 2011 at the Princess of Wales Theatre.
On a budget? Student pricing is available (see website for info) and if you are not a student, grab the cheapest seats you can and have a ball. Best to go with friends because this musical experience is even better when shared! Come on, there are Divas singing disco from mid-air!
Recommended for ages 14+

Saturday, 4 December 2010

CD REVIEW: d'bi young's "womanifesto"--she ain't goin out like that!

Drop the word “socio-political” in a conversation and most people’s eyes would glaze over in anticipation of the preaching and boredom to follow; but, in the case of d’bi young’s latest CD, “wombanifesto”, all it takes is a listen to the assertive lyrics and reggae, latin, beatbox and punk rhythms and the word “socio-political” will take on an unexpected new energy.

With its raw, powerful lyrics and African-Caribbean rhythms, “wombanifesto” is a powerful assertion of the female in general, and a defiant declaration of existence by the black woman. The CD’s universal appeal will come from the listener’s recognition of what is happening in the world, to the Earth, even as they dance and chant along with the lyrics. young’s dub poetry speaks of long-suppressed truths, truths that resonate with the collective and the individual.

The rocking “gendah bendah” is an anthem to those who don’t fit into any of the institutionalized boxes imposed by society. “animal farm” with its punk-reggae beats will have them all thinking about media manipulation and manufactured popular opinion.

The womb bleeds in tracks like “children of a lesser god” and “blood” (back up by jo watson). The former talks about sexual molestation of girls and boys and is also a metaphor for “uncle sam”’s perversions; the latter, blasts the marketing of modern-day secrecy and shame that have replaced centuries-old menstruation rituals. young’s Yoruba references on tracks like “ase elegua”, and “ase ochun” as well as her chant “yemojah moon phoenix” (a dedication to her sons) mix well with the Cuban melodies that flow throughout the CD.

Further proof of young’s universal appeal can be heard in tracks like the decidedly feminine “cycles” about early motherhood. Featuring beat box by da original one and jugular, this track will have you nodding your head in sync. The live performance of “ain’t I a ooman”, a Sojourner Truth homage, where Amina Alfred’s congas will have even men repeating the last refrain.

Adding to young’s powerful poetry is the are the talented musicians such as Cuba’s Havana Jazz Trio, Traza Quartet, Passo Firme Reggae Band, and musicians like Pablo Herrera, Laura Mungila Martinez and Canada’s own Dub Trinity Band. Read her books of poetry and monodramas (she’s won 2 Dora awards), and you will see that she in no studio creation being masked by expert musicians to make a quick buck and satisfy a flavour of the month audience. like assata shakur (whose words are included in a couple of tracks), young is advocating a people's revolution, and she is in it for the long haul, you can hear it in her lyrics and the conviction of her voice: she ain't goin out like that!

d'bi young is currently on tour.
Photo Credits: (top); (middle) Sabriya Simon Photography; (bottom) Alexis Finch

Monday, 29 November 2010

Toad Looks Funny in a Bathing Suit!

It's been a couple of weeks since I saw A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD, and I am still singing the darn, catchy tunes! Unlike annoying pop songs that infiltrate my head, I am quite happy to be singing lines like "toad looks funny in a bathing suit"! This adorable Broadway play has made its way to Toronto via the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People. The musical stars Allen MacInnes, the Artistic Director of LKTYP, as "Frog" and Louise Pitre as "Toad". That's right, Louise Pitre, the Tony-nominated, Dora-winning actress from such plays as Mama Mia, Toxic Avenger the Musical, Annie Get Your Gun, and most recently Love, Loss and What I Wore.

The play explores the role of friendship in a simple, meaningful manner. We follow Frog and Toad for a year, beginning with their awakening from hibernation. We also meet their pals Turtle, Mole, and Snail. The appeal of this children's musical is that it will delight both children and adults. The playful antics of the characters, the sharing between Frog and Toad, and the theme of friendship are showcased by the wonderful music and lyrics of Robert and Willie Reale. I dare you to go see this play and not be singing "the snail with the mail". I triple dog dare you!

On a sad note, but in keeping with the play's theme of friendship, Allen MacInnes stepped into the role of "Frog" when his good friend Denis Simpson died suddenly during rehearsals. While it must be difficult for the cast to do the show without Denis, I am sure that they must be comforted by the fact that they are doing something in the name of friendship.

I am so grateful that there is a venue in this city for family plays and musicals. How lucky are we, that our city has an actual building devoted to children (and youth)! So often family theatre is presented in rental spaces (which I'm not knocking, by the way) but the fact that LKTYP exists, gives family theatre an importance and relevance that is vital to introducing young people to theatre, and in nurturing (as well as sustaining) a theatrical culture in Toronto.

Who was your best-est friend ever when you were a little kid? Go see A YEAR WITH FROG AND TOAD and remember the pleasant memories.

There is a Pay-What-You-Can performance on December 18th at 2:00pm. For all details about tickets and performance dates, please contact the Box Office at 416-862-2222 or on line at The play runs until Dec. 30th.

Photo (top): L-R: Cara Hunter, Louise Pitre, Kevin Dennis, Allen MacInnis, Jennifer Villaverde. Photo Credit: Daniel Alexander

Photo (middle): L-R: Allen MacInnis, Louise Pitre. Photo Credit: Daniel Alexander

Thursday, 25 November 2010

In a Hotel Room With Three Men!

Hey, all! CLICK HERE to listen to my interview with Paul Clarke (director), Robert de Young (producer) and rock photographer, Leee Black Childers. We had a wonderful chat about their documentary, Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon sitting on the floor of Paul's room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Well, Leee, had a place of honour on a hotel room chair. I also share my thoughts about the wonderful family musical A Year with Frog and Toad playing at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People until Dec. 30th.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Latest Podcast

Hi, All. The latest, TmTm podcast is up! Click here to listen.

Animator, Jeff Chiba Stearns talks about why so many of his relatives of Japanese descent married non-Japanese Canadians. Find out why by listening to the podcast about his film, One Big Hapa Family, which recently screened at the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. The film is a mix of animation (by Jeff and guest animators) and live action interviews with his family.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Check Out Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival (Nov. 9-15th)

On the Flip Side is an entertaining showcase with films ranging from performance art (Exit Upon Arrival) to sexual fetishes (Covers) and family drama (The Auction). This mixed bag of shorts has many films of note, but the highlight for me is Howard Shia’s Peggy Baker: Four Phases. Watching Peggy Baker dance is always a treat, but in this film, her athletic technique and lean graceful limbs move so fluidly that you want to jump into the screen and dance along with her. Animating her movements and interspersing them with live action adds visual interest to Baker’s narration about living and moving through various spaces.
Thursday, November 11th, 6:30 pm, Innis Town Hall (Rated PG)

When something is good you know it, so need for me to wax poet about director, Phan Dang Di’s first feature, Bi, Don’t Be Afraid. The film is reminiscent of Edward Yang's Yi yi: A One and A Two, in that it is the story of an Asian family (in this case Vietnamese) seen through the eyes of a young boy who is naturally oblivious to the tense and complex relationships of the adults in his household. The unaffected storytelling and ease of the actors combined with some very lovely interior and exterior compositions, makes this film a satisfying experience. No wonder this film has garnered awards! Thursday, November 11th, 9:00 pm, Innis Town Hall (Rated 14A)

Learn some Chinese phrases (I’ve always wanted to learn how to say, “I love Andy Lau") and view China Town through the lens of seven talented, award-winning directors in Suite Suite China Town. Adding to the sweetness of this screening will be the live performance of music by Arthur Yeung and Theo Mathien’s by the Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School Band. Which film will be your particular favourite from the works of Lesley Chan, Lillian Chan, Aram Siu Wai Collier, Serena Lee, Howard Shia, and Joyce Wong? Since my, China Town means food, Heather Keung’s short film featuring a slow motion, pixel-filled, close-up of a woman chewing (dumplings, I surmise) earns a special place in my heart. Friday, November 12th, 7:45 pm, The Royal (Rated G)

You don’t have to see Fish Story to enjoy Yoshihiro Nakamura’s follow up film, Golden Slumber. In this thriller deliveryman, Aoyagi, has been framed for the assassination of the Japanese Prime Minister. Trying to escape the police and solve the puzzle of his bewildering and dangerous predicament, Aoyagi enlists the aid of friends, strangers, and a child-friendly serial killer whose catch phrase before he kills is “Did I surprise you?” The interactions with once close friends whose lives have taken different turns since their college days, lends a nostalgic undercurrent that grounds the surreal and darkly comic elements of the film. At 139 minutes, Golden Slumber is unnecessarily long, but even though it drags a bit, following Aoyagi to the end of his quest is an entertaining journey. Friday, November 12th, 10:00 pm, The Royal (Rated 14A)

Koji Yamamura: Master of the Form is your opportunity to delight in the brilliant work of this award-winning director. From his 1987 animated short, Aquatic, to 2007’s, Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor, your eyes will be captivated by Yamamura’s creative expressions of whimsy and contemplation. My favourite in this collection of shorts, is the Oscar-nominated, Atama-yama/Mt. Head, which follows the mental and physical progress of a stingy old man who is determined to “waste nothing”. Whether you choose to view this film as a straightforward fantasy or moral and philosophical tale is up to you. Some of the best shorts I have seen. Saturday, November 13th, 12 Noon, NFB Cinema

Want an animation master class with Koji?
SAT NOV 13 | 10 AM – 12 PM | FREE with Pre-Registration
Click here for all the details.

Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival
Nov. 9-15
Ticket Info: Click Here

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Thank You for Supporting TmTm

Thanks to everyone who showed their support for Tmtm on Saturday, October 25th. I really appreciated you for donating your hard-earned funds to keep this little arts show on the air. Thanks to Heidy M. Gord for staffing the phones, and to Kirk Cooper for sharing the air waves with me. Thanks also to Sistah Lois for sharing her spiritual engery with me as she conducted her civic duties elsewhere. Staty tuned for the thank you gifts, everyone!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Please Support The More the Merrier Arts Radio

I know you love listening to The More the Merrier on CIUT 89.5 FM every Saturday afternoon from 1-2pm. And I know that when you can't tune in live you listen to the latest podcast. I also know you enjoy reading this blog to find out about things that I can't share with you in my one-hour radio show. I don't want to go off the air, but Station Management will do just that if I can't justify the fact that I have listeners who will put their money where their ears are.

Trust me, I have seen shows disappear for lack of listener support. I don't want to be one of those shows because I truly enjoy sharing with you. I love your feedback, and I welcome your criticism. So, on Saturday, October 23rd, between 1-2pm please call 416-946-7800 or toll-free at 1-888-204-8976 and make a pledge (any amount welcome) to The More the Merrier. You can even donate any time on line. Just click here to donate on line. Thank you for your support of the arts, and for community radio. Feel free to email me if you have any questions.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The New Electric Ballroom: Irish Theatre Company Scores a Hit

I was introduced to Irish playwright, Enda Walsh, through the production of his play, bedbound by MacKenzieRo, The Irish Repertory Theatre of Canada. I like the dirty, grimy, grimly funny, play about two characters stuck in a bed, sharing their lives with the audience. There’s just something about Walsh’s unflinching look at the lives of the downtrodden that draws me in. I felt satisfyingly wrung out by the end of bedbound, starring Richard Greenblatt and MacKenzieRo co-founder, actress, Cathy Murphy; at the end of The New Electric Ballroom, I felt bleakly content.

The play features, Cathy Murphy (Ada), and Dora Award winners, Rosemary Dunsmore (Breda), and Sarah Dodd (Claire) as sisters living in a tide-brown Irish fishing village in a dishwater-coloured house that they rarely leave. Unable to let go of the past, Breda and Claire have relentlessly inoculated their younger sister, Ada, against loving and living. The three are caught in a world and a house that recycles fear and stunts communication among them. Director, Autumn Smith has confidently captured the discordant harmony of the sisters and brings out the best in her more than competent female leads. Murphy, Dunsmore and Dodd play off one another like a strident trio of brass players spewing Walsh’s gritty, poetic dialogue with just the right note. Even in their individual silences their energies are connected by an ambient chord.

Dora-nominee, Christopher Stanton (who is also the plays sound director), is the lone male in the piece. A rambling, socially deficient, fishmonger, Stanton’s character, Patsy, is the tragic-comic break the audience needs after listening to the dismal recollections of the distaff household. Stanton’s boyish face, and the slumped, closed-in posture he adopts for his character makes the audience want desperately for Patsy to fit into the sisters’ world. Unfortunately for Patsy, though he belongs in the hopelessly bound world of the sisters’, like a jigsaw piece being forced to connect in the wrong space, he will never quite fit.

The New Electric Ballroom by Enda Walsh
October 8th-24th 2010
Opening: Friday, October 8 at 8PM
Performances: Monday to Saturday at 8PM Sunday matinee: 2:30 PM
Tarragon Extra Space 30 Bridgman Avenue
Tickets: $26, Sundays PWYC Box Office: 416-531-1827

b current's RADIANCE Does Not Shine

I wish that I could say that b current’s production of RADIANCE (directed by the award-winning, ahdri zhina mandiela), was as stellar success, especially since the company is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. Unfortunately, none of the performances in the play live up the interesting story that Australian playwright, Louis Nowra, has penned.

Set in Queensland, Australia, the story is about three half-sisters who reunite for the funeral of their mother, their only connection. b current’s rAizn Ensemble cast includes, Maxine Marcellin as the opera diva, Cressy, Amanda Nicholls (as the embittered Nurse, May), and Meghan Swaby as the promiscuous Nona, who shares their mother’s love of sex and revolving-door boyfriends. The sisters are strangers to one another, and their reminiscences of the past paint a story of a neglectful mother (fighting her own demons), whose choices have had a painful impact on her daughters.

I understand that the rAizn Ensemble is a professional development program for emerging artists, so I was fully prepared for performances by budding actors (everyone has to start somewhere); what I wasn’t prepared for was the lack of energy displayed the actors. I could see the colour in Nowra’s words, and the dynamism with which he imbues the three characters, but all of this is on the page and nowhere to bee seen on the stage. Marcellin’s lacklustre performance is at odds with her opera-singer character, Cressy. When she refers to her roles and touring, the words are not delivered with any shred of credibility. Nicholls tries in her role as May, the sister who found her mother dead in her chair, and with a bit more rehearsal she could have been more convincing in the part. Meghan Swaby’s portrayal of the flighty Nona brings some humour to the piece, but hers is a one-note performance without any depth. As for the Australian idoms, they did not roll trippingly off anyone’s tongue, halting the flow of dialogue and the already slow pacing of the play.

The highlight of my evening was the work done by the crew: set design by Jung-Hye Kim, lighting by CJ Astronomo and sound by Rehaset Yohanes. The raked wooden floor of the house, the flashes of lightning that portend a storm, and the echo of off-stage dialogue all serve to set a wonderful stage for Nowra’s work. With actors that didn’t give me anything to invest in emotionally, I could only make it to the intermission of the two-hour play.

RADIANCE by Louis Nowra
Presented by b current (
Directed by ahdri zhina mandiela
October 12 - 15
Theatre Direct's Artscape Wychwood Barns
601 Christie Street (1 block south of St. Clair Avenue West)
Reserve or Buy Tickets: only $10

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

TIFF 2010: Guest Blogger, Moen M. Shares His Faves

donna g: One of the things that happen during and especially after TIFF are discussions about what has been seen and what are the personal favourites. I asked Moen M.* my friend and fellow film lover, to share his faves with you. Here is what he had to say:

MOEN M.: TIFF 2010 proved to be a wonderful year, yielding insightful films that one hopes the public will get to see more of either at the Lightbox and local arthouse cinemas. It was very difficult to choose which films are my favourites of the festival, but it must be done. Here are my favourites:


1. Poetry (Korea) in photo below
2. Look, Stranger (USA)
3. Nostalgia for The Light (Chile)
4. Attenberg (Greece)
5. Blessed Events (Germany)
6. The Four Times (Italy)
7. Mysteries of Lisbon (Portugal)
8. I Wish I Knew (China)
9. Incendies (Canada)
10. Confessions (Japan)
11. The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal)
12. Trois temps apres la mort d'Anna (Canada)
13. Meek's Cutoff (USA)
14. Leap Year (Mexico)
15. Tears of Gaza (Norway) in photo below

16. The Ditch (China)
17. The Majority (Turkey)
18. The Housemaid (Korea)
19. A Screaming Man (Chad)
20. Of Gods and Men (France)
21. A Useful Life (Uruguay)
22. My Only Sunshine (Turkey)

23. Neds (Scotland)
24. 22nd May (Belgium)
25. Norwegian Wood (Japan)


Trois temps apres la mort d'Anna (Canada) - One of the most honest portrayals of grief and loss I have ever seen. The quiet moments and the frigid landscape scream soundlessly the pain and suffering of the protagonist. A heart-breaking film that is also hopeful. If this is not part of Canada's Top Ten, there is no justice.

My Only Sunshine (Turkey) - A film I saw as I could not get into the Ceausescu documentary and what a discovery it was. Then again, it's director of the wonderful Times and Winds. A film about a young girl's loss of innocence and how the absence of a decent family structure can play havoc with a young child's life.

The Majority (Turkey) - A disturbing and honest portrait of a father and son. It depicts those with money and power (the majority) and their treatment and influence on the others (the minority). This film is not just about contemporary Instanbul, but it could be transplanted anywhere.

Leap Year (Mexico) - A film that may easily be dismissed as sexual violence gone awry, however, the winner of the Camera d'or at Cannes 2010 is not sensational material, nor is it titillating, nor sexy one bit. At least not to me. This is a diary of the month of February as we observe, almost clinically, the activities in a young, native Mexican girl's apartment. Yes, it is violent, and yes, there is a lot of rough sex. However, as the film goes on, it is quietly revealed, not in words, as to the reasons the young woman made those choices. And her family plays a very important role in her choices. Look closely, and you will also see how she feels about being dark-skinned and what she considers to be beautiful. This film is not for everyone. Be warned.

22nd of May (Belgium) - A remarkable achievement, stunning and original. After a suicide bombing at a mall, the security guard (who may have apparently survived or perhaps not), is flung into a dreamland purgatory as he navigates the empty streets searching for the victims and trying to find answers to their questions as they demand answers. Not for one second does this film feel false even though we know we are in a parallel world. It is done with realism and anguish. Kudos to the director for pulling off an ambitious and difficult project.

The Housemaid (Korea) - A sophisticated and sexy thriller that is classy and intelligent. A naive young woman gets more than what she bargained for as she enters the service of a wealthy family. Superb acting and controlled mise-en-scene.

Mysteries of Lisbon (Portugal) - A beautiful poem to literature, art, history, love and ancestry. This rigorous film does not feel long at 4 1/2 hours. It's that good. For me, the realisation of what I had just seen as the film approaches its climax is not only revelatory, but truly inspiring.

The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal) - Charming, poetic, romantic, Oliveira employs his usual theatrical style to great use in this lovely film about a young man's nightmares and fantasies of the deceased Angelica.

Norwegian Wood (Japan) - Everyone I spoke to who has seen this film did not like it. But I liked it very much. This isn't The Scent of Green Papaya nor does it resemble The Vertical Ray of the Sun, nor is it gritty and realistic as Cyclo. As such, it should not be compared to those films. Norwegian Wood is about grief, death and the loss of innocence. Contrary to what I have heard, this film is not pre-occupied with sex, panting and moaning. Sex is used as the only way the characters can stay connected with each other. As there is no love and feeling, they think sex may be the last resort of any kind of link. There is a lot of crying during the sex scenes - this is not gratuitous fumblings and groping. Great use of 60s music, impressive costume design of that era, beautiful photography and wonderful performances by the three leads. A sadly misunderstood film. But then again, I seem to be the only person who liked it.

The Ditch (China) - Wang Bing's painful exploration of the labour camps and their outcome during the famine. This film is so painful to watch, so gut-wrenching in its unendurable suffering, that I never, ever wish to see it again. But I am grateful for having seen it once.

COMPARISONS - Why do we compare a director's current film to his/her previous film? Or his/her body of work? A director has the freedom to do whatever he/she deems to be artistically best for the project at hand. Not every film will resemble or should be like the previous masterwork. Case in question is the superb Poetry by Lee Chang-dong. Over and over during the festival, I heard that "it was just not as good as Secret Sunshine." We should accept a film for what it is and should not attach prerequisites and standing orders. My two pennies.

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
The Sleeping Beauty
Essential Killing
Black Ocean

Guest Blogger* Moen M. is frequents film festivals of all kinds in Toronto and Montreal. He's mad about Japanese cinema and can watch those films all day and night without coming up for ait. I forgive him for this because we both adore Italian actress Anna Magnani, and we love seeing films on the big screen--where they should be seen.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

TIFF 2010: What I Saw and My Top Ten Faves

At left: Cameron Bailey (TIFF Co-Director) and actress, Ludavine Sagnier at the screening of LOVE CRIME in the historic Eglin Theatre.

Top Ten lists are never easy, but this year, there were so many films on the same level of enjoyment that my list could have been a list of ties. In the end, though, I went through the elimination process several times, whittled down my list, and restrained myself to one tie (40 and Africa United). The only easy choices for me to make was my overall favourite: West is West and my runner up, Nostalgia for the Light.

1. 40 (Turkey) + Africa United (UK)
2. Beginners (USA)
3. Blessed Events (Germany)
4. The Housemaid (Korea)
5. The Hunter (Iran)
6. Mamma Gógó (Iceland)
7. Nostalgia for the Light (Chile)
8. Small Town Murder Songs (Canada)
9. A Useful Life (Uruguay)
10. -West is West (UK)

40. A bag of money connects three residents of Istanbul, a screw-up bag man, an African refugee longing to reunite with his childhood sweetheart, and a nurse in a bad marriage who makes her life choices based on numerology. I enjoyed the fresh, youthful energy of the film, the city scenes, and a story that clips along briskly with enough pauses for you to consider the choices being made by the characters and the impact those choices have on their lives in “heaven, hell, and purgatory” that is modern-day city.

AFRICA UNITED. A comedy out of? Yes, and it’s fantastic viewing for all ages, with plot elements for children as well as adults. I saw the film with an adult audience and we all had a very satisfying experience. A group of young Africans travel South Africa for the World Cup. Along the way, they experience challenges and adventures that only serve to strengthen their bond. The young actors do a stellar job in bringing their characters to life: Doudou, a sports “manager”, his sister Beatrice the “doctor”, Fabrice, a young footballer, Foreman George, a child soldier and Celeste, a young sex trade worker are all charismatic without being “Hollywood-cute”. The filmmakers deliberately chose to make this an English language film to appeal to a wider audience; a decision I hope will help this film find it way to commercial theatres. Another wise choice was animating the story that is told by Doudou at various points in their journey. The story mirrors the children’s trek, the animation making it easier for younger audiences to understand the film and adds a creative element that adults will appreciate. I know I was always looking forward to hearing the next chapter of Doudou’s story. Thanks to Rwandans Eric Kabera (producer), and Debs Gardner-Paterson (director) for bringing us a film that shines a new light on Africa without shying away from its social issues. Having enjoyed every moment of the recent World Cup, I felt very “in the know” hearing references to Rooney, Drogba, Henry and others.

This graceful comedy punctuated by soulful jazz selections was my last film of TIFF 2010, and what a pleasing way to end my festival. Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor play father and son and doggie wonder, Cosmo plays Arthur in this film about how we choose to love. Plummer is a father who has come out of the closet in his seventies and is discovering a world that he had repressed during his long marriage. His wife is dead, he has never been able to be openly gay, and is now embracing that side of his life with an enthusiasm that only those with not too many summers left, can achieve. He has discovered love and thrown himself into every gay movement/group imaginable. On the other hand, Ewan McGregor’s character has been an observer of his parents’ cool marriage and is reluctant to commit to any long-term relationships. In flashbacks, we see how absent his father was from his life, and how he had to stand in for his father as his mother’s social companion and confidante.

I really appreciated the unhurried pace of the storytelling that allows us to watch the developing relationship between father and son, and the tentative stirrings of a romantic relationship for the son with a woman who is also not used to long term entanglements. Even the dog is well directed in this film, his performance adding a rueful tone to the picture rather than the usual one-dimensional “cutsie/love me” role that dogs usually play in films.

BLESSED EVENTS. This film is not for everyone. I’m not being condescending, just realistic. Not everyone can sit though a film where silence reigns and you have to fill in the blanks yourself based on careful observation. For example, the film starts with us hearing fireworks and looking through a window at a sleeping woman wrapped in a comforter. In a following scene, we see the same woman in a bar by herself ordering a drink while Danny Boy plays in the background, setting up the melancholic tone of the film. The woman has a one-night stand that night and later finds out she is pregnant. When she runs into the father, she finds that he is thrilled about the news and the two become a couple. What follows is an examination of the relationship based on the viewpoint of this insecure, anxiety-ridden woman. Is what we are seeing really what is going on in her life, or is everything just based on her skewed interpretation? The disturbing stillness of the film, the guessing game we play, the lighting and direction all come together for me and makes Blessed Events something to savour even as it leaves you a bit on edge. Just writing this makes me want to watch the film again.

THE HOUSEMAID.What can I say about this film, but “yum!” I wish I had had some popcorn while watching this film because it just called for it. Unfortunately, I was watching this in the P & I Library (couldn’t make any of the screenings), so I had to make do with my grande Passion tea, and let me eyes do the eating. And what a delicious meal of a melodrama this is, with a naïve young nanny, a rich and powerful man, his pregnant wife, her evil mother, and the conflicted housekeeper, Mrs. Cho. According to Mrs. Cho, the job as a housemaid is R.U.N.S (revolting, ugly, nauseating and shameless). With skilled production design and cinematography, and confident handling by a director who knows how to tell a complete story, The Housemaid is as satisfying as a sip of expertly chilled champagne from the perfect flute.

Sorry, Biutiful but I chose The Hunter over seeing you. Why? Because I knew that the Javier Bardem film would be released in theatres, I love Iranian films, and I had no idea when The Hunter would see the light of day in Canadian theatres. As I revealed to director, Raffi Pitts, when I interviewed him, I wasn’t familiar with his work, but will be checking my indie video stores to find them. The Hunter is about a man who seeks revenge for the loss of his wife and daughter. Not knowing if he should blame society or the police, he hides in the hills of Tehran shooting at will. This study of pain that runs too deep to be expressed by screaming stars the director, himself, who stepped in after his actor showed up unfit for filming on the first day. I adored Pitts location choices, the boxed in scenes of the city’s highways, the deep green of the forest, and the gray mists of the hills, all serve to create a tense atmosphere that reflects the “time bomb” feeling that is pressurizing modern day Iran. As I said before, I like silence in movies, and this film delivers that, leaving me with Pitt’s choice of framing and expressive eyes to tell the story.

There are some subjects that I have dealt with or continue to deal with in my own life, and have no interest in seeing them on screen: Alzheimer’s is one of those subjects. Oscar-nominated director, Fridrik Thor Fridriksson, must have heard my thoughts when he was thinking of doing this movie about his mother’s illness. The disease is no laughing matter but Fridriksson was tired of the bleakness of he had seen and wanted to show some of the humorous situations that occurred with his mother (and others he knew). Icelandic treasure, Kristbjörg Kjeld plays Mamma Gógó, an impish woman whose comic antics become more and more dangerous to her as the film progresses. No less comic or less serious is the financial difficulties faced by The Director (played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who is praying for an Oscar nomination in order to get funds for his next project. The two storylines weave together in a dark comedy that is full of light in its tone, in its cinematography, and in the magic that is brought to the screen by Kjeld’s outstanding performance.

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT. My second favourite film. I wish I could have seen this on a larger screen, but even watching it in the P & I Library, I found this film captivating, thought provoking, and awe-inspiring. Under the masterful direction of Patricio Guzmán, science, politics and the past meld in this documentary about astronomers, archaeologists, and women looking for remnants of their “disappeared” loved ones in Chile’s Atacama Desert. All three groups are pre-occupied with the past. With light from the moon reaching Earth in over a second (the sun reaching us in about 8 minutes) and planets in the universe being light years away from Earth, everything the astronomers discover is from the past; the archaeologists discover ancient travel routes and relics from pre-Columbian shepherds; and, as the years pass and they age (and die), the women are stuck in the time of Chilean Coup searching for the “disappeared”, whose bodies were buried by Pinochet’s men, carelessly exhumed from their mass graves, and strewn across the desert or the sea. The desert’s clear sky and altitude provide a unique and beautiful place to look beyond ourselves even as we contemplate the calcium match between the stars we look at and the unearthed bones found in the desert.

(See my review)

A USEFUL LIFE. I applauded at the end of this film. It just seemed so appropriate once the credits came up. Being a fan of Classic cinema, and TIFF Cinematheque, I had to see this film about Cinemateca Uruguaya. While Toronto’s is flourishing (especially with the new Bell Lightbox), Cinemateca Uruguaya’s membership is dwindling and its equipment is outdated. For twenty-five years, Jorge, the Cinemateca’s director, has spent his life enmeshed in the world of film. When the funders decide to give money only to cultural activities that bring in a profit, Jorge has to decide what to do with his life. Black and White are the colours of romance and nostalgia, key themes in this film where Jorge pursues a new love like a romantic film star, and film education is trumped by financial considerations. The ages old battle between art and commerce could easily have been depicted in a depressing manner, but director Federico Veiroj choses to travel from dark to light, opening his camera’s iris wider and wider until a spirit of hopefullness illuminates the finishing frames of this this sixty-seven minute film. On a personal note, this film reminded me of a past TIFF programmer, Ramiro Puerta. May he rest in peace. FIN.

WEST IS WEST. My Top Ten Favourite! I had a fantastic time watching this family comedy. West is West can stand on its own, so no need to worry that you haven’t seen East is East.

Sajid (Aqib Khan) skips school to get away from being bullied about his Pakistani heritage. When his father George Om Puri admonishes him for being called to the principal’s office, Sajid hurls racial slurs at his father, blaming him for his troubles. Hurt by his son’s words, George decides that it’s time for Sajid to spend some time in Pakistan to learn about his heritage. Once there, the foul-mouthed, defiant Sajid refuses to wear anything but his school uniform, but manages to eventually become involved in life in rural Pakistan thanks to the intervention of his elder brother, a young boy his own age, and an “uncle” figure who allows him to learn on his own terms.

While Sajid adapts or bends rules to suit his mechanations, his father George must finally face the wife and adult daughters he left behind when he moved to England and married a British woman. For the past thirty years, his Pakistani house has been an address to which he sent money; but he must now face daughters who grew up without a father while he was raising his half-British sons and a wife who has aged beyond her years from dealing with abandonment and of raising the girls on her own.
Strong direction by Andy De Emmony keeps the film moving along at a steady pace, with the necessary dramatic elements, never overpowering the light, audacious comedy that the brilliant young actor, Aqub Khan, brings to the entire film. Cinematographer, Peter Robertson does an equally good job of lighting scenes with just enough contrast in tones to add to the dramtic or comic elements of the film.

Guilt, humour, and love are all finely tuned emotions in screenwriter Ayub Khan-Din’s clever script. Khan-Din has written as good a script as he did for East is East, and by avoiding any overt references to that film, he allows viewers to thoroughly enjoy West is West. Seeing East is East is simply icing on a cake that has all the right ingredients.

For the most part I saw one good film after another. I saw 57 films this year and I was surprised when reviewing my list that I only saw only a handful of films that were “okay/weak”. No wonder TIFF 2010 had such a high number of film sales this year; there seemed to be an abundance of films to suit various markets.

1. !WomenArt Revolution (USA)review
2. 13 Assassins (Japan) in photo
3. 40 (Turkey)
4. Africa United (UK)
5. Amazon Falls (Canada)review
6. Beginners (USA)
7. Behind Blue Skies (Sweden) review
8. Blessed Events (Germany)
9. Breakup Club (Hong Kong)
10. The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman (Hong Kong)
11. Carancho (Argentina)
12. Crying Out (Canada) review
13. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame (China)
14. Easy Money (Sweden)in photo
15. Girlfriend (USA) review
16. Guest (Spain)
17. Home for Christmas (Norway/Germany/Sweden)
18. The Housemaid (Korea)
19. How to Start Your Own Country (Canada) review
20. The Human Resources Manager (Israel)
21. The Hunter (Iran)

22. I Am Slave (UK)in photo
23. I Wish I Knew (China)
24. Jaloux (Canada) review
25. John Carpenter’s The Ward (USA)
26. Julia’s Eyes (Spain)
27. Karla and Jonas (Denmark)
28. Lapland Odyssey (Finland)
29. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Hong Kong/China)
30. The Light Thief (Kyrgyzstan)
31. Little Sister (China)
32. Love Crime (France)
33. MODRA (Canada)
34. Machete Maidens Unleashed! (Australia)in photo
35. Made in Dagenham (UK)
36. Mama Gogo (Iceland)
37. Mandoo (Iraq)
38. Monsters (UK)
39. Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon (Australia)
40. Norberto’s Deadline (Uruguay/Argentina) review
41. Nostalgia for the Light (Chile)
42. October (Peru/Venezuela/Spain)
43. Pink Saris (UK) review

44. Pinoy Sunday (Taiwan) review
45. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Finland/Norway) in photo
46. Red Nights (Hong Kong/China/France)
47. A Screaming Man (France/Belgium/Chad)
48. Small Town Murder Songs (Canada) review
49. Soul of Sand (India) review
50. Special Treatment (France) review
51. The Strange Case of Angelica (Portugal)

52. SUPER (USA) in photo
53. A Useful Life (Uruguay)
54. Wasted on the Young (Australia) review
55. West is West (UK)
56. You Are Here (Canada)
57. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (UK/USA/Spain)

JULIA'S EYES (Starts out as a very good thriller than descended into the ridiculous. Would rent from the cheap section for a good laugh.)

John Carpenter’s The Ward (John Carpenter, I love you, but this time you picked a bad cast of actresses who brought down a good story and your filmmaking. You couldn't even scare me, the person who used to tape the X-Files so she could watch in the daytime?)

Jaloux (See my review)

Norberto’s Deadline (See my review)

Mandoo (Honestly, I forgot that I even saw this film.)

Breakup Club (Some great ideas, and fresh filmmaking but the film went on waaay too long.)

I had a really good time at TIFF 2010 meeting new people in line, in the Press and Industry Offices and staircases of the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Arranging my interviews was easily facilitated by independent publicists and with the able assistance of the TIFF Press Office, especially staffers Kelley, Aisling, and Micole. Volunteers at the hotel and especially those in the P & I Screening Library were very helpful and pleasant.

1.         Photo courtesy of A BUMP ALONG THE WAY (DISCOVERY) Synopsi s: With her charismatic smile and formida...