October 24, 2014

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff: Someone Will Break Out Into Recipes

In the latest episode of our ENnie-winning podcast, Ken and I talk official vs. popular religion, Dracula Dossier, food writing, and Margaret Murray.

October 18, 2014

Linna Laws (1946-2014)

I delivered the following eulogy at my mother’s funeral service, held at First Baptist Church, Orillia, ON, on October 7, 2014. She died on September 29th.

When my dad called me to tell me that Mom had died, I couldn’t stay still. I had to move. So with my wife Valerie at my side I left our downtown Toronto apartment for a brisk walk in a random direction. As we struggled to make sense of the news we quickly got to the question of her age.
Well, she was born in 1946, I said.
Valerie counted the decades on her fingers. The number came up as 68. Mom couldn’t still be that young, could she?
No way is that right, I said. I’m gonna be 50 in a few weeks. That’s mathematically impossible. So I reached for my phone and pulled up the calculator app and yes, sure enough, 2014 minus 1946 equals 68. Our ages fall less than two decades apart.
Even as a kid, I understood that I had young parents. Mom and Dad had decided to have kids early, they explained, so they would still be young enough to have fun doing it.
As a child, that struck me as a beguiling idea. Looking at it from the vantage point of middle age, in a time when people start families a decade plus later, caring for a baby at 18 seems impossibly daunting.
When you are an adult and time begins to take its toll on the people around you, you figure having young parents gives you something of an insurance policy.
To lose anyone in your life at such a relatively young age, completely without sign or warning, with no chance for goodbyes, shakes your sense of stability. To have it be your mom, the person who, if she was a good mom, provided you with the confidence that you were safe and cared for since before you were even conscious of anything—well, it’s shattering.
Given the sudden shock of this, it’s tempting to focus on the enormity of our loss. But we are all here to remember and celebrate her life. So let’s try to do that.
She was more than a good mom. She was a great mom.
If you made me sum her up in one word, both as a mother and a person, that word would be solid. She was strong, reliable, practical. Always ready to fix things. And, as everyone here knows, funny—she could take an ordinary interaction from her day and weave it into an epic anecdote. Combine that with warmth, cheer, and generosity and you had a love that was strong, and reliable, and always ready.
Last September, Valerie’s mother Muriel passed. Although I figured there was still plenty of time, it occurred to me that maybe I ought to know what the heck to do when that inevitable moment came for Mom. Understand that the broaching of difficult subjects has never been a Laws family forte. Being wise-asses, yes. Subject broaching, no.
So the answer came as no surprise, because it was the exact same one I would give were it the other way around. She went –pfff -- and made a dismissive gesture and said that there was no need to fuss about that. I forget the exact joke but the general indication was that it would be fine with her if we left her out for the city to pick up when they came for the leaves and tree branches.
It turns out the municipality frowns on that.
So we will have to make at least a little fuss.
When her mother, my Grandmother Hannaford, passed aged 90 after a brief illness, Mom saw me losing it. Which is what I do at funerals. She reminded me that there was no need to feel sorry for Grandma, who was gone and spared from suffering.
Of course, we have these services not for the person who has gone. We have them to feel sorry for ourselves, because we will now have to live without them.
Still, her words of consolation point to a combination of qualities almost never seen in the same person. When you use the word unsentimental to describe someone, the assumption is that you mean that they’re cold or detached or unfeeling. Mom was anything but: warm, loving, gregarious. Yet also possessed of an emotional practicality I wish I was capable of. If worrying didn’t fix a problem, she didn’t let herself do it.
Speaking of fixing things. One thing she never claimed to be much good at fixing was dinner. It not only delighted but amazed her when it turned out that I like to cook.
Even so, she did make certain key food items. And as trivial as it might sound, the items you make for family members, especially the ones connected to ritual occasions, become a tangible touchstone of affection. Stability in edible form.
So I will never again get to eat proper turkey stuffing. As Allen will, I’m sure, agree, everyone else does it wrong. Mom’s stuffing couldn’t have been more simple and basic—bread, lots and lots of poultry seasoning, and a ton of butter. And that was what was perfect about it.
I’m not the only one in this room who will also wish they had one more chance to eat her legendary chocolate chip cookies. She learned to give each member of a household their own separate tins, so as not to tear families apart. Mom said there was nothing special about them; she just used the recipe on the side of the chocolate chip bag. But she made them bigger than anyone else. Though they were wider in diameter and not quite as high, they had the approximate volume of hockey pucks. Through mysterious alchemy this size and configuration made them the best chocolate chip cookies ever baked in any oven. You’d think that we could reproduce this simply by making our cookies bigger. But I bet we lack the magic.
As already mentioned the basic unit of affection at a Laws family gathering was teasing and the smart alec remark. When we were kids, Mom gave Allen and me years of material when, on one of our motor home journeys across North America, she backed up too close to a curbside traffic sign. My bike, stowed on top of the vehicle, paid the price. The meeting of sign and bike bent the bar behind the seat down over it. Now that was a perfectly acceptable bicycle but that was by far the most fun I ever got out of it.
This would have been after Mom learned to drive. She had to take the test twice because the first time around she broke the speed limit. When informing her she’d flunked, the drive tester told her she had a heavy foot.
Well, that foot stayed heavy even after she got her license. When Mom was on the go, she didn’t want to be on the way, she wanted to be there. Fortunately she had the folksy charm to talk her way out of a ticket. I got to see this in action a few years ago when we were late to a theater production in downtown Toronto. She was regular people, even when she was 10k over the residential limit.
That heavy foot, the need to go, speaks to her fundamental yen for freedom. She wanted to be out doing her own thing, as she would have put it. For years duty overrode that drive. When her father died and her mother’s health as a result seemed at risk, she moved in to an addition at 16 Alexander Drive to help keep an eye on her. She did it willingly but was constantly aware of the loss of independence.
When she had the chance to be free, she took it. And if she instilled something in me, it was to cherish and seek my own freedom, to find a life and live it. The words of hers I most recall are her three-word motto: “Go for it.”
Many parents would try to at least gently dissuade a smart kid who could have pursued a lucrative career from instead becoming a writer. Or more incomprehensibly yet, a game designer. But if that’s what I wanted to do, Mom wanted me to do that. She wanted me to go for it.
As for herself, Mom did not always have the best luck with employers. This despite the people skills that made her a top notch salesperson and adviser on all things gardening related. I suspect she was happiest when working for herself doing landscaping and installing ponds. Even when that meant slugging rocks, as she put it, or placed her in hip waders in mucky cold water. When rising gas prices put a kibosh on the driving required to make that work, she took a post as landscaper and custodian here, at her church.
Most of the other speakers, I’m sure, will talk about her role in this congregation. I know about her work here from the way she talked about it. Despite problems with arthritis, she was out there, blowing snow, stacking chairs, doing what needed doing. Whatever she did, she worked hard. Not for the sake of hard work itself, but because she believed in doing the job right. Although I make my living by sitting in a chair, making stuff up and writing it down, I take with me the example of her work ethic, her need to do the job right, every time I plan a project or hit a deadline.
Mom went for it by assembling a community of friends to have adventures with. She sang with various choirs. She went birding in the woods, risking mysteriously powerful spider bites. She took up kayaking. She went to Portugal to look at scenery and check out the tapas situation.
My mom loved water, so when she downsized to an apartment she found one on the lake. Then she decided the lake wasn’t quite close enough, so she built a water feature near her door. Unlike the fountain she installed in the previous place, this one stood outside, where it couldn’t overflow and warp the floorboards.
Because, between work and adventures, she was busy going for it, getting ahold of her wasn’t necessarily an easy matter. Her own mother, beacon of goodness though she was, had expectations and wasn’t shy about sharing them. Mom, who felt the weight of that, very consciously decided not to rule her kids through guilt. So for example she instituted a “no news is good news” policy when it came to staying in touch. All the bragging of recent accomplishments and other updating would happen soon enough, at Thanksgiving or Christmas or during a call on Mother’s Day. Which would often happen one or two days after the actual date of Mother’s Day, and multiple attempts to reach her. It was a Sunday. She had stuff to do.
Being laid up, either from the aforementioned mysterious spider bite, or hip replacement surgery two years ago, drove her batty. After hip replacement the patient has to stay still and in a particular position until healing from this massively invasive procedure occurs. This left us a little worried about how faithfully she’d obey doctor’s orders. Especially as she eyed the pair of wooden chairs she had hanging from the porch just outside her door. She’d been meaning to get around to refinishing those for ages, she said, so being stuck at home was maybe the perfect opportunity.
At this moment, the “no news is good news” protocol reveals it flaw. It doesn’t account for sudden catastrophe. And so it leaves the events I was saving up for Thanksgiving undescribed, and certain accomplishments unbragged-about.
Which brings us back to the years I thought we’d still have with her. This turn of events, frankly, leaves me feeling cheated. In language no one ever utters in a house of worship.
But if I imagine what she would say about a thing like this, she’d say that feeling that way is pointless, because it doesn’t get you anywhere.
If I’d had a chance to say goodbye, it wouldn’t have been all written out like this. There would be more jokes and less mush. Basically it would just be, “I love you Mom. And thank you.”
Life is sad and beautiful. It is sad, right now, for me, because my mom is gone. It is beautiful because she was in it.
Also, it is short. And you don’t get to choose just how short.
The lesson, then, that I take from the life and passing of my mother is to savor the brief time we get. And to live it, as fully as we can, and to keep seeking new adventures. To go for it.







































September 16, 2014

2014 Toronto International Film Festival Capsule Review Round-Up

Here it is, devoted visitors of the Cinema Hut: my master list of capsule reviews from the just-completed 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF as its friends call it. Clip ‘n’ save for future reference as these continue to roll their way through the film festival circuit.  Although I mostly pick titles without distribution in place as of the printing of the program book, many were picked up in the course of the event and will be rolling out to select theaters over the next year or so.  Then they’ll roll out to disc and VOD, then premium cable, and finally streaming services like Netflix. Titles from last year’s fest are now starting to pop up on Netflix, for example, so if you check out my list from then you’ll find stuff available to watch right away.

As always, I’ve arranged these in rough order of preference, which will probably change as certain films rise in my memory and others fade. Gradations within a header are slight.

Overall it was a very strong year. We’re hoping we won’t be, but if we do wind up priced out of the festival in future this was a good one to treat as a last hurrah. Never had I had so many contenders for the coveted third slot in my best of fest category. Any other year, it could have easily been taken by A Girl at My Door, The Golden Era, The World of Kanako, or They Have Escaped.

The Best

Fires on the Plain [Japan, Shinya Tsukamoto] in the dying days of WWII, Japanese soldiers stuck on the island of Leyte go to desperate lengths to survive. Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: Iron Man, Tokyo Fist) turns his career-long obsession with mental disintegration and brutal body transformation away from genre freak-out to the ultimate real world horror.

Partners in Crime [Taiwan, Chang Jung-chi] Trio of high schoolers who meet while discovering a schoolmate's body decide to investigate the reasons for her apparent suicide. Teenage paranoia thriller scores the trifecta: gripping, fresh, and always real.

Not My Type [Belgium, Lucas Belvaux] Unlikely love sparks between handsome Parisian philosopher and fun-loving small-town hairdresser. Deceptively simple romantic drama which becomes surprisingly suspenseful--because you're waiting for him to make the horrible mistake that ruins everything.

Recommended

A Girl at My Door [South Korea, July Jung] Alcoholic cop (Boona Dae, Cloud Atlas) transferred to serve as chief of a backwater police force creates waves when she protects the abused child of the labor broker who keeps the town working. Emotionally complex, powerfully acted, simply told drama of crossed boundaries.

The Golden Era [China, Ann Hui] Biopic follows the work and tortured love life of pioneering woman writer Xiao Hong  against the chaos of the Chinese war years. By declining to dramatize events not directly attested to in first hand accounts, and through distancing devices like time jumps and direct address, this biography suggests the unknowability of its, or any other, life.

The World of Kanako [Japan, Tetsuya Nakashima] Deranged, brutal ex-cop (Koji Yakusho) searches for his missing daughter. Assaultive, megaviolent neo-noir furiously upends the genre's moral expectations.

They Have Escaped [Finland, JP Valkeapää] Stutterer doing alternative military service as an attendant at a juvenile detention facility escapes with a cute punky inmate. Imagistic outlaw couple on the run movie initially plays like a gentler cover version of Badlands. And then it doesn't, and that's all I should say.

Tokyo Tribe [Japan, Sion Sono] All of Tokyo's cartoony gangs go to war when the lunatic evil ones lure the nice guy crew into a trap. Energetic insanity reigns in this martial arts manga adaptation hip hop musical.

The Dead Lands [New Zealand, Toa Fraser] When the enemies who slaughtered his tribe take a shortcut through accursed territory, a novice warrior seeks the aid of its resident   flesh-eating monster. Thrilling pre-contact action movie redolent with Maori mythology.

In Her Place [South Korea/Canada, Albert Shin] Well-off woman goes to the country to live with the family of the girl pregnant with the baby she has arranged to adopt, so she can pass it off as her biological child. Naturalistic social drama from first time director with the assurance to bring out the issues strictly through character behavior.

A Hard Day [South Korea, Kim Seong-hun] After he kills a man in a hit and run, on the night of his mother's funeral and an internal affairs raid on his detective squad, a cop goes to increasingly complex lengths to cover it up. Pulse-racing action-thriller with a wicked sense of humor.

The New Girlfriend [France, Francois Ozon] Woman discovers that her best friend's widow has taken to wearing her clothing. Sirkian drama for the age of gender multiplicity with standout performances from Romain Duris and Anais Demoustier.

The Grump [Finland, Dome Karukoski] Octogenarian potato farmer sows bullheaded havoc in the life and career of his daughter-in-law when he must go to Helsinki for physiotherapy. Lots of hilarity, just enough punching of the heartstrings.

Ned Rifle [US, Hal Hartley] On his 18th birthday a young man, aided by a fetching literary stalker (Aubrey Plaza), sets out to find and kill his father, who got his mother imprisoned for life on terrorism charges. Completes the decade-spanning trilogy that started with Henry Fool and Fay Grim with Hartley's trademark witty dialogue and underplayed delivery.

Over Your Dead Body [Japan, Takashi Miike] Love triangle between actors rehearsing a samurai ghost play mirrors their backstage lives. Stately contemplation of artifice and reality mixes experimental intentions with horror imagery.

Red Amnesia [China, Wang Xiaoshuai] Stubborn senior adjusting poorly to widowhood becomes the subject of a mysterious harassment campaign. Tells a suspenseful story with multiple turns in a completely naturalistic way.

The Face of an Angel [UK, Michael Winterbottom] Director goes off the rails in Siena after agreeing to make a true crime movie based on a tabloid frenzy murder case still wending its way through the Italian justice system. In this fictionalization of the process of fictionalizing the Amanda Knox case, Winterbottom weaves another of his moody, questioning anti-narratives.

Tokyo Fiancée [Belgium, Stefan Liberski] Young Belgian woman who wants to be Japanese moves to Tokyo and falls in love with a guy she's tutoring in French. Sweet, melancholy romance powered by the incredible charm of soulful, adorable lead actress Pauline Etienne.

Spring [US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead] Young Californian in Italy after the death of his mother falls for an alluring geneticist with an ancient, paranormal affliction. Reference points for this beguiling supernatural romance include Richard Linklater and Arthur Machen.

Haemoo [South Korea, Shim Sung-Bo] Desperate fishing boat captain agrees to take on a load of illegal immigrants. Nautical noir keeps on raising the stakes.

Scarlet Innocence [South Korea, Pil-Sung Yim] Caddish professor's affair with excitement-starved small town girl touches off a multi-year spiral of sexual obsession and vengeance. Ominous drama recasts a Korean fable in contemporary terms.

What We Do In the Shadows [New Zealand, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement] Vampire housemates face the stresses of life in modern Wellington, NZ. Hilarious deadpan mockumentary from the team that brought you Eagle vs. Shark.

Wet Bum [Canada, Lindsay McKay] Awkward 14 year old grapples with an attraction to her untrustworthy lifeguard instructor and gets to know residents of the retirement home where she has an after school cleaning job. Quiet, grounded coming of age drama shows a first time director in command of mood and image.

Alleluia [France, Fabrice Du Welz] Criminal career of con artist who specializes in lonely woman gets bloody when one of his victims won't let go of him. Intimate psychodrama with surreal touches transposes the Beck-Fernandez murders to modern France, as an amor fou with collateral damage.

Shrew's Nest [Spain, Juanfer Andrés & Esteban Roel] Agoraphobic seamstress imprisons virile injured neighbor in the small flat she shares with the younger sister she abusively represses. Suspenseful gothic thriller balances pathos and gory black humor.

Hill of Freedom [South Korea, Hong Sang-soo] Woman reads letters about the time a Japanese man spent waiting to find her--but she jumbles the pages, so the scenes play out of order. Sweet, funny meditation on time, language and longing.

Confession [South Korea, Lee-Do-yun] Two childhood friends bungle an arson scam, killing an accomplice, the mother of a third friend. Effective neo-noir about loyalty and betrayal.

Elephant Song [Canada, Charles Binamé] Stern psychiatrist (Bruce Greenwood) quizzes brilliant, game-playing mental patient (Xavier Dolan) on a colleague's disappearance. Acting duels nest within acting duels in this stage play adaptation.

Out of Nature [Norway, Ole Giæver] Disenchanted family man tries to sort out his thoughts with a weekend jogging trip into the mountains. Acerbic drama shows that if you want to heighten your midlife crisis, do it in the wilderness.

Cub [Belgium, Jonas Govaerts] Misunderstood Cub Scout realizes there's something sinister in the woods. Fast-moving horror flick lays booby traps for viewers expecting kid-friendly scares.

Itsi Bitsi [Denmark, Ole Christian Madsen] Young couple's commitment to their 60s odyssey derails their shot at love. Biopic  chronicles the life of a counterculture flame-out whose short-lived band remains iconic in Danish rock music.

Good

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 [HK, Johnnie To] Financier (Louis Koo) who lost out in a previous love triangle romances the boss of the woman he pines for. Glossy farce gives To lots of room to exercise his mastery of spatial relationships in a comic context.

Goodnight Mommy [Austria, Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala] Dread ensues when twin boys become convinced that the cold, bandaged woman freshly returned from plastic surgery is not really their mom. Drolly alarming neo-Kubrickian modern gothic.

Big Game [Finland, Jalmari Helander] 13 year old in the mountains on his rite of passage hunt protects the President (Samuel L. Jackson), whose plane has been downed by assassins. The director and young star of Rare Exports reteam for a crowd-pleasing entry in the endangered POTUS sub-genre.

Bang Bang Baby [Canada, Jeffrey St. Jules] Girl who dreams of singing stardom thrills when car troubles trap an Elvis-like star in her nowhere town, unaware of the mutagenic disaster about to issue from its purple mist plant. Mixes the streams of Canadian film with leaving home theme, stylized irony, and Cronenberg body horror.

Eden [France, Mia Hansen-Løve] DJ extends his adolescence into his thirties as the Parisian garage scene rises and falls. Impressionistic storytelling more interested in evoking experience than heightening it into drama.

Don't Breathe [Georgia, Nino Kirtadzé] Energy company middle manager, his friends and family wildly overreact to his bursitis diagnosis. Naturalistic drama with comedic touches explores the Eastern European appetite for doom.

Okay

A Second Chance [Denmark, Suzanne Bier] When his infant son dies. A compassionate cop (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) swaps the body for the living child of a junkie couple. Compellingly acted and directed, but the script has to expend a lot of effort making its premise seem believable.

Two Shots Fired [Argentina, Martin Rejtman] A teenager failed attempt to shoot himself to death is just the first in a string of miscommunications involving an ever-widening circle of characters. Ultra-deadpan absurdist comedy could do with some kind of new angle on the director's signature style.

Where I am King [Philippines, Carlos Siguion-Reyna] Tycoon on the skids moves with his young adult grandchildren into a tenement he owns in the slum he was raised in. Life lessons abound in this amiable melodrama.

Not Recommended

Princess of France [Argentina, Matías Piñeiro] Director of a radio production of Love's Labours Lost mentally remixes the cast's romantic miscommunications with various permutations of participant and outcome. Attractive actors perform a hermetically sealed experiment in deconstruction.

Revenge of the Green Dragons [HK, Andrew Lau & Andrew Loo] Young man recounts his experiences as member of a notorious Queens, NYC, Asian crime syndicate. If you're going to invite comparisons to Goodfellas (including a role for Ray Liotta) and the dialogue and narration aren't as insanely brilliant as Nicholas Pileggi's, you are not ready to start shooting yet.

The Judge [US, David Dobkin] Cynical hotshot defense attorney (Robert Downey Jr) takes on the case of his life when he must defend his uncompromising estranged father, (Robert Duvall) a small town judge, from a vehicular homicide charge. Magnetic actors fully commit to a sometime sharp, more often ridiculous script, packed with enough stock melodramatic situations to fill seven movies.

The Worst

Kabukicho Love Hotel [Japan, Ryuichi Hiroki] 24 hours in the life of a red light district sex hotel. Script for this ensemble drama includes such hallmarks of bullshit writing as heavy reliance on coincidence, characters spouting their backstories at each other, and cheap invocations of recent disasters.

Waste Land [Belgium, Pieter van Hees] To convince his wife to take her pregnancy to term, unstable homicide detective (Jeremie Renier) promises to quit--as soon as he closes a case involving Congolese artifact smuggling. Filmmakers have no idea how to construct a cop thriller--which they seem to realize partway through, throwing up their hands and heading off to crazytown.  

September 15, 2014

TIFF Sun Sept 14: Kiwi vampires, Korean boat noir, Korean cop noir and tabloid murder

When working out my schedule I start with the final day, to make sure it's as stacked as possible with sure bets, easier watches and fun titles. Let's see how well I did this time.

The Face of an Angel [UK, Michael Winterbottom, 4] Director goes off the rails in Siena after agreeing to make a true crime movie based on a tabloid frenzy murder case still wending its way through the Italian justice system. In this fictionalization of the process of fictionalizing the Amanda Knox case, Winterbottom weaves another of his moody, questioning anti-narratives.

Haemoo [South Korea, Shim Sung-Bo, 4] Desperate fishing boat captain agrees to take on a load of illegal immigrants. Nautical noir keeps on raising the stakes.

What We Do In the Shadows [New Zealand, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement, 4] Vampire housemates face the stresses of life in modern Wellington, NZ. Hilarious deadpan mockumentary from the team that brought you Eagle vs. Shark.

By the last day most of the filmmakers have gone home and Q&As become thin on the ground. But Clement was there, fresh from seeing a bunch of other Midnight Madness titles, and like a trouper did his Q&A without breaking the documentary conceit. Only one audience member failed to "yes and" him.

This won the Midnight Madness Peoples' Choice Award.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 [HK, Johnnie To, 3.5] Financier (Louis Koo) who lost out in a previous love triangle romances the boss of the woman he pines for. Glossy farce gives To lots of room to exercise his mastery of spatial relationships in a comic context.

Ending is either a letdown or a setup for a third installment. If B, also A.

A Hard Day [South Korea, Kim Seong-hun, 4] After he kills a man in a hit and run, on the night of his mother's funeral and an internal affairs raid on his detective squad, a cop goes to increasingly complex lengths to cover it up. Pulse-racing action-thriller with a wicked sense of humor.

And that's it for another year--all over but the sleeping. And laundry. And more sleeping.
Somewhere in between those key activities I'll compile my full capsule review list in handy reference format, for posting tomorrow.

Until then, did I mention sleep?

September 14, 2014

TIFF Sat Sept 13: Scams gone awry, a President downed, mysterious calls and bear rug nookie

Finland is a nation of only 5 million people, but today they comprise 50% of my festival-going. Figure that out, statisticians!

Confession [South Korea, Lee-Do-yun, 4] Two childhood friends bungle an arson scam, killing an accomplice, the mother of a third friend. Effective neo-noir about loyalty and betrayal.

Big Game [Finland, Jalmari Helander, 3.5] 13 year old in the mountains on his rite of passage hunt protects the President (Samuel L. Jackson), whose plane has been downed by assassins. The director and young star of Rare Exports reteam for a crowd-pleasing entry in the endangered POTUS sub-genre.

The filmmakers weren't angling for someone of Jackson's stature; he got ahold of the script and approached them. When he signed on they realized they had to add a "motherfucker" to the dialogue. Now that they've been picked up for North American distribution and want a PG-13, they have to figure out what to do with it.

Red Amnesia [China, Wang Xiaoshuai, 4] Stubborn senior adjusting poorly to widowhood becomes the subject of a mysterious harassment campaign. Tells a suspenseful story with multiple turns in a completely naturalistic way.

In its themes and I emphatic treatment of what would otherwise be thriller material, this recalls last year's Trap Street. (Which was not quite as satisfying as this one.) Another example and it officially becomes a sub-genre.

They Have Escaped [Finland, JP Valkeapää, 4] Stutterer doing alternative military service as an attendant at a juvenile detention facility escapes with a cute punky inmate. Imagistic outlaw couple on the run movie initially plays like a gentler cover version of Badlands. And then it doesn't, and that's all I should say.

September 13, 2014

TIFF Fri Sept 12: Teen paranoia, neo-gothic kids, and fragile love

Titles I'm not seeing at TIFF that seem to be getting buzz: Force Majeure, Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything, Tusk.

Partners in Crime [Taiwan, Chang Jung-chi, 5] Trio of high schoolers who meet while discovering a schoolmate's body decide to investigate the reasons for her apparent suicide. Teenage paranoia thriller scores the trifecta: gripping, fresh, and always real.

It's great to see a young filmmaker from Taiwan, best known for languid naturalism, grab hold of the full range of narrative tools: music, editing, camera movement.

Goodnight Mommy [Austria, Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala, 3.5] Dread ensues when twin boys become convinced that the cold, bandaged woman freshly returned from plastic surgery is not really their mom. Drolly alarming neo-Kubrickian modern gothic.

This was looking like a 4.5 for most of its runtime but then SPOILERS.

There are several directing pairs who are brothers. This is my first time hearing of an aunt-nephew team.

Where I am King [Philippines, Carlos Siguion-Reyna, 3] Tycoon on the skids moves with his young adult grandchildren into a tenement he owns in the slum he was raised in. Life lessons abound in this amiable melodrama.

This is Siguion-Reyna's first film in over a decade. I'll admit I was hoping for the satirical bite of his great 80s work, like Harvest Home.

Not My Type [Belgium, Lucas Belvaux, 4] Unlikely love sparks between handsome Parisian philosopher and fun-loving small-town hairdresser. Deceptively simple romantic drama which becomes surprisingly suspenseful--because you're waiting for him to make the horrible mistake that ruins everything.

September 12, 2014

TIFF Thurs Sept 11: Woodland horror, theatrical ghosts and lonelyhearts murders


After a day of relatively sober fare it's time to dive again into the roiling waters of genre.

Revenge of the Green Dragons [HK, Andrew Lau & Andrew Loo, 2] Young man recounts his experiences as member of a notorious Queens, NYC, Asian crime syndicate. If you're going to invite comparisons to Goodfellas (including a role for Ray Liotta) and the dialogue and narration aren't as insanely brilliant as Nicholas Pileggi's, you are not ready to start shooting yet.

Also, if you have what you think is a great line of serious dialogue and it has the phrase "American dream" in it, delete it forthwith.

Exec produced by Martin Scorsese, who remade Lau’s Infernal Affairs as The Departed.

Alleluia [Belgium, Fabrice Du Welz, 4] Criminal career of con artist who specializes in lonely woman gets bloody when one of his victims won't let go of him. Intimate psychodrama with surreal touches transposes the Beck-Fernandez murders to modern France, as an amor fou with collateral damage.

The same case forms the basis of previous films The Honeymoon Killers and Deep Crimson.

Over Your Dead Body [Japan, Takashi Miike, 4] Love triangle between actors rehearsing a samurai ghost play mirrors their backstage lives. Stately contemplation of artifice and reality mixes experimental intentions with horror imagery.

Cub [Belgium, Jonas Govaerts, 4] Misunderstood Cub Scout realizes there's something sinister in the woods. Fast-moving horror flick lays booby traps for viewers expecting kid-friendly scares.

It's Flemish, so the bad guys are French.

This week I have learned that "loser" is a loan word in both Mandarin and Flemish.

I have programmed a surprising number of Belgian films and from this have learned that there are no bright colors there.



September 11, 2014

TIFF Wed Sept 10: Jumbled missives, a missing psychotherapist and the shame of a damp bathing suit


Past the midway point now. Audience members showing signs of being tired and cranky and needing to be put down for a nap.

A Second Chance [Denmark, Suzanne Bier, 3] When his infant son dies. A compassionate cop (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) swaps the body for the living child of a junkie couple. Compelling acted and directed, but the script has to expend a lot of effort making its premise seem believable.

Impressive cast includes all the great male Danish actors who aren't Mads Mikkelsen.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is such a dedicated actor that he regrew his hand for the role.

Wet Bum [Canada, Lindsay McKay, 4] Awkward 14 year old grapples with an attraction to her untrustworthy lifeguard instructor and gets to know residents of the retirement home where she has an after school cleaning job. Quiet, grounded coming of age drama shows a first time director in command of mood and image.

Hill of Freedom [South Korea, Hong Sang-soo, 4] Woman reads letters about the time a Japanese man spent waiting to find her--but she jumbles the pages, so the scenes play out of order. Sweet, funny meditation on time, language and longing.

Elephant Song [Canada, Charles Binamé, 4] Stern psychiatrist (Bruce Greenwood) quizzes brilliant, game-playing mental patient (Xavier Dolan) on a colleague's disappearance. Acting duels nest within acting duels in this stage play adaptation.

If this movie gets seen it will mean big acting opportunities for Dolan, until now known for appearances in French in highly praised films he directs himself.

Co-star Catherine Keener was there to help intro the film. I know you all depend on me for fashion writing, so I'll describe her dress as black, sparkly and triangular.

Today reminds us that an umbrella is a key component of a well-packed festival bag--with a plastic bag to put it in, of course. Though directors find it very moving when they see festgoers lined up in the rain waiting to get into their movies, so there you go.

The Golden Era [China, Ann Hui, 4.5] Biopic follows the work and tortured love life of pioneering woman writer Xiao Hong  against the chaos of the Chinese war years. By declining to dramatize events not directly attested to in first hand accounts, and through distancing devices like time jumps and direct address, this biography suggests the unknowability of its, or any other, life.

Someone with a frame of reference for all the writers featured in this biopic might react to it quite differently. It's like reviewing a Hemingway movie without having heard of him before.

Upgraded half a star since original posting.

The Birds: Creep

Creeps

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