Archive for month: September, 2017

TIFF 2017—10 notable films

28 Sep
September 28, 2017

If you haven’t already, you can check out my five favourite films from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Here are ten others that didn’t make that list but which I saw and can recommend. (Above—my photos from TIFF screenings of: Foxtrot, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, A Ciambra, Black Cop, The Square, Happy End, The Journey, Picture of Light)

Samuel Maoz’s follow-up to 2009’s much-lauded Lebanon has already picked up the Silver Lion at Venice and eight prizes including best picture at Israel’s Ophirs. Its profile has also been juiced by the right kind of controversy, but for me it felt original and genuinely stirring in its (sometimes surprisingly humorous) contemplation of grief, guilt, and, at a key moment, the occupation.

The Killing of a Sacred DeerThe Killing of a Sacred Deer
Yes, it is another darkly humorous high-concept tour-de-force by Yorgos Lanthimos (one that, like the preceding The Lobster, makes excellent use of Colin Farrell), but this one feels maybe a degree closer to familiar tropes of genre thrillers and extremes of dread and tension. It is definitely more unpleasantly physical at moments than its predecessor, and I feared it would go off the rails, but I came away admiring its consummate skill.

A CiambraA Ciambra
Taking method acting to a whole new level, American-born Italian director Jonas Carpignano paints his portrait of Roma people in Calabria by casting marginalized folks he has come to know by living in the region for the past seven years. He takes one of the most appealing secondary characters in Mediterranea (available on Netflix if you care to check out this hidden gem) and turns him into a primary protagonist here. The film feels a little diffuse and overstuffed in moments, but its unique setting held my attention—and now Italy has entered it for consideration for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Black CopBlack Cop
The debut feature from Nova Scotia’s Cory Bowles grapples with an American issue of the moment, but from a Canadian perspective, deconstructing the idea that white supremacy is limited to the other side of the border. It makes brilliant use of a series of urban Halifax locations (without identifying them specifically as such), persuasively alternating between farce, tragic drama, and fourth-wall-breaking soliloquy, framed by bursts of radio commentary presumably inspired by Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. I can only hope it will be as widely seen as it deserves to be.

The SquareThe Square
Watching The Square I felt I finally understood both why it won at Cannes, and also why it was a controversial choice. Director Ruben Östlund throws a lot of elements into this mix—I laughed heartily at nearly all of the jokes, and there basically wasn’t a bad scene, for me, judging each on their merits. And yet I don’t really know if it all adds up to much. At a minimum it is never not entertaining.

Happy EndHappy End
Partially a riposte to Michael Haneke’s own Amour, that seeks to recontextualize the earlier film rather than undo it per se, this was a foray into some dark corners of childhood and old age that mostly persuaded me. My appreciation of Haneke is rather on-again-off-again (I’m on team Caché but not so much into The White Ribbon or Funny Games) but this film clicked with me even if it didn’t blow my mind. And another fine performance from Isabelle Huppert is always welcome.

The JourneyThe Journey
Mohamed Al-Daradji did the almost unthinkable and shot a film entirely in Iraq at a moment when security there was getting drastically worse. Set on the day of Saddam Hussein’s execution in 2006, it goes inside the mind of a female suicide bomber as she prepares to detonate in a train station. The faults of the film are mostly small and it feels churlish to nit-pick a film whose very existence is a small miracle—I will say that the film is largely successful and has stayed with me in the weeks since seeing it.

The Third MurderThe Third Murder
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s departure from exquisite family-based melodrama into the world of crime and punishment is much more methodical, subtle, and deconstructive than I expected. Of the films I saw, apart from Zama, it may be the one that might most benefit from a second viewing. Layers of doubt surrounding a tricky criminal case are laid on until it can be hard to keep track of all of the possible explanations for what has transpired. A challenging film in the best sense.

Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of ArcJeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc
It pleases that this film is a thing that exists in the world, and I generally enjoyed its lo-fi casual charm, but it’s hard to imagine how it will find a wide audience, and it’s sure to be a divider rather than a uniter. I mean, either the sight of twin medieval nuns headbanging on a beach to an “electro-metal” music score is a thing you want to see on the screen, or it isn’t.

Picture of LightPicture of Light
The only cinematic restoration that I took in at this year’s festival, this enduring classic 1994 documentary by Peter Mettler looks and sounds great on the big screen, having been restored and digitally remastered by a number of Canadian partners. The hypnotic, discursive chronicle of a mission to film the aurora borealis in Churchill, Manitoba, with its atmospheric score constructed from the recordings of 1990s musical/production wunderkind Jim O’Rourke, remains sublimely unclassifiable.


my TIFF 2017 top 5

26 Sep
September 26, 2017

At the close of my TIFF experience this year I was waylaid by a flu bug for more than a week, but in the spirit of better-late-than-never, here is the my personal top five from my 18-film binge at this year’s festival in Toronto. (I intend to follow this up soon with a list of some other notables that I enjoyed. Above: my photos from TIFF screenings of picks #5, #4, #3, and #1. Unfortunately Agnès Varda couldn’t travel to Toronto.)

Wajib5. Wajib
“Gives outsiders an insider’s view of Nazareth, and a feel for the politics, with subtlety and grace. v glad I decided to catch it,” was my hot Twitter take after this screening, and on reflection I still stand by that. This film, with its simple narrative structure of a young Palestinian man visiting home—after his successful career launch in Italy—to spend a rather tense day with his father hand-delivering invitations to his sister’s wedding, unfolds deliberately, only rarely feels repetitive, and under Annemarie Jacir’s accomplished direction, very effectively opens a window on a world we rarely see in this light.

First Reformed4. First Reformed
Paul Schrader’s return to form features strikingly inventive stylistic choices, is built around a remarkable performance by Ethan Hawke, and represents Schrader’s most serious exploration yet of the North American Dutch-immigrant Calvinist Christian Reformed Church tradition in which he was raised. It illuminates American evangelical culture from unexpected vantage points, gets serious about the environment, and, yes, revisits Taxi Driver territory—and has the nerve to end with unexpected abruptness. A remarkable, uncompromised film.

3. Call Me By Your Name
So, yeah, it turns out that all it took was a gem of a script of from the master himself, James Ivory, to unlock the full potential of the director Luca Guadagnino. Everyone is talking about Michael Stulhbarg’s remarkable speech as the scene that takes it over the top, but the film really won me over with its wonderful dialog that joyously bounces from English to French to Italian, and back again. It’s a legit criticism that the partners in the central gay romance, played by Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, look respectively younger and older than the 17 and 24 years of age specified by the script, but the charm here is irresistible and I bought in fully.

Faces Places2. Faces Places (Visages Villages)
This deserving winner of the TIFF People’s Choice Documentary Award is a remarkable collaboration between veteran filmmaker Agnès Varda, now 89 and, as the film documents, experiencing diminished vision and mobility, and the giant-photo-wall-pasting activist artist JR. It is genuinely touching, irresistibly funny, and grounded in the weight of experience—and still somehow free. There was no other TIFF film this year that I can so confidently recommend to absolutely everyone.

Zama1. Zama
The most opaque and complex film I saw at TIFF was also unquestionably the best, for me. Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, whose previous film, The Headless Woman, drew comparisons to Antonioni, has finally returned nine years later with a follow-up that is more in the vein of Pasolini. With its incredible sound design and elaborate reconstruction of indigenous cultures wiped out centuries ago, this stylized, sophisticated head-trip of a colonial period piece strikes me as a film I will return to again and again in years to come—but maybe not before reading the novel on which it is based, recently, belatedly made available in English translation.

Halifax screening picks — September 25-October 1

25 Sep
September 25, 2017

The Oxford Theatre has closed, the film festival is over, but it’s not all bad news for Halifax film lovers… Carbon Arc is back! The fall season of the cinema series opens with the Catherine Deneuve and Catherine Frot vehicle The Midwife, a film that, in timely fashion, is “about attaining the wisdom that comes from forgiveness and the acceptance of those things — namely the past and the future — that none of us can control.” Online advance tickets have already sold out, but a limited number of tickets will be reserved for purchase at the door.

Wednesday the Cineplex Studio Ghibli retrospective continues with the Japanese-language version of director Hayao Miyazaki’s classic debut, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, playing at Park Lane and Dartmouth Crossing.

Long Time Running, the new documentary by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier that charts the 2016 goodbye tour of The Tragically Hip, is “deeply sad and positively triumphant” and “everything we need it to be,” says Norm Wilner. It’s exclusively at Cineplex Park Lane.

David Gordon Green has had a strange, zig-zagging directorial career but his latest, Stronger, a Boston Marathon bombing aftermath story, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany, seems like it might be worth a look.

  • In theatres, seen & recommended:
  •  In theatres, notable
  • Halifax screenings this week:
    • Wednesday (Sep 27) — Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Japanese w English subtitles, Cineplex Park Lane, 4pm & 7pm, Dartmouth Crossing, 7pm, $12.95. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 1984, 124 minutes.
    • Friday (Sep 29) — The Midwife, Carbon Arc Cinema @ the Museum of Natural History, 7pm, $7. Martin Provost, France/Belgium, 2017, 117 minutes.
    • Saturday (Sep 30) — Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, English dub, Cineplex Park Lane, 1:15pm, $12.95. Hayao Miyazaki, Japan, 1984, 124 minutes.
  • South Shore screenings this week:
    • Saturday (Sep 30) — Maudie, Astor Theatre (59 Gorham Street, Liverpool), 7pm, $8. Aisling Walsh, Ireland/Canada, 2016, 115 minutes.
    • Sunday (Oct 1) — Maudie, Astor Theatre (59 Gorham Street, Liverpool), 7pm, $8. Aisling Walsh, Ireland/Canada, 2016, 115 minutes.

Halifax screening picks — September 22-24

22 Sep
September 22, 2017

Long Time Running, the new documentary by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier that charts the 2016 goodbye tour of The Tragically Hip, is “deeply sad and positively triumphant” and “everything we need it to be,” says Norm Wilner. It’s exclusively at Cineplex Park Lane.

David Gordon Green has had a strange, zig-zagging directorial career but his latest, Stronger, a Boston Marathon bombing aftermath story, with Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Maslany, seems like it might be worth a look.

Sunday the Cineplex Studio Ghibli retrospective continues with the English dub of director Hayao Miyazaki’s classic debut, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, playing at Park Lane and Dartmouth Crossing.

Halifax screening picks — September 14-21 (film festival edition)

14 Sep
September 14, 2017

The Atlantic International Film Festival runs September 14-21. Here are the ten films that I am most interested in (*asterisks indicate that I’ve already seen and I’m recommending personally):


Halifax screening picks — September 11-13

11 Sep
September 11, 2017

I’m in Toronto right now, enjoying the 2017 edition of TIFF, so I’m posting a brief update covering the next three days. Before the Atlantic International Film Festival kicks off in Halifax on Thursday, I’ll post another update with some festival picks.

Word has definitely got around about the final screenings at the Oxford Theatre—at time of writing, with three days of film programming left, all remaining screenings are sold out, except for a Tuesday screening of the very best film of the lot, City Lights. The Oxford will be such a tremendous loss that it’s hard to contemplate.

Also on Tuesday at the Central LibraryZack Miller introduces the remarkable 2002 film City of God.

I’ll be back soon with my festival picks.

Halifax screening picks — September 4-10

04 Sep
September 4, 2017

The impending closing of the Oxford Theatre is a terrible loss to film lovers, a knife to the heart, as Carsten Knox puts it. While Wolfville, Liverpool, and Annapolis Royal, to name a few Nova Scotia towns, still have well-used historic theatres as cinematic venues, Halifax can’t seem to manage it, and if it can, it hasn’t been given a chance.

The theatre will be seen out with a number of classic film screenings starting this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Today, local Cineplex theatres are turning Labour Day Monday into Miyazaki Monday, with screenings of My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Castle in the Sky—check the Monday listings for Cineplex Park Lane, Dartmouth Crossing, and Lower Sackville.

On Tuesday at the Central Library, the Featured Director series of free screenings of Stanley Donen classics continues with Zack Miller introducing On the Town, the film that opened the door to location-based musicals.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is back in a sparkling restored 40th anniversary edition, while the film can be restored, its cultural moment is very much history. And speaking of culture and history, Yiddish cinema is back, and now is your opportunity to catch “a rare example of Yiddish neorealism” on local screens in Menashe.