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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Rocky Balboa - /* Yo, Adrian... we did it */

this review will endeavour to not spoil the ending of the movie

That the Rocky franchise could resurrect itself from the dead is no small miracle. In fact it is a wonderful achievement.

Thank god for TVO showing the original Rocky on its Saturdan Night at the Movies which is all you essentially need to achieve any connection with Rocky Balboa thirty years after his inception. And the connection is sealed with the blare of the trumpets in the introductory Bill Conti music of the credits.

Rocky is living a comfortable if moderate life running a small Italian family restaurant in southside Philadelphia. He runs the place, greeting his guests, telling the old stories if they wish. But an emptiness is within him - one last thing undone, and one memory that lingers always.

On the anniversary, the remaining members of the Rocky gang - Rocky and Paulie take their walk through the old neighbourhood. "When you stay too long in one place, you become the place."

However, it is Little Marie back from the early days of childhood who helps keep the spirit of Adrian present with little reminders and photographs on the night of the last fight.

/* Yo Adrian... we did it /*

The Good Shepherd - trust no one - there's no "the" in front of God

Bonesmen first god second

to be continued

Night at the Museum - why are you hitting the monkey ?

Fun? wow!

There's nothing better at Christmas than the feeling you are a hero in your son's eyes.

to be continued

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas - recommendations for the holiday

A story of eternal love, The Fountain Hugh Jackman is everywhere but The Fountain [and The Prestige] are the most memorable performances and within this Daron Aranofsky follow-up to Requiem for a Dream Jackman and Rachel Weisz [Aronofsky's wife] should be worthy of an Oscar consideration. "Death is the road to awe" in this Garden of Eden love saga for the ages - The Fountain is a story within a story. With many Canadian production credits, and bathed in golden hues, the movie is beautiful with a meditative score performed by the Kronos Quartet.
"Together we will live forever."

The History Boys put a new spin on learning and growing up in middle school in England 1983 as the boys prepare for their final entrance exam to Oxford and Cambridge. The music of New Order, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, is the soundtrack of your life but Bewitched Bewildered and Bothered you will be after watching this movie with all the timing and presentation of the Tony Award play come to life on the screen. Smart without being smarmy but a few hidden jewels within.

And the allegorical yet hopeful Red Riding Hood Grimm fairy tale come to life Pan's Labyrnth trying to put the painful memories of Franco Spain to rest once and for all opens Christmas Day.

Of course we will always recommend the Dixie Chicks in Shut Up and Sing.
how will I get to heaven now?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Queen - Helen Mirren's command performance in line for Academy Award ? /* what a family ! */

Ten years after the tragedy and the recent release of the report, The Queen is worth the gander.

From imperious heights, the Queen and HRH look down upon the public outpouring of grief with a degree of detachment.

Surely there is a disconnect between the public perception and this person they lived with day in day out during the marriage which was abdicated by her.
This personage is never embodied within The Queen but her presence dominates the movie. Of course the reference is to Princess Di. After eighteen years of Tory rule, the Labor Party swept into power promising reform and modernization. Surely two factors that would not deign to enter into the world of the HRH.

It is the year of 1997 and the bloom has faded off the rose of the Royal Marriage between Charles and the Lady Di. The Queen - even after the crash - maintains the quiet dignity and inner fortitude that is expected by her and of her. So the public and the newspapers blare out headlines demanding some form of Royal statement or expression of grief - but none is forthcoming. There is a major disconnect between the public perception of the Princess and this person the royal highnesses lived with day in and day out. Dignity and expectation are the watchwords.
The timing of the crash would be the first major problem for the Labour Prime Minister to deal with and helped galvanize his popularity with the public as the HRH's themselves sequestered themselves at their retreat at Balmoral in Scotland to shelter the two sons and future heirs from the lamented fairy tale marriage between Prince Charles and the Princess of Wales. It was in the Blair speech crafted by his circle who in a stroke of public relations genius dubbed her the "People's Princess". The Queen highlights that crucial week between the crash and the funeral and details the contretemps between the two levels of power as they vie for control in their own spheres of influence.
As the HRH's watch on the telly the outpouring of grief and the continuous footage of the Princess in her world of fashion mavens and divas and charitable works, they seem to treat the events more in scorn as the newspapers and the people blare out in their headlines for a Royal reaction. Even something that seems so obvious as lowering the flag at half mast over Buckingham Palace is couched in royal tradition and protocol. The lowering of the flag is only meant to show that the HRH were not within Buckingham Palace, a practice that goes back 400 years.
As the Blair people attempt to find about details about the funeral, they are told that the funeral arrangments are up to the Spencer family. Blair becomes more and more exasperated with the Royal Family as they remain in seclusion out of London and out of touch with their subjects.
Trying to save them from themselves is a monumental task which is broached by the HRH press secretary and Blair. In the course of the week, he comes to understand their position and starts to admire the Queen's - a girl from a different age who was grown and thrust into the role at a young age and has lived through war and given advice to ten Prime Ministers - seen her father assassinated by a bomb - and whence of her is expected quiet dignity and service to her people first and self secondary.
Helen Mirren perfectly encapsulates HM Queen Elizabeth II in very human terms - behind the closed doors she is a real person, never frumpy but who carries her power well, who is comfortable wearing practical clothes and boots, driving her land rover over the roads at Balmoral, at ease with the outdoors and the nature of the hunt and stalk of game with guns, never showing her real grief but once, but at the proper occasion she is The Queen and deserving of all Academy Award and Golden Globe nods.
Surrounding Mirren and Her Majesty is James Cromwell as her husband, Prince Philip, the perfunctory Earl of Mountbatten, Alex Jennings who is a callow and simpering Prince Charles, Sylvia Sims [ who herself portrayed Margaret Thatcher for television], the Queen Mother who the Queen calls "Mummy", and Roger Allam [ great as Louis Prothero, the Voice of London in V for Vendetta ] who plays HM's press secretary Robin Janvrin in his dignified way tries to protect the Queen's outlook to the world.
On the other side there is Michael Sheen [ formerly engaged to Kate Beckinsale and played Lucian in Underworld ] who is Tony Blair to the last detail and equally merited of any leading actor considerations. By the end of the week and months afterwards there is a grudging admiration between HM and Blair and the hints of the modernization to come.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A brief introduction

Greetings and welcome to the musings on these pages.

As a brief introduction this part of the www is devoted to movies and occasional sidetracks. Welcome to the world of LKF2006 started as a way to give some insights into our daily life during the Toronto International Film Festival 2006. Over the 10 days and nights we were slated to see 50 films [ or an average of 5 per day ] and keep up with posting reviews each day. Those results can be seen by clicking on the link on the right hand column over there -----------------------------> at the edge of the page under LINKS. You can leave comments and post email if you wish.

While the festival is over we are keeping up with posting more musings on the movies that are being shown in Toronto. We will not be going to see every movie that opens but the ones that we find must-see, interesting or intriguing will be here.

Friday, November 24, 2006

VOLVER - Hot mama Penelope Cruz and Almodovar magic

After the hot buzz of Volver which we attended at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, Volver returns albeit currently in limited engagement at just the Varsity so far. Volver is Penelope Cruz's third movie with her favourite director and mentor[since she was 13 and saw Almovodar's Tie Me Up Tie Me Down] following Live Flesh and All About My Mother. Somehow now she is playing an overworked mother in Volver!

Almodovar returns after Bad Education with Volver - a continually unfolding mystery. Overly haunting and lyrically rhythmic music abounds that come out of the likes of a 1950s Douglas Sirk melodrama. Volver plays as a comedy about family values underscored with darkness and warmth. Very much a movie about sisters doing it for themselves, it's amazing how Almodovar knows the women's ways, of women's guile, beguile and wiles.

Spanning the relationship from mother to daughter to her daughter, these generations of women and daughter deal with life on their own terms - without a dominant man around - it's like the Eurythmics song Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves.

Raimunda [ Penelope Cruz ] and her sister Soledad [ or Sole for short - rhymes with ole ! ] lose their parents at an early age in a fire - and now Raimunda's husband Paco has left the family to look for work or so she claims. So the already overworked Raimunda is left alone to raise her daughter Paula.

La Mancha is a poor dusty windy town with more fires and insanity per capita - and the East wind drives everyone crazy literally. As Volver opens the women are going through the customary cleaning of the graves of their loved ones on a very windy day. The women have a close kinship with each other - Raimunda, her daughter and Sole go to visit their their aunt at her home - she is ailing and wobbly yet she has wafers and sweets ready for them to eat and take with them back to their homes in Madrid. It is rumoured in the superstitious village that the ghost of Raimunda's mother has been seen and even Soledad runs in fright when she sees the ghost.

Back in Madrid the overworked Penelope has to do with the daily duties at the hospital - cooking, laundry, mopping floors while also dealing with the news her husband has been fired which gets on her nerves. "We are a poor family and we will live like a poor family!" she shouts at her daughter who is asking for more phone credit.

Each of the women in Volver each deal with how to live without a man in her life - Raimunda is always trying to stay one step ahead as she nimbly deals with all the situtations piling upon her: the "missing" husband who has gone away because he has found a job or left after a huge fight between them, forced to miss the funeral of her suddenly departed Aunt while scrambling to earn money to live and cater for a film company in the area, helping her neighbour sell a restaurant that she takes over herself, not to mention the Trouble With Harry type situation situation she is in and on top of everything Raimunda has been plied with her friend's dying request to find out if her mother is still alive.

While the camaraderie between the women is strong, and how they deal with their plight is heart tugging and comedic, the sweeping arc is of sadness, loss and much darkness. "We deal with our dirty laundry ourselves," it is vowed.

Of course it’s a comedy about family underscored with darkness and warmth. Very much a movie about sisters doing it for themselves, it's amazing how Almodovar knows the ways of women's guile and wiles.

Which begs the question that we dare ask of Almovodar: What are the dirty little secrets of Volver? You will not be prepared for the answers.

Our observations from Day 3 of 06 TIFF:


It was just one of those perfect days at 06 TIFF

9:30 A.M. !

Pedro's back! Volver is an Almodovar ghost story – dirty secrets should be handled on the inside. Hot Penelope Cruz is amply present and her mind is always thinking on the fly as she has to cope with the tragedies that have befallen. Of course it’s a comedy about family underscored with darkness and warmth. Very much a movie about sisters doing it for themselves, it's amazing how Almodovar knows the ways of women's guile and wiles.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Robert Altman

Opening this weekend : Bobby - /* our lives on this planet are too short */

Way back in September with the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival in its 9th day with one day to go, we felt privileged to see the debut of Emilio Estevez's take on the last days of Bobby Kennedy. Robert Kennedy, the brother of Jack, was a beacon of hope in the 1960s, running for the leadership of the Democratic party. This is the review from Friday on Day 9 [along with another wild film seen afterwards: Suburban Mayhem with a New Zealand talent to be reckoned with: Emily Barclay, who is also in 06 TIFF film The Silence, and was also in Toronto for her 2004 stellar debut In My Father's Den].

9:30 a.m.

Bobby Kennedy was the voice of a generation of American youth - his ideals and his speeches were emblematic of a time of hope in the air and he stirred the nation disenchanted by a war that was claiming too many American soldiers. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy represented America's last chance for hope. This view of history helmed by Emilio Estevez in his first writer / directorial role and dream project is a bold, strong, and compassionate statement looking at the events and the stories of the staff and guests at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on that June day in 1968 while RFK is campaigning for the 1968 Democratic leadership and the Presidency. The cast has been noted as being the size of a Robert Altman film with many notable names: William H Macy and Helen Hunt, Sharon Stone and Demi Moore, Laurence Fishburne, Lindsay Lohan and Elijah Wood, Joshua Jackson and others. Their sequences flow along, sometimes intersecting. The earnestness of the youthful campaign organizers and workers in their quest to get Bobby elected kindles that excitement in the air. The spirit of Bobby is everywhere, spurring moments of great deeds and sacrifices even in small moments. In one of the more noble scenes, Laurence Fishburne delivers a moving speeches about his kitchen staff colleague who has had to surrender his ticket to the Dodgers game, not just any Dodgers game but on the night of Koufax going for history - his sixth consecutive shutout, because he has had to work a doubleshft at the last moment. Fishburne compares his worker to a young, selfless King Arthur: "the once and future king" - which will reference the ending of the movie as well. As in Death of a President a foreboding overshadows the events of the day as they move along to the climactic moment. Bobby Kennedy's presence is always seen and felt in the background through television coverage, speeches and references from the cast. After Kennedy finishes delivering his California primary victory speech in the ballroom, the denouement is imminent while the speech of RFK plays over scenes of the lives of America: "Our lives on this planet are too short."

Bobby is a stirring and unrestrained movie with the punch of a worthy consideration.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.

But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can

Suburban Mayhem
11:45 a.m.
Varsity 6

"I knew the grandmother, she was mad - I knew the mother, she was madder. It's genetics I reckon, that's the only thing I can come up with. You can't get clean water from a dirty tank."

After Bobby meant less than 15 minutes to get up to the Varsity for the very last chance to see Emily Barclay in Suburban Mayhem. Timetable conflicts by the 06 TIFF schedulers has thwarted all previous attempts to see this movie which was at the very top of the list of movies had to be seen at 06 TIFF [after Candy].

Pretty Beach is suburbia nowhereswville up the coast north of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. Emily Barclay is 19 year old Katrina Skinner, the young mother partying and living out of control. A contented housewife with a kid? No. This is not the mere disaffectation of American Beauty suburbia. This is full on carnage - starting with her brother Danny she loves so much who was sent to jail for life for decapitating the head of his murder victim. Danny was a leader among his wildstyle friends. Katrina is conniving and irresponsible, but wants to hold on to it all including her baby. Nonetheless she leaves in the hands of her beautician school friend Lilya for days while she goes out partying and looking for money to pay for a lawyer for her brother. Katrina is not reluctant to use her body and her wiles to keep sway over her boyfriend Rusty and their mentally challenged friend Kenny. As she plots to get the money to get Danny out of jail, the question arises: can she get away with the murder of her father? Suburban Mayhem is just that and more - and one wild and crazy ride we are so glad to be a part of.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Casino Royale - /* the name is Bond, James Bond */ - Bond is back better than ever

Going back to the beginning, we see the invention or can we say the re-invention of James Bond in the very first novel of the Ian Flemming series Casino Royale.

Casino Royale starts off in black and white in Prague - a Bond in the making, not yet a double 0 - fresh off his first kill for MI6 - confronting a MI6 agent spilling secrets to an unnamed enemy - this film is devoid of using the likes of SMERSH.

The evil villain of Casino Royale is Le Chiffre - while in the book Le Chiffre is a chief financier in SMERSH and connected with prostitution, in this modern day equivalent he is a sponsor of international terrorism going to Uganda to grow its terrorists' funds in the stock market. In the past Le Chiffre has been played in the previous 1967 Woody Allen written incarnation of Casino Royale by none other than Orson Wells. The modern Le Chiffre is the excellent choice of the Dane star Mads Mikkelsen [who was present in person at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festivla to promote Prague which we saw as a wistful type of Lost in Translation set in the Czech Republic ] [ review is in our 2006 Toronto International Film Festival movies we saw [click on
]. Tall and gaunt with eyes that bleed blood and thin pursed lips, he is full of that SMERSH menace.

To mention James Bond, you have to start with Daniel Craig who has inherited the role and starts the story again from the beginning. The little trademark touches of James Bond are still in the making as he finds his eye for his favourite flashy car - the Aston Martin, and discovering a new drink - even reciting a recipe for the Vesper martini to the bartender called to the poker table. Daniel Craig has proven himself an excellent actor in the past, giving mighty roar as Ted Hughes, the husband and mentor to Gwyneth Paltrow's Sylvia Plath in the 2003 Sylvia. He has already played the tough gunman in the British film Layer Cake, the seducer in The Mother , the sleuth for hire in this 2006 TIFF in the French animated wonder Renaissance. His first notable action role may have been as Lara Croft's counterpart in the first Tomb Raider franchise. This is a rugged steely blue-eyed Bond, not the dapper Pierce Brosnan. The Daniel Craig Bond has more determination and rough edges, an ego to match and amazing eastern based fighting skills in hand to hand combat. And can he ever run.
Action abounds, from the furious first fight against Bond's first kill in Prague to the thrilling running and leaping chase scene in Uganda[ in the style shown to great effect in Banlieu 13 ]. Then it is back to London and the meeting with M who views Bond with disdain over his actions which have left the embassy there in ruins. Then it is off to the white sands and blue ocean waters of the Bahamas where he shows his wiles and his buffed body, emerging from the ocean waters of the Bahamas in a ploy usually reserved a la Ursula Andress in Dr No. Feeding off a tip from Solange, the girlfriend of the powerful Dimitrios, it's off to the nightlife of Miami then an amazing truck chase scene at the airport to stop a La Chiffre's assigned bomber before the launching of the airline's newly unveiled largest airplane in the world.

The Bond girl par excellence in Casino Royale is Eva Green as Vesper Lynd from the British treasury: "I'm the money" "every penny of it" who bankrolls the scheme to confront Le Chiffre and win the potential 150 million dollar table stakes at the poker tournament at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. The game is no limits Texas hold-em. This contemporization is a far cry from the elegant nights of chemin de fer and baccarat which were favoured in the old days and novels of James Bond. And Vesper Lind is a different Bond girl - a girl that even James Bond can fall in love with.

The relations between Bond and Vesper Lind are restrained from the beginning - she does not cherish seeing the 10 million dollars buy-in [ with $5 milion as a re-buy ] being lost and used to fund terrorism - she detests his arrogance and ego - but the two must pose as a romantic couple - she's the girl who stands behind him wearing the dress with the neckline that distracts everyone while he plays - he's the player in the dinner jacket and you can begin to see Bond being groomed into his taste for finer tailoring. "I had you measured from the start," she says.

While the two begin to develop their bond for each other for the assignment at hand, she quickly discovers the ruthless fighting machine that he is that shakes her to her core. She is not the frosty Bond girl. In the shower scene, in a rare touch for James Bond, he shows a compassion for her. This is more than just a disposable woman for Bond to discard. He lets down his guard and a love flourishes in Venice that would do Cary Grant and Grace Kelly proud.

Machination and intrigue abound and by the end of it all Bond has learned his lesson well - that he cannot trust anybody - a result which eminently satisfies M. On the record here, let us categorically state that our favourite James Bond will always be the original Sean Connery, and the favourite Bond film will always be Dr No Goldfinger You Only Live Twice and Diamonds are Forever. But Daniel Craig has earned his right to claim "The name is Bond, James Bond."

The Return - /* sweet dreams of you */ - The Grudge 2 - /* don't go inside the house */

If I move forward fast enough the past cannot catch up to me

The Return is a surprisingly eery tale noted by some fine performances from the likes of our favourite Slayer : Sarah Michelle Gellar, along with Sam Shepard. The Return is another foray into this genre that she has made conspicuously her own from the clutch of films and tv works that include of course Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream 2 and venturing to Japan for the remakes of Takashi Shimazu's The Grudge and The Grudge 2. [ Does Scooby-Doo count ? ]

Some unseen person has been stalking the young Joanna Mills almost all her life as evidenced by an incident at the county fair where she sees some vision of a man that she tries to hide from and during that time she cuts herself.

Grown up, and as a very successful traveling salesperson from the Midwest, Joanna Mills [ Sarah Michelle Gellar ] returns to the scene that begins to haunt her dreams that harken her life as a little girl with her dad Sam Sheppard. But she knows she has never been to this particular red bar that she finds from her travel journals is in La Salle, Texas.

Joanna is the type who loves being on the road - she cannot stay still in one place for long. She is based in St. Louis, but has a lead on Marlin Industries which is in Texas, a territory that is off-limits to her but her plan meets the approval of her boss and the rancor of her fellow worker who was working the same lead.

On the long drive down there she phones up her Texas friend Michele who has supplied her the lead. Night follows day then strange things happen on her radio as the radio stations begin to fritz out and out comes the strains of Patsy Cline's Sweet Dreams of You. She changes stations but the same song comes out. She pops in a CD, from which still emanates Sweet Dreams. She comes to a screeching stop as she happens upon the glass and remains of two vehicles in a violent highway accident. She suffers a blinding white flash of light and when she wakes up in the day she is alone by the side of the highway with no signs of any accident.

Ever since she was a young girl, Joanna has cut herself but she does not know why. While she hides upder the bed in her hotel room in La Salle, she hears the same whispers and sees the same boots of a man saying "sunshine". A woman's face not her own appears in her reflection in the mirror.

What has she returned to? The Return is creepifyingly slow with long shots of nothingness and isolation in this hot Texas town in nowheresville, the tinkering of wind chimes, the delicate images of seahorses and seashells from her youth recur on the wall of the barn she is drawn to that belongs to the rogueish stranger she meets up with who saves her from an attack, details of a murder of a woman, all set against a score given to a prolonged delay on the music that keeps jolting you in place. Then moments of psychological breakdown, hitting rock bottom, then the terror and running for her life in her most Buffy like role yet as she's drawn to It's worth catching while you can in this city.

The Grudge 2
In case you wondered if Karen Davis survived the final scene of The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar returns to the screen for her final appearances.

It is one of the most haunted houses in all of Japan and whoever enters get the curse.
Two years have gone by since the house was burned. Two of the popular girls Allison and Miyuki from International High School take a third girl Vanessa on a rite of initiation or dare to the house to bring her into their fold. There is a reluctance to go inside. Save for scorch marks that indicate the fire, the house remains almost as it was. The initiation for Vanessa is she must enter the closet, close her eyes and count to 10, when she opens her eyes she will whatever is inside. Of course it is meant to be nothing more than a practical joke by the two mean-spirited populars, but things go awry when the closet does shut and will not open despite their frantic tries. What does Allison see?

Back in California, Aubrey is sent by her demanding mother to Japan to save her sister at the hospital. We discover that Aubrey [ Joan of Arcadia's Amber Tamblyn who has also been on Buffy the Vampire Slayer - the two are close friends ] is Karen's sister. Karen is still afflicted by the curse of the house. She begs Aubrey to get her out of the hospital and goes wild. Aubrey is shooed out of the room and Karen is put under restraints again. Then those hands reach out for her at night.

Meanwhile in Chicago, something is afflicting the two children and their parents since someone returned to their neighbours apartment. Arielle Kebbel [ the brainy blonde from John Tucker Must Die ] is the hot cheerleader who takes care of her younger brother who begins to see things.

What is it that connects all these people and why? That is the curse of The Grudge 2 with Aubrey going against her sister's wishes to not go inside the house [ but she was pushed inside ]. Takashi Shimazu is the first to direct both of his original Ju-on and Ju-on 2 and their successful counterparts The Grudge and The Grudge 2. As in The Grudge, the second part will keep you jumping and has been known to give someone a restless night.

The Illusionist - /* everything you see is an illusion */

The illusion is real

In turn of the century Austria a young boy and a young girl from different strata pledge eternal friendship - he is the son of a carpenter with a difference and a penchant for magic - she is destined to become the Grand Duchess Sophie van Treschel. Their symbol of friendship is a secret locket he designs for her - a heart with a twist.

He goes away on a long journey and comes back to Vienna as the great Eisenheim. A magician. who has gone to the far ends of the earth and unlocked the dark secrets to bend the laws of nature to his will. His renown on stage grows which catches the attention of the Crown Prince. At a performance attended by the Crown Prince, He asks for a volunteer from the audience and the Crown Prince Leopold volunteers the Duchess. On stage their eyes meet and she recognizes him - thus is rekindled their childhood romance.

The Crown Prince vows to expose Eisenheim and under his direction Chief Inspector Uhl and his men keeps the magician under constant watch.

It is a battle of politesse. Uhl himself an aficianado of magic puts the pressure on Eisenheim asking for some basic tricks, to which he obliges as in exposing which hand holds a coin after being held to the forehead.

The real tricks are reserved for the stage for an ever growing awaiting audience - no mere sleight of hand - Eisenheim is alone on stage, no mechanics up his sleeve, it is mirrors and smoke - a globe of glass lights in the palm of his hand, an orange tree grows out of nothing to full fruition - . In a special invited performance at the house of the Crown Prince where is determined to have Eisenheim debunked before his chosen audience of experts, Eisenheim dares to cross swords with Leopold, bringing him down a notch before his subjects. The Crown Prince is an ambitious man, and a dangerous man to cross for he has power and a temper - and designs on even greater power - his father's throne. And for this he needs the Duchess at his side - a Duchess falling out of love of him to a boy she once knew and now known as a man named Eisenheim, a man Uhl is determined to bring to light, to reveal him as a fraud and arrest him.

With Eisenheim's and Sophie's passions ignited and feelings exposed, their meeting by day in a coach is noted by the police and revealed to the Duke who is furious. After Eisenheim and Sophie's feelings culminate in an assignation by night, Eisenheim asks her to leave the Duke for him.

The understated yet sharply acuitous Edward Norton and the elegant mannered Jessica Biel with the gleam in her eye and the locket in her bodice are the two star-crossed lovers who must defy the powerful Grand Duke and the predestined marriage.

The aftermath leads to the greatest illusion of all. The magic between the couple is the appeal, Paul Giammati's canny Inspector Uhl is the dogged bloodhound of truth set to by a dashing yet dastardly Rufus Sewell as the Crown Prince all splendid in his uniform. The regal feelings and intrigue of the court are well-displayed and the heightened feelings between the lofty Leopold and the underdog Eisenheim keep the story on edge.

The Illusionist is mystical, it's a mystery, it's an intrigue and the illusion is real.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Opening this weekend - The Fountain

James Bond returns this weekend in Casino Royale while on Wednesday Nov 22, the ubiquitous Hugh Jackman stars with Rachel Weisz in the eternal love story of The Fountain.

From Day 8 of 06 Toronto International Film Festival we wrote:

The Fountain
3 p.m.

What if you could live forever?

In this parable about the search for eternal life, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz transcends time and space.

So he drove out the man; and he placed Cherubs at the east of the garden of Eden, and the flame of a sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
- Genesis 3:24

At the heart of Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain is a love story between a conquistaor and his Queen, a doctor and his wife; it's the biblical passage of Genesis 3:24 set against the Spanish excursion into 16th century Americas in search of the fabulous tree of life from whose elixir is the fountain of eternal youth. Zigzagging back and forth from the 16th century then set in modern times and going far beyond into a fabulous future - The Fountain is the quest of Hugh Jackman's character to save his wife Rachel Weisz alive physically and preserve her spirit throughout time. He is under the crush of painful memories and what ifs? of that day when he forsook his one last time with her request to "walk with me" in the wintry snow in order to go to the lab to pursue his scientific experiment. While frantically trying to find a cure for his wife's tumour by operating on cancerous lab monkeys, he finds a procedural drug that stops the aging process - derived from a leaf from a particular tree in South America. In fact the drug has restored the youth of the test monkey. It's a miracle that his colleagues want him to keep pursuing, but the cancer is still there. His superiours want him to pursue the drug, but he wants to find the cure for cancer to save his wife. The love story of The Fountain is wild and fabulously excessive, voyaging through the span of centuries of time and space. Without the editing quirks of Aranofsky's previous Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain is suffused in golden tones and transcendent spirit. Faith, hope, rebirth. Death is the road to awe.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Jack is back! Bringing out the dead in The Departed

Lies. Betrayal. Sacrifice. How far will you take it?

Jack is back in full glory stealing the scenery left right and centre - even with the adept presence of Leonard diCaprio in the same room Jack Nicholson 's light is shining brightest.

Martin Scorsese's light touch is missing in this undercover police drama remake of Internal Affairs - two men undercover from the opposite sides of Boston - the Southie side and the North - have to discover each other's identity. Matt Damon as Colin Sullivan who grew up on the tough Southie side who falls under the sway of Costello, and Leo di Caprio as William Costigan Jr. who was born in the south but was raised in the North. Damon is in familiar territory with Boston but everyone in the Special Investigation Unit on this case from di Caprio to Mark Wahlberg [ the ultimate Southie ] as the foul-mouthed Dignam to Martin Sheen as Queenan are steeped in Boston. Alec Baldwin is the FBI liaison.

What we have in its stead is the ultimate Reservoir Dogs. Whereas John Ford could not stop making Westerns despite making the very best, Scorsese cannot stay away from the gangster genre.

The Departed has plenty of grit and moral verisimillitude and plenty of Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello - the top of the Irish mafia and the number one target of the undercover division of the "Staties" - the Massachusetts State Police.

Costello's role is unglamorous and full of Nicholson unpredictable mannerisms and everyone is all hurting for it - whoever is the centre of his attention has to be careful - whether it be the shopkeeper he is intimidating for protection money or those under his command. Losing friends or making colleagues disappear and how to deal with it is the least of it. The food chain starts at the top and he smells a rat. He suspects there is a police mole in his ranks and he has to ferret it out.

I don't need to remind you that if you don't find that cheese eating rat bastard in your department it won't be me who suffers for it.

The Departed is another of Scorsese's character studies into the human behaviour when tensions and conflicts pose sticky problems that seem insurmountable in the ultimate fight for survival.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan pokes serious fun at the cultural divide in this inglorious movie

My name Borat. I like you, I like sex, is nice!

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
is a seriously twisted look at the cultural millieu between nations' peoples and the results are less than glorious.

Borat made its midnight madness splash at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival complete with a team of peasant women pulling Borat in a wooden wagon. The premiere was of course marred by the projection breaking down despite the efforts of director Michael Moore who tried to save the day and fix the projector. The projector would not start up so Moore did a 20 minute question and answer with the crowd followed by a stand up routine from Borat himself!

Under the guise of Kazhaki television journalist Borat Sagdiyev, comedian Sasha Cohen who has already made his screen splash in the Ali G Indahouse movie adopts an ethnocentric moral "backward" stance to introduce the audience to his home town his relatives and neighbours, and uses his stilted broken English and smile to seduce and dupe his American subjects as he documents his learning experiences in the greatest country in the world: the United States. With his suitcase filled with one live chicken, and accompanied by his producer Azamat Bagatov who arranges interviews for him in New York, they set out to learn what they can about the United States to bring back valuable lessons to improve their way of life in Kazakhstan.

The music from Midnight Cowboy is the appropriate theme as Borat meets New York City for the first time, trying to embrance and kiss new friends, and seeing the hilarity in the American's opposite and often violent reactions. Borat learns about America from various instructors: a humour coach who tries to teach Borat what is considered funny in America, driving lessons! then purchasing a car from the ultimate car dealer [ "if I give you money can you put in pussy magnet?" ], social etiquette, how to be cool and black from street youth in Atlanta, and finding Jesus.

Whether or not these subjects have been duped or are part of the process, it seems quite amusing at first while they seemingly accept at face value this journalist from Kazakhstan they suffer the consequences of their ignorance at his hands as he pushes limits. Under the mask of guileless politic, he proceeds to insult the pastor at the dinner table and with one deed undercuts the host's declaration that despite the cultural differences, with a little more time he could become American.

Borat in his voyage of discovery of the cultural diversity across America drives in his newly bought ice cream truck from New York through the South towards California with many stops and experiences on the way to meet the woman of his dreams from tv: CJ from Baywatch - Pamela Anderson - so that he can marry her and take away her virginity. Borat tediously stretches the boundaries of manners with his attitude towards Jews of whom he is deathly afraid [ he and his producer refuse to fly and instead drive across America because they are afraid the Jews will repeat what they did on 9/11], of women's rights and sexytime. Speaking of which, there is one hairy scene we dare not mention [except it would put Shortbus to shame. review of Shortbus further down the page.]

Borat uses the charm to promote laughter while undercutting with quick one liners that will induce shock and gasps. In the end what did he learn? It is one thing to chase one's dreams of a woman with a plastic chest while ignoring the beauty that is right in front of you.

Borat so much is not so much satire but as a real cultural learning of America itself that there should be this line when it comes to race or religion.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Marie Antoinette - une histoire sentimentale

It's pretty to look at.

That was the comment of the two girls behind us so we quoted them - ourselves we found Marie Antoinette to be a sumptuous tableaux of visual feasts where Sofia Coppola captures fragile moments of life and distills them to their essence.
Sofia Coppola's modern reimaginations of the life of Marie Antoinette is an emotional journey of her growth from princess in Austria to her demise as Queen of France at the side of her husband, the Louis the XVIth. The passage of time of the drama teen queen of France by the age of 19 is seen in and through the expressions in star Kirsten Dunst's eyes. Married off by her mother as a means to cement relations between Austria and the most powerful country in Europe, France, Marie Antoinette is forced to leave Austria at the age of 14, betrothed to the current Dauphin of France, the grandson of King Louis XV. In her eyes, she sees the Dauphin as but a mere boy, which he really is. By day, Marie Antoinette has to endure the ceremonial ways of the French court and at night after their wedding, he falls asleep and nothing happens. Connubial bliss is not forthcoming upon her wedding night or any night for years thereafter. This becomes the repeated pattern. So in between Marie Antoinette has the time of her life at the opulence of Versailles - aside from disabusing the constant rumourmongering and the snide remarks of the court looking for her to bear the future Dauphin, the heir, to the throne of France. After suffering from the humiliation of having been beaten to the punch of bearing a child by her cousin, she lets loose. With her inner circle of friends including the Duchesse de Polignac at the court, to the ecstatic music of Bow Wow Wow 's I Want Candy she is the proverbial kid in the candy store - the shots of her spending ways are sheer artistry - les bonbons are rich and flavourful - just think Babette's Feast taken to another echelon - the dresses are luxurious satin and silk - and wig hairpieces, fans and shoes to die for. The King has given her a retreat Petit Trianon where she escapes from the ways of the Court.

Sofia Coppola contemporarizes the myriad of moods of Marie Antoinette as experienced by teens through using music that expressed the height of reckless partying and rebellious anarchy of youth: the first wave of English punk rock - Bow Wow Wow - Siouxsie and the Banshees' Hong Kong Garden, The Cure ! - and Marie Antoinette is the ultimate party girl - cavorting through the nightlife of Paris at the opera, gambling, shopping - all to relieve the boredom of her life. Her husband goes hunting by day while at night nothing happens between the two which further reinforces the stress plied upon her by her mother the Archduchess Marie Theresa to produce the heir which will cement the relations between France and Austria.

Coppola's cinematography perfectly captures the waiflike moments of Marie Antoinette - the settings of idyllic imagery harkens the Kirsten Dunst world in Virgin Suicides and long sweeping walking in costume shots through the gardens of Versailles are so airily reminiscent of walking in the cherry tree gardens of Kyoto in Lost in Translation.

Marie Antoinette is not a history piece that will teach the the French Revolution but thank god for Steve Coogan as Marie Antoinette's diplomat who provides advice and timely discourse and background for the events. Louis XVI through Jason Schwartzman is seen as a trivial king too young to assume the throne whose indecision about supporting American troops against the British is left to his advisors who counsel him to send the funds to support their revolution while raising taxes on the starving populace of France. While in the beginning of the marriage the Dauphin is distant from the Dauphine the bond between them grows especially with the arrival of their first daughter and Marie Antoinette comes to grow into the responsibility of her position, finally producing the Dauphin, the next heir to the throne.

Marie Antoinette touches upon notable bits of her history for the MTV generation, the bitter rivalry between herself and Madame du Barry, the lover of King Louis XV, with whom she ever spoke but once - the denial that she ever said the famous "let them eat cake" while the people of France were hungering during the drought and bread shortage. As well the image of her extravagant ways as the words "Queen of Deficit" is stamped across a Sex Pistols style portrait of the Queen.

Marie Antoinette is richly satisfying and melancholy sad by the end as she leaves Versailles for the last time in the coach. Her husband asking if she's admiring the trees on her avenue, she replies: "I'm saying goodbye."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Openers November 10 - It's a good year for A Good Year / Stranger Than Fiction - existential comedy or tragedy ?

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Looking back at 06 Toronto International Film Festival again we culled a couple of reviews of some remarkable films that are opening in Toronto this weekend of Remembrance Day. Please remember.

We start with A Good Year - a very charming film that just makes you want to give up the hustle and bustle for the good life in Provence, France. Back at the time of the Festival with just a few moments to write while we were on the constant get-go we wrote:


A Good Year

9:30 AM

A few vintages ago in a land far away known as France ...

Does the day start any better than the new Ridley Scott comedy with Russell Crowe as a top of the line capital trader? “Good morning labrats”, and Albert Finney as his uncle living the good life on an estate in the vineyards of Provence. The very blonde Abbie Cornish, Albert Finney's unknown American daughter? Clue in Matchstick Men. It’s a good day for A Good Year, a good film.

Then along came Day 5 which heralded a string of some very very unusual comedies including Love and Other Disasters, Stranger Than Fiction and the return of Henry Fool in Fay Grimm! Back then in September we wrote:


Love and Other Disasters
9:15 a.m.

A sexy and smart with Brittany Murphy as English Vogue assistant. Think last year's clever and funny Imagine Me and You and this year's The Devil Wears Prada. A genuine crowd pleaser.

Stranger Than Fiction
12:30 p.m.

Little did one know that Stranger Than Fiction would luck into a winner with Will Ferrell, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson and, of course, Maggie Gyllenhaal in this existential comedy, or is it a tragedy? Will Ferrell is Harold Crick, an IRS auditor locked into his mundane life with his methodical ways and measured timed down to the exact instant - except for one Wednesday he would be rattled from his routine. Little did he know one day he would hear the narrator's voiceover his life telling him his impending demise was at hand. Dustin Hoffman back in one of his quirkier roles continuing on from the fabulous I Heart Huckabees seen back at 04 TIFF. Continuing on in a practice started in 05 TIFF in Winter Passing, Will Ferrell plays his comedic role in an understatedly restrained way. Maggie Gyllenhaal is Ana Pascal - the baker who he has to audit and eventually falls for. He brings her flours. Maggie who is drop dead charming was a former law student who used to bake the best cookies and other desserts for her study partners so they would feel good - but eventually she would up with 27 study partners and a D average. So to make the world a better place she turned to baking. She is rebellious and drop dead charming. Harold Crick falls for her - bringing her flours. The overriding arc of Stranger Than Fiction is determining why Harold Crick is hearing the voice and he turns to Dr. Jules Hilbert [Dustin Hoffman], a literary theorist at the university to help him figure out if he is in a tragedy or a comedy. Emma Thompson is the crime author who is facing a huge case of writer's block who turns out to be the voice and whatever she writes on her typewriter becomes the reality in Harold Crick's life. Eventually Harold knows he has to die - the reason why ? Watch and find out.

Fay Grim
6:30 p.m.

Parker Posey is the indie queen and a Toronto International Film Festival without her is like no TIFF at all. Last seen we saw her was at the premiere of Personal Velocity at the 2002 film festival at the Uptown. Looking glam and gorgeous along with fellow stars Kyra Sedgwick and Fairuza Balk and director Rebecca Miller.

Eight years after 1997's Henry Fool later, director Hal Hartley and stars Parker Posey Jeff Goldblum, Saffron Burrows and the rest of the cast return to the next chapter in the story of Henry Fool. Hartley and all the main cast showed up for Q&A. The zaniest spythriller - watch Henry Fool again and head into Fay Grim, Henry's wife. Dutch framing and imposed letter blocks add to the espionage style zaniness of Fay Grimm's plot and complications arising from the discovery of what the contents are of Henry Fool's journals. Just you wait for part 3!

The Dog Problem
8:30 p.m.

The surprising and charming The Dog Problem is Scott Caan's second directorial. Life is a delicate negotiation. This is so good. Giovanni Ribisi plays an indebted and loveable Solo loser on the downside after the "success" of his first novel. At his last session his psychiatrist [Don Cheadle] suggests he perhaps get a pet. The scoundrel and arch confident confidante Scott Caan is Solo's best friend Casper and his opposite. Casper abandons Solo for a beautiful girl as they go to the mall to pick up a dog from Pet Mart and obviously Solo falls for a little mutt who proves to be too untrainable and yappy for him. Casper takes Solo and dog over to his friend [ Mena Suvari ] who wants to buy the dog. Solo refuses the many offers for him, even though the sale would solve his money woes compounded by the loanshark who is after Solo who also takes a shine to the dog. At the dog park, Solo meets up with a young lady whose own dog takes a bite of Solo's dog, and he has to beg her for the money to put up with the vet bill. The lady turns out to be a stripper [with a heart of gold] and they begin to fall for each other - but the loanshark gets in the way. Then the dog escapes.

Scott Caan, Giovani Ribisi and Mena Suvari were all watching in the audience watching this first ever screening which turns out to be a clever smart funny ribald heartwarmer and showcase for Los Angeles. It's an incredible journey.

And so ends this day and night at Ryerson.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Babel - from 06 TIFF Day 4

Sunday September 11

11:30 AM
VISA Elgin

Babel is like the great white elephant of this year's festival, impossible to ignore and luring everyone to it after its splash debut at Cannes.

What are we doing here?

Babel is the worthy successor by Alejandro González Iñárritu to 21 Grams and Amores Perros. Babel rings more as a plea for compassion everywhere, act local think global, a seeking for communication between cultures everywhere. The world is a fractured place, but compassion and healing can take place at the smallest levels to overcome prejudice and misunderstanding. Babel is emotionally wrought, displayed through four apparently diverse storylines with deeply personal performances from the stellar world cast from Brad Pitt to Cate Blanchett to Gael Garcia Bernal, and on the other side of the planet, ranging from locals in the Moroccan desert to the bustle of rebellious Tokyo schoolgirls. Babel tries to break down communication barriers at all levels - how one untimely but not misaimed gunshot by two boys at a bus driving in the desert gets blown up to a terrorist incident - how a wedding party aftermath goes awry - to a deaf teenage girl who is falling out with her father. And watch out there's another Fanning sister - Ellie Fanning, Dakota's sister who plays a key role as one of the children of Pitt and Blanchett. And it all connects.

The key to understanding is to listen - the alternative is silence and Babel.

Shortbus - I AM Canadian

Shortbus - the talk of the 06 TIFF - is a spectacular dud.

Looking for love in all the wrong places, Shortbus is a sad joyless affair set in post 9/11 New York City. The brownouts in the city during the film are symbolic of the human disconnect. Relationships that appear ideal on the surface are just that - only skin deep or not reciprocal. Sex is not love.

The only saving grace is Sook Yin Lee as Sofia, the Chinese-Canadian repressed sex therapist or what she prefers "couples counsellor" who ironically cannot cannot claim the big O for herself. She seeks the solution to her problem at the shortbus, a place recommended to her by the two Jamies - the shortbus being a weekly form and forum for discover yourself sex catering to all types - with different rooms for different folks of all persuasions - including a public display orgy room. Even ogling and voyeurism is participation. Naturally Sofia finds her eyes widened as she watches and listens to the participants in the shortbus - is it strange where Sofia is the only married person in the place and when she says the sex is great with her husband the crowd looks at HER strangely?

Sofia stumbles into the ladies room where Bitch is holding court then Severin the dominatrix takes a polaroid of Sofia. Severin thinks she can solve Sofia's problem, then Sofia and Severin take a liking to each other and end up meeting daily in a sensory deprivation tank to discuss their lives and help Sofia find the big O in her relationship.

Of course the unsimulated explicit sexual activity on the screen from the very start is meant to be either a deliberate turn-off or defying convention - whether it being solo or seeing the three men Jamie and Jamie and Ceth in some menage a trois and singing the Star Bangled Banner up the a** is patriotism at its finest. And you say the Dixie Chicks are troublemakers. This all serves as background for boundless talk and discussion during the movie and for the audience afterward. But sexual mores and explicitness as shock value at Toronto International Film Festival has become passé by now given Michael Winterbottom's 9 Songs or Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny, Atom Egoyan's Where The Truth Lies, Clement Viggo's Lie With Me and going on back through Twenty-Nine Palms, 11:14, Devil and the Flesh or Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession.

New York used to be the city where you came to be f**** up, now New York in this post 9/11 era is the place where you come to be forgiven. What are your sins ?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

/* Bonjour y'all */ - Dixie Chicks refuse to just shut up and sing! in sold out show at Toronto Air Canada Centre

October 28, 2006

There's nothing more ideal than being in Air Canada Centre on a Saturday night with $100 tickets for the 300 section at centre ice - except there was no hockey game. The crowd was filled with mothers and daughters, families with babies, and lots of ladies on the town bedecked with cowboy hats. Welcome to the New Country, heralding the Dixie Chicks to a packed ACC on the first of two nights, just off the start of the current swing of the Accidents and Accusations tour the night before in Ottawa.

The crowd was already on the Dixie Chick's side - shown during the stage change when the promotional trailer for the movie Shut Up and Sing! played on the centre ice scoreboard brought a loud long cheer afterwards. The stage change music was classic rock and roll : the Rolling Stones, the Pretenders. Finally by 9:15 p.m. the lights went out.

After a cheeky entrance of Hail to the Chief, a reminder of what all the fuss is about, the band entered launching into the new album with Lubbock or Leave It, a song which has been received critically by those of the Lone Star bible state. The statement song Truth No. 2 from the album Home followed:

You don't like the sound of the truth
Coming from my mouth
You say that I lack the proof
Well baby that might be so
I might get to the end of my life
Find out everyone was lying
I don't think that I’m afraid anymore
Say that I would rather die trying

The very stirring and rebel rousing night was not just a straight showcase of their current Taking the Long Way album - it was a set aimed square at cementing current Dixie Chicks fans and bringing in the new fans. The night on a stripped down stage without all the fancy lighting and effects was a blend of their bluegrass and twang, along with their multi-instrumental ability to rock out. Plus they had their best touring band to date. The ardent followers of the trio: vocalist /guitarist Natalie Maines and the two sisters of the band Emily Robinson [vocals, guitars, banjos] and Martie Maguire [vocals, various strings, violins] clearly knew the lyrics of the early 1998 Fly album favourite - the fun Goodbye Earl which was launched early as the third number of the set. The crowd was eagerly waiting for some word from singer Natalie Maines. She finally got around to quietly saying "Bonjour there" and making polite conversation with the crowd before reminding the world how the Dixie Chicks made their start by taking The Long Way Around. Then it was back to one of their best covers from their best selling 2003's Home of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide. For the longest while, Natalie kept the politics on the backburner as they dipped into their past four albums [ starting with their major record company 1998 debut Wide Open Spaces, the 1999 Fly, then Home in 2002, and Taking The Long Way in 2006] until she introduced a new song written because of the movie, The Neighbor.

"I am normally a people pleaser, but I don't know how to shut up AND sing, so I'm not going to shut up and sing."

After a quiet moment devoted to Lullaby written because they wanted a song for their seven children in the band, their country roots were rousted by the likes of Cowboy Take Me Away, White Trash Wedding and the furiously fast instrumental Lil Jack Slade which had the crowd alive again and Natalie really beginning to loosen up and stomping on stage. The crowd's clearest support of the Dixie Chicks' stance came after their current hit Not Ready To Make Nice with its verse of

I'm through with doubt
there's nothing left for me to figure out
I've paid a price
and I'll keep paying
I'm not ready to make nice
I'm not ready to back down
I'm still mad as hell
and I don't have time to go round and round and round
It's too late to make it right

followed by a standing ovation from the floor and the seated crowd.

The rest of the evening sailed through some more Natalie joking: "You may be wondering why Emily and Martie don't say anything. They said something bad once and I had to put a stop to it." The evening soared to the painful hurting of Top of the World and So Hard. Then the set came through to the conclusion with their favourite song from the movie - their anthemic: Wide Open Spaces which is the best descriptive of the Dixie Chicks countryside, then dashing through the fast and furious downhome Sin Wagon and Ready to Run.

The encore was the touching Travelin' Soldier which really does hit home these days, followed by the Bob Dylan cover of Mississippi and the crowd chanting during the rousing Ready to Run.

"It's time!" shouted Natalie at the end, and everybody took their stage bow then she curtsied her way off stage.

Friday, October 27, 2006

TRICK OR TREAT ! - oh ... there will be blood - Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival redux

Tonight after watching Ghost Whisperer and Supernatural we will finally unwrap the shrinkwrap around the cover to watch a little 2004 Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness entry called Saw.

The same festival programme that brought you Cabin Fever, Underworld, Hostel and a Mickey Rourke treat called Spun, Midnight Madness tends to be a visceral treat for Horror fans. Who can forget the year the cast of Versus came to the venerable grand theatre 8 of the Varsity. Isn't it just cool? Then My Little Eye with Jennifer Sky just around the time of Cleopatra 2525, there was an actual movie poster for My Little Eye heralding a theatre release that never came. Ditto for Unleashed - great poster, no zombie theatre except the Bloor Cinema for one night. In any case, watching the much anticipated vampire lychen battle film Underworld at a quarter to one in the morning after lining up for more than hour at the late lamented Uptown in theatre one - with Kate Beckinsale present and the direcotor and her soon to be husband Les Wiseman is probably the highlight of my Midnight Madness memories. Along with seeing Mickey Rourke. "You're the man!" And the more Matrix than The Matrix thriller [ and comedy ! ] from Korea called Volcano High.

Among the 06 TIFF entries for us this year was the creepiest movie ever Abandoned set in Russia [ if you saw The Return this is even more haunting ]. There's no place like home, there's no place like home. Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrnth was a visual golden feast with a dark Alice in Wonderland touch, and a paean to the era of Franco's Spain. And all capped off with [ thanks to the same effects workshop that brought you Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings ] the killer Black Sheep from New Zealand ! They're baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad !!!!

P.S. Saturday night we will be posing as a Dixie Chicks fan and head down to Air Canada Centre for the concert!


Monday, October 23, 2006

TIFF 06 bursts into mainstream this weekend : Death of a President, Shut Up and Sing! Catch a Fire

It's always a bit unsettling having the public intrude into the protective bubble of films that you had battled so hard to see during the time of the 06 Toronto International Film Festival. This week three movies from the festival are opening - of which we have already seen two. [Babel opens in the USA but not here quite yet. Also, American Hardcore which played at the festival leaves the Carlton already, and Terry Gilliam's TIFF 05 entry Tideland closes after one week at the Cumberland].

One of my favourite times at 06 TIFF was a morning with the Dixie Chicks as the centre of the documentary Shut Up and Sing ! The three ladies from Texas are back still not ready to make nice; they're bold and brassier and sassier than ever. Even if you are not devout fans of the trio of ladies in the Dixie Chicks, you will find the film bemusing, amusing, with much laughter and candor.

It's been two long years now
Since the top of the world came crashing down
And I'm getting' it back on the road now

Two years ago these words from Natalie Maines's mouth during their Top of the World tour in Shepherd's Bush in London, England hit the news headlines and brought their own world back home crashing down - the words: "Just so you know, we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." Back in the USA the Dixie Chicks - Natalie Maines, Emily Robinson, Martie Maguire - were at the height of their popularity but their anti-Iraq war comments against the President sparked protests by callers to radio station in Nashville and the anger kept on snowballing with pickets calling them traitors, radio station boycotts, organized CD burnings. Their former conservative fan base legion of country fans stayed away in droves. This was at a time when Bush's popularity was at its height. The war couldn't have gone better for him. Radio stations south of the Mason-Dixon line boycotted playing the Dixie Chicks and their new singles which debuted in Billboard actually headed downwards from the get-go. The Dixie Chicks toughed it out as seen in Shut Up and Sing! even braving death threats made to the band. The movie covers the hiatus recording their comeback album, flashing back and forwards through time from when they were at the top to the present coping with these new hard times, having babies and dealing with the media, the fans and other issues, the absurdity of it all. They emerge back into the public light with the new Taking the Long Way album and tour - unrepentant and defiant, finding new markets, including Toronto ! [which brought cheers from the Ryerson audience]. "We are sisterhood, we go through the good, the bad and the ugly together." The movie comes full circle back to the scene of the crime Shepherd's Bush in 2005 two years later - it's a different climate - and what more can Natalie say? "We're ashamed that the President of the United States comes from Texas." In the long run, you may find yourself becoming a Dixie Chicks fan!

To cap it all off, the Dixie Chicks are here in Toronto this weekend of October 28 and 29, just in time for the movie opening here Friday.


Is there a problem?

Chicago hates Bush!
Chicago hates Bush!

In the programme book for 06 TIFF the title of this movie was coyly reduced by the organizers to its initials D.O.A.P. This movie got off to a controversial start here at 06 TIFF with an angry question and answer period with press after its world premiere at the Paramount. It was more eerie to see the security guards with their night goggles patrolling up and down the aisles than to watch the proceedings on screen.

Of course, the controversy is over the subject of the material : the death of a president - not just any president - not just another instance of Kiefer Sutherland's 24 or The Sentinel.

This bold and audacious movie made by Channel 4 in England takes documentary to new territory - to dare to not just kill a fictitious president, but THIS president. It is with remarkable adeptness and technical skill that the events of the near future are brought to hyper-realistic play. Using the available footage of archives and blended in with the re-enactment of the people and events of October 19, 2007, the path of inexorable events leading to the death of a president is shown in all its horror. The documentary is further supported by the aid of actual experts, those who were responsible for the security of the President.

The year is 2007. A tide of anger is about to be unleashed on the streets of the Windy city as President George W. Bush is about to land in Air Force One and deliver a speech at the Economic Club in Chicago. Organized militant protesters are lining the street, facing off against a phalanx of police. As the events in Chicago moved inexorably onwards to the climactic moment of the assassination a series of talking heads - those close to the President including his loyal speechwriter, the Secret Service, recount the happenings and slip-ups of that day of October 19, 2007. The head of security notes that things were not going well right from the beginning - during the ride from the airport through downtown Chicago, a protester actually managed to elude security and get close enough to touch the President's car in the calvacade to the hotel. This is a first. And this was just the beginning of many foul-ups.

At the hotel that night, before the Economic Club, it is with some wonderment and marvel that you actually see the President deliver a speech to the throngs in the room - a speech that has never been made before in history - an adept assemblage of words and phrases and delivered entirely naturally.

Then of course at the hotel, the real assassin strikes. The rest of Death of a President deals with trying to capture the culprit and bringing him to justice. Unfortunately one man happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time is caught on tape, and methods of profiling puts him in the crosshairs of the investigation while the real assassin whose name has been tipped off to the Homeland Security is ignored.

Stretching history with just enough prescience [ could they have foreseen the events of North Korea now unfolding ] to speculate about the future but in actuality the documentary is a castigating look back upon now and the aftermath of the post 911 world of the Freedom Act, which was by 2007 to be further re-enforced by the Freedom III Act - of should we say the unFreedom Act? The film is a highly critical examination of the loss of freedoms and civil liberties since 9/11 and the ever-tightening clamp of government and Big Brother.

Death of a President is a documentary of these times that should not be missed.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Running with Scissors - sharply dangerously funny confessions of a dramatic teen queen

Running with Scissors is the musical travelogue of young Augusten Burroughs's life from 1972 to 1979 - ranging from the age of 7 to 15 - the movie is a harrowing yet sharply funny look at his coming of age. An unbalanced mother played to the brink by Annette Bening as Deirdre Burroughs who is surely up for consideration again for the Academy Awards, and father Norman [ Alec Baldwin in another great character role not unlike in Cameron Crowe's Elizabethtown ] driven to drink by his wife Deirdre defines Augusten's early life. She is a driven poet who has self-published her first book of childhood reminiscences, chasing her dream of dressing in black and reciting at Carnegie Hall someday. Wonderfully caring and funny one moment, she finds herself challenged and trapped and angry at Norman the next moment. She uses her anger to fuel her feminist drive but her stability is divided. In order to save their marriage, they both go to a highly opinionated and judgemental psychiatrist Dr Finch who in their first session is quick to analyze - who fosters her dreams of becoming a published poet and judges Norman dangerous. Dr Finch played by Brian Cox [ and why do the very trained British always find an excuse to play better American accents than most Americans themselves and it's never quite the same the other way around ] is more of a charlatan psycho psychiatrist than a curer - nonetheless he is licensed and very controlling, dishing out the pills at a whim. And as further proof of his eccentricity his house he practices out of is pink and the picture of chaos and disorder. His wife Agnes played by the shocking Jill Clayburg tries to raise her children as best as she can in the conditions: the Christmas tree has been up for two years and the shambles of the kitchen reflects the mess of the lives of the family which includes their two daughters Hope, a humourless catatonic religious freak who uses the Bible to answer questions such as what's for dinner? and adopted daughter Natalie who Augusten meets on his first day at the house. Natalie introduces herself as the other daughter - as portrayed as as a tease by Evan Rachel Wood dressed in the halters and platform shoes of the time the two of them get to playing *Doctor* with her administering the electro shock therapy machine to Augusten. natalie is the foil to Hope who is daddy's favourite played by Gwyneth Paltrow in another of her small but essential roles of the moment but played just as brilliantly as her part in The Royal Tenenbaums.

Of course, the whole movie is predicated by the memoirs of Augusten portrayed by the up and coming Joseph Cross [ also seen in the current Flags of our Fathers ]. His Dear Journal is the voiceover to the film, mirroring his thoughts and crises; the funny moments are poignant and funny without diving into deliberate comedy, knocking out the roof of the kitchen with Natalie because he like his mother needs high ceilings with the music of AWB Pick up the Pieces in the background typifies the emotional power of music recall. Dr Finch approves noting the skylight adds humour to the kitchen then he finds the jar of Viennese sausages in the pantry. There is depth to Natalie - even though she dresses and acts like a rebellious strumpet she despairs that her dreams of getting into college and Vassar are ruined by the reputation of the crazy Finches. Imagine the background check.

During the course of his mother's sessions, Augusten still loyal to his mother throughout her descent into madness finds that he has been given up for adoption by her to the extended Finch household. Shocked, he tries to call his father collect who hangs up on him! He seems to put up with it all with an amazing grace and humour - and he has Natalie as a shoulder. And we did not mention yet the Lina Wertmuller movies and his coming-out of age to the schizophrenic and gay 35 year old Neil Bookman [ Joseph Fiennes from Shakespeare in Love ! ] who lives in the backyard of the Finch household. That he is gay, Natatlie knew all along. So Augusten pursues and practices his own dream of becoming a "cosmetologist", a fancy world word for hairdresser on the family.

In a near Proustian moment [echoed in Little Miss Sunshine] Dr Finch says to Augusten what would life be without childhood hardships ? The question remains at the end as he prepares to go to New York to get away from his mother and away from the craziness of it all: what will happen next?

Running with Scissors recalls the very best moments of American Beauty, with those little touches of Donnie Darko, Wes Anderson movies such as The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore with the melancholy of Ghost World at the end. The movie does meander at times but life is never a straight line.

That this movie is indeed based upon Running With Scissors: the memoirs of Augusten Burroughs - who is still alive and kicking to this day as seen at the end of the film, that he survived being given up for adoption, that he took after his mother despite so, that he came out to a schizophrenic gay no less, is a character testament to his faith in himself, his humour and never giving up hope.

Eternal sunshine in Little Miss Sunshine

A quirky family rallies together for the Little Miss Sunshine talent pageant.

In this sardonic little tale Little Miss Sunshine proves that family values triumph over all adversity.

Little Miss Sunshine is actually the name of the youth beauty and talent contest but is just as appropriately bestowed upon the new up and comer Abigail Breslin - the twelve year old girl who steals the movie away from the likes of her distended movie family co-stars Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Science of Sleep - Stephane and Stephanie in Michel Gondry's eternal sunshine gone dark

All is not unbearably lightness and being in Michel Gondry's followup to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is the stuff that dreams are made of: memories of the afternoon, reminiscences, Stephane TV


Randomness is hard to achieve

You have a way of inverting reality

a one second time machine

Order only gets in the way



You can have what you want if only you would stop doubting that I love you

a return to The Black Dahlia - the ultimate film noir

Without a doubt, Brian de Palma knows how to make a woman look good in a movie. From Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill to Femme Fatale's Rebecca Romijn, in The Black Dahlia he has the sultry Scarlett Johansson, the quixotic million dollar baby herself Hilary Swank and the exotica Canadian Mia Kirshner. He dresses these figures in the film noir mystique of The Black Dahlia based on the suppositions of James Ellroy's of the 1947 Black Dahlia murder, one of the most bizarre murder of starlet Elizabeth Short in 1940s Hollywoodland. The novel itself is a fiction based upon the real unsolved crime, then de Palma condensed the plotpoints and characters to something that was manageable for him - which still leaves a sprawling movie filled with many contingency and twistpoints.

Her case was called "The Black Dahlia murder" due to Elizabeth Short's dark hair and she always wearing black or dark clothing. The crime solving is down to the hard-oiled partnership of the two cops dubbed Fire and Ice - Josh Hartnett as "Fire" - Bucky Bleichert and Aaron Eckhart's "Ice" - Lee Blanchard.

An Inconvenient Truth - Gore's plea for the environment

Al Gore - I used to be the next President of the United States - takes his show on the road. His show proves beyond an doubt that global warming is no myth - in fact we are this close to the next ice age.

An Inconvenient Truth is imbued with Al Gore's earnestness as he presents his slideshow to the audience of the uncontestable images that global warming is in effect: the snows of Kilimanjaro are almost extinct, glaciers have retreated, the ice caps are crumbling within. The redistribution of the moisture in the atmosphere means places of great flooding and winds - witness Hurricane Katrina - and areas of devastating drought - Darfur - and the political consequences.

Gore delves into his life as the son of a cattle farmer and Senator - a simpler life filled with a oneness with the environment. His cites his college professor as a mentor who converted him to the cause. An Inconvenient Truth is free of party politics, and is more of a way to get people to wake up and do something now.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

/* good night Lois */ - Superman Returns

Superman Returns soars in this triumphant return to the screen. Stirring and emotional Superman Returns focuses on the heart and soul of the story: the love story between intrepid reporter Lois Lane and Superman in the guise of mild mannered reporter Clark Kent. Brandon Routh makes more than a credible Superman and is an hommage to the late Christopher Reeve. Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane is modernized - and this Lois Lane is a mother in a relationship with Perry White's nephew who is now the head of the international section of the Daily Planet.

Superman's return to Earth - and he saves the day [ and Lois ]again - Lex Luthor as dastardly as ever discovers the Fortress of Solitude and learns the secrets of the crystals and kryptonite as the worlds and words of Jor-el from the distant Marlon Brando echo again.

How Clark Kent discovered his flying abilities and his powers in the IMAX version is in 3D and presented in a condensed history and does more in five minutes of screen time than five years of Smallville.

Kevin Spacey gives Lex Luthor a sinister comedic edge with a penchant for one liners :I want to be Prometheus - I want to give power to the people - but I want my cut.

The quarrel with Superman Returns may be with the casting of Brandon Routh who gives Clark Kent that affable quality so reminiscent of Christopher Reeve - but as Superman despite his showings of great strength and superpower has a touch slightly too delicate. However, this is a Superman with great humanity with the daunting challenge and responsibility of trying to save all the world.

Bring it on.

The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hollywoodland - look! up in the sky

Living in Hollywood can make you famous. Dying in Hollywood can make you a legend.

Hollywoodland investigates the mysterious death of George Reeves - literally investigates the death of George Reeve - who became synonymous with playing the 1950's television incarnation of Superman.

The blaring headlines of the 1959 paper November 16, 1959 ? read TV's Superman - out of work, shoots self. The story treats the shooting as a suicide, George Reeves mother thinks otherwise and employs the gumshoe Louis Simo.

It's a murky tale explored through the plodding of down on his luck investigator Adrien Brody. He tries to put the pieces of the story together, trying to make them fit. His imaginings of the events of the night that George Reeves's died in his home postulates murder - shooting - suicide - but what can be proved ? The arc of his investigation parallels the career of George Reeves played with chameleon aplomb by Ben Affleck. Through magic, Ben Affleck's television transformation into the black and white Clark Kent - Superman is perfectly captured.

Diane Lane adds the glamour as Toni Mannix, the wife of powerful movie studio mogul Eddie Mannix who uses Reeves as her playtoy. "You were the most beautiful girl in the room," and yes, Reeves thought he could use her to get ahead. His career stuck playing in lesser movies and serials, the equivalent of movie soap operas. In 1949 he was the lead in The Adventures of Sir Galahad - 10 years previous he was in Gone with the Wind. But by the time of Superman, it was as good as it would get for him.

The ploy of using Adrien Brody as the PI to investigate the murder - and giving him a backstory of his own unfortunately adds to the muddle of Hollywoodland - but does not detract from the fine performances within.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Last King of Scotland - a charistmatic dictator

Fresh out of 06 TIFF - The Last King of Scotland looks at a stranger in a strange land in the country of Uganda during the days of Idi Amin making major splashes in the headlines. Opens this weekend. More to come

Monday, October 02, 2006

More releases from 06 TIFF out this week: Little Children and Shortbus

October 1, 2006

Anyone who survived the ordeal that was Inside the Bedroom have more of the same to face this week with the limited screen release of Little Children.

What should be more fun is the Canadian film Shortbus which attracted attention at the fest due to its non-simulated sex scenes. Whether the fuss extends outside the festival is another question. After all, 05 TIFF gave us Atom Egoyan's Where The Truth Lies with its controversial sex scene which plummeted the film to the deadly R rating in the States, and Clement Virgo's Lie With Me, a highly female in charge spoken point of view Canadian version of Last Tango in Paris which was that close to explicit.

Already out since the close of 06 TIFF include: THE JOURNALS OF KNUD RASMUSSEN which was the 06 Opening Gala, the documentaries The USA vs John Lennon and Manufactured Landscapes, Zach Braff in The Last Kiss, Sean Penn and Patricia Clarkson in All The King's Men . And do not forget Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker ! with Alicia Silverstone and Ewan McGregor ! how did that get into 06 TIFF ?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Le retour de Last Kiss - /* I could be your last chance for happiness */

Thursday, Sept 28, 2006
6:30 p.m.

I've been thinking about my life lately, and everything feels pretty planned out. There's no more surprises.

The 06 TIFF is long over but upon this second viewing of The Last Kiss away from the festival, the film maintains its quirky charm and insouciance. The laughs are present as ever - but with a different audience in a different theatre where the seats were not packed to the rafters the experience is quite different. Akin to the headspin that was I Heart Huckabees which had the festival crowd rollicking from the get-go, The Last Kiss garnered a more of a hmmmm reaction. [Just wait until Stranger Than Fiction comes out]. On the heels of Garden State, Zach Braff has left his imprint all over this film - from his zany Scrubs like expressions to his the soundtrack of his life imprinted on the film. In Garden State, he featured the au courant Shins and Iron and Wine as backdrops to his quirky adventures and romance with Natalie Portman; here in The Last Kiss, with Imogen Heap it's a game of Hide and Seek and what the hell is going on.

On the verge of turning thirty, Michael and his longtime friends are facing anxious moments as they dare face growing up. Michael has the life he envisioned - a good job, still best friends with the guys he grew up with and in love with a beautiful girlfriend - life is just as he pictured - and at dinner she is about to deliver the good news to her parents : she is going to have a baby. Michael is the envy of his friends - Jenna is beautiful, perfect and just like a guy. Everyone around him and their relationships are falling apart - a co-worker at the architecture firm is married with a new baby - what was supposed to kickstart their marriage is tearing them apart. Another friend is a pathetic mess who still pines for for ex-sweetheart. The bartender has casual sex with a new girl almost every night and nearly becomes ensnared by a girl into meeting her parents. So no wonder Michael feels trapped. "There are no more surprises."

At their friend's wedding he panics his way into the charms of young Kim who has come with her three school chums. The winsome junior college student, the long haired brunette Kim [Rachel Bilson] notices Michael and strikes up a flirty conversation with Michael [Zach Braff]- setting off a chain of events that spell the end of his idealized life and three year engagement to Jenna [Jacinda Barrett].

Michael and Kim make small talk easily - Kim does most of the chatting and he falls for her easy charms. They meet up later days after the wedding at a coffee shop. As he drives her home, he admits, "You make me feel 10 years younger." "Good, I'm dating a younger man."

Shallow and self-absorbed is he? A jerk is he? The fact there are no more surprises left in his life, the seeming finality of it all has Michael scared and panicked.

"I could be your last chance for happiness," she whispers in his ear. And thus precipiates Michael's perilous decline. The script adaptation by Paul Haggis [director and writer of Academy Award winner Crash] of the original Italian version dictates that people's lives bump and collide, that actions have consequences and for Michael to untangle himself from his mess will demand whatever it takes to hold on to the one good thing he had.