KCFF18 – three more movies – two comedies and one that was unsettling.

Let’s get the unsettling movie out of the way first.

Black Cop has certainly been the talk of this Kingston Canadian Film Festival in 2018.  It played to two sold out screenings to audiences that found it somewhat unnerving.  We were warned when the creator/director, Cory Bowles (Trailer Park Boys) introduced the film, ending with  “Enjoy the film” then corrected it to “Enjoy the experience”.

Black-Cop-movie--623x350The movie, all shot in Halifax, is about a black policeman who is finding his work as a policeman to be challenging when people of color are in trouble with the law, or accused unfairly of being lawbreakers.  At one point when he is off duty, he is “carded” by another cop and treated badly, simply because he is a person of color.  He snaps and starts to turn the tables, stopping white people and being abusive and hostile in his interactions with them. This gave our predominantly white audience a feeling for what it would be like to have the shoe on the other foot, to be suspected and abused simply because of your skin color.  It was startling to experience and a provocative but very effective way of creating understanding of movements like Black Lives Matter.

Both Bowles and the film’s star, Ronnie Rowe, were at a Q&A after the screening.  It was clear that the audience was a bit stunned and needing some time to take it all in and the frank discussion about racial profiling and being a person of color in Canada was both welcome and complimented the film.   Everyone should see this film. Don’t watch it alone. You will need a chance to debrief afterward as there is a lot of overwhelming content to process.

MV5BZTNmOTliNjItMmE2MC00NjFiLTlhODgtZTQ4MTIyZjA5ODA0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjU1MDYyMDE@._V1_UY1200_CR85,0,630,1200_AL_The two comedies were both fun but paled in comparison to Black Cop.

Room for Rent, shot in Winnipeg,  is about a young man, Mitch Baldwin (played by Mark Little), who won a lottery, blew all the money (and in the process a lot of relationships) and who is now living at home with his parents.   When his father (Mark McKinney) loses his job and they think they will have to sell the house the family decides to rent a room to make some money. Enter Carl Lemay (Brett Gellman), an assertive loose canon of a guy who complicates Iife for everyone, particularly Mitch.


Unknown-5Another Kind of Wedding was filmed in Montreal.  I loved the familiar locations including the bagel shop where Tara Foods gets their bagels.  Kingston was also mentioned by none other than Kathleen Turner.   Even though the line was a bit negative “Who would want to spend a week in Kingston?”, the audience loved to be acknowledged on film by this superstar.


William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in Body Heat (1981) one of my favourite films.


Body Heat (1981) is one of my all-time favourite movies and I have always found Kathleen Turner to be “hot”.  She is now in her mid-sixties and has put on 50 pounds but she still exudes a sultry, classy, confidence that is oh so sexy.    And she is great in this movie as one of the mothers of the groom.

I think the title of this film is unfortunate and not appealing but it has already been changed from Someone Else’s Wedding so I guess the producers are struggling to find a wedding title that has not been taken.

I realized that it takes more to make me like a comedy than a drama.  They tend to be shallow and often work too hard to make us laugh. Wedding movie comedies usually follow a pattern – introduction, complications, affairs, family feuds, disruption, and then a sudden turn around where everyone comes out OK in the end.  This movie also follows that formula but the characters were all interesting and varied and I think that saved the film for me. I liked it better than Room for Rent and it was a light and pleasant way to spend my Sunday morning.

For each of the films that I mentioned today, I have naturally started with where they were filmed.  This is part of the fun of seeing Canadian movies where Canadian cities are presented as themselves, not as a substitute for some American town or New York.   It adds a sort of familiarity to the film that increases the appeal for a Canadian audience.  Canadian locations do look like home to Canadians.  Like our accent or “eh” or “sorry”, we do have a look to our cities and towns that a Canadian can indentify.  What fun to spend the weekend watching films that embrace that.  Thanks to the KCFF18 for providing this treat.

TIFF 2016 – Day 3.  Finding a five star.

Day three was a three movie day. Cue the violins and choral swells.  Get out a few pails of fake blood.  White backlight ready?  Unpack those nineteenth century costumes from 12 Years a Slave.  Cotton fields ready to harvest?  Time for the much promoted Birth of a Nation, touted as an Oscar contender,  surrounded by a bit of controversy regarding a past incident involving the director/star.  High expectations.  Collective (deserved) residual guilt about the treatment of black slaves in the US.  

Nate Parker (where did he come from?) takes a Mel Gibson approach to writing, directing and starring in this film that actually reminded me of Braveheart.  Lots of testosterone and high drama.  A final sacrifice of the hero that almost seems like a crucifixion.
It will do well at the box office, will be heavily promoted by the distributer who has paid through the nose to get it and it will be Oscar fodder.  I give it 3 out of 5.  We have seen all this before.

Loving is a true story about an interracial Virginia couple ( who just happen to have the surname Loving) who, in 1958, went out of state to be married but were arrested when they returned home. Interracial marriage in Virginia was illegal. “God made Robbins and sparrows different and there is a reason for that”. “God put black people and white people and brown people and yellow people on different continents because he wanted them to be separate.” The Lovings were made to plead guilty and agree to leave the state for 25 years. Eventually in 1967, in my adult lifetime, their case was heard before the Supreme Court and became a pivotal moment in the Civil Rights movement. The court overturned state laws prohibiting interracial marriages – a hangover from the slave days I had just watched in Birth of a Nation.   I saw these two shows back to back and it felt like a prolonged history lesson.  

I found Loving to be slow. It took almost ten years for this couple to achieve their right to be married and at times it felt like that.  Lots of silences and thinking going on.  At 123 minutes, it was about 23 minutes too long.  It was touching – the lady behind me used a lot of Kleenex.  Like Birth of a Nation,  I give it 3 out of 5.  

I am glad that I got a ticket to see Weirdos, a film by Canadian film maker Bruce McDonald ( born in Kingston)  written by  Daniel McIvor ( writer of Kingston Storefront favourite, Cul de Sac). Shot in black and white in Nova Scotia, and set in 1976, this movie follows two teenagers – Kit (Dylan Authors) and Alice ( Julia Sarah Stone)  as they hitchhike their way from Antigonish to Sydney accompanied by the spirit of Andy Warhol. Of course they learn things about themselves, each other, and their families along the way.  Sounds trite and a bit formulaic but it doesn’t come off that way at all.  

I am always intrigued by films in black and white.  They add a certain nostalgia – think of Nebraska or even The Artist.  The sound track to this film was also lots of great 70’s music, mostly Canadian.

The cast was all excellent and naturally amiable. And Canadian to the core, I might add. Both young lead actors were wonderful to watch. I loved Molly Parker’s portrayal of Kit’s eccentric mother.  It suddenly dawned on me that she plays Jackie Sharpe on Netflix House of Cards.  Rys Bevan-John as Andy Warhol’s presence was quirky and lots of fun to watch. 
Who knows where this movie will show up – not the blockbuster appeal or marketing of the other two I saw today,  but I hope you get to see it.  I was moved by its nostalgia.  The mood, the music, the cars, the clothes, the Canadiana were all very satisfying.  It gets my first 5 star kudo.  

Will there be another?  Running oit of time.

TIFF 2016. Day 1

While I indulge myself for a few days in Toronto seeing films at TIFF, you will have to indulge me as I feel obliged to record my opinions about the movies I see…and I have 9 of them on my schedule so buckle in.

In addition to the usual well-hyped potential blockbusters there are over 400 movies to chose from during the festival and I try to mix in some from other parts of the world.  I have a soft spot for Africa so I usually pick a couple of African films in my menu.

I started last night with The Wedding Party, a Nigerian-made film that is one of a number of films at TIFF this year liming Laos with Toronto and giving exposure to film makers from that country.  The term Nollywood has been thrown around to identify these presentations.  This one was  disappointment to me although I am not sure exactly what I expected.  Maybe something with a little more originality or substance.  The premise is the well-worn plot (term used loosely) of a wedding where families squabble, bridesmaids flirt with the groomsmen, the wedding dress gets damaged…add your own from any number of similar stories and you will find it here.   The screenwriting was abysmal and the direction amateurish. The soundtrack, with the exception of a few African dance tunes, was just bad. As was some of the acting. There was lots of colour and dancing that gave a taste of the lively African engagement with rhythm and movement but even that went on a bit too long.  

Top it off with a cast and production staff that were on “Africa time”, keeping the audience waiting for 10 minutes for them to arrive from the bar for the Q and A. Several invited Nigerian guests came in late to the film, occupied the Reserved row of seats and texted, took phone calls and even videoed snippets of the film ( a definite TIFF no-no).

You won’t have to worry about seeing this film in North American theatres.  Maybe it will be more appealing to African audiences.  I will give it two stars out of five and that is somewhat charitable and acknowledging that Nollywood is trying.

On my way to my next film I caught a glimpse of Ewan MacGregor, waving to fans through the open window of his limo as he left the premiere of American Pastorale.

My second film of the evening was a world premiere public showing of  Trespass Against Us, a film about a marginalized family of lawbreakers that were the Irish equivalent of the Avery family from Making a Murderer.  Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson portrayed the main characters,  apparently in a reasonably true depiction of a real family.  I had a little trouble, sometimes, with the broad Irish accents that may have made me miss some of the subtleties of the dialogue.  I loved the photography, however, much of it done with a Steadicam, giving a frenzy and energy to much of the action – great car and foot chases with skilled photography and editing putting you right in the action and raising your heart rate.  The film is worth seeing, but in a theatre on a big screen, for this energy alone. There was an interesting collection of characters but I would have to say that I didn’t get invested in any of them.  I will give the film three and a held stars out of five with particular kudos to the DP – Director of Photography. 

The Irish flavor whetted my appetite for the upcoming October King’s Town Players production of Cripple of Inishmaan. (Shameless promotion on behalf of KTP).

Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 2

So happy that I could take in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival last weekend – ten minutes from where I live.  What a treat.    I saw six movies in 36 hours.  My butt is sore and my eyes are burning but it was an interesting weekend.  Something good about every one of them.


How to sum this one up?  A crazy road trip with a 15 year old dope smoking teenage girl who is going blind and her card-shark gambling father from Winnipeg to  Churchill, Manitoba  with a stop in Flin Flon as they try to escape a couple of goons that the dad owes $100,000 and make a trek to see the Northern Lights.  When I write this down it sounds pretty weird but it works, thanks to great screenwriting and acting by  the two main characters as played by Josh Chernick and a very talented young Joey King.  It sounds like this film will be in theatres soon and although there is nothing earth shattering  about it,  it is a good Canadian story that will not disappoint. I talked to someone else after the movie who said “It all felt natural.”  Eh?

Closet Monster

I didn’t know much about this film when I decided to catch it on Sunday morning. It fit my schedule. It went right over my head that it might be about that “closet”.  And really it wasn’t just that.  I also am reluctant to call it a “coming of age” film as that just seems so trite.  The film took us into the world of a young man struggling with separated parents, education choices,  sexual discover,  adolescent friendships and homophobia without making any one of those the only challenge.   I must admit that there were a couple of scenes where the acting, editing and escalating throbbing music put my pulse up and almost made me feel frantic.  I have never been so driven by the sound in a movie before.

Like the others, it is a Canadian made movie with Canadian talent. It was shot almost entirely in Newfoundland (without any Newfie accents).  Lots of closet analogies and symbolism on many fronts.  Great natural acting, direction and a credible screenplay. It won the best Canadian Feature Film award at TIFF in 2015.  The kid in the movie, when asked “Do you feel anything?” honestly replies “I don’t know”.  This kind of sums up the chore of maturing when  you are 18.  Maybe that job never ends.


Films I think you should definitely try to catch are Closet Monster, Into the Forest and Borealis.  Now where to catch them is the problem. They are not Hollywood blockbusters and I wonder where they will turn up.  It is really too bad that the movie house market is so dominated by the big name, big budget films.  Look for these Canadian-made gems and support them.



Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 1

For the past few years I have treated myself to a weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), soaking up movies, lining up with other movie fans and getting the occasional glimpse of Hollywood celebrity.

I have volunteered at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival for a couple of years but never set the weekend aside to enjoy it fully. This year, I have done that, buying a VIP pass that lets me in to any or all of the movies and events.

In the next two blog articles, I will give you a brief rundown of the movies I have seen.

Guantanamo’s Child

This is a thought-provoking documentary based on the Omar Kadr case – a young Canadian man whose family moved to Afghanistan when he was a boy.  He was accused of terrorism and killing an American soldier and after being wounded severely in the firefight when he threw the fatal grenade, he was taken prisoner and subsequently spent 13 years in detention, first in Bagram, Afghanistan  and later in the infamous Guantanamo Bay Detention Centre.  Eventually, with the persistence of an Edmonton lawyer who argued on his behalf, he was transferred into custody in Canada and later released on bail.

The movie revolves around Kadr’s telling of his story (in a remarkably calm and articulate way) and interviews with others that were somehow involved with him over his incarceration time.  It explores the horrible treatment that he and other Guantanamo prisoners have received, ostensibly at the hands of a “civilized” nation like the U.S.A., the complicit cooperation of Canadian officials, the guilt and trauma suffered by one of the American interrogation officers who, after reflecting on the trauma inflicted on Kadr as a kid has become demoralized and suffering from PTSD based on the actions he committed in the name of war.  It is interesting to see how Kadr seems to have overcome to some extent this past, or at least found a way of putting it in a place that allows him to move on, arguably with the help of many hours of psychotherapy and how this US solder is suffering much more intently from his actions and, one wonders, with what kind of support.  Both men were caught up in war and acted at the time in a way that was expected of them and perhaps natural in terms of self defence or knee-jerk response to their situations.  Kadr, a kid at the time, is incarcerated as a dangerous terrorist.  The solder was just doing his job. Who will suffer longer?


This is a western so full of clichés and so predictable in it’s dialogue and plot line that it is almost laughable.  But that is also its appeal.  It is the traditional spaghetti western, gunslingers, bad grammar, an evil land baron threatening the town, a thwarted love story, revenge, street shootout, bullets breaking bottles in the saloon and men shot off the roof and crashing through the balcony to the street below. I have seen almost the same thing acted out in ten minutes by stunt men at Universal Studios in Florida.

But this one has both Kiefer and Donald Sutherland in it, along with Demi Moore and Brian Cox.  It was shot in Alberta, just outside Calgary at a town set up specifically as a movie location – CL Western Town. (you can read about this filming location here)  The movie is about to be released in Canada and apparently is doing very well on the pay-per-view circuit and will be on the Canadian iTunes store next week.

LIt was fun to have one of the producers, who went to Lasalle High School in Kingston many years ago, and a couple of the Canadian actors, including bad guy Aaron Poole, at a question and answer period after the movie.  Poole was booed as he was introduced – a response to his hard-hearted character in the movie. He loved it.

The Messenger

This is documentary focusing on the decline in songbird populations around the world.  It seemed a bit disjointed to me, many short vignettes from around the world showing the various conditions that are interfering with songbird survival – climate change, domestic cats,  noise and light pollution, insecticides.  But how to solve this?  Eradicate cats that kill 1.4 billion songbirds every year and were described as an invasive species introduced by man and equivalent to Zebra Mussels? Or maybe it would be. better to wipe out mankind since it is us who is disrupting the balances of nature.  Given time we may do that ourselves.If you are interested in this topic the movie also has a good website with lots of resources associated with this film at http://songbirdsos.com


Into the Forest

This was an engaging and at times disturbing movie about two young women facing an apocalypic scenario somewhere on the west coast of North America in the near future.  It reminded me of other survival films like Gravity or The Martian or even Night of the Living Dead but for me it was much more effective and realistic and because of that i could relate to the challenges and was never quite sure how it was going to turn out.  Also great to see the two protagonists being resourceful yet vulnerable young women – played admirably by Ellen Page and  Evan Rachel Wood.  I was not quite on the edge of my seat but found myself totally immersed in this struggle and definitely leaning forward on my chair. I would much prefer this movie to some of the big blockbusters with CGI and a more fantastical basis.  This one was believable.

I can’t seem to find a trailer for this movie.  This is pretty cool. No warning about what is in the film.  So no spoilers from me either.  Here is a still of the two main characters. Sisters caught in an apocalypse.


Stay tuned for Part 2.



TIFF – Day 3

I thought, when I chose my films for today that they would be emotionally challenging. I was right. Today’s movies have put me through the wringer.

Director Tom Hooper was overwhelmed by the warm and emotional reception that his film, The Danish Girl, received af a showing at TIFF today

I will start with Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, a poignant story about a transgendered transformation based on the life of Lili Elbe and set in the 1920’s.  If you can even remotely imagine the challenges of being transgendered today, think about what it must have been like in the 1920’s.  Tom Hooper’s last two movies were Les Miserables and The King’s Speech and once again he has constructed a winner.  Eddie Redmayne plays the troubled Lili as she comes to grips with the realization that she is a woman in a man’s body. His portrayal is sensitive and emotional and will certainly win accolades. To me he has always had a boyish charm and delicate, vulnerable side to him that makes him a natural for this role.  This is not like Tootsie of Mrs Doubtfire or Some Like it Hot.  He needs to become a woman, or more to the point, show the torment of struggling to find who you really are and then how to detaining how you can live you life your life as that person. And he accomplishes this acting feat remarkably.

The stronger performance, however, comes from Alicia Vikander, who plays the spouce who must process all of this, be supportive and strong and show unconditional love.  Her performance is Oscar worthy.

The color palate of the film was beautifully synced with the plot. At the beginning there were almost no other colors than muted grays and blues.  Blue is my favorite color (except when worn by Stephen Harper) so I found this quite pleasing.  As Lili’s transitional journey happens we gradually get the introduction of yellows and golds and browns, bringing more warmth to the austere, cool and claustrophobic blues.  This film deserves an award for Art Direction. I mentioned how music played such a significant role in Youth where the main character is a maestro. In this film the main characters are artists and so the construct of having many of the scenes and settings look like art compliments the story being told.

I found one scene particularly disturbing. It was when two young men beat Lili up on the street. Bashing, bullying.  To me it represented how society has treated people who are “different” and is still brings me to tears when I think about this scene.  So I warn you bring Kleenex.  And lots of it.  Another one that gets 5 stars. Opens November 27 in theaters.

(2015 seems to be the year of transvestites and transsexuals for me – and I guess with Caitlyn Jenner, for everyone.  I enjoyed Kinky Boots in July, took in this film today and am in rehearsal for the Rocky Horror Show, where the main character is a “sweet transvestite, from Transsexual Transylvania. My trans trilogy for 2015.)

By stark contrast but also disturbing was Beasts of No Nation, a Netflix film – first for TIFF –  a fictional tale about a child soldier in an unspecified African country.  Based on a book by the same name, this story could have happened in one of several countries but Uganda and Congo come to my mind immediately.  It was distressing  for many reasons, not the least of which was that this kind of exploitation and manipulation of vulnerable kids happens at all.  The violence was graphic and relentless.  The young boy, Abraham Attah, who is in the title role of Agu, was seemingly plucked out of school to take this part and his portrayal of the boy drawn into this horrible circumstance was intuitive and real.  The other main part was of the commander of his rebel unit, played by Idris Elba.

IMG_8239Although I found the subject matter to be quite repugnant and disturbing, for some reason I did not get caught up in the film as much as I thought I might.  The movie was a bit too long, then  seemed to come to a rather abrupt resolution after seemingly endless scenes of guns and explosions and blood.  I may have wanted to distance myself from this violence and that distancing might have also put up a bit of a barrier to keep me from engaging fully with the characters.

It is  interesting that Netflix is entering this movie realm and I think that this film will be seen in selected theaters and on Netflix, at least in the U.S. starting in mid-October.   I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars with a caution for graphic violence.


Guess who was sitting in the row in front of me I’m the theatre tonight, eating popcorn and enjoying the movie with the rest of the TIFF audience. Michael Moore.

TIFF 2015 – Day 2

Although I always consider cramming in three movies a day while at TIFF it might be the equivalent of cinematic bulimia.  For each movie you have to stand in line for about 60-90 minutes to get into the theatre.  This is never as bad as it sounds as there are always interesting people to chat with and talk about what other movies and celebrities they have seen. Then you always hope for a question and answer after the film which extends the time. The screenings are at different venues around downtown Toronto so it takes time to get from one showing to the next.  Some of the movies are emotionally draining or take some time to properly digest.   So I passed on my initial impulse to add a 9 pm film to my schedule today and am glad that I did.

This afternoon I saw The Martian, a space science fiction film starring Matt Damon. It was a “big” picture. And in 3D to boot.  It will, no doubt, be a box office favorite.  There were some incredibly beautiful visuals of space and the surface of Mars accompanied by swelling French horns and violins. Oh, yes, and synthesized choir voices.   Matt Damon is always easy to watch and there were lots of gratuitous moments where he took off his shirt and one scene ( what was the point?) with his bum in it.  Within the first fifteen minutes we were subjected to the mother of all storms on Mars – in 3D – Matt’s assumed death, desertion and resurrection and then him doing surgery on himself.   At any point was I really worried that he would get home, despite the overwhelming odds?  What screenwriter would kill off Matt Damon and leave him to desiccate on Mars?  I could appreciate the visual effects but not the continuous flow of brilliant ideas from one character or another to solve the insurmountable odds.  I am too pragmatic to do preposterous, I am afraid.  3 stars out of 5 and this was for the visuals.

Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Jane Fonda and Paul Dano at a TIFF 2015 screening of Youth

This evening’s movie was Youth.  An exquisite film written and directed by Pablo Sorrentino and shot in Italy. It stars Michael Caine (who at 82 put in an Oscar nomination performance for sure), Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weiss and Jane Fonda (who also had only about ten minutes in the film but they were incredibly well done.)  And bonus, the stars were all at the screening and stayed for a question and answer time after the film. 

It is really hard to describe this film.  It takes place at a holiday spa in the Italian Alps where to old men reflect on their aging, their past and their future.  There is an intergenerational contribution and interaction that is quite wonderful.  Every shot is set up impeccably.  The sound track is phenomenal and integral to the story – Caine’s character is a composer and conductor.  It is beautiful to watch. I was mesmerized.  

The cast and director got a long standing ovation after the film. Not sure that I have seen that in other TIFF screenings.  I will definitely see it again when it is released.  There were a lot of vignettes that ended in a statement that I wanted to think about more before it went on to the next.

There was a lot of bare skin, many very close up shots of faces, old and young.  I would advise you to see it on a big screen, the bigger the better, as it would be underserviced on Netflix.  The final musical scene also needs to be experienced with big sound.  I loved this film.  My only 5 star film so far.