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.

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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.

Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2018 – 1

One of the things I like about film festivals is that, in addition to feature films or short films, I can see documentaries that I would otherwise not have encountered and seeing them in a theatre, rather than on a small screen from the couch at home, is much more engaging.

At the first full day of the Kingston Canadian Film Festival I included two documentaries on my schedule of four films for the day.

Both of these related to events of the 1960’s and to some these may have been historical documentaries but for me and others my generation they were reminiscences of times we lived through and remember well.

Unknown-4Expo 67: Mission Impossible was a behind the scenes look at the seemingly unachievable task of putting together a World’s Fair on two yet-to-be-constructed man made islands in the St. Lawrence River in the heart of Montreal.   It was indeed an Herculean task to build this site from the ground up at an escalating cost and with the skepticism of much of Canada outside of the province of Quebec, that it could be completed on time.  Even the computer estimates suggested a probably completion date of mid 1969… two years too late.

I enjoyed being reminded about how things were in the mid 60’s and seeing the clothing, the masses of paper in the offices, the large machines for typing computer punch cards to enter data into the grand computers run with tape input,  the ubiquitous cigarettes and cigars and pipes with smoke billowing up in meetings or at public events. And, of course, I remember, along with 55,000,000 other attendees  at Expo 67 – Man and his World – gawking in awe at the 90 pavilions , the centrepiece being  the geodesic dome designed by Brockminster Fuller  that was the U.S. pavilion with that  “modernistic” monorail running right through it and a real space capsule at the top.

The film, however, was just an historical rehash, interesting to document the events leading up to Expo and a great summary with archival footage.   It could be something that makes a 2 hour CBC special on TV.

Ninth_Floor_MovieThe documentary, Ninth Floor, that I saw this morning, however, was something special.   This film told a story of the crisis at Sir George Williams University in Montreal in 1969 when students protested lack of action by the University on charges of racism.   Now, I was a university student at UWO at that time so it was people my age making a statement and demonstrating to correct a wrong that they perceived.  Canadian filmmaker Mina Shum is a great story-teller with diverse talent as evidenced by her film Meditation Park that was shown last night as the opening film of the festival.  Ninth Hour, although a documentary, was also a very adeptly-crafted story combining present day interviews with now much older protesting students who were involved in 1969 (one of whom is now a Canadian Senator), archival montages of news coverage and film shot while the crisis was unfolding, and very cleverly-integrated film shot recently that fleshes out the story and seeming timeless.  Shum was very careful not to include elements in the recent film that would date it in any way.  Some of the images are quite beautiful and even arty but every one contributes to the story.

Ninth-FloorThe elders being interviewed (all protesters during the crisis) are wise and eloquent and intelligent and have the benefit of years of living and  a unique and personal perspective on racism in Canada.  I particularly liked the one fellow commenting  with a smile, “Canadians are racist but they apologize for it.”

I watched this film with a friend who just turned 20 and it struck me that I was his age when all of this was taking place.  I wonder if Dylan will be watching a movie (or whatever medium tells stories in 2068) that will be historically documenting  how young people who are determined to fight for a cause like the students in Florida today advocating for gun-law legislation in the U. S. or the current Black Lives Matter movement, can be the pivotal influence to make political change.  I wonder what the youth of 2068 will be having to lobby for in order to get the older generation to act on some other outrage.  Or whether racism will still be an issue.   A film like this one, looking back, causes one to think about what is happening today and wonder about the future.  Does anything really change?

I also wondered if my friend Stephen Moiko, a Kenyan who did post-graduate training at McGill experienced racism in any overt or subtle ways in Montreal five years ago.  Although Stephen and I have talked for hours about many things, we have not touched on racism in Canada.  I plan to visit Stephen and his Maasai family in April and I am going to bring this up.  Get ready, Stephen.

Screenshot 2018-03-02 17.04.08Now, you may not be lucky enough to see Ninth Floor in a theater but you are able to see the film on the National Film Board web site – free and downloadable.  I recommend it highly and if you are a certain age it will give you pause to think about how things were unfolding in Canada in 1969 and how oblivious we all were to it in many ways.   Here is the link to the entire film, available free on the NFB site.  https://www.nfb.ca/film/ninth_floor/

 

 

Shum’s film, Meditation Park, opened the KCFF last night and was well-received.  Shot in Vancouver, it also has a theme that explores mixed cultures and race in a Canadian neighborhood. I found it to feel a bit disjointed and contrived but the overarching story was engaging and felt very “Canadian” even though the protagonist couple were Chinese and conversed much of the time in sub-titled Cantonese.   And who doesn’t like Don McKellar who plays their neighbor?

Movies – no spoilers.

One of the indulgences that I enjoy when I come to Forida for the Christmas holidays is taking in a few of the movies that are released year-end.  Since I am here for three weeks this year, I can easily enjoy a few afternoons to take the Longboat Key trolley into Sarasota, see a movie and be back on the beach for an hour long walk to soak up the golden sunset.

Here are a couple that have seen so far.

Rogue One

Why can’t these Star Wars movies be released in some sort of chronological order? They are all starting to look the same to me, maybe because they are all the same, the only additions being the jump in technology in the 40 years since the franchise began. I have to wonder about a movie that I thought the character with the most depth was a droid.

Put on the 3D glasses… A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….Speeding airships. Crashes. Explosions. Sparks flying. Big music. More sparks. Lasers.  Ping ping,  More explosions. Where are we now?   Who are these people?  Swells of French horns. Eye glances between the protagonists. I thought they didn’t like each other. Father-child reunion.  Violins. Swoopy hats, or are they helmets. Explosions. A city destroyed. Big CGI boulders coming at us.  Dead storm troopers. French horns and violins together. How much more? I have to pee really badly. Dizzying heights. Will she fall? Trite dialogue. Explosions. Big air ships colliding.  Saved? Eye glances. That looks like…Too late it’s over. Full orchestra. Credits. Rush to the toilet. The force be with me.   Ho hum.  3 stars out of five.

Nocturnal Animals

Where Rogue One was in my face, this one got into my head.  I knew from the opening ten seconds that this is going to be an edgy film. I saw the name Amy Adams but have to admit that the visuals in this opening sequence were so distracting that I saw not one other title or credit as the opening sequence ran.  The film is a two hour nightmare.  And that is meant as a complement.  Amy Adams plays a bored, unhappy art dealer named Susan with a cheating husband and a superficial unfulfilling career.  She receives a manuscript from her ex ( Jake Gyllenhaal) and as she reads it she is absorbed into that story and reflects both on her past and present situations.  The movie jumps between these three settings, sometimes abruptly but always adeptly.  We are bounced in and out of an increasingly disturbing and violent story and Susan’s life.

 All of the performances in this movie were creditable and compelling but I particularly liked Michael Shannon as the crusty, enigmatic Texas lawman.  Tom Burns’ ( A Single Man) direction was what made the movie so disturbingly engrossing.  Tight close ups felt intense. Susan’s world was stark and monochromaticaly elegant but barren.  I cringed as Tony and his family drove down dark roads in the middle of nowhere in Texas, knowing the fear of the dark and and not knowing where you are going or what lurks around the corner or in the next moment. In contrast with the “blow you out of the theatre” orchestrations in Rogue One, there was one suspenseful scene where the music was a barely audible tremulo on violins. You could almost not hear it but it was there, eerily adding to the suspense.  In another segment a dull drum beat softly, mimicking a heartbeat. At other moments, dead silence added to the apprehension. 

I came away thinking of how this reminded me of the way I felt reading my friend Iain Reid’s latest book “I’m Thinking of Ending Things.”  When I got into the last half of this book I had to keep going and in my mind I could hear the violin tremulo and visually imagine, like Susan does in the movie, the story tensely unfolding. I think Iain’s book could make this kind of movie.
I liked this movie a lot but know it would not be for everyone. I will give it 4.5 stars out of 5. I am guessing that if you loved Rogue One you would not like this one and vice versa. 

Part of the fun of my movie afternoon is waiting for the return trolly at the downtown bus station. What a collection of characters there. One man yelling  angrily at another woman across the benches, a security guard who looks like he is right out of Fargo, and  someone wanting to sell me scalped bus passes. My fifteen minutes there was like turning the afternoon into a double feature.

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.

Borealis

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?

Unforsaken

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.

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Stay tuned for Part 2.

 

 

TIFF 2015 – one last film

Unfortunately, Julianne Moore stood me up. As Moore’s go, I had to settle for Michael. I had hoped she would at least show up and smile at the showing of Freeheld today. Maybe we would have a moment of eye contact. But no, she didn’t. Nor did Ellen Page or the director of the movie. I know they are in town as the were photos in the papers of them at the premiere of the film last night. Maybe they were too hung over today. But really, a few moments at two in the afternoon to acknowledge the enthusiasm of their movie fans? Not too much to ask in my opinion.
This film was the last of seven I have seen over the past few days. A touching but somewhat melodramatic documentary about Laurel Hester’s struggle to get her pension benefits transferred to her partner when she inevitably dies of lung cancer. Based on a true story, the film chronicles a significant piece of LGBT history in the U.S. to achieve equality for same sex couples.
Ms. Moore (we are no longer on a first name basis) walked her way through the role as a maltreated lesbian detective dying of cancer. I did not feel that her heart was in it. I actually wondered if she and Ellen Page got along when the camera was not rolling. I found the dialogue a bit trite and mechanical and there was nothing special about the cinematography. Steve Carrell brightens the film up as a self-described “very gay Jew” who leads the protests and public outcry to reverse the decision of the Freeholders.

This film felt  more like a made for TV movie than one for the big screen. It also dawned on me why I have found Ms. Moore so attractive in the past. If she had brown eyes instead of blue, she would bear some resemblance to my late wife. Watching her dying of cancer, losing her hair, becoming pale, losing control of her life…well maybe it was just a bit too close for comfort.

The bottom line is that I didn’t find anything special about this movie other than the historical content. It was kind of a love story, sort of a documentary, partly a celebration of movement toward equal rights for same sex partners, partly about a woman dying of cancer. Lots of parts but for me it missed the whole. Wait for it on Netflix. Won’t be long. 3 out of 5


I am on the train on my way home. TIFF shows over 300 movies. I only saw 7 so my sample size is pretty small. Of those I saw, I would recommend seeing Youth and The Danish Girl. And please see both of them in the theatre to appreciate them best. I will likely go to them again when they are released.

After 5 or 6 years of TIFF, I think I have the hang of it now. It would be fun to have company at movies and in line but when I go alone there is always someone to chat with. (I had a great conversation with a woman from Texas this morning in line, touching on politics, film, travel and in the theatre beside me was a fellow from New York City and originally from China.) TIFF recharges my extravert batteries. Lots of vitality in the city, people around, enjoying a movie in a packed theatre in the dark with others who are doing the same thing.  Join me next year?

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.

Big week for movies coming up

I am excited for the upcoming week. And not because of the Oscars on Monday night. I wasn’t nominated for anything, despite my dramatic background performance in Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming thriller Crimson Peak. My role in that one may be a bit like Where’s Waldo. But I did get paid $141 for getting up at 2am and doing several retakes while tending chickens in the market and hanging out between takes eating a hot dog with Mia Wasikowska.

No, my excitement is for two premieres happening later in the week. The first is an invitation-only first screening of Nightrunners -the Movie in Toronto on Thursday night. This thriller was shot in Kenya in early 2013 and I was lucky enough to be there for most of the shoot, filling a number of roles from looking for locations to putting on bandages and taping iv’s in place on the actors. I even had one scene in the movie with a few lines.

Unfortunately it ended up on the cutting room floor. The director claims that it was not due to my acting but maybe she was being kind. The scene was shot in a real hurry as rain clouds threatened and the light from sunset was quickly dying. The intent was that I carried the leading lady from the lake something like King Lear and Cordelia and then we had a bit of dialogue. Because the rain threatened to damage lights and equipment and the schedule was running tight, we did this scene three times with no rehearsal. Prior to each take the director poured a pail of water over me and we then managed through our lines in the sand on the beach, having never even read them together before. It was fun but we had to pack up quickly to save the equipment ( I was already drenched) and I have never seen the takes. I am wondering if they even filmed anything or if it was just fun dumping water on me as a joke.

A consolation could be that it is one more thing that I share with actor Chris Cooper. Last year with King’s Town Players I had the role of Charlie Aiken in August, Osage County, a part played by Cooper in the movie. I also learned that he had been totally cut from scenes in The Ring. Apparently he had a part early and late in the film but the test audiences wanted more of him and as a result his entire part was cut out. Maybe director Neilson was concerned that the Nighrunners audience would want more of Heinrich.

Nevertheless, the movie will premiere on Thursday night and I will be there to enjoy it. I can hardly wait for it to be shown to the folks in Kenya who had significant roles in it. Will it be worth a 35 hour trip both ways for the 2 hours of sharing this moment with my Kenyan friends? We will see.

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On Saturday night at the Kingston Canadian Film Festival, Leigh Ann Bellamy’s movie, Fault, will be shown for the first time at Memorial Hall. I was present for much of this movie shoot doing the still photography. I saw a rough cut and my right arm appears twice (unless Leigh Ann has cut those scenes, too). At least there were no pails of cold water for this one. It will be a real pleasure to enjoy this evening with my friends in the cast and crew. So proud of them for this production.

It has been great fun to be associated with these movies and watch them take shape. It has given me a totally new perspective when I see a film as I am more aware what goes into each take.

Who knows where these two films will end up being shown. Watch for them. And will you be able to find me in Crimson Peak? I doubt it, but I will know that I am there.

A few movie reviews from the past 10 days.

A post-Christmas tradition for me when I spend a few holiday days in Sarasota is to go to a couple of movies. If the weather looks dull, I jump on the Longboat Key trolley into town to catch a matinée.

Here are some of the films I have seen this week.

Gone Girl.

imageGenerally I like this kind of film with convoluted plot lines and the peeling off information like layers on an onion. When I got to the end, however, I left the theatre feeling generally uneasy. I was not sure why. I think that by the end of the movie, I was feeling like I had spent two hours with characters, none of whom, I liked. I liked the acting. I didn’t like the characters. Maybe this is a credit to the movie that they could get under my skin so much.
I had the initial plot twists figured out almost from the word go. So I enjoyed the second half of the movie more, not being sure where it was all heading.

I looked online when I got home to find that there has been quite a bit of discussion about the ending of the book (and movie). It seems that I was not alone in finding it unsatisfying. It is difficult for me to say much more without a lot of spoilers. So I will let you see for yourself. 3 1/2 Stars out of 5 from me.

Into the Woods

I will start by saying that I am generally not a Sondheim fan. I find his music lacks tunefulness. And Into the Woods is particularly lyric heavy with the music fitting the lyrics rather than the other way around. I have also said before that there are very few stage musicals that adapt well to film.

imageThis one is an exception. The fantasy and story-line(s) of Into the Woods worked better for me as a movie than when I have seen it performed live. In a movie you can make a real Giant, a beanstalk and a witch that disappears in a whirlwind of dust. This visual stuff was lots of fun.

I liked Meryl Streep when she was witchy, Johnny Depp when he was Wolfish and the two princes made me laugh out loud when they were singing “Agony” while splashing around in a waterfall. The kids in the movie were fantastic and I liked it that the actors were not all people I knew. In Les Mis I was put off by the fact that I was very much aware that I was watching Hugh Jackman and Sasha Barron Cohen and Russell Crowe.

I came away thinking that there must be a life message here somewhere but the problem is that there are hundreds. Lots of overlapping themes – parent and child, good and evil, old and young, rich and poor, right and wrong, lost and found – you named it, it’s there. Then again, isn’t that like life itself. We are wandering in the woods and never sure what is coming next or where it will take us. Life just isn’t a straightforward story.

This movie may become the 21st century equivalent of Wizard of Oz. It must have been tempting for director Rob Marshall to shoot this film in 3D but I am glad he did not. No need to overwhelm us.

If you like the stage play you will probably like the movie. If you can’t let your fanciful self go into the muddle in the woods or you don’t like people singing their dialogue you may find this one over the top. I liked it and give it 3.5 stars of 5.

The Theory of Everything

Stephen Hawking is certainly an unusual phenomenon and this movie outlines the earlier part of his life extremely well. Sometimes it is a struggle to watch but then you think what a struggle that life must be to live, both for him and his family. Incredible, really. I am sure there were many moments in the lives of Hawking and his family that would not make for good cinema so we are just witnessing the tastier bits.

Eddie Redmayne is consistently in character and gives a realistic portrayal of the disabled Hawking. His contorted facial expressions are all that he has left near the end to tell us what he is thinking and feeling and he does this extremely well. Oscar bait here.

Felicity Jones (who is she, anyway?) also gives a strong, moving and credible performance as Hawking’s wife, Jane.

Cambridge as a backdrop is elegantly perfect.
Warning: you will shed tears. 4 stars of 5.

PK

I picked this one to see as I thought it would be different. It was.

imageIt is a mash up of Mork and Mindy/ET/Fred and Ginger meet Austin Powers done up Bollywood style, set in Bruges, Belgium and Delhi, India and all in Hindi with sub-titles.  It is a 2 1/2 hour story about a big-eyed, big-eared alien from another planet trying to get home and two star-crossed lovers who need his help to find themselves again – with social commentary about religion and a few song and dance spectacle numbers thrown in.   The film is awash in pastel colours, almost cartoonish at times but very pleasing to watch.  And I must admit that I like the Bollywood production numbers, if just for their vitality.

Although it has broken the record for Bollywood films internationally I was alone with two women who did not need sub-titles in the theatre watching it the afternoon I went. I have no idea how many stars to assign to this movie.  I have nothing to compare it with.  I did find it entertaining. And it was drizzling rain on the beach so this was a bright alternative.