Get Out!

I went to see Get Out this evening, another Oscar contender for best picture, and my head is still spinning. Guess Who’s Coming  to Dinner it is not!  It is difficult to talk about the film without spoilers.

Unknown-1In the initial half hour of the movie, I was disturbed by the blatant racial overtones.  It seemed like it might be one of those point-out-all-the-racial-tension,  feel-embarrassed-by-the- white-folks and empathy-for-the-black-dude-who-tolerates-it-all movies that then has some sort of epiphany that brings it all around into a feel-good ending.  That’s how the tongue-in-cheek first part seemed.  That is not how it  eventually went.  (Sorry for all the dashes – my mind must still be in staccato mode.)

It is hard to imagine, given the promo photos, that this film has been described as a high-tension satirical horror film – with comedic elements.  Quite the mix.images-1

Although horror is not usually my thing, I did enjoy this film. But then I have a twisted sense of humour and like material that is edgy and startling.  It has also been a long time  since I have been at a movie where the audience burst into applause at one juncture.  We were obviously being sucked right along.

I went with friends who had seen the movie before.  I thought that part of the pleasure was in not knowing what was about to happen and being surprised but they said that they enjoyed it just as much, if not more, the second time because they could anticipate what was coming and how the plot line was developing.  I look forward to chatting with them some time about the various subtle and  not so subtle racial (not necessarily racism) themes and symbolism.


If you like this genre of film, it is a good one.  If you are not for creepy suspense and  graphic violence, á la Silence of the Lambs, then it may not be your “cup of tea”.




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).

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?

Looking back at 2014

Facebook has been offering photos from the past year as a rehash but it only uses photos that were posted on my Facebook page.  Anyone who knows me also knows that I like to do things my way.  So here is my version of 2014 in review.

In addition to these photographic glimpses, there were many more moments/hours with family, medical residents, friends who share my passion for helping in Africa, the cast and crew of Fault, Starbucks chatters and my KIngs Town Players Brew Pub buds – lots of friends and family to hug and laugh with throughout the year.  Thanks to all of you who were part of this.  And for those who missed out in 2014… we are starting a new year if you want to be in next year’s collection of happy memories, I am always willing to have coffee or a beer or dinner or lunch or just a chat.

My best wishes  for a healthy and satisfying 2015.

Interstellar – not that stellar for me.

I wondered, as I watched the movie Interstellar, how award-winning actors like Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon and Michael Caine could deliver such corny dialogue with straight faces. The movie was certainly an epic. Big. And long. Full of loud noise that virtually shook the theater, expansive visuals and swelling musical accompaniment to enhance the drama.

The movie tried too hard to be cerebral. The monologues on themes of time and love and parenthood and saving the world were just too implausible for me to believe. Some of the technical language and explanations didn’t ring true for me either. Maybe I’m just not a fan of this genre of film, whatever that might be.

imageIt didn’t help that my movie admission came with a large popcorn and a gallon of root beer which, after nearly 3 hours in the theater caused my bladder to be the size of a basketball. Was all the talk about relativity of time and different dimensions to help me understand that the two hour and 48 minute running time was only feeling like four years? And I really shouldn’t have been yawning when they were making that umpteenth docking attempt with all that noise and music or rolling my eyes at some of the dialogue or plot twists.

I would find it difficult to recommend this movie although I am sure that there are people who enjoy science fiction and space who would find it enjoyable. If you go, it might be best to choose the 3-D version to see because the visuals certainly are stunning and would be even more so in the 3-D format. The musical organ references to 2001 A Space Odyssey did make me smile.

I would give the movie three stars out of five.

I loved 2001 A Space Odyssey when it came out in 1968. It was ground-breaking. And this music gave me goosebumps. Still does when cranked up loud.

Movies, movies, movies

There are always a rash of new movies that come out over the Christmas period. One of my holiday treats to myself is to indulge in seeing a few. Here is my quick take on the ones I have seen.


Gravity is a visually stunning piece that reminded me a bit of 2001 A Space Odyssey many years ago but with all the additions that 21st-century technology can add to a film. I do recommend that you see it on a big screen and in 3-D to get the full effect. Generally I am not a big fan of 3-D. I often find it is almost distracting but in this case it is used both subtly -with the exception of the obligatory few objects hurling at you from space – and to good effect. The movie has lots of very creative special-effects and it was not hard to watch Sandra Bullock flounder around in space,struggling to survive, for an hour and a half. After seeing the Wolf of Wall Street a couple days before, it was a relief to have only one F-bomb and after all, in her situation we felt that she deserved it.

imageI found All is Lost starring Robert Redford to be pretty, well, boring. I couldn’t seem to believe that a 77-year-old man could have the hair of the 25-year-old, so that squelched the credibility of the whole thing for me. I was waiting (hoping) for it to come loose when he was swimming underwater. And he could hold his breath for two minutes under the sea after 8 days without food or any fresh water without seeming to have any problem. That is acting.  I wondered why he was even out there in the first place. These two  struggle-for-survival movies had very similar themes.  Gravity was much more fun to watch. If there was something existential about either of them it went over my head.

The Wolf of Wall Street certainly has been the most controversial release recently. You either love it or hate it. People who hate it are often people who haven’t even seen it.  It puzzles me how people who have not seen a piece of theater or art can actually give an informed  commentary on its value. I saw it, however, and so I will tell you what I think.

The movie is three hours long.image The first hour was mildly amusing and had some really good, and funny moments. I was most impressed by the 10 minutes that Matthew McConaughey was on the screen.images-1 He gave an amazing supporting role performance as a coke-snorting, chest-pounding mentor for Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio). I also enjoyed McConaughy’s performance in The Dallas Buyers Club.  He deserves accolades for his work in 2013.

The second hour of Wolf of Wall Street became tedious. We got the point -non-stop drugs, depravity, greed, hookers, gratuitous sex and swindling trade deals. Enough already. The language was vulgar both in the words used and the thoughts expressed.

By the third hour, I was not amused at all. There was one scene when Belfort is so stoned that he can hardly crawl to his car, slobbering spit and rolling down a flight of stairs. This has been described by some reviewers as slapstick. In a different circumstance it would have been funny but I was actually annoyed at the woman behind me for laughing at it. Did she not see how pathetic this character was?

imageBut then I wondered if this was not the point. The novelty had worn off and all the amoral indulgence and self-serving neglect for the feelings of anyone else that had been curious at first had become vulgar and hollow and distasteful. It was actually vulgar and hollow and distasteful all along but for some reason we are initially amused by it.

This movie is not for everyone and I would not recommend it unless you want to see just how depraved people can get, caught up in the pursuit of money. I can’t say I enjoyed it but I am glad that I went to see it as it will be a topic of conversation for some time to come. The theatre, by the way, was full, making us all feel like the poor victims that had fallen prey to Belfort’s almost evangelistic sales pitches. We lined up to buy tickets to sit through three hours of feeling both titilated and disgusted.

imageNext on the list was Saving Mr. Banks. I knew that I would like this one before I went and was not disappointed. Like so many movies (including Wolf of Wall Street) it is based on a true story, this one about how Disney persisted to get the rights to the Mary Poppins movie. But it turned out to be much more than that.

The movie was a surprisingly testament to what fathers and daughters do for/to each other. Maybe because I am from the Disney World era or, more likely because I am the father of two daughters, I found this movie touching and heart-warming. Tom Hanks reincarnates the avuncular Walt Disney that I remember from the days of black and white TV and Emma Thompson is perfect as the cranky British author with more baggage than the Mary Poppins valise she carries. No problem recommending this one to anyone.

The movie that I think will be the dark horse this year, overtaking the rest to be the favorite, is Philomena. I saw this at TIFF in September but it is just hitting the theatres now. Judi Dench is a delight to watch and the story is captivating. This is not a blockbuster. It is a good old-fashioned story with characters you care about that is told well and leaves you feeling satisfied. No spoilers.   A movie that everyone will enjoy.  Put it on the top of your list and watch it shine at award time.