TIFF Day 4 – An elephant in the room

There are over 400 movies at TIFF, including documentaries and short films.  My penchant for things African led me to see The Ivory Game, a recently-completed Netflix-produced film about the rapid decimation of the African elephant population  that, sadly, is threatening extinction of this largest of land animals.   The figures are startling.   The number of elephants in East Africa declined by 30%  or about 150,000 elephants, from 2007 to 2014 and continues at a rate of about 8% per year.  Part of this stems from human-wildlife conflict as human development  encroaches on previously protected areas. Elephants know no boundaries and may destroy gardens and local agriculture so people living in villages near these animals turn to killing the animals to protect their crops.

But the bigger problem is poaching of the animals for their tusks.  It seems that the main trade in elephant tusks is through China where ivory trinkets or carvings are seen as valued pieces of art.  And poachers, gang leaders and corrupt officials can make a lot of money selling illegal ivory.  They are even banking on the approaching extinction of the elephant, a boon to their profit as ivory becomes increasingly scarce.


In addition to educating about this crisis, the film turns into a real-life spy thriller as it follows undercover agents as they try to gather information to help capture and convict the poachers, including one of the  kingpins aptly nicknamed Shetani – “the devil”.

It appears that the only way for elephants to survive is for governments around the world to make sale of ivory totally illegal.  Until that happens the poaching will continue and the number of African elephants living in the wild become dangerously threatened.

You can read more about this at  www.theivorygame.com and the Great Elephant Census.

I give this documentary 4 stars of 5.  It was the only movie that I saw this year at TIFF that actually moved me to tears.  It will be on Netflix later this season.

I have peppered this page with a few of photos of elephants that I have been fortunate to see over the years in East Africa.  How many of these magnificent animals have survived the poacher, I wonder?

I took the above photo on my way to the airstrip in the Maasai Mara.  I was worried that having to stop as this herd of elephants meandered across the road would make me miss my plane back to Nairobi.  But even the small local airlines are on “Africa time” and the plane was an hour off schedule. Meanwhile I got to sit in a jeep and watch this extended elephant family enjoying their day.

And when I got to the air strip, the small plane was oversold by one – so I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot.  A commanding view of the Maasai Mara and this memorable sight of another large herd of elephants crossing the Savannah.


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 2

When I saw that Christopher Guests new film Mascots was opening at TIFF it was at the top of my list. Never mind that it will be available in a few weeks on Netflix (it is a Netflix-produced film).  I was quite willing to pay the Premium dollar to see the world premiere with a theatre full of Corky St Clair fans and with Christopher Guest, Parker Posey , Bob Baliban and Jane Lynch sitting three rows behind me. 

But there was some risk. Could this film hold up to the high expectation I had given that Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show  are two films I have laughed through maybe 15 times each. 

The verdict? I loved it. Using his  proven “monumentally” formula,  Guest has created another winner based on a convention for mascots with a competition to win the coveted Fluffy.  A few times,  I had to wipe away tears of laughter . The usual troupe of Guest’s favourite actors create new characters and improv their dialogue through a hilarious collection of vignettes. There is even a surprise appearance that delighted the audience. No spoilers. 

If you like Christopher Guest’s quirky previous work, you won’t be disappointed. I can hardly wait for its appearance on Netflix so I can watch it again.  It gets four stars.  I am waiting for the five star film.

Within half an hour of watching Mascots I was back in line under an umbrella to see Queen of Katwe, another African-themed film shot in Uganda, directed by a Ugandan, Mira Nair, starring  black actors, including  David Olyelowo, who played Martin Luther King in Selma, and banked by the Disney corporation. It is a wonderful movie about a young illiterate Ugandan girl, Phiona Mutesi, from the Katwe slums of Kampala, who becomes an international chess champion.  A feel-good true story of someone rising from obscurity through hard work and intellect.  And as a treat, the real Phiona was at the screening of the film. 

Unlike the Nigerian film I saw yesterday, the direction was impeccable, and the soundtrack was much more representative of good quality modern Afican music.  The kids in the film, and there were lots of them, were wonderfully naive and natural.  I have been in these streets and communities and that, too made the movie more meaningful to me.   Nair said that she jokes that this is the first African movie made by Disney without animals in it but Africa is more than giraffes and AIDS and she welcomed the chance to have Africans make a movie about the Africa they know.  One of the young boys who has a major role in the movie is a kid who lives in Nair’s neighborhood in Kampala. 

This film will be released this fall and anyone who has an Africa connection will relate to it and love the  message that genius is not owned by any one race or gender. Of course all the analogies between the game of chess and this game of life are not lost.  I give it four stars of five, knowing that my delight in revisiting Ugandan streets and people prejudices me.  The premiere audience gave it a standing ovation tonight, an indication that they liked it, too.

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?

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.

TIFF 2015 – Day 1

I had hoped that when I came to the Toronto International Film Festival this year that I would actually appear on one of the big screens.  But this is not to be.  The Guillermo del Toro film, Crimson Peak, that is scheduled for release in October surprisingly does not appear on the TIFF schedule. I had hoped to be in the audience of an early screening to catch my Where’s Waldo appearance as a background performer in one of two scenes from the movie shot in Kingston in April 2014.  My TIFF debut will have to wait.

Nevertheless I am back in Toronto this weekend to take in some of the vital atmosphere that pervades during the festival and see a few movies and get a glimpse of some “stars”.  (I am hoping for Julianne Moore at a Monday noon screening of Freehold. Wish me luck.)


Michael Moore at his people’s TIFF party.

 My 2015 TIFF adventure started today with another Moore, Michael not Julianne.  The movie was a premiere showing of his latest documentary, Where to Invade Next. And Moore was there as big as life. He eagerly engaged with the audience both before and after the movie and wander down to sit in the fourth row with some other patrons to watch the film with the rest of us. It almost felt like seeing Santa Claus and believing that he was indeed real. He even invited everyone in the theater to a “people’s TIFF party” as a bar down the street. Free food and a drink ticket for everyone. So my 2015 TIFF started with Michael Moore buying me a beer! Pretty cool.

I was in his other documentaries, Moore looks critically about American society. He explores how other nations deal with many of the problems that are plaguing America now. In this movie, he goes to several European countries and that each one looks at the way they deal with different aspects of their society. He talks about holidays and nutrition and education and treatment of prisoners and the death penalty. He plants American flag in several countries, claiming that he has invaded them to steal their ideas. The movie ends in a fairly optimistic note – he referred to it as his happy film. He points out that change, indeed, it is possible. He gives the example of how three or four years ago same-sex marriage was rejected in many parts of the United States but now it is sanctioned in a federal law.  There was lots to think about in this film. Life lessons to be learned.  It made me feel a bit sad for the U.S.  This Canadian audience seemed to embrace the message but I really wondered if much of America is really interested in learning from Portugal, Iceland or Tunesia.  

The theatre officials wanted us to stay in our seats while security hustled Moore out but he wandered down into the audience to chat, saying he didn’t fear getting killed in Canada.  4 Stars/5

Read more about the Moore and this film in today’s Globe and Mail.

  The second film was called Our Brand is Crisis. This was produced by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and I could tell from the screams rising from the hundreds gathered in front of the theatre from my place in line around the corner that they had arrived.  The film tells a story of how spin doctors manipulate and present a candidate in an election in Bolivia. Apparently this is based on true events around the Bolivian 2002 election.  We see the development of message tracks that the politicians present, their negative ads and their manipulation and empty promises.  The people beings the scenes making the decisions about how to sell their candidate, not really caring about the issues, but doing this as a game and money-maker for themselves.  Cooney said that this film had been several years in the making. I think it is no accident that it will be released in the year prior to an American federal election. I also couldn’t help but think about our own federal election campaigns as I watch the movie.

I much preferred Sandra Bullock in this role as compared to her astronaut appearance in Gravity last year. I think she has great comedic timing and despite the serious subject of this film, there were lots of humorous moments.  Like the Moore film, this film allows  us to reflect on how things work in our society.   I think Bullock’s performance is solid and partly because of her star-power in addition to her obvious talent, it will draw some acclaim come Oscar time. I will give it 3.5/5. It was good but didn’t grab me.

My TIFF 2014 rehash

Last spring I earned $141 as a background performer in a movie being shot in Kingston. This weekend I recycled those earnings back into the movie industry with tickets to a few shows at the Toronto International Film Festival. (TIFF)

There are over 370 movies from 72 countries that are screened during the two weeks of TIFF and it has earned a reputation as one of the premier film festivals in the world.

For the past five years I have attended TIFF, usually spending three or four days lining up and watching movies. This year my time was limited to two days because of other commitments. While I am on the train on the way hoimageme to Kingston I will briefly comment on the six movies I saw this year. Remember that it is only six of 370, my selection restricted by showing times and availability. There were many more I would like to have seen if I had another couple of days.

The Judge. Starring Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall. I will preface this by saying that one of the reasons I am heading home today is to rehearse a Kings Town Players production of August:Osage County. In many ways The Judge paralleled “August” exposing complicated family conflicts but this time between three sons and their father (as opposed to the mother and three daughters of “August”) after the death of the mother.

Robert Duvall signs autographs at TIFF 2014.

Robert Duvall signs autographs at TIFF 2014.

The performances were strong and will likely get an Oscar nomination nod for Duvall, maybe even Downey. The show was a bit long and the courtroom melodrama a bit  formulaic. There was enough humour interjected to keep the intensity tolerable. I was pleasantly surprised by this movie and recommend it. Entertaining and nicely constructed.

Boychoir. With Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates and a collection of boy sopranos.image This movie is basically summed up in the title. The story is of a young orphaned boy with talent gets a chance to train as a boy soprano at an elite music school and yes, ends up being the main soloist for the choir, overcoming all adversity and the attempts of the another jealous peer who tries go derail him. Have I said enough? A good family movie. No F-bombs.  Happy ending. The story was predictable and coincidences quite unbelievable. The choral music provided by the American Boychoir throughout the movie was quite delightful. I would have been satisfied with a half hour concert, however, skipping the story. The ladies sitting beside me had kleenexes out and loved the movie. I was rolling my eyes.

Stories of our Lives. This was a Kenyan-made film, a collection of five black and white vignettes that chronicled stories collected from LGBT people in Kenya. The pre-festival notices gave no credits, in fact listing them as “Anonymous” because of the fear of some sort of reprisals or discrimination of the filmmakers at home. Three of the people involved attended an emotional question and answer period after the showing. The film itself was very amateur in its production, dialogue and acting. But this was more of a cultural experience than just a film showing. It was appropriate to show this at the festival. It represented the power of movies as a platform for cultural and political commentary and, who knows, maybe even enlightenment. The content was comparable to what we might have seen 50 years ago in North America regarding sexual diversity. The film makers were taking big personal risks at home to produce this and the TIFF showing before an empathetic audience was cathartic and emotional for them. I had not planned to go to this film but squeezed it in at the end of my day, my familiarity with Kenya having alerted me to the showing. I am glad I went, not for the movie itself, but for the event.image

Ruth and Alex. Starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman. This is a lightweight comedy about an older couple in New York who are looking to sell their condo where they have lived for forty years and buy another. It had the ring of a Cary Grant movie from the forties. A lot of fluff, some interesting supporting characters and a happy ending. There are a couple of filler sub plots involving a suspected terrorist on a bridge and a sick pet dog that spends most of the movie at the vet, but, to the sighs and “aw’s” of many in the audience, recovers. The young couple who play Ruth and Alex in the flashbacks do an excellent job of chanelling the voice and physical mannerisms of Keaton and Freeman. No thinking required while seeing this movie. (A very pleasant, relaxed Morgan Freemen attended the Q&A after the screening and this was worth the price of admission. Too bad but he will not likely be at your local theatre.)

imageBlack and White. With Kevin Costner, Octavia Spencer. As I stood in line to see this Kevin Costner film it was a bit like admitting that I was going to a Celine Dion concert. Costner has had his day but I have not seen anything by him that has impressed me for a long time. I thoughts the story might be interesting and Octavia Spencer was a draw for me. It turned out to be a good pick.

The movie is about grandparents, one black and one white, who become involved in a custody battle for their granddaughter after tragic deaths leave them the only responsible relatives left. This leads to some commentary, not particularly deep but there, about race and social status in America. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was engrossed in the characters within five minutes. The opening scenes are quite touching. The audience obviously responded to much if this film, laughing, weeping, applauding after one monologue and even gasping in a couple of spots. Performances by Costner and Spencer were solid and the little girl who played Elouise, the granddaughter, was wonderful. Like The Judge, the movie was maybe 10 minutes too long and the last portion was focused on a courtroom. I did come away from this movie having no hesitation in recommending it.

imageThe Riot Club. I knew little about this film before I saw it. Like the others, it was premiering at TIFF so no audience has seen it before and no reviews are available. It did have some pre-festival hype and I chose it as something different. And it was. The movie is basically a disgusting exposé of a young group of rich boys, Oxford University students, who, because of their privileged upbringing, feel there are no limits that they have to satisfying their unfettered appetites for debauchery. Get the picture? There were three young girls sitting beside me who were all giggly about seeing the young British heartthrob boys who starred in the film and who were introduced on the stage prior go the showing. Their awestruck giddiness turned to dismay as the film unfolded and these cute boys became thoroughly despicable. As time progressed I almost felt like I had been a victim of assault in some way, having to watch this depravity. There was no justice and the movie ended with no consequences to the boys for their unruly and disgusting behavior. A disturbing couple of hours. But then, I guess that is a credit to the film maker to draw this kind if response.

Kevin Costner,  director Mike Binder and Octavia Spencer at the world première screening of Black and White.

Kevin Costner, director Mike Binder and Octavia Spencer at the world première screening of Black and White.

Which would I recommend? Surprisingly to me, Black and White tops this short list followed by The Judge. Wait for Ruth and Alex go be shown on the Saturday Night Movie or Netflix. Find the soundtrack for BoyChoir or buy it for your kids and avoid the Riot Club unless you are feeling like you are feeling a masochistic.


I didn’t know when I booked the movies I would see at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past weekend that there would be a common theme.  Basically the ticket-buying process is a bit of a crap-shoot.  I had a large list of movies that I thought would be interesting but there were time conflicts and availability issues to negotiate.  In the end I got seven of the movies on my list so I was happy.


I knew that the film Something Necessary, shot in Kenya was a fictional story but based on the post-election violence there in early 2008.  I also realized that the film shot in Bosnia – FOR_THOSE_WHO_CAN_TELL_NO_TALES_Trailer_109306676_thumbnailFor Those Who Can Tell No Tales – would have a post-war theme.  I knew very little about The Railway Man,  the Dallas Buyers Club or Philomena other than that they had great acting performances by well-known actors. And I threw in two comedies to break the tension – The Grand Seduction (Directed by Don McKellar) and Bad Words (Directed and starring Jason Bateman of Arrested Development fame}.images-1

It was somewhat surprising to me that all the dramas were based on real events.

The characters were fictional in some, but the events were real.  In three of the movies,  the main characters were people who had actually existed and struggled with torture, illness or were horribly mistreated in other ways.

In all the films – even the comedies – someone was wronged. The wrongs varied from being lied to or manipulated to having their child taken away from them but they all revolved around people who  suffered some badwordsrepercussions of having been wronged by someone else.

The dilemma for all the protagonists, that was the force that became central to the film,  was how to deal with the past.  How do you interact with your abuser?  How do you overcome being a victim? Do you look colin-firth-the-railway-manfor revenge or do you give in? Ultimately,  do you forgive?


It all came together for me in the last five minutes of those seven movies when Philomena elects forgiveness.  Without giving away the story, she confronts someone who has wronged her badly, ruined her life, in fact. Her companion is angry and wants an apology or some sort of revenge.  But Philomena quietly says something like this. “Yes I have something to say to you. I forgive you for what you have done to me.”

Her angry friend is astounded and asks “Is that all you are going to say? Is that it? Just that simple?

Philomena responds with (and I paraphrase – the screenwriter found just the right words to make it powerful)  “It was not simple. It was very difficult. But ultimately i could live with hate in my heart and be miserable. Or I could forgive.

QUAD_PHILOMENA-1024x768In the other films, the victims responded with everything from trying to get even, to exposing the others for their evil ways, to forgiving in one way or another.

Is this a choice we all have to make at some point?  Will we burn ourselves up with anger, rage and the need for revenge or can we honestly forgive on some level and move on.

The movies I saw at TIFF 2013 not only entertained me last weekend, they gave me lots to think about. I just may have also learned some valuable life lessons.