How convenient and nice of the Vancouver International Film Festival to let us stream most of the 2021 movies, documentaries, short films + animations from the comfort of home. But what was really wonderful after such a long hiatus, was to be able to view these amazing films in person “in-cinema.” Seems like a long time.
VIFF could not have been more excited to roll out the red carpet this year with Special Presentations that were a cause for celebration. The scope of work that was showcased was simply phenomenal, featuring auteurs like Terence Davies and Kenneth Branagh; stars such as Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch; and a spectrum of stories ranging from intimate human dramas to towering historic narratives.
Special Presentations included one world premiere, one Canadian premiere, and the latest addition to the VIFF lineup: The Power of the Dog by Jane Campion, which focuses on the charismatic rancher Phil Burbank who inspires fear and awe in those around him until his brother brings home a new wife and her son, tormenting them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love; starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee. Additional highlights included the world premiere of The Sanctity of Space by Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson, which follows the directors as they traverse Denali National Park and uncover the story of pioneering photographer and cartographer Bradford Washburn; the Canadian premiere of Red Rocket by Sean Baker (The Florida Project), a luminous, seriocomic fable about America’s underclass through the eyes of a washed-up porn star in Texas; and Memoria by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the director’s first film in English starring Tilda Swinton as an expat orchid grower in Colombia with a strange malady.
The only animation I screened was Lamya’s Poem, the animated feature whose voice cast includes Mena Massoud (Aladdin), Millie Davis (Wonder) and Faran Tahir (Iron Man).
The film charts the story of a 12-year-old Syrian refugee who is given a book of poetry of classic 13th-century Persian poet, Rumi. As the perils of her journey mount, the book becomes a magical gateway. It was amazingly well executed.
I followed that with Disney blockbuster “Cruella” featuring the two “Emma’s” – Stone and Thompson – both outstanding if you haven’t already seen it. Reminded me of “The Devil Wears Prada.” This was not part of the VIFF lineup; but it made me ponder the notion of having watched an excellent animation that was based on a real person with historical fact followed by a movie acted out by real people that was based on animated fiction.
I’m just here to help… because movies are one of life’s little pleasures and if they include a message… all the better. This movie certainly does.
Rosamund Pike just won the Golden Globe for best actress in a Musical or Comedy. I Care, A Lot is a new black comedy (now showing on Netflix in the USA & Amazon Prime in Canada). The trailer piqued my interest. That and knowing that both Dianne Wiest and Peter Dinklage are supporting actors in this timely movie. In fact, just saw a news story last night about eerily reminiscent misconducts in care homes addressed in the film.
In light of a recent conversation between my boyfriend and my brother and the fact that so few people are making effort to question or think about what they are being told, sometimes the best way to get them to think is to talk about a film.
Films are often ways to reach people who are trying to “escape” their reality… which is to say, to be entertained without having to think. But whether we like it or not, films actually do make us think about topics we might not otherwise ever think about, whether it be the drug smuggling trade (Queen of the South, Narcos and El Chapo), the espionage world (e.g. James Bond and the Bourne trilogy of films), the world of grief and loss (Manchester by the Sea), or the fanciful world of royalty and privilege (The Queen, The Crown series, the Downtown Abbey series), or the world of high finance (e.g. the series Billions, and the films Wall Street, the Wolf of Wall Street, and the Big Short…)
What they all have in common is that they transport us into a world that allows us to betterfeelwhat it would be like to be in that world.
What the “I care a Lot” film is about is just how ruthless the “care” business can be. And this doesn’t just apply to vulnerable seniors. It also applies to doctors and the medical profession. That’s what the film Patch Adams with Robin Williams was about.
There are two types of people in this world. Predators and Prey!
This has implications for how our society is reacting to Covid. We tend not to question government because we think governments always have our best interests in mind. But if you don’t realize that the policy-making apparatus within so many government departments has been so captured by large corporate players, that it’s easy for them to pervert the science so they can make money. The end point are products unleashed into the market place that have been insufficiently scrutinized.
This is what the back-story of “I care a Lot” is all about. It’s about trusting people and officials who are great at giving the impression that they really care, where in reality, their talking the talk is little more than marketing schmooze designed to get we the consumers to buy their questionably reliable products and/or services. This is what sets us up for maximum exploitation.
You can change the world if you care enough. But you can also change the world if you don’t care enough.
Today marks the last day of the Vancouver International Film Festival with a short review on the last film I watched.
It’s also the day of the first vice-presidential debate of 2020 and the day I start baking again.
Right now I have a banana walnut loaf in the oven and I’ve finished baking the most delicious lavender pepper cheese scones. I’ll share that recipe with you soon because I know you’ll love it, and when you find out how easy they are to make it’s sure to become a staple. But right now…
From the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF): Contemporary World Cinema
Hammamet – Italian (French thrown in on occasion) with English subtitles.
The question is “what the hell was going on in Italy during a time many in government were perceived as being indistinguishable from the Mafia?”
Italy revisited – last night I watched a movie about an Italian historical leader that I did not know anything about and at first was reluctant to watch. Bettino Craxi was the leader of the Italian Socialist Party (1976-1993) and Prime Minister of Italy from 1983 till 1987.
I now understand why this semi-biographical drama was a box office hit at home in Italy. The drama directed by festival favourite Gianni Amelio’s (La Tenerezza, Open Doors, Stolen Children) traces Craxi’s final months with his family at his oasis villa in Hammamet, Tunisia, where he fled to avoid prison for crimes of bribery and corruption.
Hmmm….bribery and corruption. While not as prominent a thing in Canadian, influence peddling via campaign contributions from corporate sources definitely remains a thing in US politics.
But let’s get back to the Mediterranean, shall we? The scenery is lovely as you can imagine (Tunisia, Italy), however, I give this one three *** out of five stars…if only because I unfortunately did not find it exciting or as interesting as I had hoped. Others (especially those of Italian heritage) may appreciate it more.
You still have a little more time to order tickets at:
Be like a Tree. Stay grounded, keep growing and know when to let go – unknown
So it’s October already. Happens quickly doesn’t it? The time of year when the trees begin to shed their leaves and it’s such a beautiful sight to behold. As Vincent Van Gogh once said “If you truly love nature you will find beauty everywhere.”Speaking of which…
There’s much more to trees than meets the eye
Last night I watched an educational documentary (German with English subtitles) about The Secret Lives of Trees – what they feel and how them communicate. Part of Vancouver International Film Festival’s (VIFF) Impact series for 2020.
In 2015, Peter Wohlleben, a German forester, published a popular book titled “The Hidden Life ofTrees” that became a best‐seller.
Life, Death and Regeneration…
In this intriguing documentary, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of woods and forests and explains his observations and presents the science behind the secret and previously unknown life of trees and their communication abilities.
We find out…
Much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. In contrast, solitary trees, like street kids, have a tough time of it and in most cases die much earlier than those in a group.
As Wohlleben says, a happy forest is a healthy forest, and he believes that eco-friendly practices not only are economically sustainable but also benefit the health of our planet and the mental and physical health of all who live on Earth.
From the VIFF Catalogue:
A forest is a super-organism, like an ant colony. Trees are interconnected, they communicate with each other, and even share community health care. Best-selling author Peter Wohlleben is our environmental tour guide for this eye-opening introduction to a new philosophy of forestry. We meet the oldest known tree in the world, a 10,000 year old Swedish spruce; burned out pine farms; succulent deciduous woods; there’s even a cameo from David Suzuki. You will never look at a tree the same way again.
I give this one three stars *** (interesting knowledge but slow moving).
There are presidents and then there are presidents
Then there’s Jimmy Carter. Right after Nixon and right before Reagan, sworn in as 39th president of the United States of America. An unlikely candidate at first became one of the most liked in recent history. From Georgia, he was a tireless humanitarian and advocate for equality and “black lives matter” way before the phrase became known.
“I’ve never had more faith in America than I do today. We have an America that in Bob Dylan’s phrase is busy being born, not busy dying” – President Jimmy Carter states in the opening scene of this inspiring documentary, part of VIFF’s MAD series (Music/Art/Dance). He knew all the words to all of Dylan’s songs.
You begin to realize in short order what the Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, John Lennon, Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffet, Charlie Mingus, Aretha Franklin and countless other musicians had in common besides their music. They were all personal friends of music aficionado Jimmy Carter.
I enjoyed this doc so much more than I expected to. It’s such a feel-good story with incredible music and interviews from the best of the best.
Watching this was extremely refreshing especially before the eve of the first presidential debate in 2020. You come to realize what’s been missing ever since. I think everyone should see it.
“We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles” – Jimmy Carter.
From VIFF Catalogue:
When the USA hit rock bottom in the mid 70s after years of war and corruption, the nation turned to a Georgia peanut farmer. Jimmy Carter was a devout Christian and a man of impeccable integrity. He was also a music fan. June Carter Cash claimed to be a cousin; Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan would become firm friends, and the Allman Brothers kept his campaign afloat. This rocking reminder of a very different brand of politics suggests you can tell a lot about a candidate from his musical affiliations.
“We can choose to alleviate suffering. We can choose to work together for peace. We can make these changes — and we must.”- Jimmy Carter, Nobel Lecture.
No matter your views of Sean Penn, this startling documentary about the destruction and lives lost from the shattering 2010 earthquake in Haiti is sure to change how you see him.
Not that he cares what you might think mind you. He didn’t travel to Haiti to bring attention to himself. No. Like other first-responders on site, he too played an admirable, tireless “hands-on” role in the wider humanitarian effort to save lives, and to bring much-needed medicines, money and peace to a disturbing situation. After spending millions of his own money, he tried to raise more funds by hosting galas with celebrity friends only to become disappointed when many did not come through as he had hoped. And on this score, he has no trouble calling people out and speaking his own mind, a feature of Penn’s character which has, in past, elicited controversy.
Still, this documentary remains truly eye-opening if not heartbreaking, especially for a nation struggling to restore a more tolerable measure of normalcy in the aftermath.
Penn once compared Port-au-Prince to Detroit, saying, “It’s not more dangerous, it’s not less dangerous.”
To quote from the VIFF catalogue:
Penn, whose father Leo was blacklisted as a Communist, has made no secret of his disgust of American imperialism, and has regularly ventured to places like Iraq, Venezuela, Cuba, and New Orleans post Katrina. But as this film chronicles, over the last decade much of his energy has gone into supporting the people of Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010, which claimed a quarter of a million lives and displaced many more.
Penn arrived with a small team of volunteers and urgent morphine supplies donated by his friend Hugo Chávez. More surprising, perhaps, is that he opted to stay on the island for months, taking over leadership of the largest refugee camp when the US military left. Culled largely from footage shot on the ground at the time, but also drawing on interviews with Penn, Anderson Cooper and others, the film is a vivid account of first person activism, the expediencies of life and death in a disaster zone, and one man’s dedication to direct action.
In the wake of his efforts in Haiti, Penn went on to create an emergency response NGO known as CORE, which not only trains and empowers local volunteers in the US to help communities deal with natural disasters like hurricanes, but more recently, even the Covid-19 challenge, by getting N-95 masks into the hands of those who need them most, as well as helping with on-the-ground Covid-19 testing for the population at large.
We were an airplane that built itself after take off, and that’s a perilous ride in so many ways; and how it ended up surviving was the force of will of hundreds of people.
— Sean Penn, Co-Founder & Chairperson of the Board
The bottom line take-away message from seeing this documentary was in witnessing how a single person can leverage their own celebrity power to effect enormous good in alleviating the suffering of others in our world, and how one can inspire others to do likewise.
My Salinger Year was the first film I chose to watch from Vancouver International Film Festival’s (VIFF) extensive list of entries for 2020.
This is the time of year that I most love to settle in and watch a good movie. At first I was disappointed about not being able to go into one of the film fest screening cinemas as in years past. The excitement of the crowd in a lineup waiting to go inside and…obviously nothing beats watching on a big screen.
However, by the time my HDMI cable was hooked up from my laptop to my TV, stretching out on a comfy sofa in PJ’s and with pizza fresh out of the oven, all was forgiven.
This film is based on real life characters in the year 1995. Written and Directed by Quebec’s Philippe Falardeau, it’s an adaptation of Joanna Rakoff’s 2014 memoir starring Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley. Qualley is the real life daughter of actress Andie MacDowell (for inquiring minds).
Qualley plays Rakoff, an English Major college grad who takes a job working for an aloof chain- smoking literary agent (Weaver) to the celebrated and reclusive writer J.D. Salinger. Salinger wrote the iconic, albeit controversial “Catcher in the Rye” that had a profound, if not unsettling effect on many people. It was one of the required books to read in many high schools, including mine.
Rakoff moved back to the Big Apple from Berkeley, California, leaving boyfriend behind, to try to become a respected author one day. On the advice of an employment coach, she saw how working in literary agent’s office might bring her closer to realizing her dream. Even though Rakoff had feeble typing skills and little prior knowledge of the book publishing industry, she ends up with an administrative assistant to the head one of New York’s prominent agencies boss (played by Weaver) whose character is reminiscent of Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”. Not that this type of persona is foreign to Weaver. Remember “Working Girl?”
Although Rakoff had read all of Judy Blume’s children’s books and was excited when Blume made an appearance in the office, Rakoff had never read “Catcher in the Rye” even though Salinger was one of the agency’s most famous and recluse authors.
Little did Rakoff realize she would be one of the few lucky ones to have brief chats with Jerry (Salinger) over the phone, where he seemed to take a professional interest in her writing aspirations, encouraging her to pursue them. Little does she realize that this brush with fame would impact her life. At the time Salinger was working on another novel in Cornish, New Hampshire.
What he did not do was answer any of his fan mail. Those years were long gone. Part of Rakoff’s job was to answer fan mail on Salinger’s behalf, but only in strict form letter formats given to her, and then shredding his incoming letters. Partly bored with the job, she riskily decides to personally answer some of the more desperate fan mail herself knowing she could lose her job over doing so. It gets a little complicated.
Overall I really enjoyed this film. It’s not perfect but it was easy watching and I have a preference for real life stories, not necessarily on famous people themselves. I gave it four out of five stars. ****
We’re already two weeks in but until recently I’ve had company, a floor renovation here in Palm Springs and finally the Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF) which has just ended. So I’ve been somewhat distracted until now. Normally I try to take in as many films as possible. However this time I managed only four films. Three fascinating documentaries of which I’ll touch on here to start up my blog.
I saw one feature “The Truth” starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche & Ethan Hawke (above photo). A celebrated actress (Deneuve) publishes her memoirs amid a choppy relationship with her daughter (Binoche) who lives in her moms shadow and is married to a second rate American Actor (Hawke). I enjoyed watching this film solely because of the actors. Deneuve alone was the deciding factor going in with no prior knowledge of what the film was about. She does a tremendous job of playing a self-absorbed screen diva. She remains beautiful.
David Foster: Off the Record
I thought for sure that the U.S. premier about the Canadian music icon would not ensure a full house.
But I was wrong. Albeit a lot of the audience members were Canadians. He is after all the Canadian equivalent of Quincy Jones. His musical accomplishments could not be more celebrated in this documentary about his life and career. He discovered Celine Dion. It explores his creative relationships with Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and countless others. Fascinating man.
House of Cardin
What is Pierre Cardin up to? Is he even still alive? At 97 years of age his name has a stamp on pretty much everything. If he sold out, he did so on his own terms.
Pierre Cardin, the Italian born (everyone thought he was French) fashion icon changed the world of haute couture forever. This documentary traces the life and career of a remarkable trailblazer. As the trailer points out, it’s filled with eye candy (Sharon Stone among others are interviewed) and is a five-course feast for fashion lovers. Indeed! If you love fashion this doc is a must!
Dramatic, Dazzling, Disgraceful.
Lauren Greenfield’s cutting portrait of the legendarily extravagant Imelda Marcos starts with the shoes and the servants, then slyly expands into an examination of her dynastic ambitions and the damage that she and her corrupt family have wreaked upon the Philippines.
Stay tuned for updates from Palm Springs on various places to dine, shop and play.
This is music history in the making with a loving look at Laurel Canyon and the California Sound back in the day. ENTERTAINING to say the least.
This NETFLIXrocdoc is a must for all music and rock fans in general. It’s a well thought out documentary about the history of music in L.A. with interviews going back and forth with some of music’s greatest. Uplifting, funny and most of all, fantastic music. You won’t want to miss it.
VIFF may have come to an end, however the last four movies I’ve seen have resonated with me. They’ll be released to theatres Nationwide November/December. Here are the reviews:
La Belle Époque
This French movie (with English subtitles) was chosen for the closing gala. I had no idea what to expect and ended up loving it! I had just come from watching the fast-paced Ford vs Ferrari at the Playouse and was not sure whether I wanted to stay or not as I was leaning towards the later second viewing and the first showing ended late. As patrons made their way out of the theatre (Centre for the Performing Arts) I could not help but notice everyone’s big smiles. I asked the question before entering – “Is the movie worth staying for?” A resounding “Yes you must stay, it’s excellent.” So stay I did.
The movie centers around Victor (a cartoonist played by Daniel Auteuil) and his marriage to vivacious Marianne (Fanny Ardant) which is turning into a disaster. His son has a friend who has embarked on a new venture “Time Travellers” – a troupe offering clients the chance to go back in time to any moment they wish complete with a team of actors and technicians to guarantee a completely realistic version of whatever era is chosen. Victor decides to go back to 1974 – the day he first met Marianne to relive the moment and the woman he first fell in love with. What follows is very entertaining. The film is witty and original. Highly recommended.
Ford vs Ferrari
James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma) directs Matt Damon and Christian Bale in this high-speed biographical drama that pits an underdog team of American automotive engineers against Ferrari in the 1966 “24 Hours of Le Mans” endurance race. He tells the tale of real-life superheroes Carroll Shelby (Damon) who wins France’s prestigious Le Mansrace in 1959, a rare feat for an American, and Ken Miles (Bale), a brilliant driver who runs an auto shop.
This is a gripping true story that will keep you on the edge of your seat even if like me, you’re not really a fan of racing. Excellent. Coming to theatres in December.
Pain and Glory
This film is in Spanish with English subtitles. Pedro Almodóvar is the Director and that alone made my decision. Julieta, Volver, All About my Mother, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown…….no further explanation needed. Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz star in this complicated, bittersweet movie within a movie which is apparently autobiographical.
This film also marks a 35 year reunion between Almodóvar and Banderas who started his career in an Almodóvar film called “Laberinto de pasiones” (1982; Labyrinth of Passion).
I think this paragraph written by Peter Bradshaw (Guardian) sums it up best:
“As ever, Almodóvar has made a film about pleasure, which is itself a pleasure, witty, intelligent and sensous. It is about love, memory, art, mothers, lovers and most of all it is about itself…the film within a film, the story within a story, the dream within a dream.”
The Two Popes
The following review was written by my friend Paul H. LeMay who accompanied me to the screening. I too was pleasantly surprised by this film. His summary may appear in other publications.
Despite such an unassuming title, “The Two Popes” is anything but bland. Rather, it is a penetrating biopic about German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (excellently played by Anthony Hopkins), and Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, (equally well played by Jonathan Pryce), at a momentous turning point in the Catholic church’s history.
The film’s opening is filled with the sumptuous visual grandeur of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel during a conclave of the Cardinals after the death of Pope John-Paul II.
In real life, the event represented a veritable historical showdown between the church’s more conservative traditionalist Catholic viewpoints – as were championed by Pope John Paul II – and more reform-minded liberal ones, as had been previously championed in the early 1960s by Pope John XXIII. In this more contemporary story however, this same struggle is personified in these two aforementioned figures, who were each prominent papal candidates in their own right. Each effectively represents one of the two prominent psychological poles that continue to define our political divides today.
Yet despite the great philosophical gulf that separates their respective views about Christ’s teachings, we get to see how each man was able to bridge that gulf. What works so beautifully is how we penetrate beneath the outer appearances of their respective white and black cassocks to get a rather intimate glimpse of these two mortal men who are both intent on resigning from the burdens of their respective high status clerical roles, for as we discover, neither wants the onerous responsibility or power that comes with their offices. In this desire for self-surrender, we see their humanity shine through. The fact these two men were able to bridge their own huge philosophical orientation gaps and actually become good friends in real life, demonstrates we can attain no less. In effect, each really did come to love his enemy. The enduring feel good message that comes through in the end is that we are here to help one another, not to control or take from one another. On this score, this substantive film scores 10 out of 10 in my books.
AND in between all the above, I managed to see
starring Renee Zellweger who was absolutely superb as Judy Garland and deserves to win the Oscar.
Many people have no idea about the star’s struggles surrounding the last few years of her life. And then again, many younger people today have no idea who she is period. This movie is a must for those who know and especially for those who do not. It’s a close-up look into the life and loves of one of the most talented women in showbiz who was sadly and unfairly taken advantage of.