VIFF: This week in closing…

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:

https://viff.org/

On another note: I updated my “about” page after a few people pointed out that there was nothing about me on that page.  Now there is.

The Hidden Life of Trees

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 of Treesthat 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.

In closing…

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).

Check out more films/documentaries/talks:

https://viff.org/

 

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President

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. 

Check out: https://www.cartercenter.org/

I gave this five 1/2 out of five stars *****+

For more films/documentaries/talks visit

https://viff.org/

 

 

Citizen Penn

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. 

I gave it five out of five stars *****

check out more films/documentaries/talks:

https://viff.org/

 

My Salinger Year

 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. ****

I know, I know…

Check out more films/documentaries/talks:

https://viff.org/

2020 Vision…when life gets blurry adjust your focus

Happy New Year everyone…finally.

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.

The Truth – taken from PSIFF film media library.  I think Deneuve is solely responsible for making the “leopard coat” sexy and relevant even today.

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

David Foster with just a few grammy awards – taken from PSIFF film media images

 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

House of Cardin – image taken from PSIFF film media library

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!

The Kingmaker

Imelda Marcos on her 85th birthday in KINGMAKER. Photo Credit: Lauren Greenfield.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Feel-good Friday: Echo in the Canyon

This is the most feel-good I’ve felt ALL WEEK

(left) Tom Petty gives his last film interview to Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) in “Echo in the Canyon”, (right) David Crosby recalls the neighborly “social network” that made Laurel Canyon special – images The Argonaut (by Bliss Bowen).

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 NETFLIX rocdoc 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.

Now on Netflix

FAB FILMS – Vancouver International Film Festival

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

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

Image: Variety

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 Mans race 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

Antonio Banderas in 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 Two Popes starring Anthony Hopkins & Jonathan Pryce,

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

Judy

starring Renee Zellweger who was absolutely superb as Judy Garland and deserves to win the Oscar.

Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland (l). Young Judy Garland as Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.”

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.

OK now back to regular movie going….

Seen any good movies lately?

 

 

“Jojo Rabbit” & “Who You Think I Am”

Fantasy never goes out of Fashion.  Obsession is Optional.

I saw two more films – part of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).  One movie is a satire which takes place during WWII.  The other is present day.  They are both completely different however there is a common denominator which turns out to be that both of the main characters in each film have created their own fantasy.  Both are psychologically damaged.  It’s an interesting character study of obsessed individuals.

Who You Think I Am (CELLE QUE VOUS CROYEZ)

juliette binoche in “who you think I am”

This film is in French with subtitles.  It was the Canadian Premiere.  I wanted to see it because the theme is very current involving online dating…sort of.  But it’s not what you think exactly.  It shows the extremes of getting carried away with the romantic fantasy.

Claire Millaud (Binoche) is a 50+ year old woman who creates a fake profile on social media to spy on Ludo, her lover.  She becomes Clara, a beautiful woman half her age explaining to her therapist that Clara is really her niece.  She is just using photos of her niece.

A friend of Ludo’s named Alex sees her profile and is instantly captivated.  Claire as Clara ends up falling for Alex.  She gets trapped in the fantasy and takes it way too far. This is a more relatable film only in the sense that you can kind of understand how something like this can happen.  Claire is divorced.  Her husband has left her for another woman.  She is not sure about her current relationship status.  Someone new, younger and attractive is paying close attention and the illusory gets intertwined with the reality to the extent that she almost forgets who she really is and cannot stop herself from keeping up the deception.  I found it intriguing at how dangerously misleading many dating profiles can be and what can occur as a result of.  It’s apparent that people tell white lies however this is far more precarious.  Yes…quite the captivating story.  Binoche of course is excellent, as usual.

Jojo Rabbit 

Unfortunately I was not crazy about this film.   Apparently it did well recently at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).  It certainly has its moments but overall it was not for me.

*Taika Waititi (the New Zealand director who also stars at Jojo’s imaginary friend, the one and only Hitler) described Jojo Rabbit as an “anti-fuckface satire.” Based on the novel Caging Skies by Christine Leunens, it’s about a young member of the Hitler Youth named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) who learns that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (poignantly played by New Zealand actress Thomasin McKenzie)  in their home.  Last summer Waititi tweeted “What better way to insult Hitler than having him portrayed by a Polynesian Jew?” Surely!

My favourite moments were the interactions between Jojo and Elsa where Jojo has a change of heart and realizes with astonished surprise that jews have feelings just like regular people.  Of course the message comes through about revelation and redemption, however in most parts it was just too silly for me and I personally think it missed the mark. On the humour that is!  Other people seemed to love it though.

The movie also stars Rebel Wilson as a proud Nazi child instructor and Sam Rockwell as a gun shooting Nazi.

“A big part of the humour is in identifying with the tragic elements of the film. The New Zealand sense of humour is very dark. Our films are usually very dark and it’s always someone being killed. Usually a child.” – Taika Waititi
*Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of his previous films
The film fest is on until October 11th.  For information on more films and/or to buy tickets please visit:

 

 

Octoberfilmfest – VIFF

The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF ) is in full swing until October 11th.  I just saw two amazing Special Presentations.

Just Mercy

starring Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan & Brie Larsen

Michael B. Jordan & Jamie Foxx in a scene from “Just Mercy”

This is a true and thought provoking story about young Harvard graduate lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and his history making battle for justice in Alabama working with death row inmates at a time where the legal system was hell bent on not following the truth.  One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx) with a disturbing no mercy glance at how corrupt and unfair the people in power were at keeping an innocent man behind bars for a murder he did not commit.  Powerful performances in this discriminating story of people and prejudice.  Intense.

Motherless Brooklyn

starring Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Willem Dafoe

Edward Norton in “Motherless Brooklyn”

This is an Incredible film set in the 1950’s written, produced and directed by Edward Norton who is also the main star.  With outstanding performances from the whole cast and twists and turns at every corner, it is surely a worthy Oscar contender.

Lionel Essrog (Norton) is a private detective with an annoying infliction to his character.  Although his mind is quick and his memory impeccable, he suffers from tourette syndrome which makes him twitch and say inappropriate things and act obsessively so he’s always apologizing for his behavior.  At times it is quite funny and Norton carries this off in a superbly endearing manner.  Lionel sets out to solve the crime of who murdered his boss and best friend P.I. Frank Minna (played by Bruce Willis) who pulled him out of an orphanage at six years of age.  While trying hard to solve the mystery he deals with thugs and corruption at almost every turn.

The trail leads to Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin), a ruthless construction magnate with deep ties to the mayor’s office and a suspicious prowler (Willem Dafoe) who seems to know everything about him.  He follows a beautiful girl from Harlem (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) whose fight against Randolph’s “slum-clearing” operations have targeted her and he must find out the reason why.

Stay tuned for more film updates

For more information and tickets please visit: