VIFF Closing Film: Broker

BROKER, the closing film from the Vancouver International Film Festival, is about a baby adoption scam gone wild.

There might be a loose theme to Japanese film director, producer & screenwriter Hirokazu Koreeda’s movies.  He won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 for the crime drama Shoplifters, about a family that relies on shoplifting to cope with a life of poverty. It could almost be a present day theme as well. A line from “Shoplifters” that ties in with his new movie “Broker” –

“Sometimes it’s better to choose your own family.”

Broker is about broken people trying to make a living making all the wrong choices – but with heart. It was purposefully written so viewers would end up not hating the offenders and maybe give more thought to what makes people do what they do – good and bad. Along with feeling contempt for the situation and the characters in this film, there is a glimmer of hope and love among the desperation.

This film was not what I expected. To be fair; I wasn’t completely sure what I expected, but I thought this movie would be more of a comedy.  While it had comedic moments in it for sure, for the most part it was more about human behaviour and what can transpire when you are given and not given choices.  It’s a judgement call when you don’t have all the missing pieces of the puzzle.  When you do and you start putting them together it makes more sense. 

I’ll leave you with the intro from the VIFF programme:

Working for the first time in South Korea, long-term festival favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) has come up with a sprawling crime story about a baby adoption scam. But in characteristic Kore-eda style, the tone is predominantly compassionate and melancholic—even the cops warm to the perpetrators. It helps of course that the baby broker, Sang-hyeon, is played by Song Kang-ho, the charismatic star of ParasiteMemories of MurderThe Host, and so many others (Song was named Best Actor at Cannes for this performance). His scheme involves intercepting infants abandoned at a church baby box, but things get messy when a young mom (Lee Ji-eun) changes her mind and discovers his racket. She decides to go along with him to meet the the baby’s prospective buyers—actually cops in a sting operation.

Kore-eda fashions plenty of twists and turns as Sang-hyeon, his accomplice (Gang Dong-won), and the girl try to evade the law and find a safe home for the child, but as always, he’s more invested in character than plot mechanics, and the truths we learn about this thrown-together family are revealed in simple, telling gestures, looks, and shadings.

Miraculous in its sensitivity, asking questions about issues of ethics, of choice, of money, and murder, and family, and how to find love in all this sorry mess.”—Ella Kemp, Indiewire

 Best Actor (Song Kang Ho), Cannes 2022

VIFF: Bones of Crows

We cannot go back in time; we can only move forward and learn from our past for a brighter tomorrow.

After world premiering at TIFF earlier this month, Marie Clements’ poignant film “Bones of Crows” opened the Vancouver International Film Festival last night as the perfect lead-in for Truth and Reconciliation.  The director and most of the cast and crew members were in attendance.

Grace Dove as Aline Spears in “Bones of Crows”

In Canada, every September 30th now marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation which honours the children who never returned home and Survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities. Public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing impacts of residential schools is a vital component of the reconciliation process.

Orange Shirt Day which also falls on September 30th, is an Indigenous-led grassroots commemorative day intended to raise awareness of the individual, family and community inter-generational impacts of residential schools, and to promote the concept of “Every Child Matters”.  The orange shirt is a symbol of the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.

Bones of Crows

The message in this commanding film which was written, produced and directed by Marie Clements; a Canadian Métis playwright, performer, director, producer and screenwriter (founding artistic director of Urban Ink Productions) was powerful and not to be overlooked.

Inspired by true events, Bones of Crows tells the life story of a Cree woman named Aline Spears (strikingly performed by Canadian actor Grace Dove) through varying stages of her life.  From a child taken from her parents to an 85 year of woman who confronts a former abuser from the church.  A line that stuck with me from the film is “parents don’t always know what is best for their children – that’s why we should leave it up to the government and the church.”  REALLY???

The film is intended to be disconcerting and that, it is.  It is a must-see for all so that we may learn from the past so we can move forward mindfully

Here is further description taken from the VIFF Programme:

VIFF 2022 Opening Film

In these troubled and lopsided times, we need our storytellers to help us understand our inheritance, be it pain or privilege, and to lay the intellectual and emotional groundwork not only for reconciliation, but for reparation and restoration. Vancouver-born Dene/Métis writer-director Marie Clements (whose previous films The Road Forward and Red Snow have been part of VIFF’s year-round and festival programming) squares up to the challenge with this bold, necessarily harrowing tale of oppression and resilience which spans the greater part of the 20th century.

Aline Spears (played at different ages by Grace Dove, Summer Testawich, and Carla Rae) is a happy, gifted child, until she and her siblings are removed to a residential school. The scars of that experience will run deep through the remainder of their days, though it will not be the only time that official government policy will act as an instrument of abuse and trauma. Despite this, Aline enlists in WWII, where, ironically, her fluency in Cree becomes a national asset. The reward for her service is yet more anguish and struggle.

This is a tough film, but it has epic ambition, deep-rooted conviction, anger, and urgency. Clements is not afraid to make provocative and important connections, and she marshals an outstanding cast of Indigenous actors with care and compassion.

This program contains scenes that may distress some viewers, especially those who have experienced harm, abuse, violence, and/or intergenerational trauma due to colonial practices.

Support is available 24 hours a day for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and for those who may be triggered by content dealing with residential schools, child abuse, emotional trauma, and racism. The national Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line is available at 1-866-925-4419.

About VIFF | viff.org

Founded in 1982, the Greater Vancouver International Film Festival Society is a not-for-profit cultural society and federally registered charitable organization that operates the internationally acclaimed Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) and the year-round programming at the VIFF Centre. VIFF produces screenings, talks, conferences and events that act as a catalyst for the community to discover the creativity and craft of storytelling on screen.

HAPPY 40th to VIFF!

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.

Highlights:

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.

Belfast is a 2021 British-Irish black-and-white coming of age comedy-drama film written and directed by Kenneth Branagh.

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.

Power of the Dog – Jane Campion, Australia/New Zealand, 2021.  In her strongest movie since The Piano, Jane Campion turns the machismo of the Western film on its head. Benedict Cumberbatch is the tyrannical cattle rancher at war with his own brother (Jesse Plemons) in this stark, revelatory drama.

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.  

We hope you join us next year.  In the meantime you might be able to catch “best of the fest” at https://viff.org/Online/default.asp

Happy Viewing

I Care, A Lot

I’m just here to help… because movies are one of life’s little pleasures and if they include a messageall 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.

On Netflix

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 SouthNarcos 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 better feel what 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.

Peter Dinklage in I Care, A Lot – Neflix

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.

Here’s the Trailer:

https://www.imdb.com/video/vi1114947865?playlistId=tt9893250&ref_=tt_ov_vi

 

 

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.