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.

ART/Film Reviews

MY REMBRANDT and MARCEL DUCHAMP: the Art of the Possible – part of Vancouver International Film Festival’s (VIFF) Music/Art/Design series.

MY REMBRANDT

This documentary lets us in on how the materially privileged, despite possible pretenses to the contrary, lust over rare “objets d’art.”   Does their material desire to possess rare works of art amount to little more than the fleeting privilege of being able to flaunt their worldly status and/or smarts to others, or is it for national  glorification?  Perhaps both.

It successfully parts the privacy curtain and offers us a peek behind it into the lives of Europeans with old wealth, an American with new wealth and big state-sponsored art gallery curators in Holland and France and elsewhere.

The idea is simply that the documentary isn’t just an art film about Rembrandt paintings aimed at the art crowd. It’s a documentary that not only offers insight into the ruthlessness that can play out in the high stakes international art world when it comes to finding and buying masterpieces; it also offers insight into Europe’s first selfies, in that only the wealthy could afford to commission artists to render their portraits for posterity.

From the VIFF Catalogue:

One of the “old masters,” Rembrandt van Rijn is considered one of the greatest painters of all time, and in the elite world of art collectors, his work is – almost – priceless. Oeke Hoogendijk’s captivating and elegant doc is both an enchanting glimpse behind the curtain of this privileged universe, and also a deep dive into an art mystery that rocked Rembrandt fans across the globe.

From a Scottish duke’s personal affection for a coveted portrait, to an American couple who have tried to get their hands on as many of the artist’s paintings as possible, Hoogendijk reveals what “my” Rembrandt means to each – nostalgia, heritage, beauty, obsession and, for many, the satisfaction of exclusive ownership. My Rembrandt also details the heated legal battles that proprietorship can entail. The film follows the youngest Jan Six (whose forefather Rembrandt painted), an art dealer convinced that he has found two previously undiscovered Rembrandts – a bold claim that, like everything in the art world, doesn’t come without a price.

Marcel Duchamp: The Art of the Possible

What makes a work of art “art”? Good question. Should it not be in the eye of the beholder?

Marcel Duchamp, who was regarded as “the godfather of modern conceptual art”, challenges this question. You might say he pushed the limitations of the definition of art by focusing on the observer of the art.

Born in the late 1800s in a small town in Normandy, Duchamp would go on to almost single-handedly revolutionize the art world with his fascination with the “fourth dimension” and developments in science, technology and mathematics.  His unusual works were initially shunned and misunderstood by the mainstream, but later incorporated into pioneering movements like Cubism and abstract expressionism.

From the VIFF Catalogue:

The Art of the Possible is a mesmerising account of Duchamp’s life and work, showing how his radical rejection of 19th century ideals paved the way for innovation in dance, literature, music and the visual arts. An impressive array of experts and researchers bring Duchamp’s legacy to the fore, as archival footage reveals a charismatic – at times cheeky – visionary who was light years ahead of his time.

Marina Abramovic and Jeff Koons are among the artists and experts celebrating his life and work.

Presented by The Audain Foundation

Of these two documentaries, I much preferred “My Rembrandt”

Until October 7th you can order tickets to stream online with VIFF Connect:

https://viff.org/

 

Vancouver International Film Festival 2020 (VIFF) Online

VIFF 2020 starts tomorrow

This film festival is something I look forward to attending and blogging about every year.  The lineup has always been excellent and it’s nice to sit with and bump into the same familiar faces. No doubt this time is going to be different.  The familiarity of sharing a cinematic experience with a crowd is on hold for now and we’ll all be happy when things return to normal and we’re able to sit together again.  So until then…

British Columbia’s biggest annual celebration of cinema is just around the corner.

From Noon on September 24 to October 7th, film lovers province-wide will enjoy over 100 feature films and events showcasing exciting, groundbreaking and provocative cinema and creators from around the globe.

You’ll be able to watch this year’s stellar line-up from the comfort of your home via VIFF Connect, VIFF’s new online streaming platform. For the first time, audiences across BC can watch VIFF curated cinema and viewers around the world can tune into our Talks and Conferences.

Stay in the Loop

SIGN UP FOR VIFF NEWS  

Check out the amazing films/documentaries/talks:

viff.org

 

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:

 

 

 

 

 

Feel-good Friday: Film

I know Fall is in full swing when the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) starts up again and ends just before Canadian Thanksgiving.

Can’t seem to wrap my head around upcoming Thanksgiving, let alone Halloween followed by American Thanksgiving and finally Christmas and another New Year.  Ok maybe I’m jumping ahead but it’s all happening way too quickly.  Summer just ended and Fall began the very next day.  It’s the full circle cycle.  I don’t know about you, but I’m surprisingly ready to make the change to cozy sweaters.  Last weekend I spent in Whistler with a hot toddy by a log fireplace after soaking in a hot tub.  It was the perfect way to transition to cooler weather.

Me and my pooches on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Queen Elizabeth Park – 09/24/19   Photo: Paul LeMay

Another great way to spend a chilly afternoon or evening is by spending more time at the cinema.  Film Festivals allow you the opportunity to discover unique films from around the world.  The Vancouver International Film Festival is considered to be one of the world’s most prominent film festivals and one of the largest in North America.  I always look forward to getting my hands on a festival guidebook and taking my time to go through it and marking off everything I want to see,

I just saw the premiere Guest of Honour by celebrated Canadian director Atom Egoyan (Ararat, Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter).

Atom Egoyan

I started in theater and I wanted to write plays, but I never really found an original voice as a playwright. I still write plays. I still do theater and opera, but the moment I started making films, which I have to say I started in college because the college dramatic society turned down one of my plays, and out of spite, I went to the film club and said, “Okay, I’ll make it as a movie.” But the moment I held that camera, it just felt like “Oh, this is another character. This is someone watching the drama.” It was always a character for me. I think in the really early films, it literally is the missing person. It’s the person watching. So, it’s what I feel most natural doing. – Atom Egoyan (2014).

Guest of Honour

is a psychological head spin of a story.  It definitely has its twists and turns. Jim, the main character (David Thewlis) is a government food inspector who has the power to close down a family establishment at the drop of a hat.  It gets interesting where in one of the scenes he’s about to give a restaurant its closing papers, however the owner (played by Egoyan’s real life wife Arsinée Khanjian) talks him out of it by inviting him to a private reception being held at the restaurant.  This is where she privately requests that guests treat Jim as “Guest of Honour.”

David Thewlis in Guestof HonourOpening Gala Movie (VIFF)

It gets a little uncomfortable whereby after several glasses of wine he rattles on about some upsetting personal matters.  Matters that include discussing his talented composer daughter Veronica (Laysla De Oliviera) who is incarcerated for a crime she didn’t commit yet insists she deserves to remain in prison for.

If I could sum up this movie in as few words as possible it would be a”beautifully, complicated, dysfunctional drama.”  The best possible kind.

For more information and to purchase tickets please visit:

https://viff.org/

 

 

“7 Days to Vegas” – World Premiere

In the wonderful world of Poker you can’t even trust your friends.

If you’ve ever wondered about how much cheating goes on in the gaming industry, this movie will certainly enlighten you.

This is not the first high stakes gambling movie ever made. Maybe you remember “The Sting”, “Rounders” or “The Cincinatti Kid.”  But I must say, having just viewed the world premiere of “Walk to Vegas”at the 30th Palm Springs International Film Festival, it is certainly one of the most intriguing and one of the funniest I’ve ever seen.  It was refreshingly different.

These eccentric people will go to almost any length for money. 

Inspired by a true story about Hollywood big shots who will bet on anything, “Walk to Vegas” is about a friendly poker game with colorful, questionable characters which winds up turning into a walk from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a $5 million bet.

This independent movie by the Van Patten brothers (James and Vincent) was filmed right here in Palm Springs. Multi-talented Vince Van Patten, an ex-child star, former tour professional tennis player, and commentator for the World Poker Tour…wrote, starred and produced this captivating film.  His real life wife, the stunning Eileen Davidson, also stars as his wife in the film and helped produced it.

Real life actor & poker player Jennifer Tilly has a cameo as herself in one of the scenes. I’ve always loved Jennifer Tilly in anything I’ve seen her in.  She was amazing in Bullets Over Broadway – one of my favorite Woody Allen films.   In this role she plays herself authentically (I assume, not knowing her personally).  Anyway…

The energy of the sold-out crowd in the theatre was remarkable compared to other screenings I’ve attended.  The audience certainly showed their appreciation.  Many of the cast members were in attendance and got up on stage for a Q&A after the screening. It was superb.

Side note: turns out the father of one of my friends from Los Angeles is also one of the producers of this movie. Small world!

Bravo!

 

Ringing in the New Year starting with….

I look forward to this time of the year. It always starts off with a bang.  The bang being fireworks for New Year’s Eve and after a day or so of recuperation (depending of course on how much partying I do)…..my favorite way to start the year is by viewing & reviewing a bunch of great films at the Palm Springs International Film Festival; one of the largest film festivals in North America.  It’s always an exciting time to be in Palm Springs.

  • On Thursday, January 3, the annual Film Awards Gala will kick off the festival at the Palm Springs Convention Center.  The gala honours the best achievements of the film year by a celebrated list of talents.
  • The screening portion of the festival will run Friday, January 4 through Monday, January 14.

The Festival welcomes over 135,000 attendees each year for its lineup of new and celebrated international features and documentaries.  Produced by the Palm Springs International Film Society, the Festival offers 12 days of events and film screenings featuring over 200 films from 78 countries.

I don’t present myself as a movie critic or pretend to be one.  I only attend the films and documentaries that interest me personally and blog about it for this website.  So I am obviously hoping to “like” everything I see and am aware that what I like, you may not.  I’m looking to be entertained and learn something new.  And I feel privileged to be given media passes to premieres and special events.

YELLOW IS FORBIDDEN. Star Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei, the face of the “new China,” gave documentary filmmaker Pïetra Brettkelly an all-access pass for this fascinating — and occasionally troubling — behind-the-scenes look at Guo’s life and the run-up to her make-or-break Paris runway show.

See you at the movies!

 

 

 

Jane Goodall – All Good

Young Jane

I was very fortunate to be able to attend the special fundraising event An Evening with Jane last night at the Centre for Performing Arts.  Part of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF).

Overall yes; she’s an incredible woman, not only for having dedicated her life to studying chimpanzees in the wild.

Everyone has heard of Jane Goodall although some still tend to confuse her with Dian Fossey (as did a flight attendant who recently made a big fuss but when she learns that Fossey died in 1985 will feel pretty foolish).  Goodall recounts the story with humor and points out the importance of laughter.  You can’t help but like her as she discussed her life’s work which is groundbreaking in scope and has revolutionized our understanding of nature and humanity, as well as her hopes for the future.  She’s funny too.

She takes no fees for appearing in person, preferring to raise funds and donate all monies to promote the understanding and protection of chimpanzees and other great apes, along with their habitats. This special charity event helped raise funds for the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada.

 Her story is an otherworldly one considering she went to the wilds of Africa as a young woman and with no training whatsoever.  She had this dream as a child.  She lived her dream.
In the documentary preceding the sit-down discussion we find out more than we ever knew about this incredibly selfless human.

Story:

In 1960, at the age of 26 and with little academic training, Jane Goodall set off into the forests of what is now Tanzania to study the relatively unexamined life of the chimpanzee. Her discoveries led to a lifelong fascination with our primate kin, and she went on to transform the world’s view of them.

During the filming of this feature, Oscar-nominated director Brett Morgen unearthed 16mm footage shot by Hugo van Lawick in the 1960s. It is this gorgeous archival material–plus the energetic presence of Goodall herself–which elevates Morgen’s portrait to the highest level of biographical documentary. The film delivers a powerful and uplifting portrayal of Goodall, a supremely intelligent woman who has transformed our relationship to the animals more like humans than any other creature–and is still, as an octogenarian, fighting the good fight on behalf of ecologists everywhere.

She’s a name dropper too… letting us in on a little secret that Leonardo DiCaprio will be making a feature about her life.

This story is on-going…

Donations can be made at: janegoodall.ca/ways-to-give