The Masters at TIFF 2016

The Masters at TIFF 2016

The Masters TIFF Report #3 By Marc Glassman For a lot of Zoomer age film critics, it was the auteur theory that first attracted us to cinema. The idea that a great director was an artist, whose style and philosophy could work through a variety of different genres conferred a respect to the whole process of viewing film. Approached with the right kind of discipline, it was possible to enjoy film not just because it was exciting and pleasurable to watch but as an art form, one worthy of as much consideration as painting, sculpting, classical music or dance. It’s more than 60 years since Francois Truffaut first proposed la politique des auteurs. His theory is now considered old-fashioned in academic circles and has been supplanted by many other “readings” of cinema. But the romance of the director with the singular vision has persisted. It informs much of journalistic criticism and is often used to organise films at festivals. TIFF is no exception. The Masters is their on-going celebration of the director as auteur. One of the elements that makes this programme exciting is the growing number of accepted auteurs. In the programme this year are such names as: Hirokazu Kore-eda from Japan; the Korean Kim Ki-Duk; Chile’s Pablo Lorraine; Gianfranco Rosi from Italy; and Canada’s own Deepa Mehta. They deserve to be in the august company of more established auteurs such as the Marco Bellochio from Italy; Poland’s Andrei Wajda; the Belgian Dardenne Brothers; Britain’s Terence Davies; Romania’s Christian Mungiu and Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar. Quite frankly—and obviously I haven’t seen all of the films in this category—you can’t...
Special Presentations at TIFF

Special Presentations at TIFF

Special Presentations TIFF Report #2 By Marc Glassman I’ll let you in on a little secret. Film critics—the serious ones—prefer the Special Presentations section at TIFF to the Galas. I’m sure it’s no surprise that I’m one of the serious ones. And I suspect most of the listenership at Classical 96 will agree with my assessment. Here’s how TIFF explains Special Presentations: “High profile premieres and the world’s leading filmmakers.” And here’s how the Galas are summarized: “Movie stars. Red carpet premieres. Major audience interest.” You can see why mainstream media responds to Galas but, quite frankly, I have had my fill with red carpets and innocuous media interviews with big name actors. Everyone respects Denzel Washington, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and so many of the luminaries appearing at TIFF’s Galas. But what do you get out of seeing them on stage to receive applause? They don’t even answer questions from the audience. It’s altogether different with Special Presentations. You still get stars, at least some of the time, but the big names often include the director. The films tend to have stronger narratives and they’re still quite stylish. If you go to a screening, at the end of the film, the director and some of the actors actually appear on stage and respond to questions from the audience. It’s a more satisfying experience, in my view, but I must admit that I’ve talked to many people who prefer the glamour of Galas. Let’s just shrug our shoulders and say, “à chacun son goût” — “to each his own (taste).” Special Presentation is overflowing with promising new films. As...
Canadian Docs are bigger than ever at TIFF

Canadian Docs are bigger than ever at TIFF

TIFF 2016 Report #1 By Marc Glassman with files and commentary from Pat Mullen With nearly 50 documentaries playing at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), it’s clear that non-fiction film features have become far more interesting to audiences than ever before. A number of reasons have contributed to this amazing growth: – There’s a decline in belief in mainstream media news. There are more news channels than ever but all of them seem to be regurgitating the same stories about Trump and Hilary interspersed with tales of “reality” stars like the Kardashians. – Docs are offering the kind of in-depth reporting that the more responsible TV channels used to provide. And people still want to know the truth about what’s happening in the world. – New technologies have made it economically feasible to shoot footage anywhere in the world quite cheaply. Editing equipment is easily available as are cameras and sound recording devices. Post production can literally take place at home. Docs can now be made cheaply but still look and sound great. – Young filmmakers are increasingly following the examples of pioneers like Werner Herzog and Martin Scorsese: they’re making docs as well as dramas. Before you did one or the other; now a great film project is worth doing, whether in fiction or fact. Canada, the country that started the documentary movement with Nanook of the North and created the first great organisation dedicated to making non-fiction film, the National Film Board, is benefitting from the world-wide interest in docs. TIFF is programming a number of very interesting docs. The films are:  We Can’t Make...
Ben Hur

Ben Hur

Ben Hur Timur Bekmambetov, dir. Keith Clarke & John Ridley, script based on the novel by Lew Wallace Starring: Jack Huston (Judah Ben-Hur), Tony Kebbel (Messala), Morgan Freeman (Sheik Ilderim), Rodrigo Santoro (Jesus), Nazanin Boniadi (Esther), Sofia Black D’Elia (Tirzah), Ayelet Zurer (Naomi) I took my daughter to see Ben Hur. Rachael and I love going to movies together and she’s just recently returned from two years in England. But Rachael is a way tougher critic than me. When we got out of the screening of Ben Hur, Rachael’s first comment was, “They couldn’t even get the chariot race right.” And it’s true. The 1959 Ben Hur will forever be acclaimed for the race with its masterful cutting and clear, linear action direction. In the new version, the effect is chaotic, which would be fine if a sense of spectacular anarchy was being played out in the scene. Instead, everything feels confusing until the last couple of minutes when all the chariots have been eliminated save two: the one being ridden by Judah Ben-Hur and the other by his boyhood friend-turned-enemy Messala. But even in what should be a fatal confrontation, there is no sense of personal drama between the two. Suffice it to say, no one will be comparing the 2016 Ben Hur race to anything brilliant in the future. Despite having a $100 million dollar budget, the film seems cheap and cheesy. Everything feels like it was made with CGI including most of the main characters except for Jack Huston, who does a creditable job as Ben-Hur and the inimitable Morgan Freeman, who does his best as...
Standing Tall (La Tete haute)

Standing Tall (La Tete haute)

Standing Tall (La Tete haute) Emmanuelle Bercot, dir. & co-script w/Marcia Romano Starring: Catherine Deneuve (Judge Blaque), Rod Paradot (Malony), Benoit Magimel (Yann), Sara Forestier (Severine), Diane Rouxel (Tess), Yannick Courbe (Tonio) The opening night film at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, Standing Tall is a tough little drama about Malony, an adolescent with anger issues who can’t stay on the right side of the law. The only hint of glamour is in the casting of Catherine Deneuve as the provincial youth court judge, whose decisions affect Malony’s life profoundly throughout the film. While this might seem surprising considering that Cannes is a famously fashionable festival, the fact is that their juries have tended to honour the hoi polloi, who never are actually allowed to attend the prestigious screenings. Ken Loach, the nitty-gritty British socialist has won the Palme d’Or twice and been nominated an incredible ten other times. The acclaimed Dardenne brothers, also known for their tough portrayals of the working class in their native Belgium have also garnered two Palme d’Or as well as a Grand Prix (second best) for a third film. Standing Tall is very much in the tradition of the Dardennes. The film is set in and around Dunkirk—hardly Paris—and Malony’s mother is a pot-head who can’t hold down a job and, despite being attractive, isn’t capable of keeping her boyfriends happy. Malony gets his kicks robbing cars and skipping school until Deneuve’s Judge Blaque sends him to juvenile camp in the country where he begins to get it together. The kid has immense anger issues, which keep on cropping up despite the encouragement...
Equity

Equity

Equity Meera Menon, director Alysia Reiner & Sarah Megan Thomas, producers Amy Fox, script Starring: Anna Gunn (Naomi Bishop), James Purefoy (Michael Connor), Alysia Reiner (Samantha), Sarah Megan Thomas (Erin Manning), Sophie Von Haselberg (Marin), Craig Bierko (Benji Akers) There’s been a lot of hype around Equity and rightly so. In an age when women are fighting harder than ever to direct, write and produce their own movies, it’s heartening to see a film that is a genuinely female created work. Alysia Reiner and Sarah Megan Thomas not only produced the film, they also take two of the major acting roles. Second time feature film director Meera Menon, scriptwriter Amy Fox and lead actor Anna Gunn complete a quintet of talents, who have made a noteworthy film—slick but thoughtful and exceedingly well paced. Gunn plays Naomi Bishop, an investment banker, who is recovering from one badly handled IPO (initial public offering) in an otherwise impeccable portfolio. Denied advancement by her male boss, Naomi, in turn, has her way-more-than-capable assistant Erin (Thomas) hold off on a well-deserved pay increase. The frustrated duo fling themselves into their next potential IPO, a privacy company called Cachet. At the same time, Naomi realises that Samantha (Alysia Reiner), an old college friend, who is now working in the U.S. legal office, is investigating her. Talk about cachet: Naomi may have too much of it after working as an insider in the financial sector for years. Naomi’s occasional male companion, Michael, a hedge fund operator at her firm, also looms, like Samantha, as a potential threat. Does he simply want to have an affair with...