Hot Docs 2016: It’s Awesome

Hot Docs 2016: It’s Awesome

It’s awesome. Who doesn’t hate the word now that teenagers everywhere have mangled its meaning into nothingness? Being awesome meant that you inspired “fear and wonder,” according to Webster’s dictionary. But why rely on an American when we have the Brits to help us? According to the Oxford, awesome is “daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension and fear.” OK—what’s awesome, in the old-fashioned sense, when you think of Toronto film festivals? TIFF, to be sure, but what about Hot Docs? And, indeed, what about great docs? Can they inspire “fear and admiration”? I’d say so. It’s probably too late to revive the word “awesome” in our lifetimes, but let’s try to restore its power for a few moments while contemplating this year’s Hot Docs festival. The most impressive thing about Hot Docs is that the festival’s organisers, Chris McDonald and Brett Hendrie along with such creative programmers as Shane Smith, Sarafina DiFelice and Lynne Fernie (among many others), have succeeded in turning an oxymoron into reality. A couple of decades ago, the majority of people “knew” that documentaries were boring, although they might convey relevant information. Now, the apparent contradiction has been turned upside down and miraculously come into rude health: documentaries, repurposed as “docs,” have indeed become “hot.” Look at the lineups over the next ten days at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, the Isabel Bader Theatre, TIFF Bell Lightbox and the other 10 venues that host the festival. Last year, the attendance at Hot Docs was over 200,000 and it’s more than likely that more people will come to this year’s screenings. These aren’t idle filmgoers: many are...
The Devil’s Horn

The Devil’s Horn

The Devil’s Horn Larry Weinstein, director David New, editor & co-script w/David Mortin and Michael Segell The new film about the history of the saxophone, The Devil’s Horn, might have only been of passing interest if it wasn’t for its director, Larry Weinstein. One of Canada’s hidden treasures, Weinstein has directed some of the finest music documentaries in the world. Although his work as an auteur—and I use the word advisedly–isn’t highly recognized, a number of the films he created for Rhombus Media over the decades have won accolades: Ravel’s Brain; September Songs: the Music of Kurt Weill; The Radical Romantic: John Weinzweig, My War Years: Arnold Schoenberg; Solidarity Song: the Hanns Eisler Story; Beethoven’s Hair; and Burnt Toast (with music by Alexina Louie)—to name just some highlights. With The Devil’s Horn, Weinstein employs techniques that have served him well over the years. He has an eye for quirky individuals and is able to get relaxed, spontaneous interviews from musicians and historians. Here he concentrates on a diverse group of saxophonists: the brilliant octogenarian jazz legend Jimmy Heath; the accomplished Roma musician Yuri Yunakov; the troubled avant-gardist Giuseppi Logan; studio musician Colin Stetson; the gospel playing minister Dr. Vernard Johnson and garage band rocker Rob Lind. They’re all in good form except for Logan, whose story is mainly recounted through some of his friends who are helping out a superb player who has become a street musician. Contrasting these contemporary tales is the historical account of Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, the strange, gifted man who invented the saxophone in 1846. Weinstein and crew are on hand for a celebration of...
A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King

A Hologram for the King Tom Tykwer, director & script based on the novel by Dave Eggers Starring: Tom Hanks (Alan Clay), Alexander Black (Yousef), Sarita Choudhury (Dr. Zahra Hakem), Sidse Babett Knudsen (Hanne) What’s happened to the American Dream? In A Hologram for the King, director Tom Tykwer’s take on Dave Eggers’ novel, the dream has morphed into a hologram conferencing device, which might save a down-and-nearly-out salesman’s career. Alan Clay, an endlessly adaptable corporate peddler, has gone to Saudi Arabia to sell the King on a very pricey new media gadget that will allow deals to be conducted long distance with—effectively—the phantoms of big business people. Only middle managers like Clay will have to sweat it out in the King’s new Economic City; the real moneymen won’t even have to go there to get business done. In a brilliant piece of casting, Tom Hanks plays Alan Clay, the salesman who has lost his wife and best job—he had unloaded the manufacturing of the all-American Schwinn bicycles to China—and is now gambling his future on getting Saudi Arabia’s monarch to bankroll his new company by buying their communication system. Hanks is this generation’s Everyman, the successor to such previous good-hearted Americans as Jack Lemmon and Jimmy Stewart. Like them, he played idealists when he was younger but has grown darker as he matured. A Hologram for the King is a strange film. Like Eggers book, Tykwer’s film shifts tone repeatedly. Is it a comedy? The scenes between Hanks’ Clay and his very Westernized driver Yousef are certainly funny but they don’t have much to do with the central...
Measure of a Man

Measure of a Man

Measure of a Man Stephane Brizé, director & co-script w/Olivier Gorce Starring: Vincent Lindon (Thierry Taugourdeau), Karine De Mirbeck (Thierry’s wife), Matthieu Schaller (Thierry’s son), Catherine Saint-Bonnet (the banker), Xavier Mathieu (union colleague)  The economic crisis that devastated the Western World in 2008 hasn’t abated in many European countries, producing much misery and, ironically, some brilliant literature, art and cinema. Notably, Belgium’s Dardenne brothers have created a number of films about people in difficult financial circumstances, Two Days, One Night where a factory worker (Marion Cotillard in a Cesar award winning role) has a weekend to convince her co-workers to accept a pay cut in order to keep her employed. Now, it’s France’s turn to deal with the on-going crisis in Stephane Brizé’s Measure of a Man. The remarkable Vincent Lindon, whose handsome, weathered look will remind older film viewers of the legendary star Jean Gabin, plays Thierry Taugourdeau, a factory worker whose position has been downsized along with many, many others. As the film begins, it’s been 18 months since he’s last been employed, making life for him, his wife and their developmentally challenged teenaged son very difficult. At the age of 51, with skills that are rapidly becoming irrelevant, Thierry is trying his best, taking retraining courses and working on his job interview technique, while also trying to maintain a family life. You see how psychologically debilitating it is for this good man to try to retain his dignity while going through the painful process of trying to get a job—any job. Halfway through the film, Thierry does get a job as a security officer for a...
Miles Ahead

Miles Ahead

Miles Ahead Don Cheadle, director & co-script w/Steven Baigelman Starring: Don Cheadle (Miles Davis), Emayatzy Corinealdi (Frances Taylor), Ewan McGregor (Dave Braden), Michael Stuhlbarg (Harper Hamilton), Keith Stanfield (Junior) Don Cheadle took on the impossible when he chose to make a film about Miles Davis. How can you possibly do justice to a mercurial musician who was a key figure in the revolutionary bebop era of the late ‘40s, helped to invent the “cool” sound of the sophisticated ‘50s, shifted into the bluesier hard bop of the late ‘50s, changed jazz forever by moving from chord progressions to modal modes with his classic Kind of Blue 1959 masterpiece and then reinvented the music twice more with the jazz rock classic Bitches Brew in 1968 and the jazz funk beats of his mid-‘70s band? Phew—that’s quite a sentence and it only suggests how many “Mileses” there were in jazz from ’46 through ’76. And Miles lived to be 65. Move from music into the man. Many people don’t know that Miles was born to a wealthy African-American mid-west family and actually came to New York to study at Julliard. Even before dropping out of Julliard, Miles was learning more about music and life from Charlie “Bird” Parker and other be-boppers. His speech became “ghetto,” guttural and slangy—very different from how he was raised. Miles quickly adapted to the jazz life of the time, which included the usual riffs: women, booze and drugs. As a figure, Miles cut it both ways, playing like a tough guy from the ghetto—and he was a good boxer—while still having the musical training of someone...
Demolition

Demolition

Demolition Jean-Claude Vallée, director Bryan Sipe, script Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Davis Mitchell), Naomi Watts (Karen Moreno), Chris Cooper (Phil), Judah Lewis (Chris Moreno), Heather Lind (Julia) Jean-Claude Vallée’s new release Demolition has already made a prestigious appearance in Toronto as the opening night film at last year’s TIFF. It was a crowd pleasing choice then, since the Quebecois filmmaker, who broke into prominence over a decade ago at TIFF with the rock’n’rolling gay tinged coming off age drama C.R.A.Z.Y., has gone on to such Hollywood successes as Wild and The Dallas Buyers Club. Here he was, back home again (or at least in Ontario), with another Hollywood production featuring such stars as Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts. Needless to say, some of the gala crowd left disappointed that night. Vallée’s Demolition isn’t the artistic success of his past two efforts and although Gyllenhaal and Watts are fine in their difficult roles, neither performance matches that of Reese Witherspoon in Wild nor Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto in The Dallas Buyers Club. The script by Bryan Sipe has let the director and cast down, and they’re forced into haplessly trying to make sense of an incoherent narrative. Of course, there’s much to admire in the film. The set up is sensational—though perhaps too manipulative. The camera is on the dashboard, taking in the scene as investment banker Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) argues with his wife, Julia, the driver of their car. Off-camera, you hear “watch out,” then a crash, and suddenly, it’s over. Julia is dead and, amazingly, Davis is uninjured. In the hospital, trying to make sense of it all,...