TIFF Day 4 Log: (Listening to Kenny G, Julia, Montana Story, The Rescue, Compartment No 6)

Hello everyone! Another day of TIFF has come and gone. Today I saw 5 movies and overall it was a pretty good day- especially when it comes to documentaries. I’ve realized during this festival documentaries are often my favorite at these kind of events. They aren’t as highfalutin as the fiction often is and tend to be the big-hearted stories I gravitate towards.

Anyway, I had 3 documentaries and 2 fiction today so let me share my thoughts:

Listening to Kenny G

Everyone knows or perhaps dreads the saxophone turned elevator music of Kenny G. He is the most successful instrumental musician in history and yet his name is synonymous with muzak more than music. Listening to Kenny G explores this dichotomy and it’s overall pretty interesting.

I must own I do not like the saxophone or Kenny G’s music so some of the long musical performances were a little much for me in this documentary. However, I did enjoy the discussion about jazz vs easy listening and in particular how white artists since Elvis Presley have been appropriating the music of African Americans for their own benefit.

It’s also interesting how someone like Kenny G can be both hugely successful and yet seemingly equally hated. It must be a bizarre dichotomy to live in? He seems to take it in stride but I can’t imagine going through all that.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Julia

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love and adore Julia Child. She is obviously an icon in the kitchen but I admire her spirit and moxie even more than anything she cooked. I love her so much I did a party for my book club a few years back and it was so much fun.

The new documentary Julia chronicles the life and influence of Julia Child and to be honest it is your average celeb bio-doc but I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it! It’s all about Julia and I love her so that’s all it needed to do. This documentary captures Julia’s love of life and how she dared to have a whole new life post 40. She didn’t publish her book or start her TV career until she was 50! As someone who just turned 40 that is very inspirational.

I also think Julia and Paul Child’s marriage is true relationship goals. He supported her in the long process of writing her book and she loved him till the end. It’s exactly what you want in a partner.

Julia Child was an awesome person and this documentary showcases that. Watch it!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Montana Story

When you come from a large family like I do sibling relationships can be challenging. It’s hard to keep everyone in a family happy and content even in the best of times let alone in times of death and trauma. Montana Story explores the sibling relationship and asks how much should we expect of our brothers and sisters?

The film stars Owen Teague who is a young man trying to take care of his father who is on life support. His sister Erin played by Haley Lu Richardson comes into town and is full of opinions especially when it comes to her brother’s plans for her 25 year old horse named Mr T.

Montana Story was shot on 35mm film which you can see in the beautiful Montana mountain vistas. Some of the slice of life elements began to drag but the relationship between the brother and sister (and all their past baggage) really works.

If you are in the mood for some stunning cinematography mixed with lots of family drama give Montana Story a shot.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Rescue

I love inspirational documentaries and The Rescue is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. It tells the story of the Tham Luang Cave Rescue in 2018. Most of the movie is from the perspective of the British cave divers who came from thousands of miles away to save the 13 soccer players caught in the cave.

I remember hearing about this rescue but I didn’t know much about it. I hope you all get the chance to watch this film because I was riveted the entire time! I can’t believe the footage they got during the entire rescue. Even inside the cave they had great high quality footage! The interviews were also really good and as I heard them describe the risks of each step of the rescue I became more and more invested.

I guess they could have had more from the perspective of the families waiting to hear about their sons but I loved this documentary. It was sensational!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Compartment No 6

Especially since most of us have been shut up for the last 2 years there is something very appealing about a road trip movie. In the case of Compartment No 6 it is a train road trip movie, which as it is something I have never done sounds very appealing!

Compartment No 6 tells the story of Laura (Seidi Haarla) who is traveling to Murmansk in the Arctic Circle as the final part of her stay in Russia. Once on the train she is assigned to a compartment with Polish man named Ljoha (Yurly Borisov). The 2 don’t have much in common but they bond over the course of their train ride and we get to follow them each step of the way.

For the most part I enjoyed this film. The script is truthful and sincere with 2 dynamic characters that grow and change on their journey. I did have a hard time warming up to Ljoha. He’s a bit too rough around the edges for my taste and I would have preferred more of a romance because that’s my jam but I’m sure some will be glad they didn’t go the cheesy romance route.

The pacing in Compartment No 6 won’t be for everyone but I think there is plenty to like in the sharp script and good performances. Give it a watch if you can.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it 5 movies and 5 positive reviews! I hope you’re doing well and enjoying the festival if you get a chance to attend. Have fun!

 

 

TIFF Day 3 Log: (Violet, Mothering Sunday, Encounter, Dionne Warwick, Aloners)

Hey everyone! I had another busy day at virtual TIFF watching 5 movies (plus a Hallmark movie later that night)! It was a bit hit and miss as is always the case with festivals but I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to cover TIFF and get to see so many people’s creative output. I hope all of you get a similar experience at least once in your life. It’s exhilarating!

So here goes with today’s thoughts:

Violet

I’ve seen a lot of artistic films at TIFF but Violet is the first one that I completely connected with. It is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before and I finished watching it excited and energized by what I had just experienced.

Violet is a tough movie to describe. It’s about a woman named Violet who works for a movie production company where she is passed over for promotions and not give the respect she deserves. One day she starts hearing a voice and having visions, which we see in images and written out on the screen.

Some will probably say it is a gimmick and it is but it totally worked for me. Director Justine Bateman and actor Olivia Munn capture anxiety and the female experience very well. Luke Bracey is also terrific in this and he and Munn have great chemistry. Violet is also only 92 minutes so it doesn’t wear out its welcome. I loved it!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Mothering Sunday

You all know I love my period pieces so I was excited for Mothering Sunday. Unfortunately all the pieces didn’t come together despite director Eva Husson creating a handsome film on a small budget.

The story centers around a maid named Jane (Odessa Young) who is having an affair with an aristocrat from next door named Paul (Josh O’Connor). Colin Firth and Olivia Colman play Jane’s employers at her house.

Mothering Sunday has strong nudity which could have been fine but O’Connor and Young have no chemistry so it just feels tedious. There is also a flash forward with Jane as a writer and her love Donald that felt like it was from another movie.

I wanted to like Mothering Sunday more but it didn’t come together in a satisfying way.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Encounter

Encounter is a tough movie to grade. I can’t deny while I was watching I was engaged and the performances are really good. However, when I finished I wasn’t very satisfied with the conclusion or it was all put together. It also didn’t help that it was billed as a horror movie by the festival summary with ”evil bugs” attacking everyone and it is far from that description.

The film stars Riz Ahmed stars as Malik a troubled veteran who kidnaps his 2 sons to save them from their mother who he is convinced has been taken over by alien bugs. At first it seems like he might be telling the truth and that the invasion is real. However, fairly quickly any mystery is abandoned and he is declared crazy by all of the other characters including his parole officer played by Octavia Spencer.

The kids are fantastic and Ahmed puts in a good performance. I just think more could have been done to create ambiguity towards his character. We also see the kids be put in peril a lot which is upsetting without the payoff to make those scenes worthwhile.

I don’t think Encounter is a terrible movie but it could have been so much better with a more interesting script that capitalized on the films strengths better.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over

This is a pretty standard bio-doc about famed singer Dionne Warwick. It is very worshipful in its tone as most of these types of movies are. However, there were 2 things that made it worthwhile:

First, there is a fantastic sequence where we learn about a conference Warwick had with some ‘gangsta rappers’ like Snoop Dogg about the misogyny in their songs. Warwick tells them someday they will have daughters and they won’t want them listening to those songs, so they made changes. They have Snoop on the doc and he is great. It is really funny.

Another exemplary section is on Warwick’s AIDS activism. She faced bankruptcy and other financial problems and yet she continued to donate to the AIDS cause.

I usually know what I’m getting into with these bio-docs and this one did the job. It is very safe but I still enjoyed it and she sure can sing!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Aloners

As someone who lives alone this film Aloners definitely connected with me. It is about a woman named Jina who works for a credit card call in center and lives in a small apartment alone. One day her neighbor is found dead and it starts Jina thinking about her own mortality and if she is going to be found dead alone someday.

Aloners works a lot better when it is outside of the call center instead of inside working. Gong Seung-yeon does a great job in the lead. She is positive but you can also feel the weight of the loneliness on her character. It’s brutal.

Here interactions with a young new employee at the call center are less compelling.That said, I overall liked the movie and am grateful they kept the humanity of the character and didn’t associate being alone as a negative. It’s a soul-crushing exploration of loneliness and what it means to be alone.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Have any of you watched any of these films? Let me know when you do. Thanks!

TIFF Day 2 Log: The Box, Attica, The Hill Where the Lionesses Roar

Hey everyone! Another day of TIFF has come and gone. I must own I did not get as many movies watched as I wanted because of a very busy day of podcasting obligations and other responsibilities. However, I still watched 3 movies, so here are my quick thoughts.

The Box

My first movie of the day came from Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas and is entitled The Box. It tells the story of a Mexican teen that is sent to retrieve his estranged father’s remains after a mining accident. While there he meets a man who looks just like his father and he follows him working around Mexico.

I’m definitely torn on this movie. It started out strong and I was invested for the first 20 or so minutes and then it began to lose me. The narrative becomes rambling and the characters don’t grow or change in the way they need to in order to make a compelling film. The young boy’s story is sad but I never emotionally connected with him or what he was going through.

There is also nothing in the cinematography or filmmaking that makes it stand out or particularly special. The Box unfortunately is a pass.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Attica

Sometimes I think I prefer documentaries at festivals. They are more straightforward and not as pretentious as the fictional films can be. Attica is a great example of such a terrific documentary. It tells the story of the 1971 prison uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

This is an event I’d heard of but didn’t know much about and Attica does a great job of not only informing us about the details of the uprising but showcasing as many perspectives as possible. We hear from a variety of inmates (who are very charismatic interviewees), the children of the hostages and the family of the prison staff also involved.

Some of the footage in Attica is shocking but history can be shocking. It’s remarkable how much footage director Stanley Nelson found and at times it can feel like watching scenes from a concentration camp. It’s that horrific but I never found it exploitative. I was riveted the entire runtime watching things play out and the individuals finally getting the chance to tell their stories.

I would be surprised if Attica is the best film out of TIFF but we will see. Either way it is definitely worth a watch.

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Hill Where the Lionesses Roar

When I heard this film’s title The Hill Where the Lionesses Roar I knew I needed to check it out. It sounded visceral and exciting. Unfortunately the title is probably the most interesting part of the film. It’s not a bad film but it didn’t do much to excite me. It’s pretty standard indie fair.

The Hill tells the story of 3 teen girls in Kosovo who create a friendship pact that they will be there for each other as they grow from children to women. The new actors all do a good job and there is a rawness to their performances I appreciate. It also has some beautiful cinematography and uses music well.

The problem is everything feels played out and tired. The girls end up becoming a Kosovian version of the Bling Ring and it’s hard to believe in such a small area they would stay undiscovered as long as they are. Even so, I didn’t feel like I got to know the individual girls very well. They feel like standard indie teen characters and for most of the movie they aren’t given anything interesting to do. The narrative ambles about looking for a story and not finding much of one worthy to tell.

I’m perhaps making The Hill Where the Lionesses Roar sound worse than it is. It’s a serviceable indie coming of age story. I was just hoping from the title it would stand out more.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

TIFF Day 1 Log: As in Heaven, Petite Maman

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. This week has been very busy with all my normal busyness plus getting ready for the beginning of TIFF (The Toronto International Film Festival). I am blessed to be accepted as accredited press with the ability to participate in the digital festival (I hope to go in person next year but I was too afraid of getting caught in Canada with a surprise attack of COVID to go this year.

Unfortunately the festival had a rough first day with the digital player not working on any browser. This caused them to reschedule some of the screenings and I was only able to get 2 films in. On the plus side I was able to get ahead on other projects so I should be able to watch more movies this weekend.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the 2 movies I did get to see today as part of the festival

As in Heaven

As in Heaven (Du som er i himlen in Danish)

First time filmmaker Tea Lindeburg tells a story about a young girl named Lise who is trying to help her family get through the long couple of days of her Mother being in labor and enduring a difficult pregnancy. Her and her children struggle with the thought of losing their mother and Lise hopes to someday escape the small world of her farm.

This movie is beautiful with some of the most striking cinematography I’ve seen in a long time. I also felt like I connected with the characters as my Mother had difficult pregnancies when I was a teenager (obviously this is a period piece but I still connected with the worry).

It will definitely be too slow for some as there isn’t a ton of plot. It’s a fly on the wall kind of movie where you watch and experience life with the people in the film. It also has some pretty grisly birthing scenes so viewer beware! Still I was moved by As in Heaven and I recommend it to anyone who can handle the pacing and challenging subject matter.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Petite Maman

One of my most anticipated films of the festival was Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman. I really enjoyed her film Portrait of a Lady on Fire from 2019 and this more modern story of 2 young girls looked very sweet.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve seen it I must own to being quite disappointed. Nearly everyone else I know seems to be loving this so maybe my hype hurt my experience but I didn’t see anything special in this film.

I was right about the 2 girls being cute. They are adorable little girls and the child actors do a great job playing and having fun together. They don’t feel like the too precocious child actors you sometimes get in Hollywood films. We all know kids just like these girls.

The problem is with the script. Nothing really happens. You spend a weekend with the girls as they help pack up one of their recently deceased Grandmother’s homes. That’s it. They pack things, eat cereal, build forts. It’s cute but not enough to sustain a feature film. It’s once again an indie festival film that would have been much better as a short.

It’s interesting because both Petite Maman and As in Heaven are slice of life narratives but the latter worked more because the stakes are so much higher if the family loses their mother. In Petite Maman it’s cute but the emotional weight isn’t there. Like I said, I’m definitely in the minority on this one but that’s part of the festival experience. I always have a couple festival favorites I don’t love.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it. Hopefully tomorrow I will have many more films to log! Happy movie viewing!

[REVIEW] ‘Come From Away’ or Broadway at Its Most Optimistic

For those of us musical theater geeks one of the hardest aspects of the pandemic has been the closure of Broadway in New York City for over a year. Even if fans like myself weren’t planning a trip to NYC we still looked forward to the latest cast recordings and new shows coming from the big apple. Knowing it was shut down made me literally cry. It just seems wrong for such a light to be turned off.

Fortunately movies and television have filled the musical void left in our hearts with incredible films in 2021 like In the Heights and series like Schmigadoon. We also got the filmed stage musical of Hamilton last year which was a total joy. In the next few months I am highly anticipating the release of Dear Evan Hansen and West Side Story. In a weird irony 2021 is a great year to be a musical fan!

In the meantime Apple TV is treating us to a filmed musical on their platform: the Tony award nominee for Best Musical Come From Away. I was so excited to see this performance because I have long wanted to see the musical on Broadway but haven’t gotten the chance (much like with Hamilton. I wish more shows could be filmed like this). Fortunately I am glad to say this recording lived up to my expectations. Not only is Come From Away a great piece of musical theater but it is one of the most heart-warming films I’ve seen all year. It’s truly Broadway at it’s most optimistic.

Come From Away tells the true story of when 7000 people were forced to emergency land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland after planes were grounded on 9/11. The show features a cast of 12 actors who play the various roles of both the townspeople and the passengers on the planes. They are all great switching from their characters seemlessly but my favorite is Jenn Colella as a pilot Beverley Bass.

Because most of the songs are group numbers there is not as much the director can do to make the show cinematic. It’s a filmed stage musical. If that’s not your thing than you won’t enjoy this but if you are open to the artform there’s lots to love. The show is so positive and hopeful without being cloying. It reminds you that when things get tough most humans respond with kindness and love. And in this day and age we need more of that- or at least I certainly do!

This is a kind of a musical where the songs flow together and there aren’t solo numbers you’d hear at a Broadway concert. In that sense you could say they are forgettable but they work very well within the show. My favorite song is probably ‘Me and the Sky’ which is sung by Colella.

If you are looking for something to boost your spirits and remind you of the good in the world Come From Away is the perfect watch. It comes to Apple Plus on September 10th and is under 2 hours (short for musical theater!) so it is definitely worth your time. Cheers to the good people of Gander who were there for strangers when they were displaced and cheers to the whole Broadway community who were left dark by COVID. We value and believe in you!

8 out of 10

Blind Spot 68: Godzilla (1954)

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. Before starting this review I must own is for my August blind spot pick and as you know it is September. This is the first time in 68 months of this project I have been late. I just got back from a trip to visit friends in Texas and combined with a very busy month reviewing movies I let it slip away and not get done. Not that anyone cares but myself! I like being consistent in my posts but things like this happen to the best of us!

So here goes!

This month for Blind Spot we are talking about the classic monster movie, Godzilla, from 1954. I have seen the modern Godzilla movies like this year’s Godzilla vs Kong but have never seen any of the classics. I’m not sure why but it’s true!

Check out my friend Alexander Robinson’s channel for tons of great Godzilla content

So what did I think of the original Godzilla film from Toho Studios in 1954? I quite enjoyed it. More than I was expecting to be honest! Like King Kong, the film’s stop motion animation/suitmation has a charm to it that the hyper-realism of today’s CGI can’t match. I also love the black and white cinematography and the simple, clean message told throughout.

It definitely surprised me how little Godzilla appears in the film. A lot of people complained about that in the recent 2014 version of Godzilla (including myself) but if they were basing off of this original film I can see why they kept him rather sparse. The only difference between this and 2014 is the Godzilla action is more consistent throughout the film where in 2014 it all comes at the end.

The new films struggle to integrate the human characters with Godzilla (especially King of the Monsters, which was so stupid). They do a much better job with in that regard here. I particularly liked Momoko Kōchi as Emiko the female who is torn between the 2 scientists Ogata and Serizawa. She reminded me a lot of Sally Hawkin’s character in The Shape of Water and wouldn’t be surprised if Guillermo del Toro took some inspiration from her (he is a big Godzilla fan obviously by his own kaiju film Pacific Rim. I liked Emiko because she was a damsel in distress without being useless and annoying as the archetype often is. It shows characters can be archetypes without being morons.

If you think about the anti-nuclear warfare message of Godzilla (1954) it must have been especially poignant back in 1954 when World War II was so fresh in the Japanese consciousness. What might seem like dumb fun to us now was probably all too real a fear for moviegoers then. When Serizawa struggles to give the oxygen destroyer to the people because it might be used as a superweapon that is only too real for 1954 audiences.

I do think I enjoy King Kong more than Godzilla because we get more invested in Kong’s story compared to Godzilla. When Kong is chained up and put on display it’s so devastating and I didn’t feel that kind of connection to Godzilla.

Still I can understand why they have been constantly trying to remake Godzilla 1954. It’s a great film and manages to combine spectacle with message extremely well- not an easy task to do. If you haven’t seen it I recommend watching it on HBO Max or as part of the Godzilla collection from Criterion.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy