TIFF Day 7: (Where is Anne Frank, Ali & Ava)

Hi everyone! This may be my last log from TIFF. This weekend I am attending the FANX Con in Salt Lake so I probably won’t have time to watch any more TIFF movies (I would like to watch Silent Night, but we will see). Overall TIFF has been a great experience, and I am so grateful to the team there for giving me the opportunity to cover the festival as press. I hope I have done a good job and given all of you, my readers, an idea of the independent films which are coming out soon to a theater or streaming service near you. There have been misses (including the 2 I will review today) but even the misses are interesting to analyze why they don’t work.

So I hope you have enjoyed my TIFF coverage and hopefully next year I will be able to attend in-person for the first time!

Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on today’s movies

Ali & Ava

Going into Ali & Ava I was looking forward to it. I love romances and the summary of “2 people both lonely for different reasons, meet and sparks fly” sounds like my jam. Unfortunately it didn’t work for me. The main problem is Ali (Adeel Akhtar) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook) had no chemistry and the script didn’t give them enough cute moments which we want in this kind of romantic film. Instead they had a lot of unpleasant stuff to deal with like putting up with Ava’s annoying teen children who don’t approve of her choices.

I also must admit to struggling to understand most of the dialogue. The accents are very strong and the actors mumble their lines making me wish I could have watched with subtitles. Maybe there was charming stuff going on and I just couldn’t understand what they were saying? I doubt it but still it was hard to get into the dialogue when I cant decipher it.

If you don’t have that issue perhaps you will enjoy it more than I did? However, in the end a romance comes down to chemistry and it wasn’t here in Ali & Ava. Oh well!

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Where is Anne Frank?

There are times when I feel bad writing a negative review. I’m not made of stone and it’s hard when you can see so much love put into a piece that doesn’t completely come together. Such is the case with director Ari Folman’s new film Where is Anne Frank. Of course, I love animation so I was especially rooting for this film to be great but it was a mixed bag at best.

I do like the animation. Folman uses some beautiful techniques to make the 2D animation move and flow on screen. I particularly liked the way Anne Frank’s diary comes alive transitioning the viewer from modern times to Anne’s time. I also appreciated the message Folman was trying to share about helping refugees and that Anne would certainly have been an advocate for their cause were she alive today.

The problem with the movie is the concept. I just couldn’t get behind Kitty (Anne’s friend in the diary) coming to life in modern times and to make it worse she falls in love with a refugee activist named Peter. While I admire the message Folman is trying to share the heavy handed nature of it had me rolling my eyes more than sympathizing with the characters. The script throughout the film is clunky and awkward especially in the final act confrontation between Kitty, the refugees and police. It was obviously well-intentioned but badly done.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it! If you got to see anything at TIFF let me know what you liked or didn’t like. Festivals are an amazing experience and I look forward to attending more of them in the future- hopefully in-person. Meanwhile if you are at FANX say hello! I’d love to meet you. Thanks!

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] ‘L’Autre’ or An Art and Dance Film Done Right

There are a lot of of things about the new film L’Autre from french director Charlotte Dauphin that will make some audiences immediately tune it. It’s about a ballet dancer. It deals with grief and loss. It has flights of fancy and jumps around in time and it is in French. However, if you can keep an open mind you will be treated to a lovely little film that has a lot to say and it says it in a beautiful way.

L’Autre tells the story of a woman named Marie who is a young ballet dancer with an overbearing Mother and a beloved Father. When her Father dies on her 30th birthday she abandons dance and becomes a recluse from the world. Eventually, she reaches out to a photographer named Paul who took the last photo of her father and their romance and her rebirth is the main focus of the film.

Astrid Breges-Frisbey does a lovely job portraying Marie. You see her wounds and feel her longing for someone to understand her now that her Father is gone. She feels abandoned and alone. It in many ways reminds me of the longing in David Lowery’s A Ghost Story although not as abstract as that film.

Still, L’Autre uses dance and movement with beautiful cinematography to show Marie’s transformation. Even if you lose track of the subtitles the images are so stunning it should keep you entertained.

One of the keys to a film like L’Autre working is it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. At only 77 minutes you can enjoy the artistic journey through grief and love without becoming exhausted. A lot of arthouse films forget that and an enterprise which starts out exhilarating can become a slog.

Obviously L’Autre isn’t going to be for everyone but if you like dance and appreciate independent films with a European aesthetic give it a watch. I think you will find much to appreciate.

8 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Nomadland’: Admire the Empathy but I Had Questions

Over at Backseatdirectors.com recently I wrote a review of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s film The Truth. It is what I call a ‘slice of life’ film or in other words ‘a film that follows a character around without much plot or story’. In that review I said “It’s interesting because The Truth as a movie doesn’t have a ton of plot. It’s the kind of film some people will find boring, but not yours truly. I liked spending time with these characters.” I bring this up in my Nomandland review because it is also a slice of life film. And like The Truth, I enjoyed spending time with these characters (or character) but just enough to recommend it. I did not love it like I loved The Truth.

Nomadland is based on a non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the 21st Century by Jessica Bruder, and I am curious to read the book. The strongest part of the film is the empathy it has for all of the people and the lack of judgement of their life choices. It’s also beautifully filmed with lovely cinematography by Joshua James Richards. He also shot director Chloé Zhao’s previous film The Rider, and it had a similar empathy towards its characters, which I admired.

In the film Frances McDormand plays a woman named Fern who is a nomad that wanders in her van from job to job. She eventually becomes a part of a community of nomads (real people not actors mostly featured as the nomads). That’s really all the plot there is. It’s just following her around, seeing her life, which is fine. She’s a compelling enough character to make the film worth a watch.

Unfortunately I couldn’t keep myself from asking a few questions (that maybe are explained in the book but that’s not what this review is based on). It seems unlikely that a single woman alone in a van would be so protected from predators and bad men. But never once in the film is that a problem? Maybe I’m too nervous as a single woman myself but there was no seedy side at all? No drugs, theft, or anything else unkempt.

And it’s not like challenging people makes a film less empathetic. For example, director Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete was very realistic in showing the good and the bad side of the Heartland of America and it only made me more invested as he struggled.

On one hand, I admire Zhao’s optimism in not portraying these dark sides but on the other hand it makes the movie very repetitive and not as interesting as it could have been. In Lean on Pete I was sobbing by the end of it because Pete had overcome so much to get to safety. In Nomadland I felt relief and comfort but not much emotional investment in Fern’s story. It was beautiful but would have probably worked better as a short than a feature.

I’m still going to give Nomadland a recommendation but I’d say to moderate your expectations. Some are calling it the ‘best film of the year’, and I’m not in that camp. Still it’s beautiful enough with a strong enough performance from McDormand to be worth a view. If you see it let me know what you think.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I saw Nomadland through the NYFF Virtual Film Center at Lincoln Center. I recommend checking them out and supporting independent cinema if you can.

[REVIEW] ‘Faith Ba$ed’ or a Laugh and a Prayer?

In many ways the faith-based film genre invites itself for easy satire. Whenever a film puts itself out there as being more than entertainment, but a ministry tool it will be ripe with hypocrisy and ridiculousness. There’s also something so sincere and cheap about them which make it hard to not poke fun at. Filmmaker Vincent Masciale has taken on this fertile ground for satire in his new comedy Faith Ba$ed and the results are a mixed bag but just funny enough to recommend.

faithbasedmovie

In Faith Ba$ed the film’s writer Luke Barnett plays a dumb but optimistic man who idolizes a multi-level marketer tycoon named Nicky Steele (played by Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander). Barnett dreams of making easy money and living the good life. To make it big he develops a scheme with his BFF Tanner (Tanner Thomason) that they are going to make the world’s greatest Christian film.

Both Masciale and Barnett are regulars on the satirical internet show Funny or Die and you can see some of that influence in Faith Ba$ed. Evidently even just the trailers have gotten some of the conservative media upset calling the film ‘blaspheme’, which should feed right into their advertising. In truth, the script is pretty tame when it comes to their criticisms of religion. Most of the good jokes are similar to any type of misbegotten artistic project like we see in The Disaster Artist or The Producers.

There’s actually a lot in Faith Ba$ed that feels borrowed from other films. For example, Luke has an all Black family, which feels right out of Steve Martin’s The Jerk. Other gags (and the over-all vibe) has strong Napoleon Dynamite or Dumb and Dumber vibes. And their dopey optimism feels right out of the early Will Farrell comedies such as Talladega Nights.

FaithBased

The derivative nature, however, wasn’t much of a downside for me because I was consistently laughing. The script in Faith Ba$ed is funny especially when it is focusing on the movie. When it’s filming, financing and casting the movie it is pretty hilarious. When it goes off on tangents it works less. For example, when Luke ends up at Nicky Steele’s house to clean his pool Alexander’s over-the-top sales pitches fall flat.

I was also left wondering who the target audience for Faith Ba$ed is? It’s too strong an R rating for most religious viewers to enjoy and will the R-rated crowd be aware of the tropes of the genre to laugh? As a conservative critic I’ve seen lots of faith-based films, so I am the perfect person for this film, but I think it might struggle to find a general audience. It might have been smarter to follow the Napoleon Dynamite model and make it something the skewered audience could more easily embrace while laughing at themselves.

Actor David Koechner in the film “Faith Based”. Courtesy photo

Nevertheless, I always judge a comedy by how much did it make me laugh and in this case it was quite a bit. Like I said, whenever they are making the film A Prayer in Space it’s quite funny. On that basis alone I have to recommend Faith Ba$ed. The script is solid and the chemistry between Barnett and Thompson works. If you get a chance to see it let me know what you think!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

smile worthy

To the Dust Review

to dust3As most of my readers know the Academy Awards happened last weekend and much to everyone’s surprise the road trip movie Green Book took the big prize. A lot of people, including myself, enjoyed the film and thought it was a charming tale of an unlikely friendship. However, there was a loud group that felt the portrayal of Don Shirley wasn’t accurate and the script was too simplistic. Well, if you are in the latter group, there is a new tale of unlikely friendship called To Dust you might enjoy more. (Also Paddleton is another good option now available on Netflix)

To Dust is written and directed by Shawn Snyder and it tells the story of a orthodox Jewish man named Shmuel (Géza Röhrig) who is finding it difficult to find closure over the loss of his wife. In particular, he has a bad dream about her big toe not decomposing like the religious people tell him it should. He is plagued by worry of what happens to her soul after death and if the burial is done incorrectly is she damned for good?

When Shmuel finds his clergy to be less than helpful he turns to a science professor named Albert (Mathew Broderick). You get the feeling Albert leads a pretty boring, sad life, which probably allows him to pay attention to Shmuel’s insane requests.

to dust

Pitched as a science experiment the 2 men attempt to discover what happens to the body when it decays. They start with a pig and then go from there! These 2 have a nice chemistry together and for the most part I bought their growing friendship. I also liked the nuanced look at religion, grief and science: None of which can bring back Shmuel’s wife or make his pain any less heart crushing.

What perhaps doesn’t work so well in To Dust is the more broad attempts at comedy. It gets a little silly at spots and for a film that takes on such deep themes it feels tonally off. Also the director spares the viewer no part of the decaying process. It’s very gross to watch time-lapse photography of a human toe decaying or a pig going through each stage of becoming compost. Yuck! I’m sure that disgust is intentional but it was a little much. If you are at all squeamish than I’d stay away. There is also a lot of profanity.

All that said, if you are looking for a film about an unlikely friendship give To Dust a shot. It’s not perfect but what it gets right is quite sweet and lovely.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

 

 

 

My Problem with Sorry to Bother You (Spoilers)

Recently I heard great praise for an indie film called Sorry to Bother You and so I decided to check it out. It is directed by Boots Riley and stars Lakeith Stanfield in the lead role. I had been told this movie was very creative, and as I like creative things, I was hoping to love it. Unfortunately, I left feeling disappointed. What I got was creative but it wasn’t executed in an effective or appealing way. Let me explain…

sorry to bother you

Sorry to Bother You tells the story of a man named Cash who gets a job working for a telemarketing company called Regal View. While there, he finds out that by speaking in “white voice” he can make more sales and move his way up the company ladder. All of this was effective and quite biting satire (that unfortunately is lost by the madness of the last act of the movie). The more white Cash sounds the higher he can get at Regal View, until he is the top position of “power caller”

This gets the attention of a CEO of a company called WorryFree played by Armie Hammer. He invites Cash to his headquarters to court him to his “innovative” business. The only catch is there is a strike at Regal View, and Cash will have to break the strike as a “power caller”. His girlfriend, an experimental artist named Detroit, is shocked by his behavior, as our his co-workers.

sorry

All of this seems fairly straight-forward and the set up is pretty engaging. The problem is once the movie gets going we have so many ideas that it becomes overwhelming. We have workplace satire, anti-capitalism, a media commentary, racial satire/commentary, experimental art, surrealism, drug abuse, partying, fantasy sequences, and characters being turned into horses (yes you read right).

It sometimes felt like Boots Riley was scared he could never make another movie again so he had to throw every cinematic thought he had into this one. I’m sure some will say the chaos is part of the message but the world being in chaos is a hardly revolutionary or interesting thought. It’s certainly a way less interesting message than the “white voice” satire message that the film started with. By the end of the movie, I had forgotten that in favor of horse people and experimental art with sheeps blood.

film socialisme

Creativity in film is not an inherent good. A great example of this is Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme (a much worse film than Sorry to Bother You). You could easily make the argument Godard’s film is creative but it presents this creativity in such a chaotic way that it becomes exhausting for the viewer making whatever he was trying to say a moot point.

Roger Ebert wrote about Film Socialisme:

“This film is an affront. It is incoherent, maddening, deliberately opaque and heedless of the ways in which people watch movies. All of that is part of the Godardian method, I am aware, but I feel a bargain of some sort must be struck. We enter the cinema with open minds and goodwill, expecting Godard to engage us in at least a vaguely penetrable way. But in “Film Socialisme,” he expects us to do all the heavy lifting.

And like I said Sorry to Bother You is not as bad as Film Socialisme, but I think the heart of what Ebert is saying applies here. You can have interesting ideas and creative storytelling methods but if it is presented in a maddening, chaotic way than we leave feeling frustrated more than inspired. At least that was my experience. 

sorry-to-bother-you-still-02_758_426_81_s_c1

An allegorical movie about the company who turns black people into horse people could have been interesting, or a film about a strike by low level employees, or about workplace racism, or a film about experimental art, or corporate excess and partying, or modern media and consumerism, all could have worked but combined together it was exhausting.

So I did not like Sorry to Bother You. I hope the talent involves continues to do creative things, and I applaud them for their ambitions but let’s hope next time they will remember the old wisdom of Coco Chanel “before you walk out the door everyday take one thing off”. Same holds true for movies!

frown

Lady Bird Review

Coming of age movies are some of the most important yet tricky movies to master. The teenage experience is so unique and sacred in a way that capturing it in film so many people can relate to is very difficult. For example, I love Perks of Being a Wallflower. It felt completely authentic to my experience, like someone had been filming my friends and I in high school; yet, I know others who that film rings completely false. I also love Juno, which many people find overwrought and annoying. To me it is funny and sweet, and I love it. Dazed and Confused and Dirty Dancing are two more favorites. However, other films like Edge of 17 or The Breakfast Club that others love don’t work for me. Today I went to see the latest entry in the genre, Lady Bird and for the most part I enjoyed it. I didn’t LOVE it like many seem to but it was good (I have a feeling this movie will be this year’s La La Land where merely liking it isn’t enough for some people. Sigh).

Lady Bird stars Saoirse Ronan (who I adored as an older character in Brooklyn) as a senior in high school in Sacramento (my parents lived in Sacramento for 9 years so I recognized many of the locations!). She is a sullen, angry teen who hates Sacramento and mostly hates her Mother. This is similar to the character in Edge of 17 but with a little bit more warmth than that film. I’m not going to lie I find this type of teenage character very uncomfortable to watch as it was totally me as a teen. I was pretty grumpy and hated my small town/parents who had a small baby at the time. I wanted nothing more than to get away from all of them and spread my wings (luckily I was also a die hard Mormon so didn’t get into much trouble!).

Still, whenever I watch these kinds of movies I want to call my Mother and apologize for how horrible I was. I remember one time throwing a book at my Dad because I was so angry at him. Another time storming up the stairs in one of the rare instances of my life I used profanity against my Mother. I remember feeling like nobody was listening to me. One time I screamed at my whole family “you’re the weird ones. I’m the normal one except in my own house”. LOL.  I was not pleasant to live with. I’m not saying this as a knock against the movie. I’m just trying to give some context into my response.

Lady Bird’s mother is played brilliantly by Laurie Metcalf. In fact, I kind of wish the movie was about her rather than her daughter. She’s a very interesting character where Lady Bird I’ve seen many times before. She loves her daughter but also finds her a royal pain, something most parents of sullen teenagers can relate to.

I also loved Lucas Hedges in this as Lady Bird’s first boyfriend. He is rapidly becoming one of my favorite young actors with his performances in this, Manchester by the Sea, and 3 Billboards. He felt very authentic and gave the movie some of the warmth I was missing in Edge of 17.

I know some people don’t like the glib dialogue in Juno and if that is the case then you will love Lady Bird. It’s very well done and feels authentic and natural. I prefer the more comedic, heightened dialogue of Diablo Cody but this is executed well.

I do have some negatives for Lady Bird. First, I did not feel the second boyfriend played by Timothee Chalamet worked. He didn’t feel authentic or real to a high school student and it was just bland. Perhaps this is because I loved Lucas Hedges’ raw performance so much that the new boyfriend fell flat? I’m not sure, but I didn’t like those scenes.

Also the movie should have ended with her leaving for college. Instead it goes on for another 15 minutes or so and this was anticlimactic. They had the perfect ending and stretched it on too long. I don’t know if I completely bought Lady Bird, with her personality, going for the popular girl either and leaving her best friend for a time. That didn’t quite feel true.

But that’s about it on the negatives. Lady Bird is worth your while if you like coming of age films and certainly if you are raising a teenager watch it! It will be very cathartic for you!

Overall Grade- B

Lady Bird is rated R for some sensuality, drug use but mostly language. It is fine for teenagers.

We Love You, Sally Carmichael! Review

Today I had a fun experience! I got to attend a movie premiere- red carpet and all. It was just a little local film but it was still a fun experience to see the cast and have them introduce the film called We Love You Sally Carmichael! Fortunately it also turned out to be a fun little romcom to boot. This is a small local film but it is not a faith-based film, so anyone who likes romcoms will enjoy it.

The is directed by Christopher Gorham who also stars as Simon Hayes. He is an author with social anxiety who has written a huge best selling romantic teen novel series similar to Twilight (the digs at Stephanie Meyer and Twilight were very obvious but tastefully done). Because of his anxiety, Simon chooses to write under a pseudonym Sally Carmichael. He is also embarrassed by the lightness of the novels and their popularity.

Things get messy for Simon when he writes a scathing rebuke of the series in a local newspaper as a favor for a woman named Tess (Bitsie Tulloch). To make matters worse, a big name star named Perry (Sebastian Roche) comes into town who the studio wants to star in the movie adaptation of the series.

We Love You, Sally Carmichael doesn’t reinvent the wheel but it consistently made me laugh especially Roche as the very weird movie star. Tulloch and Gorham have winning chemistry and it all works out to be a charming film.

The liar reveal plot is a bit of a groaner but the cast and laughs more than make up for it. I really enjoyed it and it is so rare that I like a comedy these days. This is one you can take the entire family and they will all have a good time. Imagine that! It’s as squeaky clean as they come!

Overall Grade- B+