Author: Andrew Parker

TIFF 2015 Review: Trumbo

On the verge of becoming the highest-paid and most hotly sought-after screenwriter in Hollywood during the 1950s, Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was outed along with ten others as a being card-carrying member of the Communist party at the beginning of the U.S. and Russian Cold War. Blacklisted, imprisoned in Kentucky for a stint without ever having committed an actual crime, and unable to get work, the headstrong Trumbo continued to work in secret (winning Oscars for Roman Holiday and The Brave One that he couldn’t claim as his own) and producing shlocky B-movies to help support his family. The old-time Hollywood biopic, Trumbo, feels comprehensive enough and it’s assuredly a fun watch with appropriately great performances, but it certainly isn’t particularly ambitious. It’s one of those “here’s a famous guy and what he did” stories that don’t take much effort in the directing and writing department, deferring to the cast to make iconic figures come to life. Cranston embodies Trumbo’s obstinate and determined personality wonderfully, and filmmaker Jay Roach  has certainly given him a great supporting cast to play around with. With notable side turns from Alan Tudyk, Louis C.K., John Goodman and Michael Stuhlbarg, the cast clearly makes the most of writer John McNamara’s script. Also, there are no good roles for any of the women, save for Helen Mirren’s turn as Hedda Hopper. Diane Lane and Elle Fanning are...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr

Imprisoned at the age of 15 following his involvement in a deadly firefight in Afghanistan – where he threw a grenade that killed an American special forces soldier – Canadian citizen Omar Khadr was deemed a Muslim terrorist. Essentially a child soldier that was forced into acting as an interpreter by his vastly more radical father, Khadr was an unfortunate figure caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and amid a North American legal system that still today has little clue what to do with suspected and charged (not convicted) enemy combatants post-9/11. For over a decade before striking a plea deal and returning to Canada, Khadr was subject to “heightened” American interrogation techniques, and a seemingly indifferent Canadian government that not only doesn’t want him back, but that wants to paint his entire family as the country’s primary terrorist threat. Filmmakers Patrick Reed and Michelle Shephard take a look at the Khadr case from the perspectives of those who know it best, including Omar himself. Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr features a wealth of insightful interviews from government officials, Khadr’s family, former detainees at America’s most notorious prison facility, and U.S. soldiers to create a complex picture of an incredibly messy political, moral, and ideological problem. While Reed and Shephard spend most of the first third of the film recounting Khadr’s history and early imprisonment, what’s most striking...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Dégradé

It’s a rather typical afternoon at a beauty salon in Gaza. The Russian owner (Victoria Balitska) and her fellow stylists are overworked. The customers are growing impatient, and one is downright difficult. Outside, the angered boyfriend of one of the hairdressers sits with a machine gun in his lap, smoking a cigarette, with his illegal pet lion pacing and keeping watch. But the creepy man and his pet might be more dangerous than the women expect, drawing the attention of Hamas forces that want the lion for their own, leading a violent skirmish to the doorsteps of the salon, trapping the women inside. An ensemble film about women made hostages in a supposedly safe environment more by circumstance than a clear cut villain, Dégradé, the debut feature from filmmaker brothers Arab and Tarzan Nasser, manages a lot of tension from what’s essentially a single setting drama. The drama occurring inside the shop before the bullets start flying outside is just as engaging as when real danger arrives. The characters are mostly archetypes (a junkie, a religious believer, a rude, entitled customer) outside of the main players, but it lends the film a classical sort of feeling while allowing an all female cast to do something rare in the suspense genre. Few filmmakers outside of Quentin Tarantino would allow characters like this to banter and interact as much as they do,...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Into the Forest

In the not-too-distant future, a mysterious power outage has left the United States (and possibly the world) without any power whatsoever. As the blackout turns from days to months, sisters Nell (Ellen Page) and Eva (Evan Rachel Wood) are forced into fending for themselves at their father’s slowly crumbling home in the middle of the woods. With precious little gas, few people around (or at least ones they would want contact with, anyway) and almost no news of the outside world, pragmatist Nell and passionate Eva have to overcome sometimes violent disagreements and hardships to survive. Based on the Jean Hegland novel, Into the Forest is the first theatrical feature from Canadian filmmaker Patricia Rozema since 2008, and while it isn’t exactly a full-on return to form, it’s a well acted, gorgeously shot, and often interesting take on a rather tired and clichéd sort of post-apocalyptic fable. The film functions best as a look at humans trying to maintain civility and rationality in a crisis, and the fact that the story comes from the viewpoint of two strong-willed female leads goes a long way. The chemistry between Page and Wood often saves the movie from some of Rozema’s more suspect choices. It’s quite a predictable affair, and most of the time it feels like the audience is simply waiting for the other shoe to drop, but with the exception of a...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Spotlight

At the start of 2001, The Boston Globe‘s investigatory journalism team, Spotlight, began an over year long inquiry into sexual abuses in and around the city involving priests within the Catholic church. What starts off as allegations against a few priests and victims becomes an eye opening and earth shattering look at almost 90 members of the clergy being investigated that could shake the heavily Catholic community within Boston to its very core. Even worse, it becomes apparent to the reporters involved that the cover up goes to the highest levels of power in the church and state government, and that the newspaper was aware of such allegations as far back as the 1970s without ever taking them seriously. An enthralling and potentially still controversial film, Spotlight is among the very best depictions of American journalism on film. It’s about richly, yet subtly detailed characters investigating something far bigger than their own egos, using their faith in truth and justice to overcome fear, abuse, and a cycle of complacency against some of the most horrible crimes ever committed. Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James follow up on leads and conduct interviews, worried about how the fallout from their work will affect their families. They interact with respect and dignity, even when in disagreement when together. Each performance comes perfectly cast and delivered. The script from Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer packs a...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Truth

In the middle of the 2004 campaign to re-elect George W. Bush to the presidency of the United States, 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) set out to uncover the spotty National Guard record of the incumbent leader, but she only had five days to have the story ready for airtime. Her research with her team (a military liaison played by Dennis Quaid, a fact checker played by Elisabeth Moss and an investigator played by Topher Grace) uncover documents stating that not only did Bush potentially use the National Guard to avoid serving in Vietnam, but he might never have reported for duty at all. However, when the authenticity of Mapes’s source and the validity of the documents are called into question, she and her team, including esteemed CBS news anchor Dan Rather (Robert Redford), come under fire from network brass and right-wing bloggers. Screenwriter James Vanderbilt makes the leap to the director’s chair, but it’s hard not to wish it were with a better film. There’s great material inside of Truth, but it’s drowned in a stifling amount of clichés and characters histrionically shouting poorly written, and framed, expository dialogue. It’s a story requiring more nuance and thought than Vanderbilt is willing to bring to it. Music soars at dramatic moments (few of which are good), all of the actors (save Moss, who has nothing to do, and Redford, who’s barely...

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TIFF 2015 Review: P.S. Jerusalem

Shortly after the death of her father and just prior to the birth of her third son, filmmaker and journalist Danae Elon makes the decision that she wants to move with her two young children from their Brooklyn home to her birth country of Israel. Her husband Philip is skeptical, but supportive, and her father – noted Israeli intellectual and writer Amos Elon, one of the biggest critics against Jewish occupation – once begged her to never go back. Danae wants her children to take pride in their heritage and learn about their roots, but despite her obvious affinity for her homeland, the often volatile nature of living in Jerusalem will begin to takes its toll on the entire family. What could have easily become a piece of stunt journalism that uproots a family for the sake of seeing what will happen instead turns out to be a nuanced and pointed blend of the personal and the political in the documentary P.S. Jerusalem. Filmed as a sort of video essay by Elon, she tries to be as positive as possible despite never agreeing with Jewish policies and politics, even though she is Jewish. In a city where many see leftist Jews as treasonous, Elon has to reconcile her faith and her politics in a country where one can’t be kept separate from the other. Her kids certainly don’t enjoy being...

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