Author: Andrew Parker

TIFF 2015 Review: Beeba Boys

Ruthless Vancouver-based Indo-Sikh crime boss Jeet Johar (Randeep Hooda) and his band of loyal Beeba Boys (“good boys”) find themselves in the middle of a turf war with a fellow Sikh mob boss (Gulshan Grover). The still-youthful gang seems to have the smarts and the upper hand in the battle, but the headstrong and confident Jeet begins to wonder if his lifestyle is a hindrance to his young son, his parents and his new, white, Polish girlfriend (Sarah Allen). Meanwhile, an upstart criminal (Ali Momen) has captured Jeet’s attention, but while the boss has taken a shine to him, this new arrival might not be exactly who he seems. Allegedly based on true events, Beeba Boys is the latest effort from Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, and a gangster film is certainly a major departure for her that pays off quite splendidly. Although the film ends with an overly serious coda and the film’s press notes tout the film as a bit of a political and feminist statement, she’s really only made a pretty entertaining, albeit rather silly, mob flick. Clearly indebted to the works of Scorsese, Miike, To and De Palma, Beeba Boys doesn’t boast the best acting and writing at times, but a wealth of style and genuine swagger that makes it magnetizing to watch. Like most mob epics there are shifting alliances, way too many characters and no less than half a...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Cemetery of Splendour

A group of Thai soldiers have come down with cases of sleep poisoning en masse. Their listless days are played out in a makeshift hospital that’s been set up inside an old schoolhouse. Their shared malady might have something to do with a nearby archaeological dig where some sort of unseen force has awakened. But the world around them is anything but dark, despite the nightmares their restless minds might be experiencing. They are looked after by the hospital’s rather easy-going staff, represented primarily by the kindly Jen (Jenjira Pongpas Widner), a nurse who has one leg that’s ten centimetres longer than the other. Also aiding the hospital in their investigations and on-hand to keep the families of the soldiers at ease is a psychic medium (Jarinpattra Rueangram) who’s normally brought in by law enforcement agencies to help investigate tough-to-solve mysteries. The two women bond and discuss the world around them while the married Jen begins a relatively harmless infatuation with one of her patients (Banlop Lomnoi). The latest from Thai auteur Apichatpong “Joe” Weerasethakul comes with plenty of darkness around the margins, but almost none is seen in favour of a film that’s brimming with hope and wonder. Cemetery of Splendour might be Weerasethakul’s most accessible and straightforward film to date, but it’s still as lyrical, elliptical and purposefully ponderous as his previous works. It isn’t meant to be a...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Eye in the Sky

A joint British, American and Kenyan coalition has been tasked with carrying out a drone strike on high-ranking targets involved with the Al-Shabaab terrorist group, including two rogue Brits and an American. Arguments ensue at various levels of the military and governments on all sides as to what constitutes an acceptable amount of collateral damage and whether or not the mission at hand should be to kill or capture. Operation Egret leader Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) leads her crew from a bunker. Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman) deals with the bureaucrats in boardrooms that keep sending requests up and down the chain of command. Lieutenant Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) pilots the drone from a Nevada Air Force base, while Somali-born Kenyan operative Jama Farah (Barkhad Abdi) serves as the eyes and ears for the operation on the ground. More of a political thriller than war film, Eye in the Sky expands upon last year’s similarly themed Good Kill by looking past the pilots, managing to find a great deal of suspense and dark humour in the decision-making process. Paul’s moral posturing comes straight out of Good Kill, with almost no deviation, but that’s a small part in an otherwise well paced, planned and acted affair. Director Gavin Hood delivers his best film since Tsotsi, and while the material is largely apolitical, there’s still a slight right leaning. The...

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TIFF 2015 Review: A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers

An all-female police force of 160 officers from Dhaka, Bangladesh has been offered a spot as backup for United Nations forces on the ground in Haiti over the course of a year. Upon their arrival — from a country where female officers still only earn in a year what their male counterparts make in a month — their inexperience shows and the force is quickly labelled failures and disappointments by superiors. It’s not their fault, though. Most of the officers were never trained in how to use weapons and they’ve never had to deal with massive, sometimes violent protesters (mostly those in opposition to controversial president Michel Martelly). As well, locals still devastated by a massive 2010 earthquake blame the U.N. for unleashing a deadly cholera epidemic. Basically, the women depicted in the documentary A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers are unfortunate patsies and fall gals for U.N. ineffectiveness, akin to putting a Band-Aid with no adhesive over an open wound. But what filmmakers Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (who won an Oscar for Saving Face) and Geeta Gandbhir show are people that desperately want to make a difference in a world that devalues their contributions. It’s heartbreaking, at times, and any inroads that are made in their overlong and emotionally taxing mission feel like major victories. It’s also nice that Obaid-Chinoy and Gandbhir are unafraid to get personal with many of...

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TIFF 2015 Review: Green Room

Old school punk rock quartet the Ain’t Rights (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat, Callum Turner and Joe Cole) have fallen on hard times. Nearly stranded after a paying show falls through, they reluctantly accept a headlining matinee gig at a remote club in the heart of Oregon’s backwoods. Described by the kids who set it up as a haven for “boots” and right-wingers, it turns out to be run by a group of white supremacists. After the band glimpse the aftermath of a young woman’s murder, they’re trapped in the venue’s green room with a somewhat mysterious witness (Imogen Poots), while the club’s soft spoken, but malevolent owner (Patrick Stewart) attempts to coax them out. Writer/director Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to his game-changing sophomore effort, Blue Ruin, showcases the filmmaker’s talents for creating tensely imperfect situations that feel dangerously realistic. Green Room gets as much mileage out of its shocking instances of brutal violence and cat-and-mouse terror as from its small character moments. These characters — heroes and villains alike — act and react like normal human beings, not filmic creations, where everyone is able to come up with perfect plans to either escape or cover things up. What makes Saulnier’s films interesting is that the mistakes are what generate the most suspense. It also comes with a smartly written, intricately meted out plot, with a number of different moving parts and slowly...

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Choosing a path: Fire Song director Adam Garnet Jones

For his debut feature, Fire Song (making its world premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival), filmmaker Adam Garnet Jones had to dig deep into his past and the demons of his teenage years to tell the story of a two-spirited First Nations teenager named Shane (played by newcomer Andrew Martin). Shane finds himself torn not only between his highly motivated girlfriend (Mary Galloway) and the closeted son of a tribal elder (Harley Legarde-Beacham), but between leaving his rural community for the possibly greener pastures of Toronto and staying behind for the sake of a mother (Jennifer Podemski), who’s still grieving over the loss of her daughter, and the two people he seems to love. Not just an exploration of First Nations issues or teenage sexuality, the film looks deeply at how depression strikes the very young. It’s a subject that the Cree-Metis filmmaker, who says he was a generally happy kid that wanted to please everyone around him, knows quite a bit about. We caught up with Jones before the start of the festival over coffee at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to talk about the personal inspiration behind the film, why he hopes Fire Song will speak to a wide range of teens, working with novice actors and his film’s connection to another Canadian coming-of-age film at this year’s festival, Sleeping Giant. Fire Song deals not only with First Nations issues and...

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Separating myth from legend: Al Purdy Was Here director Brian D. Johnson

When Canadian journalist and film critic Brian D. Johnson retired from fulltime beat work in 2013, he set his sights on filmmaking. Specifically, documentary filmmaking, which he naturally saw as an extension of his journalistic background. But the subject of his latest effort, Al Purdy was Here (making its world premiere at this year’s 40th annual Toronto International Film Festival), was a subject Johnson wasn’t as schooled in as one might assume. Johnson (who remains the president of the Toronto Film Critics Association) employs a three-pronged approach to examining one of the most celebrated and controversial Canadian poets, writers and pundits to ever live. Johnson first looks at the restoration of the A-frame house, in Prince Edward County, ON, which Purdy (who died in 2000) built for himself and his wife, so it could be used by future generations as a writing retreat. From there, Johnson enlisted the help of a wide range of singer-songwriters, authors and artists to help breathe new life into Purdy’s material. And in what he thought was originally only going to be background information, Johnson explores the intriguing, but sometimes murky mythology that makes Purdy such a charismatic literary figure. We caught up with Johnson prior to the start of the festival at a coffee shop on the Ryerson University campus to talk about his growing knowledge of Purdy, the poet’s appeal to younger readers and separating myth from legend....

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