Author: Andrew Parker

TIFF 2017 Review: Stronger

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers another transformative performance in David Gordon Green’s inspirational biopic Stronger as Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman. Losing both his legs at the race’s finish line thanks to his close proximity to the terrorist blast, Bauman also got a good look at one of the bombing suspects, quickly vaulting to notoriety in the press as the literal and figurative embodiment of the phrase “Boston Strong.” The weight of such cultural responsibility combined with a gruelling physical therapy regimen drives Jeff to the brink of madness. Veteran filmmaker Green (George Washington, Pineapple Express) doesn’t get many chances to impart his off-beat signature style onto Bauman’s life, since Stronger is as boilerplate of an inspirational story as they come. By design, the film belongs predominantly to Gyllenhaal’s great performance, which is supplemented nicely by great work from Tatiana Maslany as Jeff’s concerned and loving on-again-off-again girlfriend and an almost equally transformative turn from Miranda Richardson as Bauman’s glory hogging mother. Stronger tonally feels like both main characters from David O. Russell’s The Fighter rolled into one, only there’s no fight and the Boston accents are played up to an even greater degree. It’s fine, but not much other than Jake’s performance will be memorable here.   Is Stronger essential viewing? Maybe not at the festival, since it’s due to come out theatrically on September 22, but if you...

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Review: It

Filmmaker Andy Muschietti’s crowd pleasing and overall terrifying adaptation of (half of) Stephen King’s gargantuan 1986 novel It is good enough to erase any trace of the unbalanced, scattershot 1990 made-for-television movie from the same source. Coming down tonally like a cross between The Goonies, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, and King’s Stand by Me, It does everything possible to remain faithful to its intricate source, wringing a good bit of nostalgia from the material. Most importantly, Muschietti delivers a well made and performed bit of scary movie fun. Moving the action from the 1960s where the novel was set to the late 1980s but retaining the small town vibes of Derry, Maine, It tells the tale of a tormented community where children have been disappearing at an alarming rate. The adults (or at least those who don’t have missing kids) seem oblivious to any sort of problems, but the shape-shifting evil lurking within the sewers of Derry has become more brazen in its attacks. Often taking on the appearance of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård, an inspired choice), the creature lures youngsters to their doom by promising them something they might want and then keeps them down in the sewers by bombarding them with their greatest fears. The heroes of It are a ragtag crew of outcast 13 year olds who band together mostly...

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TIFF 2017 Review: Happy End

Those familiar with the work of Austrian auteur Michael Haneke know better than to take the title of his latest effort – Happy End –at face value. A sprawling portrait of crumbling domesticity and manners, Happy End is a bitter comedy, pointed drama, and curiously Haneke’s most straightforward film in years. After her mother overdoses on antidepressants, 13 year old Eve (Fantine Harduin) goes to stay with her semi-estranged father (Mathieu Kassovitz) and step-mother (Laura Verlinden). They live on the lavish estate of her aunt (Isabelle Huppert), a businesswoman trying to groom her erratic son (Franz Rogowski) to take over the contracting firm established by her father (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The perceptive, social media obsessed, and slightly morbid Eve recognizes the inconsistencies in the adults around her, but she might have more in common with her grandfather than she initially recognizes. Haneke’s competing storylines complement each other nicely, and the performances are solid across the board. The filmmaker’s penchant for dark humour remains unchanged here, but it’s tempered somewhat by a rather standard sort of narrative where things are a bit more predictable than some of Haneke’s previous efforts. The film’s pointed discussions about white privilege during a time of the biggest migrant crisis in world history feel tacked on and shoddily integrated, but everything else here is strong, if a bit standard.   Is Happy End essential viewing? It’s...

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TIFF 2017 Review: The Rider

Equally soaring, intimate, and raw, Chloé Zhao’s The Rider is a work of great beauty and empathy, not to mention a feat of docudrama so accomplished that one would be forgiven for thinking it was all real. For the most part, it is real. Brady Blackburn (Brady Jandreau) has grown up on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation and rose to prominence in rodeo riding. When a head injury caused by a bucking bronco leaves Brady with neurological damage, everyone – including his developmentally disabled sister and alcoholic, hard living insolvent father – tells him to leave his bull and horse riding days behind. But without riding, Brady feels lost, out of place, and without purpose. Interactions with his close friend Lane Scott – a paralyzed former rider – exemplify the push and pull Brady feels to riding. Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me) casts real people here to play only slightly fictionalized versions of themselves, but the performances turned in are so naturalistic that one would be forgiven for thinking that The Rider was either a documentary or cast with some of the best actors in recent memory. The primal sense of unease and melancholy that pervades throughout The Rider is well matched by the gorgeous, if admittedly bleak South Dakota landscapes, but it’s not a story that’s devoid of hope or inspiration. It’s little surprise that this took...

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TIFF 2017 Review: Luk’Luk’I

Expanding on some of the ideas present in his earlier shorts, first time Canadian feature filmmaker Wayne Wapeemukwa’s Luk’Luk’I still feels like a group of episodic shorts with small connections to hold it all together. Set against the backdrop of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, five marginalized citizens try to find their way through life. Angel Gates (herself) is an impoverished struggling single mother and part time sex worker trying to find a way to celebrate her child’s birthday. Eric Buurman (himself) is an addict and landscaper fixated on tracking down his estranged son out of fears he’ll die soon. Angela Dawson (herself) thinks of herself as a bit of a local celebrity, and is trying to market her appearances as “roller girl” despite some obvious mental health issues that are going untreated. Mark (Joe Dion Buffalo) is an indigenous addict prone to extraterrestrial and apocalyptic visions. Ken (Ken Harrower) is a disabled man in a wheelchair yearning for human connection and a pair of tickets to the gold medal hockey game. Luk’Luk’I weaves its stories together logically, and each comes with some keen insights from Wapeemukwa about how quickly Canadians are to embrace rah-rah nationalism, but slow to help or acknowledge those in need on city streets. What muddies the water, however, is the setting. I understand the decision to set this all during the Olympics comes with its...

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TIFF 2017 Review: Cardinals

One of the strongest Canadian debut features at this year’s festival comes from the filmmaking duo of Grayson Moore and Aidan Shipley. Their film Cardinals is a slowly twisting and increasingly intense drama that will leave viewers guessing and thinking about the film’s ramifications long after the credits have rolled. Valerie Walker (Sheila McCarthy) has just been released from prison after a drunk driving accident took the life of a man who lived in her family’s quiet suburban neighbourhood. Valerie’s daughters – Eleanor (Katie Boland) and Zoe (Grace Glowicki) – are somewhat shocked to see that their mother is mostly unrepentant and unchanged after her time in jail. Valerie’s attempts to build a new life in her own home are complicated by the resurfacing of Mark (Noah Reid), the adult son of the man she killed. Valerie wants to be civil with Mark, but the man suspects that his father’s death wasn’t accidental and starts poking around for new information. Depicting suburban Canada as a cold, bleak place where secrets can fester under thin, brittle veneers of politeness, Moore (who wrote the screenplay) and Shipley turn Cardinals begin with a story about the nature of loss and forgiveness and turn it into something far more sinister and loaded with a key revelation about one of the major characters at the halfway point. From that point on, audiences will have...

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TIFF 2017 Review: Mary Goes Round

For her first feature, Mary Goes Round, writer and filmmaker Molly McGlynn has expertly married an addiction and recovery narrative with a dysfunctional family drama to near perfect effect. Even those familiar with her short film work will likely be blown away by what McGlynn has accomplished here. Following a DUI charge and an acrimonious break-up, 29 year old burnt out addictions counselor and alcoholic Molly (Aya Cash, in her best performance yet) is called away from her crumbling Toronto life to her hometown of Niagara Falls by her estranged father, Walter (John Ralston). Back in her hometown, Molly has a teenage half-sister, Robyn (Sara Waisglass), who wants nothing to do with the daughter’s return. Walt has called Molly to town with hops that she can break the news to Robyn that he’s dying of small cell cancer. What could have been an easily stitched together marriage of two well trod genres instead becomes a multilayered character piece in the hands of McGlynn and her outstanding cast. Mary Goes Round is at its best whenever characters who hate talking openly about their problems are forced into voicing their displeasures and fears. As a story of an alcoholic stumbling through recovery, Mary Goes Round is excellent. As a family drama, it’s even better. Is Mary Goes Round essential viewing? Absolutely. It’s one of the best Canadian features at the festival...

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