TIFF Screening #8: Room

Based on Irish author Emma Donaghue’s best-selling novel of the same name (she also adapted the screenplay for the film), Room was my favourite film I saw at TIFF this year.

Coming off his independent film, Frank (which starred talented fellow Irishmen Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson), director Lenny Abrahamson was tasked in helping bring this iconic story to life and from what I saw, he surpassed any expectations that people may have had for this film.

The film’s plot (for those who haven’t read the book) centres on a young mother, Joy/Ma and her son, Jack, as they are trapped inside a shed that is only known to Jack by the name ‘room’ of the past seven years. I don’t know how Joy was able to survive alone those first two years, but it is immediately evident that when Jack came along, he gave this young mother a reason to live.

Just like the book, the film is told from the perspective of five-year-old Jack, played eloquently by Canada’s own Jacob Tremblay. The eight-year-old is relatively new on the screen, but you would never know that this is one of his first feature films.

There is no escaping the grim, upsetting subject matter. However, seeing the small single-roomed outbuilding through the eyes of Jack, makes you feel a tinge of hope. From start to finish I was captured by the youngster’s performance as Jack, who believes that there is nothing outside room- until he finally has the chance to get out into the world.

There are so many feelings that I felt while watching Ma/Joy, portrayed by Brie Larson; you can’t help but get emotional as you watch and feel a part of her silent suffering after being kidnapped, raped and trapped in ‘room’ for years by Old Nick (Sean Bridgers). She must be strong for her son and the love she had for him is absolute, but she struggles (mainly internally) with escaping the life she’s confined to in room.

Larson’s performance is captivating and throughout the film you could feel all of her ups and downs as if they were your very own. I don’t think there was dry eye in the room as the life she has with Jack progressed beautifully on-screen.

The film was a tense, gripping, and emotional roller-coaster that I never wanted to get off of. It is definitely a movie I plan on watching again once it’s released. Please check out this film if you get the chance, it really is amazing and the performances are out of this world.

Room is slated to hit theatres on October 16. Check out the Q&A gallery with Lenny Abrahamson and the trailer for Room below.

*Please note: Room won the 2015 Grolsch People’s Choice Award at TIFF. Films that have won in the past have gone on to be nominated for (and even win) Best Picture at the Academy Awards. 

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TIFF Screening #7: Spotlight

Spotlight, directed by Thomas McCarthy, is the true story that depicts the investigative news team at the Boston Globe as it uncovers the systemic ‘sweeping under the rug’ of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (specifically the archdiocese of Boston).

The screenwriting of McCarthy and Josh Singer is key. It easily balances the research and interview processes while delving into the work that each of the reporters did. Anyone who has ever been present in or worked in a newsroom will certainly appreciate the realism that was translated from script to screen by McCarthy and Singer; being a journalism graduate, I know I really did! It really showed the news world in it’s true form- it can be gritty, it can be hard, you won’t always like your colleagues and will have arguments, but you do what you have to do in order to get the story right.

Newly appointed Boston Globe editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) encourages the investigative branch, Spotlight, to take on the Catholic Church- one of the most influential and powerful entities in Boston. Many of his colleagues thinks he is crazy for trying to tackle the church, believing that many of the readers will see it as an attack on themselves since the newspaper’s readership is a Catholic majority.

Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams) and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James) are the Boston Globe Reporters charged to take on this huge task. As part of the investigative unit helmed by their team editor, Walter “Robby” Robinson (Michael Keaton), they uncover the horrible truths, vast cover-ups and lies within the Catholic Church in the wake of the sex abuse scandal. Through the Spotlight team’s hard work and determination, they realize the abuse and deceit doesn’t just start and stop in Boston- it stretches all the way up to the Vatican itself.

However, I will say that after watching the film, the uneasiness I felt in my stomach made it feel like it was swinging pendulously back and forth.

Think about it- there are 1.2 billion people in this world who practice the Catholic faith and being a Catholic (albeit a lapsed one) myself, and having attended Catholic school from kindergarten all the way up to grade 12- it made me wonder if any of my teachers, classmates or any students after me had been victims of such abuse at any point in their lives, or knew someone that had been abused. With that many Catholic children in the world and the number of Catholic priests, I think it’s safe to assume that there is someone at the local parish who has been abused or knows someone who has been, and it’s a very disturbing thought.

Sexual abuse is never an easy topic to talk about, write about or make an entire movie about, especially when you know you are about to go against one of the most powerful organizations (religious or otherwise) in the world.

But, it was a story that needed to be told and the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe did just that and I for one am glad they had the determination and commitment to see the story through to the end, giving a voice and hope to the hundreds of survivors affected, and opening the door for fellow journalists throughout the world to tackle the Vatican head-on.

With a wonderful script, awesome directing and great acting, Spotlight was definitely in the top five movies I saw this year at TIFF, and one of the best movies I have ever seen period. It would not surprise me if it is nominated in the best film, best acting, best screenplay and best directing categories when awards season arrives (and it would be well deserved).

Please check this film out if you get the chance, it’s well worth it! Spotlight is slated to hit theatres on November 6.

Check out the trailer below: 

Please note: Spotlight was a runner-up for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award at the 40th Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF Screening #6: High-Rise

Ben Wheatley directs the star-studded cast of Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller and Elisabeth Moss in High-RiseThe film is an adaptation of JG. Ballard’s 1970 novel of the same name.

The film takes place in 1975 London where young doctor Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) is intrigued by the lifestyle in a high-rise community that is away from the rest of the city.  During his first few days in the building, Laing meets Charlotte (Sienna Miller) and Robert Wilder (Luke Evans) who is a documentary filmmaker stuck on the second floor with his wife, Helen (Elisabeth Moss) and children, hell-bent on exposing the rampant class injustices and inequalities in the high-rise.

Upon attending a gathering with the building’s architect, Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons), Laing sees first-hand what life is like for the people in the top-most floors and he now knows first-hand what Wilder has been complaining about.

The catalyst of the film begins with the lights and other utilities in the building going off. The tensions then reach their boiling point during a children’s birthday party where the ‘lower-class’ tenants charge to the pool which is holding a private event for the ‘upper-class’ folks. Chaos breaks out and only continues to filter out to the rest of the building.

For what could be days or maybe even weeks, scenes reminiscent of William Golding’s, Lord of the Flies plays out in the high-rise. There is destruction everywhere and no order to be found as the residents throw wild parties, engage in criminal activity, run out of food and other necessities, leading to brawls and are even more distrustful of one another than they were when they first came to the building.

However, where I wish the film was different was in the way that they showed the caste system in the dwelling. Any readers of the novel would know that Ballard described the many workings of the inequality for pages, describing how the amenities were unfairly distributed between the different residents on the lower and upper floors and that while the residents on the bottom floor were forced to live without electricity, the top floors never went without. It is obviously shown in the film, but it is not at detailed as it could have been and it almost causes the film to get lost outside of the chaos that is occurring on screen.

But in any case, the performances of all the actors are great, and they all hold their own with the legend that is Mr. Jeremy Irons, amidst of all the craziness that is happening within the high-rise and throughout the film as a whole.

Another aspect of the movie I highly enjoyed was Ben Wheatley’s filming- I was not super familiar with his work before seeing High-Rise, but I will say it has intrigued me to explore more of his filmography. Many of the shots were so artistic and immersing that I forgot that I was watching a movie and it was more like being in some kind of art gallery.

All-in-all, the film had some pretty fun elements along with some confusing and chaotic ones, but if you’re a fan of Ben Wheatley it’s definitely a film to check out.

Note: After the movie and Q&A ended, I saw Ben Wheatley who was kind enough to sign my movie ticket which was pretty awesome!

Check out the Q&A gallery below:

TIFF Screening #5: Freeheld

Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) directs this true story about decorated New Jersey police officer, Laurel Hester as she fights for her life after being diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer and for the right to give her pension to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree, if anything should happen to her.

Julianne Moore stars as the inspiring Hester in Freeheld, fresh off her Academy Award winning performance in Still Alice. As per usual, Moore shines onscreen playing Hester with a beautiful resiliency that is inspiring throughout the film.

Ellen Page tackles the role of Andree, Hester’s much younger partner, who is with Hester every step of the way as her illness progresses. Page holds her own onscreen next to Moore, being just as watchable.

The chemistry between the pair is perfect, however I find that the film doesn’t linger on a solid attempt at capturing it. I wish more time had been spent on Moore and Page as a couple before  allowing the film to switch gears.

The film jumps from the relationship between the two leads to Hester’s copper colleagues, including Michael Shannon as Dane Wells, Hester’s police force partner- who also has a not so subtle crush on her. Wells plays an integral role in attempting to get the other officers to support Hester during her battle with the county in attempting to secure her pension for Stacie after they find out the cancer has spread.

When Hester’s request is denied by the conservative county leaders, queue Garden State Equality founder, Steven Goldstein, played by Steve Carell.

Now, typically I am a fan of any time Steve Carell is onscreen, and although he provides some comic relief during a film that deals with tragic subject matter, he is way too garish in his performance that it actually overshadows the serious tones in the film and takes away from the protest scenes where Andree, Wells and other citizens are rallying in support of Hester during an Ocean City, New Jersey Freeholders council meeting.

Basically, he gets way too much screen time for someone who is meant to be a secondary character. and what is meant to be a tragic love story almost gets lost in the film’s second half because Carell almost seems like a distraction. All of the over-the-top flamboyancy Carell brings to the screen serves to push Page and Moore to the back burner for much of the film’s second half.

But it’s saving grace comes when Shannon rallies the police corps to the next Ocean City Freeholders meeting and Moore has the chance to deliver Hester’s final empowering words justice to the council in order to have them change their previously unjust stance.

It wasn’t my favourite film of the festival by any means, but it is still worth the watch for the  Hester’s exemplary story, and the performances of Moore, Page and Shannon alone.

Check out the gallery and trailer below: 

TIFF Screening #4: Five Nights in Maine

Five Nights in Maine is the feature length debut from director Maris Curran.

The film centres on  Sherwin (David Oyelowo) while he copes with the tragic news of his wife’s tragic death and the invitation made by his ailing mother-in-law, Lucinda (Dianne Weist), to spend a few days in Maine to get away from it all.

Impulsively, Sherwin takes up his mother-in-law’s offer, despite his own mental protestations and even some from his sister Penelope (Teyonah Parris). Once he’s arrived, Sherwin meets Lucinda’s nurse, Ann (Rosie Perez) who tries to keep the peace between the tense in-laws.

The film tracks the awkward and tension filled moments between Sherwin and Lucinda with ease, including their hard to watch dinner conversations and Lucinda complaining to Ann about her son-in-law behind closed doors.

The inner turmoil that Sherwin is feeling and the discomfort he has by staying with Lucinda is evident in the way the film was shot by the scenes lingering on during forced conversations and dialogue between the two main characters- especially with Lucinda’s apparent need to be passive aggressive during every talk she has with Sherwin and with the close-ups while any of the characters were in pain or in mourning.

But where the film seems to fall short is the delicate subject of race. It can be seen in the movie with subtlety when Sherwin gets some suspicious looks from a store clerk, or even when he is out for a morning run near the forest and is shot at by some unseen hunter, which Ann later apologizes for since she didn’t disclose with Sherwin that it was Open Season.

It is clear that Curran is bringing to light to some of the less visible racism and prejudice in society, but there is nothing in the film that suggests Sherwin even notices the looks, the gestures that are going on around him. Perhaps it is because his grief is meant to be all-consuming and he doesn’t realize the injustice around him, but it generally left the movie feeling a little bit flat. I wish it had been explored and acknowledged a little bit more, instead of seeming like an afterthought.

However, the film’s saving grace comes in the performances of Oyelowo, Weist, and Perez. Even though some of the dialogue was lacking, the trio was still able to bring an important fact to life and that is: everyone grieves differently. Some people break down, some people continue on and try to act as if nothing has changed, while others do both but always find a way to keep on living. Because that’s what we do- we get knocked down, only to get back up again.

During the Q&A segment after the film, it mostly focused on the idea of grief and Mr. Oyelowo poignantly discussing the lack of diversity in Hollywood when it comes to directors, specifically female directors. With Maris Curran in attendance, as well as Selma director, Ava DuVernay it was a lovely ending point to the screening.

He spoke of women making up 50% of the population but when it comes to directing, there isn’t enough female energy and he noted that certain films he has been attached to have been drastically different when it went from a man helming the director’s chair, to a woman behind the camera and it was a change for the better. Oyelowo said, “I have been a huge beneficiary of female filmmakers and we are all lesser for not having more of these voices.”

All-in-all, I would have to say that the Q&A session after the film was definitely the highlight- but that being said, it was certainly a bold choice of topic (even though not all of the subject matter translated perfectly to screen) and Curran was backed by a great cast for a first-time feature film debut. So, hats off to Maris Curran for having the determination to create this film and be another voice for female directors out there in the universe.

Check out the gallery below:

TIFF Screening #3: The Danish Girl

The Danish Girl was the third movie I saw during the 11 days of TIFF and I have to say that the acting was nothing short of amazing.

Coming off of other period pieces like The King’s Speech and Les Miserables, director Tom Hooper certainly sets the stage beautifully to display the 1920s artist Einar Wegener in his transition to Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of gender reassignment surgery.

Fresh off his well-deserved Academy Award win for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking last year, Eddie Redmayne brings to life both Wegener and Lili Elbe effortlessly. Having to sit for one of his wife’s paintings, Einar is dressed in women’s garb (stockings and heels), while draping a dress over himself. This serves to the film’s catalyst- this is when the secret Einar has been struggling with reignites and thus begins his journey of exploration to see what it would be like to live as Lili.  For another year in a row, he is most deserving of any nominations he receives as the race to the Oscars begins.

The equally brilliant Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair, Ex-Machina) stuns in what is certainly her breakout role. Portraying Wegener’s wife, Gerda, Vikander is adept at showing the young woman’s struggle with her ever-present love of her husband and the knowledge that her unwavering support and acceptance of Lili will cost her the life she’s cherished with Einar. Vikander’s performance is heart wrenching and I am confident it will turn enough heads to garner her multiple nominations for the upcoming awards season.

Another great part of this story is played out by the score by 8-time Academy Award nominated and winning composer Alexandre Desplat. The music is beautiful and poignant throughout the film, definitely in tune with the emotional roller coaster that is playing out on screen.

But I would have to say the best moment came last, and it did not come from the gripping performances and directing- one of the best parts of the screening was when Tom Hooper came to the stage at the end of the film for a Q&A. The applause was thunderous and the cheers were loud as a standing ovation for the film’s director began in Roy Thomson Hall.  The man of the hour was overcome with emotion at the warm welcome and needed a moment to compose himself, where he let the audience now that the Toronto International Film Festival will always be one of his favourites. It was an amazing moment for director and film seers alike.

From the socially relevant subject matter, the beautiful directing, and the heart-wrenching performances, The Danish Girl is certainly a movie that will be in contention for all the major film awards as the Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG and Academy season approaches. Most certainly a film to watch!

Please see the gallery and trailer below: 

TIFF Screening #2: Demolition

Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club, Wild) tries to make it a perfect three-for-three in Gala Presentations at TIFF with the premiere of his latest film, Demolition– and I believe the Canadian director does just that.

Known for bringing the best out of his actors, Vallée does no different with Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Davis Mitchell, who has recently lost his wife in a car accident while trying to cope with the grief of those around him and the illusion of his lack thereof. From the outside looking in, Davis is seemingly very disconnected with the grief that encompasses his in-laws, parents, friends, co-workers and even himself. A trait that is evidenced by his need to send letter of complaints to a vending machine company after the peanut M&Ms he paid for get trapped behind the plexiglass 10 minutes after his wife’s death.

From the moment customer service rep, Karen (Naomi Watts) reaches out to Davis to speak about his multiple letters, he forms a bond with her though their shared phone calls,  and later on, her unsettled teenage son Chris, played by talented newcomer Judah Lewis.

Throughout the film, Davis ponders his father-in-law’s words about things that are broken- that you have to take whatever it is apart completely, in order to fix it.

Away from the guise of putting on a brave face, he realizes he took for granted one of the most important pieces of his life and while he attempts to cope, he takes the fixes literally and tears down a literally destructive path, that at times could be comical, but displays the wide range of emotions a person goes through while they are in pain.

While on his demolition derby he begins to notice various items that were disregarded before like a leaky refrigerator, a squeaky door, a flickering lighting installation- which all need ‘fixing’, something his late wife pointed out as Davis “didn’t pay attention”. But what ultimately needs fixing, is him.

The film teeters between comedic and dramatic elements well, lifting the audience up, only to bring them back to reality of the tragedy at hand and the complexities of grief, relationships and coping with death.

This is most definitely a movie I would recommend and one that I would see again!

Please see the gallery & trailer below:

TIFF Screening #1: A Tale of Love and Darkness

It’s that time again- Cinephiles and stars collide for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)!

For 11 days, the city of Toronto is jam-packed with feature films & shorts from all over the world, including world premieres of highly anticipated films like the outer space novel-to-screen adaptation of The Martian (starring Matt Damon).

The screening I attended tonight was also an adaptation of a novel- Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel, A Tale of Love and Darkness. In its North American premiere, the film serves as the directorial debut for Natalie Portman, who also adapted the screenplay and stars as Oz’s mother, Fania.

The 97-minute picture, which is entirely in Hebrew with some Arabic, takes the audience on a journey through Oz’s upbringing in Jerusalem at the end of British Mandate for Palestine and the early years of the State of Israel, and what affect it had on him and his family while they dealt with the turmoil outside, as well as inside their home.

There is undoubtedly potential behind the camera for Portman where she has a keen eye for include dark shots that represent the nostalgia and struggle in Fania’s stories during her early life in Europe under the pressure of growing anti-semetic sentiments leading to World War II, along with Fania’s tales to Amos being brought to life with intriguing dialogue and visuals. The cast of relative unknowns represented the people in Oz’s book well, even when they had short amounts of screen time.

But the most compelling part of the story was delivered by Oz’s older self, knowing that peace between Israel and Palestine is needed. In one profound analogy, he described Palestine and Israel as being two brothers which have come from the same abusive father- Europe. Europe destroyed Palestine with colonialism and destroyed the Jewish people with the Holocaust. But instead of the two regions looking upon one another as allies or brothers in arms, they see the face of their abusive father in one another and are compelled to fight one another instead of finding peace.

However, with the good, usually comes the bad. The bad arrived in the form many fades to black- which did not always seem to be the best transition choice from one scene to the next. Some overheard critiques from various movie goers called the film, “hard to follow” and just as they became invested in one scene, the transition to the next came hurriedly.

All-in-all I would say that A Tale of Love and Darkness is a good film, albeit slow at times. The intricacies of the flashbacks and storytelling is enjoyable to watch, but it falls a little flat onscreen with the needless transitions. The most important element of the film is the resonating message of peace that is absolute, and it is clear that Portman put her all into Fania and the film itself, taking eight years to create the screenplay- and really, that is all I can ask for from the Oscar winner’s directorial debut.

The next screenings of the film will be on Friday, September 11th at 9:45am & September 20th at 9:30am.

Check out some photos of Natalie Portman introducing the film below:

The Worlds of Comics, Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy Collide at FanExpo Canada 2015

Over the Labour Day long weekend (Sept 3-6), I had the pleasure of attending FanExpo Canada 2015.

It was the first time that I have gone to the event and purchased the pass for all four days- and I will have to admit that it was crazy. Crazy crowds, crazy costumes, crazy fun (even if the constant walking and craning of the neck to see everything and everyone left my body sore).

As always, geek turned into chic with the costumes worn by event goers being spot-on. There were many Ant-Men and Deadpools in attendance, as well as a fair few Agent Carters. I was surprised I didn’t see many Supermen or Wolverines at the show, but it’s possible I didn’t see them due to the hundreds of people, walking up and down aisles and lining up for panels, sketch duels, crafts and autographs.

The majority of my days were all go, go, go- consisting of shopping (so many items for sale, it’s ridiculous), getting comic books signed, getting artwork commissioned by artists like Ken Lashley, Nick Bradshaw and Anthony Marques, as well as attending Q&A panels with Jason Momoa (Game of ThronesBatman v. Superman) and Haley Atwell (Agent CarterCaptain America: The First Avenger)- both of whom were pretty hilarious during their respective interviews. The pair both joked with audience members who asked them questions, including Momoa reciting lines of the honeymoon scene between Khal Drogo and Daenerys with one fan, while Atwell revealed how the Dubsmash wars came to be.

In regards to the two celebrities forthcoming projects, Jason Momoa wasn’t allowed to reveal much about his highly anticipated role as Arthur Curry AKA Aquaman, and kept pretty mum on what his take on the Atlantean would be like. Hayley Atwell, on the other hand, spoke a little about the upcoming second season of Agent Carter, revealing that we will learn some of Peggy’s backstory and that a potential love triangle could be in the works. When asked about any potential guest stars she would like to see on the show, she said Michael Fassbender and the “phenomenal” David Oyelewo- and I must say, I am ALL for it!

The four day pass was certainly worth the buy if you have the time (and patience), and the FanExpo crews were very helpful during all the hustle & bustle, which made the days better. There’s no doubt in my mind that I will be seeing you again next year, FanExpo- thanks to a great end to the summer.

Next up: TIFF

Check out the gallery below