Angels Wear White

Directed by Vivien Qu, Starring Vicky Chen, Zhou Meijun, Le Geng, Mengan Li and Weiwei Liu

Somewhere by the seaside, a young girl works (and lives) at a motel where she sees things she shouldn’t. While the desk clerk is detained, she checks in a man who arrives at the motel with two young teenage girls and she later sees him go into their room. When detectives come to the hotel to make inquires, she is encouraged to keep quiet by her own desire not to be displaced.

Vivien Qu provides no backstory to the characters and that we come up with our own is part of the beauty of this film. This is a story of the fear, shame and the pressures that come in the way of telling the truth about sexual abuse. Qu’s timing is perfect. The film was shown at TIFF before the onslaught of abuse claims that have berated the film industry and politics, and we are under no illusion that abuse exists everywhere.

To describe the film in detail would take away the experience, for Qu’s film is gorgeous despite the despicable nature of the story. It is a heartbreaking film with a glimmer of hope that everyone should see.

Mary Shelley

Directed by Haifa Al-Mansour, Starring Elle Fanning, Douglas Booth, Bel Powley, Stephen Dillane, Joanne Froggatt, Maise Williams, Ben Hardy and Tom Sturridge

That Saudi Arabia’s first female director brings us a film depicting a woman battling societal norms to carve a place for herself to develop her craft is no coincidence. Haifaa Al-Mansour can relate to Mary Shelley’s experienced as a women in the 1800s striving to find her own voice as a writer and this is where she decided to focus. Al-Masour brings this perspective as well as new meaning to the Frankenstein story in this film.

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was 18. It was published anonymously in 1818 when Mary Shelley was 20 years old and it wasn’t until 1823 when the 2nd edition was published that the novel bore her name as the author.  Many believed the novel to be written by her husband, Percy Shelley.

This film takes us to the meeting of Mary and Percy, and through their relationship and other events which we imagine likely contribute to Mary’s novel and what Frankenstein represents.

The cast was decent. Surely there is an English actress who might have been better cast as Mary, but Elle did a decent job as she always does. Bel Powley who plays Mary’s half-sister, Claire Clairemont, was excellent and I would love to see more of her. I suppose I should get around to watching Diary of a Teenage Girl.

There is an abundance of material with the cast of characters that chummed around together in the early 1800s, between Mary Shelley, Percey Shelley, Claire Clarmont, John Polidori and Lord Byron. You could feed a few seasons of a mini-series and someone definitely should.

Overall I enjoyed the film.

Unicorn Store

Directed by Brie Larson, Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford, Mamoudou Athie, Hampshire Linklater and Martha MacIsaac

Brie Larson’s directorial debut is a delight. I admit I was worried. I mean I love Brie’s acting work and have since her early days in The United States of Tara, but this was her directorial debut and a film about a woman who wants a Unicorn from a UNICORN STORE!

There is a genuineness about the film that does not require us to transcend disbelief and decide whether or not there are really Unicorns. This is a film about a woman who is on the cusp of adulthood. She’s bridging that point in time between school and a real job, trying to figure herself out and how she is going to develop independence. She loves her goofy parents but resents her dependence on them. All the opportunities ahead of her seem to conflict with who she is as a person.

Don’t be discouraged by overly critical reviews. The film does get silly at times but it’s fun and the performances are great. There is one scene in particular that I absolutely love and thinking of it puts a huge smile on my face anytime I go into a boardroom at work on a dull day.

Hope Brie directs more. She has a passion, intuition and a genuine joy about her that shines through her film making and we definitely need to see more of it on the screen.

Death of Stalin

I am not sure how Iannuci came up with Steve Buscemi as Russian leader Khrushchev but fantastically it works in this satirical re-enactment of Stalin’s death and what follows to establish the new rule for Russia. It’s a comedy, it’s silly, pokes fun at Russian politics, Stalin, his family and his cabinet. This could be any country. I would love to hear what Russians think of it.

An amazing cast overall but my favourites by far are Jason Isaacs as Georgy Zhukov, Commander in Chief, and Rupert Friend as highly unpredictable loose cannon son, Vasily Stalin. Can we please have more of these two in comedies? Both stole a few scenes with their brilliant dry Brit delivery. And Michael Palin in the role of Molotov, doing what he does so well, stuttering, now I must now go watch A Fish Called Wanda.

I do need to brush up on my Soviet politics because I missed a few jokes. Will see this again some day.

Darkest Hour

Directed by Joe Wright, Starring Gary Oldman, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ben Mendelsohn,  Stephen Dillane and Lily James

This is a big movie about a larger than life leader who’s headstrong approach and compassionate heart enabled him to make a decision in one of the world’s darkest hours that would ensure the security of democratic society. This time in history is a big deal. Dunkirk, released a few months ago, gives us the other side of the story and it is important to better understand the significance of it all. If Mussolini had managed to broker a deal between the Brits and Hitler, we would be living in a much different society today. This film does that moment justice.

There was a lot of hype about Gary Oldman’s performance going into this Canadian Premiere at TIFF, but that did not spoil the impact. He is absolutely magnificent. Best actor, best make-up and their should be a “best physical transformation” award.

Supported by an amazing cast, I would not be surprised to see them all recognized during awards season. Kristen Scott Thomas is positively divine as his beloved Clementine and Ben Mendelssohn is surprisingly effective as King George. Stephen Dillane is fabulous as Viscount Halifax. Lily James is also a delight in the role Elizabeth Layton, his loyal secretary.

This film will do well in the theatres I am sure. Perhaps theatres should play a double feature – Darkest Hour followed by Dunkirk or visa versa. Remind you of anything? Nah Eleanor Rigby was not nearly as important as this….

Timing is everything and never has it been more important to remember history and learn from it than today.

Lady Bird

Directed by Greta Gerwig, starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lois Smith and Beanie Feldstein

Greta’s directorial debut is excellent. It is a fresh take on the coming of age teen drama, and a personal story. The protagonist, Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson is played by Saoirse Ronan in a solid performance as this precocious, vibrant and determined teenager. But it is Laurie Metcalf, who plays Lady Bird’s mother Marion, who really shines in this film. I’d love to see her receive a supporting actress nomination for this role. Tracy Letts is also fantastic as her Dad, Larry, Beanie Feldstein is fabulous as her loyal best friend Julie and Lois Smith is brilliant (when isn’t she?) as the Nun at the school. The other major character in this film is the city of Sacramento. Through all of Lady Bird’s lamenting over how she must leave Sacramento and go to college on the east coast, there is a certain reluctant acknowledgement of how it has shaped who she is. I walked away from this film believing it was a loving letter to Greta’s mother and an apology to her hometown.

This is a fun, engaging, heartwarming story. It’s not that it is something that we’ve never seen before, but there is something fresh about its style and presentation. Each generation needs its take and Greta Gerwig is a new voice. Mine had John Hughes.

I particularly enjoyed the film because I personally related to many aspects of the story, one of the most relevant being that my best friend from high school and I saw the film together….Christine and Julie.

Destined to be a coming of age favourite. Looking forward to what Greta does next.

Woman Walks Ahead

Directed by Susanna White, Starring Jessica Chastain and Michael Greyeyes

I selected this film because I wanted to see more films directed by women, and the subject seemed to be a different perspective of indigenous peoples.

Catherine Weldon, a portrait painter and Native American rights activist, travels from New York by train to Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the hope of meeting Chief Sitting Bull and painting his portrait. The film is an account of her journey, the friction she faced with the soldiers and government officials who saw her visit as disruptive to the deal they were trying to work with the indigenous peoples. They viewed her meetings with the holy man as a means to strengthen his cause.

Jessica’s Chastain and Michael Greyeyes are both perfectly cast in this gorgeous slow moving film that resembles a painting. Despite the pace, I did not find the film dull or sleepy. The landscape is breathtaking, performances stellar and the focus on the the historical events and indigenous perspective was very impactful. Now I want to read what actually happened….

A Season in France

This was my last TIFF film so at this point I’d seen 29 other films, was tired and in need of something gripping to keep my interest, so perhaps this reflection is not entirely objective.

The story is a very important one, and so vital that people understand the plight of refugees. This is a story of a man, his two young children and his brother who have sought refuge and a new life in France. Like many, they have suffered traumatic events and tragic loss.

This was a slow film that seemed to skate around the lives of these desperate people. It wasn’t until near the end that I felt emotionally invested in anyone. I craved more from the characters to convey their story, to feel their pain and frustration. This seemed to just scratch the surface and then was reduced to a story of love and loss at the end. There is so much more to be gained from stories of refugees that seemed to be missing from this film.

Filmstars Don’t Die in Liverpool

Directed by Paul McGuigan, starring Annette Benning, Jamie Bell and Julie Walters

There was quite a bit of hype from Telluride about Annette Benning’s amazing performance as Gloria Grahame, 50s film star of hits like The Big Heat and The Greatest Show on Earth. While it was a solid performance, it was not the best of her best. Jamie Bell’s, however, was excellent.

This is a true story based on Peter Turner’s memoirs. As a young man he had an affair with the older Gloria Grahame while she was in Liverpool performing in theatre productions.

This is a slow film. At times it seemed to just plod along. I craved more emotion and depth to their affair. There is one very memorable scene, and in this moment Annette Benning shines and breaks our hearts into a millions of little pieces. She is brilliant, and the film desperately needed more of her brilliance. I was expecting much more from McGuigan, director of exciting fare like Gangster No. 1, Push and Lucky Number Slevin.

I doubt that this film will earn Annette an Oscar nomination. This is unfortunate, as it had a great deal of potential.

C’est La Vie

Directed by Olivier Nakache & Éric Toledano, starring Jean-Pierre Bacri, Gilles Lellouche and Suzanne Clément

This was my second last TIFF film, a 9am showing after a late night, and it was worth waking up early for. The programmers really picked a good one to end the festival on a positive note.

I love films that centre around food. Who’s Killing the Great Chefs of Europe was a childhood favourite of mine. I would love to see someone remake it now that we have so many chef competition shows. That film was before it’s time. Someone could really have fun with it today. There is something particularly ridiculous about the stress and competition around creating the ultimate in perishable delights.

C’est La Vie is a crowd pleaser that centres around a grand wedding reception at a Chateau outside of Paris. The affair is being managed by an event and catering firm led by Max who is at a crossroads in his career and life, considering selling his business. The firm has been employed by “Groomzilla” and his fiancé. The groom has requested a 17the century period theme, like Versailles, and the staff are required to wear period costumes complete with dusty old white wigs. While Max’s goal is to put his best foot forward and deliver perfection, the cast of characters employed to work for him at the event are not always synchronized with his approach to the affair and lots goes wrong of course. I won’t spoil the laughs for you, and there are many. The groom gets the biggest laughs, but enough, you need to watch for yourself.

This film has lots of charm and is easy to sit through. Sometimes we need these films to soothe the worried brain. They say laughter is the best medicine and the world could certainly use more comedy in film these days. This one is being added to my list of rewatchables for when I need to feel love in the world and laugh my head off.