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.


Directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris

I attended the screening with my mother, yes mother! with mother. My mother and I see all sorts of films together. Several years ago it was her idea to see Killer Joe, a film she loved by the way. My only regret was that our seats were not farther back in the theatre. We were in the third row of the Princess of Wales Theatre, too close for this one, and I think we may have missed some details.

I would say I was definitely rocked by the film. It was much more of an experience than I was expecting, like a roller coaster ride versus sitting through a comprehensive story line. I should have checked my heart rate afterwards. It certainly made me think. It’s quite a visual spectacle and Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in it.

After the film, we sat in our seats through the credits and Patti Smith’s rendition of “It’s The End of The World” . We weren’t watching the credits, we were thinking and talking about the film. We weren’t the only ones. There were many others still sitting in the theatre trying to figure out what we just saw. The horrific scenes didn’t bother me per se as I knew when I was watching the film that it was more symbolic than actually occurring as presented on the screen. Don’t get me wrong, its whacky and riveting, hence the many wtfs you hear.

I am not going to share my thoughts, what I think it represents, or any spoilers here. That would spoil the experience for those who haven’t seen it yet.

I can appreciate that some might not have the patience for it and they may hate it. I realize that many film goers prefer to be spoon fed a story that makes complete sense. They crave the closure, the knowing, the understanding and a film like this might leave them feeling confused and undone. This is not a film for those people. This is an attempt at something different, something to wonder about. I commend Aronofsky for taking this leap. He is fortunate that he has the creative ability and the gumption to take the risk. Is he just throwing something nonsensical out there to get attention? I don’t think so. One could have said that about Jackson Pollock. Never mind, some people do…

This film is a polarizing one. I personally find it exciting to have a film to wonder and talk about. I cannot wait to see it again. This is precisely why I love film so much.

Good Favour

Directed by Rebecca Daly, starring Vincent Romeo, Lars Brygmann and Victoria Mayer

A young stranger, Tom, stumbles into a remote Christian village somewhere in the Netherlands. He’s injured, disoriented and helpless, so it seems. The kind folk take him in and treat him with kindness.

The villagers’ devotion to God and the Bible’s teachings is lead by a compassionate preacher. They are a community united in their strong beliefs and it is these beliefs lead them to connect Tom’s actions relating to a series of events as miraculous ability.

And so it goes.  Is Tom a charlatan or is he the second coming? You decide.

Decent movie, solid story telling and thought provoking, but a bit too sleepy for me.

Call Me By Your Name 

Directed by Luca Guadagnino, starring Timothée Chalamet, Armie Hammer and Michael Stuhlbarg

I am not the only person to fall deeply in love with this film. It is a romance for anyone who has fallen in love, who remembers their first real deep love. It’s a romance for the ages. It is also coming of age film and very much a family film.

Timothee Chalamet delivers a genuinely perfect portrayal of Elio, a bright, confident and slightly cocky 17 year old with still so much to figure out. He spends his summers in Italy with his highly educated, liberal professor parents in a gorgeous estate in Northern Italy.  He speaks a number of languages and spends time reading and writing music as well as hanging out with other young people also visiting the Italian countryside for the summer. His world is shaken when Oliver, the handsome charismatic graduate student arrives. He is caught off guard and a little bit uncomfortable with his attraction to Oliver, but his desire to be near him and his curiousity take him on a journey we imagine he wasn’t expecting.

The two other films directed by Luca Guadagnino that I have seen, I Am Love and A Bigger Splash were very memorable, a bit quirky,  gorgeous, also set in the same region of northern Italy and starred Tilda Swinton.  This one was different. First of all, no Tilda. And while I enjoyed Luca’s other films, they always seemed a bit too glamorous, campy and perhaps a bit pretentious at times. This film was much more genuine and relatable.

Timothee Chalamet shines as Elio, and many critics are touting him for an Oscar nomination.  There are other great performances here as well. Michael Stuhlbarg, always solid, is absolutely perfect in the role of Elio’s father and Oliver’s mentor. There is one scene at the end of the film where he shares some fatherly advice with Elio and all parents should take good notes here. The scene made by heart swell…again…because my heart swelled a few times throughout the film.  Some folks have been critical of Armie Hammer’s casting, saying that it should have been played by a gay actor or that the subject of a 17 year old engaged in a relationship with a 24 year old crosses the line and somehow this translates to criticizing Armie Hammer. If I listed every straight role played by a gay actor, this piece would be pages long. I commend Armie for stretching outside of his comfort zone. I would actually like to see more straight men play gay parts as perhaps it would help dissolve some homophobia that exists in the world. Another thing that strikes me is that I never hear noise about straight women playing lesbians. As for the age discrepancy, certainly there a point where the gap becomes a concern, but in my opinion it is not 17 and 24. Funny, I bet a 17 year old female and 24 year old male in a relationship isn’t as difficult for people to get their heads around. Perhaps these are new double standards.

I really felt this film was tastefully done and the casting was spot on. The focus is the evolution of their beautiful love affair. As I said initially, this could be billed as a family film, maybe for families with teenage children, definitely one all parents should see. The gorgeous musical score, the cinematography, the setting, the screenplay, the performances, we are sure to see this one warm the hearts of the academy and receive several nominations. I have not felt so moved by a love story since the English Patient and I cannot wait to see it again.