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Thanksgiving Movie Update

I’ll start with the season’s most controversial and polarizing film. Joker (US/Canada 2019 http://www.jokermovie.net/) Winner of the “golden lion” at the Venice film festival, it’s helmed by Todd Phillips (best known for “The Hangover” trilogy) and features a no holds barred performance by a skeletal Joaquin Phoenix in the role of Arthur Fleck, a bitter unhappy middle-aged loner who lives with his ailing mother Penny (Frances Conroy) in a grungy apartment. The scene is a rat-infested New York/Gotham City circa 1981 during a garbage strike.Among Arthur’s afflictions is an uncontrolled maniacal cackle that is more grimacing cry of pain than laughing fit.The mother used to work for the wealthy Wayne family which leads to a backstory connection to the comic legend of Batman (aka Bruce Wayne) with the Joker as nemesis. Channeling allusions to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, Arthur, who aspires to be a standup comedian, is also obsessed with a late night TV talk-show ho…
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October Movies Update

Britt-Marie was Here (Sweden 2019) Adapted from a novel by Frederik Backman (A Man Called Ove) this modestly entertaining Swedish drama centres on the character of the middle-aged Britt-Marie (a wonderful Pernilla August) who exits a 40-year marriage in which she was content with the routine of domestic chores.A homebody, she has no interest in her frequent traveler husband’s passion which is watching soccer.But then, in the wake of his suffering a mild heart attack, she discovers he’s been cheating on her with a younger woman.Britt-Marie abruptly splits and takes a job as a youth worker in the small town of Borg that requires her to coach a team of multiracial kids. It seems improbable at best but we’re on her side as she wins over the hearts of the townsfolk (including a lonely policeman), inspires the kids, and expands her horizons. B+ Brittany Runs a Marathon (US 2019 https://www.brittanyrunsamarathon.movie/home/) In writer-director Paul Down Colaizzo’s dramedy, Brittany Forgler (Jil…

Ranking Toronto International Film Festival Screenings

I saw a total of 45 feature selections during TIFF.The following grades those with very brief notes under each title.I will do longer reviews of the more significant films when they are released.It is worth noting that the streaming giants (Netflix, Amazon) have become major players in both producing films and getting them to the public.So increasingly, even if you do not live in a metropolitan centre with theatrical choices, more and more cinematic content is coming to your home screen.
TIFF Documentaries
Varda par Agnès (France 2019 https://mk2films.com/en/film/varda-by-agnes/) A+ Agnès Varda, who died at age 90 this past March, is one of the great treasures of French cinema. This is both a reflection on her career and a master class in appreciation of the moving image. The Cordillera of Dreams (Chile/France 2019) A From another master filmmaker, Chilean expatriate Patricio Guzmán, this memoir, alluding to his native country’s Andean spine, is the third in a trilogy exploring both landscap…

September Movies

A major computer crash has set this back but here are notes on some new documentaries and dramas.Coming next my grading of screenings from the Toronto film festival.
Honeyland (Macedonia 2019 https://honeyland.earth/) This amazing piece of cinema verité directed by Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov received three awards at Sundance including the grand jury prize for world cinema documentary. The central figure is a middle-aged woman Hatidze Muratova who carries on traditional beekeeping practices while caring for her ailing elderly mother. She sells her natural honey in the Macedonia capital of Skopje. But that way of life is threatened by the encroachment of a nomadic family who also bring a large herd of cattle. As Hatidze struggles to maintain the natural balance the observant camera offers an astonishing witness to these encounters and to her determination to carry on.A Cold Case Hammarskjöld(Denmark/Norway.Sweden/Belgium 2019 https://www.facebook.com/ColdCaseHammarskjold ) Denmar…

Post-Labour Day Movies Update

First a follow-up to a previous documentary recommendation on Netflix.  On Chinese reaction to American Factory: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-09-02/tale-of-chinese-factory-in-america-prompts-online-buzz-back-home. Then, looking back to the storied summer of ’69, and the 50th anniversary of the most iconic music festival happening of modern times, here’s another documentary recommendation on Netflix: Woodstock: Three Days that Defined a Generation. This PBS production recalls many fascinating details behind the event. A Even better and more significant is another PBS documentary production—the almost six-hour, three-episode series Chasing The Moon, written, produced and directed by Robert Stone. It’s streaming on the Kanopy platform which can be freely accessed with a public library card. Assembling a trove of archival footage and commentary the series—Episode 1 “A Place Beyond the Sky”, Episode 2 “Earthrise”, Episode 3 “Magnificent Desolation”—has many revelations and, l…

Late August Movies

All four of the films reviewed in this post premiered at the 2019 Sundance film festival.That includes After the Wedding which opened the festival.But I’ll start with two documentaries currently streaming on Netflix.
American Factory(U.S. 2019 https://www.thewrap.com/american-factory-film-review-netflix-obama/) Co-directors/producers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert won a Sundance festival directing award for this remarkable documentary released on Netflix August 21. The opening scene in December 2008 shows a GM factory closing in Dayton, Ohio, throwing 10,000 out of work.Let me note that the film also won the D.A. Pennebaker award at the 15th Traverse City Film Festival, founded by Michael Moore who 30 years ago made the groundbreaking Roger & Me, centred on a former GM CEO. However American Factory eschews Moore’s trademark agitprop self-narration; it’s more in the direct cinema mode pioneered by Pennebaker (who died on August 1), trusting the subjects to tell their own stories. T…