September 13, 2007

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”(***)
Directed by Sidney Lumet

This fall is going to feel more and more like the seventies as we are getting new films from a trio of great directors of that golden era in American cinema: Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet and Brian De Palma. We’ll also see a brilliant new documentary from Jonathan Demme about the U.S. President who closed out the seventies under heavy criticism for a hostage crisis situation he could not resolve. The Coppola film, “Youth Without Youth,” is not in Toronto, but I am anxiously awaiting a press screening as it is Coppola’s first work in ten years as a director.

Sidney Lumet has been far more active but often with mixed results. The last truly great film he made was “The Verdict” in 1982, though in the fifteen years between he has certainly made some interesting films. His greatest works were in the 70s when he directed such films as “Serpico,” “Murder on the Orient Express,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” “Equus” and into the 80s with “Prince of the City,” “The Verdict” and the criminally under-appreciated “Daniel.”

Continue reading “DAY SEVEN” »

September 12, 2007

“Juno” (****)
Directed by Jason Reitman

I first became aware of Ellen Page while watching her astonishing performance in “Hard Candy” in 2005. She portrayed a vengeful young teen out to get (and I mean get) a photographer who may be a pedophile. Page dominated the film with a confidence I had not seen in an actress so young since Jodie Foster in “Taxi Driver.” She is a tiny little thing, looking much younger than her twenty years, but is one of those wise young people who seem older than their years simply by the manner in which they carry themselves.

Roger Ebert has already called for her to get an Oscar nomination for her stunning performance in “Juno,” the new film from director Jason Reitman, and it just might happen as Page all but burns a hole in the screen with her galvanizing performance. As Juno, Page portrays a young girl who tries sex on a lark and gets pregnant. Her dumb-as-a-hammer boyfriend has no clue as to what is going on around him, which makes one wonder why she would bother with him, and her parents react with the appropriate horror. Yet nothing is as it seems here, including the young couple who decide they will adopt the baby once Juno has given birth.

Continue reading “DAY SIX” »

September 11, 2007
DAY FIVE - Canuck Special

With “Eastern Promises” stealing the lion’s share of thunder on the Canadian film front, I decided to try and see a couple of high-profile homegrown films in the hopes of finding some other strong Canadian product.

The Denys Arcand film, “Days of Darkness,” has not yet screened, but I am nonetheless hearing some disappointing things about the work and am not expecting the same sort of film as “The Barbarian Invasions,” which is a Canadian masterwork.

Francois Girard’s “The Red Violin” was a surprise hit at the 1998 fest and went on to win several Genie Awards (Canada’s Oscar), including best picture and best director, later winning an Academy Award for best musical score.

Continue reading “DAY FIVE - Canuck Special” »

September 10, 2007

“In the Valley of Elah” (*****)
Directed by Paul Haggis

Paul Haggis’s latest is a troubling American masterpiece and destined to be one of the most discussed and debated films of the year, not to mention a likely Oscar candidate. Haggis has been the golden boy of Hollywood these past few years, writing “Million Dollar Baby” for Clint Eastwood, directing and writing “Crash,” which won him Oscars for best picture and best screenplay, and contributing to the story of “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

This time he puts forth a searing indictment of the American involvement in Iraq, but more importantly, it’s a lacerating study of the manner in which the military turns young men into fighting machines and yet does not train them to turn that off once they return home. Is there really any preparation for the horrors one will see during war? I don’t think so. In this film the soldiers seem so young going off to boldly defend the country in a war many believe to be predicated on a lie.

Tommy Lee Jones gives a brilliant performance, the finest of his career, as a retired military man investigating his son’s disappearance after the boy returns home from Iraq. Within a day he learns his son has been brutally murdered on American soil and resolves himself to find the answers behind the killing. With the help of Emily (Charlize Theron), a sympathetic detective, he slowly pieces together the events that led to the killing, though the answers will startle them, leaving them in absolute horror at what has transpired.

Continue reading “DAY FOUR” »

September 09, 2007

Gremlins in the e-mail system have prevented my coverage from getting through to Kris these last few days and I think finally I have the problem solved. Rather than go day by day, let’s just get caught up on what I have seen these first few days.

“Rendition” (***)
Directed by Gavin Hood

Things got moving early with a morning screening of “Rendition,” the new political thriller from the director of the Oscar winning “Tsotsi,” a hit here a couple of years ago. The film stars Reese Witherspoon, which gave me immediate pause about as I am not a fan of the actress nor a believer that she deserved that Oscar she collected for “Walk the Line” two years ago. But after the film I was left eating my words.

Witherspoon does some fine work as a wife distraught over her husband’s detainment by the American government when evidence links him to a bombing in the Middle East. She is left asking the double edged sword questions: “Why would they target this good man?” and “What is there I many not know about my husband?” Witherspoon does a wonderful job conveying the sense of torment one would go through in a dilatation like this.

Continue reading “Catch-Up” »

September 08, 2007

“The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” (*****)
directed by Andrew Dominik

For reasons known only to me, a film junkie, a lover of the American western, I could not get “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” out of my mind – not while watching another movie, not in the evening as I sat down to write, and not this morning when I awoke. The film has seared itself a spot on my brain, I think forever.

There is something contradictory about the great westerns because the genre itself seems so simple. Yet that simplicity is misleading because the best westerns, those that challenge us as people are complex and powerful, asking moral questions that are often difficult to answer.

Continue reading “DAY THREE” »

September 07, 2007

“The Brave One”
Directed by Neil Jordan


When the film was over, my only thought was of the blatant irresponsibility of the writer and director in creating a film that not only champions vigilantism, but shows the audience a by the book cop break the rules and allow himself to be sucked into a web of murder…


Jodie Foster stars as Erica, a radio talk show host in New York City – like Woody Allen, her city, the city she loves. One night, Jane and her fiancée are attacked by a group of thugs who beat her love to death and take her dog. Badly beaten herself and left for dead, Jane recovers from the savagery, now angry, somehow changed by what has happened to her. She makes the perfectly irrational decision to buy an illegal gun and quickly learns how to use it.

Jane then takes to the streets, quickly overcoming a phobia, where it seems each time she is out and about she encounters criminal activity that requires her interference…meaning she shoots and kills people breaking the law. This happens not once but several times as the places she visits seem to be conveniently teeming with injustice.

Continue reading “DAY ONE” »

August 29, 2007
Getting to Know Your Correspondent

As TIFF approaches I find myself thinking a lot about the films that set me on the path to becoming a film critic/ historian.

I was a cynical 12 year old in a theatre with my dad watching a re-release of Cecil B. Demille’s “The Ten Commandments” in 1971, long before home video. When one wanted to see a film from the past again, we were at the mercy of the studio to re-release the picture. Dad, also a movie fan, had gone on and on about this movie, so much that, naturally, I was not expecting all that much. From the opening sequence I was hooked by the enormous scope of the thing, the size, the color, the spectacle. Charlton Heston was mesmerizing as Moses (could anyone else get away with speaking those lines?) and Yul Brynner was the perfect villain. The moment that seared into my mind and began this obsession with the cinema was the parting of the Red Sea. I honestly expected perhaps for the tide to go out, but the sky grew black, Heston looked magnificent against the swirling black clouds atop the rock, his arms stretched out, his voice booming, “Behold his mighty hand!” and the waters opened, two massive walls on either side, raging madly as the exodus crossed.

I was stunned by what had just taken place on the screen.

Continue reading “Getting to Know Your Correspondent” »

August 22, 2007
The Line-Up Revealed

With today’s final announcement of the festival line-up, I must confess to some disappointment, as the earlier announcements certainly packed more of a punch. Not that I am complaining about TIFF 2007 – not at all as it looks like the best fest in years – but I had thought the final films being unveiled would be major releases that would vie for Oscar attention as the previously announced films certainly will.

A couple of things excite me, one being the arrival of Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead” with Ethan Hawke, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Albert Finney. Lumet is one of the great directors of modern cinema. Efforts such as “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” “Prince of the City” and “The Verdict” are brilliant works more than deserving of the accolades they received over the years. “Daniel” and “Equus” are two efforts that briefly come to mind that are equally stunning and yet under the radar of the general movie-goer.

Lumet’s direction of actors is legendary, and though he has never won an Academy Award he was given an Honorary Oscar a couple of years ago. The director is also taking part in the Dialogue series, one of the festival’s most popular events in which a filmmaker or actor selects a film that inspired them and after screening the film discusses the picture with the audience. Lumet has selected “The Best Years of Our Lives,” the Oscar winning masterpiece by William Wyler that helped heal a nation with its study of post-wartime America and the re-adjustment of the vets.

Continue reading “The Line-Up Revealed” »

August 08, 2007
TIFF Looking Like Oscar Preview

Though we are two weeks away from final announcements, the Toronto International Film Festival is looking more and more like an unofficial Academy Awards preview. Though it seems by now we’re used to that notion. After scouring the Oscar sites on the web, I found that many of the films already announced are among those being touted for Oscars in the major categories, and a few will likely slip in as sleepers. Never before has the festival looked so strong so early, and in all honesty 2007 could be the finest version of the festival yet.

Kris himself has named several of the films here as major contenders.

Among the films arriving that can be considered definite hopefuls for the Academy Award for best picture are the Coen brothers’ acclaimed film “No Country for Old Men” and Paul Haggis’s new picture “The Valley of Elah,” both featuring Tommy Lee Jones, who is being touted for best actor for the latter film.

Continue reading “TIFF Looking Like Oscar Preview” »