It’s not just Natalie Portman’s astounding performance in Jackie that makes this fictional biopic so compelling – it’s the storytelling. Director Pablo Lorrain’s brutalist approach changes our idea of who Jacqueline Kennedy may have been. We follow her in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination more angered than sad, dominating the farewell ceremonies. She is portrayed as a force of nature equal to any challenge, fierce, raw and haunted. Lorrain plays with time and space in a remarkable new way that reflects the storm inside her from insisting on wearing the blood spattered pink suit to the swearing in of Lyndon Johnson to staking her claim against millions of mourners. A journalist interviews her some time later and gets the most savage and important confrontation of his career. The film is so harrowing that you may decide you don’t want to feel what Jackie felt.
Jessica Chastain is Miss Sloane, another kind of harrowing role as a take-no-prisoners political persuader whose company is about to get in bed with the gun lobby. She leaves the firm taking its best thinkers with her to counter with a powerful anti-gun campaign. To say she will do whatever it takes is an understatement. Miss Sloane is one for the books, a razor sharp mind and skill set, the ability to think miles ahead of any competitor or ally, with friends in low places to do what she won’t do, kitted out in her armour – bold black red lips, black fingernails and precise black suits. It’s a study of loyalty, betrayal, life, death – aka – business and she is the lead predator. When opponents find her weakness she deals with it and woe to those who think they can undermine her. Miss Sloane is the closest thing we’ve seen to the infamous Gordon Gekko character, the only difference being she is working for the good of the people. This is an unusually hard film from director John Madden whose previous works are much less searing – Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Mrs. Brown.
Folks are raving about Lion a fact-based film about a boy searching for his mother twenty years after they were separated via Google Earth. Dev Patel’s character is five years old when he accidentally boards a train in India and winds up in a different province with a different language. These scenes will tear hearts out; terrible things happen to him along the way but he is eventually adopted by an Australian woman played by Nicole Kidman and her wealthy husband in Australia. She gives him unconditional love but he can’t help but think about his birth mother whom he accidentally left 20 some years ago. He feels unfulfilled and sets out to find her in the shantytown where he was born. He doesn’t have the town’s name just vague recollections of some of its features and a tower. It’s a remarkable and unexpected story with a lot to like, although the film’s vision and tone may be too sentimental for some. Kidman is terrific and adds some piquancy, especially in her character’s frumpy wig and clothes. Garth Davis directs the film based on Saroo Brierley’s book “A Long Way Home” and it strikes me that Patel, the cute, spunky kid from Slumdog Millionaire is framed and shot kinda sexy. He’s all grown up now.
Sadie’s Last Days on Earth is a winning comedy about a teenager who believes that the world is going to end in thirty days. She’s no fundamentalist; her scientific research tells her so. With that in mind Sadie (Morgan Taylor Campbell) transforms her room into a bunker and makes a To Do list for The End. She must learn to knit, kiss a boy, get her best friend back after a spat and survive, dammit. We follow her as she ticks off each job and the day grows closer. It’s a sweet film and surprise, surprise this teen has good relations with her family! It’s set in the universe of teen anxiety but there’s plenty of heart, humour and hope, a film that would make a fun outing for mothers and young daughters. Writer director Michael Seater pulls together a solid Canadian cast with stars from Degrassi, Murdoch Mysteries, Ruby Skye and General Hospital with a cameo by George Stroumboulopoulos as Sadie’s’ supplies man .
Amazon’s comedy drama series Mozart in the Jungle launched its new season last night. Title notwithstanding, the series is about a fictional New York symphony and its new conductor a world renowned superstar, played by Gael Garcia Bernal. The music’s stately and beautiful but behind the scenes it’s anything but as sex, politics, petty jealousies and ego hold sway. The new season launches in Venice, where the players have gathered for a major concert, the return of a reclusive and world renowned soprano played by Monica Bellucci. The lush world of Venice’ upper crust is a “gilty” pleasure as the characters continue on their merry, unthinking ways. The music is glorious of course.
Netflix has added 12 Years a Slave the landmark fact-based film about freeborn black landowner Solomon Northup, who before the Civil War was captured and sold into slavery. He endured unthinkable tortures from hanging just short of death, beatings whippings and psychological abuse by his plantation owners and their enforcers until a Canadian (Brad Pitt) moved heaven and earth to help him regain his freedom. This is powerful stuff, starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch. It won 3 Oscars and a further 312 nominations around the world.
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The holidays are a good time to visit TIFF Bell Lightbox, on King St. in Toronto. Three restaurants, movies galore and there’s a story for gift seekers TIFF Memberships go down well as will Star Trek pillows, Benedict Cumberbatch colouring books and marquee-style lightboxes, books, arts and crafts on cinema. The Lightbox gift shop is on the ground floor.
But the movies are the big deal and TIFF has a varied menu of film programmes on tap:
Spirited Away: The Films of Studio Ghibli – Dec. 24 – Jan. 10 A retrospective of the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki, opening with Castle in the Sky (1986) in which a corrupt military regime and a band of sky pirates pursue a young girl who holds the secret to a legendary floating city.
Magnificent 70mm — Dec. 24, 2016 – Jan. 1 Cinemas’ great 70mm films projected as they were meant to be, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958); Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982); and Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff (1983).
Sing-a-Long-a Sound of Music — Dec. 26 – 31 The classic Julie Andrews film musical (1965), in glorious, full-screen Technicolor, is transformed into a high-energy entertainment event, complete with subtitles so that the whole audience can sing along.
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