Tim Burton’s Burtonesque Dumbo is exactly what we’d expect from the master of otherworldly, amusing goth. Moody sets, lighting, art design and weather are gloomy-to-dark, shot in waxing / waning golden hours or by night or in storms; things are best seen by candlelight or by limelight. But nothing outshines Dumbo’s beautiful, soulful blue eyes – he is special, the beating heart of this rich adventure. Dumbo’s story was first told in 1941.
Burton follows the spirit but with some key variations on the storyline. Dumbo and his mother work in the circus but she’s sold. Circus riding star and widower Colin Farrell is back from the war minus an arm, putting his young family in financial jeopardy. Kind-hearted circus master Danny DeVito asks him to care the elephants and keep the baby with the big ugly sheet-like ears out of sight of the customers. Turns out those ears are a goldmine – he can fly! Michael Keaton’s evil businessman gets wind of Dumbo’s talents and makes a deal to buy the circus but it’s a scam that will destroy it. Tough story but, hang in there, you’ll cheer through your tears. This Dumbo is set in 1911 but for all intents and purposes, is as modern as this minute. Get out your handkerchiefs and enjoy yourselves!
Tantoo Cardinal is one of Canada’s great natural resources, an actor, producer and teacher who has appeared in films, on television and onstage for four decades. Cardinal had a record four films at TIFF this past year, and two open this week. Cardinal is a one-woman force of nature in the powerful psychological study Falls Around Her about Mary Birchbark, an Anishinaabe rock musician who returns to the reserve to reclaim her life. She knows her must give herself over to nature in isolation as her sister prods her to get out and meet men. A failed relationship in the city moves north, forcing her go into warrior mode. Mary is a survivor, she’s strong and focused and ready to fight for her independence and her life. Darlene Naponse’ vivid and thrilling journey through the eyes of a beautifully multi-faceted, mature character is dazzling. Cardinal is radiant and fierce.
Don McKellar’s Through Black Spruce with rising star Tanaya Beatty follows Annie, a Cree woman from northern Ontario who travels to Toronto to search for her missing twin sister. Suzanne, a model abandoned her family up north for the high life and all the dangers that entails. Meanwhile, their Uncle Will (Brandon Oakes) tells us another version of the story from his coma bed, seen briefly set amongst the trees as a reminder of the power of the natural world. Her story slips from one reality to another and it seems that we’ll never know what happened to Suzanne, buts It’s driven forward by Annie’s will to find her so she can heal herself, her twin, her family and community. Note: Tantoo Cardinal is in this one too! Based on Joseph Boyden’s novel and shot in Toronto and Moosonee.
In November 2008, a handful of terrorists sent from Pakistan carried out a brutal massacre inside the historic luxury Taj Palace Hotel, killing thirty-one hotel guests and staff over four days. Anthony Maras’ riveting Hotel Mumbai is a moment to moment depiction of events rendered with shocking immediacy. The relentless pacing mimics the confusion and helplessness inside the hotel and underscores the inhumanity and blank indifference of the attackers. Help was days arriving but inside unlikely heroes emerged including the hotel Chef, who calmly, strategically shepherds guests to safe places while submerging his own emotions. Incredible story. The media was shown the film the day of the cowardly Christchurch murders which brought everything into sharp, painful focus. Armie Hammer, Dev Patel, Nazanin Boniadi and Anupam Kher star.
Giant Little Ones is a smart look at modern teen sexuality and how confusing it all can really be. Directed by Keith Behrman, the film follows two best friends in high school, Franky (Josh Wiggins) and Ballas (Darren Mann). Something happens between them during a drunken night at a birthday party – Franky wants to talk about it, but Ballas shuts him out. Soon after, a rumour spreads that Franky is gay. It takes a look at how they both – and everyone around them handles it differently. At the same time, Franky’s father, played by Kyle McLaughlin, has recently come out. As you can imagine, there’s a lot going on. There’s something to learn here for everyone and I thought it was beautifully acted and shot. – Alex, WSS Producer
Russia’s Best Foreign Language Oscar entry is the grim, and little-known true story of the only successful revolt in a WWII Nazi death camp. Sobibor written, directed by and starring Konstantin Khabenskiy is set in the Polish countryside in 1943, in Hitler’s smallest and most remote camps. After months of every kind of abuse and torture, Soviet prisoner Alexander Pechersky plots a meticulous uprising with the help of three hundred prisoners. Remember Christopher Lambert? He plays Nazi SS officer Karl Frenzel who killed 250,000 Jews the locus of evil, shot along with eleven other officers. Some prisoners escaped but by wars end only 50 survived, including Pechersky. As grim as the story and the moment in history is, the film des offer moments of light and community within the camp.
What happens when girlfriends go into the hospitality business together, and one marries the other’s ex-husband, who has now died but watching over them from beyond? We’re given different perspectives on life in the bucolic Cornwall country inn and the drama inside– hers, hers, the mother’s, the daughter’s and his. Delicious, Series 3 from Acorn TV. Chef Gina (Dawn French) and partner Sam (Emilia Fox) are chalk and cheese, so it’s strange they wound up with the same man. But no hard feelings, life goes on. They host a fundraiser, philanthropist and womanizing investor Mason Eliot shows up and history repeats itself. It’s fun, a guilty pleasure about friendship between women, men, sex and food.
FX ‘s What We Do in the Shadows shot right here in Toronto is a darkly funny “vérité vampire comedy” based on the feature film from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi and Scott Rudin. It’s a mock-doc about four colourful vampires living together in the same house for four hundred years, they have their spats, their sycophantic human “familiars” and do what vampires do. Leader Nandor The Relentless (Kayvan Novak) is hysterically cliched as he tries to live his best life with his three roomies in their Staten Island rotting mansion. One day their Dark Lord shows up and moves in. A vérité camera crew follows along as the vampires set out to take over America, and realise the place is too big to actually take over.
Sad news dear reader. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss’ excellent political satire Veep on HBO is entering its final season. *Sigh*
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