Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are well-matched in the curiously eccentric and utterly mesmerising The Lighthouse. Robert Eggers the genius behind the superlative supernatural drama The Witch puts the men in a lonely lighthouse off Nova Scotia standing in for New England, takes away their food supply, supplies generous amounts of whiskey, gives them hallucinations, drunken rages and brutal sea storms and lets ‘em go at it. Shot in antique black and white in a tiny square frame, we are trapped in this powder as claustrophobia grows, then madness, inevitable in this queasy cinematic box. Dafoe’s an ill-tempered old salt and Pattinson’s a con on the run, but the journey to disintegration is the thing. It’s poetic and scary, as they attempt to keep things civil until the inevitable failure. Old-style English language and lexicon are Egger’s way of removing us from our comfort zone adding to the general agita. Haunting in the extreme and funny, The Lighthouse is a marvel. But I expect nothing less of Eggers who can really make the past come alive.
Antonio Banderas’ outstanding performance as a washed-up film director in Pain and Glory, from his long-time friend and the man he appears to portray, director Pedro Almodóvar is gloriously, painfully intimate. Banderas show Salvador’s life through, living underground in profound poverty with his mother (Penelope Cruz, a romantic connection with a man when he was still a boy, his promising then dashed career and later life as a sudden heroin addict. On top of which he’s anxious about the upcoming celebration of the 30th anniversary of his most successful film. It’s a symphonic experience, brilliant in its shimmering memories, laced with love, darkness and fear. Salvador faces a medical emergency and somehow in all this, lives with grace. His mother’s legacy keeps him going and she never lets him take anything for granted. Fascinating, penetrating and ultimately uplifting, Pain and Glory is ready for its awards closeups.
An amusing HBO documentary on a tight-knit group of octogenarian Bronx Boys touring the old ‘hood is surprisingly funny and engaging. The Bronx, USA from the hilarious mind of Seinfeld producer George Shapiro and his Shapiro/West Productions partner Howard West is a smart, fond look at life during the Depression and WWII “We had so much fun!” It features members of the 1949 graduating class of DeWitt Clinton High School – Robert Klein, Gen. Colin Powell, Melissa Manchester, Chazz Palminteri, Alan Alda, Melle Mel, Carl Reiner, Hal Linden, and Rob Reiner. Shapiro’s Seinfeld-like humour and infectious upbeat personality are the heart of the film although I bet that’s not what he intended. He’s too self-deprecating. This insider’s look at the place that gave birth to do-wop, salsa and hip hop shows that it was a carefree peaceful place until the 60s – 80s’ when it became “Fort Apache, The Bronx” via drugs and guns. Fortunately, it’s on the upswing as attested by Shapiro’s portraits of 2017 class graduates, an articulate bright bunch, that dreams of higher education. Part musical, part doc, this is a treat not just as a guide to The Bronx but as a piece of heartwarming, toe-tapping entertainment.
In June 2018, women in Saudi Arabia were finally allowed the right to drive. Until then they were dependent on men to take them where they needed to go and barred from doing what we take for granted. They lived under men’s thumbs, inferior uneducated, dependent. Erica Gornall’s eye-opening HBO documentary Saudi Women’s Driving School looks at the tremendous social and political effects of their new freedom. We meet a female Uber driver whose customers admit they don’t agree with the new law but grudgingly assert her rights, a female car salesperson, who works due to the post-oil era and because they enjoy it. We visit the massive Saudi Driving School in the capital city of Riyadh for women only and take a hair raising drive with a nervous newbie. A man says he won’t let his wife drive because “people will see her” and a spirited young woman race driver and notice the male mechanics keep their distance. King Salman is now lifting some Guardianship terms which decree women must be accompanied by men in public. The times they are a changin’. Absolutely fascinating.
Acorn’s wonderful series Agatha Raisin returns Monday in a Hallowe’en special The Haunted House launching its much anticipated third season. Ashley Jenson plays Agatha, the hip and happening London PR maven who opts for village life where she can flex her newfound muscles as a private investigator. She has a new hip space in an old chapel, colourful staff and an I-can-do-anything attitude. As it’s a small English village so you just know murder is afoot. Seems Ivy Hall, a local stately home, built in the 1600s has violent ghosts, but are they capable of murder? Ghost and treasure hunters arrive on the scene seeking a rumoured trove of gold. Ghostly sounds and disturbances may be the work of the widely disliked until she turns up dead. Thing is real estate developers have their eye on the place. Agatha’s deep well of confidence, humour and ingenuity make this a fun time, but in no way does she resemble the village ladies of the past who solve murder mysteries. I mean, those clothes! Those stilettoes! That sass.
A strange and moody sci-f horror takes hold on digital download this week. By moody I mean it changes tone and mood every half hour or so. It may be because Portals is directed by four people, Eduardo Sanchez of The Blair Witch Project, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto and Liam O’Donnell and that’s a lot of directors, hence the inconsistent feel. It’s a great concept. A couple of computer brainiacs create the first man-made black hole, which unleashes a violent, worldwide electrical interruption and blackout. A family tries to outdrive the chaos but crash into a hypnotic, humming black box floating in the middle of the road. Call Centre staff are doggedly determined to stay and save lives – people are vanishing inside big black boxes. More chapters from distant points confirm this menace is worldwide as black boxes suck in often willing victims. It gets complicated and silly. Only when the nurse’s head explodes did I realise the filmmakers were out of ideas. The cohesion and payoff I was awaiting wasn’t coming. Sigh.
Netflix launches Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner, an addictive four-part series on international food, glorious food. James Beard Award-Winning Chef David Chang and Academy Award-Winner Morgan Neville created a tasty treat that spans the globe with celebrity hosts taking us to their favourite nosheries. Seth Rogen hosts Chang and Neville in his hometown of Vancouver to explore Rogen’s childhood food haunts, smoke weed and slaver over jelly donuts. Chrissy Teigen covers Marrakech via markets, food vendors, dirty tajine making, and lunch in a private home. Lena Waithe is all about Los Angeles and its subcultures, as they traverse the city east to west, get their nails done and seek out food. Kate McKinnon takes them to Phnom Penh to learn about Cambodia’s tragic history “eating everything in their path” while making amusing conversation.
Mongrel Media, a Toronto film distributor has a stellar record for choosing unique and remarkable films from around the world, celebrates its 25th year in the biz is with a series of screenings of their greatest hits in a TIFF Cinematheque retrospective.Mongrel founder Hussain Amarshi chose the company’s name inspired by authors Salman Rushdie and Michael Ondaatje, and his own history in Uganda, Zaire, Pakistan and Canada. Besides international fare, Mongrel champions Canadian films including Aisling Walsh’s Maudie, John Crowley’s Brooklyn, Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell and Kim Nguyen’s Rebelle. The retrospective begins Oct 30th with Mongrel’s first acquisition The Silences of the Palace by Moufida Tlatli, a feminist Tunisian film.
Manufactured Landscapes (Jennifer Baichwal) – Friday – November 1 – 9:30 pm
Water (Deepa Mehta) – Friday – November 8 – 8:30 pm
Away from Her (Sarah Polley) – Saturday – November 9 – 3:30 pm
The Corporation (Mark Achbar & Jennifer Abbott) – Sunday – November 10 – 3:00 pm
Boyhood (Richard Linklater) – Saturday – November 16 – 9:00 pm
The Lives of Others (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) – Friday – November 22 – 8:45 pm
Amour (Michael Haneke) – Friday – November 29 – 9:10 pm
For more information on the retrospective, go to www.tiff.net/the-review/25-years-of-mongrel-media
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI