You can’t make up what happened in Bart Layton’s incredible American Animals but happen it may have. A pair of high school pals in Lexington, Kentucky wanted big success in life. Warren Lipka (Evan Peters) and Spencer Reinhardt (Barry Keoghan) were well educated, well-spoken and had knowledge in various arcane fields. They expected to have superior lives drop into their laps and when they didn’t, they hatched a scheme. Spencer was obsessed with James Audubon’s The Birds of America ornithological encyclopaedia with its hundreds of original paintings and an original edition, valued at $12 M was housed, without security, in their alma mater Lexington’s Transylvania University. Warren was a thriller seeker with no apparent conscience and Spencer was torn but wanted badly to hold and read and own the book. In 2004, they stole it. Sort of. Preparations and follow through included studying heist movies, and may or may not have included European travel, mobsters, international fences and art traders. It beggars the imagination; two teenagers embarking on a major, historic art theft. They enlisted friends (Hello Destroyer’s Jared Abrahamson and Blake Jenner) but Warren’s overbearing personality and lies nearly scotched the enterprise. Layton goes rogue with style, using both actors and the men they portray; an actor might begin a line of dialogue and the real person finishes. There are multiple perspectives and none are trustworthy. American Animals is a slow burn; it’s outrageous, unexpected and original, complete with a mystical flamingo that may have risen from the pages of the book. Or not. Great retro soundtrack with Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man as the eerie closing. The trailer strangely states it’s “not based on fact” but even if its not to the letter of reality, so what, it’s a blast.
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Bono’s daughter Eve Hewson and Vancouver’s Avan Jogia star in Paper Year written and directed by Ottawa’s Rebecca Adelman, now a TV writer in LA. A pair of 22-year olds, and naive ones at that, marry on a whim. They pledge eternal love to one another but the first days of marriage show serious cracks. One wants a baby, the other doesn’t, one likes to stay home and the other doesn’t any restriction. Franny springs it on her mother (Andie MacDowell) that she’s married but the true heft of the moment isn’t felt quite yet. As the first year passes, little things chip away at the young couple’s illusion of instant and forever happiness. Franny interns on a game show and crushes on her producer (Hamish Linklater) and gas lights Dan. Meanwhile he’s wondering where Franny is. Their planned post-wedding party’s coming up and things look grim, then Mom curiously tells Franny “Marriage gets much harder and life is horrible”. Altogether a shallow, low energy whine fest that never seems to make its points.
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Octavio is Dead! is a depressing bit of Hamilton Ontario familial angst from filmmaker Sook-Yin Lee. Canada’s sweetheart Sarah Gadon (Alias Grace) plays a repressed young woman still living with her temperamental, Joan Crawford-esque mother played by Rosanna Arquette. Gadon’s sexually ambiguous Tyler dresses to hide her figure and gender. They receive word that her father Octavio played by the multi-talented Raoul Trujillo has died and that his estate has been left to Tyler. Her mother then manipulates her into handing it all over. Having bitterly derided Octavio since he left them, mother is now curiously devastated that he’s gone. Tyler leaves to empty Octavio’s apartment and he appears to her as a spirit. He’s trapped, unable to leave the art and book filled apartment so they talk things through, and develop genuine intimacy. That’s when Tyler learns the truth about him and transitions to a male persona. For such rich complex psychological material there isn’t much emotion, so it doesn’t resonate.
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PBS and BritBox offer one of my all-time favourite series Vera in its eighth season and I couldn’t be happier. Vera (Brenda Blethyn) is boss of the homicide division in a small town police detachment; she energetically pounds the pavement with her considerable experience and common sense leaving younger, better-schooled staff in the dust. Her job is to solve murders and she relishes it. Each one she tackles is placed in its own complete universe and unfolds, as life does, one strange twist after another. This is smart stuff, well written and featuring challenging cases, set in the achingly beautiful Northumberland UK seaside. This series asks viewers to think and contemplate human behaviour in all its forms, and enjoy Vera’s steel-trap, analytical mind at work. Vera may be upper middle aged, crusty, snappish and a fashion disaster but her crystal clear mind, instant recall of decades of cases, precision and imagination are joys. There is no series like it and no lead character approaching hers. This is the Rolls Royce of police procedurals – and TV character studies.
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Endeavour returns in its fifth season, starring Shaun Evans as crusty Inspector Morse in his early life as a whip smart police detective solving crimes in Oxford, 1968. Endeavour (his actual first name) Morse and his partner Fred Thursday bring different approaches to investigating murders, Morse’ cool analytics and Thursday’s personable optimism click. Morse is now a police sergeant as the district merges with Thames Valley, bringing more cases and fewer resources. Morse’ love interest Joan, Thursday’s daughter has returned after a long mysterious disappearance and he reckons it’s time to pop the question. Morse finds himself mentoring an irritating new recruit Detective Constable George Fancy, played by Lewis Peek, just as he was mentored not so long ago. Still can’t piece together why the grown Morse was such a difficult unhappy person based on this depiction of Morse, the bright young thing. Hoping all will be revealed. That’s PBS Masterpiece Mystery! Sunday nights. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxAe-f3vmhk
TIFF celebrates the uber-talented filmmaker Elaine May this month. You may not know her but you should. She’s an enormously influential comedy writer director and actor, and emerged in a pre-feminist Hollywood as a triple threat. She and comedy partner Mike Nichols helped pave the way for female comediennes in the 50’s.
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May worked on and in landmark films like A New Leaf, The Heartbreak Kid, Heaven Can Wait, The Birdcage, Primary Colors and the criminally underrated Ishtar. Hers was a fresh voice in the 60’s and 70’s, but she was often diminished in Hollywood by studio executives and male co-stars.
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She’s careful choosing projects and doesn’t have a huge body of work which makes the retro all the more special. TIFF’s Funny Girl: Elaine May retrospective is on now until June 30. Special note, Alicia Fletcher will introduce Tootsie June 29th, at TIFF Bell Lightbox. May co-wrote the Dustin Hoffman cross-dressing comedy and was NOT credited. Go show her you care.
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The Toronto Outdoor Picture Show (TOPS) eighth annual outdoor Christie Pits Film Festival approaches! Screenings are free/Pay-What-You-Can, and are shown in high definition on an inflatable 40’ screen! The theme this year is Cinematic Cities and imaginary curtain rises Sunday June 24 with the 30th anniversary showing of John Waters’ wonderfully subversive Hairspray.
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The musical comedy starring Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, Divine and newcomer Ricky Lake put camp Baltimore on the map as well as teenage fun. Wong Kar-Wai’s Hong Kong proud In the Mood for Love, Ocean’s Eleven de-tackifies Vegas, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise set in Vienna, the Rio de Janeiro documentary Waste Land provokes, Amelie’s otherworldly Montmartre, Paris co-stars. And best of all, Casablanca offers romance, intrigue and mortal danger in spy-packed WWII Morocco.
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Cineplex Theatres offers Family Film Festival in select theatres across the province Wednesdays from June 23rd to August 25th, $2.99 a pop! A portion of the proceeds go the WE Charity. Here’s the rundown:
The Land Before Time June 23
Despicable Me 3 June 30 and July 4
Captain Underpants July 7 and 11
Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies July 14 and 18
The Greatest Showman July 21 and 25
The Princess Bride July 28 and August 1
Sherlock Gnomes August 4 and 8
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle August 11 and 15
Peter Rabbit August 18 and 22
Paddington 2 August 25 and 29
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI