The talk of the town since its debut at TIFF, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is the fourth iteration of the old chestnut in which a celebrated male performer is eclipsed by his newbie wife’s burgeoning career. Lady Gaga and director co-star Cooper have electricity and chemistry to spare, they fit nicely into each other’s universe and the action builds naturally to its climax and conclusion. The music is honest and spans genres, and hits the spot without exception. Cooper’s direction is absolutely solid and it’s a crowd pleaser, I’m told. But the film has serious problems. Lady Gaga is endearing and compelling and an exceptional singer, but she is not an actress. Perhaps her uncertainty is purposeful. It’s a tough role walking on eggs around her sensitive, drunken husband while throwing herself into a career that she knows will topple him. Cooper astonishes with an extra triple whammy – singing, songwriting and guitar playing, but his character has an extremely limited, profane vocabulary that’s all effing this and effing that. The three prior versions, all better, have removed the element of plot that new generations may find interesting but they do know a formula film when they see one. It will win nominations and awards without a doubt. For me, its formula under the guise of not being formula is a deal breaker. It’s corny, awkward at times and too long. A little judicious editing and a risk or two would have helped greatly.
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The film version of Patrick DeWitt’s whimsical and extraordinarily violent oater The Sisters Brothers stars John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as a pair of trigger happy fixers sent into the Wild West to find a gold prospector (Riz Ahmed), kill him for a bad debt. Half western, half Homer’s Odyssey the brothers wander the untamed wilderness of 1860’s Washington State, meeting figures they generally kill while pondering life’s mysteries. The brothers are fond of conversation with a philosophical bent and humour, but one has a staggering recklessness about him and shoots random bystanders for no reason and for reasons equally. Look, ma, too funny! A guy who was dead just sat up – shoot the mf and don’t lose a beat! The whole exercise is an outrageous plein air video game set in a lawless time long ago and far away with horses as love interests. There are moments of heart-stopping importance and gravity, and positive payoffs worthy of the elaborate setup and there is much to appreciate – their love for one another, an appreciation of the natural world, intelligence, humour and innate charm, but you know, violence. Jake Gyllenhaal shows up for a hot second. To say there is too much casual killing is an extreme understatement.
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David Lowery’s The Old Man & the Gun is a beautiful, simple and graceful exit vehicle for star Robert Redford who has hinted that it’s his last film. Lowery’s gripping psychological drama A Ghost Story was one of 2017’s best independent films, and this gem takes the same deliberate pace. It is slow and gentle, allowing us to notice the details, and asks us to adjust our thinking to absorb the characters, mood and artistry.. It’s a sweet seduction and another example of Lowery’s’ radical approach to filmmaking. No wonder Redford wanted to work with him. He plays Forrest Tucker (not the actor) a 70 year old armed bank robber who manages to charm crisp bills out of their drawers, and has escaped prison a whopping sixteen times. He’s just flown the San Quentin coop to join pals (Danny Glover and Tom Waits) and plan the next heist. Casey Affleck plays an interesting character, a police detective who is drawn to Tucker and his moxy and aims to capture him. Meanwhile Tucker meets a widow (Sissy Spacek) he likes; he promises to call it quits on robbery. Redford reveals him in an achingly naturalistic, bittersweet way, he’s full of life and wisdom. He loves people, but loves robbing banks more. Lowery and Redford have made a jewel.
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Have you caught Murphy Brown? All these years on and the show returns triumphant, retaining all of its wit, bite and humour. And what a time for it to return! It’s anti-Trump screeds feel so right. We need Murph now.
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Brown’s back on the air anchoring a morning news show for an MSNBC / CNN equivalent and her son Evan, also a journalist has landed at the rival, right wing Wolf Network opposite his mother’s time slot. Good times right there. I’m struck by the loving give and take between them, which differentiates the show from the rest that routinely pit parent against child. Candace Bergen’s career rebooted last year with her stellar comic turns in Book Club last year and taking up residence at Brown’s Washington pad seems necessary and genius now. From Hollywood ingénue and great beauty to this state of being proudly middle aged and funny. I have endless love for Bergen, and the show. Thursdays on CITY.
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Julia Roberts abandons the big screen for a limited series on Amazon Prime Video! Homecoming, an edgy military noir follows a caseworker/ therapist in a mysterious Florida military facility where veterans of Middle East wars are treated for PTSD and prepared for life on the outside. She gathers information from the clients about their experiences overseas and relates them to her boss in a drug factory somewhere in Asia. A young veteran played by Toronto’s Stephan James arrives and settles in, and seems open to therapy. His roommate is seized with the idea that something underhanded is going on, he doesn’t believe they are in Florida and that the facility is a film set in some unknown place. Years later, looking worse for wear, she’s waitressing in a Florida fish fry place denying to FBI investigators that she was the woman at Homecoming. Not a bad start, eh?
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Also on Amazon Prime Video Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle, the series set in a dystopian America run by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. A woman may have found the key to bringing down the fascist regime while Juliana hopes it’s not too late to stop the Nazis in their plot to wipe out all opposition. Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
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The brutally funny Netflix film Private Life from Academy Award-nominated writer director Tamara Jenkins stars Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn as an older couple struggling with infertility. They gamely negotiate adoption, fertility treatments, surrogates, but on the other hand, there’s overpopulation, climate change, the rise of neo-fascism. Well, what’s this? Niece Kylie Carter appears when they are at a heartbreaking impasse and offers them a new shot at life. Biting humour, big love and an understanding, compassionate view of human nature = touching. Molly Shannon, John Carroll Lynch and Denis O’Hare co-star. Hahn is especially poignant as a woman who will not give up on her dream.
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Goethe Films presents the acclaimed German TV limited series Bad Banks – and the timing couldn’t be better with the traction gamed by feminist empowerment movements lighting up the world. Jana, an ambitious investment banker is confronted by the grim toxic male realities of her field, systemic male dominance, runaway egotism, narcissism and the ages old success-by-any-mean possible establishment doctrine. Jana must decide what to do going forward to participate in a flawed system that automatically discriminates against her. The German-Luxembourgish co-production, set in Europe’s financial capitals has won numerous awards and production has begun on a second season for German TV. Very cool, TIFF, TV miniseries and limited series provide stellar programming these days. Two episodes will be shown each evening October 4th, 9th and 11th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Must be eighteen. www.goethe.de/canada/germanfilm
The 18th Reelworld Film Festival runs October 9 to 14, featuring work from racially diverse Canadian filmmakers including Kim O’Bomsawin, Sean Devlin, Xiaodan He, Shazia Javed, Leon Lee, Gillian McKercher and Lenin M. Sivam telling ranging from climate change, human rights, transgender issues, women’s rights, globalization, racism and indigenous rights. Founder of the festival Tonya Williams says “The festival grows stronger each year, because we’re programming films that speak to the cultural struggles of our communities. The quality and maturity in our programming improves each year. The Opening Night Gala Roobha is a romance focused on the complexities of personality and gender identity within the South-Asian community in Toronto.
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Other titles featured are Circle of Steel about one woman’s experiences in the 2015 Alberta oil and gas crisis, and When the Storm Fades, a docudrama stars a real Filipino family re-enacting their day to day recovery from 2012’s Typhoon Haiyan the strongest storm in recorded history.
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Under Sharia law, the word “Divorce” said three times makes it legally so. 3 Seconds Divorce looks at one woman’s transformation from destitute single mother to activist.
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Un Printemps D’Ailleurs (A Touch of Spring) highlights Chinese life and culture in Montréal, with eye opening results. Ce Silence qui Tue (A Quiet Killing) offers first-hand accounts of women and men who testify about the lack of action in the murders of indigenous women.
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Learn about other titles, locations and ticket information here: https://www.reelworld.ca
The 21st edition of Cinéfranco Toronto’s annual and Canada’s largest celebration of French film offers a few genres this year, including heart pounding thrillers, policiers and women’s stories. Buckle up – voici un avant-goût:
La Belle et la meute (Beauty and the Dogs) from Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania finds Miriam wandering the streets of a Tunisian city in the aftermath of a vicious rape by police officers. It screened at Cannes 2017 in Un Certain Regard and was Tunisia’s entry for Best Foreign Language Oscar.
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The tightly plotted Belgian crime thriller Tueurs (Above the Law) is inspired by co-director/writer Francois Troukens’ experiences as an ex-con. While Frank carries out a daring but non-violent hold-up, a commando force kills the magistrate investigating a political case and he is blamed.
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Olivier Marchal’s Carbone (Carbon) follows a man threatened with losing his company who commits “the burglary of the century.”
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Belgian director Samuel Tillman’s psychological thriller Une Part d’ombre (The Benefit of the Doubt) finds David being questioned in a murder investigation. Not is all it seems when respectable façade comes down.
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Hubert Charuel’s Petit paysan (Bloody Milk) stars Swann Arland as a moody young dairy farmer who will do whatever it takes to save his herd in the face of an epidemic.
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Vincent Cassel plays a jaded detective in Erick Zonca’s mystery thriller Fleuve noir (Black Tide) who fails to see his son’s involvement in drug trafficking while focussing on a missing teen.
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Cinéfranco also explores women in and on film. Debbie Lynch-White stars in La Bolduc the life story of Mary Travers a household name in 1930s Quebec for her Irish and French-Canadian folk songs.
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Comme des garçons (Let the Girls Play) is the story of the first all-female French soccer team that helped spark the women’s; movement in the 1960s.
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French actress-director Agnès Jaoui reunites with frequent co-star and co-writer Jean-Pierre Bacri for Place Publique, a satiric swipe at contemporary French bourgeois society. Sandrine Bonnaire stars in Prendre le large (Catch the Wind) as a middle aged Parisienne starting a new life alone in Morocco against the wishes of family and friends. Cinéfranco 2018 screenings take place at the Carlton Cinema October 5 – 13: http://2018.cinefranco.com/en
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI