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Best of TIFF14: Lone Scherfig’s “The Riot Club” explores the darker side of privilege
Film Festivals / Film Reviews / Highly Recommended

Best of TIFF14: Lone Scherfig’s “The Riot Club” explores the darker side of privilege

The lads of The Riot Club – an exclusive club for 10 of Oxford University’s richest and brightest young men – make “Gossip Girl”’s Chuck Bass, at his rapiest, look like a prince. And this is a guy who traded the love of his life for a hotel before sleeping with his barely consenting step-sister. Like Chuck Bass, these boys were raised in the lap of luxury and privilege. As they say in Britain, they’re posh, which comes with special customs, accents, and terminology. Continue reading

Best of TIFF 2014: Dome Karukoski’s “The Grump” is a hilarious delight
Film Festivals / Film Reviews / Highly Recommended

Best of TIFF 2014: Dome Karukoski’s “The Grump” is a hilarious delight

Finnish Writer-Director Dome Karukoski’s new comedy “The Grump,” about an aging parent feeling out of step with the modern age, was also one of the sweetest, funniest, and most emotional films at the Toronto International Film Festival. When introducing the film, Karukoski described the central character (played by Antti Litja) as the sort of man … Continue reading

People with dementia are more “Alive Inside” than you might expect
Documentary / Film Reviews / Recommended

People with dementia are more “Alive Inside” than you might expect

“Alive Inside” opens on a ninety-year-old woman, sitting in a chair set against a black background, explaining that she can’t remember anything. The setting is very deliberate: she suffers from dementia, and as the film will argue repeatedly throughout, people with dementia in nursing homes live in a world devoid of meaning. We watch her start listening to Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and she lights up, telling us it reminds her of her school days. Then, the film cuts to an old black-and-white film strip, a stand-in for the kinds of memories the music must be evoking. The stories of her life start pouring out. What the social worker Dan Cohen discovered is that music seems to unlock a previously inaccessible world of memories for people with dementia, and “Alive Inside” follows his journey to bring this joy to more people. Continue reading

“Frank”: a hilarious and bizarre trip inside the head inside that head
Film Reviews / Highly Recommended

“Frank”: a hilarious and bizarre trip inside the head inside that head

Midway through Lenny Abrahamson’s delightful, offbeat, and hilarious comedy, “Frank,” Don (Scoot McNairy) explains to his bandmate Jon (Domnhall Gleeson) that “sooner or later you’re going to get the feeling, ‘why can’t I be Frank?’ But there can only be one Frank!” Frank (Michael Fassbender), of course, is the de-facto bandleader of the unpronounceable Soronprfbs whose music is a bizarre mixture of electronica, alternative, and rock, with lyrics like “in the soup, ginger crouton, raw meat sausage.” Frank later describes their audience as “people who chance upon us, and realise after a few minutes, they don’t like us.” Much of Frank’s mystery derives from the fact that he never takes off his giant cartoon paper mâché head, not even to shower (“He must have a very bushy beard. How does he clean his teeth?”). It allows people to mistake his mental illness for genius, but he’s got both. Continue reading

Josh Thomas returns for a second terrific season of the Australian comedy “Please Like Me” on Pivot TV
Highly Recommended / TV reviews

Josh Thomas returns for a second terrific season of the Australian comedy “Please Like Me” on Pivot TV

The terrific first season of Australian comic Josh Thomas’s comedy series, “Please Like Me,” set the bar high with its unique blend of humour, pathos, and awkwardness, which didn’t shy away from the very dark – in the first episode, Josh’s mother, Rose (Debra Lawrence), attempted suicide – but always remained buoyant. After getting dumped … Continue reading

Radcliffe and Kazan charm in “The F Word,” or “What If” friends fall in love in Toronto
Film Reviews / Recommended

Radcliffe and Kazan charm in “The F Word,” or “What If” friends fall in love in Toronto

When Michael Dowse’s smart and entertaining romantic comedy, “The F Word,” premiered at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, it was hailed as one of the films (like Villeneuve’s “Enemy”) ushering in a new era of Canadian cinema: movies with mainstream appeal, featuring international movie stars, that are both shot in and set in Canada. … Continue reading

“Magic in the Moonlight”: a frivolous delight with Colin Firth and Emma Stone
Film Reviews / Recommended

“Magic in the Moonlight”: a frivolous delight with Colin Firth and Emma Stone

If “Magic in the Moonlight” were made by any other filmmaker than Woody Allen, it would probably seem like a perfectly agreeable romantic comedy. It stars Colin Firth playing a rendition of his trademark role, the charming curmudgeon, or you know, Mr Darcy, and features a plethora of clever one-liners and lovely 1930s costumes, especially … Continue reading

“I Origins”: a pseudo-science fiction film that actually gets how scientists operate
Film Reviews / Recommended

“I Origins”: a pseudo-science fiction film that actually gets how scientists operate

Most films that tackle something somewhat scientific take on scientific advisors to make sure they get things right. It’s often a job reserved for prestigious scientists: Carolyn Porco, for instance, who runs the JPL lab, was the advisor for J.J. Abraams’s first “Star Trek” film. Given the absence of good science in most movies, including that one, I can only assume that filmmakers don’t listen too much to their scientific advisors. On the other hand, we rarely see characters who act and talk like scientists – David Auburn’s “Proof”, about mathematicians, is one of the rare exceptions – in part, I would guess, because most filmmakers don’t start out by getting a STEM degree, like Shane Carruth (“Primer”) did. Continue reading