Thursday, September 14, 2017

TIFF 2017 - Dramas / Action

Of the remaining dramas and action movies described in this final blog entry of my Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2017 experience, I watched two amazing movies, two movies that I thought were OK, one that had potential but could not quite follow through on its premise, and one that should have been great based on the reputation and past work of the director, but turned out to be truly awful.

Eye on Juliet was the first movie that I watched in the IMAX screening room within the Scotiabank Theatre complex.  Set mostly in Morocco, this was the perfect film to view in this theatre, even though the movie was not filmed in IMAX format, since the much larger screen showed off the expansive arid landscape of the Sahara desert with the Atlas Mountains in the background.  If only there were a few more rows in the theatre, as even from the back row, it felt too close for my far-sighted vision relative to the giant screen. 
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Eye On Juliet turned out to be beautiful but unconventional love story.  Stationed in Detroit, drone operator Gordon monitors oil pipelines in Morocco, guarding them against vandalism and bandits who want to steal the oil.  These crab-like drones have cameras that provide video feeds including infrared images, and have translation capabilities that allow the operator to understand foreign languages as well as to translate his spoken English into other languages, using a range of tones from smoothing to menacing.  A morose Gordon, who had just been dumped by his girlfriend, becomes intrigued by pretty Moroccan girl who is wandering around in the hillside near the pipes.  Using his drone to spy on her, Gordon learns that she is planning to escape Morocco with her lover to avoid an arranged marriage with an older man.  Dubbing her "Juliet" after Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers, Gordon is determined to help her.  This was a wonderful movie that I was surprised to learn was a co-production by Canada, France and Morocco, directed by Canadian Kim Nguyen.
Angels Wear White is a fabulous movie by Chinese director Vivian Qu, whose film was the only one by a female director to be invited to the Venice film festival.  Although not quite the classic definition of a film-noir movie as described in the synopsis, it certainly has a noir feel in terms of mood, tone, pace, lighting and dark subject matter filled with pessimism, fatalism and menace.  Mia, a teenaged runaway without papers, is illegally working as cleaning staff at a small hotel in a sleepy beach-side resort.  One night, the receptionist Lily asks Mia to cover the front desk for her while she goes on a date.  While Mia is watching the security monitors, she witnesses the prelude to the sexual abuse of two 12-year-old school girls by a senior government official, but does not want to get involved due to her own precarious status.  The rest of the movie revolves around the investigation and cover-up of this event, focusing mainly on one of the girls named Wen, who has been neglected by her divorced parents and left to run wild.  This movie provides a view into the rampant corruption in China, where justice is only for the rich and powerful and everyone only cares about looking out for themselves.  The one altruistic character in the movie is a female lawyer who works relentlessly to find proof of the girls’ assault and to bring the perpetrator to justice.  In a Hollywood movie, justice would prevail in the end, but this is China where anyone can and will be bribed.  The young females in Angels Wear White, including Wen, Mia and even Lily, are all victims of their social standing, environment and circumstances.  Each of these characters show great resilience in face of the hardships that they face.  There is a repeating motif of a giant sculpture of Marilyn Monroe in her flapping white dress from The Seven Year Itch, a symbol of innocence, vulnerability and sexuality.  Like Wen and Mia at the end of the movie, was Marilyn yet another angel who wore white.

Number One is a French movie about women fighting for equal rights and trying to crash through the corporate glass ceiling by having one of their own be named CEO of a major corporation.  Facing misogyny and dirty office politics, the women resort to unethical campaigns of their own in order to win the day.  It seems sad, especially after also watching the movie Battle of the Sexes which took place in the 1970s, that this movie is still so relevant today.  Although there have definitely been advances in opportunities for women since Billy Jean King fought for equal pay for female tennis players, there is still so far to go before we can claim there is true equality between the genders.

The movie Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle is a co-production between Netherlands, Italy and Canada, as the tale spans all three countries.  It starts off in Montreal where Anna is promising to fulfill her dying mother’s last wish, to have her ashes returned to be scattered in her home town of Puglia, Italy.  Arriving in Puglia with the ashes stored in a large Tupperware container that her mother left as a “parting gift”, Anna is met by two locals, Immacolata and her son Vito, who claim to know her and her mother from years ago.  What follows is a lengthy flashback as Immacolata recalls the story of how Anna’s parents met and came to Italy, and how she ended up with her adopted mother in Canada.  Anna’s parents Gauke and Ria were both Dutch refugees who met on a ship while escaping the great flood of 1953.  Wanting to avoid the constant rain in their home country, they immigrated to the little Italian village where they made friends, planted tulips that they brought with them, and started a business selling them.  The tale of what happened to her parents is told in an almost fairy tale-like manner that is full of romance, adventure and mystery, as Anna learns about her heritage and her identity.

Black Cop has a very interesting premise in its attempt to bring attention to the issue of racial profiling and discrimination against blacks.  Surprisingly this is not an American movie but rather a Canadian one.  A political satire written and directed by Corey Bowles from the Trailer Park Boys and based on his personal experiences, the movie deals with a black police officer, known only as “Black Cop”, who is considered a traitor to his race by other blacks.   When he is racially profiled and stopped for no reason while jogging off duty, Black Cop snaps and takes matters into his hands.  He turns the tables on white people, treating them as white cops have treated blacks.  He stops a white doctor jogging in an affluent neighbourhood after hearing a bulletin about a suspicious figure in the area wearing a hoodie, pulls over a vehicle with a young white couple and forces them out of the car and cuffs them when they question why they were stopped, and harasses a white student with a backpack.  When the student becomes scared and runs away, he pretends to shoot him with his finger and the student falls to the ground before getting up and continuing to run away.  It all seems so outrageous until you realize that these things actually happen to blacks except that they get shot with real guns.  The concept and social commentary of this movie was great, but there wasn’t enough content or expansion on the theme to sustain the entire movie.  One of the most poignant speeches that Black Cop makes is when he explains how he patrols the airwaves for incidents involving blacks and rushes over so that he is the one to make the arrest.  This is his way of protecting them since he knows that at least he would use restraint.

My husband Rich loves Hong Kong shoot-em-up action movies, so he was most excited about watching Manhunt, by director John Woo, whose credentials include the Hollywood gem Faceoff, and highly rated Chinese movies including Hardboiled and The Killers.  Unfortunately we found Manhunt is definitely not Woo’s best work.  The plot is convoluted, over-the-top and totally unimaginative, as it reuses elements from previous iconic movies of this genre and mashes them all together to make an incoherent mess.  Manhunt is a combination of “The Fugitive” meets “Lethal Weapon” meets “Limitless” or “Captain America : Winter Soldier” meets any “James Bond” movie, trotting out the tropes of the innocent man on the run, the suicidal cop who takes outrageous chances to catch the “bad guy” before realizing it is not who he initially thought it was, the evil pharmaceutical company manufacturing drugs for nefarious purposes with frightening side effects, and chase/action/fight scenes involving so many different groups of villains and protagonists that it is difficult to keep track of who is attacking whom.  The action scenes were actually fun and exciting, but nothing new.  They involve chases on foot, cars, motorcycles, subway cars and seadoos, as well as fight sequences using guns, machine guns, samourai swords, kung fu, and acrobatic battles while the cop and the man on the run are handcuffed together.  Although nothing we have not seen before, Woo at least knows how to film great action scenes, so had these sequences been couched with an interesting, intelligent story line, all would have been well.  But what really tanked this movie was the extremely cheesy, dialogue delivered in a stilted manner in three languages —Japanese, Mandarin and English.  The problem is that none of the actors can speak English properly, and their stiff, unnatural pronunciation undercuts any tension or emotional scenes, resulting in unintentional laugh-out-loud moments.  This was a very disappointing movie, especially considering that it is clear John Woo can do better.

After 1.5 weeks of watching “advanced screenings” of movies prior to the start of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), followed by 9 intensive days of watching films from day to night during the festival, averaging 4 movies a day, Rich and I are exhausted but thrilled.  Thank goodness for the Bell Lightbox Blue Room Members' Lounge, which allowed us to rest and even take a quick nap between screenings.  We watched so many great movies this year, and due to our Patron’s Circle TIFF membership, the experience of watching Press and Industry (P&I) screenings and not requiring to line up most of the time was fabulous.  Not paying for specific movies also made the opportunity cost of inevitably selecting a bad one much less painful.  I chose to watch Sheikh Jackson, supposedly a comedy about an Egyptian Muslim imam (prayer leader) who is thrown for a loop by the unexpected death of his idol Michael Jackson.  I sat through about 40 minutes of slow-paced scenes of people praying and chanting and not much else happening, without a single humorous moment before I finally gave up on the movie.  As I walked out of the theatre, I quickly checked the P&I schedule and realized that I could walk into another movie that had been on my short list with 5 minutes to spare.  I ended up watching the documentary Supersize Me 2 – Holy Chicken which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Now that we have experienced TIFF in this manner, I’m not sure we can ever go back to the time-intensive process of watching public screenings.

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