Friday, September 13, 2019

TIFF 2019 - Day 7-9

Bad Education is based on an actual school embezzlement scandal that broke in the mid 2000s. For years, School Superintendent Frank Tassone and his assistant Pam Gluckin had been defrauding the Roslyn High School in Long Island New York. By over-billing for school expenses and pocketing the difference, billing large personal expenses under ambiguous categories, and billing to fake companies (one owned by Tassone’s romantic partner), the pair bilked the school system for over $10 million dollars. As their scam starts to unravel, after throwing Gluckin under the bus to save himself, Tassone tries to deflect from his own culpability using charm, self-righteous justifications and finally intimidation. Tassone’s personal life also comes to light as it is revealed that as opposed to being the long-grieving widow with a (fake) photo of his young bride sitting on his desk, he is a closeted gay man with a long-term partner in New York and a younger exotic dancer lover on the side. The movie also questions the accountability of the school board trustees, who was more interested in protecting their soaring property values associated with being near a prestigious school, and that of the parents who are solely concerned with getting their kids into desired colleges.

It was interesting watching an aging Hugh Jackman start to take anti-hero or villainous roles, after a long career of mostly playing the good guy. I felt the same way about romantic comedy staple Hugh Grant who recently played the lead in A Very English Scandal. While they both flash their trademark charismatic smiles in these roles, there is a hardness in their eyes that belies the outward persona each tries to portray.

The Perfect Candidate is a movie from Saudi Arabia that deals with Maryam, a female doctor at a local clinic accessed by a mud path, who advocates for a  paved road instead. After inadvertently signing up to run for election on a local council, she realizes that winning the position might give her the power to implement changes to help her community including the construction of the road for the clinic. Fully committing to the campaign, Maryam faces opposition from both men and women in her village, who don’t approve of women taking leadership roles.  It was disturbing to see the limitations faced by women in this part of the world, including the need to cover their heads or faces in public, and the requirement for a male guardian to give permission for them to travel abroad.  But Maryam's spunk and determination in pushing forward her campaign, and the minor victories that she wins in changing a few minds about her candidacy, give a glimmer of hope for the future.

Using a style similar to the movie “The Big Short”, Laundromat attempts to explain the financial shenanigans exposed in 2016 by the Panama Papers, a massive anonymous leak of financial documents that revealed the widespread use of tax havens and off-shore shell companies as means for tax avoidance, as well as illegal activities such as money laundering, bribery, insurance fraud and more. Antonio Banderas and Gary Oldman play the duo roles of the narrators of the film, as well as Mossack and Fonseco, the head lawyers of the firm whose documents were leaked. Breaking the fourth wall as narrators, they speak directly to the camera (and the audience) explaining the concepts of money, credit, taxes and the difference between tax evasion versus tax avoidance. They also introduce a series of fictional examples of what the Panama papers unveiled, including a framing story involving Meryl Streep playing a grieving widow who tries to get a just settlement for a boating accident that killed her husband, only to find out that the insurers for this did not actually exist. For me the movie did not do a good job of explaining the complex situations disclosed by the Panama papers and the use of Streep’s story felt gimmicky. I would have been more interested in a depiction of how 350 reporters from 80 countries secretly spent over a year to investigate the validity of the leak.

How to Build a Girl is a British coming-of-age story with a twist about Johanna, an awkward, imaginative 16-year-old aspiring writer from a blue-collared working class family who carries on conversations with the images pinned to her bedroom wall, including Karl Marx, the Bronte sisters, Sylvia Platt, Cleopatra and Maria from the Sound of Music. After landing a writing gig as a rock music critic, Johanna develops a funky new look and adopts the persona of “Dolly Wilde” as her pen-name. Realizing that she would be more successful in her reviews if they were viciously snarky as opposed to gushingly fan-girly, Johanna morphs from a shy, good-natured teetotaling virgin into a hedonistic sexualized party girl who skewers musical acts with her scathing write-ups.

Beanie Feldstein (who also stars in Booksmart) is great in this role, with an infectious smile that beams ear to ear and some great repartee that she delivers with sass and attitude. Even when she is acting bitchy and alienates her friends and family, she still exudes a vulnerability that makes you continue to pull for her character in her journey of self-discovery. 

The Personal History of David Copperfield tells the story of Charles Dickens’ 1850 masterpiece novel, using framing scenes at the beginning and end of the film which depict the grown-up Copperfield reading from his successfully published memoirs. With a few minor changes to the novel’s plot, the luxuriously shot movie depicts most of the quirky characters while capturing the time period, costumes and setting as described in the book. The one major exception is the prevalence of colour-blind casting. The titular character is played by Dev Patel of Hindu descent while David’s mother is white. Similarly, the lawyer Mr Wickfield is played by Chinese actor Benedict Wong while his daughter Agnes is played by black actress Rosalind Eleazar. The most interesting example casts the black actress Nikki Amuka-Bird as the wealthy and extremely snobbish aristocratic mother of David’s classmate James Steerforth, who is played by a white actor. At least there was continuity within a character, as a small Indian boy was cast as the feisty younger version of Patel's Copperfield.

Clifton Hill is a Canadian modern-day gothic thriller about a troubled young woman named Abby who is a pathological liar, possibly triggered by a traumatic event from her childhood growing up in Clifton Hill, Niagara Falls. While out with her family as a little girl, she spotted an injured boy with a bandage over his eye and watched in the shadows as he was captured and thrown into the trunk of his assailants’ car. Unable to get anyone to believe her about the incident when it happened, old memories are dredged up when she returns to her hometown to handle the sale of the family motel after the death of her mother. Abby becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the “one-eyed boy”, to the chagrin of her younger sister Laura, their family lawyer, and the police who believe she is lying for attention. Set in the quiet off-season for the area and filmed mostly at night, Clifton Hill comes across as gloomy, seedy and a bit sinister. Director David Cronenberg has a small role as a conspiracy theorist in this moody mystery that concludes with a surprise ending that will spur a lengthy discussion as to its meaning.

Abominable is an adorable animated co-production between Dreamworks (who created the Shrek and How to Train a Dragon series) and China’s Pearl Studio that is set in Shanghai and features a trio of Chinese youths as the main protagonists.  We are introduced to teenager Yi who is mourning the death of her father and seeks solitude in a rooftop refuge, where she discovers that a baby Yeti (abominable snowman) is also hiding.  With the help of her cousins Peng and Jin, Yi attempts to return the Yeti, who she names “Everest” back to his home in the Himalayas, while evading the ruthless group that is trying to recapture him.  The long trek from Shanghai to Mount Everest is aided by the magical powers of the Yeti and along the way, Yi learns to come to terms with the loss of her father.  The animation is beautifully drawn, depicting remote parts of China including lush countryside and mystical mountaintops while the haunting music that Yi plays on her father’s violin is distinctly Chinese.  It was interesting to compare the look, feel and sound of this American-Chinese co-production which differed from the Japanese animated movies that have their own separate style.

Burnt Orange Heresy is a dark suspense thriller about secrets, lies and fraud in the art world, exploring what determines or drives the value of art.  We are first introduced to the morally questionable art critic James Figueras, as he gives a lecture on the importance of a good backstory to the deemed value of a piece.  Figueras meets the beautiful but mysterious Bernice and brings her along when he is invited to the Italian villa of an unscrupulous art collector/dealer Joseph Cassidy, played with a flair and a  touch of menace by Mick Jagger.  Cassidy blackmails Figueras into obtaining a painting from the acclaimed but reclusive painter Jerome Debney, at any cost and by any means.  Despite the gorgeous setting in Lake Como, Italy, there is a sense of foreboding that lingers through much of the movie, as it courses towards its unsettling conclusion.

On our last day at the festival, we unexpectedly were offered free tickets to the Gala public screening of The Sky is Pink at Roy Thompson Hall.  Based on a true story, the movie follows the 25-year marriage of an Indian couple who give birth to a baby girl with a severe immune disorder and their struggles to keep her alive and living life to the fullest, up until her eventual death at age 18.  I was intrigued that despite the seemingly somber premise, the movie was described as uplifting and even funny at times.  This was accomplished by having the tale be narrated in flashback scenes by the cheerful, irreverent voice of the deceased daughter Aisha, who nicknames her mother “Moose”, her father “Panda” and her big brother “Giraffe”.  The movie shows that despite the hardships faced by the family, they persevered with love, understanding and even humour.  Once it became clear that Aisha was terminal, Moose (played with fierce but loving determination by actress Priyanka Chopra) made it her mission to ensure Aisha experienced all that life could offer, including owning a dog, going snorkeling, and having a boyfriend.  A central theme of the movie is to “live life on your own terms”, which was emphasized in an early scene when young Giraffe cried to his mother that his teacher chastised him for painting the sky pink instead of blue.   Moose firmly replied “You must never let anyone else tell you how you should see the colour of the sky”.  This turned out to be a very touching movie that celebrated life as opposed to dwelling on death.  It was nice to see the director and stars of the movie, but I still don’t understand why there is rarely a post movie Q&A at Roy Thompson Hall.  Just like the last time we watched a Gala presentation there, all we got was a wave from the balcony as we filed out of the theatre.

I thought the quality of movies was especially good this year and we saw many stellar films made by countries from around the world.  Many of them shared the common theme of class distinction or class wars between the wealthy and the poor.  These included Parasite, Three Summers, Lina from Lima, Heroic Losers, Greed, David Copperfield, and Laundromat.  A common motif was the use of rain to set the mood in a film.  For the first few days of movie-watching, it seemed like every movie included a heavy rainstorm.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

TIFF 2019 - Day 4-6

Coming Home Again is a Korean drama about Yale graduate Chang-rae Lee who quits his good-paying job in New York and returns home to San Francisco to care for his mother who is dying from stomach cancer. Switching between present day and flashback memories, we see how the pair bonded over food and cooking. There were many close-up, hunger-inducing scenes of classic Korean dishes being lovingly prepared by the son, as he was taught to do in flashback scenes with the mother. The offering of food was seen as an expression of love. It is interesting that the movie is told from the perspective of the caregiver as opposed to the patient and I was surprised at the level of medical home care that he provided, including refilling his mother's IV bag. Because of the Women in Films documentary that I watched the previous day, I noticed filming techniques used in this movie including staging, lighting, depicting memories and what is left out. Many scenes of the family interacting with the bed-ridden mother are shot from the adjoining room, looking through a window. This includes a critical scene between the mother and Chang-rae’s sister, where you cannot hear what is said, but the meaning is unmistakable. In another climatic scene set at the dining table, an argument erupts around the mother but the camera stays focused on her expressive face. The performances by the two leads are excellent and heartbreaking.

Greed is a biting political satire filmed in part like a mockumentary that ends up being a scathing Indictment against the fashion trade, which profits from the exploitation of poor female workers in third world countries. Steve Coogan plays the wealthy, unscrupulous discount fashion retailer tycoon Richard “Greedy” McCreadie, who ironically coined this nickname for himself as an ambitious young man who would do anything to reach the top. For the occasion of his 60th birthday, McCreadie has organized an obscenely lavish birthday party on the Greek island of Mykonos, where Syrian refugees have “inconveniently camped on HIS beach”. The toga party themed bash, complete with a replica being built of the Colosseum, a gladiator, and a trained lion, is to be documented by McCreadie's biographer Nick as well as being filmed as a TV reality show. Scenes jump between the preparations for and attendance at the party, and flashbacks of McCreadie’s youth, rise from rags to riches, and a business ethics board that grills him about his unsavoury practices. What starts off as a hilariously ridiculous farce ends up with a serious message that is delivered with a sledgehammer.  I don't usually find Steve Coogan's comedies to be funny, but I really liked him in this one.  I just wish they had been a bit more subtle with the message being conveyed and the end.

Although marketed as musical comedy, I found Lina From Lima to be a slow and depressing drama that occasionally and inexplicably breaks into song and dance, without the musical interludes actually advancing or enhancing the plot. Hailing from Peru, Lina works as a migrant worker in Chile for a wealthy couple, taking care of their daughter Clara as well as overseeing the construction of a swimming pool in their new home. Lina struggles to maintain a long distance relationship with her teen-aged son Junior who she left behind with her ex-husband. On the other hand, Clara has bonded with Lina but craves a closer relationship with her absent father. Lina tries to fill the void in her lonely life with Tinder hookups with different men. Her planned trip home for Christmas is derailed when her negligence causes a mishap to the pool and she needs to find a solution to fix it. Again, cultural differences may have prevented me from finding anything funny in her situation and the injection of random songs did not help.  I find it difficult to relate to musicals sung in foreign languages because the effort to translate the lyrics detaches the words from the music and detracts from the impact of the songs.

We walked into Jojo Rabbit with a bit of trepidation, not knowing what to expect based on the film’s strange premise. Jojo is a precocious but socially awkward German youth with blue eyes, blond hair and a cherubic face, who is fanatically obsessed with Adolph Hitler. With his father away “at war”, Jojo conjures up an imaginary version of the Fuhrer who acts as his friend, confidante, and conduit for interpreting all the anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda that he has been taught. The movie starts out as hilarious satire as Jojo attends his Nazi youth training camp, although it takes a few minutes of unease at the sight of all the swastikas before you feel like its OK to laugh. Eventually the film becomes poignant and heartfelt once Jojo discovers the secret that his free-spirited mother has been keeping, which in turn causes him to reevaluate his beliefs and party indoctrination. I have watched many excellent movies at TIFF this year, but most of them followed standard, accepted formulas. From the standpoint of originality, entertainment value and sheer audaciousness, this movie could well turn out to be my favourite of the festival.

I usually don’t like Adam Sandler movies so I wasn’t sure about his crime movie Uncut Gems, about a gambling jeweler trying to get out of debt by auctioning off a stone containing precious gems.  Basketball star Kevin Garnett and pop singer The Weeknd play versions of themselves in roles that advance the plot. It did not help to read a write-up that described the film as loud and frenetic. The review was “bang on”, pun intended.  Even worse, I felt total antipathy and disdain for Adam Sandler’s character and all the yelling and swearing gave me a headache.  So I cut my losses after 75 minutes of the 135 minute film and walked out with enough time to queue up for the another movie.  I guess I still don’t like most Adam Sandler movies.

Red Penguin is an interesting documentary about a consortium of investors including the owners of the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team who decided in invest in 50% of the Russian Red Army hockey team in the early 1990s.  This was shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union when many of the Russian hockey superstars left to join the more lucrative National Hockey League, leaving the talent and interest in Russian hockey in tatters.  Diminutive sales and promotion dynamo Steve Warshaw was sent to Moscow to turn things around for the team which was rebranded as the  “Red Penguins” complete with a new logo and merchandising.  Steve brought showmanship to the games to drive up attendance, offering promotions including free beer, strippers at half time, trained bears, a Boris Yeltsin look-alike contest and more.  Unfortunately this was also a time of corruption and rise of the Russian mafia so things started to turn dangerous as the team’s success grew.

Last Porno Show is a quirky Canadian drama about aspiring method-actor Wayne who tries to work through his unresolved feelings about his deceased estranged father Al, after inheriting Al’s beloved but seedy, run-down porno theatre. The film does not shy away from explicit porno images or full-frontal nudity for both the male and female characters.  It flips between scenes in the present of Wayne trying to embrace the porn film culture to get into character for a salacious role and his memories of being a boy growing up in the environment of the porn theatre. These memories show how Wayne was often traumatized by the situations that Al left him in but also reveal glimpses of how much his father loved him. A central theme to the movie, which was surprisingly poignant given its subject matter, is whether you “want to be a person who is happy or one who makes others happy”. By the end of the movie, Wayne comes to realize which one his father was. Although mostly a sombre film, there was a funny scene involving a TV set, and I loved the credits at the end with one role described as “cinema masturbator”.  How would you like that on your resume?

Saturday, September 07, 2019

TIFF 2019 - Day 1-3

My husband Rich and I watched 13 advanced screening movies prior to the official start of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival, so it was a good thing that we had a week's rest in between since we tentatively planned almost 30 more to go during the actual festival, although we usually drop some towards the end as we become too tired.  On the first day, we had four movies scheduled with at most 30 minutes in between each one.  To prepare, we loaded up with coffee and packed a lunch.  Since we would be sitting for most of the day, we made a pact to walk up and down every set of stairs that we encountered including the ones at our condo, the subway and the 75 steps leading up to the Scotia Paramount theatres where we would spend most of our time.

Our first movie was American Son, based on an award-winning play Broadway play of the same name with its lead Kerry Washington (of TV series Scandal fame) reprising her role.  Kendra, a well-educated black woman is at the police station in the wee hours, concerned that her 18-year-old son has not returned home.  She was told that the car her son was driving was involved in an "incident" but gets nowhere in trying to find out more details. As she becomes more and more frantic, Kendra experiences and gets into debates about racism from the white junior officer who interviews her, her estranged white husband Scott, and even the senior liaison officer who is black.  The plot deviates from the standard trope of the poor black kid from the ghettos, dealing instead with a mixed child in a well-to-do family with a mother who has a PhD in psychology and an FBI father.  This brings up issues of class and identity in addition to that of race.  The dialogue, probably taken word for word from the play, is powerful and scintillating.  Given that the film takes place almost exclusively within the waiting room of the police station, it feels more like you are watching a play.  The only things the movie adds are the atmospheric presence of the pouring rain outside, the poignant close-up shots of the anguished parents and the lone scene that takes place away from the waiting room, which is used to accentuate the racism.  This is an excellent movie with mesmerizing performances by all the actors.  Now I want to watch the play!

Unfortunately, we did not like the Chinese spy thriller Saturday Fiction as much as the previous movie. Stylistically and beautifully filmed in black and white with primarily close shots to create a claustrophobic feel, the movie is set in 1941 Japanese-occupied Shanghai, a few days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Saturday Fiction is the name of a play which the famous but mysterious actress Jean Yu has returned to Shanghai to take part in.  The motivations of Yu are questionable, as she, as well as those around her could all be spies either for China, Japan, or the Allied Forces.  We found the plot to be convoluted and confusing, with action indistinguishably switching between scenes from the play and the rest of the movie.  It did not help that the Chinese and Japanese looked very similar and it was difficult to tell which was which until they spoke.  Also the white subtitles were often unreadable against white backgrounds.

Lyrebird is loosely based on the true story of Han van Meegeren, who was accused of being a Nazi collaborator for selling a priceless Vermeer painting to senior Nazi leader Hermann Goering.  Pleading not guilty, van Meegeren claimed that he actually duped Goering (amongst others) with a fake that he painted himself in the style of Vermeer.  To pass the chemical test that determines the age of the paint, Hans developed a special process using Bakelite plastic as a sealant.  The movie also depicts Allied officer Joseph Piller, who was assigned to find paintings stolen from Jewish owners and identify the collaborators who passed them on to the Nazis.  After being arrested, van Meegeren tries to prove his innocence by creating a “new Vermeer” while in Piller’s captivity.  Once convinced, Piller ends up defending van Meegeren in an exciting but mostly fictitious trial proceeding, enhanced for entertainment purposes.  We first heard about Hans van Meegeren when we watched the stage play “The Bakelite Masterpieces”, which re-imagined Piller as a female Jewish art expert who had her own dark history.  By comparison, the movie gives an informative account of Piller’s family life and motivations.

Watching the French/Belgian psychodrama Sibyl, the phrase “Physician heal thyself” comes to mind.  Sibyl is a psychologist who wants to wind down her practice so that she can concentrate on becoming a novelist.  Unfortunately she has writer’s block and can’t come up with any original ideas on her own.  When she becomes engrossed in her patient Margo, Sibyl ends up using details of Margo’s life and problems as plot points for her book, even replicating actual conversations that Margo has with others.  In addition to totally violating doctor-patient confidentiality, Sibyl seems to have many issues of her own.  She has frequent flashbacks to a failed relationship, is impulsive, lacks good judgement and imposes herself more and more into Margo’s life.   

On the second day of the festival, we were in for a rude surprise. Without prior warning, we found out that TIFF had implemented a new policy for Patron Circle members watching Press and Industry screenings.  As opposed to being able to waltz into a theatre even minutes before run-time merely by showing our badges, we now had to go outside and stand in a rush line for each movie, regardless of whether there was any indication that the movie would be full or not. As a result, we needed more time between movies and could see less of them, and might not get into the more popular ones.  Even if we do get in, we might be relegated to the front rows where my eyesight prevents me from sitting without getting dizzy.  This negates the main benefit of our very expensive membership which I described in my previous blog, so this will probably be the last year that we sign up for it.  In the meantime, we had to soldier on with the rest of the festival but it was nowhere near as enjoyable as in previous years.

I loved my first movie on the second day of the festival.  It was a delightful Argentinian caper movie called Heroic Losers, set in the days just before and after their markets crashed and their currency was devalued in 2001.  A group of lovable locals pooled together their life savings to purchase a defunct granary and form a co-op in hopes of resurrecting it and providing jobs for their small village.  Unfortunately they were tricked by an unscrupulous banker into converting their US cash into Pesos and depositing the money into a bank account the day before the crash.  The fun begins when the group finds out that it was a scam.  All the money in the bank was withdrawn by a corrupt lawyer that same day and he has built an underground vault in the middle of a remote farm in order to hide the funds.  An ingenious and hilarious plan is devised in order to reclaim the stolen money.  This movie was such an unexpected gem.  One of the joys of attending a film festival is when you get to see foreign films that might never see the light of day otherwise.

Wild Goose Lake Is a Chinese noir about street gang leader Zhou Zenong who is on the run and the “bathing beauty” prostitute Liu Aiai who offers to help him .. for a price. Told initially through a pair of flashbacks, we find out why Zhou is in his predicament and how Liu came to approach him. Zhou is part of a motorcycle theft ring that gets into a turf war with a rival gang. During a contest between the two gangs to determine which one can steal the most bikes in one night, violence erupts resulting in Zhou inadvertently killing a police officer. Loyalties are questioned and double-crosses are abundant as Zhou struggles to do right by his wife and young son by having her turn him in for the reward money. For me, the most interesting scene in this movie was at the beginning when the gangs attend a seminar on the various techniques for stealing a motorbike, as well as the ones depicting the bathing beauty prostitutes who had sex with their johns in the lake. The most confusing point of the film was why Zhou was wearing the same shirt as the rival gang as opposed to his own gang. The rest of the movie was pretty much standard fare for the Chinese gangster film genre.

Not being able to get into another press screening, we wandered instead into the 2nd of a 5-part documentary series called Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. Based on the title of the series, I thought the documentary would focus on the proverbial “female gaze” as it applies to film making.  Instead, what we got were in-depth, insightful explanations of different aspects of film making, using movies made by female directors from across 5 continents and 13 decades as examples to illustrate the points being made.  In our segment, the film discussed Staging, The Journey, Editing, The Parent-Child Relationship, Economy/Minimalism, Point of View, Close-up, and Dream Sequences/Surrealism.  The most interesting discussion related to staging, as we were taught how to view characters’ placement and movement across an X-axis (left to right) as opposed to a Z-axis (front to back).  There was also a stunning sequence in one film where the use of a mirror on the swinging door of an armoire slowly revealed the various characters within a death-bed scene.  To illustrate point of view, one movie filmed a scene from the perspective of a young child hiding under a table, where she witnessed the men sitting at the table from their feet only.  One took off his shoes, while another scratched his ankles.  Later on in the festival, I caught portions of Part 4 and 5 of the documentary, which covered topics including filming of memory and the passing of time, use of stillness, the decision of what to keep in a frame and what to leave out, how to depict love, death and thought.  The series has been picked up by Criterion Films as well as Kanopy (which the libraries access) so I would love to catch the sections that I missed when they become available.

Our third day of TIFF started off well with Just Mercy, a movie that is definitely Oscar-bound since it hits all the points desired for Oscar bait including a poignant plot, social justice theme, and stellar performances by Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and Brie Larson. The movie is based on the memoirs of black Harvard-educated lawyer Bryan Stevenson who created the foundation Equal Justice Initiative and returned to Alabama to defend death row inmates who were never given proper representation. While it shows Stevenson’s interactions with multiple inmates (of all races), the main focus of the movie is his defence of Walter McMillan (aka Johnny D), a father of three who was railroaded into a conviction for the murder of an 18-year-old white girl based on coerced false testimony and suppressed evidence.

Military Wives is inspired by actual choir groups comprised of the wives of military soldiers and officers in army bases around the world. These choirs were formed to keep the wives busy and distracted while their mates were deployed in dangerous situations. The movie provides a fictional depiction of one such group and does a good job of showing the stress and fear that these women feel, imaging the worst with every phone call and doorbell ring. Kristen Scott Thomas and Sharon Hogan are entertaining as the no-nonsense colonel’s wife Kate, and Lisa, the rules-adverse wife of the Regimental Sergeant Major, who attempt to lead the choir but have differing philosophies of how to go about it.  The choir gives the military wives a purpose and sense of comradery as they build bonds and friendship through singing.  It was interesting seeing images of some actual groups of military wives’ choirs at the end of the movie.

A Bump Along the Way is a fairly typical coming of age story set in Northern Ireland about a prim and proper teenager with the daunting name of Allegra, grappling with the social pressures of school including bullies and a school-girl crush on a classmate.  Things get worse when Allegra’s middle-aged free-spirited mother Pamela becomes pregnant after a one night stand with a man almost half her age.  The character of Pamela was delightfully brash and irrepressible, and so well-meaning that you really root for her.  There is nothing much new for a movie of this genre, but I was surprised when I first heard the characters speak with their heavy Derry accents, since I was under the false impression that this movie was Canadian!