Movie reviews

The next big blockbusters, the ones to wait for and the best book to movie adaptations

Movie reviews
The next big blockbusters, the ones to wait for and the best book to movie adaptations

September 14th

The Jane Austen Book Club
Reviewed by Alicia Cox, senior editorial producer

Directed by: Robin Swicord
Cast: Kathy Baker, Maria Bello, Emily Blunt, Amy Brenneman, Hugh Dancy, Maggie Grace, Jimmy Smits, Kevin Zegers
Release date: November TBA
Rated: PG

First-time director Robin Swicord sets the tone for The Jane Austen Book Club straight from the opening credits. Shots of people in various states of frustration with technology – candy machines not accepting dollar bills, gas pumps gone haywire, that annoying stretch we make to grab a parking ticket in the garage – send the obvious message: What’s new isn’t always what’s best. And what better proof than the timeless works of Jane Austen?

Although I dislike the term chick flick, The Jane Austen Book Club is the epitome of just that. The plot is straightforward: Five friends (Baker, Bello, Blunt, Brenneman and Grace) and one new-to-town sci-fi enthusiast (Dancy) form an “all Austen, all the time” book club. Each member searches for their own romantic happiness as they meet every month to discuss Austens themes and characters.

Swicord, who also wrote the script based on the best-selling novel, handles her talented cast well. Each character is fully fleshed out and believeable, from Brenneman’s distraught divorcee to Dancy’s charmingly eager new guy to Baker’s free-spirited matriarch of the club. The performances have an ease about them and the cast’s chemistry is evident.

Without revealing too much, you can expect the requisite romantic entanglements, break-ups, make-ups and misjudgments – much like Austen’s novels. Sure, the plot is predictable, but The Jane Austen Book Club isn’t the type of movie that needs twists and turns. It’s the type of movie with an endearing cast and a happy ending, one to see with your girlfriends for a little winter cheer. (Skip it for a first date, though, it’s definitely high in estrogen.)

September 14th

The Walker
Reviewed by Jen O’Brien, assistant editorial producer

Directed by: Paul Schrader
Cast: Woody Harrelson, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, Ned Beatty, Willem Dafoe, Moritz Bleibtreu, Mary Beth Hurt
Release date: TBA
Rated: 14A

This may be the dullest story of murder and scandal ever told. In The Walker Woody Harrelson plays Carter Page III, an elegant, well-dressed member of Washington, D.C.’s high society whose principal occupation is gossiping with, and about, the city’s upper crust. He is also known as a “walker,” someone who accompanies wealthy, married ladies from place to place but poses no romantic threat. When darkness falls, “Car” leaves the socialites behind to rendevous with his gay lover, a paparazzo named Emek (Moritz Bleibtreu), cattily entertaining him with the day’s activities.

Page’s life is suddenly thrown into turmoil when one of his female friends tells him that she has found her lover stabbed to death. He agrees to help her through the ordeal and keep her discovery a secret, but soon finds himself the prime suspect of a high profile murder investigation.

As Page attempts to clear his name, we see that behind his polite, well put-together exterior he is haunted by the legacy of his powerful and influential father. At one point he is called “A grown man acting on the fears of a child, trying to impress a father dead 10 years.”

Kudos to Harrelson, whose lispy southern drawl made my skin crawl with a creepiness reminiscent of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Capote. Unfortunately, in the end, even his fine performance could not improve the plodding pace of this lacklustre film.

September 13th

Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Reviewed by Alicia Cox, senior editorial producer

Directed by: Shekhar Kapur
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Clive Owen, Rhys Ifans, Jordi Molla, Abbie Cornish, Samantha Morton
Release date: October 12
Rated: 14A

As a fan of Elizabethan history, when director Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth came out in 1998 I saw and loved it immediately. Cate Blanchett’s moving, star-making performance garnered her her first Oscar nomination, and the film was nominated for seven Oscars in total.

Fast forward nine years, Cate has an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress (for The Aviator) and it’s time for Elizabeth: The Golden Age. This history nerd couldn’t be more ready. Or more satisfied.

Elizabeth is more comfortable with her authority and more than ready for both a flirtation with dashing adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) and a naval war with Spain’s Phillip II (Spanish actor Jordi Molla in a creepy standout performance). Blanchett is amazing to watch, all the clichés about acting apply directly to her performance – she lights up the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of her and the Oscar buzz has rightfully already begun. Her Elizabeth is vulnerable yet steely, romantic yet realistic, and tender yet brutal.

Owen’s natural rakish charm is well-put on display. His Raleigh is basically every woman’s romantic hero come to life. When he appeared onscreen for the first time, there were audible female whispers and giggles throughout the theatre.

While Blanchett and Owen are the true stars of the film, the costumes and cinematography deserve mention. With gowns more elaborate than Elizabeth, returning costume designer and three-time Oscar nominee Alexandra Byrne should find herself nominated once more.

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is riveting, gorgeous and a pleasure to watch from start to finish. See it on the big screen, your television just won’t do it justice.

September 13th

In Bloom
Reviewed by Jen O’Brien, assistant editorial producer

Directed by: Vadim Perelman
Cast: Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood, Eva Amurri, Oscar Isaac, Brett Cullen
Release date: TBA
Rated: 14A

With In Bloom Vadim Perelman transforms macabre subject matter into something strangely beautiful. The film explores the emotional aftermath of a Columbine-like high school shooting, while delving into the paths teenagers take on the way to self-actualization.

At the beginning of the film we meet Diana (Evan Rachel Wood) and Maureen (Eva Amurri), two 17-year-old best friends that are completely different. Maureen is a cautious, virginal, church-goer, while Diana is a mischievious, tattooed, rule-breaker known for sleeping around. The women lead average small town lives until the day of the mass shooting at their school. It is at this point that we’re propeled into the future and meet a grown up Diana (Uma Thurman) who is living a life completely opposite to the one she had imagined for herself – constantly haunted by her past. As an adult Diana flashes back to her teenage years and we witness fragments of the shooting tragedy. Gradually pieces of the story come together and gather momentum leading the type of surprise ending that almost necessitates a second viewing of the entire movie.

Watching In Bloom you can’t help but flashback on your own path to self-discovery. Young Diana is the perfect embodiment of the misunderstood teen. And those of us who tend to live in our own imaginations, pondering what was and what could be, will also identify with Diana as an adult, who is constantly lost in reflection.

Over the course of the film Perelman carefully paints a story exploring how each of us, in some way, live for the promise of what we can become. The result is a visually stunning and emotionally riveting work of art.

September 11th

The Stone Angel
Reviewed by Grace Toby

Directed by:Kari Skogland
Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Christine Horne, Cole Hauser, Ellen Page, Kevin Zegers, Dylan Baker, Luke Kirby
Release date: TBA
Rated: 14A

The Stone Angel is an adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s Canadian novel by the same title. Like many of Laurence’s books, the focus is on women and their importance, and their changing role in society.

The opening scene has Hagar Currie Shipley (Burstyn), now in her 90s, sitting in the back seat of her eldest son’s car. Unbeknownst to her they are en route to view a potential retirement facility because she’s become quite ill. Hagar is opposed to the home which to her symbolizes defeat and a loss of independence and they return home. Soon after, she escapes from her son’s home to a seaside cottage from her youth.

The film flip-flops between the present and the past. We see Hagar as a young, strong-willed girl, full of potential and as stubborn as her Scottish father. When she decides to marry Bram Shipley (Hauser), a free-spirit, rugged man, her father disowns her. The romantic chapter of their marriage eventually gives way to reality and financial struggles and Shipley’s alcoholism proves problematic. She later has two boys and parents them with an iron fist, and is disapproving of their girlfriends, just like her father. Through memories and flashbacks we witness all the milestones, both joyous and damned, in her long life.

Ellen Burstyn is always the consummate actress and Christine Horne who plays young Haggar also shines in some scenes. But overall there was something lacking and it was devoid of proper character development so I never really cared or felt close to any of them. The production quality also seemed low and it felt more like a movie of the week than a big-time film fest flick.

September 11th

Reviewed by Jen O’Brien, assistant editorial producer

Directed by: Renny Harlin
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, Eva Mendes, Luis Guzmán, Keke Palmer and Robert Forster
Release date: TBA
Rated: 18A

Cleaner is not for the squeamish. In this film Samuel L. Jackson plays Tom Cutler, a professional crime-scene cleaner who spends his days scraping, scrubbing and wiping up blood and guts from various homes and offices around Trenton, New Jersey. To spite his unimaginably gruesome job, Cutler, an ex-cop, appears to have a rather normal life – putting much of his effort into running his company and raising his 14-year-old daughter Rose, played by Keke Palmer (Akeelah from Akeelah and the Bee); however, it’s all turned upsidedown after he takes what he thinks is a routine job and unknowingly cleans up the scene of an unsolved murder in a swanky neighbourhood. He forgets to leave the house key behind after he finishes the job and returning it he meets homeowner Ann Norcut (Eva Mendes), who has no idea her home was spattered in blood the day before. Soon after, Cutler finds out that Ann’s husband had been reported missing. The police eventually start poking around his cleaning company, after finding suspiciously high levels of industrial-strength disinfectants in the Norcut home, and Cutler finds himself sucked into a tangled web of corruption, deception and murder, not knowing who to trust.

As the film progresses we see that Cutler’s past is not as squeaky clean as we may have initially thought, although we are reminded of his desire to keep things in check by his excessive hand-washing and repeated shots of the tree-shaped air freshener dangling from his van’s rearview mirror.

All in all, I’m a bit split on this one. Although a sequence of strange coincidences stretches the plot beyond the realm possibility at times, there is no shortage of action for those who enjoy being kept on the edge of their seats.

September 10th

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Reviewed by Grace Toby

Brad Pitt with Angelina Jolie in Toronto
September 8
Credit: Peter Bregg, Hello!

Directed by: Andrew Dominik
Cast: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Mary-Louise Parker, Paul Schneider, Jeremy Renner, Zooey Deschanel, Sam Rockwell
Release date: September 21, 2007

The film’s long-winded title, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford should have been a smoke signal to how painfully looooong this film was going to run. The title also summarizes the plot for a story that could have been told in half the time.

Brad Pitt plays Jesse James, the real-life American outlaw and Casey Affleck plays Robert Ford (Casey Affleck), the man who wanted to be him but who would eventually kill him. As a child, Robert worshiped Jesse, collecting every piece of memorabilia and by the time he’s 19 he meets his idol when his band of Ford brothers teams up with Jesse’s for one last train heist.

It’s essentially the story of two men, Jesse and Bob, who on the surface seem like polar opposites but are actually more similar in nature. The focus is on this relationship, the shift of power and the looming question of who would die first.

Jesse is a charismatic but volatile character and Pitt does a satisfactory job with his interpretation. Affleck is unrecognizable in this role and he successfully transforms himself into a naïve, country pumpkin with irritating awkwardness devoid of any self-esteem.

The film is self-indulgent with many unnecessary or repetitive scenes and the use of narration is often distracting.

September 10th

Darfur Now
Reviewed by Jen O’Brien, assistant editorial producer

Don Cheadle in Toronto
September 8
Credit: Peter Bregg, Hello!

Directed by: Ted Braun
Release date: November 2, 2007

Darfur Now may not be the most romantic, the most thrilling or the most star-studded movie of the year, but it is arguably the most important. Ted Braun’s new documentary follows six people in different corners of the world united by their plight to end the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

Since 2003, an Arab militia called the Janjaweed, reportedly sponsored by the country’s government, has murdered close to half a million black tribal African farmers in an effort to eliminate these people from the region entirely. Through the course of the film we meet Ahmed Mohammed Abakar, chief sheikh at one of Darfur’s displaced persons camps. We see the sheikh meeting with others in the camp as they recount rapes, murders and the burning of their villages. High in the Jebel Marra mountains, we also meet Hejewa Adam, one of a group of female Darfuri rebel fighters, training to battle the Janjaweed militia. As well as Pablo Recalde who is working in Darfur with the United Nation’s World Food Programme, trying to feed the legions of displaced people. Back in the United States, we see young activist Adam Sterling trying raise awareness in his community and steer a divestment campaign through the California legislature. Meanwhile Don Cheadle, star of Hotel Rwanda, works with George Clooney, traveling the world meeting with political leaders to bring media attention to the crisis. We are also introduced to Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the charismatic chief prosecutor at The Hague’s International Criminal Court, who is charged with bringing those responsible for the most serious crimes to justice. The six are united by their passion and their collective drive to do whatever they can to make things better for the Darfuri people. All six are moved to tears by the uphill battle they seem to be facing.

To say that this film will touch you is an understatement. You will feel both sickened and motivated as you watch middle-aged women sit in the mountains with machine guns trying to guard their people against the next Jangaweed attack all the while discussing how the white people will soon come and help.

Admittedly, I went into Darfur Now expecting a slightly self-righteous documentary aiming to draw crowds by dropping the names of Hollywood celebs, but what I saw was quite the opposite. Darfur Now is more than just a movie, it’s a call to action that you feel ashamed to ignore.

September 10th

Reviewed by Grace Toby, assistant editorial producer

The cast of Juno in Toronto
September 8
Credit: Peter Bregg, Hello!

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Cast: Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons
Release date: Holiday season 2007
Rated: PG-13

Juno is by far the cutest film of the festival and destined to be the Little Miss Sunshine of the year – but even better. It’s not cute in a sappy, over saccharine way but in a darling, they got it, clever one. It was refreshing to have the heroine of the film, Juno (Ellen Page), a teenage girl, represented with intelligence and empowered with whip smart writing. It’s a breath of fresh air in this congested, formulaic, dumbed down version of what today’s teenager should sound and act like. And by the way, I think this 20-year-old Canadian gal is destined to be the next great Rachel McAdams.

When Juno (named after a mythological Roman goddess) finds herself pregnant following a one-time sexual encounter with her friend Bleeker (Michael Cera) she opts to keep the baby. This decision kicks off her journey to find the perfect adoptive parents while finding her self in this newly acquired “fat suit” as she tries to survive high school and life. It’s Juno’s outlook on life and comedic voice that sets the tone for the film.

This is Canadian-born director Jason Reitman’s (son of director dad, Ivan) second film and without gushing anymore, I will just say it’s a true comedic gem. It even made me want to go back to my adolescent days, if I had this kind of dialogue to dish — minus the pregnancy.

September 7th

Fugitive Pieces
Reviewed by Alicia Cox, senior editorial producer

Fugitive Pieces stars Rosamund Pike, Rade Serbedzija
and Ayelet Zurer at the Opening Night premiere Thursday,
September 6.
Credit: Peter Bregg, Hello!

Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Cast: Stephen Dillane, Robbie Kay, Rade Serbedzija, Rosamund Pike, Ayelet Zurer
Release date: October TBA
Rated: 14A

Director Jeremy Podeswa’s Fugitive Pieces was honoured as the Canadian film chosen for Opening Night of the Festival. It’s an emotional journey that jumps time and location – from Poland and Greece during the Second World War, to post-war and 1970s Toronto to the Greek island of Hydra where the film ends.

Based on the novel by Anne Michaels, Fugitive Pieces tells the story of Jakob Beer (Stephen Dillane), who escapes the Nazis as a young boy in Poland and is taken in by Greek scholar Athos (Rade Serbedzija). They emmigrate to Canada to begin a new life, but Jakob is forever haunted by the memory of the murder of his parents, which he witnessed, and the disappearance of his beloved older sister Bella.

Robbie Kay, who plays the young Jakob, gives a remarkable performance with little words and a lot of emotion. When he smiles (which isn’t often) you can’t help but be affected. And he has the longest eyelashes I’ve ever seen!

Fans of the novel will notice some changes (Podeswa wrote the script), but the overall beauty and sensuality of Michaels’ words are firmly captured. If Fugitive Pieces comes to your town, check it out and support Canadian film.

September 6th

The Brave One
Reviewed by Grace Toby, assistant editorial producer

Jodie Foster and Terrence Howard walk the red carpet in
Toronto following a screening of The Brave One
Credit: Peter Bregg, Hello!

Directed by: Neil Jordan
Cast: Jodie Foster, Terrence Howard, Naveen Andrews, Nicky Katt, Mary Steenburgen
Release date: September 14
Rating: R

When Erica Bain (Jodie Foster) survives a random, brutal crime that leaves her fiancé David (Naveen Andrews) dead, she decides to take justice into her own hands. A popular NYC radio host, Bain’s love for the city turns to paralyzing fear and she decides to arm herself with a handgun.

Unable to sleep at night, she begins prowling the streets and finds herself an unsuspecting witness to a crime. She uses her gun in self-defence and this incident triggers a string of vigilante-driven killings.

Detective Sean Mercer (Terrence Howard) who is assigned to the case befriends Bain and soon suspects that she may be the killer. Their relationship comes to exemplify the divide between the law and personal justice. With stellar performances by both Howard and Foster, The Brave One is a dark emotional thriller that will have you examining your own moral code and questioning what circumstances could lead a regular person to commit such horrific crimes.