Tracks TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)


Starring Mia Wasikowska and Adam Driver

Directed by John Curran

What negative thing could I possibly say about Tracks? Fine, there is one in Adam Driver, the second lead to Wasikowska’s character Robyn Davison. He plays Rick Smolan, a photographer who has to go with Robyn in her National Geographic-sponsored journey to cross the harsh Australian desert. Driver can only really play one type of character – the guy rambling non-sequiturs that would annoy Robyn and the audience.

I like how the movie is loyal to the real-life events. Rick isn’t the only person intermittently accompanying her in this gruelling journey. She also runs into settlers and Aboriginals. The movie examines the customs of different people and how they occassionally clash with the sometimes oppressive, xenophobic, urban Australians. Wasikowska delicately plays Robyn as someone who intelligently and respectfully treads every step of her journey. The movie also makes it compelling by incorporating flashbacks of her explorer father and broken, drifting childhood. After the flashbacks, the camera returns to Wasikowska and it’s as if she has lived those memories.

I would also like to applaud the cinematography, also loyal to Smolan’s brilliant photographs of Robyn’s trek with her camels. The movie depicts what could be a setting of a meditative, peaceful Western where Robyn’s worst enemies are nature and herself. We never give up on her even when she repeatedly faces hurdles that make her want to. And the last images top the movie off to give us a beautiful experience.

McCannick TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)


Starring David Morse, Cory Monteith, Mike Vogel, Ciaran Hinds and Tracie Thoms

Directed by Josh C. Waller

McCanick is Morse’s great stab at a character study, the movie and actor introducing himself working on a punching bag, as a man with bottled up emotions. It starts out quiet as the titular detective McCanick goes to work on his birthday, gets informsation about criminals whose time in prison are up, and does their patrols with his reluctant, younger partner. But chases through dingy hotel stairs begin, shots get fired and the movie portraying these events goes berserk. The almost absent score turns into an undercurrent turns into a torrent of sound. The sun goes out, McCanick relying on neon green or red to help him stagger through hallways or the dirty streets of Philadelphia.

A curious thing about this movie is that it is one of the last of Monteith’s appearances on the big screen. He gets to play two characters here. There was something missing in his performance as the post-jail Simon, and it makes me think of what could have been done. Maybe those involved in creating this character could have added more mystery to him. But we still have pre-jail Simon during the flashbacks, who is more interesting. Monteith somehow incorporates an animalistic spirit of a person surviving the streets (the long hair and dirty clothes helped immensely to bring forth this impression). His performance captures the courage and the craziness that the movie delicately escalates to.

Triptych TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)


Starring Frédérike Bédard, Lise Castonguay, Hans Piesbergen

Directed by Robert Lepage and Pedro Pires

I’m a fan of Robert Lepage. Only he, as he did in Tectonic Plates, can make a movie about an art student’s journey as a devastating experience. He lets his interconnected characters roam the world, explore all the arts, and let them learn from the unique turning points in their lives. He does the same with Triptych, adapting his own stage play.

Michelle’s segment, as one of the titular panels of the triptych, is the most solid. It sees her go in and out of Catholic-run mental institutions and part-time bookstore jobs, finding the time in the latter to befriend a young male poet. The second section is about Thomas, a London-based German brain surgeon and Italian Renaissance art enthusiast. His character is the least conflicted and least interesting although he does radically rethink one of Michelangelo’s works. Not the most ethical doctor, he is sleeping with the subject of the third and last section of the film – Marie. Because of her operation, she has to retire as a jazz singer and work as a voice actress, piecing her childhood memories through the latter profession. Marie’s plot line is responsible in bringing an emotionally impactful conclusion. I wish that it didn’t hammer a message that would have been obvious to any viewer. However, the separate journeys it has taken to get to that point in the movie is meaty enough to justify such an ending.

Rock the Casbah TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Rock the Casbah

Starring Omar Sharif, Hiam Abbass, Lubna Azabal, Nadine Labaki and Morjana Alaoui

Directed by Laila Marrakchi

Yes, despite it being set in Islamic Morocco, Rock the Casbah doesn’t have the most original premise. But at least it has a good mix of the tragic and the comic. The characters contend with the death of their father Moulay (Sharif). It’s structured to tell its story in three days, which is how long the rituals take place. Class finds itself as a theme, as the family’s matriarch Aicha (Abbass) concerns herself with what and who is in the ceremonies. It’s an accessible look at the process without being condescending or fetishistic the culture it depicts.

But we don’t see the movie’s perspective through Aicha’s eyes. Which means that Moulay gets to narrate what happens in the mourning household, doing so with light-footed aplomb. The movie also focuses on his daughters and how they see the events happening around them, their personalities shining even during sadness. There’s Kenza the Islamist professor, Miriam the plastic-surgery addict, and Sofia the actress. The first two are played by actresses I love like Azabal and Labaki. Sofia (Alaoui) is basically the movie’s conscience and I would love to see more of her movies. Watch out for a scene where they watch one of Sofia’s movies where she plays a campy terrorist, which is what this climate of post 9-11 cinema needs. Moments like this show the characters’ complex emotions that makes this movie worth watching.

Don Jon TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Don John

Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johannson, Julianne Moore, Tony Danza, Brie Larson, Glenne Headly, Anne Hathaway and Channing Tatum

Written and Directed by Joseph Gordon Levitt

Joseph Gordon Levitt has had a great career trajectory, from sitcom actor to indie darling to a regular player in Christopher Nolan’s film. His first dalliance in writing and directing a movie, Don Jon, portrays, well…dalliances with women. The titular character, played by Gordon-Levitt himself, a guy who, with his wing men, can pick up well at a club, which is what my generation is apparently up to these days. There is a catch however, since these women doesn’t satisfy him as much as the women he sees on his laptop screen. What a shame.

He has his own ideas about sex, and as a writer-director Gordon-Levitt generously applies the same consideration for the other characters, especially his love interests Barbara Sugarman (Johannson), who believes in waiting for sex, rom-com romances and is against porn. Even supporting characters like his night school classmate (Moore) and his club wing men have their own ideas about what’s sexually satisfying. The dialogue is equally generous to them, the actors saying their lines in a matter of fact way and without trumpeting them. And I’m kinda glad to hear these different conversations about desire even if they’re happening within such a tawdry comedy. And of course, I’m also hoping that this movie doesn’t get Gordon-Levitt typecasted into a character like this who is so unsympathetically cartoonish.

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