McCannick TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

McCannick

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.

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Triptych TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Triptych

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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Mary Queen of Scots TIFF Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

Mary, Queen of Scots

Starring Camilla Rutherford, Sean Biggerstaff and Tony Curran

Written and directed by Thomas Imbach

It’s been tradition to speak ill of the dead, especially if the ones who have passed have been survived by their enemies. Especially if we’re talking about Shakespeare who, as eloquent as he is, has vilified famous kings like Richard III and Macbeth, both of whom, were more complex than caricatures.

The titular Mary Queen of Scots was such a person, accussed of such things as murdering her second husband or plotting to assassinate the Queen Elizabeth I of England. At the least, Queen Mary is seen as someone too incompetent to be ruthless.

In recent decades, however, tradition has swayed to make historical figures nicer. Queen Elizabeth regrets convicting another sovereign ruler for treason. Queen Mary fell victim to another queen. Perhaps Thomas Imbach’s adaptation of the Stefan Zweig biopic was too kind towards Mary, justifying the woman’s attempts to rule three kingdoms under divine right. At least Imbach and Rutherford, who plays Mary, still reminds us that the Catholic Queen’s stubbornness against criticism. And despite of that quality that hinders her from success and happiness, it is easy to empathize with a person who can never please the warring lords of a divided Scotland.

I would also like to pay compliments to the movie’s aesthetic, its colours muted yet rich. The camera quickly runs and buzzes through the stony crags or the calm beaches of the Highlands, these visuals accompanied by Rutherford’s epistolary narration. It’s as if it visualizing the arc of a woman haunting her hostile homeland.

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