TIFF 2018 Review: CAPERNAUM (Lebanon 2018) *****Top 10

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Capernaum Poster
A politically-charged fable, featuring mostly non-professional actors, about a child who launches a lawsuit against his parents.


Nadine Labaki


Jihad Hojeily (screenwriter), Michelle Keserwany(screenwriter) | 2 more credits »

I did not think too much of Nadine Labaki’s 2011 TIFF People’s Choice Award winner WHERE DO WE GO NOW?,  a female whimsical tale of sorts but in her latest film, she explores the lives of children living on the fringes of Lebanese society.

  This is in contrast, a dead serious film with a male protagonist, though a 12- year old male boy who, when the film begins is suing his parents for bringing him into this unfriendly world.   Zain (Zain Al Rafeea) is only 12, but he’s seen enough of this life to resent his very existence.  His parents have sold his sister and he runs away from home, ending up in prison for stabling the man who bought his sister.  Al Rafeea is sensational as the young rebel. 

 Labaki’s camera captures the dirt and poverty of the underbelly of Lebanese life where even hope is a luxury.  That title comes from the name of the town on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus healed the sick in Biblical times.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMTMdgNzIfA



TIFF 2018 Movie Review: COLD WAR (ZIMNA WOJNA) (Poland 2018) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Cold War Poster
A passionate love story between two people of different backgrounds and temperaments, who are fatefully mismatched, set against the background of the Cold War in the 1950s in Poland, Berlin, Yugoslavia and Paris.


Pawel Pawlikowski (story), Pawel Pawlikowski(screenplay)  »

The director of the Best Foreign Film Oscar winner IDA three years ago, Pawel Pawlikowski returns with a new film, dedicated to his parents (as state at the end of the film) and based loosely on their lives.  

The film traces is the remarkable journey of a troubled love relationship that survived the cold war.   But the lovers endure a cold war of their own where nothing is black and white.  What is black and whit, however, is the film’s stunning cinematography, capturing the years after the war where Poland indulged in popular propaganda.  Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) the musical director of a dance tripe falls in love with a recruited rural dancer, Zula (Joanna Kulig).  

They travel together to different cities.  She fails to show up when he decides to defect, while in Paris.  They meet again at different times in different cities proving that their love is true – though plagued with jealousy.  The intensity of the love is vividly portrayed by the two actors and the setting of the dance troupe (with some excellent dances) add a super backdrop to the story. 

 Lots of metaphors in the film including the hilarious ‘pendulum that kills’ metaphor that got those watching the preview screening laughing.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvPkDdFeTk8


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TIFF 2018 Movie Review: FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY (Ireland 2018) ***1/2

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2018. Go to TIFF 2018 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Float Like a Butterfly Poster
From the producers of Once and Sing Street, Float Like a Butterfly is a powerful and timely story of a girl’s fight for freedom and belonging. In a gender-reversal of classic film Billy …See full summary »


Carmel Winters


Carmel Winters

FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY is a well-made female version of the underdog making good, a role reversal of BILLY ELLIOT, this film set in rural Ireland with boxing replacing dance.  

The film tells the fictitious tale of an Irish girl, Frances (Hazel Doupe) who hero worships the great boxer and herself becomes one.  The film open with her as a kid punching away, on top of her father, Michael’s (Dara Devaney) shoulders.  FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY is a feel good comedy/drama on an underdog making good.  It could be classified was a family film but there is a lot of swearing in the dialogue.  Few films have been made around Irish tinkers.  

What distinguishes FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY from the average feel-good film is the screen time and effort put into the story’s background.  Frances’ family especially the influences of her father, late mother and nana, the rich Irish background of tinkers, the rural Irish beauty and solid drama of Frances always being classified as a social reject all contribute to making Frances’ story a strong one and one that the audience will root for.  

The result obviously is a solid and satisfying feel-good and entertaining drama.

Trailer: (unavailable)


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Film Review: ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE (USA 2018) ***

The iconic Carlyle hotel has been an international destination for a particular jet-set as well as a favorite haunt of the most discernible New Yorkers.


Matthew Miele


Matthew Miele

Documentaries are made for varying reasons. They could be for education, to inform the world of some little known subject, to celebrate a famous person, to whistle blow or to honour a person in a biography.  ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE, the new documentary written and directed by Matthew Miele celebrates a famous hotel – the famous hotel called the Carlyle.

The iconic Carlyle hotel has been an international destination for a particular jet-set as well as a favourite haunt of the most discernible New Yorkers.  This documentary celebrates glamour – the glamour of the hotel (the cost of a suite could go for as high as $22,000) and the glamour of the guests that have stayed there.  The list of guests includes stars Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Anthony Bourdain, Naomi Campbell, George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Alan Cumming and Jon Hamm as well as Presidents and dignitaries like John F. Kennedy and Ted Roosevelt.

The Carlyle Hotel enjoys the reputation popularized by recent movies like the JOHN WICK films and HOTEL ARTEMIS with Jodie Foster.  In these films, a hotel would service any client no matter what background with everyone treated fairly and equally despite any shadiness. At the Carlyle, the management declined to tap the rooms of any suspicious clientele as all hotel guests are treated with respect.  The example given is the request by the government agency to  tap the Iraqi delegation that stayed there during the Gulf War.  No was the answer.

Whatever happens at the Carlyle stays at the Carlyle.  That is the saying and understand of both the staff and guests of the plush expensive hotel.  Even the names of the celebrities are not disclosed by the staff.

Director Mile has assembled a varied cast of interviewees to shed light on the hotel.  Besides the stars mentioned, the hotel staff, many of whom have spent their entire lives working there.  These include Kim of Room Service, Ernesto the doorman, Helal the waiter and several of management from sales to decor designer.

The film reveals the uniqueness of the Carlyle, in the words of both sides, the clientele and staff.  The art decor, the personal friendliness, the class, the care taken and style are a few of the factors.  The staff also speak of their favourite encounters.  George Clooney (who also speaks to the camera in an interview) and John F. Kennedy top the list of the staff’s favourite guests.

What is a hotel without some wicked scandal?  The hotel staff is asked about Marilyn Monroe and Kennedy and about many young and super gorgeous twenty-somethings that enter the hotel doors.  Fortunately, the staff is discreet.

The film’s highlights are the performances that take place at the hotel’s cafe.  A seat is reputed to cost at least $150 with a minimum of a $75 order.  One of the most popular performers is Bobby Short who is shown performing in a brief clip.  His performance and the hotel are also featured in Woody Allen’s film HANNAH AND HER SISTERS.  Woody Allen is also featured playing the clarinet in the cafe.

ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE is entertaining fluff.  The film celebrates celebrities.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chbAw9uNV8U

Film Review: RBG (USA 2018) ***1/2

A look at the life and work of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


Julie CohenBetsy West

Often the first 10 minutes of tim sets the tone and mood for the rest of the movie.  As far as this doc called RBG (standing for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but using the initials of the famous rapper) goes, it is the most spirited first 10 minutes of introduction to any film beginning with the uplifting music I have witnessed in a film this year.  What an into and what anticipation the directors have created for their audience who are then introduced to this ‘witch’, ‘American’ ‘shit-disturber’ who have changed countless lives.  In her very won words: “Everyone wants to take a picture with this 80-year old lady.”

The film delivers a message in the form of Ruth’s mother’s advice to Ruth: “Be a Lady.  Be independent!”  Ruth or RBG explains that being a lady means controlling girly emotions like anger.  The way to win an argument is not to yell.  Being independent means being able to take care of oneself.”  These simple words also apply to males as well with “Be a Gentleman.”

You could do something to make the world better!  Ruth decided to become a lawyer.  If not her husband can support her, Ruth’s parents muse. 

The film benefits from the availability of archive footage.  There are marvellous grainy black and white footage with voiceover provided by Ruth.

The most amazing thing about Ruth, as the movie emphasizes to great effect, is that she did not get life handed to her on a silver platter.  She burnt the candle at both ends by looking after her daughter and ill husband (with cancer) while she was third year at Law School.  The hard work work paid off for Ruth.  Her children also speak to the camera, praising their mother.

The most important issue tackled by the doc is however, the injustices against women.  Law firms did not hire women – it was just the way it was.  Ruth fought for women’s rights.  Ruth Ginsburg used her legal education to make the difference, dealing with sex discrimination cases thus making a difference in the women’s rights movement.  She would take cases that made good law.  The film gets more personal with a specific case –  Frontiero vs. Richardson.  The film is fortunate to have the real Sharron Frontiero interview and speak her case.  She was denied a housing allowance in the Air Force.  “You are lucky to be in the Air Force at all, she was told.   Sharron filed a lawsuit, under taken by RGB.

RBG is an inspiring doc that would make even men cheer that women have attained their deserved rights through the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg,

The film also shows her personal side.  They are shots of Ruth attending her favourite pastime – opera  She appreciates the sound of the human voice (she likens it to an electric current), the drama and the music.  Justice and mercy are all in the opera,

Ruth knew exactly what needs to be said and it was a very shrewd strategy.  Ruth wins many cases carefully outlining the words to emphasize the cause.

RBG premiered in Toronto at the Jewish Film Festival a few weeks back.  But he doc and its content has universal appeal.  The directors have created as inspirit a doc as its subject – the Notorious RBG.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biIRlcQqmOc

Review: 90th ACADEMY AWARDS 2018

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony (2018) took place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.  During the ceremony, AMPAS presented Academy Awards aka Oscars in 24 categories.   Comedian and late show host Jimmy Kimmel did the honours as M.C. for the second consecutive year.   

The Oscars always discouraged politics, well maybe till now.  Winners of awards that deliver political or activist related speeches often get boo’ed off stage, the most memorable example being Michael Moore boo’ed off stage way back when.  Two current issues will take the stage along the winners this year.  One is the February NRA boycott.  It is reported that anti-NRA badges were put into the swag bags given to the stars.  It would be interesting to see who will be wearing these badges.  The other is still the #MeToo movement.  The latest victim is Ryan Seacrest.  As news mounted against him regarding sexual allegations, the decision had to be made whether he should cover the red carpet.  When the time finally arrived, Seacrest was on the red carpet, with stars like Christopher Plummer and Richard Jenkins stopping by for interviews.  (E! supported Seacrest saying that there is insufficient proof to Seacrest’s allegations of sexual misconduct.)  The female equality movement was emphasized throughout the ceremony that reached its fever pitch during  the rousing Frances McDormand’s Best Actress speech.

Host Kimmel began by reminding everyone women and men, women (coming first) that it is the grand 90th anniversary.  Jokes were first made regarding the wrong envelope for Best Picture last year.  “When you hear your name announced, do not come up right away.”  Most of the humour were funny enough, credit to Kimmel with the funniest joke was related to Best Picture Oscar Nominnee THE SHAPE OF WATER.  “The year will be remembered for the fact that men screwed u so much that women started dating fish.  But he mentioned milestones this year such as Rachel Morrison being the first Oscar-nominated female cinematographer for MUDBOUND. 

The ceremony had a few unforgettable nostalgic moments.  After a clip of Eva Marie Saint in the black and white ON THE WATERFRONT, the Best Supporting Actress appeared to present the Oscar for Best Costume design.  After a standing ovation, she recalled working with Edith Head, one of the greatest film costume designers of all time.  The clips celebrating the Academy Awards 90 years of film with many unforgettable scenes made the other highlight.

Jimmy Kimmel’s giving away of a jet ski to whoever gives the shortest acceptance speech is the ceremony’s running joke.

The Oscar’s best timely moment is James Ivory’s acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay right after a spill on equality and fairness in movies.  He stresses the importance of first love whether be straight gay or otherwise in his writing.  Then black writer Jordan Peele won for Best Original Screenplay for GET OUT.

And if anyone noticed Jane Fonda said “The Winner is..”  instead of “The Oscar goes to..” in the presentation of the Best Actor Oscar to Gary Oldman for DARKEST HOUR.  His speech?  “To his 99-year old mother: “Put the kettle on, I am bringing the Oscar home.”

Right up to the end of the ceremonies, no one could guess which film would win the Best Picture Oscar, whether it be “SHAPE OF WATER or “THREE BILLBOARDS”.  The best joke of the evening was the presentation of the Best Pictures Oscar.  Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty did the honours the second time around.

Below are the full list of nominees with asterisks beside the winners.

Best Picture:

“Call Me by Your Name”

“Darkest Hour”


“Get Out”

“Lady Bird”

“Phantom Thread”

“The Post”

“The Shape of Water” ***

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”


Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name”

Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”

Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”

Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour” ***

Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”


Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”

Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” ***

Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”

Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Meryl Streep, “The Post”


Supporting Actor:

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”

Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”

Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” ***


Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya” ***

Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”

Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”



“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig

“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro ***


Animated Feature:

“The Boss Baby,” Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito

“The Breadwinner,” Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo

“Coco,” Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson

“Ferdinand,” Carlos Saldanha

“Loving Vincent,” Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart, Hugh Welchman


Animated Short:

“Dear Basketball,” Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant ***

“Garden Party,” Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon

“Lou,” Dave Mullins, Dana Murray

“Negative Space,” Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata

“Revolting Rhymes,” Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer


Adapted Screenplay:

“Call Me by Your Name,” James Ivory ***

“The Disaster Artist,” Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber

“Logan,” Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green

“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin

“Mudbound,” Virgil Williams and Dee Rees


Original Screenplay:

“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon & Kumail Nanjiani

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele ***

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig

“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh



“Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins ***

“Darkest Hour,” Bruno Delbonnel

“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema

“Mudbound,” Rachel Morrison

“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen


Best Documentary Feature:

“Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman

“Faces Places,” JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda

“Icarus,” Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan ***

“Last Men in Aleppo,” Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jepersen

“Strong Island,” Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes


Best Documentary Short Subject:

“Edith+Eddie,” Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright

“Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” Frank Stiefel ***

“Heroin(e),” Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon

“Knife Skills,” Thomas Lennon

“Traffic Stop,” Kate Davis, David Heilbroner


Best Live Action Short Film:

“DeKalb Elementary,” Reed Van Dyk

“The Eleven O’Clock,” Derin Seale, Josh Lawson

“My Nephew Emmett,” Kevin Wilson, Jr.

“The Silent Child,” Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton ***

“Watu Wote/All of Us,” Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen


Best Foreign Language Film:

“A Fantastic Woman” (Chile) ***

“The Insult” (Lebanon)

“Loveless” (Russia)

“On Body and Soul (Hungary)

“The Square” (Sweden)


Film Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss

“Dunkirk,” Lee Smith ***

“I, Tonya,” Tatiana S. Riegel

“The Shape of Water,” Sidney Wolinsky

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Jon Gregory


Sound Editing:

“Baby Driver,” Julian Slater

“Blade Runner 2049,” Mark Mangini, Theo Green

“Dunkirk,” Alex Gibson, Richard King ***

“The Shape of Water,” Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ren Klyce, Matthew Wood


Sound Mixing:

“Baby Driver,” Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater, Tim Cavagin

“Blade Runner 2049,” Mac Ruth, Ron Bartlett, Doug Hephill

“Dunkirk,” Mark Weingarten, Gregg Landaker, Gary A. Rizzo ***

“The Shape of Water,” Glen Gauthier, Christian Cooke, Brad Zoern

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick


Production Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Sarah Greenwood; Katie Spencer

“Blade Runner 2049,” Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola

“Darkest Hour,” Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer

“Dunkirk,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis

“The Shape of Water,” Paul D. Austerberry, Jeffrey A. Melvin, Shane Vieau    ***


Original Score:

“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer

“Phantom Thread,” Jonny Greenwood

“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat ***

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” John Williams

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Carter Burwell


Original Song:

“Mighty River” from “Mudbound,” Mary J. Blige

“Mystery of Love” from “Call Me by Your Name,” Sufjan Stevens

“Remember Me” from “Coco,” Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez      ***

“Stand Up for Something” from “Marshall,” Diane Warren, Common

“This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” Benj Pasek, Justin Paul


Makeup and Hair:

“Darkest Hour,” Kazuhiro Tsuji, David Malinowski, Lucy Sibbick ***

“Victoria and Abdul,” Daniel Phillips and Lou Sheppard

“Wonder,” Arjen Tuiten


Costume Design:

“Beauty and the Beast,” Jacqueline Durran

“Darkest Hour,” Jacqueline Durran

“Phantom Thread,” Mark Bridges ***

“The Shape of Water,” Luis Sequeira

“Victoria and Abdul,” Consolata Boyle


Visual Effects:

“Blade Runner 2049,” John Nelson, Paul Lambert, Richard R. Hoover, Gerd Nefzer        ***

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner, Dan Sudick

“Kong: Skull Island,” Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Mike Meinardus

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi,”  Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Chris Corbould, Neal Scanlan

“War for the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Daniel Barrett, Joel Whist

Film Review: POOP TALK (USA 2017)

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Poop Talk Poster


POOP TALK or in other words, SHIT TALK is a comedy doc that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year that luckily got picked up for distribution.  It is an hour and a quarter documentary about shit, if one can take it.  At least the doc takes a humorous look at it, as seen primarily from the point of view from a wide selection of stand-up comedians. “If I had one wish only from a genie, it would be that I would never have to shit,” jokes one comic at the film’s introduction.   A few shit experts (Dr. Joel Brown and Dr. John Vainder as themselves) also have their say, if that means anything.  The film aims  at giving an inside look at all things poop — from uncensored, embarrassing moments to scientific explanations recounted by 50 experts and comedians

Most of the comedians are not too famous, that majority of them unheard of, though that does not mean that they are not funny.  The one appearing most might be familiar with would be Kumail Nanjiani who also starred in his recent hit romantic comedy THE BIG SICK.

If the film is about to run short of material and begins to drag, director Feldman is quick enough to insert segments from the comics about poop that will guarantee at least a laugh or two.

Among the film’s funnier stand-up comic moments are the ones in which a female describes how she flooded the toilet and her friend’s bathroom ending up with her poop splashing on her mother’s face and the other where a dwarf comedian describes his experience pooping in a public toilet with the lights shut off.

Ironically, I am writing this review in Cuba when my partner is having traveller’s diarrhoea.  He has had the runs at least 5 times in the last half hour last evening, and has to be taken to the hospital.  But this is another story.  Another poop story.

Do not expect major insights, even on poop from this doc.  Feldman offers doses about poop in Africa, Russia and a few other foreign countries.  Mildly funny, at best!

The film also talk about different types of toilets like the squat toilets, especially in India.   All Pakistani bathrooms for example, there are washers for washing poop.  There a lot of funny stories about shit in other countries, but India has the funniest ones.

The most public place one has pooped in?  there is a segment in the film about this.  At the beach?  In the sea?

The psychology of shit?  The film has comedians talk about not shitting in public.  And the best is shitting on cocaine. Those in the know, know how much smellier poop can smell after snorting a line.

The most disgusting (or funny) is King kong Bundy the wrestler , 6 foot foot five 400 pounds tang a shit.

For all that is worth, POOP TALK does its best on the topic, despite the subject’s limitations.  Sadly though, this is not enough of a full length documentary.  The film also lacks a solid climax.  POOP TALK is an ok small movie, maybe to watch on the small screen, unless one want to spend extra bucks for shit.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pBWbjxVEoI




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