Film Reviews: The films of Johnnie To

TIFF Cinematheque Presents – The films of Johnnie To

Considered one of the greatest Hong Kong directors still working today, Johnnie To has amassed an impressive list of films that include many different genres. To is best known a an action director with films like PTU and THE HEROIC TRIO, both films spurning sequels.  His films have graced Cannes as well as the film festivals in Venice, Berlin and Toronto.

This is TIFF Cinematheque’s first retrospective of To which will include films that have influenced him. One is King Hu’s DRAGON INN one of the best sword sagas ever made.  The climatic battle at the end is unforgettable.  To will be present to introduce that film as well  as a few other screenings.  A real treat!

A total of 19 films are in the series.  A full review of OFFICE and capsule review

For complete listing, venue and ticket pricing, please check the TIFF website at:

The program runs from October 26th right through Christmas, a good well spread out of the 19 films. 

THE HEROIC TRIO (Hong Kong 1993) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

THE HEROIC TRIO stars three of the most famous stars in Hong Kong films of the 90’s – Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung.  They play action super heroes with super powers battling the ’evil one’ who has a scheme to rule the world forever with his emperor who is to be chosen for kidnapped babies.  Meanwhile, back on earth, the police led by Inspector Lau (Damian Lau) are baffled.  They are not the only ones, as the audience often feels the same way for the way the convoluted story unfolds.  Anything can happen in the film and does with no time boundaries.  There is old fashioned martial-arts combined with machine guns and motorbikes, computers mixed with swords and ancient artifacts.  But at least To’s film is full of energy and invention if one can put up with the nonsense.  The ending with the charred skeleton emerging from an explosion is an un-shamed copy from TERMINATOR 2, but who cares as long as the film is uninhibited fun not meant to be taken seriously.  And the three females stars are exciting to watch.


ELECTION (Hong Kong 2005) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

The ELECTION in this film refers to the election of the new head of the Triad gangsters in Hong Kong.  The two candidates are Big D (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and Lok (Simon Yam).  Lok is the more stable, even tempered and logicalmone while Big D is flashy, hot-tempered and unpredictable.  When Lok gets elected, Big D threatens to unstable by forming a new group.  The cops want no Wars while Lok agrees to some truce.  There is some fight over the baton, which symbolizes power.  There is more dialogue and story in ELECTION compared to the other To films, credit given to its scriptwriters Yau Nai-hoi and Yip Tin-shing, who seem to somehow know how the underworld operates.  The film premiered at Cannes before opening in Hong Kong and is one of the more successful of the To films spawning a sequel ELECTION 2.


OFFICE (Hong Kong 2015) ***
Directed by Johnnie To

The story of OFFICE follows the IPO (Initial Public Offering) of shares by a major  company, Jones & Sunn led by the Chairman (Chow Yun-Fat) and his CEO who also happens to be his mistress (Sylvia Chang).  The film opens as two new interns Lee Xiang (Ziyi Wang) and Kat-Ho (Yueting Lang) start new jobs but learn that there are lots of kissing asses and dirty business that need be done in order to be successful.  Lee Xiang is earnest and naive. Two other characters that play a part in the plot are high flyers Sophie (Wei Tang) and David (Eason Chan) who forge financial figures.  OFFICE is pleasant to the eyes – great set decoration and design.  Each office space is designed artistically and modern, often with crystalline and curved shapes.  Wardrobe, especially those worn by Sylvia Chang are haute couture.  The characters break into song at any time but the songs are often clumsily inserted, and break the flow of the narrative.   OFFICE barely succeeds as a musical and satire and runs a bit long at just under two hours.  The novelty of the sets and songs wears off quite soon. 


Johnnie To


Full Review: DON’T TALK TO IRENE (Canada 2017) ***

Don't Talk to Irene Poster
When Irene – the fattest girl in high school – gets suspended, she must endure two weeks of community service at a retirement home. Following her passion for cheerleading, she secretly …See full summary »


Pat Mills


Pat MillsPat Mills

DON’T TALK TO IRENE takes its cue from Woody Allen’s PLAY IT AGAIN SAM the Herbert Ross film where the Allen character takes advice from Humphrey Bogart with regards to getting a girl.  In DON’T TALK TO IRENE, the protagonist, an overweight teenage girl takes advice from Geena Davis as she follows a different goal, in this case of pursuing her passion for cheerleading.  She signs up for a talent-search reality show in order to prove that “physical perfection” isn’t everything.

Irene Willis (Michelle McLeod) lives in a town of a small fictional town of Parc supposed to be just north of Toronto.  The film was shot in Hamilton, Ontario.  It is described in the film as the worst of small towns, where Irene goes to the worst of high schools.  Her cycle of life is predictable and bland.  Fuelled by the dream of becoming a cheerleader, but constantly told by both her overprotective mother (Anastasia Philips) and classmates that she does not fit the mild of a cheerleader.  But Geena Davis, speaking to Irene via the A League of Their Own poster on her bedroom wall tells her “Never quit!”

When Irene gets suspended and is forced to do community service at a retirement home — run by Barrett (Kids in the Hall’s Scott Thompson) — alongside her bullies and her new friend, Tesh (a gender non-conforming, glitzy dreamer), an opportunity arises.  She rounds up her new-found circle of elderly friends into an unlikely dance troupe.

The film has the story of a socially unaccepted underdog doing it successfully at the end.  It is an age old story which audiences have seen time and again.  In fact this is not the first film in which seniors enter a dance competition.

But it is often the story that does not make a good film.  Despite the story’s limitations, the film benefits for the sly humour of its writer/director Pat Mills.  Mills gives himself a cameo as a drunken teacher in a few segments in the movie.  Mills, in his 2014 film, GUIDANCE, made an imprint with his dark and really funny comedy.  DON’T TALK TO IRENE is not as good as GUIDANCE but it has its moments.

The character of transgendered, smart-talking Tesh is not that funny and appears in the film to set a politically correct statement.  The mother and daughter relationship is also nothing new and the mother’s final acceptance of her daughter’s goals is predictable, if not tiresome.  The film also aims to be too smug with strong language added to create a more edgy film.  The seniors, again all try their best to show that they still have it, in terms of ingenuity, sex drive or dance skills.

McLeod is a rare find and is able to carry the film well.  The film contains a nice surprise with the actual appearance of Geena Davis.

Still everyone loves a feel-good movie.  Undemanding viewers should lap this tale up, with no problem at all.  Critics can only wince at the goings-on of this girl that finally makes good.


TIFF 2017 Movie Review: VISAGES, VILLAGES (Faces Places)(France 2017) ***** Top 10


Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Faces Places Poster
Director Agnes Varda and photographer/muralist J.R. journey through rural France and form an unlikely friendship.


JRAgnès Varda


Jean-Luc GodardJRLaurent Levesque

Faces Places have received high critical praise from critics at Cannes, many calling it a masterpiece. That might be too big a term to use for this little personal film but VISAGES VILLAGES is simply the most delightful and personal film at the festival.

Director Agnes Varda (wife of the late Jacques Demy), now 89 is famous for her films, photographs, and art installations that focus on documentary realism, feminist issues, and social commentary with a distinct experimental style.

In this latest and perhaps her last doc (she is losing her vision), she and fellow friend and artist known as JR travel around France, particularly the North in their photo camion to take pictures of the people they visit. At Le Havre, for example they photograph the images of three wives of the dockworker and paste them on stacked containers.

In a deserted mining town, they paste the photograph of the last woman (wife of a miner) still staying in the old house district. When asked the reason she does this, she replies it is too demonstrate the power of imagination.

No doubt about that, this film is personal, inspiring, powerful, sad and happy and perhaps ‘masterpiece’ might be really an accurate term to describe this film.




The last day, the 17th of September marks the end of another year of the Toronto International Film Festival. Most noted difference is the fewer number of films programmed, as attendances over the past years have been dropping. Reasons for this state of affairs are many including higher unaffordable movie prices, the removal of the festival all movie pass and movie pirating.

Of the 79 festival films seen this year, I have selected my 10 best – the best of the best.

These are listed in alphabetical order:
BPM (France)

The public is the most important and the PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD went to THREE BILLBOARDS.

Other winners as selected by the Toronto Intrenational Film Festival, are, as listed below, in the different categories.

Till next year…….

The Toronto International Film Festival® announced its award winners at the closing ceremony at TIFF Bell Lightbox today, hosted by Piers Handling, CEO and Director of TIFF, and Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. To watch the presentation, visit The 42nd Festival wraps up this evening.
The short film awards below were selected by a jury comprised of Marit van den Elshout, Head of CineMart at the International Film Festival Rotterdam; award-winning filmmaker Johnny Ma (Old Stone); and Cannes 2017 Art Cinema Award winner Chloé Zhao (The Rider).


The IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Short Film goes to Marc-Antoine Lemire’s Pre-Drink. The jury remarked the film “is a monumental yet intimate portrayal of a woman in transition. Lead by the towering performances of the film’s two actors, both of who are worthy of receiving their own awards. The jury were especially taken by the leading actress who gives one of the best performances we saw in the Short Cuts programmes. The 2017 Short Cuts jury honors Pre-Drink for Best Canadian short film.”

The award offers a $10,000 cash prize, made possible by IWC Schaffhausen.


The IWC Short Cuts Award for Best Short Film goes to Niki Lindroth von Bahr’s The Burden (Min Börda). The jury remarked, “Whimsical but tragic, imaginative and just plain weird, this is exactly what one can expect from a Scandinavian musical with fish in bath robes singing out their existentialist crisis. This is a film that stands out in this program and any film program it will ever be part of.” The award offers a $10,000 cash prize made possible by IWC Schaffhausen.
The jury gave honourable mentions to Matthew Rankin’s The Tesla World Light (Tesla: Lumière Mondiale) and Qiu Yang’s Xiao Cheng Er Yue (A Gentle Night).

The Canadian awards below were selected by a jury comprised of Mark Adams, Artistic Director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival; Canadian documentarian and Hillman Prize winner Min Sook Lee (Migrant Dreams); and artist and filmmaker Ella Cooper, who is also the founder of Black Women Film! Canada.


The City of Toronto Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film goes to Wayne Wapeemukwa’s Luk’ Luk’l. The jury remarked, “The award goes to a striking debut film that disrupts borders – of form and content and suggests new cinematic territories.This beautifully realized film offers a unique Canadian perspective, made with real compassion, insight and remarkable characters from Vancouver’s East Side.” This award carries a cash prize of $15,000, made possible by the City of Toronto.

The jury gave honourable mention to Sadaf Foroughi’s Ava.


The Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to Robin Aubert’s Les Affamés. The jury remarked, “This year the Canada Goose Award for Best Canadian Feature Film goes to a hybrid art-house film that proved to be something of a revelation. Wonderfully scripted and perfectly cast, this film managed the rare feat of featuring genuinely interesting and well-rounded characters; surprising dramatic and comedic moments with well thought-out multi-generational female roles (who were totally badass, I might add) while also dealing with poignant and contemporary issues, set against a striking rural backdrop and hundreds of ‘ravenous’ zombies.”

This award carries a cash prize of $30,000 and a custom award, sponsored by Canada Goose.

The jury gave honourable mention to Simon Lavoie’s The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches (La petite fille qui aimait trop les allumettes).


The Festival welcomed an international FIPRESCI jury for the 26th year. The jury members comprised of jury president Jonathan Rosenbaum (USA), Robert Daudelin (Canada), Martin Horyna (Czech Republic), Ivonete Pinto (Brazil), Marietta Steinhart (Austria), and Jim Slotek (Canada).

Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for the Discovery programme is awarded to Sadaf Foroughi for Ava.

Prize of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) for Special Presentations is awarded to Manuel Martín Cuenca for The Motive (El Autor).


As selected by a jury from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Pacific Cinema for the sixth consecutive year, the NETPAC Award for World or International Asian Film Premiere goes to Huang Hsin-Yao’s The Great Buddha+.

Jury members include jury chairperson Rashmi Doraiswamy (India), Jian Hao (China), and Savine Wong (Canada). The jury remarked, “The NETPAC Jury awards The Great Buddha+ for depicting the interface between the haves and have-nots, with black humor and style, innovating with noir in representing the social reality of Taiwan today.”


This is the third year for Platform, the Festival’s juried programme that champions directors’ cinema from around the world. The Festival welcomed an international jury comprised of award-winning filmmakers Chen Kaige, Małgorzata Szumowska, and Wim Wenders who unanimously awarded the Toronto Platform Prize, presented by Air France, to Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country.

“This is a spiritual epic taking place in 1929 in Australia’s Northern Territory,” said the jury in a statement. “It is a great saga of human fate, and its themes of race and struggle for survival are handled in such a simple, rich, unpretentious and touching way, that it became for us a deeply emotional metaphor for our common fight for dignity.

Speaking about their deliberations, the jury added: “We saw 12 films from all over the world that took us into very different universes of the soul and to extremely different places on our planet. We were thankful to be able to see these films and we very much appreciated that actually exactly half of them were made by women. TIFF is leading the way, we feel.”

“As we only had one award to give, we had to be quite radical. We also limited ourselves to only one special mention, even if other films might have imposed themselves for best acting, writing or directing.”

Awarding a special mention to Clio Barnard’s Dark River, the jury said: “This film, deeply rooted in the Yorkshire countryside, convinced us, as its characters and actors, its photography, its story and its sense of place were all so much ONE, so utterly believable and controlled, that we were totally taken by it.”

The Toronto Platform Prize offers a custom award and a $25,000 cash prize, made possible by Air France.

New this year, the Festival presents a free screening of Toronto Platform Prize winner Sweet Country at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 8:30 pm on September 17. Tickets will be available on a first-come, first-served basis beginning at 6:30pm.


This year marked the 40th year that Toronto audiences were able to cast a ballot for their favourite Festival film for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This year’s award goes to Martin McDonagh for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The award offers a $15,000 cash prize and custom award, sponsored by Grolsch. The second runner-up is Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name. The first runner-up is Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya.

The Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award goes to Joseph Kahn’s Bodied. The second runner-up is Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99. The first runner-up is James Franco’s The Disaster Artist.

The Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award goes to Agnès Varda and JR’s Faces Places. The second runner-up is Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! The first runner-up is Long Time Running directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas De Pencier.

TIFF 2017 Movie Review: CATCH THE WIND (PRENDRE LE LARGE) (France 2017)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Catch the Wind Poster
A middle-aged factory worker’s life is upended when she follows her employer to Morocco.


Gaël Morel


Gaël Morel


Sandrine BonnaireLubna AzabalIlian Bergala

CATCH THE WIND is a personal look at what happens when companies second source to a cheaper country. The story concerns Edith (Sandrine Bonnaire) informed that the job she’s held for her entire adult life is being relocated to Morocco. She refuses to accept a healthy severance package.

Against the advice of her colleagues, her self-absorbed son, and even the consultant hired to fire her, Edith instead opts to follow her job to Tangier.

Arriving with the naïve energy of a teenager on their first overseas trip, Edith realizes before long what she’s up against: the expected subpar working conditions and subpar pay, but also an adjustment to new social and cultural realities — nuances that her failure to grasp would mean her job and, more importantly, her dignity.

The film works for two factors. One is the detailed account by director Morel on what living is like in Tangier – the factory corruption, the poverty, the strife to support families and the danger on the streets.

The second is Bonnaire’s calculated and worthy performance. Brutal yet sensitive, PRENDE LE LARGE finally gets Morel’s characters a happy ending but not without sheer determination and strong will.



TIFF 2017 Movie Review: LAISSEZ BRONZER LES CADAVRES (Let the Corpses Tan)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Let the Corpses Tan Poster
The Mediterranean summer: blue sea, blazing sun….and 250 kg of gold stolen by Rhino and his gang! They had found the perfect hideout: an abandoned and remote hamlet now taken over by a …See full summary »


Jean-Pierre Bastid (novel), Hélène Cattet 


Marc BarbéBernie BonvoisinDorylia Calmel

The film credit sequence begins with the title splattered on the screen one word at a time sets up the stage for what audiences are to expect in the upcoming 92 minutes gore fest.

An extreme close up of events and we are talking seeing a screen of a close up of a close up like a the teeth in a mouth. This effect can be terribly annoying if one is sitting up close to the screen, so best be at least in the middle to thee back of the theatre when viewing this one. The story is simple enough. A gang of thieves absconding with 250kg of stolen gold arrives at the abode of a listless artist caught in a bohemian love triangle.

The scenario quickly escalates into a desperate day-long firefight between cops and robbers throughout the remote ruins of a Mediterranean hamlet — and genre and art-house tropes collide in a relentless reverie of action spectacle. It should be noted that as bloody as this film is, it is not as bloody as the other Midnight Madness, nor is it as inventive.

Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani are also fond of using colour saturated silhouettes as in the spaghetti westerns.


TIFF 2017 Movie Review: THE THIRD MURDER (Japan 2017) ****

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

The Third Murder Poster
Mikuma has a criminal record dating back many years and is now under the spotlight again. It looks like and open and shut case for Mikuma has confessed to the new charge. Enter prominent …See full summary »


Hirokazu Koreeda


Hirokazu Koreeda (screenplay)


Masaharu FukuyamaKôji YakushoIsao Hashizume

THE THIRD MURDER is director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s (AFTER LIFE, AFTER THE STORM LIKE FATEHR LIKE SON) first murder mystery/courtroom drama and one that encompasses deep thoughts on morality. From the first scene, Misumi (Kôji Yakusho) robs and kills an industrialist. Misumi freely confesses to the cops, claiming he was desperate to settle a gambling debt.

But defence attorney Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama) isn’t entirely satisfied with his mild-mannered client’s testimony. As Shigemori and his team go about their research, secret histories are brought to light, inconsistencies surface and unlikely alliances point to a more complicated set of circumstances.

One flaw of the film is the point is that it is brought up later Misumi might not have killed the industrialist and someone else could have done it. But showing the killing at the start of the film, dismisses the fact that someone else could have done it.

It is the film’s classic case where a director should never lie in a flashback scene. (Hitchcock did it once in STAGE FRIGHT and was never forgiven for it.) Kore-eda’s shot of Misumi’s reflection in the glass in the film’s final scene when he finally concludes his case with his attorney demands mention. The image in the reflection is different from his actual face reflecting the two sides of the man.

Brilliantly thought of and executed THE THIRD MURDER marks Kore-eda as his continuous best.



TIFF 2017 Movie Review: THE DAY AFTER (South Korea 2017) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

The Day After Poster
The married Bongwan leaves home in the dark morning and sets off to work. The memories of the woman who left weigh down on him. That day Bongwan’s wife finds a love note, bursts into the office, and mistakes Areum for the woman who left.


Sang-soo Hong


Sang-soo Hong


Yunhee ChoKi JoabangMin-hee Kim

Hong Sangsoo is a Korean director that makes small films on a little budget. Films like his, will never get seen aside outside festivals. Like HILL OF FREEDOM that was also screened a few years back at TIFF, Hong’s THE DAY AFTER is a comedy of errors with lots of dialogue, confused identities and missed meetings.

The protagonist of the story is Kim Bongwan (Kwon Haehyo), the manager of a small, independent publishing company, recovering from his recent affair with Lee Changsook (Kim Saebyuk), his young, attractive, and now former, employee. All the said information is revealed over conversations of the characters.

Song Areum (Kim Minhee) takes over Changsook’s position, unaware of what has transpired and unprepared for the misguided wrath of Bongwan’s furious wife (Cho Yunhee) who suddenly appears at her husband’s office and accuses her of being his lover.

While Kim is initially on display as a deceiver with no redeeming qualities, director Hong reverses that notion by the end of the film. Hong also composed the original music for his film – a quiet entertaining piece.



TIFF 2017 Movie Review: EUPHORIA (Sweden/Germany 2017)

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

Euphoria Poster
Sisters in conflict travelling through Europe toward a mystery destination.


Lisa Langseth


Lisa Langseth


Alicia VikanderEva GreenCharles Dance

When sisters Ines (Alicia Vikander) and Emile (Eva Green) are greeted at an institution (for the dying) with the standing figure of Charlotte Rampling wearing an overall, one can immediately tell what will happen is not going to be good. Ines is about to die of cancer and she wants to find closure with her sister as to the past.

EUPHORIA marks the English-language debut of Sweden’s Lisa Langseth and it is simply terrible. This is new age stuff that many will just gawk at.

The written dialogue is also plain awful. The kind of words Emile uses, the swearing and all is also used by Ines’ character. The words or ideas of different characters should be distinct. The film could do with a bit of humour – as dealing with death is a topic ripe for some black humour. Whenever Ines coerces Emile to talk about an incident in the past, she will later use that against her and lose it.

If Emile could not see this coming, the audience certainly can, for the script is too predictably cliched. Charles Dance puts a bit of life into the film as a dying man who organizes his own farewell party. The film turns out to be a muddled look on death mortality.


TIFF 2017 Movie Review: APRIL’S DAUGHTER (LAS HIJAS DE ABRIL)(Mexico 2017) ***

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2017. Go to TIFF 2017 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

April's Daughter Poster
Valeria is 17 and pregnant. She lives in Puerto Vallarta with Clara, her half sister. Valeria has not wanted her long-absent mother, April, to find out about her pregnancy.


Michel Franco


Michel Franco


Emma SuárezAna Valeria BecerrilEnrique Arrizon

Emma Suarez (Almodovar’s JULIETA) plays a crazy mother, one that appears warm and caring at first glance but turns out to be calculating and ruthless. April, mother of a pregnant teen re-enters her daughter’s, Valeria (Ana Valeria Becerril) life, her energetic, take-charge attitude taking on considerably more disturbing hues once the child is born.

She eventually kidnaps the baby and horrors, as if that is not enough, sleeps with Valeria’s boyfriend, the child’s father, Mateo (Enrique Arrizon).

Mateo is good-looking enough to temp both mother and daughter but is a character with no backbone. Director Franco shows what happens when maternal instincts are taken to the extreme – and it is not nice!

The rest go the film follows Valeria as she searches for her kidnapped daughter. One wishes for a more upbeat ending given the film’s theme as the ending is a bit of a letdown. Excellent performance by Emma Suarez! A good female film from a male director.