Vancouver International Film Festival
Dates and Venues September 27 - October 12, 2018 | The Centre In Vancouver For The Performing Arts, The Cinémathèque, Cineplex Odeon International Village, Vancouver Playhouse, Rio Theatre, SFU's Goldcorp Centre for The Arts & Vancity Theatre
Reviewer John Jane
The Front Runner
USA, - director: Jason Reitman, 2018, 112 mins
Date and Venue 12 October 2018, 6.30pm at the Centre for Performing Arts
Long before we got
soaked in media coverage about Donald Trump’s politically unpunished
shenanigans, 1988 Democratic presidential nomination Gary Hart paid
a heavy political price for his roguery. Jason Reitman’s political
drama follows the ‘ups and downs’ of the Colorado Senator.
Hugh Jackman takes on the role of the charismatic politician Gary Hart
who was considered the overwhelming front runner for the White
House. Jackman, who celebrates his 50th birthday today (October 12)
delivers an appropriate square-jawed, nuanced performance, leaving the
audience with the impression that the United States had probably forfeited
the opportunity of good leadership. Outside of Jackman, only J. K. Simmons
stands out above the crowd as Hart’s no nonsense campaign manager
Bill Dixon. Sara Paxton acquits herself ably as Donna Rice, the reluctant
other half of the (alleged) extramarital relationship; though, likely
she was given the role due to her physical resemblance to Rice.
The Front Runner was presented as the part of the Vancouver International Film Festival Closing Gala. Prior to the screening, VIFF Executive Director Jacqueline Dupuis called upon the following guest speakers to address the audience: Dr. Hedy Fry, Member of Parliament for Vancouver Centre and Rob Bromley, chairman of Creative BC.
The following awards were given to films featured during the festival:
People’s Choice Award
Popular International Documentary Award
Popular Canadian Feature Award
Popular International Feature Award
for an issue-oriented documentary film in the Impact programming stream
Women in Film and Television Artistic Merit Award, Drama
Women in Film and Television Artistic Merit Award, Documentary
Maria by Callas
France, dir. Tom Volf, 2017, 113 mins
In English & French with English subtitles
Dates and Venues 30 September 3.45pm at Vancouver Playhouse & 11 October, 1.15pm at SFU Goldcorp Centre
Maria Callas is the most celebrated soprano…. ever. There is no doubt that she was a consummate artist and brilliant vocal technician and was universally adored by the opera going public, both neophytes and aficionados. Tom Volf’s all too laudatory documentary of the opera diva’s life and career at least gives the artist herself an opportunity to “explode the many myths” that has surrounded her through some turbulent times. Those times, as depicted in Volf’s uneven account, includes her termination from the Metropolitan Opera and her complicated relationship with shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Callas’ side of the story is voiced through American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. While Volf puts forward the narrative in more or less chronological order, the film is really a roughly assembled collection of: film footage of operatic performance and bel canto recitals, home videos, television interviews with Callas speaking in both English and perfect French. What the film lacks in depth, it gains in esprit de corps.
USA, dir. Peter Hedges, 2018, 103 mins
Dates and Venue 7 October 3pm & 11 October 9pm at the Centre for Performing Arts
In Peter Hedges
new film Ben is Back, he provided an excellent vehicle for
his son Lucas to showcase his exceptional talent. However, it’s
Julia Roberts that is phenomenal as a fearful helicopter supermom. The
film starts off by being a family drama, yet ultimately turns out to
be roller-coaster pursuit thriller played out be Roberts and Hedges.
19 year-old Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) returns to his family's suburban
home on Christmas Eve on a furlough from a rehab clinic. His mother,
Holly (Julia Roberts) is cautiously welcoming but reluctant to allow
her son any time to be on his own. Over the next 24 hours, real truths
are exposed about Ben’s drug addiction and worse, testing to the
limit, a mother's ‘never-say-die’ approach to keeping him
drug free. While both Roberts and Hedges stand out, there some credible
performances by relative new-comers. In particular, Courtney B. Vance
is impressive in support as Ben’s tough-love step-father.
A Private War
USA/UK, dir. Matthew Heineman, 2018, 106 min
Date and Venue 10 October 8.45pm at the Centre for Performing Arts
Based on Marie
Brenner’s 2012 Vanity Fair story, A Private War is film-maker
Matthew Heineman tribute biography to Marie Colvin. Unless you have
an avid interest in reading about the human cost of war on battlefronts
around the world, you might be forgiven for not knowing who Marie Colvin
is. Colvin, who died in the war-torn city of Homs, Syria in 2012 while
covering that country's civil war, was an American war correspondent
working for the British newspaper The Sunday Times.
Poland/UK/France, dir. Pawel Pawlikowski , 2018, 88 mins
In Polish, French with English subtitles
Dates and Venue 2 October 6.30pm & 9 October 8.45pm at The Centre for Performing Arts
Set in post-war
Europe at the height of the Cold War, against a backdrop of battle-scarred
Poland, Wiktor and Zula (Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig) are fellow artists
and occasional lovers in Pawel Pawlikowski’s stark documentary-style
film. The retro looking 1:1 aspect screen and black & white photography
gives the film an even more melancholy tone. What makes this film worth
watching – or rather worth hearing – is the eclectic soundtrack
that provides the audience with traditional Polish folk songs played
on authentic provincial instruments, cynically patriotic anthems, stylized
western jazz standards and a bit of early rock n’ roll by Bill
Haley and his Comets. Wiktor and Zula’s complex relationship is
really a metaphor for the East-West Cold Wa rof the fifties and sixties.
Tomasz Kot and Joanna Kulig are painfully perfect as the film’s
protagonists. Kulig in particular delivers a marvellously natural performance;
transforming from a love struck teenager to a jaded thirty-something.
Watch for an interesting cameo by French film director Cédric
China, dir. Zhang Yimou, 2018, 116 mins
In Mandarin with English subtitles
Dates and Venue 6 October 5.45pm & 8 October 3pm at The Centre for Performing Arts
To westerners, Zhang
Yimou will always be synonymous with the opening ceremonies for the
2008 Beijing Olympics. Nonetheless, his large contingent of admirers
will likely be delighted with his new film Shadow. The new
film’s title may not have the mystic cachet as House of Flying
Daggers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it has
all the same elements: over-the-top acting, stunningly visual martial
arts and a vague socio-political context.
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
USA, 2018, dir. Marielle Heller, 107 mins
Date and Venue 6 October 8.45pm at The Centre for Performing Arts
For fans of television sit-coms,
comedienne Melissa McCarthy is one half of the very funny television
couple Mike and Molly. McCarthy seems so perfect as Leonore "Lee"
Israel, the American biographer who became better known for her literary
forging exploits, one might believe that the part was written for her.
While McCarthy and Israel share little physical resemblance, the actor’s
flair for sardonic comic timing makes it difficult to imagine anyone
else as the acerbic writer (even though she replaced Julianne Moore
in the role). But if McCarthy is good, Richard E. Grant is excellent
and totally convincing as Israel’s shill and boozing buddy Jack
Hock (who may actually be a fictitious character).
Ash Is Purest White (Jiang Hu Er Nü)
China/France, 2018, dir. Jia Zhangke, 136 mins
In Mandarin with English subtitles
Dates and Venues 3 October 8.45pm at the Centre for Performing Arts & 5 October 3.30pm at Playhouse Theatre
For those unaccustomed to director Jia Zhangke’s work, it might seem strange to place a female lead in a story that is about honour in brotherhood. The Chinese film-maker obviously believes that his wife Zhao Tao has at least most of the qualities of a modern warrior. Slender, exotic looking with porcelain skin, Zhao Tao turns in a fearless performance as Qiao, the only woman in jianghu, an underworld brotherhood whose business operations are on the edge of legitimacy. Qiao’s lover, Guo Bin (Fan Liao), is a high-profile figure in the kinship. While jianghu is involved in racketeering, they follow a strict code of honour and righteousness. Qiao is faithful to the code to the end, but Bin is not – a mien that has karma eventually catching up with him.
Ash is the Purest
White is initially set in Datong, Shanxi Province within a time
frame stretching from the turn of the new millennium up to the present
time; a period of breathtaking change in the Northern Province. At a
point roughly half way through the film, the focus seamlessly shifts
from an organised crime motif to a romantic melodrama. Music coordinator
Lim Giong puts together an eclectic soundtrack that includes both western
and eastern popular music.
Lush Reeds (Zhi zi yu gui)
China, 2018, dir.Yang Yishu, 105 mins
In Mandarin with English & Standard Mandarin subtitles
Dates and Venues 1 October 9pm at Cinematheque, 3 October 3.15pm at Vancity Theatre
is Chinese film-maker Yang Yishu’s pessimistic eco-drama. It centres
on Xiayin (Huang Lu), a conscientious journalist who struggles to proclaim
herself in both her professional and personal life. She works for an
unappreciative office manager who doesn’t publish her work at
a local newspaper barely surviving. At home her marriage is also on
shaky ground. Having just moved into her husband Feng Yu’s (Lin
Zheyuan) small apartment, her unpacked cardboard boxes suggests she
is not quite settled on the arrangement. Feng Yu himself is apathetic
about her being there.
Shoplifters (Manbiki Kazoku)
Japan, 2018, dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu, 121 mins
In Japanese with English subtitles
Venue 30 September 3.30pm at the Centre for Performing Arts,
1 October 6pm at the Centre for Performing Arts & 10 October 6pm
at the Centre for Performing Arts
Sakura Ando delivers a truly sublime and tender performance in the role of Nobuyo. Young actors, seven-year-old Miyu Sasaki and twelve-year-old Jyo Kairi will surely steal your heart. Veteran actor Lily Franky (his real name Masaya Nakagawa has a more Japanese ring) ably anchors Kore-eda’s screenplay. Hirokazu Kore-eda has created a present day Oliver Twist, but Osamu Shibata is no Fagan. It is left to the audience to decide on whether the children were kidnapped or rescued.
Jinpa (Zhuàng si è yì zhi yang)
China, 2018, dir. Pema Tseden, 87 mins
In Tibetan with English subtitles
Dates and Venue 28 September 1.15pm at International Village 8 & 30 September 9.30pm at International Village 9
For Chinese film-maker
Pema Tseden’s small film Jinpa he travels to the hostile
Tibetan plains of Kekexilli 5000 metres above sea-level. The opaque
title is taken from the film’s main character and is also the
name of the actor playing him. It’s also the name given to the
secondary male character played by Genden Phuntsok. The Mandarin title
Zhuàng si è yì zhi yang is more descriptive
of the film’s premise.Tseden’s film is incredibly slow-paced.
At under an hour and a half, it doesn’t get to far down a storyline.
Though, mainly due to its rough-looking star, it’s incredibly
watchable. Jinpa is a truck driver who has to drive along the most isolated
roads through the most forbidding part of the world that you will ever
see. He has an affinity for baubles, sunglasses and opera – you
hear O sole mio throughout the film. Cinematographer Lu Songye
captures the desolation of this land-locked country, although, the indoor
photography seems somewhat claustrophobic. The use of flashbacks in
distorted monochrome works well in that it enables the audience to distinguish
past and present. For movie-goers (and television viewers) now used
to widescreen, they may not enjoy the 1:1 ratio photography.
Bergman - A Year in a Life
Sweden, 2018, dir. Jane Magnusson, 116 mins
In Swedish and English with English subtitles
Dates and Venues 27 September 8.45pm at Cinematheque & 29 September 11am at International Village 9
Films about film-makers
are generally not all that interesting. However, Jane Magnusson’s
documentary biography about the iconic director Ingmar Bergman is certainly
an exception. While Magnusson acknowledges Bergman’s genius; her
film also emphases the subject’s many failings. The particular
“Year in a Life” is 1957, a year that saw Bergman arguably
at his best and most prolific. Inasmuch as the film chronologically
follows the enigmatic artist’s work throughout that year, it also
covers major areas of his career both before and after. Magnusson’s
carefully researched bio shows Bergman to be so consumed with his work,
and so obsessed in his affairs and liaisons with adoring women that
he had little time for his first four wives, and less time for his nine
children (his fifth wife, Ingrid, who he genuinely loved was an anomaly).
The film includes interviews with Liv Ullmann, Thorsten Flinck, Barbra
Streisand, Elliott Gould as well as the subject himself. Their opinions
of Bergman all point in the same direction: a brilliant, driven perfectionist,
but a flawed human whose inner demons were graphically seen in his work.
His addiction to his work came with a price. He had ulcers that kept
him awake at night, and rarely slept past 4:30 am. As unflattering as
Magnusson’s film essay is, there is a high probability that it
would have had Bergman’s approval.
The Hummingbird Project
Canada/Belgium, 2018, dir. Kim Nguyen, 111 mins
Dates and Venues 27 September 7pm at The Centre & 30 September 1pm at The Playhouse
VIFF opened its 37th festival on Friday (September 27) with welcoming remarks from Mayor Gregor Robertson, Minister of Tourism, Arts & Culture Lisa Beare and VIFF Executive Director Jacqueline Dupuis. The film selected to officially open this year’s festival is Kim Nguyen’s The Hummingbird Project - a taut drama that has as its central premise the construction of a ‘straight-line’ fiber-optic tunnel from Kansas City to Wall Street. The object being to shave a millisecond of the time it currently takes for stock exchange transactions.
Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgård lead an international cast as two cousins Vincent and Anton, who together, believe they have the know-how to see the project through and ultimately make them rich. Nguyen’s film is a fast-paced drama that, at its moral core a cautionary tale about greed and misguided ambition. Both Eisenberg and Skarsgård turn in career defining performances. And watch for Salma Hayek who acts against type as a ruthless Wall Street CEO and former jiu jitsu world champion Ayisha Issa as a mining engineer. Digging a 1000 mile fiber-optic cable encased in a steel pipe underground may have limited market appeal, but while the film’s premise is entirely fictional, it’s technically feasible and the series of events that play out are incredibly realistic.
UK, 2018, dir. Wash Westmoreland, 112 mins
Dates and Venue 29 September 3pm & 3 October 6pm at The Centre
British independent film-maker Wash Westmoreland’s compelling biopic centres around the early life of iconic French novelist Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette and her husband Henry Gauthier-Villars, better known by his nom-de-plume Willy. Gabrielle – she later assumes her family name as her own nom-de-plume – was also a mime artist, an actress, and a journalist. Willy, many years her senior, was a well-known publisher and Parisian lothario.
Keira Knightley turns in a stellar performance as the titular character. She transforms from a naive country girl, who marries a worldly, though not really successful entrepreneur, to a free-spirited, intelligent writer and performer. Veteran English actor Dominic West artfully plays Willy who runs a literary workshop employing ghostwriters to churn out popular fiction. The film goes to lengths to show that Willy’s affection for his young wife is genuine, but also depicts his exploitation of her talent in authoring the Claudine stories.
shares similarities with Tim Burton’s 2014 American film Big
Eyes. Not so much in cinematic terms, but in general characterization.
Both films portray the unequal partnership between charismatic men with
mediocre ability and their accomplished wives whose work is plagiarized.
As is typical for British period films, exhaustive detail is given to
the clothing and architecture of late nineteenth century and early twentieth
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes
Switzerland/USA/UK, 2018, dir. Sophie Huber, 85 mins
Dates and Venues 6 October 12:30pm at The Rio, 11October 6:45pm at SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts
Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes is Sophie Huber’s fine documentary of the Iconic jazz record label established in 1939 by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. The company was sold to Liberty Records at the height of its heyday, but is now operated by Decca. The film shows how jazz fans Lion and Wolff emigrated from Germany before WWII, settled in New York and together started up a recording studio signing black urban jazz musicians. Many of these musicians revolutionised and redefined jazz music.
film features interviews with musician and record producer Don Was,
renowned jazz saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter and pianist and
bandleader Herbie Hancock. Particularly worth seeing is the film footage
of performances of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin”
and Horace Silver’s “Song for my Father.”
China, 2018, dir. Lhapal Gyal, 91 mins
In Tibetan with English & Mandarin subtitles
Dates and Venues 2 October at 6:45pm at International Village 10 & 4 October 3:15pm at International Village 8
Rain Boots is a small engaging film by first time director Lhapal
Gyal. Set in the mountainous province of Qinghai in central Tibet during
a couple of weeks at the end of summer just before harvest time. It’s
a time when mountain run-off from the heavy rains can create muddy streams
through the villages. School children need a pair of sports shoes for
sunny days and gumboots for rainy days. Wangdrak (Druklha Dorje) only
has a pair worn out sneakers. Teased by other students and singled out
for reprimand by his teacher, he has difficulty fitting in at school.
He does have two supporters: older female classmate Lhamo (Pakmo Yangdrom)
and his mother Renjyi (Shanma Jyi). The film’s title makes it
obvious that Wangdrak does get his rain boots, but as soon he gets them,
the rain stops. But with Lhamo’s help, he attempts to tip the
odds for more rain in his favour; the mischievous pair going as far
as hiding the local holy man’s sacred sword. Charming performances
by the younger cast make Wangdrak’s Rain Boots suitable
for all ages.
© 2018 John Jane