Meditation Park reunites Mina Shum, a Chinese-Canadian family, and Sandra Oh into another feature film. The focus of this film is Cheng Pei Pei, whom you might know from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. She plays a woman who discovers that her husband has been cheating on her. Rather than directly confronting him, she uses her energy to increase her options within the world.
The film brings a sense of place in Vancouver's Chinatown as well as a subplot of using their lawns to illegally allow parking for hockey games and concerts. Rogers Arena is very close by to Chinatown.
Sandra Oh, who starred in Shum's Double Happiness in 1994, plays her daughter. Don McKellar is a neighbour who competes for the parking money. Liane Balaban plays a small but key role in the film.
Shum has a way of making you understand a world that you may not know and treating this like a family drama. The orange peels on the porch may not make sense but you know they have a purpose.
The film is warm and inviting and not too mushy. I easily confess that I laughed a bit and cried a lot more. This was easily the best Canadian film I saw in the festival. If you haven't seen either film, watch them both in chronological order.
Don't Talk To Irene is the second film from Pat Mills, who released Guidance back in 2015. In both films, Mills has a sensibility of suburban Toronto and underdogs in high school.
Michelle McLeod plays Irene, a teenage girl who wants to be a cheerleader but is larger than most cheerleaders. Irene lives in a proverbial bubble thanks to an overprotective mother. Irene gets wrapped up in a prank against her, gets suspended, and is forced to spend time in a retirement home. The retirement home allows Irene to take some chances and starts teaching cheerleading moves to some of the residents.
Scott Thompson plays the head of the retirement home, making the best of a limited role. Geena Davis provides the voice behind the inspirational bedroom poster from A League of Their Own. Davis proves to be excellent inspiration, comparing her extraordinary tall stature to Irene's seemingly physical limitations in being a cheerleader. Davis is really enjoying her time in the film (she does get one scene where she is on camera).
Mills give us great characters as part of the fun; he has a cameo as a teacher with a drinking problem. The former child actor has now given us a pair of films that may never win Canadian Screen Awards but have heart and a good time while learning a thing or two about life.
The Ravenous (Les Affamés) is a zombie film that starts right in the middle of the battle against the zombies. You can appreciate the need to skip past any explanations. This film is not a typical zombie film in many other ways.
This zombie film isn't very scary. The pace is slow. We meet a few survivors who team up to fight the battle but don't learn much about them. The zombies accumulate very tall piles of chairs.
Rural Quebec, where the film was shot, looks really lovely.
This film won the 2017 TIFF award for Best Canadian Feature Film. My initial reaction was highly negative when I came out of this film. In subsequent days, my mood toward the film got better. This is a film worth seeing purely in the way the horror genre is tinkered: Genius or insanity or a bit of both. As for its award, Black Cop was a much better film.
Eye On Juliet proves that pigeonholing Kim Nguyen is a difficult task. Coming out of War Witch (Rebelle) and Two Lovers and a Bear, Nguyen gives us a story between a drone operator in Detroit and a young woman from "North Africa." The drone operator is having difficulty with dating. The young woman has a boyfriend, but her parents want her to marry a much older man. He feels a need to rescue her from her situation.
The film amplifies the dynamic of knowing people but not in person seen on social media and dating apps. The disconnect is deliberate. He works late at night, which is daytime where she lives.
There is no Canadian visibility though the Detroit scenes were shot in Montréal. Despite the Arabic and subtitles, this film has a decent chance of crossing over into the States. And virtually no one will be able to see its (limited) Canadian roots.
Porcupine Lake brings us Bea, a teenage girl from Toronto in Port Severn, Ontario for the summer. Usually, the big city person is the more clued-in individual but Bea is very naive especially given the force of Kate, who Bea wants as a best friend. Kate takes advantage of this dynamic and is a bit of a bully.
"You can't help it if you're from Toronto" is rather hilarious, but magnifies that Bea is a fish out of water everywhere but especially in this small town. Desperate to hang on, Bea goes into situations well out of her comfort zone, not to mention that tension and yelling give Bea dizzy spells. Charlotte Salisbury does a lovely job in the lead as Bea.
We saw an earlier Ingrid Veninger film I Am a Good Person/I Am a Bad Person in 2011. Porcupine Lake is a bit more conventional but you feel like something is missing when you watch both films. The relationships are disjointed all the way around. Bea and Kate are not a healthy relationship but you sometimes want to root for them because Bea has nothing else. When Bea and Kate are not on screen together, the film suffers.
The film does a nice job of showcasing Ontario cottage country, shooting in Port Severn, Barrie, and Parry Sound. You see containers nailed to the wall describing a small poutine and a large poutine.
At Worse, We Will Marry (Et au pire, on se mariera) gives Sophie Nélisse a chance to show a range of emotions as Aicha, a teenage girl who plays it cool but struggles with love.
Nélisse hates her mother, pines for her stepfather, and desires a much older man. The film goes back and forth between Aicha telling her story in a police station and flashbacks. Isabelle Nélisse, Sophie's sister, plays a younger version of Aicha.
Karine Vanasse is the mother who is seemingly working all the time. The casting of Vanasse is intriguing, given that Léa Pool cast Vanasse as the ingenue in Set Me Free (Emporte-Moi) in 1999. Vanasse might seem a bit young to play the mother of a teenage girl, but she brings enough toughness and love to the role. You also get the bonus of watching these young actresses play off each other in emotional scenes.
Pool makes Montréal a co-star, showing off areas in the eastern Francophone part of the city, including the Olympic Stadium, the Olympic Tower, and the Jean-Tolan market.
The film does slip into Aicha's versions of flashbacks before telling us what really happened at times. The story is a bit raw and, in the wrong hands, would be over the top. Pool and Nélisse make sure that does not happen.
The Other Side Of November (L'autre Cote De Novembre) dances around memory giving us 2 different versions of a woman who 1) as Layla, stays in rural Lebanon as a dressmaker or 2) as Léa, comes to Montréal and becomes a doctor. Both women are both played by Arsinée Khanjian, who is married to Atom Egoyan.
There is also the chase for another woman by the character in Montréal but she is chasing a younger version of that woman, just to add to the confusion.
While a lot of this film is shot in and takes place in Lebanon, the Montréal scenes definitely feel like Montréal. Pascale Bussières, one of my absolute favourite Quebecois actresses, plays the new head surgeon. Marc Labrèche, the lead in Denys Arcand's Days of Darkness, plays the husband of Bussières and a good friend to Léa.
Maryanne Zéhil is deliberately vague in this film. I like thinking in films but would actually suggest you enjoy the story and not worry too much about who is what and where.
Stand Up Man is a film about trying to chase your dreams in a less-than-ideal situation. Moses Kim was a promising stand-up comedian in Toronto but goes back to Windsor to run his parents' restaurant. Moses gets saddled with his teenage cousin Joon-Ho, who speaks very little English and has orange hair.
The film has a great premise and lots of promise but asks the audience to leap to huge conclusions. One of the major characters leaves for most of the film and solves most of the problems in about 10 minutes. Joon-Ho turns out to be the most interesting character in the film even if the focus is on Moses. Still, the film has more good than bad.
You get a really good sense of Windsor in the film, even if most of that is in and around the airport. They eat at one of my favourite diners in Windsor.
It's the Heart That Dies Last (C'est Le Coeur Qui Meurt En Dernier) gives us a mother and son story in the modern times and through flashback. In the modern time, the mother is in a retirement home and having troubles with her memory. In the flashbacks, she gives him pearls of advice, such as the film's title.
He has written an autobiography that has received rave reviews and is about to get the Governor General award. But his mother still doesn't know about the book. There is a secret within the book; the question is whether she will remember that secret.
The scenes inside Rideau Hall, the Governor General's house, brought back fond memories of being in that room.
The film is slow and long. The secret becomes fairly obvious though you don't find that out until the end. The flashbacks are far more interesting. See this film if you can for a few bucks, but not at film festival prices.
Ashes was designed by the creators and stars of the film to be a showcase for their talents. The plot is straightforward: the lead actor's parents were killed and he has to go back to the spot where they first fell in love to scatter their ashes. So he and his girlfriend and their best friends, also a couple, go up to Ontario cottage country.
The 4 primary actors are amazing looking in a Saved by the Bell kind of way, but with better chemistry. We don't learn much about their talents, except that lead actress Sara Mitich can cry well.
This film suffers from a lack of tension. Even a sideplot about the secondary couple has tension easily cut by a butter knife.
Ontario cottage country, as seen through shooting in Balm Beach, looks serene, which matches the tone of the film.
Kristian Bruun has a cameo as a bartender. One of the stars told the story that with union scale, Bruun owns just as much of the film as the producer/writer/director in exchange for not getting paid for working and only working one day.
video credit: YouTube/TIFF Trailers
photo credits: Don't Talk to Irene; Eye on Juliet; me