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#TIFF16 Reviews: Voyage of Time, Certain Women, Jackie, Bleed for This, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!, The Edge of Seventeen

September 19, 2016

By John Corrado

the-edge-of-seventeen-posterThis year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival has now come to a close, with La La Land taking home the People’s Choice award, to the shock of literally no one.

But before we officially close the door on the 2016 festival, below are my thoughts on the final seven films that I got to see over the weekend, including the excellent closing night film The Edge of Seventeen.  Enjoy!

Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey and Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience (Special Presentations): A years in the making passion project for Terrence Malick, expanding upon the creation sequence from his masterpiece The Tree of Life, Voyage of Time offers an expansive and visually stunning look at the life of the entire universe, presented in two different formats.  The longer version, Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, is 90 minutes long and features poetic narration by Cate Blanchett, asking meditative questions to a maternal higher power about love and the purpose of life.  Exactly half the length at just 45 minutes, Voyage of Time: The IMAX Experience offers a curated selection of images from its longer counterpart, except featuring more factual narration by Brad Pitt that efficiently recounts the story of the universe.

Both films shows the universe from its early origins with the birth of stars and galaxies, to the evolution of bacterial, animal and finally human life on earth.  They both feature spectacular imagery, whether diving us into the cosmos on a grand scale, or showing images of bacteria growing and breaking apart to form early life on a micro level.  We see the volcanic eruptions that happened in the beginning of our planet, followed by the ensuing rainfall that came to cool the earth and make it inhabitable, before the arrival and destruction of the dinosaurs gives way to early human civilization.  Both versions of the film have their own merits.  Where Life’s Journey sets itself up to be more poetic and introspective, and is an artistic achievement that should be lauded, The IMAX Experience is breathtaking in its own right and is awesome as a visual experience, with the majestic images inspiring awe as they tower above us on the giant screen.  I would recommend seeing them both to get the whole picture.

Certain Women (Masters): A trio of stories all focussed on the lives of women in the small town of Livingston, Montana, Certain Women follows a lawyer (Laura Dern) whose life takes a turn with a difficult client (Jared Harris), a mother (Michelle Williams) who is building a house with her husband (James LeGros) and wants to buy sandstone, and a young horse trainer (Lily Gladstone) who ends up drawn to a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart) who is teaching a college course.  Directed by Kelly Reichardt, one of the modern masters of quietly understated character studies, Certain Women is a fine expansion of her filmography, even if it doesn’t quite land with the same impact as some of her earlier work, like the low-key gem Old Joy or the searing ecoterrorist thriller Night Moves.  The film often moves at a quiet and almost sleepy pace, but the performances keeps us engaged, and it’s filled with small moments that are all richly observed through Kelly Reichardt’s lens, as she draws us into the world of these characters.

Jackie (Platform): Directed by Pablo Lerraín, Jackie largely eschews the typical biopic formula to offer a complex and nuanced portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, exploring how she meticulously managed her place in the public spotlight, both as First Lady and sudden widow.  The narrative is centred around an interview between Jackie (Natalie Portman) and reporter Theodore H. White (Billy Crudup), taking place just a week after the assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy (Caspar Phillipson).  The film uses flashbacks and jumps around in time to show the shock that was felt on day of JFK’s assassination in Dallas, and the ensuing process of planning the funeral.

Throughout it all, Jackie portrays its title subject as a woman who is in complete control over every aspect of her public image, even in the face of tragedy, insisting upon having final say over what will or won’t make it into the interview.  We also see the intimate conversations she has with her two kids, as well as her measured talks with brother-in-law Robert Kennedy (Peter Sarsgaard), a kind aide (Greta Gerwig), and an understanding priest (John Hurt).  Natalie Portman doesn’t just portray Jacqueline Kennedy here, she completely embodies her in a performance that is absolutely compelling to watch, capturing every little mannerism and the exact cadences of her accent.  The sequences that recreate Jackie’s famous televised tour of the White House blur the line between actor and historical figure in a fascinating way, with Natalie Portman bearing uncanny resemblance to her real life counterpart.  She gives a sublime performance that makes Jackie thrilling to watch.

Bleed for This (Special Presentations): Based on an incredible true comeback story, Bleed for This recounts the career of boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a world class champion from Rhode Island who is riding high after a win, but suffers a major setback when he breaks his neck in a car crash.  Vinny ends up needing to have his head in a metal halo for six months, and is told that his time as a boxer is over, but he is determined to push himself to the limit and starts secretly training with his coach (Aaron Eckhart) in his family’s basement, so that he can get back into the ring as soon as the cage comes off his head.  Although Bleed for This follows the usual sports movie beats, it’s kept entertaining thanks to some energetic editing in the fight scenes and training montages, and is worth seeing for the incredibly solid performances of Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart, who dedicate themselves to their roles.

The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America (Gala): Directed by Paul Dugdale, The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé!: A Trip Across Latin America follows the iconic rock band on their ten-stop tour around Latin America in the spring of 2016, leading up to their landmark concert in Havana, Cuba.  The show was historic because it represented the band’s first time ever performing in Cuba, where strict government censorship never allowed them to play in the past, coming just days after Barack Obama became the first sitting president in nearly a century to visit the country.  Although the film could have used more performance footage from the actual concert, this is still an entertaining look at the people and political climates of these different countries, that offers an inspiring look at just how much the music of The Rolling Stones has meant to them over the years.  For example, who knew that the band had such a huge fan base in Argentina, and the reactions of the locals encountering their idols are genuinely delightful.  The film also features some wonderfully candid moments with Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, who appear completely comfortable before the camera.

The Edge of Seventeen (Gala): Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is a self-deprecating high schooler who doesn’t have many friends, often eating lunch in the classroom with her sardonic teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson).  But when her sole bestie Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) hooks up with her popular older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), Nadine’s whole world is thrown out of whack as she tries desperately to get attention, leading to even more problems at school and testing the patience of her harried mother (Kyra Sedgwick).  Nadine is a protagonist who is both believable and relatable in all her awkward glory, and Hailee Steinfeld embodies her perfectly, handling both the comedic and dramatic beats of her character with aplomb.  Woody Harrelson delivers standout supporting work, and Hayden Szeto is immensely charming as a fellow classmate who harbours a not so secret crush on Nadine, but is instantly put in the friend zone.  Emulating the spirit of high school classics from John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, with a screenplay by writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig that instantly cements her as a fresh new voice, The Edge of Seventeen is a modern teen film that is funny, smart and heartfelt.

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