Kathleen Hepburn’s feature debut, Never Steady, Never Still, viewed at Toronto International Film Festival 2017, leaves a lot to be desired. Théodore Pellerin stars as Jamie, a young, aimless man living in Alberta, Canada. He struggles with his identity and sexuality while his mother, Judy (Shirley Henderson) attempts to deal with the progressing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. But with underdeveloped characters who rely on garish representations of difficulty, the film is never sensitive enough to its subjects.
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In 2012, Denis Côté directed Bestiaire, a documentary which captured with simultaneous cold objectivity, and tender sensitivity, the lives of zoo animals, allowing them to be looked at, but also to look back. Côté created a space for a new visual relationship with animals. Taking up this same style, Ta peau si lisse, at Toronto International Film Festival 2017, focuses this time on five bodybuilders.
One of the toasts of this year’s TIFF, just as it was of Telluride where it premiered a few weeks ago, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has quickly established itself as a critic’s darling and, for those who care about such things, an early awards favourite. It’s easy to see why: the film, which might be described as Django Unchained’s graver, wiser sibling, is a powerfully acted, skilfully made prestige picture. It’s history with a very human face.
August: Osage County
USA, 2013—Dir. John Wells
Snorting, cackling and speaking in scary low tones (with impeccable—natch!—Oklahoma twang to boot), Meryl Streep puts on a show in August: Osage County, John Wells’s film adaptation of Tracy Letts’s play, which premiered at Toronto Film Festival on Monday night. As Vi, the bewigged, pill-popping, cancerous matriarch who’s at the centre of the drama, Streep goes all out, delivering a juicily theatrical turn that’s consistently lively and surprising.
Wells has surrounded the mighty Meryl’s scenery-chewin’ exploits with a bunch of big names also doing their thang: there’s Julia Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson as her three daughters, Ewan McGregor as Roberts’s spouse, Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper as her sister and brother-in-law, and Benedict Cumberbatch as their son. Not to forget a brief bonus cameo from Sam Shepard as Vi’s husband, the character whose suicide sets the drama in motion by contriving to bring the extended clan together at the family homestead for a hearty round of ructions and revelations.
Can a Song Save Your Life?
USA, 2013—Dir. John Carney
John Carney‘s Can a Song Save Your Life? offers more winsome (if tediously foul-mouthed) music-based uplift in the mold of the director’s overpraised Once, though glossier and with the dubious added bonus of Keira Knightley grimacing and gurning away in one of the lead roles. Knightley plays—or, in her usual manner, has a game go at playing—Greta, an English girl in New York who gets dumped by her musician boyfriend (Adam Levine, of Maroon 5, in a creditable film debut) and finds herself dragged along to an open mic night where she’s talent spotted by Dan (Mark Ruffalo) a down-on-his-luck music exec who hears potential in her fey folky warblings. The film follows the pair as they collaborate on an album, its tracks recorded live in different locations in the city.