TIFF FILM REVIEW: Scott Cooper’s ‘Hostiles’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Scott Cooper opens his muscular Western tale “Hostiles” with a horrifying sequence of slaughter and he sustains a palpable level of dread as a group of travellers journey hundreds of miles through some of the most gorgeous landscape in America. It’s a constant reminder that the most dangerous element of wilderness can be human.

Handsome and intense, the film tells of a small unit of cavalry officers ordered to escort an imprisoned Cheyenne family north from New Mexico to Montana so their dying chief may be laid to rest in traditional burying grounds. It’s 1892 and the Indian Wars are mostly over although renegades haven’t given up the fight. The U.S. Army and the region’s Native Americans have gone at each other with equal savagery and the scars show on both the soldiers and their tribal foe. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Aaron Sorkin’s ‘Molly’s Game’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Aaron Sorkin’s “Molly’s Game” assumes that to watch obnoxious rich men play the most boring form of poker is actually entertaining. Its story of a glamorous woman whose attempts to exploit the bad behaviour of bullies and weaklings with a gambling habit is redeemed only by the poise and subtlety of star Jessica Chastain in the title role. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is so full of surprises that when Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), carries an open bottle of wine across a restaurant toward a table where her ex-husband sits with his pretty young girlfriend, there’s no way to tell if she will pour them some wine or smash them in the face.

Tormented by sorrow and guilt, Mildred is in furious despair following the rape and murder of her teenaged daughter Angela. Frustrated by the lack of action by local authorities, she vents some anger and stirs more in others when she rents three billboards on the road where Angela died and covers them with provocative protests. Local reaction is mixed except among law officers who feel insulted with predictable results. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Joe Wright’s ‘Darkest Hour’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Gary Oldman is an unlikely choice to play Winston Churchill but his portrayal of the iconic British statesman in Joe Wright’s ‘Darkest Hour’ is masterful and bound for all the major awards. He is supported by a strong cast who with good pacing by director Joe Wright overcome the script’s mawkish nostalgia and jingoism to hold it all together. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Death of Stalin’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Having savaged British and American politics on television with “The Thick of It” and “VEEP”, Armando Iannucci turns his wickedly satirical eye on Russia with a perceptive and hilarious depiction of what might have happened when the Soviet Union leader had a stroke that led to his death in 1953.

Drawn from a graphic novel written by Fabien Nury, the film mines the truly grim realities of life in a wantonly brutal dictatorship for comic gems that reveal the craven ruthlessness of the ruling cabal. A cast of fine comedic actors use a range of mostly British accents to convey the essential drabness of the characters and the banality of their evil. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Darren Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!” is pure hokum but it is very enjoyable hokum, a tub-thumping thriller with a gorgeous young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) spiralling into all kinds of fiendish and inexplicable horror. It’s completely pointless but, boy, is it a good time. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Saul Dibb’s ‘Journey’s End’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Saul Dibb’s film version of R.C. Sherriff’s “Journey’s End”, a drama about soldiers at the front line of trench warfare, is a valiant attempt but possibly simply because it is a film, it lacks the power and profundity of the play as it is presented onstage. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” is a dazzling piece of cinema, a fairy tale for grownups that celebrates the joys of life amid every day banality with the occasional touch of horror. It demands to be seen more than once.

With co-writer Vanessa Taylor, the director takes a classically simple theme, beauty and the beast, and re-imagines it in sumptuous style with many small miracles of cinematic magic, nuanced storytelling and fine wit. All the actors get into the delightful spirit of the thing but Sally Hawkins (pictured above), a splendid actor with a beauty all her own, does marvels as a mute but brilliantly imaginative woman named Eliza who not only falls in love with a creature from a black lagoon but makes love to him. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – “Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” is a disappointingly dismal film about a has-been Hollywood actress who has an affair with an on-the-make young British actor while she deals with her fading career and a debilitating illness. Annette Bening plays Gloria Grahame, a frazzled blonde who was typecast as a floozy in 1950s B-pictures, with Jamie Bell as her lover. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Alexander Payne’s ‘Downsizing’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Alexander Payne’s “Downsizing” is a science-fiction tale that mixes whimsy with social commentary in constantly surprising ways but with ideas so scattershot that they never adhere as a satisfying drama. His filmmaking is so imaginative, however, that it’s a movie well worth seeing. Continue reading

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