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Recent Movies: Tom at the Farm; Ida; We Are the Best; Architecture Event: Doors Open Toronto 2014

June 14, 2014

Recent Movies

Tom at the Farm

A young gay man from Montreal travels to rural Quebec to visit the family of his recently deceased partner and attend the funeral.  The visit turns into a nightmare.  The film is based on the play by Michel-Marc Bouchard who co-wrote the screenplay with director Xavier Dolan.  Dolan also plays the main role.

Dolan uses powerful techniques to stir emotion in this bizarre thriller.  He also gets great performances from the actors including himself.

The trouble is in trying to understand and empathize with the main character, Tom.  He seems to have little or no survival instincts to take care of himself, sometimes even deliberately walking into further trouble.

This is made clear, maybe intentionally, in the second half of the film when Sarah, a friend from  Montreal, enters the scene.  Sarah at least shows the survival instincts clearly lacking in Tom.  There are some hints as to why Tom stays in the dreadful situation but the inconsistencies in his actions cause too much confusion.

Dolan is a powerful artist with much promise at his young age.  This was shown in “I Killed My Mother” and “Heartbeats”.  “Tom at the Farm” has potential but doesn’t quite meet the level of the other two films.

Rating (out of four stars):   * * 1/2

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Ida

Taking place in rural Poland in the 1960s, the title character is a young woman who was raised in a convent orphanage and is about to become a nun.  When a relative from her family appears and the girl spends time with her, she learns some very difficult facts about her family of origin.

The black-and-white photography in this film is stunning.  Director Pawel Pawlikowski and cinematographers Ryszard Lenczewski and Lukasz Zal make such brilliant use of lighting, camera angles and locales, that every frame of this movie could be considered prize-worthy photographs.  The locations (communist Poland) and weather are bleak but there is a special beauty that is found in this bleakness.

The story and the acting also work quite well but by the end, there are some important, unresolved questions.  There are also a couple of dramatic points at the end with different results.  Without revealing either, one event seems perhaps forced and unnecessary.  Another seems surprising but concludes well with that human condition of being very curious of how the other half lives but learning that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

In the end, the subtleties and beauty of “Ida” make the film a very enriching experience.  And it’s also a gift that the subtitles were sometimes place at the top of the screen whenever the bottom of the screen was white.  How considerate!

Rating:   * * *

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We Are the Best

In 1982 in Stockholm, two pre-teen girls (Bobo and Klara) who dress like boys want to start their own punk band even though punk is considered dead and they have no musical experience.  They work to  recruit another girl (Hedvig) who is musical but who is from a more conservative background.

I can give the film credit for having a plausible and consistent story-line.  There are also moments of sympathy to misfits in school who are rejected by their peers.  The critiques against society of the time were also engaging.  This is where the praise stops.

I was very annoyed by the hand-held camerawork whose constant swaying was jarring throughout most of the movie.  Also, the story was so one-sided in favour of the girls that all of their parents were dismissed as ridiculous after-thoughts.

It might have helped to have been sympathetic to the main characters Bobo and Klara but this was just not to be.  There are so annoying and unlikeable – especially Bobo – that it was tempting to cheer when they had setbacks.

It may be that this was strictly meant to appeal to those who grew up loving punk.  But even if that’s the case, a tiny bit of universal appeal might have been helpful.  The attitude of  “we are right and everyone else is wrong” is also rather unenlightening.

Rating:   * 1/2

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Architecture Event – Doors Open Toronto 2014

This is probably my tenth year attending this great annual weekend when many buildings in the city are open for the public to see.

Among the ten buildings I saw, it seemed there was a theme of Presbyterianism this year.  The true standouts were Knox College (a Presbyterian seminary on the U of Toronto campus) and the Knox Presbyterian church.  While much of the great historical buildings in Toronto are destroyed out of greed, stupidity, or both, the best preserved are often churches and university buildings.  Thank God we still have those.

These two “Knox” buildings could easily compare to great buildings found elsewhere in the world.  Other highlights:  the Don Jail tour (the building is now part of a hospital complex), St. Ann’s Catholic church, St. John’s Presbyterian church (it was tempting to convert to Presbyterianism that weekend), the Monk school of Global Affairs, and the First Narayever (Jewish egalitarian) synagogue.

 

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