TIFF 2015 Film Anticipations

I read through the big old list of films that will be at the Toronto International Film Festival this year and there are a whole bunch that I am excited about. Have any of you seen the list? You can check out the full roster here, but I want to share a couple of snippets that I’m really looking forward to seeing, even if I can’t be at the festival personally.

Brooklyn, directed by John Crowley

“In the early 1950s, a young Irish woman (Saoirse Ronan) crosses the Atlantic to begin a new life in America, in this exquisitely crafted adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Colm Tóibín.” Reminds me of the stories I heard about my great-grandmother, a young Scottish woman, who did a similar thing coming to Canada by herself.

The Family Fang, directed by Jason Bateman

“After an unlikely accident, a pair of grown siblings (Nicole Kidman and director-star Jason Bateman) are compelled to move back in with their eccentric parents (Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett), professional practical jokers whose lifetime of public interventions have alienated their children.” I’m not a huge fan of everyone acting in this film but I think it sounds like it might be funny.

Freeheld, directed by Peter Sollett

“Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell and Michael Shannon star in this true story about terminally ill New Jersey police officer Laurel Hester, whose 2005 legal battle to pass on her pension benefits to her domestic partner became a flashpoint for LGBT activism.” I heard about this film a while back and the story seemed really gripping. I don’t typically go for dramas but I love Ellen Page and can’t wait to see her in a more mature role.

Parched, directed by Leena Yadav

“In a rural Indian village, four ordinary women begin to throw off the traditions that hold them in servitude, in this inspirational drama from director Leena Yadav.” I don’t know much more about this film beyond this description but I’m a fan of Indian films and stories about interesting women, so this seems like a good match.

So those are my picks for the festival. What films are you guys looking forward to? I am sure that there are plenty of other interesting movies on the list that I didn’t pick up on… but these all sound so compelling!


The Return of Xena?!

There are few things I was expecting less to see when scrolling through the internet today than an article announcing that NBC is looking for a writer to start a reboot of your favourite and mine, Xena: Warrior Princess. Is there a more influential show for Classicists of my particular age bracket? I remember many a day spent in university reminiscing about the best episodes that we watched as kids, and having friends over for viewings of the best episodes (and the ensuing fights over which would be deemed the best episode).

Now, like so many things, this may just be a rumour that disappears into the hollywood abyss after surfacing, but I’m going to hold onto hope. Lucy Lawless has been so adamant about getting the show, or a reincarnation thereof, onto the air, that to finally hear something official about it is fantastic. Of course there’s the chance that it’ll be strangely derivative, but I’d still watch it. I’m sure a lot of us would.

Is this news exciting for anyone else? They seem to be looking for a writer for the project (I volunteer!!!) so no knowing what direction it might take after that. I can only hope that they keep the original campiness while perhaps upping the special effects budget. There are so many characters I’d love to see brought to the screen again… oh, the possibilities!!

Me watching Xena for some reason
Me watching Xena for some reason

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Review

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The other day I finished work early and came home to find some way to relax. I chose, most unusually for me, to sit and watch the entire first season of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I’d only heard of the series recently and figured that my Netflix subscription could due to be used for something contemporary instead of all the old reruns I watch when grading papers.

Released on March 6th, this show is a Netflix original and created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. The star of the show is Ellie Kemper, who I knew from Bridesmaids and The Office, and Tituss Burgess whose name was familiar but I couldn’t place; he’s from Broadway primarily. The premise is that Kemper’s character, Kimmy Schmidt, along with three other women, were kidnapped 15 years ago by ‘the Reverend’ and led to believe that they had survived the end of the world. At the start of the series they are rescued, and the first season chronicles Kimmy’s transition back into the real world.

Considering the fact that I watched the whole season in one sitting, I would say that my overall opinion of the experience has to be positive. I found it funny and the short episodes (22-28 minutes) make for quick subplots that are easy to digest. I don’t particularly think that there’s a lot of rewatchability to the show; I was thinking of recommending it to my mom but I’d have to watch it with her and I don’t really want to sit through it again. I’ll still recommend it though.

As with many shows written by Tina Fey I found some of the jokes severely lacking in humour and a lot of the subplots they used were extremely worn out cliches. I’d even go so far as to say that the show is built on cliches, the fresh and interesting aspect is someone who has been removed from the world for 15 years trying to deal with them. There’s sort of a stereotype bingo that you could play: gay New Yorker that wants to be on broadway; rich woman who’s insecure about her marriage; teenage girl who hates her privileged life. Somehow these characters still manage to be interesting, so at least something is being done right. However, the role Tina Fey wrote in for herself in the last 2-3 episodes is absolutely grating. It really took me out of the story.

I’m afraid I’ve sort of painted a negative picture here, when that’s not what I took away from the story. It’s pretty funny and I think the dialogue is great. Carol Kane as Lillian, the landlady, is amazing and I want to see more of her character in the next season, if it gets made. It’s certainly got its share of problematic content but there’s some real good stuff in there too. Ellie Kemper is a great comedic female lead and I’ll look forward to seeing her in more roles after this.

Giving it a 6.5/10! No harm in giving it a watch. Let me know what you think!

Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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I may be a little late with the party in watching this movie, but I knew how much I would like it so I was saving it for a day when I could use a pick-me-up. I finally watched The Grand Budapest Hotel last week and was absolutely not disappointed.

I’m already a fan of Wes Anderson movies so you know I’m going to harp on the colour palettes and the symmetry of the shots. I had been skeptical about the pepto-bismol pink filter I was seeing on photosets from the film but the colours absolutely enhance the experience. With such a dialogue-driven movie I think the need for a standout atmosphere is greater than ever and drenching the sets in the sunset-Floridian colours was a neat approach. And of course the symmetrical shots are so beautiful. The two ski lifts passing each other mid-air comes back to mind in particular. Just lovely.

I’ll admit I couldn’t remember Ralph Fiennes’ name until the credits were rolling. What a great performance, though.The_Grand_Budapest_Hotel_Poster Tony Revolori as Zero was also very good, I was really pleased whenever they gave additional depth to his character. It would have been easy for him to be overshadowed by Fiennes’ character, no doubt. Saoirse Ronan (who has the loveliest name) was a delight on the screen but definitely did not have a big enough role. On the whole the story was dominated by men, which I didn’t find to particularly detract from the film but it could have benefitted from some really strong female roles. Anderson tends to shy away from writing those, however. Very funny performances from Adrian Brody (who I can only see as Salvadore Dali after Midnight in Paris) and Willem Dafoe.

The story-within-story tradition is an old one (I’ve been dealing with it in my thesis writing) and sort of works well here. It takes a few minutes to be dragged into the layers, before you forget how many narratives you’re immersed in until they all wrap up in the end. The movie did really well at the Oscars this past weekend, which I definitely think is deserved.

I’ll give it an 8.5/10, and definitely recommend it for anyone to enjoy (even though you should have seen it already!)

TV Review: Galavant (2015)

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I wanted to write a short review about the new ABC show, Galavant. Hinted at release back in September, viewers were promised a four-week run of a new show from Dan Fogelman, who you may know as the screenwriter for Tangled and other Disney pictures. The first season of Galavant is a short run of eight episodes, each only filling a half-hour slot, and released two at a time each week in January. At the time of writing this, the season is half released.tumblr_ni09s9E9qs1u6k6k9o1_1280

The show follows the musical journey of Galavant, a knight, on his quest to reclaim his love Madalena from King Richard. This plot on its own would be uninspiring, but Galavant‘s strong suit is twofold: the secondary characters and the comedyWhile the musical comedy aspect of the show may be too camp for some viewers, many reviewers have noted the strong influences of Monty Python on the production, and the effectiveness with which the show manages to move the plot along in spite of the short episode length and accommodation of musical numbers.

The cast is fairly diverse – a fact the characters themselves called out in the fourth episode – and does a really great job of incorporating all the characters into the spotlight. Galavant travels with Princess Isabella and his squire Sid, a dynamic which would easily allow Sid to fade into the background to accommodate a romantic plot between the other two. Much to my delight it keeps not happening, and is even addressed in song format. They continue being a trio rather than a duo with a tag-along.


I really admire the portrayal of the female characters in the show. The two main women, Isabella and Madalena, are well developed characters and are given ample time in the spotlight. Isabella’s reversal of the male gaze as she ogles Galavant, the mention of her deviated septum and the troubles it causes, and her willingness to have fun (particularly in the third episode, when she expounds on her acting hobbies) build the character in untraditional ways that really add to the quality of the show. Madalena, taking the role of the pretty-but-mean girl, seems heartless and dismissive, but then her circumstances are exposed: she’s been forced into her marriage, but made the best of the situation. She looks after herself in a world that is rather unforgiving, and had to make sacrifices to survive in the past (thinking of her goat friend, mentioned in episode 2). All the characters of the show have been carefully fleshed out to avoid any black-and-white characterization. They have good and bad sides, and it makes for both good watching and meaningful comedy.

The musical numbers, I think, are quite good. As a sister company to Disney, ABC has the benefit of their expertise on the matter, and you can feel a bit of a Disney-esque style to all the songs (unless you examine the lyrics, which are often much spicier than you’d find in other productions). Having recently endured Into the Woods, I find the pacing exceptionally good and the storylines are progressed through song in a way that doesn’t have you rolling your eyes. Quite refreshing.


Last of all I’ll speak to the casting. Timothy Omundson is a standout as King Richard. Vinnie Jones as Gareth is also fantastic and a perfect compliment to Omundson’s character. The two make a great comedy duo and I look forward to more of their scenes. Karen David as Princess Isabella has great delivery and continues to be loveable. Joshua Sasse as Galavant is quite good but I think I need to see the series as a whole before I can say whether I like his role entirely. Mallory Jansen as Madalena is excellent and frightening and her cheekbones are very memorable. Luke Youngblood as Sid is one of my favourites and the third episode (which expanded on his backstory) is quite amusing. I haven’t seen him in anything else since Harry Potter so I’m really pleased with this performance. The Jester and Chef (Ben Presley and Darren Evans respectively) are also fantastic and I hope they get more screen time.

The guest actors so far have been great. John Stamos as Sir Jean Hamm was very amusing and his interaction with Isabella genuinely made me laugh. Hugh Bonneville as Peter the Pillager was fun, the pirate’s musical number was cute, but I am more excited about some of the guests in upcoming episodes. Ricky Gervais is listed as a character called “Xanax the Wizard” and I am looking forward to seeing what that’s about.


Since the series is not complete so far I hesitate to give it a rating, but for the sake of the review I will give it a 7/10. I really like where it is going and look forward to seeing the season to completion.

Movie Review: Into The Woods (2014)

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I went to see Into the Woods yesterday and have been turning it over in my head ever since. I knew I wanted to write a review about it before I went to see it but I didn’t expect to have as much to say about it as I do.

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_87cf8xot6ccgk8s0sw0kw0o8w_1280 I’ll preface by saying that I really do enjoy theatre, especially of the musical variety. I started university as a theatre major and the love of the craft has never left me. I tend to stay away from movies based on theatre plays because I find the transition from stage to screen a little awkward. And I have never seen Into the Woods on stage (though I do want to see it). That all being said, the film version of the play was uncomfortable. I’ve got both pros and cons about it.

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