Torontoc reads and also sees films in 2018
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They were both at the Sept Toronto International Film Festival- I didn't see them there because I though that they would be released. I did miss one that is only out in Toronto on Netflix( which I don't have) " Mudbound"
1. Bad Rabbi and Other Strange but True Stories from the Yiddish Press by Eddy Portnoy.The author works at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York. YIVO holds the " essential" collection of material on Jewish Life and many documents in Yiddish. Portnoy had written about many of the topics in the online magazine " Tablet" but he expanded the chapters for this book. And what a treasury of misbehaviour- funny to the reader today and sad for those involved. Portnoy looked for the stories of the underbelly of Jewish life- the poor, the thieves and the criminal. All the stories were written about in the Yiddish press in New York and Warsaw. The time periods ranged from the 1870's in New York to the 1920's and early thirties in Poland. Murderers, runaway husbands who committed bigamy, fighting Hasidim, pickpockets and illegal bagel sellers- all have their moment of fame in the crime blotters and stories in the Yiddish press. I enjoyed this first book read in 2018
I have read The Rise of David Levinsky ( many years ago and did like it)
3. The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee I had read an earlier novel by this writer and was looking forward to this book. The narrator- Jessica- is helping her father clear out stuff in the family home just after the death of her mother, Donna. They are horrified to discover the bodies of two teenage girls at the bottom of the deep freezers in the basement. The two girls, Casey and Jamie had been living with Jessica's family as Donna took in foster children who were considered difficult. They had disappeared on weekend and nothing was heard from them until the discovery of the bodies. The reader learns about Jessica's life as a neglected child and how she tried to create a life that was an answer to feelings about her mother, Donna's own life and Jessica's quest to find out what happened to Casey and Jamie. The readers also learn about their troubled home history. However,(spoiler) we really don't have an ending that answers questions. I liked the writing but was a little disappointed in the plot resolution.
I enjoyed this book very much and still re-read it.
5. Autumn by Ali Smith I have to add my praise to those who have also read this novel. Smith has a unique point of view- sometimes the prose reads like poetry. The author follows the life and history of Elisabeth a young woman born in 1984, and her former neighbour and friend, Daniel who is over 100 years old. Daniel is being cared for in a private care facility and drifts in and out of sleep. The story jumps from era to era as we trace the story of Daniel and Elisabeth. We learn about a forgotten woman pop artist, Brexit, and the 60's. Elisabeth always seems to have a point of view from childhood with a difficult mother to adulthood. The story really doesn't end. We see slices of life and the questions about purpose and directions. There are questions not answered but I still found a satisfaction in the reading of this very good book. I look forward to the next book in the" Seasonal Quartet" series- Winter.
6. Wolfie & Fly: Band on the Run by Cary Fagan and illustrated by Zoe Si LT has for some reason put the two Wolfie & Fly books together when you look for touchstones. This is the second book in the series and my ER book. The author has created two very interesting characters- Wolfie who is very introverted and her neighbour Fly- a very daring boy who is oblivious to problems or insults. In fact these two travel between the real world and that of the imagination. There doesn't seem to be a boundary between the two. I think that this story for children teaches good lessons about being positive and learning to take chances. Fly wants Wolfie to join his band and enter the school talent show. Along the way, the two become famous -for a while- and have to escape from fans. The two have very supportive parents- a nice touch since the stereotype of parents in many children's books is not always affirmative. A very nice series for young readers.
8.My Twentieth Century Evening and Other Small Breakthroughs The Nobel Lecture by Kazuo Ishiguro This small book contains the lecture that Ishiguro gave when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is interesting in that the reader learns about points in Ishiguro's past that were important to his development as a writer. He recalls significant times and influences that changed his writing. Ishiguro touches on the changing history and politics and makes a plea for " widening our current literary world" to make room for diverse and new voices. His address is worth reading.
(There must be other Zweig-films - forty years ago, when we used to get German films from the Goethe-Institut at school, we once had a double-bill of scratchy documentaries about "The spider" and "The Zweigs in Brazil". It was a circulation scheme, so you never knew what you would get next. I hadn't a clue at the time who Stefan Zweig was, but I got the idea firmly stuck in my mind for a long time that he'd been eaten by his wife somewhere in the Brazilian rainforest...)
My parents have seen Three billboards and quite liked it - I almost never go to the movies.
16. Lincoln in The Bardo by George Saunders. This is one of the best books that I have read in the past year. I stopped reading poetry a while back ( don't know why- but I was not connecting with the messages and words for some reason) and this novel's structure was somewhat poetic and wonderful. The storytelling was imaginative. It sort of reminded me of the last scene in the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The narrative carried by the dead who lived in the cemetery where Lincoln's son was buried and their striving to help Willie and his father Lincoln was touching. A great read and I believe that many LT readers have reviewed and loved this book.
17. House of Spies by Daniel Silva. Every once and a while I crave a good mystery or spy story. I have been following this series and lately I find the plots starting to blend in to each other with similar characters. I think that sometimes when an author writes a continuing series, the first books are the best and the later ones not so much. I feel this way about Alan Furst's series about the second world war- the first books were amazing and the most recent - a little disappointing although I continue to read them and hope that the stories will get better. So John Le Carre is still the master storyteller. This book- too much violence and the plot-mmm -similar to past books.
18. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches- a Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley. When I go on vacation, I order books for my Kobo. This series is one that I am following. I liked the lead character and her involvement in solving murders. However, this story is about the finding of Flavia's mother's body after many years. So Flavia, youngest daughter in a family living in a not very well taken care of really big house, tries to raise her mother from the dead and ( doesn't get the chance) later solve her murder. The story wasn't as interesting as the first books in the series but the next book takes place in Toronto so I might read it on my next trip.
19. The Life She Was Given by Ellen Wiseman The author writes about two young women -one in the past and one in the present- and of course they turn out to be related. The reader finds out what happened as the story progresses. Lilly is a young girl who has been kept in the attic of her home by her parents. Her mother sells her to the circus when she is eleven years old. The so-called defect that has kept her hidden doesn't seem so bad to the modern reader. But she is trained to be part of the side show in the circus and later shows a talent for working with the elephants. In the other chapters of the book , the reader is introduced to Julia, a young woman who ran away from her home when she was in her late teen years. Both women lived in the same house and the reader learns about the relationships in this same family. Julia returns to the house where she lived when her mother dies and leaves the building and horse racing business to her. There is a resolving of the mysteries but really, Lilly is treated terribly during her life time although she does have a brief time of happiness. In fact I wonder whether the story is too horrible in the treatment of Lilly and her father's reaction- you would think that he would change his ways and not participate in some of the decisions made.
20 Defectors by Joseph Kanon I have read one of Kanon's earlier novels and I really liked this one the best. Simon Weeks is a publisher who travels to Moscow in 1961 to go over a manuscript that his company will publish. The memoir has been written by Simon's brother, Frank. Frank worked for the CIA but defected to the Soviet Union twelve years earlier. Simon has not seen his brother and in truth is not sure that the memoir is the only reason the authorities have let him into the country. The story follows the brothers and their meeting and the reasons Frank was anxious to talk to Simon. The plot resolves around the intentions of Frank and the possibility of double crosses and how Simon maneuvers through the plans of the CIA and his brother. This is a really good spy mystery novel with great storytelling.
21. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I really enjoyed this historical fiction story about a young bride living in Amsterdam in 1686. Nella arrives at the home of her new husband and encounters more than she had bargained for. Her husband paid little attention to Nella after buying her a cabinet replica of her home. Nella has to deal with her overbearing sister-in-law, Marin, who has an opinion on everything and runs the house. As Nella buys small items to furnish her cabinet from a mysterious miniaturist, the replicas seem to foretell events that happen to Nella's husband- Johannes and their household. Bad decisions made by Johannes lead Nella to take charge and save what she can of her house and the people who live in it.
22. A Bold and Dangerous Family The Remarkable Story of an Italian Mother, Her Sons, and Their Fight Against Fascism by Caroline Moorehead. This biography of Amelia Rosselli and her sons Carlo and Nello was possible because of the many letters that they wrote to friends and family. As well, the family provided the author with their diaries and photographs. Caroline Moorehead has written a meticulous account of the lives of Amelia, Carlo and Nello. Amelia was born into a prominent Italian Jewish family that valued the works of noted liberals and proponents of democracy. She married, separated, and eventually moved to Florence after living in Rome.Her eldest son, Aldo died in World War 1. Her sons, Carlo and Nello were bright and embraced democratic ideals. Their political work resulted in both being exiled on remote islands when Mussolini came to power. Carlo eventually escaped and went into exile in Paris along with his wife and children. Nello was freed and was able to continue his historical research. Amelia still lived in Florence and traveled to see her children and grandchildren. The book really is more than a history of this family, Moorehead writes about the rise of Fascism in Italy and the hold that Mussolini had over Italy. In fact some facts of this story about a charismatic leader have troubling similarities to present day politics.( Spoiler) Both Carlo and Nello were assassinated in the late 1930's by a group of French Fascists who were supported by the Italian government. Carlo would have been one of the best choices to lead Italy after the war. The book is so well documented and written that I have to make sure to read the other books by this author that are on my TBR list.
25. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I am in a quandary about this novel. I did like reading it- the writing style was descriptive and the author eloquently told the story of Koreans who moved to Japan before the second world war and lived their lives in Japan in the next few decades. They were always " the other" -their children born in Japan were not considered citizens and had to hold Korean passports. The reader follows the family of Sunja, a Korean woman who falls in love with Hansu- a handsome and wealthy man. She does not know that he is married and when she become pregnant, Sunja marries Isak - a young minister. Sunja eventually moves to Japan with Isak and there the story of her sons and grandson continues. The hardship of discrimination of the Korean-Japanese is a major theme. And yet , some of the deaths are a shock and I wish for a more complete storyline- although like life, neatly tied up plots are not a reality.
I saw " Come From Away" last week- it was terrific.
27. The Last Days of New Paris by China Mieville I like some dystopian fiction- one of my relatives thinks that he doesn't like to read about made up terrible things that happen in an altered reality- the real world can be terrible on its own. The author has created an altered world where in 1950, the Nazis and various guerrilla groups are fighting. But there is an important difference. An event in 1941 turned all the Surrealist fantasy beings from paintings, drawings and literature into real creatures that haunt Paris. The reader learns how in the chapters that describe the events that led to the unleashing of this phenomenon in 1941.IN 1950 Thibault is a Surrealist fighter traveling through Paris fighting monsters, Nazis and renegade surrealist inventions. He is eventually helped by a Surrealist creation -the Exquisite Corpse. It really helps to have a knowledge of Surrealism to understand the images in this plot. As well, the reader should know about Alister Crowley to understand how the Surrealist monsters emerged. There is a good set of notes at the back of the book that reference most of the images. Still an interesting read.
28.The Measure of my Powers A memoir of Food, Misery, and Paris by Jackie Kai Ellis. I think that writing this book was part therapy for the author. She had a very controlling husband ( who she eventually divorced) and a family that was not supportive of her ambitions. Kai Ellis took to teaching herself how to bake in order to taste sugar- her parents did not allow their children any sweets. She had to be doubly ambitious in order to go to art school- she needed to show her parents that she could get accepted into a university programme of science. However, even with the harrowing descriptions of her married life, the author became superbly accomplished- opening a bakery, operating a tour company, writing and spending much time in Paris. Each chapter is accompanied by wonderful detailed recipes for the dishes that are important to her story. A very interesting read.
29. The Magician's Secret by Zachary Hyman and illustrated by Joe Bluhm This is my ERbook. The author introduces the reader to a grandfather who baby sits his grandson and tells him adventurous tales about his life. The stories have their origin in the objects inside a magic story chest in the attic. Grandfather had been a magician and the stories that he tells range from stopping thieves in the tombs of Egypt to battling dinosaurs. The illustrations are so important to this story as the images of the boy and his grandfather and the places that their imaginations take them help create the magic of the story. What is also interesting to me is the other job that the author has- Zachary Hyman is also a hockey player doing very well as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs( Go Leafs! it is the playoff season). A really nice book for children -the lesson about following your dreams and the importance of imaginations is important.
30.The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji The novel is about one man's life in colonial and then independent Kenya. The story is narrated by Lall as he is in exile in Canada, recalling his career and family's life as part of the Indian population living in the town of Nakuru and later Nairobi. Lall's grandfather came over to Africa in order to work on the construction of the railway. The immigrant Indian population were treated better than the Africans by ruling British. However, they still faced discrimination even though their children were born in Kenya. The pace of the plot is seamless as the story moves from the present to the past. The reader might wonder if Lall is the unreliable narrator especially as he talks about his business life. The heart of the story is about the relationships of Lall, his sister Deepa, his best friend Njoroge, his father and mother. There are many betrayals of friendship, and much corruption in the ugly world of politics. Lall is witness to brutal Mau-Mau killings. the corrupt regime of Kenyatta in free Kenya and finally his own implication of money laundering. The narrative is so well done. This book won the Giller Prize in 2003. An excellent read.
34. The Warburgs The Twentieth-Century Odyssey of a Remarkable Jewish Family by Ron Chernow. This was an amazing biography of the multiple descendants of the Warburg family- a German Jewish family that can trace their ancestors to 1600's Germany. The biographies of the many cousins seem very complex. ( and long -over 700 pages)Chernow traces the stories of the two major branches of the family -the Alsterufer and Mittelweg Warburgs as they create a very important banking dynasty in Hamburg and later London and New York. The first sentence in the Prelude says it all-"The German Jews were a people shipwrecked by history." Chernow shows how the family were German first in their beliefs and Jews second. Their culture , while at the beginning was Orthodox Jewish, later became more German. However, the family was still conscious of the problems of anti-semetism. In fact, Chernow shows how the leaders of the family confronted the rise of Hitler in the 1930's. It seems to the reader that Max Warburg, who insisted that Jews should remain in Germany as Hitler would soon be gone from the leadership, was a hypocrite as at the last moment he and his family was able to leave Germany because of his son's American citizenship. One branch of the family perished at Auschwitz. The ties that Germany had for the family led some of them to come back to Germany after the war. Many did stay in the United States. The striving to create businesses in New York and London was a major push for Sigmund Warburg. Eric Warburg returned to Germany to reclaim the family firm with great difficulty. The section on the charitable endeavours was very interesting as the Warburgs did support Jewish charities for Jews all over the world but in the 1930's they had differences with Chaim Weizmann over the idea of the state of Israel. The Warburgs believed that Jews should not look to Israel exclusively but become citizens of other countries " in a quiet way". The idea that as citizen one should be " careful" leads the reader to look at the psychology of their lives in Germany- where they had some financial power but were always looking over their collective shoulders to see that they did not offend. The conflicted loyalties of the Warburgs is a very interesting theme in this very, very good biography.
I have to mention one documentary that is terrific. "Bathtubs Over Broadway"- The lead writer for the Dave Letterman show-Steve Young - became interested in the industrial musicals written and performed for commercial companies. He found records of these events that were usually held at conventions. After becoming a collector of the records and any visual recordings of the musicals, Young looked for and interviewed the actors, and composers who performed. The documentary follows Young as he talked to the many performers who made good living working for these industrial shows. The songs were catchy and to the present day audience- funny as the subjects were bathroom fixtures, cars, diesel engines and more. The documentary ends with a musical number featuring Young, and many of the performers. See this film!
35.American Gods by Neil Gaiman. This story is similar to an odyssey. Shadow is a man who has just been released from prison. He is looking forward to seeing his wife Laura and taking a job in their home town. However, Shadow's life changes drastically when he learns that his wife died in an automobile accident. Soon Shadow meets a man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. Shadow works for him and drives him to various places in the US. The reader learns that Mr. Wednesday is a Norse God and he is in a struggle with other newer gods. Wednesday is trying to get older gods to join with him to fight a battle for supremacy. Shadow is followed by some of the opposing forces and he is helped by the ghost of his wife who wants to return to life. Shadow has some powers of his own and the reader learns about his past and relationship to the present struggle. A really good novel- I have been meaning to read it for a while!
38.The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King. Thomas King is a novelist and I remember his hilarious radio show on the CBC, " The Dead Dog Cafe." This book is a serous account of the history of native people's interaction with the British, and later American and Canadian governments. The treaties that were enacted all led to the disenfranchisement of native peoples from their land. King does begin his book with the image of Indians ( today the term used for Native people is Indigenous in Canada) in the media-films, books and television. He is funny sometimes in this account. but for the most part, his meticulous research shows the reader the massive injustices inflicted on Native peoples. The work ends with tow somewhat successful treaties and outcomes for groups in Alaska and British Columbia. As well my paperback edition has a transcribed CBC radio interview between Thomas King and broadcaster Shelagh Rogers in 2013.This book is a must read for those who want to start to understand the issues.
45. read first book for award
This story is suitable to be read to young children. A young horse is born and soon gets its back legs in a badger hole. After being rescued by the farmer and his son, the horse is named Red Badger. The young horse grows up and does not want to have anyone on its back . This fact has consequences for what happens to the horse. Throughout the story, descriptive words are emphasized for the young reader or listener. The illustrations are quite lovely and will appeal to the young audience.
51 Jacob Isaac Segal A Montreal Yiddish Poet and His Milieu by Pierre Anctil and translated into English from the French by Vivian Felsen Pierre Anctil wrote this history of the Yiddish poet J.I. Segal and his life ( mainly) in Montreal along with the poets and writers who worked in Yiddish in the first half of the 20th century. Anctil describes the influences on Segal's poetry and the main themes that figured in his work. Segal was never wealthy as he lived to write and made a modest living as a teacher of Yiddish. What is so wonderful about this history is that the author describes the society of Yiddish intellectuals and writers in Montreal in the 1920's and 30's. Anctil also comments on poetry that Segal wrote. The reader learns about the life of immigrants to Canada and Montreal and how that city influenced the writing of that first generation.
55. The Witches of New York by Ami McKay The author is a great storyteller. This novel takes place in New York City of 1880. Adelaide Thom who used to go by the name Moth( in McKays' previous book The Virgin Cure has opened a tea shop with a young woman who is a " keeper of spells". Adelaide and Eleanor St. Clair produce potions in their shop and are patronized by women in the upper classes of New York. A young woman comes into their life- Beatrice Dunn and soon all three women are involved in seances, threats from sinister individuals and more ghosts and spirits. A very good novel and there is soon to be a sequel as there were some interesting plot lines left to develop.
56. Defiant Spirits :The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven by Ross King I like the work of this author. I did read this book for the July Non-Fiction Read. King looks at the time in Canada in the early 20th century when a number of artists developed what has become known as the painting style of the Group of Seven. He shows that the artists who came from very different backgrounds, were influenced by theirs studies in Europe, a ground breaking art show by Scandinavian artists in Buffalo and most important, sketching and painting in Northern Ontario. These artists were not the first to go up north on canoe trips to search out a wilderness that was distinctly Canadian. King writes about the support of the director of the fledgling National Gallery of Canada, faithful benefactors, and the terrible reviews of the Canadian art critics. Under much duress and with a lack of sales of their work except for the National Gallery, the artists looked to change and perfect their style to describe the landscape. Two of the group were soldiers during World War 1. Their experiences in battle and recording the effects of war certainly had a effect on their lives. King does chronicle some of their lives although he does end his account at about 1931. The reader learns about the tragic end of Tom Thomson's life. King believed that this group of painters " were at the forefront of a cultural awakening in English Canada". His argument about their importance was so coherent- I gained more of an understanding about the role these artists have played in the creation and recognition of Canadian culture.
57. The Burning Girl by Claire Messud There are some authors who draw the reader into the story with their narrative- this is one of them. A young teenager , Julia, has had a best friend , Cassie, since they were in nursery school together. Cassie's mother, Bev was single parent as Cassie had been told that her father died early in her life. Julia's family is very close and creates a feeling of assurance for Julia as she grows up. After being close in elementary school, the two grow apart in middle and later high school. Julia is the high achiever who excels. Cassie is not as bright in academic subjects and finds new friends who seem to excel in the social world of teenagers. A change occurs when Bev finds a boyfriend- the controlling doctor, Anders Shute. Cassie seems to be caught in a situation that she hates. Julia is not close but knows that something is wrong. The reader never do finds out what exactly makes Cassie's life so terrible that she takes drastic action. Julia does have a dramatic effect on the course of Cassie's fateful decision. Julia is the narrator and learns to find a way to deal with loss, true friendship and family support. An excellent novel.
Two weeks ago I spent time at Les Jardins de Métis/Reford Gardens, which was amazing and luckily the blue poppies were in bloom. in Canadian terms, it's not that far from La Malbaie. Maybe next year the garden gods will smile on me for Le Quatre Vents.
Interested in Defiant Spirits following your review. I once took two people from Italy to the McMichael to see some Group of Seven works, and they dismissed it with "Canadian art, it's all landscape. What's so interesting about that?" Ouch!!
Actually, although the first chapter is slightly patronizing and maybe parts of the last chapter as well, the majority of this work has some common sense advice. The book reads like a study in how to eat and live in a more healthy way. The advice- eat more fruits and vegetables, eat three meals a day slowly and make it an occasion, drink more water, walk more every day, look for seasonal fruits and veg and do more cooking. In fact there are some nice recipes.The author advises enjoy food and look for the best in the your area. So the book has merit- except for the title.
63. The Patriots by Sana Krasikov The author writes about Florence Fein, a very headstrong young woman who leaves the United States in 1934 to live and work in the Soviet Union. Alternating chapters related the story of her son, Julian, in 2008, who is advising for a Russian company but living in the United States. Julian is in Moscow for a series of business meetings. At the same time he is trying to convince his son Lenny who works in Russia to leave and find new work anywhere else. Julian also is looking for the KGB files on his parents. The novel follows Florence, her husband and her friends as they live and work in the Russia of 1930's, the second world war and aftermath. Florence's decisions will impact all those around her as well as determine her own fate. This is an excellent story.
and now for something more contemplative!
64. Back alleys and urban landscapes by Michael Cho This is really an album of drawings done by the author of back alleys in downtown Toronto. They were drawn mainly at night in monochrome for the most part. Cho writes that as a young man he liked to go out at night and read. This habit led to Cho's many depictions of the life in back alleys- there are no figures just the evidence of lives lived in small spaces. The restricted palette of colours and the dominance of texture in the wood and bricks of the structures lend a kind of melancholy mood to the work. I liked the small compositions of the works.
66. No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay. This was a very fast paced and interesting thriller although I did guess who one of the killers was before the end. A fourteen year old -Cynthia- wakes up in the morning after drinking too much with a boyfriend and being yelled at by her father. She finds that her brother and parents have disappeared. The story then continues 25 years later. Cynthia is married to Terry and has an eight year old daughter Grace. However she is still haunted by what happened. As a result Cynthia is over protective of Grace. There is some conflict between Terry and his wife. Cynthia is certain that someone has been following her. After appearing on a television programme that publicizes unsolved crimes Cynthia and her family receive clues about the mystery surrounding her family. As well, there are some murders. Terry tries to find out what happened and his detective work lead to answers. The novel is highly constructed so that the reader is really carried along with the clues. A good book to read all at once.
68. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. I can see why this book won the Man Booker Prize. There are many voices in this novel about the attempted assassination of the " Singer" in Jamaica in 1976. The author uses the stories of some of the gunman, the leaders- drug and political, a journalist, and a rejected lover to show the atmosphere, grinding poverty and the life in the slums of West Kingston. The " singer" is supposed to be the late Bob Marley- who is never named but understood to be the real subject. The story covers about 30 years as some of the would be killers move to New York to control the drug trade there. There are connections to the actions of the CIA, the Cubans, and the Medellin Cartel. Some or many of the actions are terrible to read- killings and the casual destruction of many lives. However the voices of the many characters compelled me to read this very big( 686 pages) book. An excellent read.
About to pick my films for the festival- the system has changed ( yet again) and I might have difficulty getting all my first choices.
This book has won many prizes in Canada. Talaga is a journalist with the Toronto Star and has written a very compelling account of the deaths of seven Indigenous high school students. The students had moved to city of Thunder Bay ( a city in the north of Ontario) to attend high school. Their homes were in small reserves with very limited access to higher education. The school that they attended was built specifically for Indigenous students with access to help from teachers. However , living in a boarding house situation and separated from family led many students to take up behaviours that would lead them to danger. Talaga questions the way the Thunder Bay police handled the disappearance and subsequent finding of the seven bodies of these students. There seems to be evidence overlooked that indicate killing rather than " no evidence of foul play." (In fact the police force is under investigation.) She also gives the reader an education in the history of Indigenous education, the actions of Canada's federal government, and the terrible history of residential schools. This is a must read for those who want to be educated in the problems facing Indigenous families who want to give their children a good education.
So the name
I am not mentioning the names of the director or actors- they have all been in better!
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
Director : Barry Avrich
What an inspiring documentary. Ben Ferencz was an immigrant to the United States as a young boy. He went to law school at Harvard but during World War 2, he enlisted in the US army and was in the infantry. He was part of the group that liberated some of the concentration camps. Ben Ferencz was on the prosecution team at the Nuremberg Trials and later was the main prosecutor of German generals who led the death squads that conducted mass killings of Jewish people-the Einsatzgruppen. All the evidence was available in the meticulous records that the German army kept. Later Ferencz was one of the key people in the creation of the United Nation's international court of Justice. The director interviewed Ferencz in Florida where he lives now- Ben Ferencz is now 99 years old and very sharp . This was evident not only in the film but also in the question and answer period after the film- he was on Skype.
Director : Zhang Yimou
I love a good historical drama and this one was directed by the man who made " Raise the Red Lantern". The palette of this film is composed in shades of greys, black and white. ( plus the red of blood in the many fighting scenes)The ink wash painting tradition is seen in the palace of the Pei King. Pei is ruled by a unstable king. His military commander has a great reputation but has pledged to fight a duel with the Pang leader for the freedom of the city Jing- previously ruled by the Pei. The commander has a secret- he is ailing and has used a young man as his "shadow" to fight his battles. Only the commander's wife knows of the deception. The battles and betrayals in this film are dramatic. There was a lot of bloodshed but it was a terrific film!
Director Michal Aviad
The TIFF programmer who introduced this film said that it was one of the best depictions of sexual harassment that she has seen in film . I would have to agree. Orna has three young children and a husband who has just started his own restaurant. She gets what she considers a lucky break when she gets a job as an assistant to a real estate development firm. Her boss, Benny, sees that she is very accomplished and does promote her. However, he takes advantage of Orna as he slowly becomes more aggressive in his attentions to her. Orna's reactions are interesting- she rejects the advances but seems uncomfortable in confronting Benny directly. Eventually she does take a step that might seem minute to the viewer but does show growth in her resolve to learn from her past.
The Wedding Guest
Director: Michael Winterbottom
This is a very interesting story about motives and secrets. A young man ( played so well by Dev Patel) travels to Pakistan from England. The viewer sees him renting and driving first one then another car to a remote village. He also buys guns and tape. He then proceeds to abduct a young woman who is about to be married in the town. He does not know her. They travel to India. The young woman knew that someone would be taking her away from the marriage that she did not want to go through with. The abductor was a friend of her boyfriend- they were planning to run away. Unfortunately, there are some problems with the plan and both the woman and man are on the run from the authorities.This is a really well directed and acted film.
The Sisters Brothers
Director : Jacques Audiard
I had such great hopes for this film since I loved the book. However, the writers and director lost the quirky feel of the original story. The actors were all very good-John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix as the murderous brothers, Jake Gyllenhaal as the scout who betrays them, and Riz Ahmed as the chemist with a secret formula that could transform the gold fields of California in the 1850's. There was a lot of brutality but the repartee of the dialogue was not there. And-- the film could use editing.
Director : Michael Moore
Yes, this latest documentary by Moore castigates everyone- Republicans, Democrats and more for what is happening in the United States. He talks about the Flint Michigan water crisis and who is responsible, Trump and what led to his victory, the high school shootings in Florida and more. There is humour and anger in this film. I saw the second showing of the film. Moore gave a question and answer session at the end of the film, gave everyone in the audience red bandanas, and then invited everyone to a party at a restaurant nearby. ( I was tired at that point and went home)
Directed by Markus Schleinzer
Set in the 18th century, Angelo is a young black boy captured and sent to Europe where he is selected to be educated by a French noblewoman. Her prejudices are shown as she tries to educate Angelo to be obedient and " saved" from his origins. The film shows Angelo at different stages of his life as he is shown off for his musical ability first by his French owner and later by his Austrian owner as an actor. Acquired by the Austrian emperor, Angelo later tries to achieve some independence. The viewer sees how his life progresses although the society in which he lives still views him and blacks as the "other" to be viewed as if in a museum. The ending is particularly brutal but does make the point.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
This is a semi-autobiographical story by the director that in a way is a tribute to the women who raised him. The black and white film depicts the world of 1970's Mexico City and the Roma District. Cleo is one of two live-in maids ( and nanny) who work for an upper class family. The husband, a doctor , leaves his wife and doesn't contact their young four children. Cleo , herself becomes pregnant and her boyfriend then disappears. The mother, Sofia, helps Cleo. The film shows how both women ( and Sofia's mother as well) support each other through crises and how the children depend on Cleo to help them through this period of emotional instability. An excellent film.
Directed by Trevor Nunn
This film was the best edited and had the most riveting story in the festival. And of course, it had Judi Dench. The story was " inspired" by a true story. Judi Dench plays Joan Stanley a grandmother who is charged with espionage. Her son is enraged.The viewer sees the story of her life from two points of view. The younger Joan is played so well by Sophie Cookson. Doing her time studying at Cambridge in 1938, Joan meets two very glamorous refugees- Sonya and her brother Leo. Both are Communists. Joan goes to all the meetings but does not join. She is infatuated with Leo and they have a relationship. After graduation Joan obtains a job in a secret laboratory. She is asked by Leo to hand over information so that he can take it to the Russians. She refuses and Leo seems to disappear from her life. Joan find romance with her boss but that does not seem to work out. After the war, the laboratory works on plans a nuclear bomb. Joan is horrified that " one side" would have the ability to wipe out so many people ( she saw what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki) She does then copy all the information from her lab and pass it to Sonya. After a few traumatic incidents and betrayals- she realizes that she has to stop. The pace of the film works really well and the actors are excellent.
Legend of the Demon Cat- Director's Cut
Directed by Chen Kaige
The director worked with a writer friend of his to create this fantasy story that used two real historical figures- Bai Juyi, a famous Chinese poet( shown at the beginning of his career) and a Japanese monk Kukai who brought forms of Buddhism to Japan. In this story a mysterious cat has been creating havoc in the royal court- the emperor is near death and the cat has enchanted the wife of the head of the imperial guard. ( You can get an idea of this film as " Harry Potter meets ancient China"). Kukai has been brought to the court to help the emperor. However not only does he die but his son becomes paralyzed. Both the monk and let set out to solve the mystery of the cat and it's powers before it kills again. The monk traces the cat back to the previous emperor who also had a famous concubine- Lady Yang. By interviewing many of the officials the two piece together the story of Lady Yang, her mysterious death that saved the emperor from a mutiny and the revenge that the cat wants to bring to all those involved. Chen Kaige built a city( took over five years) that housed this story. The fantasy scenes of celebration for Lady Yang's birthday were amazing- in fact the whole film was beautiful. I really enjoyed it.
Directed by Radu Jude
The director( he also wrote the screen play) shows the viewer his concern with the representation of history and in this case -that of Romania's actions in World War Two. A young director- Mariana- is organizing a re-enactment of a battle and massacre in Odessa. Romanian troops defeated the Soviet army in Odessa and then killed tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews. She insists against opposition from a prominent city official that the whole story must be told. The audience sees through Mariana the views of many writers and historians as she debates the official, her lover and other people associated with the re-enactment. The film is very long( two and a half hours) and parts of the story take the form of a scholarly debate. The end result is surprising to Mariana and show the audience why this director is intent on presenting this topic today.
Directed by Christian Petzold
This film story was adapted from the book of the same name by Anna Seghers. In fact the story is the same. The director ( and also the screenwriter) has just transposed the story from World War Two Marseille to the present day ,keeping the Nazis, French and American officials as they would be during the war. This actually works as we draw comparison with present day refugees.. Georg is a German hiding in Paris. He is given letters to deliver to a writer- Weidl- at a hotel but discovers that he has killed himself. Taking the writer's manuscript and documents, Georg flees to Marseille where he is mistaken for the writer. George also finds out that Weidl's wife has been looking for him all over Marseille although she left Weidl in Paris for another man. The documents can give Georg passage to Mexico and he struggles with some new relationships with a young boy who is the son of another murdered refugee, the doctor who helps the boy and finally Weidl's wife. This is a very competent retelling of the refugee story by the director.
Out of Blue
Directed by Carol Morley
This film takes place in New Orleans. And the script was adapted from Night Train by Martin Amis. A tough detective ( played so well by Patricia Clarkson) investigates the murder of a professor who was found shot to death at an observatory where she had given a lecture the night before. The viewer sees that the detective has her own set of demons that haunt her and have directed her own life. She links the killing to the professor's dysfunctional family, and a set of unsolved murders from years ago. The atmosphere is very dark but the script is satisfying in the direction of the plot. Like many films at the festival-the one could use more editing but I did enjoy it.
Directed by Boaz Yehonatab Vacov and Joseph Madmony
I thought that this would be more upbeat but it was very sad with a sort of uplifting conclusion. As with some of the films at TIFF- it needed some editing. A man who was very religious worked at a low paying job as he supported himself and his daughter. His wife had died and his young daughter was now undergoing treatment for cancer. Previously before he became religious, he was part of a rock and roll band. He now turned to his former partners to regroup and play for weddings as he needed more money for an new experimental treatment for his daughter. The band members were skeptical of his demand but did agree. The viewer follows the man and his daughter as he tries to balance the needs of his religious practice with the strengthening his relationships with friends and his daughter.
Very touching film.
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
A young samurai had been living in a small farming community helping them with the harvest in mid 19th century. He trains a young boy who dreams of becoming a fighter and flirts with the daughter of the family. Into this calm scene comes an older samurai who asks the young warrior and the boy to accompany him to Edo to fight for the emperor. As well a band of ruffians come tot the village. The young samurai realizes that he has to go fight although he has double whether he can or wants to kill. A series of catastrophic events (with much bloodshed and fighting) led him to a tortured conclusion. The scenes are either the green of the fields and forests or the muddied rocks and ground of the battles. A very dramatic story.
Directed by Yona Rozenkier.
This film has a lot going on. A man, Yoav comes back to the kibbutz in the north of Israel that has been hit by missiles at the time of war with Lebanon. He has come back for the burial of his father.( the father died a year previously- he willed his body to science for a year and then burial)His two brothers, have been living with their mother at the kibbutz and are also preparing to do their military service. One brother is terrified and the other is enthusiastic. Yoav is in conflict with his family as he has not spoke to them for over a year. He was a major in the army but suffered from trauma. The conflicts among the three brothers as they try to honour their father's requests and their own relationships form the plot of the film. What was interesting is that the director not only acted in the film ( his first ) but he used his own brothers as the brothers in the film. It was a little autobiographical and the director's first film.
Well -17 films- there were others that I wanted to see but had to make a choice- so until the Hot Docs film festival in April- I am back to books.
78.The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John LeCarre This was a mesmerizing story but very grim. Alec Leamas was the head of the Berlin station for the British Secret Service but all of his agents have been killed by the East Germans. The reader sees as he seems to go downhill from petty jobs to brawls that land him in jail. He is picked up by East German spies who want him to defect and tell them all about his time in M16. The reader also knows that this is a setup in order to catch the head of the East German security. However, there is double-cross after double cross as each side's true intentions are revealed. This was a good book to read.
79. Tinker, Tailor,Soldier, Spy by John LeCarre I really am getting hooked on the books featuring George Smiley. In this case Smiley was dismissed by the British Secret Service. However, after a year where everything seems to go wrong with the " Circus"( the nickname for the secret service) Smiley is asked to look into the possibility of a " mole" in the Circus by a government minister. A spy has brought some extraordinary material to one of the Circus officials. Smiley is aided by a few loyal people as he reconstructs events that led to the downfall of his former boss-" Control" and the takeover of the Circus by a number of people duped by the mole. I enjoyed the structure of the plot and the character descriptions.
I’m just catching your last film reviews. A lot of fascinating stuff. The spy novels sound fun.
Agnes DeMille did have some money from her mother but she was very anxious that she would use up all her mother's savings( her parents divorced) She spent it on outfitting companies to tour with her own choreography
The film festival was fun- I see that The Sisters Brothers is getting better film reviews from the newspaper critics than I gave it.
I just saw "A Star is Born" -it is excellent!
Well everyone has different tastes.
I recently saw a film that was based on a book that I liked- I did not like the film but all the reviews has been very positive.
85. The Secret Pilgrim by John Le Carre This book contains a number of sketches of the spy life as told by one of the veterans of the British spy establishment- Ned. He has been instructing future spy masters. One of his mentors was George Smiley. Ned invites him to speak to the students. Each chapter has Ned recalling a specific case in his own career. The reader sees how disillusioning the spy world is with betrayals and secrets. Many stories end with the destruction of agents both physically and mentally. This is a well written set of interlocking stories.
87.Imagine! by Raul Colon This picture book has no words. Instead the illustrations tell the story of a young boy who goes to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. He invites some of the images from paintings by Matisse and Picasso to leave their canvass and go on a trip through the city with him. The work is beautiful and the author/artist relates the story of his own life at the end of the book.
89. If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki Vansickle and Cale Atkinson. I actually read this book earlier as part of the Early Reviewers programme- although this book is a board book and the first book that I read was a regular paged children's book. So the famed algorithm may have made a mistake. The story is still wonderful and the illustrations are still charming. A little boy thinks that he would like a new pet that is different than his hamster. But each choices comes with problems- and in the end he likes his hamster!
Recently I saw some good films but both were intense and sad- "Beautiful Boy" and " Can You Ever Forgive Me"
98.Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell This was a very entertaining book to read( especially after the last one) Cornwell creates a brother of William Shakespeare -Richard-and writes about his life in the theatre company. William acts and writes plays while Richard plays female roles and is not happy about it. Conflicts arise when the scripts for A Midsummer Night's Dream and Romeo and Juliet are stolen. Richard is first accused of taking the scripts to a rival company. He manages to steal the scripts back amid problems with Puritans, a traitorous actor, rival theatre owners and an unscrupulous owner of a boys' school who trains actors or "players". The action takes place as William Shakespeare's acting company are preparing a play that will be performed at a wedding celebration that will also have Queen Elizabeth in attendance. The characters include the real actors who worked with Shakespeare and the story describes the development of theatre during the reign of Elizabeth. This was a very enjoyable book to read- the plot was good and there was a joy in the descriptions of how the first presentations of two of Shakespeare's plays might have happened.
I think your review in >147 torontoc: would still work if you replaced all the remaining adjectives with "many" - "coherent" looks like the only one where it would be a problem to replace it. :-)
100.Book Lust by Nancy Pearl What a way to reach 100 books read and almost at the end of the year. The author's lists of what to read are organized so that the reader can refer to them for suggestions very easily. I was able to read about authors who I didn't know about or have heard about in passing. I will use this book as a reference for future plans.