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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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Stephen Frears’s ‘Victoria and Abdul’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – That Judy Dench stars as the venerable English queen in “Victoria and Albert” tells you all you need to know about what to expect from another tale of one of the widowed monarch’s odd friendships. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: George Clooney’s ‘Suburbicon’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO – Joyless, witless and pointless, “Suburbicon” is a would-be black comedy that is simply murky and not in the least comic. It boasts some big names – director George Clooney, stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore (pictured), and co-writers Joel and Ethan Coen – but were it not for Alexandre Desplat’s entertaining score, it would be a complete waste of time. Continue reading

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TIFF FILM REVIEW: Dee Rees’s ‘Mudbound’

By Ray Bennett

TORONTO: “Mudbound” is set in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s but with torrential rain, deeply ingrained racial hostility and changes wrought by World War II, it’s no treat to beat your feet. Two poor families – one white, one black – strive to find a little joy amidst chronic misery but simmering tensions lead to a violent conflict.

Slow-moving but involving, the film details the painful existence that besets both families as they struggle to make a living on a pitiless farming landscape. The central drama, true of many places when men came home from that war, is how to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree. Continue reading

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Drinking wine in the sunshine with Patrick Swayze

By Ray Bennett

LONDON – Patrick Swayze jumped menacingly from the corral fence to the dusty ground of his ranch in the flats next to the Angeles Forest in La Canada. “Steve McQueen said what?” he said. “There’s nothing tough about making movies,” I repeated. Swayze shook his head. “God, I loved that man but that sounds like bullshit to me.”

That was a long time ago before Swayze had hits like “Dirty Dancing”, “Ghost” and “Point Break”. He would have turned 65 today but Swayze died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 57 in 2009. When I spent a day with him in 1985, when he was 33, he was full of life, feisty and combative. Continue reading

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