Becoming Bond

Poster for Becoming Bond

Becoming Bond (Director: Josh Greenbaum): James Bond is one of the most enduring characters in film, and we’re used to seeing a new actor take on the role every few years. But back in 1968, Sean Connery WAS Bond, and the thought of anyone trying to replace him was almost unthinkable. When his replacement turned out to be a male model and former car mechanic from Australia, with no previous acting experience, expectations weren’t very high. And then when new Bond George Lazenby didn’t return after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the hunt was on again.

Josh Greenbaum’s film allows George Lazenby, now in his mid-70s, to tell his own story of his rise from obscurity, brush with fame and wealth, and ultimate rejection of the Bond mantle. Using re-enactments to liven up what’s essentially a sit-down interview, the film has the feel of a tall tale, with colourful details perhaps embellished a little in Lazenby’s memory. He recalls his childhood and his failure to graduate from high school with a tinge of regret. But the ever resourceful Lazenby spins his job as a car mechanic into a more glamorous and lucrative one actually selling cars. It’s here where he meets the beautiful Belinda, the woman who will turn out to be the great love of his life. He also meets a photographer who encourages him to start modelling, a profession the rugged Lazenby had no idea existed.

After George wins Belinda’s heart, her disapproving father sends her away to England, and Lazenby soon follows. As he tries to rekindle the relationship, he takes up car sales and modelling again and achieves his first taste of fame. The story of how he actually gets the role of Bond is nearly unbelievable, but it’s an entertaining tale. Things don’t go as smoothly with Belinda, and the present day Lazenby shows real regret at letting her get away. Lazenby’s tales of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll do grow a bit tiresome, and you’re just on the verge of being fed up with him when he recounts how he turned down a contract for six more Bond films and a million-dollar bonus. There’s more to the old playboy than meets the eye.

Lazenby doesn’t elaborate too much on the course of his life post-Bond but you get the sense he’s been happy. He might regret a few of his choices, but overall he emerges as someone admirable for choosing his own way instead of the easy path that was offered to him.

Unfortunately, as a film, Becoming Bond wearies the viewer with its constant winking tone and endless re-enactments. There’s almost an element of Austin Powers parodying of the times, and there’s a dearth of archival material that would have given this some much-needed depth. One egregious example is an interview Lazenby did on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Instead of licensing the actual footage, the filmmaker uses actor Dana Carvey to impersonate Carson and it gives the whole thing a carnivalesque feel. Maybe Greenbaum was trying to convey Lazenby’s discomfort with the trappings of fame, but it comes across as an attempt to milk the episode for cheap laughs. It’s a problem that afflicts the whole film. Lazenby’s story is interesting and evokes pathos, but trying to make it more entertaining ends up making it feel shallow.

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Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End)

Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) - Poster

Director Felix Ahrens won a Silver Medal at the Student Academy Awards for this taut mini-thriller. In just 30 minutes, Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) manages to create an unbearable situation for its protagonist, young police officer Elke. While on patrol with her partner near the German-Czech border, she pursues a young man into the woods after a routine pullover. In a moment of panic, she shoots and kills him. The aftermath is quietly devastating as she struggles with opposing feelings of guilt and justification. She’s convinced the man and his accomplice must have been meth dealers or smugglers, but they find no evidence to prove it. In desperation, she takes her own infant son along as she visits the man’s family in the Czech Republic. Her rising guilt and panic collide in a brilliant climax that leaves the audience breathless.

Am Ende der Wald (Where the Woods End) - Still

As Elke, Henrike von Kuick combines a sense of innocence with deep exhaustion. Her piercing blue eyes look haunted as she carries the burden of her actions. The cinematography is both sweeping and intimate, and the director’s sense of pacing is precise. I suspect it won’t be long before the award-winning Ahrens is directing feature-length thrillers.

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2016 TIFF CAST Awards Announcement

For the fifth year in a row, I’ve compiled a special edition of the CAST Awards, just based on what people saw during the Toronto International Film Festival. Here are the CAST Top 10 based on the votes of 24 submitted ballots. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, Mentions indicates how many voters included it in their Top Ten, Average is the average point score, and Firsts shows how many voters chose it as their favourite TIFF film.

In the case of points ties, the film with the higher number of first-place votes is listed first, then by highest average score. Because our sample size is quite small, these “rankings” don’t actually mean much, but I thought it would give a good idea of what this particular group of festivalgoers enjoyed this year. I’m curious to see how many of these show up in our regular year-end CAST ballot and how they do.

Moonlight - Barry Jenkins
La La Land - Damien ChazelleToni Erdmann - Maren Ade
Manchester by the Sea - Kenneth LonerganPaterson - Jim JarmuschCertain Women - Kelly Reichardt
Colossal - Nacho VigalondoNocturnal Animals - Tom FordPersonal Shopper - Olivier AssayasThe Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki - Juho Kuosmanen

FILM TITLE
POINTS
MENTIONS
AVERAGE
FIRSTS
1. Moonlight 104 12 8.67 7
2. La La Land 75 9 8.33 4
3. Toni Erdmann 72 10 7.2 2
4.Manchester By The Sea 57 8 7.1 1
5. Paterson 37 5 7.4 0
6. Certain Women 37 6 6.2 9
7. Colossal 34 4 8.5 2
8. Nocturnal Animals 33 4 8.25 1
9. Personal Shopper 32 6 5.3 0
10. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki 31 4 7.8 0

Participants:

Here is a PDF (106K) with each person’s ballot and the full collated results, with a few more interesting stats included.

And for those still reading, here is my final TIFF CAST ballot. I saw a total of 12 films this year:

My TIFF CAST Ballot

  1. Moonlight
  2. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki
  3. The Giant
  4. Blue Jay
  5. Into the Inferno
  6. Planetarium
  7. Things to Come
  8. ABACUS: Small Enough to Jail
  9. Orphan
  10. Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee
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TIFF 2016 Preview: Things to Come

Poster for Things to Come

I’ve made no secret of my love for the films of Mia Hansen-Løve. She’s made some amazing coming-of-age stories that explore more than just the usual one or two emotions. Although I have yet to see her previous film Eden, I was excited to hear that her new one, Things to Come, will be screening at TIFF this year. Even more exciting is that she’s working with Isabelle Huppert, who just keeps getting better and better. In fact, during this morning’s first batch of announcements, I heard Huppert’s name three times, so it’s great that she’s working so much, and that almost guarantees that she’ll be in Toronto for a good part of the festival. And just for contrast, can you think of a North American female actor who, at the age of 63, still commands as much respect as Isabelle Huppert? Ah well, that’s why I love TIFF.

Still from Things to Come

Still from Things to Come

Huppert plays Nathalie, a professor of philosophy whose life takes a huge turn when, in quick succession, her mother dies and her husband leaves her. I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t resonate with the recent course of my own life. As she struggles with her newfound “freedom,” she must essentially pass through a period of self-examination and reinvent herself. I’m excited by the prospect of seeing an intelligent film about this sort of emotional and existential turmoil. I’m including an alternate poster that I like better below. I like the idea of the picture frame and of Nathalie looking off into the distance.

Alternate poster for Things to Come

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2016 Hot Docs CAST Awards Announcement

For the second year running, I’ve compiled a special edition of the CAST Awards, just based on what people saw during Hot Docs. Here are the CAST Top 10 based on the votes of 14 submitted ballots. Voters ranked up to 10 films on their ballot from top to bottom, with first choices receiving 10 points, second choices 9, etc. The Points column lists the total score for each film, Mentions indicates how many voters included it in their Top Ten, Average is the average point score, and Firsts shows how many voters chose it as their favourite Hot Docs film.

In the case of points ties, the film with the higher number of first-place votes is listed first, then by highest average score. Because our sample size is quite small, these “rankings” don’t actually mean much, but I thought it would give a good idea of what this particular group of festivalgoers enjoyed this year. I’m curious to see how many of these show up in our regular year-end CAST ballot and how they do.

Tickled - David Farrier and Dylan Reeve
How To Build A Time Machine - Jay CheelTower - Keith Maitland
Life, Animated - Roger Ross WilliamsWeiner - Josh Kriegman and Elyse SteinbergContemporary Color - Bill Ross and Turner Ross
Credit for Murder -  Vladi AntoneviczNorman Lear: Just Another Version of You - Heidi Ewing and Rachel GradyLo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World - Werner HerzogThe Slippers - Morgan White


FILM TITLE
POINTS
MENTIONS
AVERAGE
FIRSTS
1. Tickled 70 10 7.00 3
2. How to Build a Time Machine 49 6 8.17 3
3. Tower 40 5 8.00 2
4. Life, Animated 38 5 7.60 2
5. Weiner 21 4 5.25 0
6. Contemporary Color 20 2 10.00 2
7. Credit for Murder 19 2 9.50 1
8. Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You 19 3 6.33 0
9. Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World 18 3 6.00 0
10. The Slippers 18 3 6.00 0

Participants:

Here is a PDF with each person’s ballot and the full collated results, with a few more interesting stats included.

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