The What: Days 6 & 7 at TIFF15

It’s always a little sad when you jump over to the second half of TIFF, because suddenly the end feels so near. With only four days to go, many people are wrapping up their time at the festival, and I hate to think of how quiet it will be in just four days (but this is Toronto, so there will surely be something to fill that space.)

Until then, I’m continuing with my festival adventures: my film count is now up to ten (with six more to go), I finally hit my quota of one celebrity selfie (Sarah Silverman!) and today I wrap up my volunteer commitments (sad!). I’m really excited to share some post-TIFF reviews starting next week but until then, here are a few more red carpet photos I’ve been grabbing in between screenings this week.

The What: TIFF15 (Day 5)

One thing that I’ve learned in my couple of years at TIFF is to prepare yourself for the unexpected. Although I carefully and meticulously planned out my schedule, I’ve found myself constantly revisiting it to change according to emerging reviews and celebrity spotting opportunities. It’s pretty exhausting at times (and I’m already sick), but sometimes going with the flow yields some pretty fun results.

The last few days have mostly been filled with volunteer shifts and rescheduling, but there have been a few surprises along the way. For one, I ended up rushing Freeheld this past Sunday and received a ticket for free; stumbled upon Tom Hiddleston’s after-party for High-Rise (with a special cameo from Luke Evans); found myself trailing premieres on King West and casually strolling in a hallway past Geoffrey Rush. While I’m still trying to recover from a very sweet encounter with Childish Gambino, I thought I’d serve up a few snaps from the Spotlight and The Dressmaker premieres that I visited yesterday on Day 5 at TIFF.

PS – head over to my Instagram for more moments!

The What: Photos from TIFF15 (Day 3)

In case you were unaware, this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (the 40th anniversary!) is officially on a roll. The celebrities are coming in, the fangirl tears are streaming, the Twitterverse is abuzz with reviews and I’m in the middle of it all volunteering, screening, rushing, quasi-stalking and when I have some spare time, sleeping (but like, what is spare time during the festival?)

I’ve seen a total of four movies so far: The Lobster, Dheepan, I Saw the Light and The Danish Girl and while I’m not quite ready to share my reviews of those films yet, I’m going to share some of my TIFF photos when possible. In between screenings of I Saw the Light and The Danish Girl on Day 3 at TIFF, I also managed to sneak a few peeks at celebs on the red carpet and at Q&As, including Eddie Redmayne, Drew Barrymore, Toni Colette, Tom Hardy, Susan Sarandon, Elle Fanning, Naomi Watts, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen and yes, a quick but definite sighting of Johnny Depp who is in town for Black Mass.

I’ll share more when I can, but in the meanwhile, here are a few moments from Day 3 at TIFF.

Film Review: We Are Your Friends

Typically, EDM is not my preferred cup of tea, but that didn’t stop me from jumping into (and kind of enjoying) the mildly entertaining We Are Your Friends, out this Friday. At its centre is Zac Efron (Neighbors) as Cole Carter ( I like to imagine  CoCa Cola as his eventual stage name), an early twenties aspiring DJ just trying to hustle his way out of the club life and into bigger places where his music will be celebrated. A chance meeting with world-renowned James Reed (Wes Bentley, The Hunger Games) and his girlfriend/assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski, Gone Girl) throws Cole into a world of BPM possibility, while his actual reality begins to spiral.

This is the premise for many stories about the come-up, streamlined into a Step Up-esque story for another generation by director Max Joseph (Co-host and producer on Catfish); the only difference between those stories is that Cole’s objective is to create one defining song that will push him into everyone’s Soundcloud’s playlists, but it isn’t a hearty enough reason to drive the movie in any particular direction. When changes drop and tragedy strikes, there is a direct impact on the characters, but little aftershock for the actual plot.

Despite that missing element needed to tie Joseph’s direction together, the tale surrounding the kids who look to transform their creative expressions from a passion into a lifestyle and from a lifestyle into a career feels familiar. The romanticized experiences of drugs, cool parties and festival frolicking are offset by realities – overdoses, blue collared work and loss all have their place in this realm, too – indicating at the very least an attempt at a balanced picture of this very common pursuit. The accuracy extends all the way into the conclusion, where the film’s relatively slow journey ends in a moment right before the bass drops, on the precipice of something exciting. Where Joseph fails is in his attempt to make something that is sleek and tempting feel equally deep and inspiring is that lack of plot ribbon to tie it all together.

If you’re trying to figure out what it is that makes this movie tick and why it’s oddly enjoyable despite such annoyances, maybe look to Cole’s (literally) animated explanation of the perfect BPM about half-way through the movie. Break it down to a couple of fundamental elements;  a mix of a deadly attractive cast, one knock-out soundtrack, a convincing performance of jerk meets mentor from Bentley and some good ol’ fashioned young fun is just enough to get your head nodding, one mediocre beat at a time.

Book Review: Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

missemily

Do you ever wish you could be transported to another time? Not a time in your life, but someone else’s? Maybe a different century altogether?

Nuala O’Connor Miss Emily is one of those stories that drives you to a charming era of propriety and community. The story recounts a chapter of famed poet Emily Dickinson’s life with the added twist of a fictional servant named Ada and uses their dual perspectives to explore personal evolution in a space of isolation. Ada, a newly arrived immigrant from Ireland, begins to forge a path in a physically and at times culturally foreign land, while Emily, a member of the family that Ada works for, withdraws into herself for reasons beyond her usual disconnect with her family.

The lead characters are fierce and largely independent, who, in different circumstances, help one another and eventually develop a unique friendship. The innocence and loveliness to these characters pull you into O’Connor’s Austen-styled world, a simpler time altogether. I would not go as far as to say that O’Connor has the same gift and style as Austen, but her story craftmanship is strong enough that it will make you want to become as lost in it as Emily Dickinson herself (at least, how lost we imagine her to have been; and imagination really is the ticket to any good piece of fiction.)

I was given an ARC of Miss Emily in exchange for an honest review by Penguin Canada. Miss Emily is now available for purchase in Canada.

Book Review: The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

 

The Truth and Other Lies

Nearly every character in The Truth and Other Lies is terrible, and that is precisely why you will love them.

It’s not easy to write a book with the intention of presenting these incredibly flawed personas from the offset; afterall, many readers like a clearly cut protagonist, or one that efficiently shows a moral dilemma. Instead of sticking to the quo, Sascha Arango embraces his anti-hero Henry Hayden, a man whose entire life as a successful author is a complete sham. His wife Martha is the true writer, but Henry has built a career and a life of luxury in a quaint European town on her works while fostering an affair with a woman named Betty. To reveal anymore of this iceberg would be to reveal far too much of the story, but I will say this: unraveling Henry’s enigmatic characterization is deep and intriguing, akin to the second half of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Undoubtedly, the excitement of that novel comes in Amy’s revelations, the ones that occur after a steady plot and mystery build-up. Arango does not fear diving straight into the psychologicalabyss, because his constructs and plot allow for constant turns and twists, so much so that the thrill is the chase in this novel. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this a fast-paced story (especially due to the numerous narratives and point of views), there is enough in the characterization to make you stand on the edge; you will never quite trust that the truth is in its actual authentic form, and it’s that daring nature that makes The Truth and Other Lies an entertaining read and a strong entry point for Sascha Arango.

Penguin Canada provided me with a copy of The Truth and Other Lies in exchange for an honest review. The book is available in stores now. 

 

 

 

Film Review: Me & Earl & the Dying Girl

Via 107.3kool.fm

Callbacks to last summer’s The Fault In Our Stars or the early 2000s guilty pleasure A Walk to Remember are inevitable upon learning that Me & Earl & the Dying Girl‘s plot surrounds a high school girl suffering from cancer and a boy befriending her as her health worsens. Your assumption probably goes like this: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl dies, boy is profoundly impacted by the relationship.

Some parts of this equation are true (bonus: it is also based on a book by Jesse Andrews); but what separates Me & Earl & the Dying Girl from other films is its ability to wittily and honestly confront the very nature of human connection. This is a challenge for the ‘Me’ in the story – a boy named Greg (Thomas Mann, Project X), who floats in between cliques, always polite and friendly in interactions but never actually befriends anyone. Greg’s closest companion, if any, is  ‘Earl’ (Ronald Cyler II), who he eats lunch with in his teacher’s office and makes home movies with after school.

Save for his father (Nick Offerman, Parks and Rec)’s daily exotic cuisine adventures, Greg’s life is pretty ordinary. Applying to college and preparing to leave the dull but safe haven that is high school, Greg is not interested in pursuing friendships or long-lasting memories other than the ones associated with his home movies. Greg’s mother (Connie Britton, Friday Night LightsNashville) thinks differently; upon hearing that his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) is diagnosed with cancer, she pushes Greg to befriend her. To his initial, secret dismay, they actually do bond – and it’s that bond that inspires Greg to create a film with Earl for the Dying Girl.

There is a very enduring tale at the very core of Me & Earl & the Dying Girl that surely transcends its high school setting, but is so effectively communicated because of that setting. High school is, at least for many North American teenagers, the place where we truly begin to forge those connections, some that are life-long, and some that are momentary conveniences. Through Greg (a convincingly nonchalant performance from Mann), we come to realize that the beauty of either is the chance we take for ourselves by opening up the emotional floodgates to learn something and to experience more even if the story stops, the doors close, and we head onto something else. Lessons and bonds are eternal.

The proof is not just in the vote (Me & Earl & the Dying Girl won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.) This film is as charming and deserving as the press in Utah made it out to be, and for several reasons. The images of kids eating popsicles after school, the snarky commentary and the central homage to filmmaking are surprising bursts of nostalgia, wrapped by the comedic fare from Britton, Offerman, Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, The Wolf of Wall Street) and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom. Olivia Cooke is wondrous in her ability to balance a good-natured spirit with the physical and emotional pains of her character’s illness. Yet for all of this, the most defining feature of this film, which will surely become a highlight in this generation’s cinematic experience of adolescence, is the love that ties its characters, story and production all together. It feels like a project that that involved people who cared deeply, which all the more communicates the point of this filmB

The takeaway, in actuality, spans generations, and the significance is clear: to one another, we do matter.

Film Review: Spy

via 20th Century Fox

A saving grace for Melissa McCarthy’s career is the fact that people know she is capable of much more than what her recent string of comedy films indicate. We hold on in case we get another airplane seduction scene and tenderly remember, then relive on Netflix, the obsessive perfectionism of Sookie St. James. While we wait for a reboot of a classic ghost-fighting film with some skepticism, we see a shred of light with her attached to the headlining cast. We try to move on from Tammy and Identity Thief.

Spy connects those dots and pushes McCarthy back into the comedic realm that she belongs in. The film follows McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who assists top agents, particularly Bradley Fine (Jude Law), in navigating and solving major cases. Fine is assigned to a major arms  case oriented around a crime-lord’s daughter Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). When he drops off the map, Cooper volunteers to enter the field, determine what happened to Fine and solve the case.

There is a surprising underlying conversation bubbling below the plot of the film on spy movie gender stereotypes and the genre as a whole. Cooper is incredibly intelligent and capable, but she is not the sophisticated, sleek agent that we usually find in these kinds of movies. The fact that she doesn’t fit that mould is ridiculed throughout the course of the film, but her ability to navigate field work speaks significantly louder and helps direct your attention to the ultimately empowering message delivered in this film. Complements to director Paul Feig’s scriptwriting on that note.

Melissa McCarthy is similarly feminist-y in real life; she often directly responds to harsh criticisms in the press over her weight and advocates for body positive mentalities. While her comedic chops have always been up to snuff, that personal connection may be the ticket to her successful work in this film. This particular collaboration between Feig and McCarthy certainly reignites a little hope for their next project together, the Ghostbusters reboot.

Which leads to a big question: what will it take for Rose Byrne to get a lead role in a comedy? The British actress has a growing catalogue of dynamic and entertaining performances that demands a solo outing. Even as a upperclass mafia byproduct in Spy with a masterful eye roll, smooth condescension rolling off the tongue and awfully large hair, Byrne is just so damn cool.

Spy is not always as obviously appealing; moments with Bobby Cannavale’s party Sergio and the debut of Miranda Hart as McCarthy’s best friend Nancy are occasionally awkward and corny, but they never outbalance the randomly gruesome, ridiculously funny elements to the movie. Weird and out of bounds happens within the scope of a pretty typical plot, so when Jason Statham comes completely out of left field as a hyperactive and egotistical agent, it’s an unseen curveball that is so easy to catch. Of course Statham, well-known for his macho action-thrillers, can pull that to comedic heights. How come we didn’t consider this possibility before? How does it just makes so much sense?

Feig drew in enough into his script to play to the talents of his cast; whether it was tweaked and altered to their identified skills is unknown to me, but it feels like a great partnership. Spy doesn’t push the comedic genre to new heights, but it certainly presents the cast in a strong light and channels messages that aren’t typical of this kind of film. I guess that is kind of the point of this movie.

Book Review: “Lost & Found” by Brooke Davis

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When I try to conceptualize life, I tend to frame it in the extended bit, the bulky middle that contains all of the major milestones in a timeline: education, graduation, career jumps, proposals, homes, families, losses, friendships and so on and so forth. I’ve been conditioned to think that that is when life happens; it exists within marked spots on a timeline. This is life-life.

But what about the period before and after life-life. What happens then? The bleak and poorly thought out suggestions would tell you that you are young, and you are old. You are either on the precipice, or near the end. That is a terrible way to look at those periods, yet I think there is a tendency to do so because we don’t value the unique innocence and the continuous unfolding inherent to those respective life periods; we forget that within those periods, we actually are still human.

This is why Brooke Davis’ “Lost & Found” is such a beautiful novel. Through the individual narratives of an elderly man, woman and child, Davis sketches an honest yet fairly uplifting portrayal of the boundless potential at the beginning and concluding pillars of our lifetimes, reminding readers that not only is there a life to be lived, but a life that has been lived for both the young and the old.

Millie Bird, a seven year old child who recently lost her father, finds herself hiding behind a women’s undergarment rack in a department store, because that is where her mother left her, assumedly for good. Karl the Touch Typist fondly recalls his deep love for his deceased wife while simultaneously plotting to escape his retirement home. Agatha Pantha is a widowed, quasi-bitter and isolated soul who enjoys her routine, refuses to leave her home and has a strong set of judgmental eyes.

In an odd turn of events, these three character storylines intersect in a long-winded (at least, it feels like it, but it actually only takes place over the course of a few days) journey to reunite Millie with her mother. The jolting unlikeliness of the story’s plot may deter some readers from diving into the emotional bulk that ties it together, but for those who can work with a snapshot that would pay-off easily in a film adaptation, there is a lot to consider here.

I was particularly touched by how these three characters conceptualized and experienced death and grief. Bouncing between the curiosity and wonderment of a young child and the paralyzing experience of death at an older age, the reader comes to the realization that death can never be fully understood, but in its tragedy, depth and sadness, it can be accepted, and there can be a life beyond those losses. Learning is ongoing; our experiences, even in the earliest and latest periods, are still valid; wisdom is infinite.

Davis made a brilliant choice to express these ideas through the perspective of the young and the old, and skillfully did so with humour and warmth.  Her style cuts the occasional ridiculousness of the plot and allows the real heart of the story to loudly emerge. I certainly love Millie, Karl and Agatha, but what I love more is their hope. Hope for where we’ve been and where we’re going. Hope for what is the inevitable. Life-life could do with a solid reminder of that.

I received a copy of “Lost & Found” from Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. “Lost & Found” is available for purchase in stores now. 

The Mindy Project Is Cancelled Rant

via CityTV.com

By now you’ve probably heard that The Mindy Project is cancelled. The half-hour comedy, a cherished offspring of comedian/actress/executive producer/writer/all-round incredible lady Mindy Kaling, has constantly lived in renewal limbo, despite being the not-so-guilty pleasure of critics and television viewers over the course of its three season run.

You’ve also probably heard that Hulu, the American video streaming service, is in talks with Universal Television to negotiate a multi-season deal for The Mindy Project, meaning that it could be resurrected from its shallow grave in the days and months to come.

I need a moment that, irrespective of the renewal possibility, allows me to react to this horrible, terrible, no good news. Maybe melodramatically. I feel like Mindy (the fictional one? the real one? likely both) would appreciate that.

The Mindy Project debuted when I was in my final year of university. While many people who tuned in were either New Girl fans or followed Kaling’s repertoire as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, I tuned in partially due to curiosity, and partially because, well, it was the first time I had seen a female South Asian as not just a lead, but the lead character on a cable television show.

This post should probably indicate that I’m a big fan of The Mindy Project, but I’ll just say it again to reconfirm: I am a big fan of The Mindy Project. I think the writing is some of the best out there for comedy shows. The cast is impeccable. The boys are cute. The endless romantic-comedy element is easy to get hooked onto. It is engaging, colourful and comedically differs from so many offerings out there. It has Mindy Kaling.

Growing up, even with the ever omnipresent role of Bollywood in my upbringing and the growing international affection for the industry, I felt the absence of seeing South Asians in Western film and television. Any time I would see someone who appeared to be of a similar background, particularly on American television, it felt like a partial victory; many times, they were dressed in tropes and clichés, though sometimes, like on Heroes, we got some really great, fleshed out South Asian characters. Those were a rarity for that time.

It’s not that I didn’t identify with characters of other backgrounds (I’d like to think that my affinity for American teen dramas forged a lot of bonds in my life), but there was an obvious gap in identifiable faces in film and television. Bollywood wouldn’t suffice; I wanted to see a modern, born-and-raised all round’ North American girl who happened to be South Asian as well. Someone who was an actual byproduct of growing up in a multicultural world without the influence of traditional parents or cultural obligations (though yes, that is certainly one facet of the South Asian community). Someone who was like me.

via The Hollywood Reporter

There’s been some progress.  I mean, growing up I never thought I’d see Anil Kapoor on 24 or an Indian wedding on 90210. I never thought I’d see a full-out half hour comedy taking place in India (NBC’s Outsourced) or giggle at Jon Hamm navigating Mumbai streets. I never thought that an actor like Irfaan Khan would find simultaneous success and respect in Hollywood and Bollywood across big films and diverse roles, or that Freida Pinto would be the video girl in a Bruno Mars piece. Slumdog Millionaire and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, while problematic, initiated a new perspective for global audiences. Life of Pi. Melinda Shankar. Ravi Shankar. Hannah Simone. Raj on The Big Bang Theory. Kal Penn in Superman Returns and Harold and Kumar Go To Whitecastle.  Priyanka Chopra. Amitabh Bachan in The Great Gatsby. Anupam Kher in Silver Linings Playbook. M. Night Shymalan.

I’m sure when you compare these examples to the statistics, the progress is minimal. However, when I think of all these small strides, I can’t help but feel even worse about The Mindy Project‘s cancellation.

Mindy Kaling is a Dartmouth graduate. She was a staff writer and star on The Office, interned with Conan O’Brien and wrote a successful novel (with a second on the way this fall). She has an incredible sense of fashion. She is gorgeous (and no, not gorgeous “for a curvy girl” or has an incredible sense of fashion “for a curvy girl”, just gorgeous. Period.) She is a feminist. She is hilarious. She is the executive producer, star and writer on her own show. And yes, she is South Asian.

via Buzzfeed

Her television alter-ego, Mindy Lahiri, is equally as cool, fashionable, hilarious, intelligent, successful and obviously, gorgeous. She is also a pop culture aficionado, feminine, emotional, often misguided, has a realistic, unabashed love affair with junk food and is pretty melodramatic. She goes after what she wants, has her heart broken and breaks a couple along the way, but she is assertive, vulnerable and confident. She isn’t perfect, she isn’t always realistic, yet, she is identifiable. She is an incredible woman.

She is also Hindu and South Asian, but she doesn’t let her culture define her even though it is certainly a part of her.

Kaling constructs Lahiri as the character and personality that I have always wanted to see on television. I am not saying I am anything like Lahiri; in fact, I am very unlike her on most levels. But for once, we have a character that is not shrouded in stereotypes or who makes an active choice to go on an exploratory journey into her roots. She is doctor, an occupation highly valued in the South Asian community (alongside engineer, lawyer, accountant), but she is not in the career stream because of societal expectations or operates in a setting where she is constantly hiding her life away from her family.

Or maybe she secretly is and we just haven’t come to that point yet (well, we sort of have, but I’m not here to talk about plot points). I love that Mindy Lahiri is defined as a dynamic individual, and I hope that viewers who either currently or intend to watch her show will look to her character for inspiration to be their own person. For some, they may determine that they enjoy and want their culture to be a definitive point in their identity and that is a wonderful choice in itself.

But it is also okay to be your own person outside of that realm. It is okay to prioritize other categorizes in your self-definition than age-old traditions, clothing and food. Embrace you for you, in all its glory and imperfections. Mindy Lahiri certainly represents this message to my generation, and I think it is something wonderful to embrace.

I value and celebrate Mindy Kaling for the same reasons that I value and celebrate all females in the film and television industry, past and present: she is a fighter who constantly faces career and creative obstacles and pushes her way through to create opportunities. I applaud her and others in the industry, both in front of and behind the camera, who are paving the way for future generations by reigniting the  belief in the power of the arts, helping younger people realize that it is a viable career option and encouraging them to engage with the representation, diversity and gender politics in the arts and entertainment industry.

I particularly value Mindy’s presence in Hollywood because she is the role model that I wish I could have seen championing the industry while I was growing up; to have someone with a shared background (herein lies bias – her family also originates from South India) in the spotlight and redefine  what it can mean to be a leading lady in this day. She would have inspired me then; she certainly inspires me now.

Mindy Kaling will likely find continued success in her career. She is too funny, too talented, too intelligent and too fabulous to get lost in a pile of has-beens and near-dreams. I am sure of it. That does not detract the loss of her show from cable television, but it brings a little comfort to the situation. In a way, it is unfortunate that we are facing the prospect of having to pay to see this talent play out in The Mindy Project, but I will take it over a complete loss of the show. It deserves a place in pop culture, and we need it, too.