Saturday, February 28, 2015

February Cultural Roundup

Still Alice (U.S., 2014) (please see review)
A Most Violent Year (U.S., 2014) (please see review)
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (U.S., 2014)
Nightcrawler (U.S., 2014) (please see review)
Whiplash (U.S., 2014)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel
The Malaise of Modernity by Charles Taylor

Basquiat: Now is the Time, AGO, February 22, 2015

The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, soulpepper, February 22, 2015

Monday, February 23, 2015

Books on Film: Coriolanus

Hello book and film lovers ... 

I have been invited to review some of the films on TIFF's Books on Film series. Now in its fifth season, the series examines cinema that began as literature (and what intriguing literature it is!).

Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC Radio's Writers & Company, sits down with filmmakers, authors and experts to discuss both media. I am excited about this series as it combines great literature with great film in a terrific venue at TIFF. There are six films in the series and it runs from March to June, 2015. Look for my first review the week of March 2nd. Hope to see you there!

Some notes from TIFF's website on the speakers, books and films:

James Shapiro discusses Coriolanus, March 2, 2015

Esteemed Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro examines Ralph Fiennes' modern-day adaptation of Coriolanus and discusses the perennial challenges of bringing the Bard to the big screen.

The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro discusses  The Remains of the Day, March 16, 2015

The acclaimed author discusses James Ivory's adaptation of his Man Booker Prize-winning novel, which was listed as one of the "1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read" by The Guardian.

An Education
Lynn Barber discusses  An Education, April 13, 2015

English journalist Lynn Barber discusses the Academy Award-nominated adaptation of her memoir about her teenage love affair with a dashing con man.

Don't Look Now
Allan Scott discusses  Don't Look Now, May 11, 2015

Screenwriter and producer Allan Scott reflects on the process of adapting Daphne du Maurier's short story into the classic 1973 chiller.

Irvine Welsh discusses  Trainspotting, June 1, 2015

Irvine Welsh, chronicler of the seamier side of Scottish life, revisits Danny Boyle's smash-hit film version of his debut novel. Irvine Welsh will join the audience for a book signing.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Phillip Lopate discusses The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, June 22, 2015

Essayist, poet, novelist and film critic Phillip Lopate considers the classic 1969 adaptation of Muriel Spark's world-famous novel.

For more information and tickets please go to:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Oscars 2014: Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher (U.S., 2014) directed by Bennett Miller, 133 minutes

Five Oscar Nominations
Actor in a Leading Role (Steve Carell)
Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Ruffalo)
Makeup and Hairstyling
Writing (Original Screenplay)

I saw this film at TIFF last year. The husband chose it and it proved to be my favourite film of the festival.

Foxcatcher, the name of the hereditary Du Pont estate where most of the film's action takes place, is oddly prescient. Based on a traditional upper crust sport of tracking down and killing innocent foxes with hounds, it seems an apt metaphor for the near destruction of two brothers by a delusional billionaire intent on entrapping the two men.

I knew nothing of this film or the true crime story behind it but it completely knocked me out when I saw it. It is the story of two brothers, Mark and David Schulz (played amazingly well by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), Olympic gold winning wrestlers, who become ensnared with a disturbed Du Pont heir named John E. Du Pont (Steve Carell) worth billions. The Du Ponts are ranked the 13th richest family in America with an estimated wealth of $15 billon. Du Pont had a desire to sire an Olympic winning wrestling team for the U.S. and tapped the two men to help build this dream.

Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Schultz (the sadly overlooked Channing Tatum) both won the gold at the 1984 Olympics but Mark's life, as the film starts in 1987, is a lonely ritual of training in his brother's gym and reliving old glories that few care to remember or acknowledge. He has no parents and Dave seems to be his only family and contact.

John Du Pont invites Mark to live on his estate and to train for the U.S. team preparing for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Du Pont also wants Dave to come but Dave wisely demurs refusing to uproot his family.

Du Pont is clearly disturbed. My friends, eccentric doesn't begin to describe it. He loves guns and artillery (we see him trying to purchase a tank at one point in the film) and can be quite aggressive when seemingly provoked - but he is initially very generous and paternal with Mark who clearly seeks a mentor and a human connection through the older man. Du Pont is a frustrated middle-aged athlete whose mother (Vanessa Redgrave), with whom he lives, discouraged his interest in wrestling which she describes as a "low" sport as opposed to more exalted, equestrian pursuits that are her passion.

Eventually Dave et famille is coaxed into joining Mark on the estate to build "Team Foxcatcher", named so for the Du Pont estate, for the Olympics and train the U.S. team. Mark unknowingly plays a dangerous game trying to protect his younger brother from Du Pont's increasingly erratic behavior but ultimately pays the price for defying Du Pont.

I hate to point the finger at mommy (and I dislike this cliched explanation) but the film implies much of Du Pont's rage and disappointment was suppressed due to her controlling and disapproving behaviour. Once mommy dies and is no longer the barrier to his thwarted ambitions, Dave appears, in Du Pont's mind, to come between Mark and Du Pont, and Dave feels the deadly wrath of the deluded billionaire.

Carell is near unrecognisable here as an actor - his comic mannerisms are completely squelched by the elderly mortician-like demeanour of the Du Pont character and his face effectively masked in prosthetics that alter his appearance tremendously. It's a very affecting performance.

Tatum, who can be charmingly winning and heroic in most roles, transforms into a brooding, menacing, near wordless hulk concealing his feelings of abandonment and hurt at what life has thrown his way. Excellent performances by all. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote), Tatum, Carrell and Ruffalo were all gracious and funny at the Q&A after the TIFF screening last September. Even I could see that from the second to last row of the Princess of Wales Theatre.

Post-script: Mark Schulz has since expressed concerns about his representation in the film which you may read about here. And then ... somewhat retracted his angry attack here.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Oscars 2014: Wild

Witherspoon on the Pacific Crest Trail
Wild (U.S., 2014) directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, 115 minutes

Two Oscar Nominations
Actress in a Leading Role (Reese Witherspoon)
Actress in a Supporting Role (Laura Dern)

Jean-Marc Vallée, the French-Canadian director of this film, is an eclectic and intriguing person with wildly varying interests. Who would connect the films WildDallas Buyers Club (2013), Cafe de Flore (2011), The Young Victoria (2009), and C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005) with the same director? It would be a challenge to see how these films are linked in theme or interest.  

Based on her memoir, Wild tells the story of  Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), an angry, troubled woman whose demons threaten to engulf her. Her mother Bobbie's (Laura Dern) death from lung cancer at 49 triggers destructive behaviour towards herself and her marriage with Paul (Thomas Sadowski, best known for his role in Newsroom). 

Wild chronicles a Cherys' attempt to climb out of a rapid descent into sex and heroin addiction after the death of her mother. Her chosen method? In the summer of 1995, Cheryl decides to walk the 1,000 mile Pacific Crest Trail across the Mojave desert to the Oregon-Washington border. 

The tribulations are the expected ones initially for a novice backpacker: a too large, too heavy backpack; a water tank that proves to be empty after a painful trek in the desert; ill fitting boots; encounters with possible predatory males on the trail. 

But the journey often appears more inspirational than agonizing. Meaningful quotes are posted along the way during the hike at milestones on the path. Her sympathetic ex-husband Paul sends money along the journey. Strangers are for the most part kind, helpful. One backpacker even comments on how everyone wants to help Cheryl and no one wants to help them because they are men, travelling alone. 

But there are instances of near danger that Cheryl barely skirts - with luck and some determination not to be exploited. This is after all one tough chick, one who, in the past risks all with dangerous behaviour - like having sex with two different men, both strangers, in an alleyway while working as a waitress, as a flashback reveals. This is not the Reese Witherspoon of her portrayals of June Carter Cash or Becky Sharp or even the prim Southern belle's assertions on the  importance of manners which has irked some. 

I am not awed by geography - shots of mountain ranges or deserts do nothing for me - but I do like emotionally complicated people who can speak openly about their lives. Strayed has been foolish, irresponsible, possibly unkind and unfaithful, but never evil and not vicious, despite a desperate and peripatetic childhood and young adult life. 

Some have found the flashbacks distracting but I thought they were fitting - it seemed as if the screenplay by Nick Hornby (best known for his literary efforts) had been constructed to reflect how memory works. Images of her loving relationship with her mother Bobbi, of her abusive father, a disintegrating marriage, drug use, promiscuity ... the flashbacks mirror some of the tortured memories that Strayed would have had during her journey. 

Both women - Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon - are excellent. Dern epitomizes the sunny, nothing-can-get-me-down optimist in a difficult situation and Witherspoon is convincing as the fittingly angry offspring of a troubled marriage. 

P.S. Cheryl Strayed has an "advice podcast"called Dear Sugar that I urge you to check out. Originally she broadcast it under the pseudonym Sugar but since the success of Wild, has now revealed herself to be the author. 

Laura Dern as Bobbi

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscars 2014: Selma

David Oyelowo as MLK and 
Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King
Selma (U.S., 2014) directed by Ava DuVernay, 127 minutes

Two Oscar Nominations
Best Picture
Music (Original Song)

Director Ava DuVernay produces art that inspires, that rekindles that flame of outrage against injustice that many of us feel and want to act on. This film is a phenomenal historical drama and it really is a travesty that it is nominated in only two categories - one of which is best original song. That astonishes me. Stop treating black people as minstrels who are only here to entertain us. David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King (MLK), Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ). All of them should have been nominated as well as Ava DuVernay the director.

I am unsure if the film was shot chronologically but Oyelowo, a Brit, appears to gather strength in his characterization, sounding more and more like MLK as the film progresses. Ejogo perfectly captures Coretta Scott King's particular brand of frosty beauty, cool-headness and refinement.

The South is in turmoil in 1964. As its black citizens attempt to organize and protest for their civil rights, they are increasingly under attack by belligerent, racist whites. The film begins with four small black girls being murdered by a bomb blast in Birmingham, AL. On September 15, 1963, three Klansmen planted nineteen sticks of dynamite outside the church they little girls worshipped in. The explosion killed Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson, Cynthia Wesley and Denise McNair and injured twenty two others.

King soon meets with Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) seeking legislation to assist black citizens to register for voting without impediments. Johnson stalls, citing other priorities such as the "war on poverty". Wilkinson is impressive here, not so much imitating LBJ, whom he does not resemble at all, but summing up the Southern piss and vinegar attitude that LBJ was reputed to possess. It's not that LBJ is not a racist (he too refers to blacks as "niggers") but he is a pragmatist. Things must change, things will change, but at the appropriate time he seems to imply.

It has been suggested that LBJ's role has been minimized or distorted in the film but the writer Amy Feldman refutes that notion in a recent The New Yorker article.

King travels to Selma, Alabama with an entourage of dedicated activists which includes Andrew Young, future UN Ambassador and mayor of Atlanta. The problem of voter registration is particularly acute there. King and his followers, including Annie Lee Cooper (played by Oprah Winfrey, one of the executive producers of the film), march through Selma in defiance of the ruthless tactics of a Sheriff Jim Clark, a vicious racist who resorts to extreme violence to suppress protests. They are beaten and thrown to the ground despite their passive resistance. King and his followers are arrested and incarcerated. They soon begin to organize a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Alabama's Governor George Wallace (played by a slithery, snarling Tim Roth) challenges King and vows that they will not proceed. Johnson, too, is opposed to the march feeling that King is trying to force his hand to create legislation that would end voter discrimination. Gov. Wallace allows the state troopers to attack the marchers during a night march on February 18, 1965. They brutally assault the marchers and Jimmie Lee Jackson (Keith Stanfield), an activist and church deacon, is beaten and shot to death during a struggle. At a eulogy for Jackson, MLK vows to continue the march. 

During the first march from Selma to Montgomery, the protesters face armed troopers on the bridge. The troopers begin to throw tear gas and beat the crowd with billy clubs. I can't tell you how horrifying this re-enactment is on screen. Old men and women, young teenagers, being clubbed, whipped, thrown to the ground, beaten about the face. It's terrifying, absolutely excruciating, to watch. That the troopers (and George Wallace) were foolish and vicious enough to proceed with these fascistic tactics while on camera, which is later broadcast nationally before a horrified public, is inexplicable and demonstrates a pathological hatred of black people. 

There is one image of a young girl, dressed in a white dress, running like a hunted gazelle from a state trooper with a baton, that will be etched in my mind for a very long time.

President Johnson demands that both King and Wallace stop their actions. He sends a representative to meet with King to postpone the march. King refuses and tells him that, instead, he should convince Wallace and Sheriff Clark to be non-violent. Inspired by the vicious assaults they see on television, a number of white citizens come to Selma to join the next march. This time, the state troopers step aside and no violence occurs as the protesters kneel down and exhibit passive resistance. There is some thought that the white marchers have somehow dissuaded the state troopers from attacking. Afterwards, two white supporters are viciously assaulted and one, a Rev. James Reeb an Unitarian minister, is murdered for joining the marchers.

King and his collaborators are soon brought to court over the next march. The judge rules in favour of the marchers. LBJ confronts Gov. Wallace who claims to have to control over voter registration. Frustrated by Wallace's intransigence LBJ announces that he will send a bill to Congress to eliminate the restrictions on the voting of black citizens. The activists gather for the final march. DuVernay intersperses actual footage from the march in the film. The ordinariness of the participants breaks your heart. These are working people, students, the elderly and a few notable ones - Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis Jr., etc ...

Five months later, LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Martin Luther King, Jr. was there.

The film ends with an update on the lives of those who participated in the marches:
Andrew Young, former UN Ambassador and mayor of Atlanta.
George Wallace, paralysed by a 1972 assassination attempt.
Sheriff Jim Clark defeated by an overwhelming black electorate in the next election.
Viola Liuzzo, a white civil rights activist, murdered by a Klansman hours after the march.
Coretta Scott King established The King Center and campaigned for a holiday in her husband's honor (celebrated the third Monday of January).
MLK, lead the civil rights movement for thirteen years until he was murdered in 1968.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Oscars 2014: Finding Vivian Maier

Finding Vivian Maier (2014) directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, 83 minutes

One Oscar Nomination
Best Documentary

This odd, interesting woman with an insatiable need to photograph and document all she saw - seemingly without friends and family - who cared for children as a nanny (sometimes not so well) remains much a mystery to us in 2015.

She worked in Chicago and its suburbs caring for children but ended her days alone, on the verge of destitution, and had no known heirs. She took thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of photos of children, strangers, anything that caught her eye on the streets of Chicago, but told very few her interests.

In 2007, John Maloof, one of the directors of he doc, bid on an unexamined box of negatives knowing only the name of the photographer and nothing more. Cursory searches on the Internet revealed nothing and then in 2009, Maier's obituary surfaced in the Chicago Tribune. Maier had literally died a few days before Maloof's search.

What do we know of her now through this documentary? She was private to the point of paranoia. She was a hoarder of many things most notably newspapers that cluttered her apartments threatening to overwhelm the space. She had relations in Europe but no or little contact with them. She had a curiosity about people - and often would query strangers on political issues that she kept on audio tapes. She often visited "the wrong part of town" and parades and stockyards (often with the children in her care in tow) to take an astonishing array of photos. 

To the directors' credit, they do not shy away from testimonials that speak of her coldness, her cruelty to children at times, her strangeness ... but this is balanced by cheerful, happy memories on the part of her employers and wards. Two of the children she cared for even helped her financially at the end of her life.

She photographed the homeless, some stunning, perfectly appointed beauties on the street, working men, clowns, crying or distraught children, amorous couples, mothers seemingly beleaguered by their children or their woes ... On the streets, on the beach, in backyards, she was impervious to barriers of class, wealth, race, social status.

The obvious comparison has been with the American photographer Diane Arbus but I would argue that Arbus was attracted to the beauty of the unique or the strange, Maier to the beauty of the mundane.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Oscars 2014: Interstellar

Interstellar (U.S., 2014) directed by Christopher Nolan, 169 minutes

Five Oscar Nominations

Music (Original Score)
Production Design
Sound Editing
Sound Mixing
Visual Effects

I must admit that I was mystified by this film and had to think hard about the plot as well as get some assistance from a friend on the scientific aspects of the film. I think it best that you read the synopsis provided here rather than have me try in my ham-handed way try to explain it. The director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Inception) is known for his challenging, thought provoking films. 

It is a dystopian future that we are presented with here. An environmental disaster has catapulted society back to a somewhat agrarian age with the population scrambling for
Christopher Nolan 
food - a place where children are dissuaded from pursuing careers in engineering and technology and encouraged to be farmers as the planet earth is in dire need of food production. Hence, Cooper's adventure with fellow astronaut Anne Hathaway to travel through a wormhole in search of a sustainable environment in which to bring Earth's future inhabitants.

It's a very clever concept (particularly in the scene where Cooper reaches out to his daughter decades later from within the wormhole having aged very little) but I do wonder if a piece of art is effective if the viewer must run to her computer to google the meaning of many of the terms and concepts presented. Perhaps this is just my poor knowledge of science and space exploration - but must I be proficient in these concepts to understand the film?

The film is complex but it appears to have drawn sufficient interest to be a box office hit so it may not be as daunting as I have presented it to be. Matthew McConaughey, as the lead astronaut Cooper, plays it in his usual laconic cowboy persona which appeals to some. I don't doubt his talent it's just a certain cinema type that does not appeal to me.

Mackenzie Foy, as Cooper's ten-year-old daughter who eventually comes to save the day, is exceptional as is Jessica Chastain as the adult Murphy. One of my favourite actors, Matt Damon, falters in his role as a somewhat morally twisted astronaut - this may be due to astronaut outfit he is forced to wear (which looks like it cost about $10) and in which he looks completely uncomfortable - sweaty, puffy and ill at ease.

Still the images in space are beautiful and arresting. I wish one didn't need a degree in astrophysics to comprehend it. 

Fellow space travellers 
Hathaway and McConaughey

Monday, February 16, 2015

Oscars 2014: Cake

Aniston as Claire, living with chronic pain and grief
Cake (U.S., 2014) directed by Daniel Barnz, 102 minutes
                              *** SPOILER ALERT ***

I wanted to talk about another role that might have been overlooked by the Oscars and not just the nominated films. Jennifer Aniston was widely touted as expecting an Oscar nod as she had been nominated for both a SAG and Golden Globe for Best Actress (she won neither actually). 

There was so much buzz about Jennifer Aniston, the lead on this film, making herself "ugly" to get an Oscar nom. I don't know what's worse - implying Aniston is "ugly" because she looks like a normal, unglamorous woman dealing with chronic pain after a horrific car accident nearly kills her or the catty comments about Aniston's Oscar ambitions. I found the critical estimations of this film to be low and not particularly fair. Overlooked, as well, has been the performance of the Mexican actress Adriana Barraza as Silvana, Claire's compassionate maid/caregiver. 

Granted, it's not an easy film to watch at times. Clair Bennett is certainly a pistol: sharp-tongued, mean and demanding. She is a former lawyer living in Los Angeles who, prior to her car accident had it all: a successful law career, a loving husband and a much loved child, a beautiful home and pool. Aniston has certainly beefed up for the role and has decidedly permitted herself to be shown in unglamorous clothes and poses - in formless clothes and long sweaters that make her look frumpy and slovenly. 

Incapacitated by her pain and disfigured with severe scarring on her face and body, she manipulates compliant doctors for extra painkillers; brutally rejects her ex-husband's assistance and sympathy; treats the the gentle Silvana poorly; gets ejected from her support group for insensitive remarks about the recent suicide of group member Nina (Anna Kendricks); fights with her physiotherapist over her treatment; coerces the nervous Silvana to drive across the border into Tijuana to get some non-prescribed painkillers; and, has sex with the married pool man, Arturo. A real fun time gal. 

However, it's all about the context. She is extensively covered with scars (hence the "uglification" remarks in the media), moves cautiously like an old person because of her pain, and clearly can never work again under these circumstances. This does not a pleasant person make and Aniston portrays it honestly, without guile, without trying to make Claire sweet or sympathetic. 

The dialogue is sharp, caustic, thanks to a cleverly written screenplay by Patrick Tobin on whose short story the film is based (for example Claire says that she identifies with any animal that kills, like a shark and later she buys a shark kite for Roy's son's birthday).

In the past, Aniston's roles appear to have teetered between the "hot, sexy" overbearing female (We are the Millers, Horrible Bosses 1 and 2) or the "good girl" (most notably her on-going character Rachel on the TV series Friends, or the films The Good Girl, Marley and Me, Just Go With It, The Object of My Affections), or, the "quirky" sexy girl (Along Came Polly). This may suggest diversity but these roles mostly represent types - cartoonish female stereotypes - with little depth. 

The role of Claire is different - there is little to like here. Aniston's not necessarily brave as an actress for permitting herself to be shot in an unflattering way but she is brave in presenting herself as unlikeable - she, a much liked actress who is often described as America's sweetheart, the object of affection for "Team Jen" and all that media and fan nonsense after her divorce from Brad Pitt. 

Claire has her demons, specifically in the person of the re-imagined Nina who appears unexpectedly. She dreams that Nina is lounging alluringly in her pool. In her dream, Nina is trying to hold her down in the pool to drown her, urging her to die. 

Clair becomes obsessed with Nina and what drove her to suicide. She asks Silvana to drive her to the spot where Nina jumped on to the L.A. freeway and met her death. She shows up at Nina’s house and meets her husband Roy (an understated performance by Australian Sam Worthington whom we are more accustomed to seeing in an action film or video game) and lies saying that she used to live in that house so that she may enter it. Roy is forewarned that Claire is coming but permits her to see the house. Understanding Roy's acceptance of Nina's suicide becomes one of Claire's fixations. She waits for him at his home, accompanies him to Nina's grave, they drink together, and, sleep together platonically in the same bed. 

There's a curious but oddly satisfying non-sexual vibe here ... they comfort and complement each other. Claire loses her edge somewhat in his presence - is it because his grief is equal to, or greater than, her own? Roy, too, has a son and has suffered as much as Claire. Roy's underplayed grief begins to humanize Claire merely by his rational, calming presence. 

Claire begins to evolve. Perhaps she now understands that she is not the only one who suffers. She apologizes to the leader of the support group for her abusive, bullying behaviour; she lends Roy's son her son’s old bathing suit (entering her son's bedroom for the first time after his death); she is less abrasive with the beleaguered Silvana. 

Whatever advances Claire makes are undermined by the appearance at her home of the man who caused the car accident (a cameo by William H. Macy) who has come to apologize. She assaults the man and shortly afterwards overdoses on her pain medication. In the hospital, a passing glimpse of a commercial advertising a drive-in theatre in Riverside (the site of her first date with her husband) prompts Claire to visit the drive-in again with Silvana. There, Claire has a sort of epiphany when she wanders on to nearby railroad tracks about whether she should take her own life courtesy of another hallucination of Nina. After a few harrowing moments with Claire lying on the railroad tracks beside the imaginary Nina, a decision is made to live. 

In the last few scenes we see Claire making a conscious choice to keep trying to live rather than merely exist with her chronic pain. The resolution is simple, understated. She visits her son's grave, she brings Roy's son a birthday cake and a gift, she allows a portrait of her son to be hung in the living room by her ex. Baby steps, baby steps. It's a long road but she appears ready to try and navigate it now. It's an honest, unadorned portrayal of physical and psychic pain and, yes, Aniston deserved a nomination. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Oscars 2014: Mr. Turner

Timothy Spall as Turner
Mr. Turner (U.K., 2014) directed by Mike Leigh, 149 minutes

Four Oscar  Nominations
Costume Design
Music (Original Score)
Production Design

Timothy Spall won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his performance as the painter J.M.W. Turner, the British landscape painter. Turner is widely seen as a precursor to the French Impressionists. However, watching this film was akin to watching the paint dry on one of his landscapes.

Spall portrays him as a grunting, anti-social gargoyle who abandons wife and daughters to paint, diddles the maid but paints beautiful, ethereal, mostly marine landscapes. The performance has been lauded but I found it profoundly uncomfortable watching his obnoxious behavior under the guise of being an artist first - file it under portrayals of the petty tyranny of a minor genius of the form.

Leigh's challenge in trying to document Turner's life is formidable  - as is often the case with an artist. The film is too long and often meandering to my mind. It's difficult to document the actual physical production of art - even visual art - so we must rely on the vicissitudes of his life and his behaviour to others to enliven the narrative which are unpleasant to watch and to justify. 

Director Mike Leigh at the TIFF screening in 2014
Turner is described as "single-minded in his focus on his art and career" in the TIFF synopsis which, I think, is a euphemism for being a callous husband and father (he routinely denied having any children), an exploiter of his maid servant Hannah (Dorothy Atkinsonand a childish, selfish boor with his new mistress Mrs. Booth (Marion Bailey). Both servant and family deferred to his talent - including a doting elderly father who mixed his paints and bought his supplies.

Leigh appears to have shot the film in the very locations where Turner painted and they are admittedly uniformly beautiful, the colours of the scenery is breathtaking, but beauty doesn't suffice here.

Leigh tries to lighten the mood with depictions of artistic scuffles at the Royal Academy, founded in 1768 and considered the arbiter of taste in the Western canon, and through comic turns by an actor portraying John Ruskin but these scenes feel tacked on and out of place. 

The husband ordered the tickets for me as I love Turner's work and he thought I would enjoy it. My husband, I adore you for it, but this, I do not. 

Turner's Dewy Morning, 1810