Directors

Girl Most Likely | Review

What lengths would you go to in order to get a boyfriend/girlfriend back?  This is one of the central questions faced by thirty-something Imogene (Kristen Wiig), who was once a promising young New York playwright but whose promise has fizzled, thanks to a crisis of confidence in the comedy Girl Most Likely. 

Heavily in denial about being dumped by her society boyfriend, Imogene uses her skill for drama to stage an elaborate fake suicide as an appeal for his sympathy. However when her attempt backfires, she is put into the custody of Zelda, her estranged gambling addict mother (Annette Bening), and must return home with her to the Jersey shore. Desperate to get back to her Manhattan circle of so- called friends, Imogene must finally deal with her family, including her unique crab obsessed brother (Christopher Fitzgerald), Zelda’s new shady CIA boyfriend The Bousche (Matt Dillon) and a cute young lodger and wannabe singer (Darren Criss), who together help Imogene sort out her place in the world.

Directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (“The Nanny Diaries”), Girl most likely also attempts to explore the mother-and-child relationship and the length that parents go to in order to protect their children.

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This is a frothy sweet and rather light movie that leaves you wishing it had a little more depth and flavor. Wiig’s demonstration yet again of her impeccable comedic timing and her portrayal of a desperate imploding woman, which is more than adequate, was enjoyable to watch, however it felt like this character was another version of the one she played in her breakout hit from last year Bridesmaids.

 The story is a little too implausible and lacked consistency in tone.  The film seems to have trouble deciding whether it wants to be an all out family comedy or tender drama about the trials and tribulations of class, single parenting and ambition.

Even with a great cast in Benning, Dhillon and Fitzgerald, this movie didn’t convince me to join it on it’s journey and so I ended up not quite caring for our main protagonist.  That’s not to say that there aren’t a few really funny and tender moments which make this movie an easy watch.

Overall, despite another great performance from Kristen Wiig, a complicated back-story and a few too many quirky characters made this otherwise potentially interesting character story come across a little over-cooked.

Girl Most Likely by Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions is released this Friday July 19th. Check local listings for showtimes

 

Wadjda | LAFF 2013

In a country where cinemas are banned and women cannot drive or vote, WADJDA is a movie of firsts. The first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first film to be written and directed by a Saudi woman Haifaa Al-Mansour.  Al Mansour has broken many barriers with her new film and no doubt as it did for me, this film will remain with you long after the closing credits have rolled.

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At a high level the story is simple, Wadjda tells the story of a young girl living in a suburb of Riyadh determined to raise enough money to buy a bike in a nation that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. However, at it’s core, this movie does a wonderful job of exploring what it’s like to be different and want other things to those around you.  It plays with our expectation of “normal” in a complex culture and one that is often hidden to us; yet, does it manages to do this in a rich and meaningful way.  A story about mothers and daughters, relationships in a society where men are allowed to take more than one wife and expectations whilst maintaining humor, this is a movie that will lift your spirit and make it soar

The great story is elevated by brilliant acting and great direction. Waad Mohammed who plays the delightful Wadjda is mesmerizing, funny and extremely likable whilst the beautiful Reem Abdullah who plays her mother is

amusing and perfectly poised as she portrays what it is like to be a modern woman in a not so modern place

So, if you’re asking yourself whether a movie about a girl wanting a bike is worth rushing out to go and see, I say RUN, This movie made me laugh and cry and educated me.   Welcome to one of my favorite movies of the year. I have fallen in love with this movie and it won’t leave me

Wadjda Trailer


A Hijacking | Review

How many times have you asked yourself the question “How much is a Life worth” and have you ever considered how that would change if you had to pay for it?  Tobias Lindholm’s movie A Hijacking elegantly captures the process of negotiation between a large Danish corporation with much on the line and Somali pirates who seem to have nothing to lose.

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 When the cargo ship MV Rozen is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean as it is heading for harbor the ship’s cook Mikkel and the engineer Jan who, along with the rest of the seamen, are taken hostage in a cynical game of life and death. With the demand for a ransom of millions of dollars, a psychological drama unfolds between the CEO of the shipping company and the Somali pirates.

The movie stars Søren Malling (“Borgen,” Talenttyven, A Royal Affair), Johan Philip Asbæk (Spies & Gilstrup, “Borgen,” A Family, ), Dar Salim (“Game of Thrones,” “Borgen,” The Devil’s Double, Submarino ), and Roland Møller (Northwest, R)

Lindholm (“Borgen,” The Hunt, Submarino, R) creates tension and raises the stakes without overdoing the action.  This is as much psychological thriller as it is a narrative of the perils faced by cargo ships on the open seas.  As the film unfolds slowly, tension builds to unbearable levels as we become totally enthralled and invested in what will happen to the crew.   Lindholm manages to keep us on the edge of our seats as we hope and pray that they will see their families again.  This film is gritty and realistic and whilst we experience the wonder of being on the open seas on a cargo ship to start with, we quickly get a sense of the claustrophobia experienced not only by the hostages as they are locked in a small space but also by those negotiating for their lives who also become hostages themselves.  Good acting and direction allow us to witness the journey of a smart business man who quickly learns that the same tricks that help you win in the business world do not help when you are trying to negotiate with psychopathic sociopathic hijackers

This film is a fascinating look at the things that bond people together and the relationship that hijackers and hostages often build with each other.

A HIJACKING be opening in select cities including New York, Los Angeles, Irvine (in Orange County) and San Francisco on Friday, June 21, 2013.  Check link below and local listings for play times

 

http://www.magpictures.com/dates.aspx?id=e0b17d74-6d43-44f7-8c91-802ed0d7e7a4

 

2012 Toronto Film Festival (Official Selection)

2012 Venice Film Festival (Official Selection)

2012 Tokyo International Film Festival (Official Selection)

2013 New Directors/New Films (Official Selection)

2013 Palm Springs International Film Festival (WON- Director to Watch)

2013 Robert Festival (WON- Best Film, Best Actor, Best Editor, Best Screenplay, Best Sound)

2013 AFI Fest (WON- Audience Award)

2012 Thessaloniki Film Festival (WON- FIPRESCI Prize, Golden Alexander Award)

Sightseers I Review

Being a child of the Eighties, any film that opens with the classic Soft Cell song “Tainted Love” is one to get my attention immediately and I’m happy to say that this movie not only got my attention but managed to keep it throughout the entire duration.

 Sightseers tells the story of Chris (Steve Oram) who wants to show Tina (Alice Lowe) his world and he wants to do it his way – on a journey through the British Isles in his beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan. Tina’s led a sheltered life and there are things that Chris needs her to see – the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the rolling countryside that separates these wonders in his life. But it doesn’t take long for the dream to fade. Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina’s meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris’s dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him the wrong way

over a very jagged edge.

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This is a strange and rather unexpected English movie that goes to a place that you just don’t expect it to by turning the seemingly quiet and sometimes rather boring countryside on its head.  Competently directed by Ben Wheatley (Down Terrace, Kill List), this is sweet, horrific and enjoyable all at the same time and that’s not an easy feat to pull off in my mind.  This movie will have you laughing and grimacing within seconds of each other and if you are a fan of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg movies, this will definitely appeal to you.

As all good movies teach us, it is often not the subject matter itself but the relationship between those involved that pulls us in and keeps us throughout the journey, Sightseers showcases two delightful actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram who play the central characters of Tina and Chris.  Both at times are sweet and endearing and you can’t help but like them and their ever stranger behavior as the movie progresses.  The chemistry between the two is a joy to watch and it feels like the characters have been fully developed and realized

Anyone who is English or an Englishphile will really enjoy this movie and even if you are not, you will enjoy the great 80s score (even though it’s not set in that time).   A modern day English country side Bonny and Clyde Horror love story (well sort of)

http://blog.sightseersmovie.com/

Sightseers opens on  Friday, May 10, 2013 at Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema in New York and at Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West L.A.  Check local Listing for screen times in other cities

 

 **OFFICIAL SELECTION – Directors’ Fortnight: CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2012**

**OFFICIAL SELECTION: SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2013**

**OFFICIAL SELECTION: TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2012**

** LONDON CRITICS CIRCLE FILM AWARDS 2013 (WON- BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH FILMMAKER) **

 **EVENING STANDARD BRITISH FILM AWARDS 2013 (WON- PETER SELLERS AWARD FOR COMEDY)**

  **BRITISH INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS 2012 (WON- BEST SCREENPLAY)**

  **MAR DEL PLATA FILM FESTIVAL 2012 (WON- BEST SCREENPLAY) **

 **STIGES- CATALONIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2012

 (WON- BEST ACTRESS, BEST SCREENPLAY)**

Downloaded | SXSW 2013

Back in the year 2000, when the rest of the world for worrying about the Y2K bug, we were making the decision to get a broadband connection to enable us faster access to the worldwide web.  A big driver of this decision was a new service we had discovered called Napster which enabled us to share music that we had purchased with our friends.  More importantly it gave us access to a world of music we had never been exposed to.  Imagine my delight then when at this year’s SXSW, the movie Downloaded was playing.   Welcome to one of my favorite films of the SXSW 2013 Film festival.

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Downloaded written and directed by Alex Winter (yes, that Alex Winter of Bill S Preston fame – Bill and Ted) focuses on the advent of digital media sharing, including the rise of game-changing company Napster and controversial pioneers Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker. The digital revolution ultimately created a technology paradigm shift and upended the music industry.   This great documentary has insights from well known music artists and figures within the music industry including: The Beastie Boys’ Mike D, Noel Gallagher, Henry Rollins, former Sony Music Chairman, Don Ienner, former record producer and Island Records founder Chris Blackwell and Hilary Rosen, former CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America.

Alex Winter masterfully documents an account of a time and events that in my mind changed history.  More importantly he has shared the profile of a young Sean Fanning who has previously been portrayed as an anarchist as a thoughtful and rather lonely young boy who just wanted to push and understand the boundaries of the technology of the time.  In addition, we see a very different Sean Parker to the one portrayed in last years hit The Social Network.  What particularly resonated with me through the entire movie was the story of the genius young minds behind Napster and what motivated them and it’s not always what you may think it was.

Watching a group of brilliant young minds come together and create something that not only changed the public perception of what they were willing to pay for and which ultimately brought the music industry as it had been for years to it’s knees but also how these young men defend themselves against corporations is fascinating.  This is a David vs. Goliath story that is definitely worth a watch.

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The biggest treat for me came during the Q and A after the movie when we got to meet Alex, Winter and both the Seans in person.  The interaction between the three and especially the Seans just solidified how brilliantly Winter had captured the essence of these incredibly talented young men.  If you have any interest in music, entrepreneurialism, dot com or milestones in history, this is a must see documentary

 

 

EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN: all about Viggo

My most surreal experience at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival occurred during the screening of EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN.

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Everybody Has A Plan

At one point in this movie, there are two Viggo Mortensens on the screen; he plays twin brothers. And the actual Viggo Mortensen, who was attending the Toronto premiere of the movie, was in the seat directly behind me. There were literally Viggo Mortensens everywhere I looked. Two full-screen Viggos in front of me, and the real-life one behind me. Mortensen is somebody I have long respected as an actor, from his The Indian Runner days in the early nineties, through his remarkable run of David Cronenberg films (A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method) and of course his most visible turn in the Lord of the Rings franchise. Is there such a thing as too much Viggo? Based on that surreal moment at the Toronto screening, I am happy to report, the answer is ‘no’.

EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN (Todos Tenemos Un Plan),  an Argentinian film, takes film noir and carries it through its fullest possibilities.

Mortensen plays the dual roles of Agustin, a well to do Buenos Aires pediatrician who is coming untethered from his wife, and Pedro, the far less fortunate twin brother living in the impoverished water-logged islands of El Tigre delta who has his hands dirty with involvement with the local crime leader. The swampy islands in the movie bear a striking resemblance to the setting of the recent Beasts Of The Southern Wild.

Throw into this story Pedro’s younger lover, hard-scrabble criminals who will stop at nothing to recover lost money, switched identities, and bee-keeping as a metaphor for the perils of getting too close to something dangerous – and you have a viscous, steaming brew of film noir set in South America. To reveal too much more about the plot is to take away from its pleasures. Suffice it to say that after one brother is forced to take on the identity of the other, he momentously fails to appreciate the nightmare he is walking into. The film has a brooding slow burn that makes the sporadic, sudden bursts of brutal violence that much more effective when they occur. Rigidly realistic with the look of the region where the story is set, the cinematography of the scenes in the El Tigre islands in particular are effective; the film has a very definite sense of geography. There is also a studied realism to the emotional connections between the main characters – who are complex, irrational and damaged, and all the more believable because of that; this film is miles away from the traditional movie experience. All of which is surprising considering that this is only the first film from the young director Ana Piterbarg.

Mortensen has to do much of the heavy-lifting here, being in practically every scene, and in this Spanish-language movie he demonstrates that he is just as compelling an actor in any language. Just like in the film, during the Q and A session after the screening, Mortensen performed double-duty. While on stage he translated audience questions into Spanish for his director. And then translated what she had to say back into English for the audience. Lets see some other actors who claim versatility match that.

Using the familiar premise of mixed-identity as only the springboard to tell a complex, violent, obsessive crime story, this film will particularly resonate for those seeking respite from the bland Hollywood fare. EVERYBODY HAS A PLAN opens in New York City and Los Angeles this Friday, March 22, 2013 with wider national release in the following weeks.

Much Ado About Nothing | SXSW 2013

Is it already time for yet another rendition of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing I hear you ask?  Well, when that version is a slick and stylish black and white contemporary one directed by Joss Whedon (yes, the same JW who just directed last year’s blockbuster The Avengers), one should take note and take note we did on day 2 of SXSW 2013. The lines were long for this one and despite the fact that there was a torrential downpour in Austin; we waited patiently in a line that wrapped multiple times outside the building and around a long corner.

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I wasn’t disappointed by this exquisitely directed light and frothy, bubbly and joyful movie, which at its core remains a romantic comedy that explores barriers that stand in the way of love.  Shot in 12 days at Whedon’s own house that was designed by his architect wife and co producer Kai Cole, (whilst he should have been on vacation with his family following the wrap of Avengers), I was drawn into the modern day world where Beatrice and Benedick hate, question and then fall in love with each other.

William Shakespeare’s words from yonder year come alive quickly and although I think one could be easily distracted by Ye Olde English and some may even find the juxtaposition between non-relevant language (anachronisms to the hilt) a little jarring and non believable, once you allow yourself to be immersed into the story and the great acting by a terrific cast, you will quickly see that this latest edition of Much Ado is a testament to the fact that the human condition stays the same even though time and technology move on.

My only criticism of the movie (and I had to dig deep for this mind you) is that at times, some scenes (especially those at the “Police station”) came across a little too much like an SNL skit and at times the movie felt a little precious and over stylized.

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Much ado About Nothing Panel at SXSW2013

Following the movie, we were treated to a Q and A with a panel of 13 of the cast members and Mr. Whedon himself.  As you can imagine, most of the audience were die hard Whedonites who asked questions about how the movie was cast and shot and how much they love his work and so on, but it was most touching when a young lady stood up and nervously stated that she had promised herself that if she ever got to talk to the man himself, she would tell him how thankful she was for all his work through the years and how much watching his movies through some hard times had helped and inspired her personally.  She really tried to hold it together but was extremely emotional and remarkably, even though I rolled my eyes to start with, I along with most of the room felt a little lump in my throat as she sat down having shared a very heartfelt and very personal outpouring; aahh, the power of film.  Yes, Joss Whedon, I too am thankful that a new generation of moviegoers will get to experience Shakespeare albeit in a non-conventional way and even if one of them is inspired to pick up an original version of this wonderful play, that would be an achievement.  PS I loved the women’s wardrobe so if you are reading this Joss, please let me know where it came from.

Much Ado About Nothing stars the talented Amy Acker and the very charming Alex Denisof in the lead roles with a superb supporting cast.  Release is planned for June 2013

Visit the official movie site  to watch the trailer

 

Greedy Lying Bastards | Review

I am sure that there is nothing more frightening than looking outside your car window and watching a fire coming towards you.  When that fire is engulfing yours and your neighbor’s homes as it does so is a nightmare that I cannot even begin to fathom.

The movie Greedy Lying Bastards sets out to inform us that climate change is no longer a prediction for the future, but a startling reality of today by citing examples such as wildfires in the west, Hurricane Sandy, “Brown-Outs” in the east and farmers losing crops to the worst drought since the Dust Bowl.  By effectively showing us a very human face of such tragedies and the incredible loss that these families have had to face, the movie challenges us to no longer ignore what is happening to our environment.

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We are told that even the U.S. Pentagon believes it to be a matter of national and international security. Yet, as the evidence of our changing climate mounts and the scientific consensus proves a human causation, there continues to be no political action to thwart the warming of our planet.

“Greedy Lying Bastards” investigates the reason behind stalled efforts to tackle climate change despite consensus in the scientific community that it is not only a reality but also a growing problem that is placing us on the brink of disaster. The film details the people and organizations casting doubt on climate science. Filmmaker and political activist Craig Rosebraugh, in association with Executive Producer Daryl Hannah, documents the impact of an industry that has continually put profits before people, waged a campaign of lies designed to thwart measures to combat climate change, used its clout to minimize infringing regulations and undermined the political process in the U.S. and abroad.

Some of the arguments made in the movie are effective and compelling; indeed, when we are presented with graphics and archival footage that show the millions that are spent each year by oil and related interests to fund the think tanks, groups, scientists and politicians waging what the film deems a campaign of deceit regarding the science of climate change and its dire impact on the planet, it will make you question how these conglomerates get away with it all and may even make you feel like you may want to do something about it; I certainly felt emotion and a call to action by the filmmakers.

In my opinion however, the movie fell short of great for the following reasons: firstly it was a little one sided apportioning most of the blame at one or two doorsteps i.e. not ours.  The movie seemed a little blinkered when it came to how obsessed the man on the street has become with consumerism and how much our desire to accumulate as much as we can materially may be contributing to the overall problem and hence the need for fossil fuels in the first place.  Secondly, although it legitimately draws parallels between the tobacco and energy industries in their denials of issues squarely aimed at them, it felt like it meandered off at times making the movie feel a little unfocused.  Lastly, it felt a tad dull overall.

In summary, this is an admirable endeavor with an important message which we need to take note of.  Unfortunately the fact that the movie proposed no solutions (other than for us to wage war on Corporations especially those in the energy sector) left me feeling a little unsatiated.  Better pacing and attention to some potential solutions may have made this a little more entertaining and less like a public service message

GREEDY LYING BASTARDS opens nationwide on March 8th.  Check local listings for show times

A Place at The Table | Review

A good documentary should both educate and entertain and Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush fulfill both of these criteria in their newest movie A Place at The Table.

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If Participant Media’s exceptional 2008 documentary Food Inc. asked us to take a closer look at where our food comes from then their new documentary A Place at the Table, takes a look at the issues that face an estimated 50 million men, women, and children — described by policy makers and advocates as “food insecure.”  Hunger is not just a third world problem. One in four children in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  This issue is examined through the lens of three people struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her kids; Rosie, a fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford. In addition, we have the benefits of insights from sociologist Janet Poppendieck, author Raj Patel and nutrition policy leader Marion Nestle and activists such as Witness to Hunger’s Mariana Chilton, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio and Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges.

This documentary manages to infuriate the viewer at the lack of action being taken and ask the larger question about how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation.  More importantly it makes one wonder how this can be happening in 2013 in a first world country.  Although not a highly political movie, this does make you question politics and the use of hungry people as pawns in a complicated chess game.

The movie is well constructed and well paced and manages to stay focused on the hunger issue versus opening up the larger can of worms around why poverty even exists in this century in the US.  Any movie that can succeed at making a crowd want to take action is one worth watching and I certainly felt roused enough to at least check out the website and find out more at www.takepart.com/place-at-the-table

 

A Place at the Table opens in theaters 1st March 2013.  Check local listings for showtimes

Revisiting John Hughes; the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival

Hello everyone, Yazdi here. If you are based in Canada, and specifically a Toronto denizen, you are in for a treat.

Starting this Friday, February 15th, the good people at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) have organized the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival. And the theme for the fest is young movie lovers. It includes an enviably well curated selection of movies about the young in cinema.  The full schedule for the films can be found at http://tiff.net/nextwave. All films will be playing February 15-17th at the festival flagship venue, the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

In addition to the film screenings, there is even a 24-hour film. According to the website, “TIFF Next Wave challenges teams of high-school-aged youth to make an original short film in just 24 hours, from 6pm on Thursday, February 14 to 6pm on Friday, February 15, just in time for Battle of the Scores. All films that meet the competition criteria will be screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox on the closing day of the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival, Sunday, February 17.” 

No festival of films about the young can be complete without screenings from the John Hughes pantheon. And the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival has one-upped the stakes by a full on John Hughes Film Marathon as part of the fest. Even better, high school students can attend the Hughes marathon free! It does not get better than this.

One of the films I viewed at the 2012 TIFF was the Spanish language movie Promocion Fantasma (Ghost Graduation).  A half-hour into the movie, I stopped analyzing the film and surrendered to its silly, giddy charms. Clearly an homage to the John Hughes films from the 80s, Ghost Graduation is one of the featured films at TIFF Next Wave Film Festival and worth exploring.Here is what I wrote about Ghost Graduation in my 2012 TIFF write-up:
“If your list of comfort-food movies invariably includes films from the eighties, you will be sure to love Ghost Graduation (Promocion Fantasma). This is a light-hearted piffle of a film that only exists to get as many laughs as possible as it (re)visits the John Hughes universe. The director of this Spanish-language film, Javier Ruiz Caldera, mentioned in the Q and A after the film that the plot emerged from the premise of what might have happened if the characters from The Breakfast Club never got out of detention but died and were stuck as ghosts in their high school for the next twenty years. In this film, a school teacher who can see the dead has to help these ghosts resolve unfinished business so they can move on and stop haunting the school. The reason why Joss Whedon was the apt choice to make The Avengers is because he is a geek about the universe of these comic books and he gets these characters. A filmmaker who taps into his own outsized love for a particular story or genre will always do a better job than another who does not have that love, no matter how technically accomplished the latter may be. Well, here is a filmmaker who gets those seminal films from the eighties and he nails that sensibility in his own directorial debut. At the TIFF screening, he got a long round of applause at the end of the film. Sometimes all you need to do is make a film about something you love, and the rest takes care of itself. Incidentally, I wonder if John Hughes will be someone whose cache will continue to grow in the coming decades. He is not typically invoked during mention of the cinema greats. We will find out, but I suspect time will be kind to the legacy of John Hughes films”.

I am glad to see that the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival is already doing its part to keep the Hughes legacy relevant to a new generation of film lovers.