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TIFF Reviews: La La Land, Birth of the Dragon, Jackie & Arrival

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La La Land

A pianist with ambitions of opening a jazz club and an aspiring actress fall in love while their hopes and dreams flounder.

Mia goes from one casting call to another only to be brushed aside within seconds of performing for the part.  Likewise Sebastian is struggling to deal with a world where traditional jazz is seen as being antiquated and ends up taking jobs that demean his talents as a musician.  The two lost souls find solace in each other and perhaps enough encouragement to make their dreams a reality.  The opening highway traffic jam sets the tone for La La Land where drivers and passengers burst out into a spectacular song and dance routine.  Lighting plays a big role in seamlessly transitioning in and out of musical numbers.  The best one involves a wayward hat which is eventually returned to its owner.  Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling seem to be having a blast while the filmmaker Damien Chazelle and his production team convey a ‘we’re all in and then some’ attitude.

4.5-out-of-5

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Bruce Lee is the preeminent martial artist in San Francisco until the mysterious arrival of the legendary Wong Jack Man.

A drunken Steve McKee gets recruited by a young Bruce Lee to become a martial arts student which enables him to find some purpose in his life.  Upon hearing that Wong Jack Man will be arriving in San Francisco, McKee finds himself torn between two masters and the desire to rescue the girl he loves from a powerful Chinese drug dealer.  Birth of the Dragon is loosely based on a real incident where there was a showdown between Bruce Lee and Wong Jack Man.  At first the idea of having a white protagonist in the form of Billy Magnussen appears to be a cliché but it does serve as an effective way of introducing the world to the viewer as well as establishing a plausible explanation for the conclusion.   Philip Wan-Lung Ng embodies a cocky Bruce Lee and Xia Yu convincingly portrays the humble foil Wong Jack Man.  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could take some lessons from this guilty pleasure.

3.5-out-of-5

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Jackie Kennedy recounts the events that occurred before, during and after the assassination of American President John F. Kennedy Jr. to a journalist.

Serving as the narrative framework for the movie is the actual Life magazine interview by Theodore H. White with Jackie Kennedy at Hyannis Port a week after the assassination of her husband.  Another significant recreation in Jackie is the television special where the First Lady provides a guided tour of the White House for the American people.  Close-up shots are numerous and the camera follows the protagonist wherever she goes creating an intimate and at times disorienting perspective, especially during the assassination scene.  Not all is dark.  Billy Crudup and Natalie Portman have some witty banter about what can be quoted from the interview which contributes humour to what could have been an entirely sombre affair.  Odds are that Portman will be competing for another Oscar.

4-out-of-5

ARRIVAL

An emotionally scarred Academic linguist has to determine the motivation for an alien presence.

A mother experiences all of the joys and grief that result from watching her only child grow and die from a rare form of the cancer.  These moments appear in flashes throughout Arrival with the other storyline focusing on the arrival of alien spacecrafts situation in different countries around the world.  The previous seen mother is an acclaimed linguist who is hired by the American military to establish and decipher communication with galactic species to determine whether they come in peace or as conquerors.   It is about time that Amy Adams was rewarded with an Oscar as she always has a powerful emotional presence in a subtle not showy manner.  Thankfully filmmaker Denis Villeneuve avoids aliens simply destroying the world for the zillionth time and concentrates on the psychological drama where the biggest threat comes from within.

4-out-of-5

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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