September Recap, Part 2: TIFF 2016

stubs

Earlier this summer, I was planning on skipping TIFF altogether because my sister was expecting around the same time, and I knew it was just going to be a really crazy time. And then they started rolling out film announcements. The first wave they announced was already full of films I really wanted to see and just couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see them early. So I made the conscious decision to still go to TIFF, but not in the same way that I’ve been doing it the past few years. What I normally did was buy the TIFF Choice Premium Package, which had the TIFF programmers pick 3 premiere movies for me to attend. Sometimes I’d get lucky and got a movie I actually wanted to see; most times I’d get movies that weren’t necessarily high on my list, and sometimes they were at really odd times. Anyways, so instead of going that route, I opted to buy the 10-pack Flex Package, which meant forgoing the Premieres for tickets to regular screenings. The upside to the Flex Pack was getting to choose my films before the single tickets went on sale, which was a blessing because the new system TIFF implemented to get tickets was really confusing.

So between my Flex Package, my friend handling single ticket sales, and checking the websites for additional tickets at 7 AM, I ended up getting tickets to 11 movies. That’s right. ELEVEN. In all my years of going to TIFF, this was a record for me, especially considering my time/travel constraints. But that’s what happened and I don’t regret it at all, because I got to see some really good movies.

Colossal was a weird movie. Good, but weird. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, the movie stars Anne Hathaway as a woman who moves back to her hometown to get her life back together, and suddenly figures out she somehow controls a monster in Japan. Like I said, weird. Yet somehow it works.

For the second screening of COLOSSAL, there was no appearance from stars Anne Hathaway or Jason Sudeikis. But we got writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and supporting actor Austin Stowell.

For the second screening of COLOSSAL, there was no appearance from stars Anne Hathaway or Jason Sudeikis. But we got writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and supporting actor Austin Stowell.

ARQ is a sci-fi movie, that’s just totally right up my alley. Even though I knew it was going to be on Netflix, literally the week after I saw the movie, I still wanted to see it on the big screen. Also I was really hoping to see Robbie Amell again, despite the fact that it was a second screening; lucky for me, he was there! The movie was written and directed by Tony Elliott, who is also a writer on Orphan Black, which is a plus right there. Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor star as a couple who find themselves in a time loop. That’s the very simplified version of it, but it really is such a well-crafted script that puts a nice twist to the already complex idea of a time loop. Definitely one of my favourites from the fest. Like I said, already on Netflix, check it out!

ARQ writer/director Tony Elliott, and of course, star Robbie Amell

ARQ writer/director Tony Elliott, and of course, star Robbie Amell

Moonlight is such an understated but powerful movie, chronicling the life of a man at three points in his life: as a kid, a teenager, and an adult. The movie deals with what it means to be a gay African-American male in Miami, struggling with definitions of masculinity and identity. It was just so well done, on so many levels. This is the type of movie that needs to be seen and talked about. A bit heavy for a 9 AM screening (as I had done) but completely worth it. I fully expect Oscar nods for writer/director Barry Jenkins, and some of the cast. With the main character being played by three different actors, categorization gets a little complicated, but Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris need to be nominated in Supporting. The movie is slowly getting released in theatres, so go watch it when you have a chance!

I was truly not expecting to see the cast during this second screening and at 9 A.M! But it was certainly a welcome surprise. L-R: Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, writer/director Barry Jenkins

I was truly not expecting to see the cast during this second screening and at 9 A.M! But it was certainly a welcome surprise.
L-R: Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, writer/director Barry Jenkins

Queen of Katwe (which is already out in theatres) centers around the true life story of a Ugandan chess prodigy named Phiona. I honestly don’t understand chess. The movie though is truly inspiring, with great performances from newcomer Madina Nalwanga, who certainly holds her own opposite Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. Not gonna lie, I teared up towards the end.

I honest to goodness was going to wait until SING! came out in theatres (around Christmas time), so I could take my nieces to go see it. But when you find out the all-star voice cast of the movie, including the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson, are going to be in town to attend the premiere, you go! And that’s exactly what happened! The movie itself, which is about a theatre owner putting together a singing competition to help revive his theatre, was pretty darn adorable. Bonus was getting a short set from Tori Kelly and Jennifer Hudson after the screening, performing a few songs from the movie.

SING! Premiere! L-R: Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey

SING! Premiere! Look at all those beautiful people!
L-R: Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey

OH. MY. GOD. LA LA LAND! I heard the hype and praise. I obviously wanted to see it because Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a musical was enough to sell me on it. I was bummed when the premiere and subsequent screenings were during the week. But then, TIFF did me a solid and added more screenings, one of which was on a Saturday, meaning I immediately swapped one of my other movies for it. And man, it was just SOOOOO GOOOOOOOD!!! I left the screening singing “City of Stars” and just the biggest smile on my face, despite the rain that day. I can’t wait until December to go see it again, not to mention get my hands on that soundtrack!

Another film based on a true story, Brain on Fire centers on Susannah Cahalan, a New York Post journalist who suffered through a month of various health issues that went misdiagnosed by various doctors, before she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. It’s certainly a challenging feat to not only do right by Cahalan’s real life story, but also present the medical side of things without making it seem like an episode of House. Director Gerard Barrett struck the right balance in adapting Cahalan’s book, and Chloe Grace Moretz, who played Cahalan, found herself in one of her best roles to date. It was informative and eye-opening, but also a bit scary to think of the struggles that Cahalan and her family went through in that time period.

I had been waiting so anxiously to see Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, the concert documentary from renowned director Jonathan Demme, shot during the last two dates of The 20/20 Experience Tour in Las Vegas. When they had initially filmed, I just thought it was going to be released on DVD just like other concert movies. When they announced it as screening at TIFF, I was surprised but then figured it was probably more documentary than concert. When I saw it, I realized it was pretty much the concert I had seen in person, minus one hour, and it was still WONDERFUL! Of course, what the film really showcased was not just JT, but also all the dancers, band members, back-up singers (aka The Tennessee Kids), and even the crew members who worked so hard to literally put the show together. And watching it again on the big screen, with the surround sound? It felt like I was there again, and all I wanted to do was get up, dance and sing along.

Burn Your Maps centers on an 8-year-old boy named Wes (played by the ever adorable Jacob Tremblay), who is convinced that he was born in the wrong place and is supposed to be a Mongolian goat-herder. His tenacity and beliefs pushes him and his mother (played by Vera Farmiga) to go on a journey to Mongolia and find themselves. It’s a unique story to say the least, and I certainly found myself enjoying the film quite a bit.

Blue Jay turned out to be a movie that was both something I normally wouldn’t have chosen to go see in theatres, but also something that I have been drawn to lately. It stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass as ex-high school sweethearts, who run into each other when they return to their old hometown. The movie plays out with them reconnecting, with a sense of nostalgia. Shown in black and white, it gives off a feeling of an old home movie and you’re not sure what’s going to happen with these two (while you also wonder when they’ll reveal why they broke up 20 years ago). It felt almost too personal, like you’re intruding on this reunion, but even if you haven’t gone through it yourself, it made you connect with them.

My last movie of the festival was Arrival. I love Amy Adams, like Jeremy Renner, and have become quite the fan of Denis Villeneuve’s work that I really wanted to see this before it gets released in November. Adams plays Louise, a linguist, who along with Renner’s scientist Ian, is tasked with helping the army to communicate with a group of creatures that have appeared in spacecrafts in 12 places around the world. I don’t want to even attempt to explain more, in fear that I might spoil it. Trust me though, it’s a smart sci-fi drama, and definitely worth your time.

So all in all, it was yet another great year at TIFF. Was I a little bummed that I didn’t get to do my premiere screenings like I normally do? A little bit. But honestly, it became a nice reminder of why I liked going to TIFF – the movies…and of course, getting to be among the some of the first people to see a movie. The movies are what it’s all about though.

Music Monday: New Music, Old Faves

It suddenly dawned on me on Friday that a number of my favourite artists are releasing (or will be releasing) some new music, in some way, shape or form, and I just had to share my happiness and enthusiasm over the fact.

kellyclarksonlive.com

First, the artist who spurned my realization: Kelly Clarkson. Throughout last week, Kelly went live on Facebook everyday to sing songs that would serve as hints to an announcement that came on Friday. The news? She’s switching labels, from RCA to Atlantic Records. The product of the label change will be a soul album that Kelly will work on this year, for release in 2017. But on top of that, she has also decided to release some free content on kellyclarksonlive.com, on the last Friday of every month. Said content may include anything from videos to downloads of fan request songs on tour. For instance, on Friday, she released her live covers of “Creep” (Radiohead), “Fix You” (Coldplay), “I’d Rather Go Blind” (Etta James), and “Ready for Love” (India Arie). So the promise of new music, with guaranteed covers every month – I’ll take it!

Another artist who announced a new album is forthcoming, Australian singer-songwriter Delta Goodrem! Early last week, Delta announced a tour (only in Australia, of course), which led many to believe a new album was coming as well. A few days later, Delta confirmed that an album was on its way, but way sooner than most expected; Wings of the Wild is coming out July 1st! Now if only I could find a way to get my hands on the physical CD here in Canada…

Though not a new album of original songs, Kyle Riabko, along with the London cast of Close to You: Bacharach Reimagined released the cast recording of the show (digitally; physical CDs come out July 1st). I’ve been such a fan of Kyle’s for so long and it’s been a very long time since he has released any new music. Of course, he’s been busy working on this musical for about 3+ years, so it’s understandable. This cast recording is the closest thing to new music we’ve gotten in years (not including the Grammy Song of the Year covers he did last year on his website), so I’m going to take what I can get.

Last but not least, Justin Timberlake! So it’s been almost two weeks since JT released “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” but what can I say? I’m obsessed with the song and I can’t get enough of it! And outside of the Trolls soundtrack coming out later this year, I’m hopeful we’re getting a proper album from JT in 2017. Sure, I’m still listening to his previous four albums constantly, but I still want new music! So in the meantime, I’m gonna go listen to “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” again and again.

Unfortunately, nothing new from Britney Spears. Ditto Maroon 5, though they did just celebrate 14 years of Songs About Jane on Saturday, so that’s something? (Not really. I’m waiting for new music from them too.)

Music Monday: Rediscovering Songs

It’s not really news that I grew up listening and watching Vietnamese music, that’s just how it was in our house. Vietnamese music has been the one thing that still makes me feel connected to my roots, culture, heritage, despite being born in Canada. My love of pop music stemmed  from my love of Vietnamese pop, which is not to say that I don’t like some of the more adult contemporary stuff, it’s just that I didn’t have much of an appreciation for it until later in life. One of the things that I did always love growing up were the French songs that got translated into Vietnamese. There were songs in other languages that got translated into Vietnamese, but French songs, especially the older ones, just have a really special quality to them.

So listening to these Vietnamese/French songs growing up and pretty much knowing those songs just as that, embedded in my brain since I was a kid, has amusingly led to a kind of music rediscovery nowadays. Much like watching an old movie or TV show and recognizing a now-famous actor, I’ve stumbled upon a few songs in English that I once only knew in Vietnamese or French (or both).

Megan Hilty recently released a new album called Live at the Cafe Carlyle. On it, Hilty performs a collection of standards, Broadway tunes, songs from Smash, and such. One particular song caught me by surprise when I heard it, and that was “Autumn Leaves.” As soon as Megan sang the first couple of words, I instantly recognized it as a Vietnamese song called “La Thu Vang” Honestly, I knew that song was a translated French song, but all my life, I have only ever heard it in Vietnamese and famously sung by Khanh Ha. It felt so different and weird hearing it in English, but I also became instanly obsessed with it, mainly due to the fact that it’s Megan, though it really is just such a beautiful song.

A couple of years ago, there was a movie that came out called Inside Llewyn Davis, starring Oscar Isaac. The movie itself was just okay for me, but I instantly fell in love with the soundtrack. The movie and soundtrack featured a song performed by Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Stark Sands called “Five Hundred Miles.” I remember hearing it for the first time and thinking “This sounds really familiar…” and me being me, it annoyed the hell out of me trying to figure out where I had heard it. I knew I had heard Vietnamese singer Thanh Lan sing it before, but it was me digging through my music library until I found it (it gets hard when all the French medleys are labelled as that, just different artists lol). But I found it, and it was just funny because again, all my life I only knew it in French, even though “Five Hundred Miles” is the original song that spurred multiple translations, including the French version entitled “Et j’entends siffler le train”

Music Monday: Absolute Favourites

If you’ve read the blog or have known me long enough, you probably have a good idea at who my most favourite music artists are – Justin Timberlake, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, Britney Spears, Kyle Riabko, and Delta Goodrem. I could go into detail about why I love them so much, but the simple and vague answer is that, there’s just something about who they are and their music that I connect with. There are also a bunch of other artists whom I am a big fan of and really love – Sara Bareilles, Matt Nathanson, Gavin DeGraw, Christina Aguilera, Kris Allen, The Script, Tyler Hilton, James Morrison, Michelle Branch – though not quite at the same level as the other six. That’s not to mention my love of Vietnamese music as well. For this week’s Music Monday, I share with you my favourite songs from my favourite artists (limited to 3 songs each), plus some additional songs I absolutely love (not including any Vietnamese songs in this playlist though, that’ll be for another day/post).

 

Album Releases: Standard vs. Deluxe Editions

Album Covers

I don’t know about you but when new albums are released, I more often than not end up getting the deluxe edition of an album. I’m not talking about a re-release deluxe edition; I mean, album gets released and there are two versions available on that day. If it is an artist or band I love, it is an obvious decision for me, but I would still heavily consider it for a regular artist as well. Why? Because for a couple of dollar difference, you get more music! Who doesn’t want that? This music fan absolutely does! I feel like it’s gone are the days where the bonus tracks are just remixes of the songs on the album (though one or two still crop up in the mix from time to time); you legitimately get brand new songs that for some reason didn’t quite make the cut in the standard CD release. But lately, I’ve found that there are a lot of gems in these bonus tracks on the deluxe releases.

Take for instance, Kelly Clarkson’s latest album Piece by Piece. It’s her most pop album yet, with its electro pop inflections, but Kelly’s voice transcends everything and doesn’t make the songs derivative (in lesser hands or voices, some of the songs might not have worked as well). But one of my favourite songs off the album is a bonus track, only found on the deluxe edition, and that’s “Bad Reputation.” It’s a fun and sassy pop/soul/R&B track that invokes a very retro, yet decidedly modern feel to it. In terms of Kelly’s overall discography, it’s like if was a lost track from the Thankful days and upgraded to fit in with Stronger/Piece by Piece.

Maroon 5, with Hands All Over, Overexposed and V, have included a wonderful cover song in each of the deluxe editions (Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You,” Prince’s “Kiss” and Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy,” respectively). Again, there are some gems in the other bonus tracks. Hands All Over featured “Last Chance” a song that will serve as a precursor to “Maps”; and “No Curtain Call” which shows off a more arena rock edge. Overexposed got the special distinction of including an updated version of “Wasted Years” – a song the band had written and performed live in between Songs About Jane and It Won’t Be Soon Before Long. V, meanwhile, featured what could be the next phase in the M5 trajectory – pop/dance/rock by way of Mark Ronson – in “Shoot Love”.

Both parts of Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience are fully realized, complete albums, but that didn’t stop JT from releasing deluxe versions with additional songs. Three of the bonus tracks – “Dress On,” “Blindness,” and “Electric Lady” – were like throwbacks to 90s R&B, while “Body Count” sounded almost like Justified-era JT.

It has actually been a little funny in regards to album releases, with me being in Canada. When news gets out of releases, I read more from U.S. sources, so my thought processes are quite American-based for such pop culture things, forgetting of course that some things don’t get to Canada in the same way. As luck would have it, that weird difference has sometimes worked in my favour. I believe the deluxe editions of The 20/20 Experience were Target exclusives in the U.S, but here in Canada, that was our standard version. The same goes with the Begin Again soundtrack, wherein the deluxe edition was only available digitally in the U.S., but we got it as our standard.

So anybody like me and prefer buying the deluxe edition of albums? Has it proven to be a worthwhile investment, with songs that are truly gems? Let me know in the comments!