Still time to VIFF and get avay from it all

Movies:  #VIFF18

The Vancouver International Film Festival enters final stretch with enough twists and turns to recalibrate your personal GPS

The Vancouver International Film Festival

September 27 – October 12

Capsule Reviews:

Ala Changso

The Frontrunner

The Price of Everything


Tickets through

By Katherine Monk

VANCOUVER — Believe it or not, there is a world outside cable news and court fools. And it’s big, so if you need a reminder that things look different when you’re standing in another place, or another’s shoes, there’s still time to catch some alternate points of view at the Vancouver International Film Festival. From the heights of the Himalayas to the depths of, yes, American politics, these movies will give you perspective on our collective expression, and possibly, recalibrate your personal GPS.

Ala Changso – Pilgrimages have never been hotter! So lace up your walking boots and get woke! Actually, this seems like a bad way to introduce you to Ala Changso — a rare piece from Tibetan filmmaker Sonthar Gyal that fuses human grit and the spiritually sublime — but it does have a sense of humour. Taking us on a journey that goes beyond the millions of steps taken by our central character, Gyal showcases the compulsion that keeps us walking down the road in search of meaning. Drolma (Nyima Sungsung) is a simple farmer caring for her husband when she learns she is critically ill. She tells her husband (Yungdrung Gyal) that she’s always wanted to make the pilgrimage to Lhasa, and now’s her chance. She doesn’t tell him she’s sick, so she heads off — taking three steps, and then lying face-first on the ground in prayer, then taking another three steps, and prostrating again. On and on. For over a year. Watching someone repeat the exhausting tribute is mesmerizing, but the story plants itself in different places along the way — in duty, in romantic love, in family. The visuals often feel as unrelenting as the journey itself. Barren tundra, driving cold and a persistent sense of discomfort cover the frame in an emotional frost. At times, you wonder if the movie is simply numb. Then it starts to thaw, and you feel the burn. It’s not the easiest journey, but there’s so much muted beauty along the way, it’s hard to say it wasn’t worth it.

Ala Changso

A Boy and his Donkey: A Tibetan family makes a spiritual trek to Lhasa in Ala Changso.

The Frontrunner – He was a graduate of Yale Law and a political darling until allegations of sexual impropriety threatened to bring him down. His defence was to go after the press and blame partisan politics. No. Not that guy. Gary Hart was forced to drop out of the 1988 Presidential campaign when rumours of an extra-marital affair hit the pages of The Miami Herald and The New York Times, igniting a successive series of colourful explosions that turned politics into a fireworks display of anger and accusation. So if you’re wondering where the sober Republic turned into all-American spectacle, check out Jason Reitman’s The Frontrunner, a somewhat surgical dissection of Gary Hart’s downfall, and a gentle probe into the modern media’s frontal lobe. Hugh Jackman stars as the middle-aged candidate, said to possess Robert Redford’s good looks as well as his friendship. It’s a good casting call. Jackman is actually better-looking, but he finds the uglier side of Hart’s character by inhabiting his sense of entitlement. Everything about the way he moves, speaks and campaigns betrays an underlying belief in his own superiority. As a result, he’s not the most sympathetic of heroes. His foes, the media, don’t emerge much better. Confused about the direction of their own profession in the wake of tabloid TV, journalists begin a debate about newsworthiness and sensationalism, but no one is willing to draw a line. Even Reitman isn’t willing to make any grand statements about honour and patriotism, truth and judgment, politics and humanity. This movie seems to have no agenda other than conveying a particular moment in history in all its complexities and frustrating character flaws. And if there’s any hero at all, it’s Vera Farmiga and the rest of the female cast, who turn in beautifully nuanced moments of shame and courage in the shadows.

Gary Hart Hugh Jackman Frontrunner movie

The Frontrunner: Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, the man who set off the firecracker that would turn U.S. politics into American spectacle.

The Price of Everything – Once you see this movie, you will never look at a piece of art the same way again. Not Nathanial Kahn’s documentary tells you anything you didn’t already know about the world of auction houses and collectors, but it makes it impossible to overcome. The art world isn’t about art at all, it’s about money and the commodification — some might say corruption — of the creative endeavour. Taking us behind the scenes at one of the big New York houses before an important collection goes on the block, Kahn introduces us to the process of turning a few hundred dollars worth of pigment and canvas into millions and millions of dollars. Essentially, it works a lot like the stock market, where it’s all about evaluations, buy-sell margins and the big abstracts called talent and reputation. Kahn features a lot of footage with big name artists such as Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter, and it’s hard to watch them without feeling a little let down. Koons talks like a novelty item salesman as he walks us through his atelier, humming with apprentices creating work he will ultimately sign. Richter may show more modesty, but it’s hard to tell if it’s sincere. Larry Poons is the one who brings it all into perspective — a forgotten hero of the pop revolution, Poons now lives a subsistence lifestyle upstate. Kahn asks why his colleagues’ fame increased while his vaporized, and the artist answers he wanted to paint something different. He didn’t want to paint his signature dots. So he stopped. And so did his arc of success. Kahn lets his characters do all the talking, but you can feel his gentle edge cutting through the crap — exposing the tragic financial reality of “fine art,” where it’s not easy to sell, but you can always sell-out.

Price Everything Art Auctions Jeff Koons

Selling the sizzle: Jeff Koons explains how his reproductions of old masters are made new by a reflecting ball in the canvas.

Kingsway – Vancouver’s bisecting diagonal avenue sets the sideways tone of Bruce Sweeney’s latest feature. A family drama focused on a troubled marriage between Matt (Jeff Gladstone) and Lori (Colleen Rennison), Kingsway opens outside the 2400 Motel — the last of the sprawling horizontal lodgings in a city that continues to move vertically, stacking inhabitants on top of each other in increasingly confined spaces. After a therapy session where he’s convinced his analyst he no longer requires help, Matt spots Lori’s motorbike parked outside one of the small, self-contained rental units. His neurosis blooms once more, convinced she may be having an affair. Unsure of what to do, he does nothing — which prompts his pragmatic, mechanic sister Jess (Camille Sullivan) to ratchet up the tension and push for a confrontation. The rest of the film zigzags through different ideas and comic set-ups as the characters try to find their way through the ambient dysfunction and doubt, and like the street that gives the film its title, it’s easy to get lost along the way. Then again, wandering around in the fenced yards of family life is where Sweeney seems most comfortable. He digs up believable bones of contention and distrust, and lets his cast gnaw on emotion. It can get messy, and sometimes, you just crave a straight line to take you where you want to go without the surprise dead-ends. But this is Kingsway — a shortcut to somewhere or a long drive to nowhere. It all depends on point of view, and how willing you are to go for the sideways ride.

Kingway Sweeney

Confrontation on Kingsway: Bruce Sweeney’s ode to an odd Vancouver artery moves sideways like the street.

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THE EX-PRESS, October 9, 2018


2 Replies to "Still time to VIFF and get avay from it all"

  • marc henderson October 11, 2018 (9:16 am)

    The Frontrunner co-stars Vera Farmiga, not Vera Farming.

    • EX-PRESS EDITOR October 12, 2018 (12:37 pm)

      Autocorrect. Sigh. Thanks!

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