What Richard Did (2012) (8.6/10)

What Richard Did

What Richard Did is a pretty much flawlessly made film. Richard (Jack Reynor) is introduced as a decent, “golden boy” type of young man, with a loving family, a group of friends who willingly submit to his natural leadership, and a lot of integrity. Soon, though, we see that he’s not super-human, as he begins to struggle with feelings of jealousy and subdued rage. This is the setting in which Richard does something, which causes him to either do something else, or do nothing.

Told with a lot of grace and slow-yet-steady pacing, Lenny Abrahamson’s direction of a screenplay by Malcolm Campbell (based on a novel by Kevin Power) is effective and aesthetically beautiful. The cinematography is natural and gentle, he music sparse and effective, and performances authentic and strong. It takes a lot of care to present such a heavy topic in a way that has the ability to impress emotional anguish (from all sides) upon the audience but also leave enough room to breathe and contemplate the moral implications of the situation. Frankly, I’d expect no less for a story that is based on the actual events involving the assault of Brian Murphy in Dublin in 2000, yet so often we see brutal re-enactments of real events being trivialized when transposed onto film.

While most (thankfully) won’t be able to relate specifically to the big thing that Richard does, we can all surely identify with being faced with the decision to either “do the right thing”. We can all understand what it’s like to feel the pressure to be responsible for our actions while at the same time knowing that we could probably get away with whatever it is we did; it is this common characteristic of humanity that makes What Richard Did such a compelling film.

Tom at the Farm (2013) – 6.1/10

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Xavier Dolan‘s films tend to include varying levels of characteristics that I really love, including beautiful photography, melodrama, great costumes, interesting characters, and a focus on relationships. Tom at the Farm incorporated some of these things but I felt like Dolan was trying too hard to make a genre film and lost focus along the way. It’s well-directed and put together, though – maybe this was an experiment in genre for him, and it’s always exciting when filmmakers challenge themselves.

We’re thrust into a story as we watch the titular Tom arriving at a farm house, not sure as to who anybody is or why he’s there. As we’re slowly introduced to the small group of characters, things are slowly revealed – to a certain point. Things happen that are kind of confusing, and other things don’t happen that are even more confusing. I picked up on themes of homophobia, shame, guilt, masochism, ignorance and maybe even incest, and while I kind of love stories involving these themes, there was just not enough substance or cohesion to make me feel anything except confusion and mild annoyance.

One thing I really liked was how the aspect ration changed from time to time. I can only guess as to Dolan’s intentions with this, but for me, it made things seem more tense when the “thriller” moments were in a much wider aspect ration, using less of the screen and making me feel like there was something terrifying just beyond my view.

While I certainly love Dolan’s work – as arguably derivative and self-indulgent as it may be – I was disappointed with this film. Dolan’s performance in the main role, however, was pretty impressive. He’s certainly improving as an actor, and it’s nice to see him do more than pout and throw temper tantrums.

About Time (2013) – 6.8/10

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About Time is a pretty inoffensive film that was pleasant enough to sit through but also really bothered me in some ways. It’s not much more than a romantic dramedy with a time-travel twist/gimmick, with a “live life to its fullest” message that slaps you in the face.

My first beef is that it took a pretty long time to build up into an identifiable, yet predictable, story. The second half ceased to be fully predictable, though, so that was a nice surprise, but at 123 minutes, that’s a fair length before it gets interesting. My second beef is with the off-the-cuff treatment of time travel. There are some incredible opportunities when incorporating time travel into a story, and this one dumbed it down and presented only one “rule” – if you travel back in time after a child is born, you won’t have the same child when you return because you can’t guarantee that the same sperm will fertilize the egg. Really?!? That’s so weird! What about seeing yourself in the past? What about the millions of potential disturbances that you could create by altering simply one thing in your past? What happens to your other self when you travel back?

One part that really pissed me off was, suddenly we find out he can bring others with him, so he brings his sister and changes some major events. She comes back to present time and then just somehow KNOWS how everything is different – who she’s married to, etc. She just KNOWS. So that tells us that when you travel back in time to where you initially left from, your brain somehow is filled with all of the memories and whatnot that your other self experienced from where you had just left. What if, another time, you travel to a time between your most recent point A and point B? Would your current return change in the past? Oh man, I could go on and on, but the only “complication” that this movie addresses has to do with sperm!!

The lead, Domhnall Gleeson, is quite charming. Rachel McAdams is pretty good, too, but the show is absolutely stolen by Bill Nighy. He’s just amazing – his delivery and comedic timing are so much fun to watch.

So, nothing really special about this one. For me, it is a slightly boring, slightly predictable, feel-slightly-good movie that will hopefully pique the interest of those who are a bit shy around science fiction/time travel pieces.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) – 8.5/10

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Saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug tonight in UltraAVX 3D, HFR. I thought An Unexpected Journey was pretty boring and the high frame rate borderline unwatchable and distracting. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect this time, and there’s less need for the introducing of characters, story set-up, etc, but this second instalment of The Hobbit trilogy was way better. I really enjoyed it, and this time felt that the high frame rate really immersed me into Middle Earth. It just added so much depth and detail – for example, I felt like the wilderness was so much bigger, the forest much more intimidating and the Dwarf kingdom under the mountain looked so deep and vast… it just couldn’t have been done without this controversial marrying of native 3D and HFR that Jackson is championing so much.

Peter Jackson is just an incredible director. There aren’t that many filmmakers out there with such a huge audience like he has and I feel like he really knows how to deliver to his wide range of viewers: the mass market, the fantasy/Tolkien enthusiasts, and the more discerning film-lovers. He satisfies all-of-the-above with the combination of groundbreaking technique, simple yet ambitious storytelling and mind-blowing visuals.

I didn’t think I’d like it because Journey didn’t blow me away and I just watched the extended cut and could barely get through it. I know the source material is vastly different in tone to the Rings trilogy but I still feel like Journey missed the mark (and was appalled at the Goblin King’s song in the extended cut – not as bad as, but reminded me of the absolutely brutal song that was inserted into Return of the Jedi). The pacing of this one is much better (compared to the many lulls of Journey) and some of the sequences were tons of fun to watch (mainly the river chase).

As far as the adaptation goes, I need to brush up a bit on my extra-Hobbit Tolkien-lore, but if some of the stuff was really in the writers’ imaginations, they integrated it really well and it didn’t bother me nearly as much as the Elves showing up to Helm’s Deep did. Aside from the pretty amazing 3D and HFR stuff, they’ve really outdone themselves in the SFX department. I was a bit apprehensive about seeing the dragon, but it looked pretty amazing.

I feel like I’m gushing – don’t get me wrong, it’s not the besets movie ever of all time – but I think I’m just really glad that I liked it because I really wanted to, especially after the disappointment of Journey.

Parkland (2013) – 5.2/10

Parkland

Watching Parkland felt like somebody decided to throw a bunch of underdeveloped events into a blender, hire some solid actors and then smear it the result roughly over my face. It wasn’t shot especially well, it didn’t follow any coherent narrative and it offered little out of what I’m sure could have been thoughtful and informative insights surrounding those close to one of the major events of the twentieth century.

This is writer/director Peter Landesman‘s directorial debut and I have no idea how he bagged this cast and marketing push from the studio. Of the two other films he’s produced, I’ve seen one: director Marco Kreuzpaintner‘s Trade, which wasn’t too great, either. I might give him another chance with the upcoming Kill the Messenger because the synopsis looks pretty interesting and the cast is great, but I’m guessing that they all signed on before having to sit through Parkland.

World War Z (2013) – 5.8/10

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Pretty much since the beginning of this adaptation’s development, it’s been bad news. The book is an incredible “history” of the zombie apocalypse, with incredibly detailed accounts from multiple people from different parts of the world; it is part zombie story, part almanac. Pretty much none of the awesomeness of the book made its way into the movie, and it suffered from multiple re-writes and re-shoots. Author Max Brooks says he had nothing at all to do with the film, which is pretty stupid, since the book is really so great.

Brad Pitt spends two thirds of the film trying desperately to find “Patient Zero”, who he believes will provide the answer to how this epidemic began. He spends the final third of the film, however, in a set-piece that has him risking his life on a whimsical idea that, of course, ends up being THE ANSWER. It’s this section, too, where we actually get to see zombies up-close, and unfortunately the payoff was actually hearing the audience snickering rather than any truly frightening images.

There is some cool camerawork, though, and some of the sequences of the zombies attacking are kinda neat, although most of the action happens so quickly that it is difficult to really take it all in. Also, these zombies are crazy fast runners and not the traditional slow-walkers, which lends itself to the film having a very fast-action feel instead of any characters or story elements of substance. It doesn’t even have enough graphic violence to even satisfy that part of what a zombie movie should give you – it’s rated 14A so it’s pretty tame in that sense.

This is another big-budget/big-studio disappointment and I really don’t think there’s any point in seeing it. It’s not epic – it’s just a blurry mess that slows down at the end, just to fizzle out.

Top 10 Films of 2012

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Amour – 9/10

Amour is the starkly told story of an elderly married couple who are facing the harsh realities of sickness and aging. The writing and pacing are pretty much perfect, and the performances are striking. Haneke uses all of his world-class skill and experience in a way that only a master filmmaker can.

The Avengers – 8.8/10

After finally being given the opportunity to share his voice with the masses, Joss Whedon exceeded all hopes with this ridiculously high-profile release. Breathing new life into iconic characters – some of whom were on the verge of becoming exhausting – Whedon wrote and directed a fun, exciting franchise film that also had a lot of class and charisma.

Blackbird – 9/10

As I wrote about in my previous post, Blackbird’s first-time writer/director Jason Buxton and young actor Connor Jessup exhibit tremendous maturity and restraint in this timely and intensely intimate coming-of-age drama.

The Cabin in the Woods – 8.8/10

It’s obvious right from the start that The Cabin in the Woods isn’t your average horror film; while faithfully following familiar conventions, the film becomes a creative and unexpected deconstruction of the genre. It’s funny, gory, and everything else you want a good horror flick to be, and then it climaxes in a brilliant flurry of nightmarish goodness, complete with the most obvious yet fitting cameo in recent memory.

Cloud Atlas – 9.2/10

Also featured in my previous post, Cloud Atlas probably had a place in my top 10 before I even saw it. With more ambition, passion and skill than many filmmakers will ever hope to have, The Wachowskis and Tom Tykver and their amazing cast and crew created an incredible film that defies all conventions of genre and traditional storytelling.

Django Unchained – 8.8/10

To me, it’s obvious that every single second of every single shot in Django Unchained was painstakingly planned out, and who else commands such powerful performance from his actors? Tarantino has found the key to the elusive balance between style and substance, and while I wasn’t an instant fan of his, I believe that Django Unchained earns him a place amongst the Masters.

Holy Motors – 9.5/10

Leos Carax examines, exploits and masters a plethora of film genres, conventions and styles in this film-about-film/art-about-art/creator-and-consumer masterpiece. While making references so slyly obscure and cunningly obvious (and numerous that it must be impossible to identify them all), Holy Motors consists of sequences that are frightening, disgusting, beautiful and bizarre, while remaining consistently riveting. Denis Lavant should win a lifetime achievement award for his work in this film alone.

The Kid With A Bike – 9.3/10

The Dardenne Brothers’ latest is a modern fairy tale and is thoroughly enchanting. Features a captivating debut performance by young Thomas Doret, The Kid With A Bike takes the viewer through a whirlwind of emotions as we see the hurtful beginnings of what could easily become another frustrated, cynical and bitter adolescence, if not for random acts of kindness. The writing and direction are spectacular, and the cinematography is characteristically incidental and deceivingly brilliant.

Life of Pi – 9/10

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is incredibly faithful to Yann Martel’s novel and succeeds as an epic masterpiece. Featuring an incredible performance by newcomer Suraj Sharma and visuals that draw you in rather than distract, Lee reminds us of why he is one of the world’s best: few filmmakers could create such a cohesive work that so deeply and accessibly expresses themes ranging from the innocence of youth, the cruel irony of nature’s vast, vicious beauty, the fine balance between love and loss, and the innate desire to know God.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – 9.3/10

Adapted from his own controversial and ground-breaking coming-of-age novel, Stephen Chobsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the moving story of a young man searching for identity and acceptance in a world that he is, through no fault of his own, constant struggling to understand. Chobsky doesn’t innovate the art of filmmaking, but he uses his actors, the camera, his script and especially music so effectively and with such grace that it’s difficult to believe that this is only his second film (his first being made back in 1995). Logan Lerman’s performance as Charlie exhibits a maturity and understanding that many older actors would do well to study.

TIFF12 – Sun, 9 Sept, 2012: Cloud Atlas, Boy Eating the Bird’s Food, Blackbird

Cloud Atlas – 9.2/10
2012; Germany, USA, Hong Kong, Singapore; based on the novel by David Mitchell; written for the screen by Lana Wachowski & Tom Tykwer & Andy Wachowski; directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.

I have to admit that I’m a bit biased about this one: having first read David Mitchell’s novel back in 2004, and then having heard rumblings, rumours, and finally details about the film adaptation by some great filmmakers, I kind of loved Cloud Atlas before I saw it. That’s not to say that I didn’t attend this screening without reservations or objectivity; Cloud Atlas, while incredibly ambitious, challenging and visually spectacular is also quite flawed and certainly not for everyone. In fact, TIME recently put it at number one on its “10 Worst Movies” (and I heartily agree with FirstShowing.net’s response).

Since first seeing it at TIFF, I’ve seen Cloud Atlas two additional times: once in IMAX, and once with my cousin and another friend, both onto whom I pushed the book. While the degree of my anticipation diminished before these viewings (the almost three-hour runtime is pretty daunting), I found #2 to be the most enjoyable since I knew what to expect and could relax and take in more of the details; I didn’t need to think so much about following the fragmented stories or be distracted by the actors in so many diverse roles. The incredible editing and piecing together of the stories and characters had a much greater effect on me, and I felt like I was able to better connect with it emotionally.

The third time, however, was not quite as enjoyable. I was more aware of the film’s length, bizarre make-up jobs stood out more, and I didn’t feel like I was connecting to its “universal themes”. I’m not sure what my point is – maybe that this is a movie best enjoyed twice, but maybe hold off a bit on your third viewing… which I realize is pretty ridiculous advice since most people don’t see the same three-hour movie in the theatre three times in a relatively short period of time.

Anyway, all-in-all I loved Cloud Atlas and do consider it to be a success. It’s a joy to watch a film that is truly its creators’ labour of love, and there is no question at all that Tykwer and the Wachowskis really poured themselves into this project. Their love of the source material even surprised David Mitchell, who says in this New Yorker story that “they know my book much more intimately than I do.” The three directors each play to their strengths; while Tykwer’s three segments focus on period-based dramatic stories, The Wachowskis incorporate much-needed visual and action-based styles to balance things out. Actors truly embrace their multiple roles, with those by Jim Broadbent, Ben Whishaw and Hugo Weaving being the ones that really stood out to me.

I gave this film a pretty high rating right after I saw it, and I’m going to stick to it. While occasionally flawed and not necessarily accessible to the average movie-goer, they were more than successful in adapting a brilliant novel into an incredibly effective and ambitious film that delivers on so many levels. I can’t wait for the blu-ray to come out so that it can sit on my shelf while I muster up the energy to watch it again.

Click here to see the directors introduce the film at Winter Garden Theatre.

Boy Eating the Bird’s Food – 7.9/10
2012; Greece; written and directed by Ektoras Lygizos.

This film is often included in what some are calling the “Greek Weird Wave” – doc-style filmmaking with strange characters that maybe aren’t so strange… and then: Yup! They’re definitely strange. The main character of this one, John, lives in Athens, and is so affected by the financial situation in Greece that he can’t afford rent or even food – he can afford food for his bird, though, but then eats it himself because he is so hungry (so why didn’t he just buy himself food and eat the bird?). He’s too proud to ask his family for help, so we watch him for the duration of the film as he does even more interesting/strange things to find food and comfort.

I appreciate this different take on poverty as it explores the non-typical “poor person” – somebody who is in this position through no clear fault of their own yet faces the same harsh realities. I’m a big fan of documentary-style filmmaking as well as working with non-professionals. The director, in the Q&A, speaks about the relationship he formed with the young actor and how most of the time it was just him operating the camera with no other crew around.

It sounds pretty boring and many will likely find it as such, but there are a few scenes which certainly stand out (including one in particular that one can probably only ever see in a Film Festival or amateur porn site), but I do like challenging/inappropriate/strange films and therefore enjoyed it. I also enjoy watching non-regular Festival audience members squirm.

Click here to see the Q&A for Boy Eating the Bird’s Food.

Blackbird – 9/10
2012; Canada; written and directed by Jason Buxton.

Blackbird really blew me away, and is in my top picks not only for TIFF12, but for the year. I have always been drawn to the Bildungsroman (Bildungsfilmen?) as they are important stories about people that we can all relate to, in some way or another; witnessing a character change and grow – usually from some form of adolescence into adulthood, regardless of age – is, to me, an extremely powerful and hopeful experience that truly embraces the pains and joys of life. Blackbird is such a story, and it was made with a sensitivity that touched me deeply.

To some this may simply be a story of a troubled youth who does some off-the-cuff things with dramatic consequences; while this may be a flippant yet but accurate one-line synopsis, there is so much more to it that it’s actually difficult for me to write it all out. Broken families; extreme forms of personal expression as a sort of rebellion against not fitting in; media frenzy and panic leading to a lack of logic and reason; questionable practices in juvenile detention centres… add to the mix the general emotional confusion that teenagers go through in regards to sex, relationships, identity, etc… it may seem like this is a too many themes to address in one film but Buxton and his incredible cast succeed by simply presenting the audience with the facts and not being overly expositive.

Blackbird has no establishing shots and no musical score, so your experience of and reaction to the events is less contrived and manipulated. (When music is used, however, it has a jarring effect, and reminded me a lot of how I felt while watching Funny Games.) The photography is perfectly intimate without being overwhelming, and I’ve never seen seemingly mundane things such as ceilings and ice rinks in such a captivating way (Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron was also the photographer for J’ai tué ma mere and Les amours imaginaires – arguably the best things about Dolan’s first two films). Buxton and his actors, Connor Jessup in particular (who plays Sean, the protagonist), exhibit so much restraint and such a mature understanding of pacing and storytelling that it’s shocking to remember how early this project is in their respective careers.

Okay, enough gushing – Blackbird was a gem at this year’s festival and I am very excited at the idea of watching it again and again.

Click here to see the Q&A for Blackbird, with writer/director Jason Buxton, actor Connor Jessup and other members of the cast and production team.

TIFF12 – Sat, 8 Sept, 2012: Frances Ha, Color of the Chameleon, Après Mai (Something in the Air)

Frances Ha – 7.9/10
2012, USA, written by Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, directed by Noah Baumbach

Frances Ha is about a girl who lives in New York, but doesn’t really; she is a dancer, but wait, not really… It’s a great, funny and charming film with a story that is a bit loose, but with characters that are quite developed and portrayed. The black & white contributes to the mystic, classic feeling that so many associate with New York City (and having recently watched Woody Allen’s Manhattan, I see more and more how much a favour he did for his home city). Noah Baumbach’s more subtle/dark sense of humour isn’t as present here as the laughs are real, obvious and authentic. I like the slightly less serious tone that Baumbach brings but it’s hardly a happy-go-lucky film. It’s a great watch with a lot of chemistry between actors who you can root for, because they all have characteristics that you can relate to.

Click here for some videos from the Q&A featuring Baumbach, Gerwig and co-star Mickey Sumner.

The Color of the Chameleon
2012, Bulgaria, written by Vladislav Todorov, directed by Emil Hristow

I can’t give this film a rating because I couldn’t stay awake. It’s not that it was bad, I just think that one may need to have some kind of understanding of the political situation of Bulgaria in order to get the jokes. The photography was quite nice, but it was very slow and I had trouble following the story. I pretty much snoozed through most of it and worried later about how I was going to get through the next eight days if I fell asleep on the second day.

Après mai (Something in the Air) – 7.8/10
2012, France, written and directed by Olivier Assayas

I really enjoyed this one. It’s supposedly based on Olivier Assayas’s experiences as a teenager in 60′s and 70′s France, and it certainly comes across as something quite personal. There are a lot of insights into how the political situation affected and inspired a lot of personal growth as we follow Gilles – Assayas’ alter-ego – struggle with morality, politics, love, loss and the development of his artistic creativity. It’s a rare thing to see what events shaped the mind and growth of an artist whose works are so diverse and critically acclaimed, and the film is riveting with that in mind as well as when viewing as a standalone coming-of-age story.

TIFF12 – Fri, 7 Sept, 2012: Rust and Bone; Paradise: Love; Out in the Dark; 7 Cajas

Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os) – 5.8/10
2012, France, written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, directed by Jacques Audiard

Director Jacques Audiard revealed in the Q&A by that this film is adapted from two short stories, and it was quite a relief to hear so because it helps explain why the story made so little sense. It started out interesting enough but quickly dissolved into the story of an unlikely pairing of two pretty unlikeable people, portayed by Matthias Shoenaerts (most notably seen in the recent Bullhead) and Marion Cotillard. The script was clumsy and the performances were as good as they could get within the confines the writing, but probably nothing could have saved a story as dumb as this one. Un prophète was such an achievement that I was pretty surprised that Audiard turned out something so bland and weak, especially with the acting power of Shoenaerts and Cotillard.

Click here to see the Q&A for Rust and Bone.

Paradise: Love – 8.2/10
2012, Austria/Germany/France, written by Ulrich Seidl and Veroika Fraz, directed by Ulrich Seidl

The opening shot of this film shows us an example of pure, simple joy and also demonstrates our inability to recognize it. One of the participants in the opening scene is our protagonist Teresa (played unabashedly by Margarethe Tiesel), who is about to leave her bored teenaged daughter and join her friend on a trip to a « comfort safari » resort in Kenya. This film makes strong statements about the white, affluent Western world’s exploitation of the locals, and conversely how these emotionally insecure middle-aged women are easy prey to the manipulation by the same locals for financial gain. Seidl takes full advantage of his creative team as each shot and sound is so impeccably planned out and executed to be both artistic and blunt. There is incredible use of contrasting colour (the contrast between black and white is both literally and metaphorical) and some of the shots are so long that they make you feel as tense as you would if you were there. There are some images in this film that are just masterful, including a shot of Teresa, nude and reclining in a manner reminiscent of Titian (http://goo.gl/HWK79), not to mention the 20-minute scene of a nude African boy who is being paid to dance for the « fat white ladies ». «Paradise : Love », soon to be followed by « Faith » and « Hope », exposes the fragility of the human soul as we search for love in all the wrong places.

Out in the Dark – 6.5/10
2012, USA/Israel, written by Yael Shafrir and Michael Mayer, directed by Michael Mayer

Out in the Dark starts off with the promise of good character development and story but ends up feeling like a TV thriller. The pacing is way off, character development is surface-deep and predictable, and any emotional response is assumed instead of earned. Performances from leads Nicholas Jacob and Michael Aloni are strong enough, but without a meaty-enough script, there’s only so much they can do. It’s a shame, too, since the subject matter is timely and relevant, and many would benefit from increasing their knowledge of human rights issues involving gays and lesbians in the Middle East. At the very least, this film can be shown to educate people, but one must remember that subject matter alone does not make a film good.

Click here for the Q&A to Out in the Dark.

7 Cajas (7 Boxes) – 7.9/10
2012, Paraguay, written by 10 people, directed by Juan Carlos Maneglia and Tana Schembori

7 Cajas was a nice surprise. It was funny (apparently Paraguians have a distinct sense of humour), creatively shot and overall pretty exciting. Apparently there have only been about twenty feature films out of Paraguay, so this is a bit of a success story based on this fact alone. Directors Maneglia and Schembori have apparently been working together on TV for 22 years, so this feature film from them is a long time coming. It was shot on location in a large market in the heart of Asunción called Market 4 using untrained locals in both starring and background roles. Aside from a bit of a narrative lag in the middle section, 7 Cajas is a great little film that had one of the most enthusiastic audiences at a TIFF screening that I have seen.

Click here to view the Q&A for 7 Cajas.