45th Toronto International Film Festival Reviews

 

Full archive of all films, including scores and dates viewed, can be seen by clicking here.

Due to the length of these written reviews, this page and its layout are optimized for reading on desktop and tablets. All Photos are Courtesy of TIFF.

#1 - David Byrne's American Utopia

100 of 100, 4 stars

1hr 45mins. Musical.

Directed by Spike Lee.

Starring David Byrne. Also with Jacquelene Acevedo, Gustavo Di Dalva, Daniel Freedman,

Chris Giarmo, Tim Keiper, Tendayi Kuumba, Karl Mansfield, Mauro Refosco, Stéphane San Juan,

Angie Swan and Bobby Wooten III.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 10th, 11:15am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: USA. English.

At first, it’s just David posing questions about our own connections and the way we learn to think. But soon, more join him on stage - the band grows larger, and with every song more people stand from their seats in the theatre to dance and clap along. Within half an hour, the whole theatre is standing. And it’s pretty hard not to get sucked in yourself.

Spike Lee was the perfect choice of a director for the film. He capitalized on the details expansive and specific that Byrne infused into the show, and he points the camera exactly where in the theatre we need to pay attention. Sometimes it’s the performers, sometimes it’s one member of the ensemble. Sometimes it’s the lights, set, and instrument, and occasionally, it’s even the audience. Yes, even they become a character in their own right.

 

This was a great choice for the opening night film - it’s a call for connection, patience and joy. These are the qualities that define a world of inclusion and prosperity, with love for all people. If that’s not the message we need to broadcast to the whole world, I don’t know what is. But Byrne says it much better than I do. “Us and You - that’s what the show is.”

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/american-utopia-tiff-review/

#2 - Shiva Baby

80 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 17mins. Comedy.

Written and Directed by Emma Seligman.

Starring Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Polly Draper, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed and Dianna Agron.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 10th, 1:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery (TIFF Next Wave)

Country/Language: USA and Canada. English.

Emma Seligman's funeral reception nightmare is extremely funny - Rachel Sennott's Danielle threads a fine line between being in pain and us wanting to see her escape the crush of her family for the afternoon. Her screenplay does a great job at elevating the stakes and somehow making things worse for Danielle with everything she learns. (An early confrontation scene with an, ahem, friend of hers and her parents is particularly tense, with laughing piercing through pain.)

Poor Danielle. It's hard to make the suffering of a main character fun to watch. Shiva Baby somehow does it with great dramatic results, despite the stress Danielle goes through.

#3 - Under the Open Sky

70 of 100, 3 stars

2hrs 6mins. Crime Drama.

Written and Directed by Miwa Nishikawa.

Starring Koji Yakusho and Taiga Nakano.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 10th, 3:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Contemporary World Cinema

Country/Language: Japan. Japanese.

Miwa Nishikawa's redemption drama follows an aging former Yakuza (Koji Yakusho) as he adjusts to life outside of prison. The biggest thing that stands out is how empathic the modern Japanese reform system is - from the prison, social services and even the hospital. Mikami is capable of change and bettering himself because he's not lured back by a system that wants to keep him there. When the prisons don't profit, the primary goal is actual reformation.

Most popular Japanese films today are about life in the big city (perhaps Tokyo?), but what I like best about Nishikawa's film is that it's just about regular life. This feels like a Japan that film often overlooks. (And a plot revolving around Mikami on television also highlights the peace in a life out of the spotlight.)

#4 - The Way I See It

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 42mins. History Documentary.

Directed by Dawn Porter.

Starring Pete Souza.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 10th, 5:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Planet Africa

Country/Language: USA. English.

Pete Souza is a photographer who worked at the White House for Presidents Reagan and Obama. His story chronicles his work as a photojournalist documenting the lives of these men, but it finally makes a case of how important it is that the American president is a person of upstanding moral character.

The film tells and interesting story, but not enough of it actually talks about the pictures Pete took. More of the runtime is dedicated to recapping Obama's history as president and (without subtlety) bashing current President Donald Trump. At the same time - how Trump keeps photographers out is very scary.

It's a fine documentary, but I'm not convinced it truly belongs in the Planet Africa programme of the festival. Pete, the protagonist and great character, is white, and his story isn't really about the black experience. While much of his story is his work with Barack Obama, that relationship isn't what the movie is about - it's about the validity of history, and the importance of decency in whoever is the US president.

#5 - The Disciple

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

2hrs 7mins. Faith Music Drama Epic.

Written and Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane.

Starring Aditya Modak, Dr. Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave, Deepika Bhide Bhagwat and Kiran Yadnyopavit.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 10th, 8:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Presentations

Country/Language: India. Marathi, Hindi, English and Bengali.

I'll admit, while the music depicted from the actors as artists is breathtaking, its discernable quality as mastery is beyond my understanding. But the story of an apprentice instrumentalist and singer is incredibly heartfelt. It's especially apparent in Aditya Modak's vocals; the technique alone adds to an impressive performance through a musical career.

Dr. Arun Dravid too gives an impressive performance as guru Guruji. I don't know enough about Indian classical music to interpret what's intentionally a bad performance (or its badness being relevant to the story), but that doesn't impede the understanding of the high stakes and the pressure that hasn't been seen in a musical film since 2014's Whiplash.

#6 - Night of the Kings

40 of 100, 1 1/2 stars

1hr 33mins. Drama. (with Fantasy Drama inside the main story.)

Written and Directed by Philippe Lacôte.

Starring Koné Bakary and Steve Tientcheu.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 10th, 10:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Contemporary World Cinema

Country/Language: Côte d'Ivoire, France, Canada and Senegal. French, Dioula and Nouchi (Ivorian slang).

Phillippe Lacôte's sophomore feature follows a young man named Roman (Koné Bakary ) in the Ivory Coast. When he arrives at MACA prison, leader Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu) forces him to tell a story.

Too much of the movie is Roman’s examination of the halls around him, and the inmates curiously listening to him. Blackbeard is actually a more interesting character, watching him preside over his subjects with an untraceable power. Like one guard says, “MACA is the only prison in the world where an inmate runs the show.” While that’s questionably true, Blackbeard is clearly in charge.

 

Movies are supposed to be about critical, important moments. The Red Moon appears to be important, but while it's important for Roman’s survival, we never learn why it matters to everyone else. The vignettes of Roman’s stories don’t teach us anything, and they’re only occasionally interesting. As Night of the Kings shows us the healing power storytelling can have, it also doesn’t have much to say itself.

 

Side note: that CGI elephant and hawk look atrocious. They will haunt for my dreams for weeks.

#7 - Get the Hell Out

70 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 36mins. Horror Sci-Fi Action Comedy.

Co-Written and Directed by I-Fan Wang.

Starring Megan Lai, Bruce Ho and Wang Chung-Huang.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 10th, 11:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Midnight Madness

Country/Language: Taiwan. Mandarin.

Colourful, crazy, fast-paced and frantic, Get the Hell Out has a strong social commentary that’s wrapped in an drug-laced package. The whimsical, bright outer layer is just a vehicle for the (yes, basic) premise that nothing good comes from unregulated government. So it makes sense the MPs decisions are their own demise - even if that demise is by zombie crisis. Once you succumb to the ridiculousness, the film’s smarts come through stronger.

 

The movie is hilarious, with most of the humour coming from Po-Han Shih and director I-Fan Wang’s brilliant editing. This is exactly the kind of brilliant stuff that makes Midnight Madness the loose cannon of TIFF. And if the politics and zombie action don’t win you over (spiced with an onslaught of memes), the fantastic neon wardrobe certainly will.

 

It’s also darkly comic on many levels that, despite being filmed before the Coronavirus pandemic, the last movie on opening day of this year’s socially distant festival is a horror comedy about containing a lethal pandemic. Well played, TIFF.

#8 - Inconvenient Indian

95 of 100, 4 stars

1hr 30mins. Documentary.

Directed by Michelle Latimer.

Starring Thomas King.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 11th, 11:00am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: Canada. English, Inuktitut, Cree and Anishinaabemowin.

Inconvenient Indian is clearly a Canadian film. But the story isn’t limited to indigenous colonization and prejudice at home - it expands into the same in America too, and how the stories are intertwined. (One powerful moment shows an increasing audience seeing a show of 1922’s Nanook of the North.)

The beautiful shot vistas and Michelle Latimer’s deft work in weaving the stories of the past and present make it easy to get sucked into the film. This is a bold call to action - and a great documentary that actively tells us a story, event though its equally about past events.

 

King, who authored the 2012 the film is based on, makes for an excellent subject and narrator. And his words describe that mix best: “History isn’t the past - it’s the stories we tell about the past. That’s all it is…stories.” Here, at last, we see how cruel indigenous racism is and how we can fix it.

#9 - The Boy from Medellín

50 of 100, 2 stars

1hr 35mins. Music Biography Documentary.

Directed by Matthew Heineman.

Starring  J Balvin.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 11th, 12:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Events

Country/Language: USA. Spanish and English.

J Balvin is a reggae superstar from Colombia. His music is very catchy, and while a superstar, he’s clearly rooted in his culture and his roots. But this profile of him doesn’t justify what makes him special other than that he is him. Individuality is enough to celebrate, yes. Though anyone worth making a whole movie about should have something more unique about them. (Winning a couple of Latin Grammys doesn’t make him more special than any other winner.)

 

This isn’t the juxtaposed deep-dive like Taylor Swift: Americana was earlier this year. That being said, fans of both Balvin and latin music at all will have a lot of fun watching it.  I also applaud his frankness talking about his depression, and talking about it with seriousness instead of pity. It’s not a great movie, but he does seem like a genuinely kind and talented person.

#10 - One Night in Miami...

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 54mins. Drama.

Directed by Regina King.

Starring Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Leslie Odom Jr. and Aldis Hodge.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 11th, 2:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: USA. English.

Slick lines and slicker delivery help keep things moving in a great script with a few elongated pitfalls. But the stylish final product is a lot of fun to watch mainly thanks to a main cast whose commitment turns a film about a party into an eventually fun party.

The central quartet of actors are all magnificent. Eli Goree’s Cassius Clay is the best of the four, truly inhaling the body and mind of Clay as he becomes Muhammed Ali. Kingsley Ben-Adir and Leslie Odom Jr. have the most scenes together, clashing and bonding over their unique approaches to pursuing justice and love in their versions of black America. Aldis Hodge’s Jim Brown, however, has the most memorable scene early on, and he’s the one we should’ve seen just a bit more from. When all four of them ping-pong off each other, something remarkable happens on screen.

Sam Cooke says at one point, “Everyone says they want a piece of the pie. I want the damn recipe.” All four men are experiencing this struggle, but their communal exploration makes for a mostly entertaining movie about the black celebrity experience. 

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/one-night-in-miami-tiff-review/

#11 - Limbo

60 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 43mins. Fantasy Comedy.

Written and Directed by Ben Sharrock.

Starring Amir El-Masry, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Vikash Bhai, Ola Orebiyi, Kwabena Ansah.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 11th, 5:00pm

Seen Where: On Train (in transit to TIFF Lightbox)

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: United Kingdom. English and Arabic.

Immigration comedy doesn’t sound like a plausible thing, and yet Sharrock find the humour in what’s really a bleak conflict in a bleak setting. Sometimes the humour is too sad to be truly effective, and it’s hard to tell how fantastic we’re supposed to believe the island is. 

 

But one thing is certain: it’s funny to be in the audience watching how the need to welcome refugees turns uncomfortable. Maybe if we laugh at this false discomfort, it will make it easier to de-stigmatize and improve in real life.

#12 - No Ordinary Man

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 24mins. Music Documentary.

Directed by Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 11th, 8:00pm

Seen Where: SPLIT; Canteen (Patio at the TIFF Bell Lightbox) and On Train (in transit home)

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: Canada. English.

It's appropriate that jazz music is the legacy and comparison used to talk about musician Billy Tipton's life story. He was a transgender musician from the mid-1930s to the late 70s, and kept his birth gender a secret for his entire career.

Tipton's story is interesting, and it's insightful hearing interviews with the trans artists who he's inspired still today. Much of the documentary is about actors auditioning to play Tipton, and the actors describing his character is stronger material than watching extended clips of their auditions to play him.

We learn much of the same characteristics twice, but the direct interviews communicate them better. That's the way we better learn who Billy really was.

#13 - Ammonite

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 57mins. Drama Romance.

Written and Directed by Francis Lee.

Starring Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan, Gemma Jones, Alec Secareanu and James McArdle.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 11th, 9:15pm

Seen Where: TIFF Bell Lightbox (Screen #1)

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: United Kingdom. English.

Arguably the buzziest and toughest ticket at TIFF this year, it's about a paleontologist (an incredible Kate Winslet) and grieving wife (Saoirse Ronan) beginning their secret relationship in 19th century Dorset. There’s no use denying the clear similarities to February’s magnificent Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but tonally it’s much more similar to writer/director Francis Lee’s debut feature God’s Own Country.

Ammonite teaches us we can’t try to own something that doesn’t belong to us. If we do, we risk losing something (or someone’s) beauty in the first place. It's tender and really striking.

The movie is defined by its stark landscapes, barren dialogues and a sense of coldness in everything from the sets to the facial expressions. So how did director Lee infuse so much tenderness and warmth into Mary and Charlotte’s relationship? Maybe that too is as rare and as special as finding a fossil.

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/ammonite-tiff-review/

#14 - Penguin Bloom

55 of 100, 2 stars

1hr 35mins. Biography Drama.

Directed by Glendyn Ivin.

Starring Naomi Watts, Griffin Murray-Johnson, Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 11th, 11:59pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Presentations

Country/Language: Australia. English.

Naomi Watts stars as Sam Bloom, based on the true story of a mother paralyzed while on vacation, only to find healing when she nurses an injured magpie back to health. The cast is serviceable, and Watts is interesting when she isn't moping around, but Penguin the magpie may rightfully be the first animal to be nominated for an Academy Award. And yet, a bird also shouldn't be the best actor in your cast.

The movie is held back by its predictability. The story goes exactly where viewers expect it to with no variance from what you expect the "inspirational and inspiring" end to be. It's a well-crafted film of a cute story, and it really isn't much of anything else.

#15 - Enemies of State

60 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 44mins. Documentary Thriller.

Written and Directed by Sonia Kennebeck.

Starring Leann and Paul DeHart.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 9:15am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: USA. English.

The film’s liberal lens of justice and free speech is empathetic to the DeHart family's conservatism, and that of his family. Once you find out what’s apparently on the drives Matthew was sent, it will send a horrific shock to your system. What the film does best though is show both sides.

The recreations feel slightly synthetic, and the contrast to the seriousness of Matthew Dehart’s story undercuts the high stakes of his prosecution. Enemies' climax comes too early, and the exposition that follows drags the film too long. But the end question justifies the moral taken too long to explore.

 

“If we ever want to live in the world where the truth is the truth, we have to be willing to reevaluate new evidence and be open to changing our minds.” The film's final line wisely summarizes the pain of not having the luxury of knowing who's telling the truth and whether Matthew is a criminal or not.

#16 - Wolfwalkers

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 44mins. Animated Family Fantasy.

Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.

Starring Honor Kneafsey, Eva Whittaker, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney and Maria Doyle Kennedy.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 11:00am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Events

Country/Language: Ireland, Luxembourg and France. English.

The only official family film of this year's festival, Wolfwalkers is the best offering from Ireland's Cartoon Studio (Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea) to date. This film will be to Ireland and Northern England what Pixar's Brave was to Scotland, as animated fable connecting courage to nature with an animal twist.

 

Honor Kneafsey as Robin Goodfellowe gives a lead vocal performance far beyond her years, and the 2D animation has an impossibly mystic quality and crispness. It's a fully nurtured, natural world that's bold as reality without compromising its brightness. But just when you've settled in to Robin's story, a sudden event halfway through reveals the magic that's been permeating her world the whole time.

Every event and scene only makes the world of Woflwalkers more exciting and majestic to behold. And once the animal spirits come alive too - the animation is world class. It's the work of true masters.

#17 - Gaza Mon Amour

70 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 27mins. Comedy Romance.

Written and Directed by Tarzan and Arab Nasser.

Starring Salim Daw and Hiam Abbass.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 2:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: Palestine, France, Germany, Portugal and Qatar. Arabic.

The twin Nasser brothers are humourous directors, even if the visual comedy doesn't make you laugh out loud. This, their second feature, draws on a true 2018 account in Gazan waters when a statue was found by a fishing boat, and when it tried to be sold, was seized for government profit instead.

The plot here instead takes the incident as uses it as the Mcguffin in a love story. Salim Daw's lead performance as Issa is both sharp and sweet - he's a pragmatic man in love, and it's a lot of fun watching his quest move freely in his day-to-day life. It's always watching movies with characters you want to win.

#18 - Nomadland

100 of 100, 4 stars

1hr 47mins. Epic Drama Western.

Written and Directed by Chloé Zhao.

Starring Frances McDormand.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 4:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: USA. English.

Nomadland will help people of the world, for the first time, understand how America (a falsely prosperous country) stays patriotic and purposeful even when they have every reason not to be. That’s a tall order in rundown America, especially “in these hard economic times.” But these people, Fern most of all, know and understand all times are hard. It’s not getting easier, so you better get used to it.

This is why we go to the cinema. For stunning, remarkable works like this. This shows us a people who have somehow made peace with a country that doesn’t want to care for its citizens. That’s where this community of goodness comes from - the most altruistic authenticity America could make.

 

The majesty and likability of this vision is greater than I describe. Nomadland is indescribably beautiful; more than mere words could attempt to match.

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/nomadland-tiff-review/

#19 - Akilla's Escape

80 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 30mins. Crime Action Thriller.

Co-written and Directed by Charles Officer.

Starring Saul Williams, Thamela Mpumlwana, Donisha Prendergast, Vic Mensa and Colm Feore.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 6:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Planet Africa

Country/Language: USA. English.

Here's an unconventional gangster movie about gangsters who want an operation that transcends gangs and into a crime that could be their own instead of "the Greek."

The stakes and charcters are deeply cultured. This isn't a thriller in the way an action film would be, but the crime is where the intensity lies. Best of all, Saul Williams leads his first film in 12 years, and both his performance and contribution to the music make this among the grittiest and smoothest films ever from the CBC.

Not too mention thrillers do well in Toronto, mainly because it often isn't sold as a "thrilling" city. But Akilla's hustle, blending the fight of Jamaica and Canada into what starts as a case of drug run gone bad, is a captivating crime story. Make sure to follow the exhibits.

#20 - Preparations to Be Together For an Unknown Period of Time

35 of 100, 1 1/2 stars

1hr 35mins. Mystery Drama.

Written and Directed by Lili Horvát.

Starring Natasa Stork, Viktor Bodó and Benett Vilmányi.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 7:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Contemporary World Cinema

Country/Language: Hungary. Hungarian.

Márta's story, frankly, is boring. The mystery of why her old flame from a medical conference doesn't recognize is barely the focus of what's happening, yet it's her only motivation to do anything.

Making matters worse is that, although Viktor Bodó tries his best to make the character of Dr. Janós Drexler worthy of Márta's intrigue, but he's only a surgeon who wrote a book. The mystery is thin, and the journey isn't worth the small payoff at the end. Most of the acting ensemble seems tepid and forgettable, like nothing special is happening.

#21 - Pieces of a Woman

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

2hrs 6mins. Drama.

Directed by Kornél Mundruczó.

Starring Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn, Benny Safdie, Sarah Snook and Iliza Schlesinger.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 9:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: USA and Canada. English.

Pieces of a Woman will probably be the saddest and most emotionally demanding film of the whole festival. But it's also among the most satisfying. This is a tragedy about two new parents going through something horrible, and every day it only gets worse. The extended labour scene near the beginning lasts nearly twenty minutes - it appears to be a single continuous shot, and it's a remarkable feat of actor rehearsal and camerawork. 

 

Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf both give career best performances as Martha and Sean, with the former showing an amazing range in figuring out what to do next. Ellen Burstyn, as her mother, is also a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress.

The film both deservedly won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and inked a distribution deal with Netflix mere hours before its Toronto premiere. Bring tissues; and pay attention to the apples.

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/pieces-woman-tiff-review/

#22 - Lift Like a Girl

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 35mins. Sports Documentary.

Written and Directed by Mayye Zayed.

Starring Zebiba and Captain Ramadan.

 

Date/Time: Saturday September 12th, 11:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries (TIFF Next Wave)

Country/Language: Egypt, Germany and Denmark. Arabic.

Ever heard of the world of girls weightlifting in Egypt? While Captain Ramadan is great coach, he repeatedly tells all his students to “encourage each other.” He's smart enough to know that camaraderie is more important to their mutual success. 

 

It’s also cool that he doesn’t charge any of  his athletes money to train with him, but the third act has an inspiring twist. What kind of really change has the Captain brought to Alexandria, and what is his legacy in women’s sports? The final tournament is exceptional, and the stuff great sports movies are made of.

 

At one point, Captain tells a father reluctant to let his daughter train: "“Prioritizing our boys is outdated. Girls are more important. You’re fighting many battles, but you don’t understand the situation!” These are the words that will invoke change. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if more of us taught like the Captain does and if more of us could lift like these girls can.

#23 - Falling

75 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 52mins. Comedy Drama.

Written and Directed by Viggo Mortensen.

Starring Lance Henriksen, Viggo Mortensen, Sverrir Gudnason, Terry Chen, Hannah Gross

and Laura Linney.

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 10:00am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Presentations

Country/Language: Canada, United Kingdom and Denmark. English and Spanish.

Willis' (Lance Henrikson) life story is reflected and regretted as his memory fades and his children begrudgingly help him move closer to them in California.

It somewhat outstays its welcome, taking too long to get to the marvellous banter and curious changes in what Willis wants to do. The final half hour is also much less exciting than the rest of the film. But every component still fits perfectly. Henrikson's performance is masterful, but Mortenson's many hats in production (director, writer, score, actor) make for something both wildly humourous and sad. Smaller parts from Laura Linney, Paul Gross and David Cronenberg are also small wonders.

The screenplay is vulgar, but so is Willis' warm bigotry. Maybe it's his coping mechanism for the mess he's made of his family, but his granddaughter says it best at a family lunch, confused about the family tree: "There are two many grandmas and grandpas and whores."

#24 - MLK/FBI

80 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 44mins. Crime History Documentary.

Directed by Sam Pollard.

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 12:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: Canada. English.

Sam Pollard is a terrific documentarian, and he's chosen his most timely subject yet through the examination of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI's targeted and racialized surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s.

 

They way these practices were executed is despicable, and the film makes a convincing case that the racism was also no mere accident, and part of the FBI's attempt to maximize control for white men in America. This story is all too familiar and it's discouraging to see how American justice has made so little progress. As one subject says, "It was hard not to get emotional when people are tryin' to kill you."

Who says this? It's sometimes confusing to known who's speaking and what their expertise is because we don't see the faces of the interview subjects until the end. 98% of the film is archive footage, which makes it difficult to maintain focus. But the narrative and the research are fantastic.

#25 - Quo Vadis, Aida?

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 44mins. War History Thriller.

Written and Directed by Jasmila Žbanic.

Starring Jasna Ðuricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrovic and Boris Isakovic.

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 2:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Contemporary World Cinema

Country/Language: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Norway, The Netherlands, Austria, Romania, France, Germany, Poland and Turkey. Bosnian, English and Dutch.

Jasmila Žbanic might be the most talented director and screenwriter I've never heard of. This is her fifth feature film, and it keeps audiences at the edge of their seat for the worst reasons. Based on true events of the 1995 Bosnian genocide, the desperate escape and oppression against the UN base trying to save 30,000 people keeps you hooked until the end to see who makes it out alive.

Aida is the focal character, playing by the harrowing Jasna Ðuricic, who works as a UN translator. Her real crisis, however, is trying to help find a way to keep her husband and two adult sons alive. She keeps looking for amnesty from anyone who can help her - but how can you help your family and 30,000 refugees at the same time?

It's a tense experience, but certainly not scary, and aside from one scene late in the film, it's palatable enough you can watch it with a critical eye. This is a great use of cinema to show a grand story with terrible, tragic results. (Don't research the end in advance for those unaware of true events. It's worth it.)

#26 - Downstream to Kinshasa

50 of 100, 2 stars

1hr 44mins. Adventure Documentary.

Directed by Dieudo Hamadi.

Starring Jasna Ðuricic, Izudin Bajrovic, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrovic and Boris Isakovic.

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 4:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Planet Africa

Country/Language: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, France and Belgium. Lingala and Swahili.

This documentary is missing a narrative centre. The only story that can be followed is the already known premise - a group of survivors from Congo's six-day war in 2000 travel by boat down the Congo River to protest the lack of promised financial compensation they're still waiting for 20 years after the war ended.

Watching this feels like a collection of unedited footage that's been imported directly from the camera in order of what happened on a mostly uneventful trip. Their story is worth telling, and some of the characters on board provide admirable footage, especially for those still adapting and learning to live with their war-forged disabilities. I also really liked the timely subplot inclusion of being responsible in how you vote for a country's president. But this isn't the film that will effectively tell these victims' story.

#27 - Summer of 85

25 of 100, 1 star

1hr 40mins. Romance Drama.

Written and Directed by François Ozon.

Starring Benjamin Voisin, Félix Lefebvre, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Philippine Velge and Melvil Poupald.

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 5:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Presentations

Country/Language: France. French.

This isn't the first romance of the festival so far, but it's definitely the worst. No one aspect is shockingly bad, but the entire story is needlessly boring. It's about a summer romance between two teenage boys in 1985 seaside France, but the interesting detail of the older one of them (Félix Lefebvre) dying by the end of the summer is spoiled ten minutes into the movie.

It's melodramatic, quietly angsty, and Benjamin Voisin's narration would put most people to sleep. Worst of all, it's full of teen 80s movie tropes without any of the fun or energy. How does the carnival scene, makeover scene, virginity scene, and even the pseudo-mystery reveal all turn out so boring?

 

Summer of 85 is like Call Me By Your Name gone wrong - the same premise with two exceptions: it's in France instead of Italy, and all of the romance has been sucked out of this romance with shallow tactics and relationships in its place.

#28 - Beans

75 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 32mins. Family Drama History.

Co-Written and Directed by Tracey Deer.

Starring Kiawentiio, Rainbow Dickerson, Violah Beauvais, Paulina Jewel Alexis,

and D’Pharaoh Mckay Woon-a-Tai

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 7:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery (TIFF Next Wave)

Country/Language: Canada. English.

Continuing TIFF's excellent programming of indigenous filmmaking this year, Tracey Deer's debut fiction film (she's made television and three documentaries) is the retelling of her childhood experience living through a 78-day standoff between two Mohawk communities and government forces in 1990 Quebec. What began as a territorial dispute over a golf course construction is the vehicle to tell a coming of age story for Beans (a stellar debut from Kiawentiio), her family and her struggle to fit in with new friends.

This is technically a family film because the two protagonists are both young girls in a family-based conflict, and while children can learn quite a lot about Canadian history from this work, be warned. There are a few mildly frightening scenes and excessive profane language. It's suitable for older children and teens, but parents should have a conversation before or after to explain the nuance of what's happening.

#29 - I Care a Lot

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 58mins. Comedy Crime Thriller.

Written and Directed by J Blakeson.

Starring Rosamund Pike, Peter Dinklage, Eiza González, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Dianne Wiest.

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 9:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: United Kingdom. English.

This is the most fun and entertaining movie of the festival. J Blakeson has made a hysterically exciting fiction where the actors have such dizzying excitement you can't help but smile. It starts as a deceptively simple case of Marla (Rosamund Pike) running a business scamming the elderly under a guise of being their legal guardian, until one client's case goes horribly wrong.

 

The plot twists and crime tactics from both sides are delicious - Marla and foe Roman are great opponents as they duke it out over Jennifer Peterson because both are bad people doing bad things. 

What makes I Care a Lot the most fun to watch is Pike, Peter Dinklage and the ensemble fight tooth and nail both through legal strategy and in classic crime enterprise slickness to win. Aside from a slower 15 minute section before the tantalizing finale, this is white knuckle excitement at its finest.

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/i-care-a-lot-tiff-review/

#30 - The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel

100 of 100, 4 stars

1hr 46mins. Documentary.

Directed by Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott.

Starring Charles Officer.

 

Date/Time: Sunday September 13th, 12:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: Canada. English.

“These corporations have put the very human species at risk.” That's the argument made in Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott's new film, a follow up to Bakan's 2003 The Corporation. This perhaps the best documentary sequel of all time and the most necessary film of the entire festival.

This isn’t the basic “democracy is dying” argument that annoy determined conservatives or the populations they brainwash. This is the mathematical and legal evidence that companies want to dismantle democracy - including in Canada and the US - and they don’t care how many people die in the process. Scarier still, concrete examples are provided of worsening human life and creating social issues on purpose. Why? So they can embarrass governments and step in to privatize public services...and then they can turn profit.

The film is bettered still by Peter Roeck's precise editing and a clearly foolproof argument. Bakan and Abbott carefully explain the playbook corporations use to win through dozens of interviews clearly connecting the cause and effect relationships of how corporations willfully destroy life to make money.

One subject, Nick Hanauer, says “The problem is a breakdown in the social cohesion that makes democracy and civil society possible. That breakdown was created of 40 years of rising inequality.” Another interview subject says “you can’t understand this problem and not be filled with despair.”

 

It’s produced in Canada, but interviews and stories featured come from over 20 countries. This is the most necessary film I’ve seen in years, and a must-see at the festival.

#31 - 180° Rule

70 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 23mins. Drama.

Written and Directed by Farnoosh Samadi.

Starring Sahar Dolatshahi, Pejman Jamshidi, Azita Hajian and Hassan Pourshirazi.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 10:00am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: Iran. Persian.

Sara is a great character, and Sahar Dolatshahi plays her with grace and attentiveness. This story of a teacher wanting to attend a wedding with here family is, albeit short, a well-written debut story from Farnoosh Samadi. She's trying to help the other girls too, and her husband's pride is frustrating, but Dolatshahi understands good acting is active listening - something she does very well. And that really helps once tragedy strikes.

One thing I also enjoyed is this shows what ordinary life in a city like Tehran, Iran is actually like. We in North America may have some prejudice of what we think this region is like, and film like this gives the world an insight to what the quality of life and what its people are truly like.

An upsetting detail about this film's entry into the festival: the subtitles have improper English grammar, and sometimes suggest missed events the characters are saying. One scene has Sara tell her husband to "watch your language!" when it doesn't appear he's cursed. Missing these details make it hard to appreciate the work that went into this. Hopefully this is fixed so more can enjoy what Samadi has made.

#32 - Concrete Cowboy

55 of 100, 2 stars

1hr 51mins. Western Drama.

Co-written and Directed by Ricky Staub.

Starring Caleb McLaughlin, Idris Elba, Jharrel Jerome and Clifford "Method Man" Smith.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 11:30am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Gala Presentations (TIFF Next Wave)

Country/Language: USA. English.

While the film portrays a fascinating culture, it falls short of good storytelling for two reasons. One is that its main character Cole doesn't really have a goal or quest to go on other than learning about horses. The other arguably more important problem is whether or not writer/director Ricky Staub, directing his first full-length feature, was the right person to lead this project.

Staub is a white man directing and co-writing (with another white man) this exploration of the modern black experience. He’s a talented filmmaker with an eye for great shots and a passion for character details. But is he the most qualified person to tell this story? I would argue no.

 

He seems like a strange choice to lead this project, and perhaps why there’s a stiffness as Cole is discovering himself throughout the film. Is this also why this looks more like an observer’s retelling of the cowboys rather than a dramatic story actually about them?  This is a forgettable films, but rest assured it’ll be a long time before I forget about Idris Elba’s hammy, inconsistent Texan drawl accent.

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/concrete-cowboy-tiff-review/

#33 - New Order

95 of 100, 4 stars

1hr 26mins. Horror Action.

Written and Directed by Michel Franco Thriller.

Starring Naian González Norvind, Diego Boneta, Mónica del Carmen, Fernando Cuautle, Eligio

Meléndez and Darío Yazbek.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 1:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Contemporary World Cinema

Country/Language: Mexico. Spanish.

Don't let this deceptively simple premise of a glamourous wedding fool you. Once protestors arrive on the scene, all hell breaks loose as the servants fight back. It's fast, suspenseful and incredibly engaging. When the people fight back, the abuse of power by divided classes will have its reckoning at last. If that's not crazy enough, wait until you see what the police do. By the end, who really holds the power?

Michel Franco's use of the green paint, the protestors main graffiti tool, is brilliant. Is it the stain of money or greed executing its revenge? Or is it the stain of something worse? The motif haunts viewers from the beginning, teasing its true purpose with glorious effectiveness. (Even as the action ebbs and flows.)

As a complete premise, this is what The Purge franchise could have been with clearer vision and more action. Don't be put off by the "horror" label - general audiences will take it in stride.

It's hard to describe how mesmerizing and cinematic this bold, violent thriller is without spoiling its surprises. Throw in great production design and Naian González Norvind's star-making lead acting and, like last year's Parasite (another international discovery), you've got the breakout hit of the 2020 Festival.

#34 - 40 Years a Prisoner

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 50mins. Documentary History.

Written and Directed by Tommy Oliver.

Starring Mike Africa Jr.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 3:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Planet Africa

Country/Language: USA. English.

Mike Africa Jr.'s two parents have been in jail for over 40 years as members of the MOVE house raid in 1978 Philadelphia after supposedly killing a police officer. Their son, born in his mother's prison cell, has been working since then to get his parents out.

This would be a great subject for the documentary, but that plot only accounts for 10-15% of the film, scattered in short scenes throughout. The main focus is actually a play-by-play about the MOVE organization led by John Africa, and the events leading to the police's brutal takeover of the MOVE house.

This plot is stretched out far too long.

Better material include's Africa Jr.'s story, but also the third act history of how the surrendering MOVE members were beaten and killed while three officers who were caught on video beating people to death were released following advocacy by the surrounding white community. This third act exploration of protest against institutional racism in policing and city politics is a strong ending, but most of the film is the equivalent of reading a history textbook aloud.

#35 - Notturno

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 40mins. War Documentary.

Written and Directed by Gianfranco Rosi.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 5:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Masters

Country/Language: Italy, France and Germany. Arabic and Kurdish.

Here is the reason why Gianfranco Rosi is a master. His newest film (following his 2016 Oscar-nominated Fire at Sea) spends three years documenting the lives of people Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Lebanon, all wrestling with the constant detriment of wars bolstered by other countries. The landscape is often quiet, with only diagetic sound and glimmers of natural light crafting the world seen in Rosi's camera.

 

Rosi truly is a master documentarian. He himself wrote, directed, shot and edited Notturno by himself, and his experience using the camera as a tool has improved his ability research and plan to capture the footage he needs to authentically create reality. But his experience also strengthens his preparedness for the unplanned realities that he recognizes as opportunities. My only strong criticism is that there is no geographic labelling of each scene, so we can't connect where we are or who we see at certain moments.

Notturno translates to "night", meaning the night that continues to plague the middle east with fear and colonial war. The anguish and injustice bravely shown here is best summarized by an early scene where a grieving mother cries for her lost son, saying "God has decided I need to live without you."

#36 - Wildfire

20 of 100, 1 star

1hr 25mins. Drama.

Written and Directed by Cathy Brady.

Starring Nika McGuigan, Nora-Jane Noone, Martin McCann and Kate Dickie.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 7:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: Ireland and United Kingdom. English.

Two sisters reconnect after Kelly (Nika McGuigan, who passed away shortly after filming finished in summer 2019) returns home to see Lauren (Nora-Jane Noone) after she was thought missing for over a year. Their relationship ebbs and flows between love and frustration, much like that of many siblings.

After an uneventful 80 minutes, what is Wildfire about? Aside from an argument in a bar, there's no conflict other than whether or not the relatives get along. Conflict is teased about Irish borders, rumours about Kelly in town, and how their Mom died some time ago. But all the sisters do is casually do things around town when Lauren's not at work. What is the point? What do we learn? What does the unspecific title mean? I couldn't enjoy the film because I couldn't find the answers to any of these questions. 

#37 - 76 Days

60 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 32mins. Documentary.

Directed by Hao Wu, Weixi Chen and Anonymous.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 9:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: USA. Mandarin.

Early in the first Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China, American documentarians were sent in to capture what was going on in the city. Much of the attention was focused in one hospital, where they filmed doctors and nurses working for the duration of Wuhan's 76 day lockdown. The goal was simple; loudspeakers in public would even broadcast "Do you part to help the city of Wuhan win the battle."

 

Curious how Wuhan's systems avoided catastrophe, even in a city larger than any in North America? It’s incredible seeing how organized their medical systems are. Wanna see how remarkable these first doctors truly were? This gives you hope of how efficient medical systems and hospital care can really be.

 

The footage lacks timestamps, and while the tedious isolation of film in the hospital effectively depicts what it was like, it's not very engaging for long. This needed more time in editing to find the best footage. But at least it's still powerful to watch the patients and staff at work. As one patient says, "You are all charging bravely into the enemy’s fire like fearless soldiers”

#38 - Violation

80 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 47mins. Drama Horror.

Written and Directed by Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli.

Starring Madeleine Sims-Fewer, Jesse LaVercombe, Obi Abili and Anna Maguire.

 

Date/Time: Monday September 14th, 11:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Midnight Madness

Country/Language: Canada. English.

Madeleine Sims-Fewer has made a horrifying film that's perfect for people who like scary stories without being scared. She's a co-writer and director with Dusty Mancinelli while also playing the driven, tortured starring role. Together, this pair have made a creepy and thematically strong film to make Canada proud.

The plot showcases a different kind of movie monster: what is Miriam (Sims-Fewer) supposed to do after she's raped by her brother-in-law? She sets out an agonizing plan that will leave lasting psychological effects. There's long scenes of watching Miriam execute her plan cut with an incredibly juicy screenplay. The dialogue writing is thick and delicious - but what does it build to?

The screenplay, scenery and score are all beautiful. The music really stands out because it feels like a prominent character, letting us know what's in Miriam's mind. The final scene will reveal how brilliantly interconnected all the pieces were all along in this expertly made, bone-chilling drama.

#39 - The Truffle Hunters

75 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 24mins. Documentary.

Directed by Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday September 14th, 11:45am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Events

Country/Language: Italy, USA and Greece. Italian and Piedmontese.

All hail the weirdos! Great documentaries have great character subjects, and The Truffle Hunters has plenty. It doesn't try to be anything more than what it is: spending some time with some crabby, old guys who just really like harvesting expensive gourmet ingredients. More specifically, truffles. The film also made me very hungry for the festival's tie-in $100 gourmet dinner being offered.

These guys do all sorts of things and the world doesn't faze them one bit. They bathe with their dogs, play drums, and defend their truffle hunting spots with the lives. Their dogs are a key relationship to sniffing out truffles. (One very cool extended shot is a POV from a camera on one of the dogs as they sniff the truffles out.) But finding truffles is, in a strange way, the same as discovering great movies at a festival. As on hunter puts it, "The best thing to do is to look in a place that you couldn't even imagine."

#40 - Bandar Band

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 15mins. Music Adventure.

Co-written and Directed by Manijeh Hekmat.

Starring Reza Koolghani, Pegah Ahangarani, Amir Hossein Taheri and Mahdieh Mousavi.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday September 15th, 1:15pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Contemporary World Cinema

Country/Language: Iran and Germany. Farsi.

Three musicians and friends are trying to get to Tehran for a battle of the bands in one day - the show is tonight, but the roads and friends in the Iranian countryside have badly flooded. These bandmates have a great time travelling on the waterlogged roads, trying route after route to get to the city on time.

Racing against the clock is a strong premise that creates an interesting problem. Bandar Band is special because Sajjad Avarand's stunning cinematography on the aquatic abyss is as beautiful as the music the friends are playing. Nothing much else happens, but the infectious optimism is enough to let this movie be a joyful and visually peaceful ride.

#41 - The Best is Yet to Come

70 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 55mins. Drama Biography Thriller.

Directed by Wang Jing.

Starring White K, Miao Miao, Zhang Songwen and Song Yang.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday September 15th, 3:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: China. Mandarin.

Wang Jing has worked for years as an assistant director under his mentor Jia Zhang-ke for nearly a decade. Now, Zhang-ke produces Jing's insightful and fascinating directorial debut in what turns out to be about a classic true story of an underqualified hero using hard work to save the day.

Jing's story is a biography about reporter Han Dong (a terrific White K) who, while interning at Jingcheng Daily news, uncovered a conspiracy of forged health reports that discriminate against asymptomatic Hepatitis B patients. The main project doesn't show up in the first 45 minutes, and the ending moves too fast. The film still accurately shows the big city struggles of young workers who can't catch a break.

On a personal note, I, like Han, am a newspaper reporter in this mid-20s who simply hopes the things he writes will matter to enough of an audience to support his ability to keep working. Unlike myself, what Han discovers and is able to create would save thousands of lives. It's a refreshing and vital story to see democracy at work in China, watching journalism thrive and do good in a country that has, in its past, tried to suppress that very channel.

#42 - The Father

95 of 100, 4 stars

1hr 37mins. Drama.

Co-written and Directed by Florian Zeller.

Starring Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Imogen Poots, Rufus Sewell and Olivia Williams.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday September 15th, 6:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Presentations

Country/Language: United Kingdom and France. English.

Florian Zeller adapts his French-turned-English play about an elderly man's slide into progressively worse dementia and his daughter's efforts to care for him. This adaptation works incredibly well on the screen, and Zeller proves to be an excellent film director and guide to the camera as he is in the theatre.

I've never seen a story in any medium do as effective and realistic a job at replicating the experience of dementia or memory less first hand as our perspective from the man's eyes. When people, settings, conversations and small details change for him, so do they inexplicably for us, the audience.

What finally brings it together is Anthony Hopkins' fast moving, adaptable performance that works as a frightening vehicle for the audience to go on the confusing journey with him. I'll need to see the film again to truly appreciate all the connections hidden in the script (and also to make sense of the correct order of events) but attentive audiences will witness the best and most careful drama of the year.

#43 - Good Joe Bell

75 of 100, 3 stars

1hrs 30mins. Biography Adventure Drama.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Reid Miller, Connie Britton and Gary Sinise.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday September 15th, 8:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: USA. English.

Fifteen years after Brokeback Mountain, the same writing duo returns with another story of gay justice in America's heartland. This is based on a true story about father Joe Bell walking from Oregon to New York City to raise awareness against the suffering of his son being bullied for being gay.

Both Mark Wahlberg and Reid Miller are terrific as father and son. This is Wahlberg's best acting in years, putting his tough guy shell to great use. His performance as Joe has him doing something that doesn’t often define his acting - his quietness and his active contemplation to carefully choose what to do next.

Reid Miller makes one of the strongest mainstream acting debuts in the whole festival. The best scenes in the film are the conversations between Joe and Jaydin, and Miller gives Jadin wisdom with truth and proud, endless energy to say it. When confronted by the same men trying to discriminate Jadin's sexuality, he stands up to Dad and says "It's those people who are the problem."

Full review with Oakville News: https://oakvillenews.org/reviews/good-joe-bell-review/

#44 - City Hall

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

4hrs 35mins. Documentary Epic.

Directed by Frederick Wiseman.

 

Date/Time: Tuesday September 15th, 10:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: USA. English.

What a gift it is for both global audiences and the film’s subject himself to have such an expansive insight into the role of Mayor Marty Walsh. Most of the film is uncut clips of meetings, press conferences, slide presentations and public appearances. The rest is what happens are public works and the ordinary goings on at Boston’s - you guessed it - city hall. This will sound like a nightmare to some audiences and rightly so, but those unwilling to be part of the city politics likely won't give the film a try in the first place.

 

This is about as authentic and comprehensive a look into how a city runs as you’re ever going to see. Director Fred Wiseman, at age 94, is a local Boston boy, and his 53 years experience as a documentarian tells him where to put the camera so we pay attention to the most important aspects of the operation. 

 

City Hall’s only detriment is the runtime. The footage is as impressive as it is also simply too much to reasonably watch in one sitting - a person cannot sit in a cinema without an intermission or break for over four and a half hours. It’s just too long to expect someone to sit and pay close attention. Take it from me and don't watch in one sitting - this film is the most benefitted from a digital stream for the festival.

 

But this film is an effective campaign into the long-term health, sustainability and success of liberal government on a large scale. This is how compassionate democracies should work - yes, it’s imperfect, but it’s the best mess we’ve got.

#45 - I Am Greta

45 of 100, 2 stars

1hr 37mins. Biography Documentary.

Directed by Nathan Grossman.

Starring Greta Thunberg.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday September 16th, 12:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Events

Country/Language: Sweden. Swedish and English.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg is an inspiring figure with a tenacity to not care what other people think about her. She's strongest when we're learning about the severity of the global climate crisis directly from her speeches and her research. Unfortunately, most of the documentary focuses on her familial relationships instead of the science she's advocating for.

A great example is the fact sheets she prints and hands out to people while she sits and protests in her "School Strike for Climate" outside Swedish parliament. It's great we see her handing these out, but why don't we the viewers learn any of the information on them until 55 minutes into the film?

Her initially reluctant father turned manager clearly loves her and they make a great team. But what Greta's story needs are facts. She herself speaks candidly how sentiment and goodwill doesn't interest her: she wants results. It's a disservice to her mission that, in a documentary about her and her advocacy,

so little of her story focuses on the science that could invoke change.

#46 - Fauna

65 of 100, 2 1/2 stars

1hr 10mins. Comedy Drama.

Written and Directed by Nicolás Pereda.

Starring Lázaro Gabino Rodriguez, Luisa Pardo, Francisco Barreiro and Teresita Sánchez.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday September 16th, 2:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Wavelengths

Country/Language: Mexico and Canada. Spanish.

Pereda's blink-and-it's-over film focuses on two actors and artists in rural Mexico as they spend time with their families and work on their careers. It's a passive, gentle film, but these characters really feel like real people. Gabino Rodriguez especially really exists in the skin as an average guy, and that's impressive because we know he's making conscious character choices. One scene of him buying cigarettes is great.

Most scenes are simple in nature, and presented as long takes 3-5 minutes long. Talking about a date, looking for directions in the car, having a beer, or showing off a monologue in a TV episode; Fauna works best as a series of vignettes that depicts these lives for a couple of days.

#47 - The Water Man

75 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 32mins. Family Fantasy Mystery Adventure.

Directed by David Oyelowo.

Starring Lonnie Chavis, Amiah Miller, David Oyelowo, Rosario Dawson, Maria Bello and Alfred Molina.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday September 16th, 3:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Events

Country/Language: USA. English.

Actor David Oyelowo makes his feature debut with Oprah and her company producing a family film that reminiscent of 80s family adventures like E.T. and The Goonies. Lonnie Chavis (of T.V.'s This is Us) stars as a young boy who goes on a search in the woods near his home in Oregon to find a legendary person called "The Water Man" in hopes of finding the answer of saving his mom (Rosario Dawson).

Chavis plays a bookworm boy in search of greatness similar to his role of young Randall that he plays on TV, but he still commands the screen as a motivated, purposeful character. His co-star Amiah Miller is a respectable actor herself, but while the adults (Oyelowo, Dawson and Alfred Molina) are underused. The tone is still great, the adventure fun, the story is sweet and shot with just the right amount of adventurous spirit and gusto. This is an above-average live-action family film that's great for kids over 8.

#48 - Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds

80 of 100, 3 stars

1hr 37mins. Sci-Fi Documentary.

Written and Directed by Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer.

Starring Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday September 16th, 5:45pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Documentaries

Country/Language: United Kingdom, Austria and USA. English.

Meteorites have a lot more to offer as a varied topic than you might expect. Famous filmmaker Werner Herzog is known for a wide variety of topics in his 50+ year filmography, and his experience covering all disciplines of learning also translates here on a globe-trotting research mission about every kind of space rock you can imagine. 

 

This is a science fiction film in the sense that the co-directors explore both the science and spirituality of meteorites. They interview scientists, visual artists, historians, archeologists, priests, geologists, splunkers and more to explore how fireballs have impacted every aspect of our lives in the last 100 years.

Werner Herzog is a master documentarian, and his detailed notes lend to detailed, methodical voice-over narration that's irresistibly soothing to listen to. This is much better than his other documentary from earlier this year Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin because the material isn't as dense, meaning its far more approachable for viewers to understand the concepts that Herzog and Oppenheimer discover.

#49 - Underplayed

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 28mins. Music Documentary.

Co-written and Directed by Stacey Lee.

Starring Alison Wonderland, REZZ and Sherelle.

 

Date/Time: Wednesday September 16th, 9:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Events

Country/Language: Canada. English.

Underplayed is the ultimate girl power movie of TIFF. Stacey Lee's exploration of underrepresentation of women in digital and electronic music production is well-researched with loads of interviews from a wide array of both talented and knowledgable women, including musicians and historians alike. It won't surprise you what many barriers are, but this is such a well-composed argument against them it should be enough to invoke change. (There's a reason "even as a DJ, nightclubs aren't always safe for women.")

The most surprising part is how in-depth the history of women pioneering music production (and later DJing) is. The history informs the present, and there's a great collection of statistics, information and heart-pounding performances that both educate and entertain. It's worst quality are montages of self-promotions for the artists and the film itself, not needed because the quality of its material speaks for itself, but these don't last long and is a shortcoming easy to overlook.

One of the most powerful scenes is a sequence of festival posters, first showing the names of everyone, and then having the names of male performers fade to show only the women. Looking at this collection of nauseatingly empty posters is an effective visual for showing the massive disparity the film describes. The film is a grander statement on what the source and evils of sexism in the music industry really does.

#50 - Another Round

90 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 56mins. Comedy Drama.

Written and Directed by Thomas Vinterberg.

Starring Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe and Maria Bonnevie.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 17th, 12:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Presentations

Country/Language: Denmark. Danish.

After spending most of the last decade working in American and Canadian productions, Mads Mikkelsen returns to his Danish roots, re-teaming with Thomas Vinterberg in a deliriously fun comedy about a drinking pact four friends who work at the same school make as part of a social experiment to see what the adverse effects of a permanent 0.05% blood alcohol level would do to the common man.

The film executes its premise well, constantly offering its characters chances to quit while they're ahead or double down to appease their curiosity. Being a country obsessed with its drinking culture, Denamrk was the perfect place to set and make this story. It's a funny and insightful exploration into both the positive effects drinking gives you - but how do you balance that with the consequences if you continue?

Also, what a fun final scene. I didn't know Mads Mikkelsen had trained as a dancer in his youth, but wow can he dance! I always applaud any film that capitalizes on the versatility of its cast.

#51 - The Inheritance

85 of 100, 3 1/2 stars

1hr 42mins. Biography.

Written and Directed by Ephraim Asili

Starring Nozipho McClean, Eric Lockley, Chris Jarell and Julian Rozzell Jr.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 17th, 5:00pm

Seen Where: TIFF Bell Lightbox (Cinema 4)

Programme: Wavelengths

Country/Language: USA. English.

Ephraim Asili's debut feature is what he calls a "spectacular re-enactment" of his early experiences growing up in a west Philadelphia house echoing the work of the MOVE organization as a socialist collective is set up in the house and its residents begin a new movement of justice and culture. But setting up organizations is harder than it might seems, as the group learns that "Practice without thought is blind; thought without practice is empty."

The film is highly experimental, with Asili's knowledge of music history influencing the story structure and the sound design of the entire film. Long, static takes show the house being established from the ground up. It's like a strange mix of City Hall and 40 Years a Prisoner, two documentaries from earlier this week.

From the latter, the Africa family make appearances as themselves in this film discussing their story to the new collective. I learned more in that 15 minute scene about MOVE, the Africa family and the black experience as a whole than I did in the whole HBO documentary about them from earlier in the festival.

Throw in a knockout performance from Julian Rozzell Jr. as Old Head and you've got a great movie. A very special shoutout also goes to Asili's choice to film this on 16mm film, printed on 35mm film. His own company made the 35mm print and sent it to Toronto especially for the festival's two in-person screenings of his movie. Props also to projectionist Dave who did our show at the Lightbox - both the film and this special screening were extremely special experiences.

#52 - Spring Blossom

55 of 100, 2 stars

1hr 13mins. Romance.

Written and Directed by Suzanne Lindon.

Starring Suzanne Lindon and Arnaud Valois.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 17th, 8:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: France. French.

Suzanne Lindon makes a very impressive statement with her debut film. She wrote this story of a teenager and her romantic relationship with an actor in his mid-30s the film when she herself was only  15, and now she directs and stars in it at only 20. She might be one of the youngest directors in the history of both TIFF and the Cannes festival (where this was also a selection.)

Her film is short, focusing almost entirely on Suzanne (the protagonist's name as well as her own) and her new boyfriend Raphaël. But the only conflict that ever materializes is whether or not they eventually make their relationship official. Lindon's voice is well-defined and authentic to teenage girls about to be women, but even then there's no moral or clear purpose. The movie isn't bad, but there's a very limited audience of who this will speak to.

#53 - Shadow in the Cloud

40 of 100, 1 1/2  stars

1hr 23mins. Sci-Fi War Action Horror.

Co-written and Directed by Roseanne Liang.

Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Taylor John Smith and Nick Robinson.

 

Date/Time: Thursday September 17th, 10:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Midnight Madness

Country/Language: USA and New Zealand. English.

The ludicrous premise of Shadow in the Cloud starts off as a lot of fun, but once the action ramps up halfway through, all plot consistency and realistic physics are thrown out the window into a mountain of mayhem. Both implausible and ridiculous, this is a poor film that can't be taken seriously. But I'll also begrudgingly admit it was a lot of fun to watch - and also the only legitimately scary movie of the festival.

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as an airline pilot on a classified mission, hitching a ride on a combat airplane in WW2 somewhere in the South Pacific. At first she's mocked by the otherwise all-male crew, but soon enemy fighter planes attack...and then a six foot tall rodent/bat monster begins destroying the plane.

The first half of the movie sees Moretz trapped in a gunner capsule under the plane, but once she breaks out all common sense and dramatic cohesion are tossed to the wind. Literally. It's got great production design and some great ideas on what could've been a stellar movie. It's too bad it's just so dumb.

#54 - Beginning

75 of 100, 3 stars

2hrs 5mins. Faith Drama.

Co-written and Directed by Dea Kulumbegashvili.

Starring Ia Sukhitashvili, Rati Oneli, Kakha Kintsurashvili and Saba Gogichaishvili.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 17th, 11:30am

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: Georgia and France. Georgian.

Beginning's opening scene is incredibly powerful - after watching the beginning of a Christian church service in a long, extended take, molotov cocktails are thrown into the church in an attempted attack to kill the worshippers inside. Suddenly the viewer sits up, breathless as you watch whether or not the congregation and missionary/our protagonist Yana is going to survive.

Kulumbegashvili's debut film is filled with long, continuous takes that depict Yana's efforts to bring justice to whoever did the opening incident. But none of these long, slow scenes are nearly as compelling as the first. Halfway through the film, Yana lies down in a shady meadow, and we simply have a bird's eye view of her resting in the field for nearly six minutes, silent.

Some scenes are terrific, like one where a person is attached only to the sound of rushing water in a nearby river. Some are unnecessarily long, adding nothing to Yana's quest or the church's story at large. This is high-brow art and the bones are strong. The faith-based core isn't stirring, but seeing the church's treatment of Yana and her navigating the evils facing her down definitely are.

#55 - True Mothers

80 of 100, 3 stars

2hrs 19mins. Drama.

Co-written and Directed by Naomi Kawase.

Starring Hiromi Nagasaku, Arata Iura, Aju Makita and Miyoko Asada.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 17th, 2:00pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Special Presentations

Country/Language: Japan. Japanese.

I had sinfully never heard of Naomi Kawase before watching this film, and what struck me right away was her obsession with reactionary truth from her actors and the drama we seen on screen. Her tender and fully believable drama about an infertile mother facing the now-grown teen mom who gave her and her husband their child is engrossing thanks to a winning trio of actors at the centre.

The real mother/adopted mother central conflict is reborn (pun intended) as a newly ignited heartbreak and fascinating story to care for young Asato. The non-linear timeline lets the audience only learn small fragments of back story at a time so our emotions are pulled in a hundred directions. It's highly effective at keeping the audience interested and, even with a slow pace, the nearly two and a half hours fly by. A

special mention deservingly goes to Hiromi Nagasaku and Aju Makita as the mothers - both are amazing.

#56 - Memory House

45 of 100, 2  stars

1hr 33mins. Western Fantasy Drama Thriller.

Written and Directed by João Paulo Miranda Maria.

Starring Antônio Pitanga.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 17th, 4:30pm

Seen Where: Home

Programme: Discovery

Country/Language: Brazil and France. Portugese and German.

JPMM's introspective study of an aging indigenous black man in Brazil, now working at a dairy plant, talks about several subjects without settling on what it ultimately wants to share with us. His day -to-day life is linear, so it's not meant to be several vignettes on different topics. But is it about the racism he's a victim of living in the South instead of the Northeast? His disconnection from his people? His loneliness?

Both his aging house filled with relics from his past and the expansive country woods that surround him are filled with emptiness and empty from meaning. Antônio Pitanga is a sufficient star as Christovam (and according to some research he was a large star in the 1960s too) but he's the only clearly defined component.

The quiet air of Christovam's pain by Pitanga and the beautiful, arid cinematography isn't enough to stay interested in what's going on. Also, who was it on the crew that had such a hard vendetta against cows? (When you learn it's a metaphor for putting Christovam "out to pasture", it'll make your eyes roll.)

#57 - Bruised

70 of 100, 3 stars*

2hrs 18mins. Sports Drama.

Written and Directed by Halle Berry.

Starring Halle Berry, Adan Canto, Sheila Atim, Stephen McKinley Henderson and Shamier Anderson.

 

Date/Time: Friday September 17th, 9:00pm

Seen Where: VISA Drive-In Cinema at Cityview (Polson Pier)

Programme: Gala Presentations

Country/Language: USA. English.

*Note: this film was openly screening at the festival as a work in progress. General release of the completed film will come later this year on Netflix.

Full review to come.

Full review will publish with Oakville News on Sunday, September 20th.

© 2020 by TYLER COLLINS.

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