TIFF19 – Reflecting on 11 Days of Spectacular Cinema

To say I’m suffering from a film induced hangover is an understatement. Today I was asked more than once “are you okay?” I mean I feel bad, but I didn’t realize I looked so bad. My eyelids are heavy, my hips ache, I have dry mouth and my skin has a greyish vampire tinge to it, so maybe I don’t look so great. Let’s just say I’ve got a healthy case of TIFFulicus. A couple of nights sleep and some time in the sun should help. But it was worth it. So worth it. I saw thirty films, 17 of which I rated 4 stars or more, only 3 I could have missed but nothing I wanted to walk out of.

My top 17…

1. MARRIAGE STORY ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Absolutely loved Marriage Story. I didn’t think I would because Noah Baumbach’s films often irritate me with their self-obsessed characters and on-the-nose dialogue but this film was damn near perfect. Characters impeccably drawn, brilliant dialogue and a story that broke my heart. All performances were top notch but it’s Adam Driver that shoots it out of the ball park. Those of you who are not a Adam Driver fans because of Girls or Kylo Ren, I urge you to give this man another shot. He’s got the chops. Hope he is appropriately recognized for his extraordinary performance.

2. FORD V. FERRARI ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ford v. Ferrari is one of those huge blockbuster films you feel guilty about seeing at the festival because it’s going to get wide release. But, having seen the premiere of Ron Howard’s Rush at Roy Thomson Hall a few years back I was not going to pass up on seeing James Mangold’s take on this incredible story on the even bigger screen and better sound system at RTH. And wow, just wow. This is a blockbuster of a film. We were catapulted back to 1966. The cinematography is incredible and the story doesn’t let you down. Christian Bale and Matt Damon are perfect, and Tracy Letts has a very memorable scene stealing moment that had the whole audience gasping and cheering. I cannot wait to see this one rack up a whole bunch of awards this season from technical to acting and everything in between.

3. JOJO RABBIT ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For the record, and I’m not embellishing, I predicted Jojo Rabbit would win the Grolsch People’s Choice Award Days before the festival began. Throughout the festival I never wavered. My money was on the bunny. Judging from the trailer, the premise and what Taika Waititi has done recently, I had a feeling this would be awesome. And it was. I’m so happy the “anti-Nazi satire film” won. I was a bit concerned because some were saying critics were mixed on the film. I get some films invoke controversy but for this one, I don’t buy it . As someone said, Taika is Jewish so he gets a pass. This is a terrific film that deals with heavy subject matter using humour and satire to send a strong positive message. Hope the TIFF audiences help raise it to Oscar heights. Taika Waititi is one of the quirkiest, most imaginative filmmakers around today.

4. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’d been following Dolemite Is My Name through award winning screenplay writer Larry Karaszewski’s twitter posts. He and partner Scott Alexander wrote Ed Wood, Big Eyes, Man on the Moon, 1408 and so many other great films. Save it to say I trust them to be involved in a great project. Larry said it’s great so he had me at hello. And, guess what guys. This film is really great! Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes blow the doors off. That Eddie is a hit is no surprise, but Wesley? The guy steals the show. He’s priceless as in funny, hysterical actually. The story is excellent, it’s hilarious, heartwarming and has you feeling like anything is possible. I’ve heard people compare it to The Disaster Artist. On the surface, perhaps, but this is a much higher caliber film in all respects. Ruth Carter is a lock for another costume nomination and I’m hoping for actor noms for Eddie Murphy, Wesley Snipes and Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and a screenplay nomination obviously!


Women Make Film: A New Road Trip Through Cinema is a new documentary project led by Belfast native documentarian Mark Cousins. One of my many regrets is that I was only able to catch the last two hour part of this 13 hour extravaganza. Forty sections explore aspects of filmmaking in incredible detail. I will definitely catch up on the other parts as soon as it’s available for streaming. This new look at the school of filmmaking through the eyes of women around the world is refreshing to say the least. The list of films referenced in the documentary is expansive with directors from around the globe. Only 16% were women from North America. We can thank Mark for helping move the diversity dial forward by looking back through the eyes of women so poorly represented in the industry. My next project is to watch as many of these films as I can find.

6. UNCUT GEMS ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

I thought Good Time was so unique, fresh and exciting, so I was not passing up on the Safdie Brothers’ next one. Uncut Gems is even messier, but Howie the protagonist is a mess, so it works. Loved Daniel Lopatin’s soundtrack, Darius Khondji’s cinematography, the characters, the dialogue and the mucked up story. It’s the perfect film for Adam Sandler to straddle his affable jokester persona with something more serious. Idina Menzel is the perfect bitchy wife in this. I would have enjoyed hearing them sing some show tunes together. Sadly I only heard about it. Will go back further in the Safdie catalogue to see some of their earlier works.

7. LA BELLE ÉPOQUE ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️✨

In La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos has penned the perfect second chance story. Victor, who is slipping into the doldrums of old age, boring his wife and worrying his son is gifted an invitation to his son’s friend Antoine’s experience company that offers a chance to relive the good old days. Antoine, the seemingly accomplished entrepreneur, has issues of his own and a subplot evolves. This clever screenplay, great dialogue, lots of laughs, tears and a kick ass performance from Fanny Ardant, is a winner for me.

8. JUST MERCY ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The social justice warrior in me was an easy target for Just Mercy, the powerful true story of Bryan Stevenson, Harvard educated lawyer who was drawn to defend death row prisoners in Alabama after his experience in a student internship. While Bryan Stevenson has spent his entire career defending the disenfranchised in the south, this story is focused on his early career defending Walter McMillian, a man sentenced to death for the murder of a white girl in a laundromat when it is evident he couldn’t have committed the crime. This is not an easy film to watch as one feels a like hopeless bystander. You know what happens to people in prison is wrong, but what can we do. We were fortunate to have Mr. Stevenson introduce the film, and encourage all of us all not to give up, to do more to right the wrongs. In his words “there is no justice without hope.” And by the way, Jamie Foxx and O’Shea Jackson Jr. are incredible in this film. I’ve heard from some calling this a TV movie. Ya’ll are so jaded. It’s a true story. Look it up. This should be paired with Ava DuVernay’s 13th.

9. SAINT MAUD ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Every year I try to make it to as many Irish films as I can. This year I couldn’t make many work, but Saint Maud fit the schedule nicely. I picked a winner. This psychological thriller, written and directed by Rose Glass is my hidden gem. That Rose’s mentor is Carmel Winters is no coincidence because I also loved Float Like a Butterfly TIFF18 FIPRESCI prize winnner. Even though I saw the second screening of Saint Maud and people who saw it earlier claimed its brilliance, I had selected it blind. A young Catholic nurse having a rough time embraces God to help her through, he speaks to her and things go a little squirrelly. This atmospheric horror film was beautifully shot on the Northern coast of England, a rundown seaside town that has seen better days. The film hails one of the best film endings of TIFF19 and I concur. Best horror film I’ve seen directed by a woman. I sure hope it sees distribution.

10. THE PLATFORM ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Midnight Madness Grolsch People’s Choice winner was The Platform. This conceptual film takes place in a mysterious and dire “pit” reserved for criminals and those who “choose” to be there to serve a personal sentence and receive a diploma. The Pit is made up of an unspecified number of levels. Each level has a large rectangular hole cut out of it . If you’re not careful you could fall to the bottom (however far it goes). Two people share each level, roommates if you will. Each person is allowed to bring one item with them. Time on a particular level is 30 days after which time you are randomly assigned to another level. The lower the level, the worse the conditions. At level zero “0”, world class chefs prepare an extraordinary quantity of Michelin quality food that is placed on a rectangular platform. The fresh food is lowered to the first level, what’s left is lowered to the second level, and then to the third and so on. Platform lowers through the hole I described earlier of course. At some point there is no food on the platform and people at the lower levels begin to starve. At this point you are probably wondering why someone would volunteer themselves to this hell hole. False advertising? Suspend disbelief. This is a clever, shocking, gruesome and interesting film which is why it won the prize. Purchased by Netflix, everyone will soon see it.


I loved The Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It’s a beautiful film about forbidden love. It reminded me a bit of Miss Julie, with the Lady of the house, the person employed to work, and the maid all left alone for the weekend. Not exactly like Miss Julie given the artist sent to paint Heloise is of much higher stature than the valet. We can probably draw connections between lots of films if we try hard enough. The performances in this film are stellar. My only beef was with the multiple endings, but then someone explained that they both needed an ending. I’ll buy that.

12. 37 SECONDS ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

37 Seconds is a very fresh take on the coming of age film. Yuma, a 23 year old comic book artist lives in the shadow of the cousin she works for, as well as under the control of her mother who worries about her constantly. Yuma has cerebral palsy and her disability which limits her mobility. Frustrated with her confinement and lack of artistic recognition, Yuma is inspired to take a drastic leap to improve her circumstances. Funny, heartwarming and tragic at times, this film makes you think about what people are capable of and the sacrifices they make for those they love. Hikari is a filmmaker to watch out for. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

13. HONEY BOY ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I added Honey Boy to my schedule at the last minute. A fourth film on an already packed day, but this was a great choice. Beautiful film in so many ways, the cinematography, the approach to the shocking scenes, the balance between the love and hardship. Alma Har’el does beautiful work. Shia Labeouf did not have an average childhood, he had a very confusing and often abusive one. I hope the making of this film and portraying his father has helped him therapeutically.

14. THE SOUND OF METAL ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Sound of Metal was not at all what I expected. This is a film about a musician’s acceptance of his hearing loss, but it is complicated by his struggles with drug addiction. He was broken before he was broken. When you are an addict, additional trauma can be triggering. Like A Place Beyond the Pines, penned by Darius Marder, this is a longish story that drags a bit, but its realistic feel coupled by an outstanding performance by Riz Ahmed, makes it seem like we are watching a real person deal with this rather raw deal rather than a movie.


The Personal History of David Copperfield was a pleasant surprise. Iannuci’s take on Dickens’ classic is quirky, entertaining and gorgeous. A phenomenal cast enhances the characters in this familiar tale. David Copperfield is already a story of class struggle and humanity, and Iannuci has gone one step further to represent the characters diversely, mixing the races and backgrounds of family members, sending a strong message. People are people. I would watch this one again with my family.

16. SORRY WE MISSED YOU ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ken Loach’s films are painfully real and this is no exception. Sorry We Missed You takes us on a journey with a struggling family trying to make ends meet. Mum is a private care nurse who visits, baths, cooks and gives medicines to the elderly and other housebound patients. Dad is hoping a new venture as a white van delivery man will bear fruit but it will require a new van purchase and the sacrifice of Mum’s car. Son is an aspiring graffiti artist, who skips school and gets into heaps of trouble, and daughter tries to keep everyone happy in the house. This is a family we recognize, a family doing the best they can but are getting nowhere. Loach is unflinching in his depiction of hardship and hopelessness, and leaves us with an ending to ponder. More people need to watch his films.

17. KNIVES OUT ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

An all-star who dunnit, it’s as if the Clue board game in your cupboard came to life with your favourite movie stars playing the characters. Knives Out is an homage to the masters of sleuth cinema. While it’s not rocket science, it’s fun, engaging and for that I award it an extra star.

The next ten films were alright, not perfect, but I’m glad I saw them. Waves, The Goldfinch, While at War and The Traitor were all ambitious films that while not perfect had some incredible moments. All four of them could easily have been mini series instead of feature films. Waves was highly experimental, melodramatic and got carried away with itself at times, but this highly manipulative film managed to suck me into its lair and made me feel lots of feels. The Goldfinch wasn’t perfect but it condensed an 800 page novel into an effective film the way I never thought possible, moments in the film are positively outstanding and despite what some say Finn Wolfhard and Aneurin Barnard were the perfect Boris combo. While at War wasn’t perfect either but it had moments of brilliance and inspired me to learn more about the Franco era. Lastly The Traitor, based on the true story of Tommaso Buscetta’s testimony uncovering Sicily’s Cosa Nostra in the early ’80s was too big a story to boil into a feature but I enjoyed the courtroom scenes. Again, it has inspired me to learn more. Hopefully someone will make a series with all the details of the families, their relationships and crimes.

Jungleland, Blow the Man Down, Sea Fever, The Burnt Orange Heresy, The Vast of Night and Proxima are all smaller fare that you enjoy at the festival. Films you are not likely to see on the big screen. All had memorable moments. Jungleland leaves me with the notion that Charlie Hunnam can really act, Jack O’Connell looks great in pink and Max Winkler should do something bigger. Blow the Man Down reminded me that women always get the job done. Sea Fever broke conventions on who survives the survival game. The Burnt Orange Heresy while not perfect, had a very clever ending and left me wondering if Claes Bang should be the next James Bond and Mick Jagger could be Q. The Vast of Night, while a slim story, was a great little throwback film that recreated the 1950s in every way. And Proxima tried to show us how women struggle between career and motherhood the way no other film has to date.

The only three I didn’t enjoy were The True History of the Kelly Gang, The Song of Names and Greed. Others enjoyed them, and that’s terrific. After all, there’s an audience for every film.

While I saw some great films, there are some I missed that I’m adding to my watchlist based on others recommendations like Bacarau, The Report, Bad Education, The Lighthouse, Beanpole, The Hidden Life, The Painted Bird, and many others.

If you are wondering about Parasite, I’d seen it before the festival and yes, I loved it.

So long TIFF 2019, thanks for the films and the memories.

TIFF 2019 – September 5 – 15

This is a déjà vu statement but every year I am astounded by the selection of fabulous films the programmers at TIFF procure. And the ever increasing amount of female directors is so reassuring. Share Her Journey is paying dividends. I have over 30 films scheduled, 7 directed by women, and I have every intention of keeping my energy up to see all of them. There are themes, some unintentional, running through my selections this year. Perhaps my subconscious is at play. Overlap noted (*)

F’d Up Families

  • Honey Boy
  • Waves
  • The True Story of the Kelly Gang
  • Jungleland
  • Knives Out
  • Blow the Man Down

For Better or Worse (or Maybe Not)

  • Marriage Story
  • Ordinary Love
  • La Belle Époque
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • Sorry We Missed You

Italian Crime

  • The Traitor
  • Burnt Orange Heresy

WWII, There’s Abouts

  • The Painted Bird
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • While at War
  • The Song of Names

Dudes Being Tested

  • Sound of Metal
  • Greed
  • Ford v Ferrari
  • Dolemite Is My Name
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield
  • Uncut Gems
  • The Goldfinch


  • Clemency
  • Just Mercy
  • The Platform

Books on Film

  • The Goldfinch
  • The True Story of the Kelly Gang
  • The Painted Bird
  • Just Mercy
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield

Films Directed by Women, including two creepy Irish ones.

  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire *
  • 37 Seconds
  • Clemency *
  • Honey Boy *
  • Blow the Man Down *
  • Sea Fever
  • Saint Maud

And last but not least, Part 5 of Mark Cousins’ Women Make Film documentary.

Looking forward to a very week full of film, family and friends. I’ll endeavour to post brief unspoiled reviews as I go.


Directed By Olivia Wilde and Written by Susanna Fogel,, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins and Katie Silberman

Starring Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Skyler Gisondo and Billi Lourd

We’ve all known those “booksmart” people in high school. The intense, driven, over acheivers who lead the debate teams, run for school council, organize the fundraisers, create the yearbook and seem to know the teachers on a first name basis. Molly and Amy are those people. They think they’ve done everything right, while the rest of their classmates have wasted precious time loafing and partying.

When Molly finds out that the kids who have been partying and having fun through highschool have also gotten into prestigious universities and colleges, she loses her mind. Could she have had fun too? Fear of missing out quickly sets in and she is determined that she and Amy will live it up and do something wild on the eve of their high school graduation.

This is a fresh take on the “eve of the rest of your life” genre, entirely from the female perspective, exquisitely written by a dream team of female writers including Susanna Fogel, and brilliantly directed by first timer Olivia Wilde.

It’s been a while since I graduated highschool, but I still related to these two bossom buddies. I don’t think I have seen too best girlfriends so authentically portrayed in a film. Sure there are some cliches and over-the-top situations, but the film nails their chemistry and in the critical moments of the film they are so believable you feel the intensity of their friendship ebb and flow like the real deal. There is one scene in particular, the climax of the film, where I teared up. I don’t recall a moment in Superbad, Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Pretty in Pink where my eyes welled up like that. Molly and Amy were people that I adored and when they hurt, I hurt. And THAT is the power of great storytelling!

Bravo ladies!! I cannot wait to see what you do next!

2019 Snubscars – My Annual Oscar Nomination Rant

Well, it’s been a ride leading up to the 2019 Oscar nominations announced this morning. With controversial crowd pleasers like Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody leading other award races, it was bound to be a bit of a shit show. And here we have it. I could be really vicious and pick apart the nominations that did come through instead of the ones that are missing, but that would be cruel to the folks who are celebrating today. What is done is done, but I am still not happy about these missing recognitions.

1. No love for Mr. Rogers and other leading documentaries….

The most glaring of snubs would be for Morgan Neville’s beloved Mr. Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? We all adored this film. The only explanation I can think of is that everyone thought everyone else was going to vote for it, so they picked an underdog?

Other critical favourites, Three Identical Strangers (which will be played on CNN on Jan 27th at 9pm) and The Silence of Others, also mysteriously missing from the list of documentary feature nominees.

2. Barry Jenkins’ Gorgeous If Beale Street Could Talk Only Got 3 Noms!!!

This is completely outrageous. It was a shoe-in for Best Picture, Director, Cinematography and possibly Production Design. I guess they couldn’t risk him stealing another Best Picture win.


This baffles me. Hello Academy? Anyone home? No one is walking the talk here on inclusion. They had sure fire films here to work with – You Were Never Really Here, Leave No Trace and Can You Ever Forgive Me (which I haven’t seen yet but have on faith is excellent) !! There is no excuse. NO EXCUSE.

4. Ethan Hawke….ETHAN HAWKE!!!!

He wrapped himself in barbed wire for Christ’s sake! It was the performance of a lifetime, anyone’s lifetime. We know people saw the film, because Paul Schrader has a nomination for his screenplay. Unless of course they didn’t see it and are just nominating him because he’s Paul Schrader. But come on. Ethan Hawke brings this complex character study / social commentary to LIFE!! This was not an easy role to play and the win was a lock. Or so I thought.

5. Editing Noms

I think I need to better understand the criteria for the editing award because I honestly thought You Were Never Really Here was one of the most brilliantly edited films I have seen in a while. The way that film was put together I could smell the streets of New York. I’m thinking no one saw the film.

6. Very Little Love for the First Man on the Moon

Every year you’ve got true stories where the truth is debated, yet the one that gets it right is passed over for the ones that arguably didn’t? Not only did this get it right, it’s an incredible film!. I usually hate space movies, but this worked for me. The Musical Score is glorious. Claire Foy was incredible. It should have a Best Picture, Best Actress and Musical Score added to its technical awards.

7. Nothing for Suspiria

Did anyone see this film? No? Didn’t think so. If they did they’d know it’s a crazy good reboot of the original arthouse film. From make up and hair, special effects, cinematography, performances from Dakota Johnson and Tilda Swinton, to Thom Yorke’s score, something should have been nominated. I do not get it.

8. John David Washington

Why no love for this man? He was brilliant in BlacKkKlansman.

I am happy about a few things though, but less usual unfortunately.

1. The Favourite has 10 Nominations

My daughter jokes about how all the critically acclaimed “lesbian films” are practically pornos. Well here we have one that is not. It’s vicious, campy, ridiculous and riotous and impeccably well made. I hope it CLEANS UP!!

2. Roma has 10 Nominations

Not everyone loved this one, but I did. It’s a beautiful film. Happy for Alfonso and hope he wins Best Director and Best Foreign Film.


I really like this guy and I loved BlacKkKlansman. Spike can take best Director from Alfonso. I could handle that.

4. Paul Schrader

First Reformed is a wicked screenplay and happy to see it nominated. There is tough competition here but a nod is worth a lot.

5. Never Look Away has 2 Nominations

I loved this film that no one else has seen. The Foreign Film nom was not surprising but the cinematography was a very pleasant surprise.

6. Paddington 2

One of the best reviewed sequels ever, loved by everyone who took the time to see it, could have easily been nominated for best picture, editing and production design but sadly no. Some say it came out to early. Those of us who saw it didn’t forget it!!

Deep sigh…. Always flawed, corrupt and suspect. And while I am reminded that these awards hold little weight over the years, I guess I can still have some fun waging who the winners will be.

Beautiful Boy

Directed by Felix Van Groeningen

Starring Steve Carell, Timothy Chalamet, Maura Tierny and Amy Ryan

David and Nic Sheff were very closely involved in the development of this film, and they deserve lots of credit for telling their story and also for ensuring the film maintained credibility. Not always an easy watch, the story brings to life what happens when your beautiful child loses themselves to addiction. And this can happen to any child. Even ones who are deeply loved and cared for.

This heartbreaking story is mostly told from the perspective of Dad, David Sheff, Steve Carell is convincing as this desperate, broken father who does not want to give up on his son. But it is Timothy Chalamet, who portrays the even more desperate and broken son, who delivers the most convincing performance. I suppose it’s hard to write accurately about your experience as a drug addict when your memories are all messed up. And while the film doesn’t go too far down the dark path, it’s dark enough. The real message here is one all of us need to understand, that you cannot save an addict. You can love them, you can support their recovery but they need to save themselves. It is the most stressful and helpless situation a parent can go through and to get through it yourself you need to keep it together which is no easy task.

I have one concern about the film and that is that the use of Timothy Chalamet, Hollywood’s beloved “It Boy”, might romanticize addiction. While his performance is brilliant, I wish they’d used an unknown. Addiction is brutal. Making it seem pretty doesn’t help anyone. The screening I attended was full of young people there to see Timothy. Thankfully he didn’t attend this second screening.

I didn’t attend the premiere screening because I wasn’t sure I could sit through the screening. In hindsight, I wish I had to hear the Q&A with the Sheffs. They are so fortunate to be able to tell their story together.

This was one of the many “Film Food For Parents” I saw at TIFF. Others include – Boy Erased, Giant Little Ones, Shoplifters, Where Hands Touch, Wildlife, Float Like A Butterfly and Roma.

Out of Blue

Directed by Carol Morley

Starring Patricia Clarkson, Mamie Gummer, Toby Jones, James Caan and Jackie Weaver

This was a brilliant and promising combination, Patricia Clarkson + New Orleans + Noir + Police drama + Female Director. But what should have been great went ridiculously wrong.

From Patricia Clarkson sporting an over powering dark wig jangling handcuffs on her belt to the overly colour enhanced accents in most scenes and the cliche dialogue, this felt a bit like a dress up party.

The plot ran back and forth so many times over itself, any semblance of a twist or turn was squashed. Not sure who edited the screenplay or the film, or if it was edited at all.

And Toby Jones’ character seemed like an afterthought. If you are going to add a subplot, add a subplot. This is a movie not a TV show.

Sum up… a campy, messed-up, dream sequence Law & Order episode.

Apologies to the filmmakers but this was the worst film I saw at TIFF.

Teen Spirit

Directed by Max Minghella

Starring Elle Fanning and Zlatco Buric

Max Minghella’s directorial debut is a delight. It’s a safe bet as far as stories go, but it’s fresh enough to entertain.

Violet is a small town girl with big dreams who finds a mentor who can help her get there. I know, I know, this sounds really familiar. My Fair Lady, A Star is Born… How many times has this rags to riches story been written? For a first screenplay, it’s a safe bet and the story veers from the traditional, layering in just enough to disguise it as it’s own.

Violet is a teenaged Polish immigrant living on a rural farm in the Isle of Wight with her single mother. They struggle for money. Violet isn’t like the other local girls at school, she’s a bit of a loner. She loves singing and sneaks out between work and home to sing at a local pub on open mike night for the experience and extra cash. Vlad, a former Russian opera singer thrice her age and with endless time on his hands, hangs out at the pub taking in the local talent. He lives in a beat up old van. He offers Violet a ride one night which she initially declines, but when a crowd of hoodlums startle her she takes him up on it. He might be creepy but he seems harmless enough.

Around town are huge billboards advertising the Teen Spirit talent contest. Girls at school are planning to attend and she’d like to go. She goes to the first audition but to go any further she needs a guardian’s signature. Off goes the lightbulb, maybe Vlad will pose as her guardian.

Zlatco Buric is the perfect actor for the Vlad role. Minghella said in the Q&A that the role was written for him a big, burly man with wild hair. He’s either a teddy bear or a demon. Well he’s actually a teddy bear with demons…

Vlad quickly takes on the role of Violet’s manager and mentor, and their unlikely friendship blossoms. Vlad has a storage locker where he keeps all of the old records including his own recordings. Here he helps her develop her talent showing her some tricks of the trade. He has to win over her mother, which is not too difficult.

The typical hiccups and crisis ensue, I’ll not spoil your experience, because these events are what make it its own.

Elle Fanning sings throughout the film, and while they may have enhanced her voice, she was convincingly great. My daughter was annoyed by the choice of music, that it was too mainstream for the type of film it was trying to be. She maybe right. Time will tell. She also noticed that one of the songs played during the closing credits was the same as played during the closing credits of Mean Girls, Orbital’s Halcyon + On + On. She has pretty sharp musical memory to notice this. Max did say he got all the music he wanted for the film but to use the same credit music as Mean Girls? Maybe he’s paying homage to a favourite.

Do I think Max Minghella has directing skills? Hell yes. What he did here was miles ahead of what another actor did with the similar tale…. I cannot wait to see what he does next. But first he must do some acting and save June from Fred.


Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Starring Matthias Schoenaerts, Colin Firth and Lea Seydoux

It’s a Russian story, about a preventable tragedy told by a Danish Filmmaker, starring Belgian, French, Swedish, German, Swiss and Croatian actors. Something tells me this is not going to do well in Russia.

I think true submarine film fans will be disappointed that this film doesn’t focus on the more technical aspects of what went wrong when the Kursk sank. The best parts of the film where the intense scenes of survival focused on the men in the submarine, but with lots of focus on the families left behind, this film ended up coming across a bit like a made for TV melodrama. In the Q&A Vinterberg said he wanted to focus on the human story and how it conflicted with the bureaucracy that determined Russian action, and lack there of, to rescue those trapped in the sunken warcraft. It was harrowing and emotional, I shed tears, so I think he achieved his goal on the human front.

The best part of this film is Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous musical score. The man is an absolute genius. If this isn’t nominated for best score, I will raise hell.

Outlaw King

Directed by Scott Mackenzie

Starring Chris Pine, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Florence Pugh

A wee bit of Scottish history overlapping with William Wallace so we can expect plenty of comparisons to Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. And while this does not have the same epic quality that Braveheart had, it’s not terrible. The gorgeous cinematography alone will have you planning a trip to the Scottish highlands. It’s too bad it’s going straight to Netflix because this and some very intense and exceptionally crafted battle scenes would be better appreciated on a big theatre screen.

The performances are great, particularly Stephen Dillane, Billy Howle and Aaron Taylor- Johnson. And yes, Chris Pine was good as Robert the Bruce and pulled off a fairly decent Scottish brogue, but I would have preferred a Scottish actor to play the part. Not sure this film needed a big name to get viewers. But maybe he was hired because he was willing to go full frontal. Yes, that’s right, Chris Pine in the buff. The audience actually gasped. It was quite surprising. There was not Q&A so we weren’t able to ask about it or if all the men went commando, as the Scotts did. I found myself obsessing about how this will differentiate Chris Pine from all the other Hollywood Chris’s. The doors that will open to him. I mean someone needs to take over where Ralph Fiennes left off. He’s now the more worldly Chris who bares all for his art, as opposed to the Captain Kirk Chris. If Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth show us their man parts, we’ll be back at square one. But alas, I digress…

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is very entertaining in this. Give this man a lead role not directed by his wife.

The only thing that I found troublesome with the film was the many dramatic pauses that landed on Chris Pine’s face, and there were too many of these. Chris Pine is a handsome dude and all, but I think the film would could have been spared the excessive melodrama.

In a nutshell, not bad, fine for Netflix.

TIFF 2018 – All Wrapped Up!

Eleven days of fabulous films, family, friends and festival frenzy. Of course it is mostly about the extraordinary choice of films to see at the festival and this year we were very spoiled for choice. Save for very few dogs, all of the films I saw were pretty brilliant, and even the dogs were memorable. But TIFF is also very much about the people. The people you attend screenings with, the new people you meet and of course, the volunteers. I was concerned that with reserved seating at many of the theatres I’d miss meeting people in line and sitting with friends. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Less time in line meant more time to get a bite to eat with friends, grab a coffee, get to your next screening or use the bathroom. The festival volunteers also seemed very relaxed this year, perhaps the festival goers were more relaxed knowing they didn’t need to rush for the best seat. I am amazed that with all the people you come across at the festival there is often someone new you meet that you bump into again and again throughout the festival. This year it was lovely lady from Denver. I also managed to meet up for drinks with some new people I had connected with through Letterboxd and now I have their friendly faces to go with their names and great reviews.

There was definitely a theme running through the films I saw at TIFF this year, identity and belonging. Teen Spirit, Widows, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Shadow, Giant Little Ones, Boy Erased, Float Like a Butterfly, Angelo, Wildlife, Shoplifters and Where Hands Touch were all stories based on characters who were struggling to be who they are when others see them differently. That these stories of discrimination and prejudice based on gender, race, sexuality and social status are so prevalent gives these important issues a bigger voice and medium for discussion.

There were some surprises for me this festival. For instance, I had not planned to see Green Book until many friends advised me to see it. I had perceived it as a mainstream film that I could see it when it was released. I hadn’t expected it to be earth shattering. When a fourth screening was announced I traded in what I had planned to see and I was so glad I did. This was a total charmer with a very strong positive message. And yes it’s as formulaic as Hollywood film scripts go, but that is not always a bad thing. It’s the trifecta of great script, flawless performances and all the feels. While it may not have the same critical recognition of some of the other more ambitious festival films, it was certainly the audience favourite and destined for the awards circuit.

I was also not expecting to enjoy First Man as much as I did. I loved it. My one caveat is that it will need to be seen in an IMAX theatre. The shakey-cam rocket scenes will not be as effective on a small screen. I’d like to see it again at the Cinesphere.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma is a total stunner, an absolute work of art. Filmed in black and white, with no background musical score, it’s poetic and majestic. From the opening credits to the closing scene and everything in between, you will remember the details. This one must be scene in a theatre with a robust surround sound system. Yes a movie with no soundtrack needs the great sound system, for it is the real life noises that complete the experience, the sound of the dishes, planes flying overhead, children playing, the marching band in the street, the dog barking and so much more. Real life needs surround sound. TIFF played the film in the Lightbox cinema 2 which has just been refurbished with a new state of the art Dolby Atmos sound system. I highly recommend seeing it there.

I was surprised that Widows was not a runner-up for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. This was a very clever heist film, meticulously directed by Steve McQueen with some powerhouse female performances. I have not come across a single person who didn’t love the film. I personally loved Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, and cinematically I would rate it much higher, but I came across many who thought what I appreciated as Barry’s signature poetic style as “slow”. It had more screenings than Widows, so perhaps that is what got it over the line.

I was also surprised that The Elephant Queen did not receive any awards recognition because this was truly a phenomenal and very moving film about these sentient beings and their smaller neighbours. It is unlike any other nature film I have ever seen and I cannot wait to see it again.

My top favourites were, in no particular order, Roma, First Man, The Elephant Queen, Shoplifters, Widows, Never Look Away, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Shadow, Giant Little Ones, Burning, Beautiful Boy, and Black 47.

I also really enjoyed Float Like a Butterfly, which won the Discovery prize, Jacques Audiard’s adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, for which John C. Reilly deserves an Oscar nod, the poignant Boy Erased starring the brilliant Lucas Hedges, Amma Asante’s Where Hands Touch which I think was one of the best female directed films screened at the festival, Christian Petzold’s Transit and Markus Schleinzer’s Angelo.

Outlaw King with its gorgeous cinematography and epic battle scenes, Quincy biography directed by his daughter Rashida Jones, Max Minghella’s musical directorial debut Teen Spirit, lighthearted dramedy Papi Chulo and the tragic story of the Kursk, which is a contender for musical score in my book, were all decent films you can probably wait and see on Netflix.

There were a few disappointments. Perhaps there was too much hype for these coming out of other festivals or perhaps they were rushed to get to TIFF. I’ll not dwell on them here. I will leave you to make your own assessment. I have no regrets. Really. And I have a long list of films yet to see based on the recommendations from friends. I only saw 29 of the 250 plus films after all.

Toronto really does sparkle during TIFF, but this year, the energy was fierce. Maybe it was the incredible weather but I think more people attended this year. I was surprised at how packed all the screenings were up to and including the very last day. All of the 29 screenings I attended were sold out and not one lacked a rush line.

I cannot wait to see how some of the films I loved are received by a wider audience. I am fully expecting Roma, First Man, Widows, Green Book and If Beale Street Could Talk to be courted for Best Picture this Oscar season. A Star Is Born will likely be courted too, which will drive me insane, but I will keep a cool head about it. I am much more interested in how the smaller films do. Where and when they’ll be released. Whether a dark horse will emerge.

All around it was another fabulous festival. Time to start counting down to TIFF19!

29 Films Ranked on Letterboxd