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.

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

TIFF 2018 – My 12th Year at the Festival

Every other year or so I book the week off to focus on the festival. This is one of those years. I had curated a shortlist of over 60 films , but not many were films I felt must be seen during TIFF so I had lots of flexibility for scheduling. I am one of those attendees that balances selections across all budgets, genres and countries.  Even though many of the films will release widely after TIFF, somehow it can be exciting to see the awards-worthy at TIFF. The ones I really had my heart set on seeing at TIFF aren’t coming to the festival. Those were Mary Queen of Scott’s, Bohemian Rhapsody and Suspiria.

Planning is so much easier now with Letterboxd for list making and for scheduling. The folks at TIFFR partnered with TIFF this year as well so the websites are linked. TIFFR even has a feature to link your schedule to your calendar which is very sweet.

The highlights of my selections this year include 8 Female Directors,  5 Irish Filmmakers, 3 films set in Ireland, films from South Korea, China, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, Kenya, Scotland, Japan, France, Cuba, England, Canada and of course many from the United States.

My film list with brief reasons for the selections is as follows:

  1. Outlaw King – Scotland – Director David Mackenzie
  2. Kursk – Hubby loves submarine films and Alexandre Desplat composes
  3. Teen Spirit – Supporting Max, son of Anthony Minghella and it’s a programmer pick
  4. Aniara – Programmer pick – Swedish space film – I’m going in blind
  5. Out of Blue – Carol Morely, set in New Orleans, I love NOLA, starring Patricia Clarkson who is from there
  6. Beautiful Boy – This will win awards so I must see it on my home turf at TIFF, but I bought aisle seats in case I can’t make it through the film.
  7. Never Look Away – Florian Hencel von Donnersmarck of The Lives of Others
  8. Papi Chulo = Irish director John Butler of The Stag and Handsome Devil which I loved
  9. The Sisters Brothers – Patrick DeWitt’s book was hysterical, I’ve been waiting for this.
  10. Widows – Steve McQueen!!  and Girl Power!!!!
  11. Quincy – How often does Quincy Jones come to Toronto?
  12. A Star is Born – Taking my good friend to the premiere and she is so unbelievably excited it’s worth the bagillion dollar tickets.
  13. If Beale Street Could Talk – Barry Jenkins is amazing
  14. Where Hands Touch – I loved Amma Asante’s films Belle and A United Kingdom
  15. Giant Little Ones – It’s Canadian Eh.
  16. Destroyer – Karyn Kusama directs an unrecognizable Nicole Kidman
  17. High Life – Claire Denis directs Juliette Binoche & Robert Pattinson in space
  18. Shadow – Zhang Yimou of Hero – Set in Ancient China and looks beautiful
  19. Boy Erased – Joel Egerton’s second film and looks like an award winner
  20. The Elephant Queen – Documentary set in Kenya about elephants and I love elephants
  21. Roma – Alfonso Curan doing everything in a semi-autobiographical film
  22. Hold the Dark – Jeremy Saulnier makes smart horror films and it stars Jeffrey Wright who keeps me informed about US politics on Twitter
  23. First Man – It’s playing every day so there is no excuse not to see it
  24. Transit – Loved Christian Petzold’s film Phoenix and this seems to be a compliment to that film
  25. Float Like A Butterfly – Irish director Carmel Winters and a film about a wannabe girl boxer
  26. Black 47 – Irish director Lance Daly and a film about the Irish potato famine
  27. Shoplifters – Hirokazu Koreeda’s Palme D’or award winning film
  28. The Extraordinary Journey of Celeste Garcia – Programmer pick and sounded fun
  29. Wildlife – Paul Dano’s film
  30. Angelo – This story intrigued me
  31. Burning – Lee Chang-dong’s FIPRESCI prize winner
  32. The Dig – Brother directors Andy and Ryan Tohil, film set in Northern Ireland
  • I’m really looking forward to the week off and to be completely immersed in the festival.
  • 8 days and counting!