Attending the Toronto International Film Festival in-person is always a treat, and this year is no different—in fact, this may have been one of my most memorable events due to an outdoor ‘Street Fest Concert’ we attended.
Canada’s beloved rock band ‘Nickelback’ gave a live performance on the center stage during the festival to celebrate the opening of their new documentary, “Hate to Love: Nickelback,” which premiered at the festival. Scoring a table at a restaurant that had a patio on the right side facing the stage, we were in luck to view one of our favorite bands in an hour concert, on Friday evening.
“My festival began with “North Star,” in Kristin Scott Thomas’s directorial debut. Scarlett Johansson co-stars in a mother-daughter story, with Sienna Miller and Emily Beecham as the other two daughters, with billing as a comic-drama. It premiered at the Princess of Whales Theater, which has 2,000 seats! This is my 5th year attending; other than the COVID year, I still covered it that year from home. I always enjoy traveling to this beautiful city and viewing movies in theaters that are movie palaces!
With a great cast as mentioned above Kristin Scott Thomas revisits her childhood trauma. She directed and co-wrote the script based on her father, a Royal Navy pilot. He was killed in action when she was just six years of age; in a sad coincidence, her mother re-marries, and her stepfather was also killed while serving in the Royal Navy as a pilot when she was 12. Her mother, of which Scott plays the role, marries again for a third time—the film begins at this point. Scott’s story of two fathers who gave their lives for their country and the after-effects of the family are important to know, and her personal story is one all should see.
The three daughters live worldwide and reunite for their mother’s (Thomas) wedding. Upon their meeting and seeing their interactions, we clearly view a dysfunctional trio. Katherine (Johansson) follows in her late Dad’s footsteps as a Captain in the Royal Navy. Still, she experiences some troubles in her relationship with Jack (Freida Pinto), a north star who wants a family while Katharine pursues a military career. Victoria (Miller), is a movie star who’s obsessed with speaking publicly about her family’s tragic past despite the disapproval of her sisters. While Georgina (Beecham), is a palliative-care nurse whose unfaithful husband, Jeremy (Joshua Maguire), causes her much unneeded stress.
The three-day wedding weekend occurs at their childhood home as their mother prepares to marry husband number three (James Fleet). The sister’s past unfinished dealings of secrets and criticisms become front and center as they are all together. The pitfalls of a true story are keeping with a narrative enough, though it creates an uncomfortable vibe. The yelling, screaming, hurt, and anger were challenging to view, although love, family, and sympathy eventually win, which makes the film so interesting. Johansson gives a genuine and lovely performance. She has twice played Thomas’ daughter in “The Horse Whisperer” and “The Other Boleyn Girl. They have great chemistry together as the nuances between is warm and realistic.
The film ends fittingly with a poignant dedication in memory of Thomas’ “two fathers,” Lt Commander Simon Thomas Royal Navy and Commander Simon Idiens Royal Navy. All is forgiven as the redundant script and choppy scene work in the film is a personal project of Thomas,’ and we are merely along for the ride. I’d suggest seeing it as the performances of the main four women are a treat to behold. Beecham’s role is of the peacekeeper, which is not an easy job in this family.
Director: Kristin Scott Thomas
Screenplay: Kristin Scott Thomas and Richard John Micklethwait
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Scarlett Johansson, Sienna Miller, Emily Beecham, Thibault De Montalembert, Freida Pinto, Joshua Maguire, James Fleet
Running time: 1 hour 35 min
An intriguing aspect of the festival were the films that were directed my actors who are usually in front of the camera such as Kristin Scott Thomas, Anna Kendrick, Michael Keaton, and Chris Pine, all of whom I viewed their films. The one I especially enjoyed was “Woman of the Hour,” Anna Kendrick’s true crime story of the 70s serial killer Rodney Alcala, ironically, he appeared on the TV show “The Dating Game.”
“Woman of the Hour”
The film centers on a struggling actor, Cheryl Bradshaw, played by Kendrick, who appears on “The Dating Game” as a contestant. A disturbing theme is the systemic misogyny that encourages violence, as women’s voices are silenced by law enforcement. This taunt thriller received a standing ovation and praise from myself and fellow critics. “Woman of the Hour” premiered at the “Princess of Whales” theater on September 8, 2023.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to killer Rodney Alcala as he seduces and brutally tortures and kills a woman in a remote part of LA’s desert. Daniel Zovatto’s appearance is altered to mirror Alcala’s creepy look; Zovatto is excellent in the film with his facial stares and nuanced scowls; he’s the glue that holds the film together. Bottom-line—he’s terrifying. Kendrick is excellent as always, as is the supporting cast. When she asks a co-director of “The Dating Game Show,” which one should choose?” She says, “Choose the one that won’t hurt you.” After she makes her choice, the woman says, “Oh, and I would be careful with number three,” after she watches him privately write something unsavory about a woman.
To not spoil the building mystery or end of the film, it’s better to go into it without knowing much. What I do know is that Netflix has picked it up, and it is slated to be released later this year. I also know that Rodney Alcala’s killing crime spree is projected at over 130 people. He was a registered sex offender when he appeared on “The Dating Game.”
Director: Anna Kendrick
Cast: Anna Kendrick, Tony Hale, Daniel Zovatto, Nicolette Robinson
Screenplay: Ian MacAllister McDonald
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
On Saturday, I viewed the tremendous film “One Life” with Anthony Hopkins starring as Nicholas Winton as an English stockbroker in a true story. He helped save hundreds of children during the holocaust. The movie is based on the book If It’s Not Impossible, written by Winton’s daughter Barbara. Let’s just say there was no dry eye in the house during this beautiful, heart-wrenching, yet heart-warming film. The surprise during the Q&A afterward, about 20 survivors were in the audience, and all were asked to stand.
Winton is in his 80s and finds papers that tell the story of how he helped save hundreds of children living in the Czech Republic. What makes this story more personal for me is that I have visited there and taken a tour of the concentration camp Terezin, where thousands of Jews were held until they were sent to the death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Johnny Flynn plays younger Winton as a determined person on a mission similar to “Schindler’s List” (1983), played by Liam Neeson. Winton helped groups of Jewish children in German-occupied Czechoslovakia to hide and flee in 1938–39, just before the beginning of the war. He visited German-occupied Czechoslovakia, saying, “I have seen this for myself, and I can not unsee it.” He began by enlisting the help of his persistent mother, played by the talented Helena Bonham Carter, and other work colleagues, one saying, “Don’t start what you can’t finish.” Ultimately, he saved 669 children; of the 1,500 left, only 200 survived. It’s an unsung hero’s story and dedication to helping children and families.
I loved this movie! Every person in the photo above that is standing was saved by Nicholas Winton. Johnny Flynn did a fantastic job as the younger Nicholas, as did Anthony Hopkins. I strongly advise you to see this gem of a historical movie.
Director: James Hawes
Screenplay writers: Lucinda Coxon, Nick Drake
Anthony Hopkins, Nicky Winton
Johnny Flynn, Young Nicky
Helena Bonham Carter, ‘Babi’ Babette / Barbara Winton
Lena Olin, Grete Winton
Romola Garai, Doreen Warriner
Alex Sharp, Trevor Chadwick
Studio: Warner Bros
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes
Stars Paul Dano as Keith Gill, a YouTuber whose hobby focused on Wall Street’s stock market, giving tips to followers on stocks he liked. In 2021, during the pandemic, he noticed that the brick-and-mortar store GameStop was losing money as in-person sales had dropped. He urged followers to invest their money into the stock and hold. We follow nurses, college students, and others who believed in Gill, holding onto their stock even though the numbers reached millions.
The story has been compared to the fable David vs. Goliath; in this case, at times, it’s a real nail-biter. The hilarious and crowd-pleasing movie co-stars Shailene Woodley, who plays his wife, and Pete Davidson as his brother. Seth Rogen also stars as a stockbroker millionaire. Paul Dano is fantastic in his portrayal as an employee of MassMutual Life Insurance company who by night and weekends becomes “Roaring Kitty” with is headband and kitty T-shirts, as I viewed YouTube videos of the real-life Keith Gill, and he nailed the part.
The director is Craig Gillespie of “I, Tonya.” and “Cruella.” Based on the book The Antisocial Networkby Ben Mezrich. The film opens in theaters, releasing on September 28. I’ve always admired Dano’s acting and met him last January 2023 at the Critics Choice Awards; he was great to talk with.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Lauren Schuker Blum & Rebecca Angelo
Cast: Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, and Sebastian Stan
Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
“Knox Goes Away”
Michael Keaton serves as director and stars as Knox, a hitman diagnosed with a form of memory loss that accelerates very quickly, in this case weeks. The film’s title cards read Week One, Week Two, etc., as the clock is ticking and Knox has an important job to finish. Knox has a decision to make when the job goes very wrong, and resigning from killing is one of them.
When his son, James Marsden, suddenly appears in an awkward transition that should have had some backstory, he has a big ‘ask’ of his estranged dad. It involves the death of a child-porn sleazy guy who lured his 16-year-old daughter to meet him, and he gets her pregnant. A dying Knox faces a chance for redemption with his son, and he moves ahead full steam. At one point, Keaton says to Al Pacino (Xavier), who plays his boss and serves as his guide to keeping him on track of his mission, “I feel like I’m getting worse every hour.”
Keaton always delivers excellent performances and is very good as a hitman seeking salvation; unfortunately, the script is disjointed with muddled lines strung together haphazardly. Marsden is fantastic as the vengeful dad in one of his best roles to date, as he usually stars in romantic comedies. The banter between dad and son is worth viewing, as is Keaton’s clock-ticking performance.
Director: Michael Keaton,
Screenplay: Gregory Poirier
Cast: Michael Keaton, James Marsden, Al Pacino, Marcia Gay Harden
Runtime: 1h 54m
Studio: A Film Nation, Brookstreet Pictures, Sugar 23 production
If Ava Duvernay is directing, one can rest assured the film will probably surpass your expectations, which holds true for “Origin.” Here, she adapts Isabel Wilkerson’s novel “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” into a docudrama retelling the ongoing story of Wilkerson’s journey in writing the book. Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor portrays her with intellect, warmth, and compassion in an award-worthy performance. When she encounters the question of race once again after Trayvon Martin’s death by the racial profiling of a neighborhood watch person, who was told by police not to continue pursuing him, she begins to study the core of racial injustice.
The Pulitzer prize-winning author’s racial injustice journey took her to Germany to study the Nazi’s systematic methods that were used to dehumanize the race of Jewish people, looking at the mandates that were imposed, the burning of books, the erasing of identity, the wearing of a star, then ultimately death camps. She also traveled to India to study the marginalization of Dalit “untouchables,” the lowest caste members of Indian society. In areas of India, the group is expected and assigned the worst work in cleaning latrine tanks by climbing in and changing filters. The images are heart-wrenching to watch, just as a sequence of America in the 1960s when a black child was not allowed into a swimming pool after his team won their state baseball game.
These explorations bring questions to one’s mind. Duvernay covers both sides of the argument. The delivery of Ellis-Taylor’s performance makes this film so powerful; by the time her mother passes and the same year her husband, played by Jon Bernthal, we are in tears as well. Playing her cousin Marion (Niecy Nash-Betts), of whom we learn the author’s inner feelings, she voices her concerns and encouragement, also adding levity, which is needed during the heavy concepts that are brought forward. Her supportive white husband, Brett (Jon Bernthal), provides the black/white blockades as they work through her writing assignments and theories.
I appreciated the docudrama’s format, as we are privy to Ellis-Taylor’s performance, which heightens the subject matter, providing a genuine look at the real-life person rather than a sterile documentary, as Roger Ebert once told me when critiquing a film, “How did it make you feel?” and do you really care about the person and or the circumstances. During the Q&A hosted by Toronto Film Festival CEO Cameron Bailey, DuVernay said Isabel Wilkerson’s big ideas inspired her; here, she is the risk-taker by taking us on a journey that leads to discussions and hopefully solutions in the future.
Director: Ava Duvernay
Screenplay: Ava Duvernay
Cast: Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash-Betts, Emily Yancy, Vera Farmiga, Blair Underwood, Nick Offerman
Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
“Poolman” an American comedy mystery film directed, produced, co-written by and starring Chris Pine in his directorial debut. It takes place in sunny LA, California, and despite the rambling script, and uneven dialogue I actually liked the comical movie. Pine immediately reminded me of Jeff Bridges in the “Big Lebowski” his character as poolman or pooldude definitely has shades of ‘The Dude,” although I didn’t get to many catch phrases, maybe, “follow the water.” The co-stars, Annette Bening and Danny DeVito add the comedic moments as DeVito never stops with the one-liners.
The scene I was waiting for is when the pooldude might put on a bathrobe and go outside into the city wearing it. Well, sure enough, midway through the film, he puts on a woman’s gold, shiny, silky bathroom and rides around at night on his motorcycle. That was one of the awesome scenes, dude! The general plot of an obsessed pool cleaner changes gears quickly as he becomes involved in a mystery concerning LA’s water supply, although that makes sense, right? He is, after all, the poolman, and a poolman is around water 24-7.
What I found condescending is the line, “You may be poolman, but you’re one hell of a detective, and you’re also my best friend, says DeVito. I felt that was a huge mistake in a comedy as putting down anyone’s job is not cool. Yes, the script does suffer a bit, particularly in the heated scene between the poolman and his later girlfriend, who cons him, saying, “I would never be with a poolman.” Again, it’s not cool, too meanspirited for a comedy. For the most part, I enjoyed the fun banter and seeing Stephen Tobolowsky on screen as his memorable performance in “Groundhog Day” is classic; here, it is very funny as well. I’d say check out the movie.
Director: Chris Pine
Screenplay: Chris Pine, Ian Gotler
Cast: Chris Pine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stephen Tobolowsky, Danny DeVito, Annette Bening
Studio: AGC Studios
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Other films I saw prior to attending TIFF, that were shown at the Telluride Film Festival I reviewed in my article for Roger Ebert.com, they included “Wildcat,” “The Holdovers,” “Perfect Days” “Daddio,”and “Rustin.” Telluride Film Festival 2023 Highlights by Sarah Knight Adamson
Press Release from Closing Night:
TORONTO — The Toronto International Film Festival® ― which concluded September 17, 2023 evening with the Closing Night screening of Thom Zimny’s Sly at the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall ― has announced its award recipients for the 48th edition of the Festival.
“We’re grateful to all the audience members, artists, industry professionals, and supporters who graced Toronto’s cinemas, red carpets, meeting spaces, and streets,” said Cameron Bailey, TIFF CEO. “As we recognize award winners today, we thank everyone who contributed to this glorious, collective gift.”
“From the most revered veterans to the freshest new voices, this year’s Festival played host to the diverse range of filmmakers Toronto is known for,” said Anita Lee, TIFF Chief Programming Officer. “And Toronto’s filmgoers turned up in huge numbers to be a part of the celebration. We’re grateful to our film jurors for their invaluable contributions, for championing emerging talent, and for enriching the film community with their expertise and passion.”
PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD
For the 47th year, the People’s Choice Awards distinguish the audience’s top title at the Festival as voted by the viewing public. All films in TIFF’s Official Selection were eligible.
The TIFF 2023 People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award winner is Dicks: The Musical dir. Larry Charles. The first runner-up is Kill dir. Nikhil Nagesh Bhat.
The second runner-up is Hell of a Summer dirs. Finn Wolfhard, Billy Bryk.
The TIFF 2023 People’s Choice Documentary Award winner is Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make Believe dir. Robert McCallum.
The first runner-up is Summer Qamp dir. Jen Markowitz.
The second runner-up is Mountain Queen: The Summits Of Lhakpa Sherpa dir. Lucy Walker.
The TIFF 2023 People’s Choice Award winner is: American Fiction dir. Cord Jefferson. The first runner-up is The Holdovers dir. Alexander Payne.
The second runner-up is The Boy and the Heron dir. Hayao Miyazaki.
Sarah Knight Adamson© September 18, 2023