Hello NEON Fans.
Thanks for checking in. I’ve been across the country and around the world over the past several days…all via the magic of cinema. And I have broken my old record! I saw 39 films over the course of 9.25 days at the incredible Toronto International Film Festival. This is always a highlight of my year, and I have assembled quite a list of films that I want to bring to audiences in Dayton.
My last film of the festival was SHOPLIFTERS – a film that will almost certainly be nominated for “Best Foreign Film” in this year’s Oscar race. “Equal parts incisive social critique and nuanced family portrait, the latest from Japanese master Hirokazu Kore-eda — winner of this year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes — follows a small band of marginalized misfits struggling to make ends meet in a merciless urban environment.” This sad but charming film reveals itself in wonderful ways. Familial relationships aren’t what they immediately seem, and even when things seem to get a little sinister, you can forgive some of the actions because you’ve walked beside the characters for a while and better understand their motives. This film has a lot to say, and it was a great way to bid adieu to this year’s festival.
In the coming days, I’ll write a wrap-up and keep you abreast as to this year’s TIFF award-winners.
And don’t forget that we’ve got lots happening at THE NEON over the next several weeks. From THE DAYTON LGBT FILM FESTIVAL to numerous special events…and of course our traditional engagements (some of which are coming from TIFF in the very near future).
Thanks for sharing in this little journey with me.
Hope to see you soon at the movies!
Things are certainly winding down here at TIFF. I screened 3 movies today (which means I have now seen 38 films at the festival) and then I did a little shopping and eventually met some friends out for drinks.
My first film of the day was JEREMIAH TERMINATOR LEROY, directed by Justin Kelly. First off, I think this is Kelly’s best work to date. Many critics and industry folks I’ve talked to mention the fact that several projects have been done on this very same subject…and thus they aren’t necessarily interested in seeing the story again. That said, I haven’t seen any of them, so I was interested. “In this captivating true story, a young woman (Kristen Stewart) spends years playing the public role of Jeremiah “Terminator” LeRoy, an enigmatic and celebrated literary persona created by her sister-in-law (Laura Dern).” This story is too bizarre to be true – but it is (and with MILLION LITTLE PIECES screening at this year’s festival, I guess it’s an interesting recurring theme – books that are later discovered to be untrue). Laura Dern is maniacal and fun to watch, and I ultimately think this is a solid film that could easily find an audience.
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF JOHN F DONOVAN, directed by Xavier Dolan, was next on my list. Critics have been savage regarding this next film from Dolan (the young director who has won awards at Cannes, made several films and still is in his 20s). This film is Dolan’s first English-language effort, and it has quite a cast. Here’s the mini TIFF synopsis: “Xavier Dolan’s highly anticipated drama about a young man’s calculated reassessment of his infamous, and ultimately disastrous, childhood correspondence with an American television star features an all-star cast, including Kit Harington, Natalie Portman, Susan Sarandon, Kathy Bates, Thandie Newton, Jacob Tremblay, and Ben Schnetzer.” This film was hung up in editing for a couple years, and I think I can see why. It has all the signature Dolan traits – and I have to admit I was entertained – I liked the story. That said, it seems like some of the actors are in different movies. Sarandon’s performance is so big and crazy that it doesn’t seem at all like the rest of the film…though Natalie Portman is a bit over-the-top, too. Kathy Bates is superb, and Michael Gambon’s short scene is lovely. The movie is currently too long, but I think it will eventually find distribution (at least via a streaming service).
COLD WAR, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, is the follow-up to Pawlikowski’s Oscar-winning film IDA (one of my favorites the year it played TIFF). “Pawel Pawlikowski’s formidable romantic drama features two musical performers in postwar Eastern Europe whose discontinuous love story is hindered by obstacles of time, space, and politics.” This film is full of absolutely gorgeous black and white cinematography (like IDA, the camera placement is brilliant), and the music (as well as overall sound design) is incredible. This was a great film to wind up my last full day of the festival.
I have one more film tomorrow morning before I pack my bags and head to the airport.
Thanks for reading,
Day #8 had me seeing 4 more films.
ROMA, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, was my first film of the day. “Alfonso Cuarón’s cogent and nuanced semi-autobiographical feature chronicles one year in the life of a middle-class family in 1970s Mexico City.” This black-and-white feature film is simply sublime. With themes of class and position in society as well as government/societal upheaval, this film is full of visual metaphors and is incredibly sophisticated. One might think “not much happens in this film”…but ultimately – EVERYTHING happens. This film should 100% be viewed on a big screen. Though Netflix has it set to premiere on their channel, this film deserves a theatrical release. In a word, it’s Incredible!
HIGH LIFE, directed by Claire Denis, was up next. “Master French filmmaker Claire Denis’s long-anticipated English-language debut and provocative sci-fi drama stars Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Mia Goth, and André Benjamin as a group of criminals sent into deep space.” This is perhaps one of Denis’ most accessible films (as far as “I’m following what’s happening”) – but it’s also still quite avant garde…and I can imagine customers saying “what the hell?” for most of the film. The mini description fails to explain that the spaceship (which looks somewhat like a floating hard drive) is essentially being used as a laboratory in which Binoche’s character does sexual experiments on its “recycled scum” inhabitants. Complete with rape scenes and other bloody violence, this film is a challenging film that will likely have many searching for its rosetta stone.
I attended the next film based on its description. I had no idea that it was a big studio picture. THE HATE U GIVE, directed by George Tillman, Jr, simply sounded like an important film that I wanted to support. “A timely commentary in the Black Lives Matter era, George Tillman, Jr.’s adaptation of the novel by Angie Thomas follows Starr, a promising student and cherished daughter whose life is upended, then galvanized, when a friend is senselessly shot dead by police.” This film is targeted at a young adult audience, and it’s so refreshing that it’s not about vampires or a fish-out-of-water comedy. This is an urgent tale about a young black student who consciously alters her persona between her school self (which is in a private school full of affluent white kids) and her at home self. I hope this film finds a wide, diverse audience – but I’m afraid it might only end up preaching to the choir. The plot takes some unexpected turns and covers a lot of bases, but it’s ultimately a strong film that needs to be seen by a lot of people.
RED JOAN, directed by Trevor Nunn, was my last film before an incredible dinner of Japanese tapas (but that’s a different story). “Academy Award winner Judi Dench and Sophie Cookson take on the complex persona and legacy of Joan Stanley, the seemingly demure physicist who was also a long-serving British spy for the KGB.” This film is based on a novel…that is very loosely based on a real woman named Melita Norwood. The film uses the framing device of Dench’s character being arrested and interrogated while flashing back to WWII era material where she may have been conspiring with the Russians. Handsomely shot with strong performances, this film will certainly go over well at THE NEON if it finds a US distributor. It contains both great dramatic moments and sequences with wonderful, thrilling tension. The fact that “nuclear bombs and who has them” continues to be a fear in today’s climate shows how little things have changed.
Things are winding down here at the festival. Many big players have gone home, and the lines for movies are easier to navigate. I have one more full day of films and then one Saturday morning screening before flying home.
Thanks for checking in.
Hello NEON Fans,
Thanks for checking in again…it’s been another busy day. I attended a little queer party for TIFF attendees last night, so it was a bit of a struggle to get up this morning. But I made it to my first screening – FIRST MAN, directed by Damien Chazelle. Almost every year, I go ahead and see one big film that is too big (too Hollywood) to make it to THE NEON. This year, I chose Chazelle’s follow-up to LA LA LAND (which is still THE NEON’s highest grossing film). “The Academy Award–winning team of director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reunites for this biopic on the adventures and life of Neil Armstrong, from his entry into NASA’s astronaut program in 1961 to his epoch-making walk on the moon eight years later.” This film is beautifully done and best seen via IMAX (ALERT: If you don’t want a fun aspect of the film ruined, don’t read this parenthetical. SPOILER: The film plays with aspect ratio that can only be accomplished to full effect on an IMAX screen…this happens upon landing on the moon – and it’s magical.) The film feels more indie than Hollywood in its use of close-ups and medium shots and its overall quiet approach to its lead character. It will certainly be a big player in this year’s Award Season.
GIANT LITTLE ONES, a Canadian feature directed by Keith Behrman, was my next film of the day. “In the latest from Canadian director Keith Behrman, Kyle MacLachlan and Maria Bello star as divorced parents whose teenage son (Josh Wiggins) faces seismic personal upheaval after an unexpected incident at a party.” This touching (and scary and frustrating and exhilarating) coming-of-age story is truly intended for a teenage audience. Though not without storytelling flaws (including some major tonal shifts), it’s a good film. That said, I couldn’t help but think “Who is the intended audience for this film?” during the entire screening. It wouldn’t work for a theatrical release…thus I think it will mostly find a home on the festival circuit and as a popular streaming film.
VITA & VIRGINIA, directed by Chanya Button, was my next film. Here’s the brief TIFF synopsis: “Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki shine as socialite and author Vita Sackville-West and literary icon Virginia Woolf, respectively, in director Chanya Button’s sumptuous double portrait of two uncompromising women and the unconventional affair behind one of Woolf’s greatest novels.” This film has a lot of merits…but it ultimately turned me off. There is a lot of attention to period detail, but the contemporary score pulled me out of the movie at every turn. It’s not like a stylized use of contemporary music (ala MARIE ANTOINETTE), it’s almost a dance club beat that interrupts the drama. (There are also a couple moments of strange, fanciful special effects that didn’t work for me…is this a trend – period films with overdone special effects? They didn’t work in TELL IT TO THE BEES for me either.) The best thing about this film for me is that it makes me want to pick up and re-read my copy of ORLANDO when I get home. (there’s no trailer for this film – just the clip below)
Up next was PAPI CHULO, directed by John Butler (Butler directed HANDSOME DEVIL, the awesome little film we screened last summer for our special PRIDE selection). “A solitary and alienated television weatherman ‘hires’ a middle-aged Latino migrant worker to be his friend, in this darkly comedic reflection on class, ethnicity, and companionship in contemporary Los Angeles.” This modest little film is funny/sad and really kind of charming…but takes a darker, sadder, scarier and then pathetic turn in act 3. Matt Bomer lets loose in this performance, and Alejandro Patiño is hysterically dry. It’s a sweet little matinee film, but I don’t see much of a life for it theatrically. (there’s no trailer for this film – just the clip below)
My final film for the day was EVERYBODY KNOWS, directed by 2-time Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi…but this time he’s moved landscapes from the Middle East to Spain. “Academy Award winner Asghar Farhadi (A Separation, The Salesman) directs Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem in this layered, psychological drama about a family wedding interrupted by a shocking crime and some long-buried secrets.” The performances in this film are spectacular, and I could have watched scenes from the wedding for hours – so jovial, so vibrant, so steeped in tradition. Penelope is radiant in the opening scenes of this film (think VOLVER or BROKEN EMBRACES). There’s so much to like. It’s naturalistic, something terrible happens and the stakes are high…but it never seems phony. Ultimately, I really liked this film – but it lacks the wallop of other Farhadi films. I wanted more…but I’d also want to trim it down a bit.
I’m now at 31 films in 7 days, and I still have 2.3 days left. I’m trending for a personal best.
Thanks for stopping by.
Hi there, Folks!
I saw five films today, and I’m slated for five tomorrow. (We’ll see if that happens.)
THE LIE, directed by Veena Sud, was my first film of the day. The premise intrigued me, and then I heard a few people talk it up at a party a couple nights ago. Here’s the brief TIFF synopsis: “In this thriller from Toronto-born writer-director Veena Sud, two parents wrestle with the consequences of their teenage daughter’s lethal mistake, proving just how far any parent would go to protect their child.” This film has won my “most eye rolls per scene” award. Idiot dialog. Over-the-top moments complete with lots of furrowed brows and indicating. It’s a turkey. This film (ultimately about white privilege) had me wanting to leave within the first half hour. But because all other screenings were in progress, I decided to stick it out. I also stayed for smug reasons. 20 minutes into the film, I wrote down my suspicion as to how the film would end. I wanted to know if I was right…and I hit the nail on the head 100%. I really hate it when a bad film happens to an actor I like (Peter Sarsgaard).
TELL IT TO THE BEES, directed by Annabel Jankel, was my next film of the day. “Academy Award winner Anna Paquin and Holliday Grainger star in this wrenching drama of a shunned small-town doctor and beekeeper in postwar Britain who befriends a struggling mother and son, helping them discover that love can be found in many forms.” This film is full of lovely period details and lush cinematography, but it’s the central performances that shine (while many other characters aren’t fleshed out). It’s a slower-paced film that works on some levels, but there are plot points and character attitudes that shift and change without much notice. In addition, there are special effects regarding swarming bees that are too over-the-top. There’s a line that comes toward the end of the film via voiceover that says “what I saw and what I thought I saw” – and that would have been helpful at the beginning (but maybe it was there and I really didn’t contextualize it). Ultimately, the message is great – but it’s not a film that will find great commercial success.
THE PUBLIC, directed by Emilio Estevez, was shot and set in downtown Cincinnati. “A sit-in by patrons at a public library escalates into a police standoff and a media sideshow, in Emilio Estevez’s arresting drama that explores issues surrounding homelessness, mental health, and community. Featuring Estevez, Alec Baldwin, Taylor Schilling, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone, Gabrielle Union, Christian Slater, and Michael K. Williams.” This film has some powerful moments and great messages (regarding homelessness, mental health, substance abuse and public libraries as a democratic pillar), but it attempts to tackle too many storylines in a short amount of time. The film has clearly been condensed for time, and though the narrative holes can easily be filled in by savvy viewers – it seems too choppy. This film has a lot of heart, but it still needs some editing help to truly make it sing.
COLETTE, directed by Wash Westmoreland, was my next film. Here’s the brief TIFF synopsis: “Keira Knightley stars in this historical drama about the eponymous French novelist, whose provocative debut — falsely credited to her husband — becomes the toast of Paris, triggering a battle for identity, equality, and self-determination at the dawn of the feminist age.” Here’s my brief response: LOVED IT. From the performances to the production design to the smart dialog, I really loved this film. I’m happy to report that we have it booked to open at THE NEON on Oct. 19. The heartfelt Q&A with this screening was spectacular…particularly Wash Westmoreland (STILL ALICE) talking about dedicating the film to his recently deceased co-director and husband. Knightley is superb, and the history lesson has me wanting to read even more of Colette’s work (I have only read some short stories and CHERI – now I want more). From the tone and look of the trailer, I suspected I would like this film…but it delivered so much more.
BOY ERASED, directed by Joel Edgerton, was my last film of the day. “The teenaged son of a Baptist pastor is forced into a gay-conversion program by his parents, in actor-director Joel Edgerton’s emotive drama starring Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Lucas Hedges.” This film is meant for mass consumption – and for that reason, I give it a bit of a pass. The cast does a fine job with the material, and certain scenes even elicited rounds of applause from the audience…but there’s something a little too sterile for me to put the film on the top of the list. It’s as though the filmmaker was scared to get too close. And I get it on some level. At some point, a filmmaker (or distributor) has to ask “who do we want to see this movie?” If the film pushed the envelope too much, then it would only preach to the choir. In this instance, perhaps the film can actually be seen by more than the queer community…and possibly save some lives – and for that, I give it my blessing (plus the fact that Kidman is pretty awesome here). The Q&A with Kidman, Edgerton, and the author of the source material (as well as his mother) was pretty spectacular.
Thanks for checking in,
I only got to see three films today. 🙁
8 o’clock this morning was my on-line ticketing window to secure tickets for the second half of the festival. I got up early (with very little sleep), showered and got ready for the day and logged on right at 8:00…and the system was down. I stuck around for another 15-20 minutes, hoping it would be back up. At about 8:30, I decided to pack everything and hustle to the physical box office (which means I missed my first screening of the day). Luckily, I beat the crowds of people who were also experiencing technical difficulties and I secured all the other tickets I wanted for the next several days.
My first screening was instead at 10:45. FREE SOLO, directed by E. Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin, was another film that my PR friend highly recommended (I had more faith in this film than I did in CLIMAX as it comes from the directors of MERU – which was wonderful). Here’s the brief description from TIFF: “The documentarian duo behind 2015’s acclaimed Meru return to high altitudes, this time as renowned rock climber Alex Honnold attempts to do what no climber has done before: ascend free solo — without safety ropes — up the 3,000-foot cliff of El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park.” More than just an outdoor adventure documentary, this film is also a very interesting character study about a man who had to teach himself how to hug (because it’s something people do – but he never had). I never knew or understood exactly how much planning would go into something like this, and it’s pretty spectacular. The last 10 minutes become incredibly emotional – for Alex’s girlfriend, the entire camera crew and the viewer.
WILDLIFE, directed by Paul Dano, was my second film of the day. “In Paul Dano’s evocative and emotional directorial debut, a teenage boy (Ed Oxenbould) in 1960s Montana experiences the breakdown of his parents’ marriage and his mother’s (Carey Mulligan) struggle to keep their lives afloat after his father (Jake Gyllenhaal) leaves.” This low-key and quietly observed film is about a boy who is caught in the middle of his parents’ discontent. It’s a slow burn that actually packs quite a punch. The production design is lovely, the performances are strong, and the “small town America” vibe seems just right. One issue I had with the film was the teenage boy. Though playing 14, at times it seemed like he’s pushing 25…he just has a certain look that is hard to nail down an age. At the end of the day, it’s a really well-made film, and I think Dano will have quite a career as a director (and IFC is going to push for an Oscar nomination for Mulligan).
After the screening, I came back to my apartment and tended to some NEON business before heading to IFC’s WILDLIFE party. I met a few new folks (cinema operators and a critic) and enjoyed some deliciously crafted cocktails. Mulligan and Dano were at the party and seemed quite at ease…they know they have a great film on their hands.
THE OLD MAN & THE GUN, directed by David Lowery, was my last film of the day. With scenes shot partially in Dayton, I was all the more interested to see this film. And boy was I happily surprised. Here’s the TIFF synopsis: “Academy Award winners Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek lead an all-star cast, including Danny Glover, Tom Waits, Elisabeth Moss, and Casey Affleck, in director David Lowery’s true-life dramedy about an unrepentant bank robber and jail-breaker determined to live life by his own rules.” This is one of the best films I’ve seen so far at TIFF 2018. It’s tender and funny and laced with (non-sappy) cinematic nostalgia. I think it’s a gem, and I’m delighted that we are set to open it on Oct. 12. (Our FilmDayton preview on Oct. 11 has already sold out!) Take a look at this new trailer. Dayton (though playing the part of St. Louis in the film) is featured quite a bit!
And now I need to finish up my NEON weekly newsletter. If all goes as planned, I’ll be back to five films tomorrow.
Thanks for checking in!
Hello NEON Fans,
Thanks for checking out my Day #4.
My first film of the day was SKIN, directed by Guy Nattiv. Here’s the brief TIFF synopsis: “Jamie Bell stars in the true life story of Bryon Widner, a young man raised by skinheads, for whom turning his back on hatred and violence meant undergoing painful and expensive operations to remove the tattoos that signified his terrible past life — a process only possible with the support of a Black activist.” This powerful story is a grim reminder that hate isn’t just something on TV in a far-away rural landscape (or public office)…it lives right next door. With opening shots of a white supremacy group in Columbus, Ohio, the film constantly reminded me that Ohio is home to some of the most hate-fulled groups in the nation…and that’s terrifying. This film is a tense and disturbing look into a cult of white supremacists, and it’s a reminder of how any cult can organize and assemble their followers. They’re looking for the disenfranchised, the lost and angry, or even just the hungry – and they brainwash these people until they become lackeys. The images are horrific, the mind-sets are intolerable, and actions of these groups need to be made more and more public. That’s one reason I think this film is successful…and this story in particular provides a small ray of hope and will hopefully also serve as a call to action.
THE WEDDING GUEST, directed by Michael Winterbottom, was next on my list. “A mysterious British man (Dev Patel) with a hidden agenda travels to Pakistan to attend a wedding, but things take an unexpected and dangerous turn when his plans begin to unravel.” Patel is quite good in this tight little thriller. I know that critical response has been mixed, but I was engaged and often on the edge of my seat for this tight storytelling from the director of more recently well-known films like TRISTAM SHANDY, THE TRIP and THE TRIP TO ITALY.
THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING, directed by Tom Donahue, was next on my list. Here’s what TIFF had to say about it: “In this timely follow-up to his documentary Casting By, Tom Donahue explores the insidious and systemic sexism in Hollywood through the voices of marquee celebrities, including Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Sandra Oh, Jessica Chastain, and many other ambassadors of the #TimesUp movement.” This film is a powerful exploration (with data collected by an initiative by Geena Davis) of women’s roles in the film industry…and the lack of representation (as well as the boys’ club mentality that keep them from having a place at the table). There is some very interesting data presented in this film – particularly from the CEO of FX. Ultimately, the film makes us understand that if we bring more women into the filmmaking fold – we’ll get better content as well as a better and stronger self-image for women and girls on a national and global scale. The glaring issue I had with this film was the fact that it was directed by a man. Huh?
The next film was one that I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK – directed by Barry Jenkins. Here’s the brief TIFF synopsis: “Director Barry Jenkins’ ambitious follow-up to Moonlight adapts James Baldwin’s poignant novel about a woman fighting to free her falsely accused husband from prison before the birth of their child.” This striking film is about love (as well as an unfair judicial system and the black experience in America). The production design is sublime and the performances are incredible. I fell in love with this love story and the strong sense of family.
A friend of mine who works in PR convinced me that I needed to check out CLIMAX, directed by Gasper Noe…so I went to my first midnight screening of the festival. Here’s what TIFF wrote about the film: “Set in 1996 and inspired by real-life events, the latest from art-house agitator Gaspar Noé (Love, Enter the Void) depicts the malevolent madness that envelops a dance troupe’s post-rehearsal party after a punchbowl of sangria is spiked with LSD.” The film opens with a high energy dance performance that elicited a round of applause from the audience…then it went into a series of two-shots where people talked as though being interviewed about various life experiences (this went on way too long)…and eventually the party happened (with the aforementioned spiked sangria). Though I appreciate the craft that goes into creating such an effective nightmare, I absolutely loathed this film. I wanted to leave multiple times, but I also wanted to make sure I could tell you all about it. On my way out, I heard one audience member say, “The thing that really depressed me about it [this film] is that I haven’t tripped balls like that in years.” That response made me think, “I’m happy to be as square as I am.”
Before my last film of the day, I stopped by the Fox Searchlight party – a celebration of their two films in the festival – CAN YOU EVERY FORGIVE ME? and THE OLD MAN & THE GUN. I met a handful of folks in the industry, caught up with a couple old friends and was within arm’s reach of Melissa McCarthy, Richard E. Grant, Casey Affleck and Sissy Spacek. It was a fun little respite (with great appetizers and delicious cocktails), and I always appreciate being invited.
Thanks for reading! 18 films in 4 days. Let’s see what the next days hold…I’m trending to set a personal record.
Hello NEON Fans!
I started off Day #3 with some big star moments.
My first film of the day was GLORIA BELL directed by Sebastian Lelio. Lelio has remade his film GLORIA (which played at THE NEON 4+ years ago) for an English-speaking audience…this time with Julianne Moore in the lead role. During the Q&A, Moore admitted that she had been approached to play the role, but she said she’d only do it if Lelio was attached. (Lelio is most recently know for directing DISOBEDIENCE as well as the Oscar winning film A FANTASTIC WOMAN.) Folks wondered why he would want to remake his own film, and he told our audience today that musicians shouldn’t be the only artists who get to re-work their art over and over “with a different band.” Here’s the brief TIFF description of the film: “Academy award winner Sebastián Lelio (A Fantastic Woman) directs Academy Award–winning actor Julianne Moore (Still Alice) in this English-language remake of his 2013 film about a free-spirited, middle-aged divorcee hoping to find love on the dance floor.” I had an interesting response to this film. I was completely invested, I laughed at times, I felt hurt for our lead at times. Though engaged from beginning to end, I wasn’t 100% connecting with the material…until the last 10 minutes. It was the final scene that completely took my emotions by surprise. I already knew how the film would end, but I suddenly felt a connection with Gloria that made me love the entire film. I felt a sisterhood with her, and I had a small breakdown in the theater. This is a film for all the single people who keep putting themselves out there.
Next up was CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? directed by Marielle Heller. Here is the TIFF description of the film: “A jaded, out-of-work biographer (Melissa McCarthy) resorts to selling forged historical letters on the black market, and grapples with the ethical complications that arise, in Marielle Heller’s charming biopic about bestselling writer Lee Israel.” Melissa McCarthy is a complete gem in this film…and it is her best work to date. She’s still able to give us comedy, but it’s so much more human than anything I’ve seen her do before. This touching movie has you rooting for a criminal, and she’s someone you probably wouldn’t like if you just met her on the street. This film is polished and endearing, and I think it will find a good audience. (I’ll attend the Fox Searchlight party for this film as well as OLD MAN AND THE GUN tomorrow night.) In person, Melissa McCarthy is smart, funny and clearly in love with the character she played and created with her co-star Richard E. Grant. The Q&A after the screening was wonderful.
TEEN SPIRIT, directed by first-time feature director Max Minghella (son of Anthony), was my next film. Not being a fan of any of the pop-star-creation shows (like The Voice or American Idol), my expectations weren’t terribly high. But Elle Fanning & Zlatko Buric delivered. Here’s TIFF’s brief synopsis: “A shy teenager dreams of pop stardom and enters an international singing competition as an escape from her small town and difficult family life, in actor Max Minghella’s (The Handmaid’s Tale) feature debut.” I was pleasantly surprised by how invested I became in this film. Though not without a couple eye-rolls and moments where I felt like story arcs shifted too quickly, I was ultimately a fan of this film (though the last 2 minutes left me a little flummoxed).
SPLINTERS, directed by Thom Fitzgerald, was my last film of the day. In a word, it was terrible. Here’s the TIFF synopsis: “Two decades after his inspired feature debut The Hanging Garden won best Canadian Feature at TIFF, Thom Fitzgerald again explores interconnections of sexual identity, family, and small-town Nova Scotia life, in this intimate drama about a young woman reassessing her relationship with her mother following the death of her father.” In most circumstances, I would have simply left the screening after 20 minutes. But when I leave a screening early, I don’t feel like I have the right to write poor criticism. However, because there weren’t other options for screenings this late at night and because I didn’t have any concrete post-screening plans, I stuck it out and watched the entire film (even though 90% of the audience walked out). Though there are a couple good scenes (which come really late) and some great agricultural landscapes, this film is full of some really poor, on-the-nose performances with lots of “indicating” and over-the-top body language. The screenplay was at times quite trite and there were moments when I wish a camera could have been on my face to show my bafflement as to what was happening on screen. Overall, I can’t imagine this film ever getting picked up for American distribution.
I stopped for a quick beer before coming back to my Airbnb apartment, and I ended up running into a couple industry folks that I knew. Upon hanging out with them for a few moments, I was then introduced to someone who I have been e-mailing for years. It was fun to put a face with a name, and we chatted for about an hour before I decided I needed to get back to all of you.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read my rundown of Day #3.
Hello NEON Fans,
I caught four films today.
My first film of the day was DUELLES (MOTHERS’ INSTINCT), directed by Olivier Masset-Depasse. This domestic, period thriller has made an interesting choice in renaming itself for English speaking audiences. Whereas the French title actually means “dual,” they’ve gone a different direction by calling it “Mothers’ Instinct” for English speakers. Here’s the short synopsis from TIFF: “When a sudden tragedy uproots the lives of two women and their families, they begin to question the relationships they once held so dear, in this psychological thriller from Olivier Masset-Depasse (Illégal).” This doesn’t really tell you much of anything…so I’m going to spoil the first 12 minutes. A little boy is involved in an accident that results in his death, and the neighboring mother who witnessed the accident begins to feel as though the boy’s mother blames her for not saving the day. As the story progresses, more unfortunate circumstances occur, and the mother in question begins to feel more and more suspicious. We often wonder “is this maternal instinct at work…or is this just paranoia (bordering on mental illness)?” Some of the score at the beginning of the film sets up the idea that we might not have the most reliable narrator, so we as audience members have to doubt whether or not we are always shown the truth. Though the film works on a number of levels, there’s ultimately something missing. I’m glad I saw it, but it’s not a masterpiece.
FIRECRACKERS, a French Canadian film from director Jasmin Mozafarri, borrows a lot of spirit and tone from FISH TANK and AMERICAN HONEY. Here’s TIFF’s short synopsis: “An intense drama about two young women desperate to escape their repressive small town, whose friendship is challenged after a night of debauchery threatens to undo their grand plans for freedom.” The yearning to escape their current life is honest, the performances are rich, and the camera is restless. But I couldn’t help feeling that we’d seen this before (and better) from Andrea Arnold.
And finally…a Masterpiece. CAPERNAUM, directed by Nadine Labaki, is a film that will clearly be a highlight for me at this year’s festival. I fell in love with Labaki with her film CARAMEL that played at the festival (and at THE NEON) several years ago. She’s a gifted director and a talented actress. Here’s the brief synopsis from TIFF: “Nadine Labaki (2011 TIFF People’s Choice Award winner Where Do We Go Now?) explores the lives of children living on the fringes of Lebanese society, in this political and heartbreaking story of a young boy who sues his parents for bringing him into the world when they couldn’t properly care for him.” This film is about so many things, and it’s Labaki’s call to action for us to help the disenfranchised children of the world…and for the people who need paperwork to prove their worth. This film is heartbreakingly honest, and I couldn’t avert my eyes. The central performance is so strong – among the best child performances ever on screen. With over 500 hours of material shot for this film, the documentary-like style helps create a realism that is so refreshing in a narrative film. This movie has been picked up by Sony Classics. That means THE NEON will almost certainly play it…and I have a feeling it will almost certainly be nominated for “Best Foreign Film” this year.
BEAUTIFUL BOY, directed by Felix van Groningen, was my last film of the day. Though van Groningen was the only person to introduce the film, the audience was in for a treat when the cast and authors of the source material all came onstage after the screening for a Q&A. Here is the brief TIFF synopsis: “Based on the bestselling pair of memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff, Felix van Groeningen’s film chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years.” Timothée Chalamet gives another Oscar-worthy performance as a boy dealing with drug addiction, and his performance along with Steve Carell’s, are what help to keep this film above water – they are both magnificent. The repetition of using, recovery, relapsing, recovery is all part of how recovery from drug addition often works, but it becomes a little exhausting as a narrative device (as I’m certain it does for the families dealing with this very issue). I think this film could be used as a tool, and I think as the death toll rises annually for drug overdoses, it’s a much-needed topical film about an epidemic that is plaguing us.
I met up with a friend for a couple drinks after my screenings this evening, and it was good to catch up (and realize that he’s even working with more people I know).
Looking forward to a couple even bigger films tomorrow.
Thanks for reading,