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#TIFF19 Review: And We Go Green (TIFF Docs)

September 16, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Started as an eco-friendly alternative to the fuel-burning of Formula 1, Formula E is a racing series that has been going strong since 2014, in which the drivers compete against each other in battery operated cars, offering a carbon neutral alternative to the high emissions of traditional motorsports. The cars are charged by generators that run on biofuel so they have as little of an environmental impact as possible, and many of the drivers come from Formula 1, ensuring that the races are just as high stakes.

Co-directed by The Cove producer Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville, And We Go Green is a slick, commercial documentary that mainly serves as a promotion for the Formula E racing series. The film tries to drum up drama by focusing on French driver Jean-Éric Vergne, his former teammate turned rival Sam Bird, and Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Jr., who came of age at a time when his country was enamoured with Ayrton Senna and whose own father was a race car driver. This stuff is fine, but fairly standard in how its presented, and the film is actually at its most interesting when focusing on the technical stuff, showing the innovation behind these vehicles and how it is helping pave the way for advancements in regular electric cars and renewable energy as well.

As is pointed out in the film, the majority of traditional races are won by cars from the same few companies, where as theoretically anyone could win Formula E. Electric car racing is also an entirely different beast, becoming way more of a technical race, with computer programmers playing just as important a role as the drivers. Leonardo DiCaprio adds some star power to the film through his brief appearance as probably the most high profile spectator at the Formula E race, having been attending since the start, and the actor also serves as one of the producers. This is a pretty good documentary about how one of the dirtiest sports can be transitioned into one of the cleanest.

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 8th – 3:00 PM at Ryerson Theatre

Tuesday, September 10th – 1:30 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Friday, September 13th – 9:45 AM at Scotiabank Theatre

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#TIFF19 Review: Endings, Beginnings (Special Presentations)

September 15, 2019

By John Corrado

★ (out of 4)

Following a bad breakup, Daphne (Shailene Woodley), a typical twenty-something millennial, decides to take a six month sabbatical from both alcohol and dating as she tries to find her footing and get her life back on track. But it doesn’t last long, because shortly after announcing her hiatus from men, she meets fellow sad-sack Frank (Sebastian Stan) and his more serious best friend Jack (Jamie Dornan) at a party, and starts sleeping with both of them. Exactly what you think will happen happens.

The latest film from writer-director Drake Doremus, who has struggled to regain his footing after bursting onto the scene in 2011 with his breakout film Like Crazy, Endings, Beginnings is an incredibly dull, boring and insufferably twee indie romance that is rife with clichés. The film’s screenplay, which mixes pre-written and improvised dialogue, is often cringe-inducing, with a story that feels like bad Twilight fan fiction. The film’s insistence on referring to normal young adult searching as actual anxiety and depression also borders on insulting, treating melancholia as a cutesy character quirk.

For example, Daphne warns others to stay away due to her “radioactive sadness” and she has a Spotify playlist of sad indie pop songs titled “music to suffer to”, which are just two of the things in the film that made my eyes roll back in my head. But perhaps the biggest sin of all that Endings, Beginnings commits is that its characters are bland and nothing remotely interesting or surprising happens throughout its nearly two hour running time, and the whole thing has an ugly, washed out colour grade that made my eyes hurt. Watching it feels like an endurance test. Remember how I said Lucy in the Sky was the worst film I saw at the festival this year? Well, I take that back…

Shailene Woodley in Endings, Beginnings

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 8th – 9:00 PM at Ryerson Theatre

Monday, September 9th – 3:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Saturday, September 14th – 9:00 PM at Elgin Theatre

#TIFF19 Review: Dolemite Is My Name (Special Presentations)

September 15, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) was a self-described entrepreneur and fledgling musician who worked in a record shop in the 1970s, when he decided to branch out into doing comedy records. Creating a flamboyant alter-ego named Dolemite, a foul-mouthed pimp who speaks in verse, Moore ended up becoming a massively successful comedian, paving the way for the production of his first film, a Blaxploitation movie called Dolemite, which was released in 1975 and became a sleeper hit.

The story of Rudy Ray Moore is told in Dolemite Is My Name, a biopic done right that mainly focuses on the ramshackle production of the film, which was made on a shoestring budget, delivering a mix of over the top action, humour and lots of sex, catered specifically to black audiences. Moore hires pretentious playwright Jerry Jones (Keegen-Michael Key) to help craft the screenplay, conceded background actor D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to act as director, and a white college kid named Nick to serve as cinematographer, shooting the film in an abandoned, rundown motel that they get for cheap.

Directed by Craig Brewer, working from a screenplay by Ed Wood writers Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, Dolemite Is My Name is a hilarious and wildly entertaining movie that features a bravura performance from Murphy, delivering one hell of a comeback. The film also boasts solid work by cinematographer Eric Steelberg, who does a good job of capturing the look and feel of the ’70s, and appealing costumes designed by the great Ruth E. Carter. Moreover, Dolemite Is My Name functions as an inspiring ode to never giving up on your dreams and creating opportunities for yourself when others don’t give you a chance. It’s a blast to watch, and the whole audience laughed and clapped throughout.

Public Screenings:

Saturday, September 7th – 9:30 PM at Princess of Wales

Sunday, September 8th – 12:00 PM at Princess of Wales

Saturday, September 14th – 5:30 PM at Elgin Theatre

Sunday, September 15th – 12:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

#TIFF19 Review: Uncut Gems (Special Presentations)

September 15, 2019

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a jeweler in New York City, who is always looking for his next big score. When he imports a chunk of rock from a mine in Ethiopa that is studded with rare opals, he intends to sell it at an auction, but ends up lending it to basketball player Kevin Garnett (playing himself), taking his NBA championship ring as collateral.

Howard brings the ring to a pawn shop, and takes the money that he gets for it to bet on a basketball game, intending to buy back the ring using the money that he makes off the bet, and return it to Garnett in exchange for the gem-studded rock. But things inevitably don’t go as smoothly as he plans, and as debt collectors start chasing after him, Howard ends up having to navigate not only the expectations of his wealthy clients, but also his wife (Idina Menzel) and family, and the girlfriend (Julia Fox) that he has on the side.

The latest film from brothers Benny and Josh Safdie, Uncut Gems is a stylish comedic thriller that is infused with a frantic, frazzled energy, but it lacks the precision and tightness of their previous film Good Time. This one feels somewhat bloated, and gets a bit exhausting at over two hours long, but it’s still pretty good, and features a fully committed performance by Sandler. While it’s ultimately a flawed film, Uncut Gems is also often fun to watch, and he is great in it.

Adam Sandler in Uncut Gems

Public Screenings:

Monday, September 9th – 9:15 PM at Princess of Wales

Tuesday, September 10th – 10:30 AM at Elgin Theatre

Saturday, September 14th – 1:00 PM at Ryerson Theatre

Sunday, September 15th – 6:00 PM at Ryerson Theatre

#TIFF19 Review: Marriage Story (Special Presentations)

September 15, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Charlie (Adam Driver) is a theatre director who lives with his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), an actress who performs in his plays, and their young son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in New York. When they start to drift apart, Charlie and Nicole decide to split up their marriage, with her moving to Los Angeles to be closer to her family, and taking Henry with her. While they initially want to separate amicably without legal aid, Nicole ends up consulting ruthless lawyer Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern), forcing Charlie to consult with a pair of lawyers, one who is gentler (Alan Alda) and another who is essentially street fighter (Ray Liotta), and a nasty custody battle for Henry ensues.

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, crafting a companion piece of sorts to his acclaimed 2005 breakout film The Squid and the Whale, Marriage Story is an incredibly powerful, brilliantly written and extremely well acted film that is both believable and incisive in its wrenching portrait of a marriage breaking up. The film features a career-best performance from Driver, who brings a mix of raw emotion, sensitivity and indignant pride to his portrayal of Charlie. Johansson is also at the top of her game here, and the young Robertson is excellent as the child caught in between the two. Dern, Alda and Liotta all deliver memorable supporting turns.

In true Baumbach fashion, the film is deeply moving as a drama, while also delivering some extremely funny moments that originate naturally. Beautifully captured by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, and set to a wonderful score by Randy Newman that recalls his work in the Toy Story films, Marriage Story is one of the best movies of the year.

Scarlett Johansson, Azhy Robertson and Adam Driver in Marriage Story

Public Screenings:

Sunday, September 8th – 5:30 PM at Winter Garden Theatre

Monday, September 9th – 11:30 AM at Princess of Wales

Thursday, September 12th – 9:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Friday, September 13th – 6:00 PM at Princess of Wales

Saturday, September 14th – 2:45 PM at Princess of Wales

#TIFF19 Review: Parasite (Special Presentations)

September 15, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Director Bong Joon-ho’s first film in Korean following his two English-language movies Snowpiercer and Okja, Parasite made history earlier this year when it took home the coveted Palme d’Or at Cannes, becoming the first film from South Korea to win the award. And now that I’ve seen the film, I can say that it deserved the award, and I’m in awe that the Palme even went to such a weird and wild film.

Without giving too much away, the film follows an impoverished family – father Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho), mother Chung-sook (Change Hyae-jin), and their young adult son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) and daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam) – who live together in a cramped basement apartment, doing whatever jobs they can to earn money. Through a series of circumstances, their lives end up intertwined with the rich Park family, who reside in a glorious mansion.

I don’t want to say any more about the plot of Parasite, because that would ruin the entirely unique experience of seeing it for yourself. Functioning as a fascinating study of how society’s underclass is held down by those at the top, either actively or passively, Bong Joon-ho has crafted a genre-bending film that keeps inverting and going in surprising new directions, as it oscillates seamlessly between dark comedy, drama, suspense thriller and horror. Gripping to watch throughout every one of its surprising moments, Parasite is a wild ride. See it knowing as little about the plot as possible.

Public Screenings:

Friday, September 6th – 8:30 PM at Ryerson Theatre

Saturday, September 7th – 1:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Wednesday, September 11th – 9:15 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Friday, September 13th – 9:15 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

#TIFF19 Review: Western Stars (Gala Presentations)

September 14, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Bruce Springsteen’s latest album, Western Stars, is an introspective, often bittersweet concept album of sorts that tells the story of a fading Western movie star, and finds the iconic American rocker branching out to country music and performing with a thirty piece orchestra. Not intending to go on tour with it, Springsteen only performed the album live once in front of a private audience, holding the invite-only concert in an old barn on his farm property in New Jersey.

This concert is beautifully captured by cinematographer Joe Desalvo in the film Western Stars, which is co-directed by Springsteen and filmmaker Thom Zimny, who is no stranger to music documentaries and previously directed the musician in Springsteen on Broadway. Together they have crafted an excellent concert film that heightens our appreciation of Springsteen’s latest album, and serves as a soaring companion piece to one of his most intimate works.

The album’s thirteen tracks are beautifully performed by Springsteen in the film, sometimes joined by his wife Patti Scialfa doing backup vocals, and the musical numbers are complimented by introspective interludes with the artist reflecting upon his life and how much of his work is infused with ideas about the American Dream. Watching Western Stars is a wonderful and at times moving experience, and it’s a must see for Springsteen fans.

Bruce Springsteen in Western Stars

Public Screenings:

Thursday, September 12th – 9:30 PM at Roy Thomson Hall

Friday, September 13th – 11:00 AM at Winter Garden Theatre

Saturday, September 14th – 8:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

#TIFF19 Review: Sorry We Missed You (Masters)

September 14, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The latest social realist drama from veteran filmmaker Ken Loach, Sorry We Missed You explores many of the same themes of systemic poverty and the struggles faced by those who aren’t at the top of the economic ladder as his Palme d’Or-winning previous film I, Daniel Blake. This film follows Ricky (Kris Hitchen), the patriarch of a working class English family. Desperate for work, Ricky becomes a driver for a delivery company that promises independence, but imposes strict rules upon its employees and has steep fees in order to buy into the company.

Ricky convinces his wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood), who works as a home-care nurse for seniors and other high needs clients, to sell her car in order to purchase the truck that he needs for the job. This is the first thing that puts them on a downward spiral, leaving them struggling to support their troubled teenaged son Seb (Rhys Stone) and their young daughter Lisa Jane (Katie Proctor), who wants nothing more than for her family to stay together. But no matter what they try to do, Ricky and Abbie keep working harder and falling further behind, with hidden costs that keep cropping up, which puts them deeper and deeper into debt, and further destabilizes their family unit.

They are trapped in a viscous, seemingly endless cycle which is all too common in this gig economy that is built around precarious work and fuelled by corporate greed. The story that Loach is telling in Sorry We Missed You feels bleak, yet it’s sadly very believable. The film doesn’t offer much in the way of hope, but if it had than that would have betrayed its very credibility. The result is an interesting and well acted, if admittedly depressing, look at the struggles faced by the working class.

Kris Hitchen in Sorry We Missed You

Public Screenings:

Thursday, September 12th – 6:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

Sunday, September 15th – 12:00 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

#TIFF19 Review: Lucy in the Sky (Special Presentations)

September 14, 2019

By John Corrado

★ (out of 4)

The feature directorial debut of Noah Hawley, who is best known for his work on the shows Fargo and LegionLucy in the Sky is a complete misfire, and watching it feels like being trapped in space. After returning from two weeks in space, astronaut Lucy Cola (Natalie Portman) struggles to readjust to her life back on earth, and starts cheating on her husband Drew (Dan Stevens) with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm). Determined to get back into space, Lucy starts obsessively training, but her fraying mental state, and her suspicion that Mark is also sleeping with another astronaut (Zazie Beetz), causes her to quickly unravel.

The film is loosely inspired by the true story of astronaut Lisa Nowak, who drove from Houston, Texas to Orlando, Florida in 2007 to confront a co-worker over an affair. Nowak became infamous for the fact that she wore an adult diaper to cut down on the need for stops along the way, a detail that this film omits, but including it honestly could have only improved the final product. The film disappoints on a psychological level, too thinly written and underdeveloped to work as a character study, and what we are left with is a listless and at time pretentiously overstylized domestic drama that completely squanders the potential of its intriguing premise.

I’m all for changing aspect ratios, but they also need to have a point, and this film overdoes it, switching between full screen and different widescreen formats in the middle of scenes for no discernible rhyme or reason. This is an overlong, unfocused, melodramatic mess, with an uncharacteristically campy and over the top performance from Portman, who chews increasing amounts of the scenery as Lucy grows more unhinged. It’s by far the worst and most disappointing film I’ve seen at the festival this year.

Natalie Portman in Lucy in the Sky

Public Screenings:

Wednesday, September 11th – 9:00 PM at Princess of Wales

Thursday, September 12th – 2:30 PM at Princess of Wales

Friday, September 13th – 1:00 PM at Elgin Theatre

Sunday, September 15th – 5:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre

#TIFF19 Review: Motherless Brooklyn (Special Presentations)

September 14, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

Set in the 1950s in New York, Motherless Brooklyn follows Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton), a private detective with Tourette syndrome. He twitches and tics, his mind obsessing over certain phrases and making him repeat them, but he also has an incredible ability to retain information and never forgets anything, which makes him a brilliant gumshoe.

After witnessing his partner and mentor Frank Minna (Bruce Willis) get killed, Lionel becomes obsessed with unraveling the mystery that Frank was trying to solve when he got shot. This sucks him into a seedy New York underworld involving those in power and the people trying to hold them to account, including an activist (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who is protesting the city’s forced relocation of poor African-American communities, and a crooked politician (Alec Baldwin).

Directed by Norton, who also delivers a compelling and touching performance in the lead, Motherless Brooklyn is a hardboiled detective movie in the most classic sense, rich with crackling dialogue and a tangled web of a plot dealing with political corruption. Adapted from Jonathan Lethem’s bestselling novel of the same name, Norton’s screenplay touches upon racial discrimination and housing inequality, themes that still feel relevant. Working with cinematographer Dick Pope to give the film noirish look, Norton has crafted a completely pleasurable cinematic landscape to get lost in for a couple of hours, and fans of classic detective movies are sure to find a lot to like here. I really enjoyed it.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Edward Norton in Motherless Brooklyn

Public Screenings:

Tuesday, September 10th – 9:15 PM at Princess of Wales

Wednesday, September 11th – 1:30 PM at Princess of Wales

Sunday, September 15th – 9:00 AM at Scotiabank Theatre

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