The dark recesses of TIFF19 and some great expectations

Movies: #TIFF19

Smelling something familiar in the air? It’s the gentle fragrance of auteurism, leavened with the sharp odour of Oscar bait. In other words, it’s the dawn of TIFF19. Jay Stone places his bets on Tom Hanks, Nicole Kidman and Ed Norton’s directorial debut as a detective with Tourette’s.

By Jay Stone

SOMEWHERE ON THE WAY TO TORONTO — And here we go again, heading to the Toronto International Film Festival with a suitcase packed with black clothes and a head filled with dark hopes. Will our feet hold up? Can we stay awake through those evening screenings? Will we ever eat dinner before midnight? Did someone remember to pack the Lipitor?

Also: Will the movies be wonderful?

Some of them always are, but you never know: the hot buzz titles can land with a clunk, while the unknown thing you walk into because you have nothing else to do or the title grabs you — I always remember the unheralded documentary Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business as the quintessential hunch bet that paid off — turns out to be something you’re still talking about 25 years later.

…The hot buzz titles can land with a clunk, while the unknown thing you walk into because you have nothing else to do or the title grabs you…

And so we gird our loins, or what’s left of them, and head into battle, the old warhorse suddenly alert — even though it’s nap time, an interval that is taking an increasingly large portion of one’s day, to be frank — and smelling something familiar in the air. It’s the gentle fragrance of auteurism, leavened with the sharp odour of Oscar bait and that somewhat skunky bouquet of the critic sitting next to you who hasn’t changed his safari jacket since Cannes ’85. That guy from Europe somewhere, the one who looks kind of Swedish. Yes, the faces are familiar, even if the names prove ever more elusive.

It’s the films that are new. Here’s what we’re looking forward to this year, with the proviso that we’ll only see the ones that don’t have impossible lineups or ridiculous screening times. One loves cinema, but one must consider one’s constitution.

Our top 10 best bets, in alphabetical order:

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Tom Hanks plays Mr. Rogers. At last, something you can take your grandmother to.

Dolemite Is My Name: Eddie Murphy, a pretty funny guy who lost his way in Hollywood, returns in this movie about, well, a pretty funny guy who lost his way in Hollywood. It’s the true(ish) story of Rudy Ray Moore, a comedian who was going nowhere until he took on the invented persona of “Dolemite:” no, not the anhydrous carbonate mineral composed of calcium magnesium carbonate, but rather the nom de guerre of a pimp with a flashy cane. As such, he became the star of the 1975 blaxploitation movie Dolemite, which you may not remember either. Actually, I’m not sure about this whole thing. I’ll leave it on the best bet list for now, but it’s on probation.

The Goldfinch: Everyone loved this book except me. (I thought there was too much about furniture.) With that caveat, I’m still curious about what director John Crowley, who did such a lovely job on Brooklyn, can make of Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel about the coming of age of an art forger. Actually, I’m mostly curious about what he makes of my favourite part of the novel, the opening sequence in which the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is bombed. Ansel Elgort, a young actor and sometimes singer, stars. Nicole Kidman is also in it, which is promising.

Hustlers: A group of smart strip club employees turn the tables — or perhaps it’s the table dances — on their Wall Street clients. According to my research on the Google machine, it’s a comedy crime drama that’s based on a New York magazine article that everyone apparently read. The people who are in it who I’ve heard of are Julia Stiles and Jennifer Lopez, who trained for pole dancing by installing a pole in her house. It sounds like a woman-centric crowd-pleaser, which is how I used to think of myself before the hair loss thing.

Hustlers….It sounds like a woman-centric crowd-pleaser, which is how I used to think of myself before the hair loss thing…

Joker: Joaquin Phoenix puts on the frightening clown makeup that turned the late Heath Ledger into such a memorable villain in this prequel that tells us how the bad man started as a standup comic who went insane and turned to a life of evil-doing. I believe Adam Sandler followed a similar route. Anyway, it’s a psychological thriller that should provide a welcome alternative to all the well-muscled superheroes who are filling the multiplexes (or multi-flexes! Get it?) these days. If it works, look for a lot more “DC Black” films.

Judy: That would be Judy Garland, portrayed — in this adaptation of the hit play End of the Rainbow — by Renee Zellwegger. It’s set in 1968, when the singer arrives in London for a series of concerts, and it looks at the life and loves and heartbreak and whatnot of a great singer heading for a tragic ending. I saw Garland around this time at a concert in Toronto, at what was then called the O’Keefe Centre, and she stumbled around on stage and hit wrong notes in several songs. It was terrible, but I remember someone in the crowd yelling, “We love you anyway,” when she ended one song on a key so flat she could have balanced her drink on it. You couldn’t look away. I expect the same of the film.

Knives Out: An intriguing cast, including Chris Evans and Daniel Craig, star in this neo-noir mystery, a kind of updated Agatha Christie story, directed and written by Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi). It’s about a family gathering that goes wrong — the host of the party,  played by Christopher Plummer, is a crime novelist who doesn’t make it through the evening — and the detective who investigates the death. This could be really terrific or really cheesy, but that’s why they have film festivals. Well, that and the comp bars.

The Lighthouse: Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, who are very interesting performers, star in this black-and-white drama about two lighthouse keepers who are driven mad by the solitude. Keen-eyed readers will notice that this is the second movie about people who are driven mad by something, which may stand as the presiding metaphor of my experience this year’s film festival if I’m not careful. It was directed and co-written by Robert Eggers, who made The Witch, which was also about people going mad. And you wonder why critics drink so much.

Motherless Brooklyn: Edward Norton, who I had sort of forgotten about, directed and stars in this noir adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s bestseller about an investigator with Tourette syndrome who tics and talks his way into the mystery of what happened to his boss, played by Bruce Willis, who I had also sort of forgotten about. It’s got a jazzy New York City vibe (and authentic settings), and although I didn’t like the book as much as most people did — it was kind of gimmicky — it’s got an irresistible hook.

Parasite: A South Korean black comedy that won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes film festival. The Palme d’Or can be as much a warning as a recommendation, but this one sounds so fascinating that I hesitate to read too much about it in fear of spoiling the surprises for both of us. All I’m sure about is that it’s about an unemployed guy who becomes an English tutor for a rich family. There are lots of twists and turns (according to the trailer, anyway), and if someone is driven mad in it, I’ll consider my work here a success.


THE EX-PRESS, September 5, 2019


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