October 24, 2022
WRITTEN BY: NICK
Welcome to Week Two!
If you missed Week One, which covers the first four days of the festival, please check it out here.
But before we dive into Week Two, I want to talk about the Bitesize writers who covered the festival. With the whirlwind of it all, it took until Day Nine for the three of us to meet up in person. Grabbing lunch with Adriano, who lives just outside of Toronto, and Quentin, who flew in from Germany, was a festival highlight for me. More importantly, it cemented my belief that I have brought the right people along on the Bitesize journey. As opportunities for more festivals arrive in the future, I hope we’ll eventually get to a point where the entire Bitesize crew will be in the same place at the same time, even if only for a few days.
Ok, time to close this thing out. Enjoy the evolving mindset of a person who saw way too many movies in way too short of a time and wouldn’t change it for anything. This is the finale of my 2022 Toronto International Film Festival journal. Let’s finish this ride together...
One of the biggest titles heading into the festival was The Whale due to the career comeback narrative for Brendan Fraser. When a film has apex-level hype surrounding it, even if it's not bad, it's unlikely to achieve the lofty expectations put upon it. That said, believe the hype. Fraser is fantastic in the role, which feels like it was made specifically for him. He garners such sympathy for a character who is not always likable thanks to the honesty of his performance. I was blown away by how good he is. Samantha Morton also deserves credit because her powerful performance is enough to make it one of the year’s top supporting showings despite the minimal screentime.
In the same vein as Fraser, there’s something infinitely likeable about Anna Kendrick. That inherent affability made it all the more difficult to watch her as an abuse victim in Alice, Darling. Her performance is tremendous, but the film loses its way a little bit in the story. It could have used a stronger supporting cast and a little more backstory as to why she is the way she is, but it’s still a satisfactory watch (it would be disingenuous to say “enjoyable” given the subject matter).
EMPIRE OF LIGHT
Empire of Light had to be one of the most confounding films of the festival. The opening credits are beautiful, and there is a fireworks scene used for the poster that is simply stunning thanks to cinematography legend Roger Deakins; however, after that point in the film, it’s as if everyone behind the scenes (Deakins included) was replaced by an entirely different crew. The vision changes too, with the story taking unexpected turns that derail the sweet simplicity of the film’s early parts. Olivia Colman and Michael Ward remain engaging, but this really is a tale of two films.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN
Full disclosure: I think Colin Farrell is one of the most underrated actors working today. He’s a man who consistently tackles a variety of roles with great success, yet he is rarely mentioned in the conversation of best working actors today. Maybe The Banshees of Inisherin will change that because he is brilliant once again. This absurd fable is exactly what you’d expect from writer/director Martin McDonagh, and it easily provided me with the most laughs of anything I saw at TIFF. Give Farrell his Oscar nomination!
Similar to Farrell, I’m a big fan of Hugh Jackman. I also thought 2020’s The Father was really well done. So, it is beyond baffling that the same director made a movie about mental health that is this tone deaf. There is nothing good here. The performances range from average by their standards (Jackman and Vanessa Kirby) to rough (Zen McGrath), and the idea that this film will be nominated for anything more than some Razzies is laughable. The only highlight of this screening was meeting fellow critic and documentarian Billie Melissa, who was just lovely to talk with.
RAYMOND & RAY
After two movies, Day Six was shaping up to become a day of me being disappointed in actors I like because the lackluster Raymond & Ray (starring Ewan McGregor and Ethan Hawke) followed The Son. Now, this film isn't near as bad, but it is decidedly average. Truthfully, the performances aren’t to blame; it’s the relatively bland script. I don’t really know what else to say about it other than some added humour probably would have helped.
THE GREATEST BEER RUN EVER Red Carpet
With a rocky start to the day, it was time to take a break from screenings for The Greatest Beer Run Ever’s Red Carpet. Unlike the Black Ice Red Carpet, this was a lot more hectic. Since the film is based on a true story, it was nice to see the real-life counterparts of the characters show up, and you could tell they relished their story being told, especially John “Chickie” Donohue (played by Zac Efron). Unfortunately, the cast showed up late and were rushed past the press line to make the premiere on time; however, I did speak briefly with Ruby Ashmore Serkis about her approach to forging her own career separate from her father. I also got to congratulate director Peter Farrelly on the film before he was whisked away.
If you didn’t know, TIFF is hosted at some of the most gorgeous theatres in Toronto, but I’m really glad I got a chance to see something at the Cinesphere, the world’s first ever permanent IMAX theatre. I had been there a few times before, and the experience is like no other. This go round was to check out Pearl, the highly anticipated follow-up to Ti West’s X. The streak of disappointments happily ended here because this was a ton of fun. The tone is very different from its predecessor, but the main takeaway is that Mia Goth really elevates her performance for this sequel. She is sensational, delivering a haunting monologue that will surely top some of “Best of 2022” lists.
I’ve never seen Netflix’s Grace & Frankie, but I’ve always liked Jane Fonda, so I decided to give Moving On a try. I was pleasantly surprised. This is sort of what I wanted Raymond and Ray to be: a dark comedy featuring a nice mix of funny and heartfelt moments that kept me engaged. Nothing more, nothing less; just what it needed to be.
My next film was also women-focused, Women Talking, which is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Moving On. This film falls into the category of “I respected it more than I liked it.” The script from writer/director Sarah Polley is excellent, featuring crisp dialogue being delivered flawlessly from every actor. That said, it was made to get a message across, and unfortunately, Polley tends to prioritize the message over maintaining an entertaining film. Plus, it looks quite dreary because of its off-putting colour palette. Regardless of Polley’s explanation that she wanted it to look like an old postcard, that doesn't justify the misfires in its editing and cinematography.
Devotion was another title I was looking forward to. With the recent emergence of Jonathan Majors, I was eager to see him in a starring role on the big screen. Sadly, this is a film that would have been much better had it come out in 2020, as it pales in comparison to Top Gun: Maverick in every single way. That doesn’t make it a bad film, mind you. I still enjoyed it, but still… Honestly, the biggest sin Devotion commits is just coming out too late, which is an unfair complaint when you factor in a worldwide pandemic and just how good Maverick is. All in all, you should still check it out when it hits theatres.
It’s Day Eight and fatigue is definitely starting to set in a little, which may be why Sanctuary didn’t really work for me. It just felt like the gag went on far too long. Margaret Qualley and Christopher Abbott are clearly having fun, and I was game for it at the start. But it just kept going and going until I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore. I’ve heard from fellow critics that my opinion doesn’t align with the majority, so I’m not going to tell you not to see it, but it wasn’t for me.
Just so you know, I love The Silver Linings Playbook. I think it’s an excellent film with a dynamic performance from Jennifer Lawrence. Also, truth be told, she hasn’t wowed me with anything she has done since then. She has been fine, but for me, she hasn’t been worthy of the acclaim showered upon her. Then comes Causeway, a return to form for Lawrence in a subdued, yet quietly powerful, showing. This is a character where the performance could have easily gone over the top, but she finds the sweet spot and stays in it. It’s also another top-notch performance from the highly underrated Brian Tyree Henry. Together, they give two of the best performances of TIFF.
Going into the screening, I’d heard some unfavourable chatter about Prisoner’s Daughter, but it’s totally fine. It won’t light the world on fire, but it’s a relatively simplistic indie film with competent performances. The familial dynamic works well, and the film didn’t lose me at any point. The only poor decision I can comment on is using music from star Tyson Ritter. It sounds amateurish and makes the whole affair feel like a student film. It’s an unnecessary black eye on an otherwise decent offering.
THE GREATEST BEER RUN EVER
From carpet to screen, it was finally time to watch The Greatest Beer Run Ever. Similar to Peter Farrelly’s other biopic (Green Book) this feels… sanitized? I would have liked to see more focus on the horrors of war to give added weight to the story and show the short-sightedness of Chickie Donohue's (Zac Efron) actions. It’s still a good film, just not a great one. The performances are fine, and it’s got some laughs, but the strength is the outlandishness of the actual story. I mean, an average guy travelling overseas to a war zone just to deliver his buddies some beer is the most recklessly patriotic thing I can think of. That this actually happened is the real story.
With TIFF winding down, the only major release left on my docket was The Fabelmans. Steven Spielberg has been far more hit or miss in recent years, but with this being the director’s first time at TIFF, I knew this was likely to be something special. And it was! It’s a wonderful quasi-biopic that is less a love letter to film than a love letter to filmmaking. Gabriel LaBelle and Michelle Williams are wonderful, while the journey of Spielberg’s (via character stand-in Sammy Fabelman (LaBelle)) growth behind the camera is a clear highlight of the film.
You know when an SNL sketch gets turned into a movie with less-than-stellar results? That also applies to The Blackening. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, but does it add anything to the short film it’s based on? Not really. Does it overplay the joke when extended to feature length? Kinda. As a feature adaptation, it needed a more fleshed out story that incorporated the themes and ideas of the short film on a grander scale. Instead, it’s just a stretched-out version of a very good four-minute skit with little else added. It’s needless.
Love him or hate him, Nicolas Cage is an enigma, which is why his projects elicit so much interest. My penultimate day of screenings led me to his latest, Butcher’s Crossing. It’s Cage’s first foray into the Western genre, and unfortunately, it’s a tad forgettable. That’s nothing against Cage, per se, but it’s just another “we’re going to prove the doubters wrong by getting the biggest score this town has ever seen” story without the action to fall back on. I hate to say it, but this was a little on the boring side for me.
It’s such a breath of fresh air that Bros even exists. It’s a huge step for LGBTQ+ cinema, and it’s not hyperbole to say this film is breaking barriers. I just wish it was funnier… Look, I know this wasn’t made for me, but there have been many LGBTQ+ comedians to put me in stitches. However, Bros goes for the easiest and most stereotypical gay jokes half the time, and the worst part is, all involved seems to think they work. There are so many opportunities where the film could have been a little more clever, and while I have nothing against Billy Eichner, his tendency to talk over his own jokes (which were objectively the best ones) made me want to strangle him.
For some background, the TIFF slate is released weeks before the festival in waves. This gives attendees time to research what is coming, prioritize releases, and make a viewing schedule. Biosphere crashed that party because it was a late inclusion announced after the full list of festival titles had been released. As a result, it became the mystery of TIFF. There was little known about the project aside from the cast (Sterling K. Brown and Mark Duplass), and I’d like to keep it that way. All I’ll say is that this little film out of nowhere was one of my favourites of the festival.
A lot of work went into my schedule to make sure I was able to see the maximum number of titles on my priority list (Biosphere notwithstanding). So, after the hype surrounding How to Blow Up a Pipeline (more on that in a second) led me to schedule it for my final day, I realized I had enough dead space between screenings to add another movie. I chose Blueback. I hadn’t heard much about the film, so I took a gamble. You know, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a relatively simple story, but when paired with the underwater visuals and sentimental plot, the experience was a satisfying one.
HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE
Alright, here we go - the last film of the festival. Word spread like wildfire amongst critics that How to Blow Up a Pipeline was a must-see, and it’s easy to see why. While non-linear storytelling can often be used as a trick to dress up a lackluster idea, there is a defined purpose for this story to be told in such a way, and it actually enhances many aspects of the film. The tension built throughout is palpable, and when coupled with the shooting style and characters’ personal stakes, it creates a heist film unlike the many you’ve seen before. There are no big twists because it tells you exactly what’s going to happen upfront: some people are going to attempt to blow up a pipeline. You are just along for the ride, and much like these 11 days at TIFF, it was a ride I quite enjoyed.
Photo Credits: TIFF