Original-Cin TIFF Picks, Friday, September 15

By Jim Slotek, Karen Gordon, Liam Lacey and Kim Hughes

OUR PEOPLE WILL BE HEALED

Friday, Sept. 15 (6:15 p.m.)  Scotiabank 14

The first 40 minutes or so of 85-year-old director Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th (!) do comes across as a feel-good survey of the achievements of the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre, a high school for Cree students in the community of Norway House, 450 kms north of Winnipeg. Science classes, music concerts, baseball and graduation, a positive alternative to more familiar negative media stories about First Nations people.  But as the film opens up to interviews with the adults in the community, it goes deeper: We hear older residents talk about generations of children taken from their homes to live in residential schools. Obasawin provides voice-over near the end, telling the story of the revival of the once-banned Sun Dance.  We see how the community’s mission to build a safe beginning for young adults has been shaped by past traumas: The school itself is named in memory of a murdered fifteen-year-old girl, a schoolmate of some parents, who was murdered. - LL

Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins in The Shape Of Water

Richard Jenkins and Sally Hawkins in The Shape Of Water

 

 THE SHAPE OF WATER (Special Presentations)

Friday, Sept. 15. (9 p.m.) Elgin. Sunday, Sept. 17. (6:30 p.m.) Elgin

Guillermo del Toro won the Golden Lion for best picture at the Venice Film Festival for this romantic-action-thriller creature-feature. Set in the early ‘60s, Sally Hawkins stars as a mute woman who works as a cleaner at a bleak research facility that looks like something out of Terry Gilliam’s BrazilMichael Shannon is a nasty contractor who has captured an aquatic being from South America, who the locals believe is a god.  His torture of the creature offends Hawkins gentle-but-feisty character to the core and rouses her to take action that will put her in jeopardy. Given that this is del Toro, the art direction and the imagery, is sumptuous and sensual. The movie is surprisingly funny, wonderfully tender and completely magical. - KG

JOURNEY'S END (Special Presentations)

Friday, Sept. 15 (9:30 a.m.) TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

R.C. Sherriff’s venerable First World War drama, set in a British trench over several days, was first staged in 1928 and has been subsequently adapted for film, radio and television. The characters are familiar: The innocent greenhorn (Asa Butterfield as a fresh-from-college new officer), the fatherly lieutenant, (Paul Bettany as a schoolmaster turned soldier), and the embittered idealist (Sam Claflin as the shell-shocked, hard-drinking Captain Stanhope.) Throw in a stoical working-class chef (Toby Jones) and this could have slipped into parody. But it feels timeless, thanks to Saul Dibb’s taut adaptation and the cast’s understated performances. It’s a drama of fear and distraction that anticipates Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in which soldiers pass the hours to the expected German offensive while talking about the contents of the meat cutlets and hoping for canned pineapples instead of apricots. - LL

MARROWBONE (Special Presentations)

Friday, Sept. 15, (3:30 p.m.) Scotia 1. Sunday, Sept. 17. (12:15 p.m.). Scotia 2

A very different dark fairy tale – Gothic by way of late-‘60s America. It’s the story of four siblings who end up looking after themselves alone after the death of their mother in her decrepit U.S. seaside mansion. The eldest, Jack (George MacKay) is the keeper of dark secrets – even from his new love Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy) – some of which he doesn’t even know he knows. Director Sergio G. Sánchez also wrote The Orphanage, which this psychological horror story resembles. - JS

WHO WE ARE NOW

Friday, Sept. 15 (9:30 p.m.) ScotiaBank 3

I don’t think I’ve ever loved a performance so much in a movie I didn't otherwise like. That would be Julianne Nicholson's performance as Beth, a formerly upper-middle-class woman who is released after serving 10 years in jail for homicide, only to find that her sister (Jess Weixler) won't give up custody of Beth's son and no one will hire her because of her record. The quiet pain, punctuated by occasional outbursts, is deeply affecting, an island of suppressed rage in a movie where everybody is angry (much of it takes place in courtrooms). Emma Roberts shares the billing as a lawyer trying to reconcile her conflicted feelings with her mother Lea Thompson, and deciding whether to continue on a family-law track or to go for big money lawyering. First World problems and a character I didn't care about for a second. - JS

BATTLE OF THE SEXES

3 p.m. Princess Of Wales

The camera loves Emma Stone as Billie Jean King in this brisk re-telling (with era-appropriate feminist sloganeering) of the much-hyped $100,000 Battle Of The Sexes tennis match at the Astrodome with professional chauvinist-pig Bobby Riggs. She gets all the dewy-eyed close-ups as she discovers her sexuality while fighting for equality for women players. But it’s Steve Carells sad-clown act as Riggs that really pops. A fun look back at what was really the Mayweather/McGregor hype-fest of its day – meaningless, but a lot of people read a lot into it. - JS

Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in Papillon - again!

Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in Papillon - again!

PAPILLON

Friday, Sept. 15 (9 p.m.) ScotiaBank 2

I guess the question to be asked is why? Michael Noer directs an almost note-for-note remake of the 1973 Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman film about Henri Charrière’s repeated (and eventually successful) escape attempts from the French penal colony in French Guyana. Charlie Hunnam (The Lost City of Z) and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) assume the roles reasonably well (Hunnam is more GQ than rough-hewn like McQueen). But I can’t think of a reason to recommend it over the original. – JS

INSYRIATED (Contemporary World Cinema)

Thursday, Sept. 14 (8:45 p.m.). TIFF Bell Lightbox 2. Friday, Sept. 15 (12:00 p.m.). TIFF Bell LLightbox 2

The fine Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (Exodus: Gods and Kings) is the heart of this claustrophobic Syrian war drama. She plays Oum Yazan, a mother of three barricaded in a Damascus apartment as sniper fire and bombs sound outside and burglars prowl the empty units. Along with her two adolescent daughters and a son, Oum Yazan is protecting a young mother with a baby, a South Asian maid, a teen-aged neighbour boy and Oum’s father-in-law. Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw’s drama begins as impressively tension-packed but too quickly progresses into a crude moral quandary about survival and guilt, in a scene where a young woman next door is assaulted while Oum Yazan and her charges cower in their kitchen. - LL

YOUTH (Special Presentations)

Thursday, Sept. 14 (1 p.m.) Elgin Winter Garden. Friday, Sept. 15. (12:00 p.m.) ScotiaBank 3      

Xiaogang Feng (I Am Not Madame Bovary) introduces us to a very teenage group of young people in ‘70s Maoist China whose life revolves around a military-arts troupe in the People's Liberation Army, dancing and singing in praise of revolutionary values. The beautifully-filmed movie only has its narrative footing in the first act, when it’s kind of a Maoist Mean Girls, with a bullied young talent named Xiaoping (Miao Miao), the bully diva Dingding (Yang Caiyu) and the class hunk Liu Feng (Xuan Huang). Unfortunately, they all really are soldiers, and actual war (with Vietnam) intrudes, sending the plot and characters in all directions. Interesting, but overly long and unfocused tale. - JS

PORCUPINE LAKE

Friday, Sept. 15 (8:45 p.m.) ScotiaBank 9

Coming-of-age movies (Only, Modra) are Canadian director Ingrid Veninger’s wheelhouse. And this film - about a city girl (Charlotte Salisbury) who enters into an intense summer friendship with a hard-edged local girl (Lucinda Armstrong Hall) in Port Severn, Ontario – is a universal tale of overwhelming tween emotions set against the dangerous boredom (by young people’s standards) of growing up in a small town. Beautifully shot, sensitively told, it's Veninger’s best film. - JS

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (Special Presentations)

Friday, Sept. 15 (6 pm), Princess of Wales; Sunday, Sept. 17 (3 pm), Elgin Theatre

Whatever you think you’ve seen in the trailer, you haven’t a clue what you’re in for in this hilarious/heart-breaking entry from writer/director Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges). Shattered over the murder of her daughter and enraged by the seeming inaction of her local constabulary in solving the crime, Mildred Hayes is fighting back, renting three derelict billboards on the outskirts of town to send a message to the chief of police. That action does more than simply galvanize local law enforcement; it triggers a domino effect that wallops the entire fictional town of Ebbing.  Every member of McDonagh’s all-star cast — Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, and Lucas Hedges — brings their A-game. But McDormand’s tart and broken Mildred clasps the film’s soul. This may be the best thing to screen at TIFF. - KH

Jane Goodall and a chimpanzee friend in Brett Morgen's Jane.

Jane Goodall and a chimpanzee friend in Brett Morgen's Jane.

JANE (TIFF Docs)

Saturday, Sept. 16 (9:45 am), TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Buoyed by a can’t-miss trifecta – breath-taking original score by Philip Glass, footage from the world’s best wildlife photographer, and narration/memories from the planet’s foremost chimpanzee researcher – this extraordinary documentary from the filmmaker who chronicled Kurt Cobain is flat-out extraordinary. Jane Goodall literally wrote the book (several, actually) on chimps in the wild, connecting the dots between them and us and wider nature. Captured at her most luminous during the 1960s in Tanzania's Gombe Stream National Park by photographer Hugo van Lawick — who was on assignment for National Geographic — Jane weaves together vintage and previously unseen footage with present-day context provided by the subject herself. Director Brett Morgen’s (Cobain: Montage of Heck) masterful film showcases the exquisite beauty of African wildlife alongside a woman who changed the planet. Beat that. - KH

JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND - WITH A VERY SPECIAL, CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED MENTION OF TONY CLIFTON (TIFF Docs)

Sunday, Sept. 17 (8:45 pm). TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

How much you like Jim Carrey walking into the theatre will doubtless impact how much you like Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond – though even Carrey fans may want to punch him in the face watching this often uncomfortable making-of documentary about director Milos Forman’s 1999 biopic, Man on the Moon. To play his hero, the late guerrilla comic/performance artist Andy Kaufman, Carrey slipped into character and stayed there for the duration of the shoot, insisting everyone address him as Andy (or his slime-ball alter ego, Tony Clifton, who brought havoc to the set) and pushing patience to the outer limits. Vintage footage is contextualized by Carrey, who sits down for a present-day interview that is alternately revealing and head-spinning.  Man on the Moon changed Carrey forever, and the footage gathered on his dime by real-life Kaufman girlfriend Lynne Margulies (much to the studio’s chagrin) captures an actor in meltdown mode. Watching this feels a bit like rubbernecking a car crash, so yes, it’s weirdly fascinating. – KH

DISOBEDIENCE (Special Presentations)

Saturday, Sept 16 (5:30 pm) Elgin Theatre

This quietly lovely drama from Chilean director Sebastián Lelio resonates despite its slow-burn execution. When a New York-based photographer (Rachel Weisz) returns home to her orthodox Jewish community in London following her rabbi father’s death, she discovers her former lover (Rachel McAdams) has married a childhood friend who also happens to be her father's heir apparent at the synagogue. All the big themes are visited — the push/pull of organized religion, self-determination, the status of family — but Disobedience really comes down to relationships; those we cultivate and those that ambush us despite our best efforts at exerting control. - KH