By Jim Slotek, Liam Lacey, Kim Hughes, and Karen Gordon
Ah Sunday… a day to rest (*needle screeches across vinyl*). Are you kidding? Here we go!
A Star Is Born (Gala)
Sun. Sept. 9, 6 pm (Roy Thomson Hall) and 7:30 pm (Elgin Theatre); Mon. Sept. 10, 9:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Fri. Sept. 14, 6:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox.
First-time director Bradley Cooper has given this oft-redone film a fresh and modern spin. Cooper stars as beaten-down, alcoholic superstar Jackson Maine. His life changes when he wanders into a bar looking for a drink and hears Ally (Lady Gaga). Her obvious talent and purity towards music touches him and… well, you know the rest. Cooper keeps the movie modern in look and feel, going for a naturalistic style and tone. Gaga, who has already proved her acting chops in American Horror Story, shows she has what it takes on the big screen. KG
Screwball (TIFF Docs)
Sun. Sept. 9, 4 pm, Scotiabank Theatre; Fri. Sept. 14, 12 pm, Scotiabank Theatre.
This too-ridiculous-for-fiction documentary — about the fake doctor who supplied Major League Baseball players with testosterone treatments for years — kicks into gear with children re-enacting the moment that Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez said to “Dr.” Anthony Bosch: “I want what you gave Manny Ramirez.” Billy Corben (Cocaine Cowboys) squeezes great comedy out of the story of Bosch’s Florida based juicing clinic Biogenesis, how it supplied ball players all the way down to the high school level, and the idiotic gangster tactics used variously by Major League Baseball, A-Rod himself and actual gangsters when it all blew up over $4,000 owed to a small-time investor. A hilarious must-see sports doc. JS
The Sisters Brothers (Special Presentations)
Sun. Sept. 9, 10 am, Winter Garden Theatre.
A French director adapting a Canadian novel about the American West… what could go wrong? Nothing as it turns out in Jacques Audiard's (who won the Palme d’Or for Deephan in 2015) adaptation of the award-winning Canadian novel. And what a cast! Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly star as brothers Charlie and Eli Sisters, who make their living as frontier hitmen in the 1850s. They’re hired to kill the fabulously named prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) who is on his way to San Francisco to make his fortune. Also on Warm’s trail is an articulate, somewhat melancholy detective (Jake Gyllenhaal). Audiard gets the mood of the American western in all of its sweaty, dirty, gritty, untamed glory. In the end, the joy of the movie is in watching these four very different characters interact. KG
If Beale Street Could Talk (Special Presentations)
Sun. Sept. 9, 6 pm, Visa Screening Room @ Princess of Wales Theatre; Mon. Sept. 10, 11 am, Visa Screening Room @ Princess of Wales Theatre
The late James Baldwin’s insights on race in America have gained fresh urgency in the Black Lives Matter era, though his fiction has largely been neglected. Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to his Oscar-winning Moonlight is adapted from the writer’s 1974 novel, an old-fashioned love story between a 19-year-old African-American department store clerk, Tish (Kiki Lane), and a 22-year-old sculptor, Fonny (Stephan James), which is nearly idyllic until Fonny gets wrongfully arrested by a racist cop for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman. Shortly after, Tish discovers she is pregnant and the story follows her family’s exhaustive efforts to get Fonny free. The tenderness between the lovers is palpable and the supporting performances strong, especially by Regina King and Colman Domingo as Tish’s parents. But Jenkins’ aspirations to a fable-like timelessness with painterly prettiness and moody orchestral strokes saps the story of immediacy (it takes place in the seventies but feels like the 1950s.) The intermittent use of archival photographs of black men being brutally subjugated by white police and prison guards seems intended to provide the heft that’s missing in the main story. LL
Climax (Midnight Madness)
Sun. Sept. 9, 11:59 pm, Ryerson Theatre; Sun. Sept. 16, 10 pm Scotiabank Theatre.
The newest experimental sensory assault and indictment of vile humanity by fifty-something Franco-Argentinian bad boy director Gaspar Noé (Irréversible, Enter the Void) is this year’s TIFF film you can’t unsee. For 45 minutes, this is an electrifying and beautifully shot display of modern street and club dancing, a celebration of the body, diversity, democracy, and freedom. Then, at the after-rehearsal party, someone spikes the sangria with hallucinogens and heaven gives way to hell: ugly violence, child abuse, public peeing, raging paranoia and even worse, a political allegory. Which non-drinker spiked the punch bowl: the Muslim guy or the pregnant girl? As truly grotesque as things get, there’s a built-in escape Noé’s films don’t usually provide: Take a deep breath and think of it as modern dance performance on acid. LL
Free Solo (TIFF Docs)
Sun. Sept 9, 3:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Mon, Sept. 10, 9:30 pm, Scotiabank 12; Fri. Sept. 14, 7:15 pm, Scotiabank.
It’s impossible to overstate the emotional thwack of watching professional climber Alex Honnold scale the 3,000-foot, granite-face El Capitan rock formation in Yosemite National Park without safety ropes of any kind. To paraphrase Tommy Caldwell, Honnold’s friend and sort-of coach, free soloing is like competing in an Olympics where, if you don’t win the gold medal, you die. The climb is Free Solo’s pivot point but filmmakers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin (of Meru fame) probe Honnold’s obsession through more earthbound sources, namely candid interviews. That the filmmakers are also climbers and friends of Honnold’s — thus uniquely aware of the super-human requirements of the feat and the very real possibility they’ll be filming Honnold’s death — cranks the tension to molar-grinding levels. KH
Duelles / Mothers’ Instinct (Special Presentations)
Sun. Sept. 9, 9:30 pm, Scotiabank Theatre; Sat. Sept. 15, 11:45 am Scotiabank Theatre.
Alice (Veerle Baetens) and Céline (Anne Coesens) are best friends and next-door neighbours in the early 60s whose bond is their little boys. But when Céline’s son Max dies in an accident that she thinks Alice could have prevented, the tightly wound Alice begins to think that Céline might be plotting some sort of revenge beneath her forgiving surface. Belgian director Olivier Masset-Depasse’s female-centric psychological thriller would be an easy sell to a Hollywood studio, and works best when you’re not sure which one is crazy. Early in the third act, however, it becomes a francophone The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. JS
Teen Spirit (Special Presentations)
Sun. Sept. 9, 7:30 pm, Scotiabank Theatre; Sat. Sept. 15, 9:15 pm, Ryerson Theatre.
Elle Fanning acts her heart out in this silly, surreal pop trifle about a Violet, a Polish immigrant farm-girl on the Isle of Wight, who goes to school, works in a pub, and sings for drunks on the side, all to support her single mom (Agnieszka Grochowska). When Brit reality-TV series (think The Voice) comes scouting for talent, Violet is picked to go to London on the strength of tutoring from a boozy old Russian opera singer (Zlatko Buric). Actor Max Minghella makes his directorial debut in a movie with mean girls, pretty boys, seizure-inducing club scenes, headache-inducing auto-tune, and a thin plot that unfolds (and ends) dizzyingly quickly. One great moment — Violet dancing furiously in her room to No Doubt’s “I’m Just A Girl” — has more authenticity than the entire rest of the movie. JS
Carmine Street Guitars (TIFF Docs)
Sun. Sept 9, 7:15 pm, Scotiabank 3; Thur. Sept. 13, 3:15 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema. 2.
The latest pop culture documentary from Ron Mann (Comic Book Confidential, Tales of the Rat Fink) focuses on a Greenwich Village guitar shop and luthier, Rick Kelly, who handcrafts Telecaster-style guitars made of wood reclaimed from torn-down buildings, both a handy building material and a metaphor for preserving tradition. Mann’s laidback, dramatized-reality approach is to treat Kelly, his artistic next-generation assistant, Cindy Hulej, and Kelly’s mom with her duster, as if they were proprietors of a village store. Famous friends, including Bill Frissell, Marc Ribot, Charlie Sexton, Jim Jarmusch, Lenny Kaye, and Dallas and Travis Good from the Canadian band, The Sadies, (who created the film’s score) drop in. The visitors noodle on Kelly’s inviting instruments and talk about guitars and music. Don’t expect trade secrets about string gauges, pick-ups, or even a debate about whether the wood in electric guitar even matters to the sound. Carmine Street Guitars is a declaration of faith in great post-War electric guitar cult which, even in its twilight, holds a powerful allure. LL
Summer Survivors (Discovery)
Sun. Sept. 9, 10 pm TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 4; Sat. Sept. 15, 5 pm, Scotiabank 7.
According to the World Health Organization, Lithuania has the highest suicide rate in Europe, though that’s possibly as much a result of honest record keeping as a national mental-health epidemic. This offbeat youth comedy follows an earnest young woman psychologist, Indre, who is instructed to take twenty-something young patients — manic-depressive Paulius and suicidal Juste — to a seaside town. On the day-long road trip, crises are met, feelings are revealed, spirits are lifted, and they inadvertently leave the psychiatric nurse they’re traveling with at a rest stop. This is not exactly a feel-good movie; just a feel-somewhat-better one. LL
Hotel Mumbai (Special Presentations)
Sun. Sept. 9, 10 pm. Scotiabank 1; Sat, Sept.1 5, 9:30 pm, Winter Garden Theatre.
This first feature from Australian director Anthony Maras is an unrelentingly intense fictionalized account of an Islamic extremist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel 2008. Upstairs and downstairs, inside and out, from the viewpoints of the privileged guests to the waiters, overwhelmed police and the terrorists themselves, Maras’ film covers all the bases, placing the viewer in the midst of a terrorist attack though, arguably, without sufficient justification. The cast of lightly fictionalized characters includes an American architect (Armie Hammer) and his Iranian Muslim wife (Nazanin Boniadi), a crude Russian businessman (Jason Isaacs), resourceful Sikh water (Dev Patel), the brave chef (Anupam Kher) and the four young killers, directed by phone from Pakistan, who are given names and some humanity. The movie’s message — that different races, religions and classes can come together in the cause of survival — is the somewhat pat formula of a disaster movie. On the other hand, the technically impressive simulation of people hunted down through the hotel corridors feels almost too real. LL