Original-Cin TIFF Picks: Wednesday, September 12

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

Um, yeah this TIFF thing is kind of overwhelming. But fun… right?!

 A beefy Viggo Mortensen in a scene from Green Book.

A beefy Viggo Mortensen in a scene from Green Book.

First Man (Gala Presentations)

Wed. Sept.12, 6 pm, Scotiabank 12; Thur. Sept. 13, 6 pm, Scotiabank 12; Fri. Sept. 14, 6pm, Scotiabank 12; Sat. Sept. 15, 6 pm, Scotiabank 12 and 9:30 pm, Princess of Wales Theatre; Sun. Sept. 16, 6 pm, Scotiabank 12.

The first man on the moon, according to the new movie from Spotlight writer Josh Singer and director Damien Chazelle (Whiplash, La La Land), was also a first-rate decent guy. As quiet-spoken astronaut Neil Armstrong, Ryan Gosling offers a graceful performance of a character who was all about self-control. Chazelle doesn’t stint on the visual thrills, including several teeth-rattling turns in cockpits and flight capsules (and an over-emphatic score), as well as a reverent recreation of the moon landing itself. But there’s also unexpected nuance here, in this character-driven, even haunted story: Armstrong entered the space program following the death of his three-year-old daughter and throughout the decade of the film, his work keeps him close to tragedy as he tries to maintain a normal life with his wife (Claire Foy, superb) and children. While the movie doesn’t provide a lot of 1960s context, it earns bonus points for including Gil Scott Heron’s protest poem, “Whitey on the Moon.” LL

Green Book (Gala Presentations)

Elgin Theatre; Wed. Sept 12, 10 am, Elgin Theatre; Thurs. Sept, 13, 2:30 pm, Winter Garden Theatre.

Audiences may doubt that the director of Dumb and Dumber could also helm the festival’s funniest, wittiest, best-written, best-acted, most inspired film, but skip Peter Farrelly’s dramedy at your peril. Based on a true story, Green Book is a road-trip movie with a twist: highly cultured black musician Don Shirley hopes to play a concert tour in the segregated American south in 1962 but needs wise-guy Tony “Lip” Vallelonga to bust racist heads blocking his path. The pair’s oil-and-water dispositions fuel the humour as their characters confront misconceptions one stubborn stereotype at a time. Yet the soul of the film hinges on dazzling performances from Viggo Mortensen as the uncouth but humane and grounded Tony and Mahershala Ali as the troubled genius who can’t find a foothold on either side of the black/white divide. Movies don’t come more touching or note perfect than this. KH

 A scene from Roma.

A scene from Roma.

Roma (Special Presentations)

Wed. Sept. 12, 12 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Thur. Sept 13. 11:30 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Thur. Sept. 14, 9:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Fri. Sept. 14, 9:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Sat. Sept 15, 8:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Sun. Sept 16, 2:45 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Roma arrives at TIFF having won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. Writer-director Alfonso Cuarón follows his Oscar-winning Gravity with a semi-autobigraphical and deeply heartfelt homage to the women in his life. Set in the Roma district of Mexico City in 1970, the story centres on Cleo (a break-out performance by Yalitza Aparicio), a live-in maid and nanny for a family with four rambunctious kids. Over the course of almost a year, both Cleo and Sofia, the wife and mother, undergo major personal challenges. We know what they are, but what we see is everyone carrying on with the most basic routines of daily life. Shot in a beautifully muted black and white, Cuarón’s film doesn’t scream or manipulate; rather he keeps things quiet and human in scale. Don’t go in expecting fireworks. Masterfully made, this is a small, small film that rewards. KG

The Grizzlies (Special Presentations)

Wed., Sept. 12, 6:30 pm, Winter Garden Theatre; Sat. Sept. 15, 3:45 pm, Scotiabank Theatre.

Veteran producer Miranda de Pencier (Beginners) makes her feature directorial debut with a (based-on-a) true story about Russ Sheppard, a white teacher who took a job in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, a town of about a thousand people with the highest youth suicide rate in North America. Floored by the drugs, alcohol, and despair, he came up with the idea of channeling the kids’ energy into lacrosse. Yes, we’ve seen this movie before – usually with a white guy who teaches inner-city black kids to believe in themselves. But the setting is unusual and eye-opening, and the script by Graham Yost (Justified) does shift the focus to the teens’ lives, allowing them to generate the plot by the last act. JS

What They Had (Gala Presentations)

Wed. Sept. 12, 6:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall and 8 pm, Elgin Theatre.

Mom has Alzheimer’s and it’s increasingly getting worse. Dad won’t put her in a home despite the fact that that puts her in danger and stresses everyone to the max. What They Had is a small-scale family drama, not about extremes of behaviour but about the kinds of everyday issues that are the sources of ordinary tension in most families. The movie is elevated by the cast, especially Blythe Danner, Robert Forster, Hilary Swank, and the always wonderful Michael Shannon. KG

Non-Fiction (Special Presentations)

Wed. Sept 12, 9:30 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 1.

Director Olivier Assayas’s philosophical comedy explores the world of French people having meals and affairs and talking about books, which is never a bad thing. Alain (Guillaume Canet), head of a publishing firm, rejects the latest book by one of his writers, Leonard (Vincent Macaigne) who specializes in “auto-fictions,” or novels about his affairs. But Alain’s wife, a TV actress named Selena (Juliette Binoche) likes the book, perhaps because it reflects her own secret affair with Leonard. Of course, Alain is also having an affair with his ambitious new “head of digital transition” (Christa Theret). While the structure may resemble a philosophical bedroom farce, the pleasure here is often in the bluntly honest dialogue between couples who are well-past false flattery, ego-stroking or other kinds of marital fictions. LL

Look at Me (Contemporary World Cinema)

Wed. Sept 12, 11:45 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox, Cinema 3; Sat. Sept 15, 9:45 am, Scotiabank 13.

Lotfi, a macho, fortyish Tunisian appliance-store owner living in Marseille, is feeling proud. His attractive girlfriend is pregnant and he hopes it’s a boy. But right after he has a celebratory party, he gets a call from his brother back home. Lotfi’s first wife has had a stroke and is in a coma. And their nine-year-old autistic son, Youseff, who Lotfi abandoned seven years before, will fall into the hands of an aunt (living with a Christian man) which Lotfi’s mother considers a calamity. Lotfi (a believable turn by comic Nidhal Saadi) rides the cross-Mediterranean ferry home and blusters and blunders about until, somewhat predictably, the tough guy who ran away from his responsibilities is gradually humanized by his son’s struggles. The title refers to the father’s frustration that his son refuses to make eye contact with him. LL

 A scene from Transit.

A scene from Transit.

Transit (Masters)

Wed. Sept. 12, 12:30 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Fri. Sept. 14, 12 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox; Sun. Sept. 16, 5 pm, Scotiabank Theatre. 

German director Christian Petzold (Phoenix, Barbara) offers an ingenious approach to German-Jewish novelist Anna Segher's 1942 novel about French refugees escaping the German invasion by placing it in an apparently contemporary European setting but without modern technology. Very much a movie about storytelling (there's an off-screen narrator), Transit follows Georg (Franz Rogowski, very fine), a German refugee in France, who adopts the identity of a dead writer along with his transit pass to escape the ongoing German invasion with his wife to Mexico.  The narrative loop-de-loops, which evokes Hitchock's thrillers (if confusingly) but Transit largely succeeds on a double level: As a nightmarish meta-thriller about fear, persecution, and confused identity and alarm about Europe's resurgent neo-fascist politics. LL 

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