Original-Cin TIFF 2019 Picks: Friday, September 13

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

I Am Woman (Special Presentations)

Fri. Sept. 13, 9:15 am, Scotiabank 2.

Australian singer Helen Reddy — whose warm, slightly nasal alto gave an edge to more than a dozen top-40 adult contemporary hits through the 1970s — gets a humdrum movie-of-the-week bio treatment in I Am Woman. The film starts in 1966, when the newly divorced Reddy, in her mid-twenties, arrived in New York City with her three-year-old daughter in the mistaken belief she had a recording contract and ends up living in a cockroach-infested hotel, singing in cocktail lounges. Soon, she’s aided by fellow Aussie, feminist rock journalist Lilian Roxon (Danielle Mcdonald, in thankless role as a doomed estranged friend) and her brash talent agent and future husband, Jeff Wald (Evan Peters). The first feature by director Unjoo Moon from a screenplay by Emma Jensen (Mary Shelley) never rises above the serviceable, with somewhat Reddy-lookalike Tilda Cobham-Hervey (Hotel Mumbai) as the singer (intermittently dubbed by Chelsea Cullen) as a pleasantly plucky woman with a big voice struggling with too much time away from the kids and a husband with a coke addiction so blatant it’s unintentionally funny. The film takes its title from Reddy’s 1971 hit, “I Am Woman,” which became an unofficial pop anthem for the Women’s Liberation Movement but the script offers scant context for how the song was written (entirely leaving out co-writer Raymond Burton) and no sense of Reddy’s role in choosing her songs, arrangements or production. LL

The Cave.

The Cave.

The Cave (TIFF Docs)

Fri, Sep 13, 9:15 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox

The horrors of the war in Syria and its ghastly toll on its most vulnerable citizens —children — underpin filmmaker Feras Fayyad’s riveting doc about a hospital built underground in the besieged city of Al Ghouta and the formidable doctors working tirelessly with negligible supplies as missiles fell entire buildings and Russian warplanes streak the sky. At the heart of the team is Dr. Amani, a young pediatrician, whose compassion for her innocent charges is humbling and whose fury at the tragedy beleaguering her country pierces her otherwise cool composure. Fayyad — nominated for an Oscar for Last Men in Aleppo — masterfully juxtaposes the claustrophobia of the hospital against the sweeping expanse of destruction outside its walls. Galvanizing and heartbreaking in equal measure. KH

Ford v Ferrari (Gala Presentation)

Fri. Sept. 13, 9:30 pm, Princess of Wales Theatre; Sat. Sept. 14, 4:30 pm, Ryerson Theatre.

This real-life based movie —about how Henry Ford II decided to get into the racing game just to humble Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans — is promoted as a jingoistic story, America conquering the Euro-cars. But a streak of cynicism runs through it as we follow former racer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and his driver/best-frenemy Ken Miles (Christian Bale) in their quest to create the perfect race car for Ford, in spite of the car company’s executive interference. Neither Henry Jr. (Tracy Letts) nor corporate America comes off well in this film by James Mangold (Logan). But the racing scenes are terrific, and it’s a sports film that doesn’t end with your usual victory lap. JS


Clemency (Gala Presentation)

Fri. Sept. 13, 9:30 pm, Roy Thomson Hall; Sat. Sept. 14, 9:30 am, Scotiabank 1; Sun. Sept. 15, 4 pm Scotiabank 4.

The winner of the top U.S. drama award at Sundance, Clemency stars Alfre Woodard as Bernadine Williams, the by-the-book warden of a maximum security prison who oversees the death-by-injection executions within. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu’s film, which is both a character study and indictment of the excruciating process of state murder, is filmed largely in long static shots with a script that is relentlessly on point. Performances — including Richard Schiff as a defense lawyer and Wendell Pierce as Bernadine’s neglected spouse — are decent but the film’s great strength is Woodard’s face in a series of close-ups, registering both dignified resistance to a turmoil of emotions and her own need for forgiveness. LL

Marriage Story (Special Presentations)

Fri. Sept. 13, 6 pm, Princess of Wales Theatre; Sat. Sept. 14, 2:45 pm, Princess of Wales Theatre.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach turns his sharply insightful mind to the story of a New York couple who are negotiating the end of their marriage. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson play Charles and Nicole, a theatre writer/director and an actress, respectively. They’re already talking divorce when Nicole relocates to her home town of L.A. with their young son to star in a TV series. There, a shark lawyer, (Laura Dern), forces the husband’s hand. Although the film is mostly from his perspective, Baumbach doesn’t demonize. We see how both spouses have their own thoughts about the cause of their breakup, each of which confounds the other. Driver and Johansson are both outstanding, and they lead a note perfect cast that also includes, Ray Liotta, Alan Alda, Julie Hagerty and Merritt Wever. This is one of Baumbach’s finest, and that’s saying something. KG

Joker (Gala Presentation)

Fri. Sept. 13, 9:45 pm, Scotiabank 12.

Maybe every generation gets the Joker movie it deserves. Todd Phillips digs deep into the shadow side of modern society to bring us one of the darkest movies in recent memory. He drops the usual camp treatment of Gotham City for something much grittier. His Joker is the quintessential man who believes that he’s never had a chance —dismissed, ignored, betrayed and lied to. His rage and madness is pushed forward by a series of failures causing him to take actions that are so out there that it inspires the populace in a perverse way. Even though this is the lawless Gotham City, the contemporary parallels are obvious. The film is taut and effective. At the centre is the performance of the always brilliant Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a.k.a. Joker. He commits fully and completely for a performance that is ferocious and terrifying. KG