Toronto Star

Which TIFF movies are making a mark?

Find out some of our favourite films, plus which celebs have been in town for the festival.

- PETER HOWELL SPECIAL TO THE STAR Twitter: @peterhowel­lfilm

Midway through the 2021 edition of the Toronto Internatio­nal Film Festival, we’re taking stock of the good and not so good.

Many of the films I was looking forward to seeing are living up to their buzz. I’ll have more to say about “The Power of the Dog,” “Dune,” “Spencer” and others in my wrap column, but not every film has met expectatio­ns. Here’s a look at six that have delighted and two that haven’t.

GOOD The Forgiven

Are forgivenes­s and vengeance incompatib­le, or is there a middle ground? There’s much to ponder in John Michael McDonagh’s taut morality tale, which sets Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain as a squabbling couple en route to a wild party, whose reckless driving in the Moroccan desert kills a Muslim youth. The grieving father of the dead teen demands atonement; the party will happen regardless of consequenc­es. A crack ensemble cast — including Matt Smith, Caleb Landry Jones and Canada’s MarieJosée Croze — and a wickedly smart screenplay amplify moral issues that gnaw at the mind. A Hero

Ace Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi really knows how to turn the screws on a story, which inevitably starts out simple and slowly becomes more complicate­d. He’s in excellent form with the dilemma facing Rahim (Amir Jadidi), a humble calligraph­er on a two-day release from debtor’s prison, who is offered an opportunit­y to quickly win full freedom. Rahim tries to do the right thing, but missteps and doubts, inflamed by social media, threaten to make his life all the more

miserable. “Nothing is fair in this world,” a character sagely observes.

Jagged / Oscar Peterson: Black + White

Two worthy docs about Canadian music superstars, singersong­writer Alanis Morissette and jazz legend Oscar Peterson, told in their own voices. Alison Klayman’s “Jagged” chronicles the pain behind Morissette’s 1995 confession­al breakthrou­gh album “Jagged Little Pill,” which sold an astonishin­g

33 million copies and empowered other women, but sprang from an early career marred by multiple statutory rapes and an eating disorder. Alanis, calm and composed at 47, marvels at her survival. Jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, in Barry Avrich’s doc, also speaks of the toll that creating music and relentless touring took on his family life, even as they lifted the humble Montrealer to global fame. Avrich scoured archives for rare interviews in which Peterson, who

died at age 82 in 2007, talks about a career that redefined jazz piano, helped give civil rights a soundtrack (“Hymn to Freedom”), and made him a hero and influence to the likes of Quincy Jones, Jon Batiste and even Billy Joel.

The Middle Man

Bent Hamer’s ice-cold sense of humour finds natural allies with a cast of top Canadian actors — Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Sheila McCarthy, Kenneth Welsh, Rossif Sutherland — as the Norwegian auteur makes merry with grieving in a disaster-prone U.S. city (played by Sault Ste. Marie, where much of this was filmed). Norwegian actor Pal Sverre Hagen is Frank, a chronicall­y unemployed man who thinks his life has taken a turn for the better when he accepts the municipal job of “middle man,” tasked with informing residents of tragic losses. Frank has obviously never seen a Bent Hamer movie. This one’s hard to laugh at, much harder to forget.

Neptune Frost

“I count the stars, but will they count me?” This sci-fi musical, by “Slam” writer/actor Saul Williams and Rwandan actor/ playwright Anisia Uzeyman, is an act of pure cinema, inviting the mind to wander as freely as its characters and narrative. Surrealist­ic Afro-futurist poetry, matched with equally unbound images, targets human exploitati­on and rapacious capitalism in the chronicle of intersex runaway Neptune, played by both Cheryl Isheja and Elvis Ngabo. It’s the wildest trip at TIFF 2021; convention­al travellers need not book passage.

NOT SO GOOD Last Night in Soho

I really wanted to love this movie, as I do many of Edgar Wright’s genre-blending films. And it starts off so well: a burst of music and energy as a candycolou­red Swinging Sixties tribute in David Lynch mode, with Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy playing two women in one body in a psycho thriller of mirror opposites. Think of Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” set in London, with a fab ’60s pop soundtrack. Midway through, Wright abruptly shifts into a lurid homage to Italian giallo horror films, breaking the spell and losing my allegiance. That’s one tribute too many, Edgar.

Listening to Kenny G

For about the first 30 minutes of Penny Lane’s doc about jazz saxophone phenomenon Kenny G, I was feeling sympathy for this critically derided horn blower and admiration for his honesty: “I don’t think I’m a personalit­y to people. I think I’m a sound.” Then comes the repetitive and excruciati­ng next hour, in which Kenny burbles on and on about his incredible talents, not just at playing the sax but anything he puts his mind to, from golf to flying to baking. He’s smugly and insufferab­ly tone-deaf about his conceits. I want to lock him into an elevator playing an infinite loop of “Songbird,” but he’d probably consider that a pleasure.

 ??  ??
 ?? TIFF PHOTOS ?? Bent Hamer’s ice-cold sense of humour in “The Middle Man” finds natural allies with a cast of top Canadian actors including Paul Gross, centre, and Don McKellar, right.
TIFF PHOTOS Bent Hamer’s ice-cold sense of humour in “The Middle Man” finds natural allies with a cast of top Canadian actors including Paul Gross, centre, and Don McKellar, right.
 ??  ?? After a solid start, the last hour of “Listening to Kenny G” was repetitive and excruciati­ng, Peter Howell writes.
After a solid start, the last hour of “Listening to Kenny G” was repetitive and excruciati­ng, Peter Howell writes.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada