TIFF – Sept. 14 – 18
Normally I screen 30 or more films at TIFF, depending on how well my poor legs hold out! My record is 52, but that included festival pre-screenings and was well before my legs were shattered – suffice to say those days are gone.
TIFF usually screens more than 300 films per festival, but given COVID- 19, they have dramatically cut back the screenings and we press will see everything virtually at home. I am fortunate to have a smart TV so everything will be seen on a large screen – not the same as a movie screen, but better than a laptop or iPad. If the choice is this or complete cancellation, I take this every time.They cut back to 50 films this year, Incredible considering what we have become used to. Most shocking are the absences of Netflix, who so dominated things last year, Sofia Coppola’s new picture, George Clooney’s science fiction epic, Julie Taylor’s The Glorias, and so many others. That said, we do have world-class films, so I will sit happily, watching films, writing about them and anxiously awaiting next year.
What is she like, this grave, serious, often stern 16-year-old who was TIME Magazine’s Newsmaker of the Year in 2019, and brought piercing attention to climate change? Who is this Greta Thunberg?In this extraordinary documentary, we are given remarkable access into her life, her home, see her interact with strangers (however awkwardly), and see her with her parents and family. How refreshing it is to hear her laugh, to squeal with the goofy delight of a child, because so much of her life has been about challenge.Greta lives with from Asperger’s Syndrome, which is part of the autism spectrum, but claims it is her super power. A brilliant student, she has the unique ability to recall everything she reads and can be laser-focused on things that interest her.Climate change terrified her and she made it her decision to do something about it. Sitting outside the Swedish Parliament for weeks, she slowly drew attention to herself and her cause, and it was not long before she and her father were travelling a Europe, the girl speaking at climate conferences and summits.Greta was an instant rock star wherever she went, but it was not easy on the shy, introverted young girl who also drew sharp attacks from the powerful figures she spoke out about. Called mentally ill, accused of being exploited by her parents, accused of being used by various agencies, condemned by Putin and Trump, her spirit shone through and every obstacle she faced she conquered.Asked to speak in New York at the United Nations, she adamantly refused to fly, so she and her very understanding (sometimes) father rode a sailboat across the Atlantic from England to Manhattan, braving massive swells and waves, illness at sea, the fears of being so vulnerable on the open ocean, all so she would not have to fly.Embraced by America, she was by now a world renowned figure, and her blazing speech at the UN pointed the finger of blame exactly at who deserved it. It remains among the most galvanizing speeches of the 21st century. Her voice quavering with anger, her eyes burning with rage, this was a speech heard around the globe, a speech for the ages.While the film explores her rise to becoming a world figure, it equally explores the fact she is a young girl struggling with a tricky affliction. She and her father do not always see eye to eye, and Greta can be a very difficult, head strong young person. The film explores that she is not easy to be around.This is what a great documentary does – teaches us, educates, enlightens. I knew of Greta Thunberg through her speeches, now I know something about the person she is, and I admire her even more.A breathtaking film.
GOOD JOE BELL (***)
Based on the true stories of Jaden Bell and his father Joe, portrayed with infinite sadness by Mark Wahlberg, this deeply heartbreaking film, so aching with profound honesty and loss, is a powerful experience.Jaden Bell was a gay teenager who was bullied relentlessly by the students at his high school, and though he had friends, he was mercilessly taunted and assaulted by the jocks of the school. Openly and unashamedly gay, Jaden knew who he was, but found no support from the school board, and eventually felt so alone he hung himself.His father knew his son was gay and accepted him as such, but he later admitted he could have done more to support his boy.Joe, mired in grief and despair, embarks on a walk across America, hoping to build and further create awareness about bullying in high schools. He stops along the way to speak, accompanied at the beginning by the ghost of his boy, father and son together one last time. They laugh, they smile, they argue, their love for one another always at the forefront of their relationship, though Joe tells a group of high schoolers that he failed his son.Wahlberg has grown leaps and bounds as an actor since his debut back in Boogie Nights (1997); even since his Oscar nomination as the hot tempered cop in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed (2006). There is real gravity and weight in his performance, as the staggering weight of grief bears down on him, never easing up his guilt. Wahlberg carries the film, his furrowed brow seeming to ask a permanent question, why? He just cannot comprehend why his son felt so alone that his only peace was to die. It is a profoundly moving performance.Connie Britton does fine work as his wife, and Gary Sinise has a cameo as a decent cop sharing some of Joe’s burden.Haunting the landscape of the film, as well as Joe’s very existence, is Reid Miller as Jaden, a bright-eyed young man beaten down by hatred and cruelty that neither he nor his father truly understand. His scenes with his father have a curious hope when we learn why.Deeply moving, forever haunting, this is the finest work of Mark Wahlberg’s career.
THE FATHER (?)I am told this is a masterful film. However, I can’t say for certain, because Elevation Pictures, the film’s studio, has refused to have press and industry screenings. Nor would they provide me with links or screeners to see the film. It appears that now a studio is dictating to TIFF that they cannot show the film to the press or the industry. I am told that TIFF is not happy about the situation.I am told Anthony Hopkins gives his finest performance since The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and should be an Oscar nominee for Best Actor for his portrayal of a man fighting Alzheimer’s. I am told Olivia Colman is equally great as his daughter struggling to help a man who does not believe he needs help. I am told together they are magnificent.I am told.Shame on Elevation Pictures for hi-jacking the Toronto International Film Festival.
Three time Academy Award-nominated actor Viggo Mortensen both acts and directs in this strong film, his directorial debut. The actor is among the greatest of his generation, nominated for Academy Awards as Best Actor for Eastern Promises (2007), Captain Fantastic (2016) and most recently for Green Book (2018). Mortensen was deserving of further nominations for Best Actor in A History of Violence (2005), and should have won Best Actor for The Road (2009). No question he deserved nominations for Best Supporting Actor for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and A Dangerous Method (2011).With Falling, which he directed, wrote, scored and took a strong role in, he proves to be a generous artist, handing Lance Henriksen the role of a lifetime.The non-linear storyline moves back and forth through time as we are introduced to the strained, testy relationship between Willis (Lance Henrikson) and his son John (Mortenson). Willis, in his late 70s to early 80s, is in the throes of dementia, which seems to make worse his abusive homophobic racist slurs. The old man is like a rattlesnake – crouched, wary, ready to strike, his eyes laser focused but sometimes clouded with confusion.It is thrilling to watch Henrikson, now 80, doing the finest work of his career, portraying an intensely dislikable man who constantly attacks and berates his adult son. Clearly John resents his abusive father, but does his best to forgive, to see past the coiled fury of the old man, mostly because he recognizes what is happening to his father is not his fault. Or is it? Through flashbacks we see that a John has always been a controlling bully who truly dislikes most people and feels betrayed by anyone he perceives having done him wrong.Portrayed in young years by an older Timothee Chalamet lookalike, Sverrir Gudnason, the actor is tremendous in portraying an abusive bully, who drives his first wife away with their children, marries again, driver his second wife away too. He is a monster who is despised by his children, and I suspect lives with a self-loathing even he does not understand.Willis, now old, has come to Los Angeles to hopefully live near John and his husband because he is failing and can no longer bear to live on the farm. His bouts with slipping in and out of dementia are frightening to him, as in his mind the dead are often alive, and his rants have become worse (if possible) as he lashes out at whoever is near him. He taunts John with vile homophobic attacks in front of his husband and his daughter, often speaking in the vulgar terms. John has promised not to take the bait, and will not engage with his abusive father.Despite everything he says and does to his son, John loves his father. Somehow he has love for him, even after everything his father has done to their family. John watches in horror as the old man attacks his grandchildren, his daughter, everyone who loves or tries to love him. Finally back at his farm house, after refusing to remain in LA, father and son get into it, exploding with anger and rage over everything they have experienced. Horrible accusations and terrible truths are thrown out, but the next morning they have coffee as though nothing as happened. Is all forgiven or are they like any other family who forgive but do not forget, ever.Henriksen has been a reliable character for years, appearing in a TV series I loved called Millennium, where he portrayed a gifted psychic helping to solve crimes.Though he has been in many films, he has never had a role like this and gives a tremendous, real performance. You can see in his eyes the clouds fogging his memory, or the clear-eyed hatred towards gays or minorities. He is, by all accounts, a vile human being, but his son loves him, or wants too.Mortensen has the lesser role, though he conveys the pain he is feeling in his efforts to love a man who despises what he is.Where Mortensen shines is as a director, generously stepping back to allow all the other actors, Henriksen especially, to shine. His film has an austere feel to it, much like an Ingmar Bergman film – moody and darkly intense. The director also scored the film, and played the piano for the score. Where do his gifts end?With the right support from the studio, the film could ease its way into the Oscar race, but getting the film seen is paramount. It is a tough, demanding film, superbly acted. The writing and flashbacks are sometimes problematic in the leaps back and forth, but overall Mortensen crafted a very good film.