2019 TIFF Movie Review: MARTIN EDEN (Italy/France 2019) ***

Martin Eden Poster

Martin Eden struggles to rise above his destitute, proletarian circumstances through an intense and passionate pursuit of self-education, hoping to achieve a place among the literary elite.


Pietro Marcello


Jack London (novel), Maurizio Braucci (screenplay) | 1 more credit »

Based on the Jack London novel of the same name, Pietro Marcello’s latest film follows a sailor, MARTIN EDEN (Luca Marinelli) trying to remake himself as a writer, in this passionate and timeless story of class consciousness and failed ideals.  The story is reset to a port town in Italy.  Eden has two things going against him in life.  The first is his falling in love with Elena (Jessia Cressy) who s wealthy and upper-class and way over his social standing. 

 This second is his desire to succeed and make his living as a writer that is as difficult a vocation as his survival in poverty.  Worst still, his ideals in socialism makes him extremely unpopular with Elena’s family while getting him into trouble with the locals.  Does Martin Eden survive?  

Hardly as displayed in a rigorous telling of a tale of hardship and perseverance.  The period piece is beautifully shot by cinematographers Francesco Di Giacomo and Alessandro Abate.  Actor Marinelli, who has been playing everything from a doomed lover to a drug pusher in the past few years (THEY CALL ME JEEG) has finally got a role to be reckoned with.  

Trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4516162/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_3 (in Italian)


2019 TIFF Movie Review: SYNCHRONIC (USA 2019)

Synchronic Poster
Two New Orleans paramedics’ lives are ripped apart after encountering a series of horrific deaths linked to a designer drug with bizarre, otherworldly effects.


Justin Benson

Set in New Orleans, paramedics and close friends Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan) arrive on the scene for what seems like a typical overdose.  They end up stumbling upon a bizarre plot that will take them down a most unexpected path.  Deaths occur from a synthetic narcotic known as synchronic, which has some extreme side effects that don’t just alter consciousness. 
 When Dennis’ teenage daughter (Ally Ioannides) tries synchronic and goes missing.  Steve, who was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, aims to discover the truth behind the killer drug named SYNCHRONIC and inadvertently sets off on a journey to find her – a journey that involves time travel.  It is an outrageous premise that has so many loose points.  Worst still the directors are way too serious with their story which looks as if it is made up as they go along.  
What is inconceivable is that no explanation is given on to the reason Steve ends up in the swamp or on a battlefield depending on the position he takes the drug.  Benon and Moorhead takes their audience on a wild ride which ends up going nowhere furiously fast.  One cannot care for stuff that do not make sense.

2019 TIFF Movie Review: WESTERN STARS (USA 2019)

Western Stars Poster

Live concert performance of Bruce Springsteen singing songs from his album ‘Western Stars’.

The Boss himself,  Bruce Springsteen performs his critically acclaimed latest album and muses on life, rock, and the American dream, in this intimate and personal live-concert film co-directed by himself.  Being his first full-length film to carry his name as director, the fact must have affected the Boss getting to his head. 

 Springsteen offers his advice on love, loss, change and other assorted matters prior to each song he performs and there are quite a few of his performances on screen so that it the films become over preachy.  Springsteen is no great sage either. No one wants to keep hearing him expel his personal demons.  

The choice of the Glen Campbell song “Rhinestone Cowboy” he performs is an odd choice to end the movie.  The only good thing about the film is watching him perform his live album concert songs with his orchestra.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGqjav-KbDU

2019 TIFF Movie Review: WORKFORCE (Mano de Obra) (Mexico 2019) ***

Workforce Poster

After the death of one of his co-workers, Francisco and a group of builders will seek justice not only for the null compensation received by the owner of the house, but also for a life full of worries, contrasts and oppression.


David Zonana


David Zonana

‘The plight of the abused and underpaid Mexican worker” is the theme in David Zonana’s extremely watchable debut feature.  A construction worker , Claudio falls to his death tragically while on the job, prompting his brother, Francisco  (the film’s protagonist) and widow to seek justice on their own terms.   Director is himself born in Mexico City where the story is set.  

Their grief shifts to fury when medical tests allegedly indicate there was alcohol in Claudio’s system. Claudio never drank.  However, by claiming he was intoxicated on the job, the house’s owner evades responsibility and the need to pay Claudio’s widow.  Francisco watches and grasps for an opportune moment in all this.  When the owner suddenly dies, Francisco takes control and moves into the house and brings in other families.  

Nothing is what it seems as the craftily told tale unfolds.  Director Zonana demonstrates both the corrupt business systems in place and the extreme that human beings will go in order to survive with a bang-on surprise ending.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pax-3qjc5WI

2019 TIFF Movie Review: THE BAREFOOT EMPEROR (Belgium/Netherlands/Croatia/Bulgaria 2019) ****

The Barefoot Emperor Poster
How the last King of the Belgians becomes the first Emperor of Europe.

An emperor is set to rule a rejigged, newly nationalist Europe, in Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens’ (King of the Belgians) political satire.  Rushing home but unaware of news of his kingdom’s collapse, Belgian King Nicolas III (Peter Van den Begin) is mistakenly shot in Sarajevo, caught in a theatrical reenactment of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s 1914 assassination. 

 He wakes three days later on a Croatian island in Josip Broz Tito’s former summer home, now a discreet otherworldly off-grid sanatorium for the rich and famous run by the ominous Dr. Otto Kroll (Udo Kier).  This is Kafka meets Monty Python and feels like a Roy Andersson made deadpan comedy. Each patient is given the name of his room with patients going around called Arafat, Richard Burton and Gorbachev.  

The comedy mostly works in a laugh a minute movie that is entertaining more than insightful.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxU6FmkQV_E

2019 TIFF Movie Review: ROCKS (UK 2019) ***

Rocks Poster
A teenage girl who suddenly finds herself struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother.


Sarah Gavron


Theresa Ikoko (Story by), Theresa Ikoko | 1 more credit »

Director Sarah Gavron’s (BRICK LANE, SUFFRAGETTE) is another strong female film this time entering around a black teen school girl under serious duress.  Her mother has not returned home and she has to look after her younger brother while trying to dodge social services. 
 Her mother has left before but this time has not come back and looks like never going to.  This is the story of Shola (a remarkable Bukky Bakrov) in what translates to guerrilla filmmaking where the camera follows the girl on all her activities.  Director Gavin demonstrates that life is not easy for the less fortunate.  
Rocks is not the perfect human.  She steals money from those who aid her.  But what is important is her perseverance and humanity towards her younger brother who is too young to understand what is going on.  One wishes the film would take a stronger narrative and a solid path for Shola, but this is Gavron’s style for this film.

2019 TIFF Movie Review: LE DAIM (DEERSKIN) (France 2019) ****

Deerskin Poster

A man’s obsession with his designer deerskin jacket causes him to blow his life savings and turn to crime.


Quentin Dupieux

DEERSKIN (LE DAIM) is off kilter comedy best described as humour that is a cross between Jacques Tati and Yorgos Lanthimos.  The film is irrelevant and features comedic set-ups like a talking deerskin jacket and a killing fan blade. 

 The protagonist of the story is an odd enough character, Georges (Oscar Winner Jean Dujardin of THE ARTIST) that goes mental with his ultimate goal in life to be the only one to be wearing a jacket.  To achieve this aim, he has to kill of or steal from anyone with a jacket.  In addition, with a gift of a video camera, he poses as a filmmaker.  

When staying at a hotel after his wife leaves him, he meets an equally weird bartender, Denise (Adele Haenel0 who ends up being his film editor.  Director Dupieux (the little seen RUBBER) has the talent of observing the simple hilarity from everyday human behaviour.  And like the Jacques Tati comedies, LE DAIM can be watched again and again.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQQmm2tvJ9A

2019 TIFF Movie Review: DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (USA 2019) ****

Dolemite Is My Name Poster

Eddie Murphy portrays real-life legend Rudy Ray Moore, a comedy and rap pioneer who proved naysayers wrong when his hilarious, obscene, kung-fu fighting alter ego, Dolemite, became a 1970s Blaxploitation phenomenon.


Craig Brewer

From start to end this is Eddie Murphy’s movie.  He commands screen presence and captures audience attention with his personal touch in this entertaining biopic of comedian Rudy Ray Moore, who became a legend in midlife with his outlandish 1970s Blaxploitation character Dolemite.  Murphy’s life followed Ray Moore’s in a way which makes him perfect for playing the character.

The film tells the story of Moore, a struggling singer and comedian working in a record store in early-1970s Hollywood.   Every type of hustler populates the neighbourhood, most with a wicked repertoire of obscene insults. Moore begins picking up their patter, drawn from the rich African-American tradition of “the dozens.”

He creates a stage character, Dolemite the pimp, records some especially profane routines, and soon rockets from shop clerk to ghetto superstar. It is when he starts making movies that the real film begins.  Director Brewer and Murphy make the prefect combination i the creation in might what be the most outrageous and entertaining biopic of the year.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws1YIKsuTjQ

2019 TIFF Movie Review: THE VAST OF NIGHT (USA 2019) ***

The Vast of Night Poster
In the twilight of the 1950s, two youths seek the source of a mysterious frequency that has descended upon a town in New Mexico, in Andrew Patterson’s pitch-perfect sci-fi thriller.


Andrew Patterson

Styled in the 50’s TV series Twilight Zone, the film follows, literally, two youths seeking the source of a mysterious frequency that has descended upon a town in New Mexico.  They investigate and eventually encounter its origin in the span of a single night.  This exactly what happens in the story from the start to the end, so that there are no surprises at all.  

Patterson’s film is an exercise of style and atmosphere, which at least works in an otherwise predictable script that takes the story to its eventual ending.  The film is too talky for a midnight madness entry for TIFF and it does not help that the sound system at Ryerson Theatre is not the best with the result that one really has to concentrate to make out the often muffled dialogue.  

But the film succeeds through his use of sound, variation of camera angles and dialogue that parodies the future of the then modern technology.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtqXmoQYxNA

2019 TIFF Movie Review: ZANA (Kosovo, Albania 2019)

Zana Poster
Haunted by her long suppressed past and pressured by family to seek treatment from mystical healers for her infertility, a Kosovar woman struggles to reconcile the expectations of motherhood with a legacy of wartime brutality.

Things never seem to be going well for a Kosovar woman and her husband.  After bearing a first child that is accidentally killed by soldiers in the war, she is infertile, unable to bear another child.  The child killed is called ZANA which is the film’s title.  

Haunted by her long-suppressed past and pressured by family to seek treatment from mystical healers for her infertility, she struggles to reconcile the expectations of motherhood with a legacy of wartime brutality while slowly succumbing to madness.  Director Kastrati spends a lot of screen time on the woman’s demise and suffering.  

No matter what she does, she begets the wrath of all around her – from her husband, mother-in-law, own mother and father and even her witch doctor.  Kastrati cannot decide whether to go for a happy or sad ending as evident near the close of the film thus leaving her film without purpose (except the message of suffer, suffer, suffer!) despite the feminine trials.

Trailer: https://vimeo.com/354587606