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

2019 TIFF Movie Review: MARRIAGE STORY (USA 2019) ****

Marriage Story Poster

Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.


Noah Baumbach


Noah Baumbach

The master of dysfunctional dramas, Noah Baumbach’s (THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES) latest outing is a break-up story of two people still very much in love.  This premise has made wonderful films in the past such as Paul Mazursky’s 1973 BLUME IN LOVE where George Segal spends the whole film wooing his ex-wife.  MARRIAGE STORY tells both points of view of the love an break up of Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver).  The story takes most often Charlie’s side. 

They wish to separate on friendly times but things get ugly when they hire lawyers (Ray Liotta and Laura Dern) to what they think might easy the breakup process.  A subplot involving child custody brings to mind Robert Benton’s 1979 KRAMER V.S. KRAMER.  Director Baumbach reveals both the heartbreak and glory of love in a very dramatic and sensitive portrait aided by excellent performances by Johansson and Deriver.  

But it is Driver who steals the show especially in the confrontation seen that might just win him the Best Actor Oscar.  An additional bonus is the excellent written and executed court scene where their two lawyers battle it out.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y1HhAlAOTs

2019 TIFF Movie Review: UNCUT GEMS (USA 2019) ***

Uncut Gems Poster
Set in the diamond district of New York City, Howard Ratner, a jewelry store owner and dealer to the rich and famous, must find a way to pay his debts when his merchandise is taken from one of his top sellers and girlfriend.
UNCUT GEMS is a crime drama with Adam Sandler in serious dramatic mode displaying a totally frantic and unstable character.  Howard (Sandler) is a determined jewel dealer determined to prove himself a champion in his day-to-day life,. 
 He idolizes his client list of famous athletes procured for him by his middleman, Demany (LaKeith Stanfield).  Ever scheming with things always going awry, Howard intends to sell a mined chunk of rock full of embedded gems at auction — after it’s shipped to him from Ethiopia inside a fish carcass.   Josh and Benny Safdie’s film is often as annoying as the protagonist who has very few redeeming qualities.  
The main plot gets distracted.  Howard’s mistress subplot could very well be cut out from the film with little effect.  So can a few other things like his Jewish family gathering and a few other subplots all of which leads to the film’s over 2 hour running time. 
Initially annoying and deserving of good beating-up which Howard gets a couple of times, the audience eventually grows to love this dirtbag by the last reel – which shows how good an actor Adam Sandler can be.

2019 TIFF Movie Review: SEA FEVER (Ireland/Sweden/Belgium/UK 2019) ***

Sea Fever Poster
The crew of a West of Ireland trawler, marooned at sea, struggle for their lives against a growing parasite in their water supply.


Neasa Hardiman

SEA FEVER is a cross between mystery and horror similar to the ALIEN film franchise.  The film is set in the sea where a bizarre creature hitches a ride on a departing trawler. 

 The assorted crew is comprised of a young female red-haired scientist Hermione Corfied), a couple who needs a big haul of fish to pay their debts (Dougray Scott and Connie Nielsen) and others waiting to be disposed off by the creature and its living microbes. It does not help that the crew believes that the red hair will bring bad luck on the trip.  It is assumed that the boat leaves Ireland since most of the characters speak with an Irish accent.  

The horrors come fast and furious aided by some effective and scary special effects.  All works rather well except for the loose end that the creature is still in the waters after everything is over, ready and able to eradicate the human race when it attacks the next boat.

2019 TIFF Movie Review: DIRT MUSIC (Australia/UK 2019)

Dirt Music Poster
The stunning landscape of Western Australia is the backdrop for an impassioned tale of love and grief in Gregor Jordan‘s adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Tim Winton.


Gregor Jordan


Jack Thorne (screenplay), Tim Winton (novel)

DIRT MUSIC is based on the acclaimed novel by Tim Wintin adapted to the screen and directed by Gregor Jordan.  It is a tale of three luckless people entangled in a relationship set in the backdrop of stunning Western Australian coast captured beautifully by cinematographer Sam Chiplin.  

Georgie, (Kelly Macdonald) stuck in a loveless relationship with legendary local fisherman Jim Buckridge (David Wenham) becomes enamoured with Lu (Garrett Hedlund), a young poacher who is encroaching on her tyrannical partner’s territory.  Georgie has an affair with Lu. But Lu takes off to the wild coast island while Georgie searches for him.  The trouble with this tale is director Jordan’s desire to stylize his storytelling that unfolds in flashbacks in a non-chronological order.  Or perhaps he is following the novel.  

But it is not only confusing but frustrating and takes a while before one can figure out what is going on.  How British actress Macdonald got sucked into doing this Aussie piece is also intriguing.

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