Download: Joey's TIFF Diary 2: Strong Ensembles Pack the House; 'The Fabelmans,' 'Empire of Light,' 'The Menu,' and More!
Now that I settled into my TIFF groove, I felt like I was in a good rhythm. I was staying downtown, so I was lucky enough to be close enough to most of the theaters. A word of advice for anyone going to TIFF in the next few years: give yourself time and be flexible! I spent days (weeks even!) trying to perfect my schedule and most of that was a moot point. I ended up scouring the TIFF schedule if I got turned away at a screening and had to find a new showing (which was actually kind of fun!).
My biggest mistake was probably getting tickets to Glass Onion right before The Menu when there was only 12 minutes of time between them and they were playing in different venues. Since the anticipated Rian Johnson sequel was having its world premiere, it started 10 minutes late, so as the mystery was unraveling, I stepped to the back of the theater to RUN to the Royal Alexandra on the next block. Also, make sure you bring snacks. A granola bar here and a pack of fruit snacks there will go a long way.
The Lost King
There is a natural fragility that Sally Hawkins brings to a lot of her performances. She plays the underestimated or the counted out with a burning flame so well that audiences cannot help but feel the gentle warmth of the fire inside her. Teaming up with Stephen Frears for The Lost King, she delivers a passionate, driven performance as a woman on a crusade for kindness and the truth.
Hawkins’ Philippa Langley attends a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, and she is immediately drawn to The Bard’s characterization of the title character. She plunges herself into research and discovers that not only did the playwright potentially embellish or fabricate some of Richard’s physical characteristics but his evil deeds may have tarnished the reputation of a rightful ruler. When she begins to see the real Richard III skulking around her house (in royal robes, no less), she isn’t unnerved as much as determined to clear his name.
Hawkins is riveting to watch–she makes scanning documents and asking donors for help exciting. Philippa exudes compassion (she suffers from a medical condition that exhausts her), so she felt a kinship with the royal when people would criticize his appearance. A call to kindness, The Lost King is a ghost story that gives a woman new life.
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Ah, to be privileged enough to enter director Rian Johnson’s brain. In some ways, I’m sure devout fans were cagey about continuing the adventures of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc. Knives Out was a rollicking tribute to large ensembles and chamber murder mysteries, and he has such a playful ease with his large casts. Glass Onion is not only a worthy successor to the 2019 megahit, but it’s glossy, sexy, and hilarious. You won’t have a better time at the movies.
It would be unfair to unravel too much of the plot, because most of the fun is experiencing this type of film with an audience (the premiere audience I was with was bonkers for this film throughout–hooting, hollering, applauding), but I will cautiously divulge the basic outline.
A group of friends (comprised of Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom, Jr., Kate Hudson, Janelle Monáe, and David Bautista) all fly to the island of their uber-rich pal, played by Edward Norton, for some pandemic relief. He invites them by sending an ornate wooden box with hidden buttons, flaps, and doors to lure them in (yes, your wedding invitation sucks compared to this heavy block that makes Milton Bradley look like a lemonade stand). Blanc is curiously invited as well, and a real-life game turns into a secluded, sleek murder mystery.
Hudson, as an unapologetic, problematic former model, understands the assignment, and Monáe is finally given a role for her spry talents of softly balancing comedy and drama. With his Southern charm and a cigar poking out of his mouth, Daniel Craig is having a blast as he soaks us in that whiskey drawl. Johnson blasts the roof of the Agatha Christie whodunnit by giving us a sun-soaked excursion. With a dash of stupidity and mayhem.
Glass Onion started a little late, and I had to book it from the Princess of Wales Theater down the street to the Royal Alexandra for the premiere of Mark Mylod’s scrumptious thriller, The Menu. Most of the cast came out for the film’s introduction (Anya Taylor-Joy joined via Zoom for the Q&A after the show), and the crowd was really anxious for this film.
“Do not eat,” encourages Chef Slowik, the disarming head chef of the upscale and exclusive Hawthorne restaurant. At this establishment, food is treated as an experience and Slowik has created a menu that carries a dark agenda. Taylor-Joy’s Margot is accompanying her boyfriend, Tyler, an eager tool and self-proclaimed foodie who is desperate for Slowik to acknowledge his prowess around an appetizer or depth of flavor. Janet McTeer plays a stern food critic and Judith Light and Reed Birney are a married couple who frequent Hawthorne’s exclusivity. Hong Chau, as Slowik’s faithful maître d, Elsa, brings a friendly, stern presence. She, with her tight bun and wide apron, are like Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd consumed too many episodes of Chef’s Table.
Just when you think the film is about to go too dark, Mylod rips the tone back with humor like the skinning of an animal after it’s been caught. As the evening spirals out of control, the film retains an elegance that would normally evaporate. So many people around the world are struggling to keep their bellies full, and the patrons of Hawthorne want to feast on high art because they think they deserve it or have ownership of it. The Menu is prepared to perfection, and you will lick your plate clean. After the screening was over, there was a The Menu-themed food truck waiting outside, and they were gleefully passing out cheeseburgers. I did peek inside to see if Ralph Fiennes was preparing them, but, alas, he wasn’t.
I was terrified of missing out on Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans. The film had its world premiere the previous evening, and Megan McLachlan and I were planning to attend the 8am showing on Sunday. Megan and I were burned twice before with Press and Industry screenings when we were locked out of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story and I Like Movies the previous day. What would we do if we were denied entry to one of the buzziest films of this year’s TIFF?! Luckily, Megan and I got up around 5:30am to get ready and head down to the TIFF Lightbox to claim our place in line. By the time we arrived, there were several people in line. I wonder what time they got to the theater!
The Fabelmans is Spielberg’s personal look back at how he fell in love with the making of movies–not just the movies themselves. Michelle Williams and Paul Dano are the parents to young Sammy, and when they take him to see The Greatest Show on Earth, their son is fascinated with how a train crashes. We see him experience fear and fascination all at the same time. As we watch him grow older, we understand that Sammy (now played by Gabriel LaBelle) will probably see his entire life through a camera lens. The family moves from Arizona to California, and we see the family struggle through several issues, and I don’t remember the last time Spielberg delved this deeply into such troubles. We know him as a magician or a maker of dreams, but the hurts hit hard in The Fabelmans. It’s easily one of the best films of the year.
At the center, there are two stellar performances. Everyone is great (Paul Dano exudes an undeniable kindness), but Michelle Williams is an open beating heart as Mitzi Fabelman. She always feels like she is on the move. If something feels too sad, she will get up and do a dance or find her way to make her children smile. The relationship between Sammy and Mitzi is complicated, but she is a woman whose love for her children is very evident. LaBelle carries the film on his shoulders when Sammy (sometimes Sam) is away from his family. He is boyish and tentative at times, but he always wants to be respectful and he carries his mother’s kindness inside him. There is a scene between them where Sammy shows Mitzi a personal film, and it’s almost wordless. That scene, surely, will be talked about a lot this year, I expect. It’s a beautiful memory of a film.
In the first moments of Lila Neugebauer’s Causeway, the stillness and quietness threatens to drown Lynsey, played by Jennifer Lawrence. Lynsey has recently returned to New Orleans after a traumatic injury forced her to leave Afghanistan. She doesn’t like her new surroundings, and she is itching to return as soon as possible. In Lawrence’s most understated and controlled performance to date, she paints the portrait of a woman who is desperate to escape but feels the heaviness of her feet dragging on the ground.
The film opens as Lynsey’s nurse, Sharon (Jayne Houdyshell), helps her brush her teeth, put her clothes on and encourages her to make plans in order to not become overwhelmed. Organization and order will aid Lynsey in recovering from her traumatic brain injury, but she is too eager to return to her life of independence and order on her own terms. When her truck breaks down, she takes it to a body shop owned by James, played by Brian Tyree Henry, and their friendship blooms immediately.
Many dramas put characters together because of shared trauma, but Neugebauer’s script illustrates how broken people heal at their own pace despite their shared pain. Lawrence and Henry are dynamite together. Lynsey and James share a lot about themselves as they hang out and get high together, but their scenes buzz with what they are holding back from one another. I loved seeing Lawrence in such an introspective, guarded performance, but Henry is a revelation here. You know when you see an actor play against so many different types of actors, and you notice how they have palpable, buzzy chemistry with all of them? Henry has that. James is a man who has been hurt before, and he tentatively holds his heart out with trembling hands.
When I sat in the Royal Alexandra Theater, you could tell the audience was amped to see Darren Aronofsky’s latest drama, The Whale. You could feel the anticipation in the room. Before Aronofsky introduced the majority of the cast, and star Brendan Fraser received a lengthy standing ovation (nothing compared to when the movie ended, however).
Fraser stars as Charlie an overweight, depressed man who teaches writing online but refuses to turn his camera on. He never leaves his apartment, and his nurse, Liz (Hong Chau), happens to be his best friend. Charlie is desperate to reconnect with his daughter, Ellie, played by Sadie Sink, but she doesn’t want anything to do with him. He left Ellie’s mother when she was eight years old to be with his lover who has died.
There is an ugliness to this film that is clearly intentional, and Aronofsky does not shy away from showing us that cruelty. Charlie has accepted his medical condition and refuses to go to the hospital despite Liz’s constant encouragement. I grew up watching Fraser in almost everything he was in (justice for Blast From the Past!), but I didn’t know that I was going to have such an emotional reaction to his performance. We witness Charlie’s desperate attempts to include Ellie in his life, and Fraser packs an emotional wallop that you aren’t prepared for.
Empire of Light
I was sure that I was going to be denied for the Press and Industry screening of Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light. It was the last movie on my schedule before my departure from Toronto, and I woke up late. I rushed to get to the Scotiabank in time, and, luckily, I found a seat close to the screen. I was hoping to take a selfie like Olivia Colman bawling in the theater, but the lighting wasn’t doing me any favors.
Empire of Light follows a group of employees who work in a two-screen cinema on the English coast in the early 1980s. Olivia Colman’s Hilary Small is the duty manager, and she doesn’t make eye contact with very many of her cohorts. She goes home after doing her job and then gets up the next day to do it all over again. When Michael Ward’s Stephen is hired, Hilary perks up and her life is exciting again. I don’t want to say too much.
What I didn’t expect was that Empire of Light was going to be a reminder that you can get yourself back up after experiencing something dark or distressing. We are taught that huge events in our lives have to define you, but Mendes’ film encourages you to find your own pace and discover your love of life in your own time. We say it every time, but Colman delivers one of her best performances again. She has a moment that is almost Shakespearean. Ward is quietly passionate and holds our gaze as if we are falling in love with him more and more every time he steps on screen. The production design is exquisite.
That’s all for me, Toronto! I saw 14 films (not counting the screening of Taylor Swift’s short), and I can’t wait to go back! My journey back to Ohio was insane, but I won’t chronicle that here.