TIFF23 Dispatch - Part 1
September 17, 2023
All of the films were screened at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Click here for additional full reviews and dispatches. Select films below will receive separate full-length reviews at a later date, most likely in connection to their public releases.
Nicolas Cage has never been funnier (at least in an unironic way) than he is in Kristoffer Borgli’s English-language debut. The famed madman actor plays a dorky professor who inexplicably appears in everyone’s dreams, making him the most famous person on the planet. The fame quickly gets to his head, but it also brings unintended consequences once the dreams start taking darker turns.
Borgli's examination of cancel culture isn’t all that skillful, with most of the insights being surface-level. Cage is what sells this whole premise and covers any of the minor problems. While he’s still appearing in VOD garage more often than he should, there have been just enough auteur-driven projects to keep him an icon to the Letterboxd generation. Being that this specific film is an A24 production, be prepared for the ensuing meme frenzy come November. (3.5/5)
While writer Patrick Marber and star Ian McKellen are having a delightfully catty time with The Critic, director Anand Tucker takes the material too seriously, making it uneven, yet still enjoyable. McKellen plays the internet's stereotypical version of a critic: mean, smearing, and always out to make himself the star of the show. Times are changing in London as the newspapers are merging, threatening McKellen’s job, and the fascists are becoming more radicalized.
Marber’s script is a little too scattershot, never developing its numerous plotlines and characters outside of the central McKellen story. The glossy production values make this a decent package as a whole. A perfect piece of entertainment to get a spring theatrical release as counterprogramming to a superhero blockbuster. (3/5)
Two people with memory issues come together in writer/director Michel Franco’s newest film, which doesn’t wallow in mystery as his past filmography would suggest. Sylvia (Jessica Chastain) is a mother who can’t seem to forget her past drug and alcohol struggles, while Saul (Peter Sarsgaard) has dementia and can’t seem to remember much of his past life. These two troubled souls are attracted to each other, even if the forces of the world, notably their families, would like them to stay apart.
The script places all its priorities on these two performances, both of which reach near perfection. There’s sadness and pain in their stories, but they unlock small linings of hope when they appear in each other’s lives. Franco doesn’t offer much in terms of answers, not that anyone should expect struggles of this magnitude to be so easily solved. (3.5/5)
No modern movie has had a more significant fourth-quarter comeback than One Life. The first 90 minutes of James Hawes’ feature directorial debut has the same dry cracker texture as many other British WWII period pieces you’ve seen over the years. An immediate 180° is made in the climactic scene (you'll know it when you see it), leaving me and the rest of the audience in tears.
Anthony Hopkins stars as the older Nicholas Winton, with Johnny Flynn playing the younger version that made it his mission to rescue children out of the Holocaust ghettos of Eastern Europe. It’s Hopkins’ segments in the 1980s that give the film the spurts of life it needs. Recently minted Oscar-winner Volker Bertelmann provides a sweeping score, accenting the epic work done by this humble humanitarian. (3.5/5)
By far the broadest film TIFF programmed this year, Quiz Lady is your typical streamer comedy. The generic story follows Anne (Awkwafina) and her rowdy older sister Jenny (Sandra Oh) as they go on Anne’s favorite game show to win the $80,000 needed to pay off their mom’s gambling debts. Will Ferrell, Tony Hale, and Jason Schwartzman fill out the supporting cast.
Director Jessica Yu has helmed episodes of prestige television as well as both feature and short documentaries (winning an Oscar for Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien), yet you’d never be able to tell based on what she delivers here. Everything is filmed with basic competence, with the actors filling much of the empty space with hit-or-miss jokes. It’s fun to see Oh cut loose, and Ferrell’s wholesome game show host turns out to be his best role in years. You can have some decent fun with this on a Friday night, forgetting all about it when you wake up the next morning. (3/5)