TIFF23 Dispatch - Part 2
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.
The Royal Hotel
It’s adapt or die for Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liz (Jessica Henwick) as they take jobs as bartenders in the only pub in a remote Australian mining town. The temp agency warned the girls that they needed to be “okay with a little male attention,” which turns out to be quite the understatement as their first night is filled with nasty jokes, unruly stares, and just general douchiness. Choosing adaptation is a death sentence, as there’s no reward for allowing this toxic mob to take control of their mind and body.
Director Kitty Green announced her talent with the matter-of-fact The Assistant in 2019 (also starring Garner). This sophomore effort is a leveling up of her prowess behind the camera, lining every scene with a grimy sense of dread. It feels like a thrill ride, except none of the thrills are satisfying. Green greatly elevates her script, written by Green and Oscar Redding, which never packs the depth needed and tends to loop around as it tries to sustain the 90-minute runtime. Garner and Henwick are powerful anchors, “supported” by some convincing creeps. I have no doubt Green will be hitting it big within the next few years. (3/5)
Bertrand Bonello’s The Beast is the pretentious European version of Cloud Atlas, which is a statement that tells you everything you need to know about whether you’ll like it or not. I was all in on this movie, even if its ultimate message and specific story beats are hard to follow.
Bonello jumps between 1904, 2014, and 2044, intersplicing the three time periods to tell a story about love conquering time. Léa Seydoux and George MacKay play characters in each period, navigating the unknowable connection they feel for each other. It’s overindulgent and excessive, but Bonello displays a mastery of tone and vision across the 146 minutes. There’s passion, fear, humor, drama, and everything in between. I’d love to see it again sometime down the line. (4/5)
Ladj Ly's sophomore effort is not an answer to a question, but a further examination of it. There's dissatisfaction at the end of the road, both intentionally through Ly's honest depiction of political warfare and unintentionally through the overloaded script that tries to combine too much. Even with this slight slump, Ly's voice continues to grow, and I can't wait for it to click sometime in the future. (3/5)
Evil Does Not Exist
Drive My Car writer/director and all-around arthouse superstar Ryûsuke Hamaguchi makes his most outspoken work with Evil Does Not Exist. The tranquility of a Japanese village is being threatened by the introduction of a “glamping” (glamorous + camping) site proposed by a talent agency. The site would negatively impact much of the environment around it, with many of the village resident’s livelihoods being forever altered.
Despite being clear in his message, Hamaguchi never eviscerates the villains of this story. The extreme slow cinema approach will test the patience of many expecting a return to the leanness of Drive My Car. Those who embrace the molasses will find themselves powerfully transported to one of the few places left that hasn’t been bulldozed by capitalism. Eiko Ishibashi delivers a magnificent score. It angers me that I’ll have to wait several months until it’s available to stream on Spotify. (4/5)
Writer/director Brian Helgeland told the TIFF audience that he wrote the script for Finestkind thirty years ago, a fact that becomes glaringly obvious the longer the film goes on. The story is stuck in the past in the worst ways possible, soaked with cheesy sentimentality, a laughably underdeveloped female character that Jenna Ortega somehow signed up for (did she owe someone a favor?), and an out-of-nowhere crime plot that undermines all the heart and soul mined in the first half.
As per his contract demands these days, Ben Foster goes crazy a few times, and so does Tommy Lee Jones as he realizes he’s appearing in a stinker. It’s a Paramount+ production, meaning it’ll play well to the “guys being dudes” crowd that has been gorging on Taylor Sheridan's diminishing machismo these past few years. (2/5)