The Toronto International Film Festival Kicked off on Thursday, September 9th with a film that so many Black critics were waiting for, Regina King’s directorial debut One Night in Miami. The film is as of press time, the best film of the fest for me. That does not mean that TIFF2020 is devoid of stories. There are so many tales from so many perspectives that this year’s festival has me watching films until the wee hours of the night. I ended last night with The Third Day, at about midnight–after doing some anxiety baking (peach cobbler). The series is a thriller that will really make you anxious and unable to stop watching at the same time!
Yes, I said baking. TIFF this year is a virtual affair that has most critics taking in the fest from home or wherever they can comfortably view them. My family has been tolerating me roaming the house with noise-canceling headphones on my ears and my eyes glued to the film on my tablet or phone. Here are capsule reviews for the films I viewed at the virtual TIFF over the first two days of the fest.
One Night in Miami
I’ve read countless accounts of the friendships that our most legendary figures formed while fighting for the rights we take for granted today. Regina King brings this musing to life in her directorial debut film One Night in Miami. In it was Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), as four best friends who come together to celebrate a monumental win.
One Night in Miami is not set up like a biopic or historic narrative this is not. King pulls these four off their pedestal and drops them into a moment that is reminiscent of the Big Chill. She shows us their stark realities in conversations that you will only hear Black people speak amongst themselves. Then she takes us to a hotel room where some of the most explosive action happens, along with the most quotable phrases (“most people want a piece of the pie I want the whole damn recipe”), and raw revelations (Malcolm X realizing that the Nation was corrupt and he recruited Clay to help him leave without incident). The most powerful men of the movement are thus reduced to the human men they truly are, frustrated about their past and petrified of their future.
King’s (and Kemp Powers’s script) depiction is fun and thoroughly entertaining. Audiences will feel like they are a part of the moment. Just prepare tissue for those closing credits.
One Night in Miami premiered at TIFF on September 9. It will be released on Amazon Prime at a later date.
Rating 5 of 5
A traumatic event can change a person’s life, but what about the rest of the family? In Penguin Bloom, we follow the Bloom family of five as they try to adapt to a new life after an accident that changes the way they live and love forever.
The oldest child Noah, played by (Griffin Murray-Johnston and Essi Murray Johnson as a younger Noah), narrates the tale of a family vacation gone tragically wrong. Noah, his mother Sam (Naomi Watts), father Cam (Andrew Lincoln), and brothers Oli (Abe Clifford-Barr) and Rue (Felix Cameron) are an Australian family that loves the outdoors. They are very active until Sam leans on a fence of a rooftop overlook and falls to the ground. Her injuries leave her in pain and two-thirds of her body paralyzed. At home after all the surgeries, the family tries to adjust to the new way of life, but Sam has the hardest time. Without her, the family seems helpless, until a broken baby bird comes into their lives.
Suddenly, Sam has somewhere to put her energy, a place where she can’t fail (as she feels she is doing in caring for her family). As the bird becomes a part of the family and heals from its injuries, Sam and the rest of the Blooms find their way out the darkness of trauma. Penguin Bloom is more than a saccharine story of a woman’s resilience. It’s about an entire family damaged by trauma and how the healing must include everyone, even those who don’t wear their injuries on the outside.
Noah’s narration drives this home, meanwhile, the cast, which includes Jacki Weaver who plays Sam’s annoyingly cheerful mom, all deliver stellar performances. This is important because Penguin Bloom, despite being a true story, treads the dangerous line between a feel-good drama and a corny Hallmark movie.
Rating 3.5 of 5
Akilla (Saul Williams) is a grown man in the drug business, just as the government comes in to legalize things. He’s been in the illicit business all his life, so he knows a boy in trouble when he sees Sheppard. The boy is part of a team that robs Akilla. So, he keeps Sheppard in an attempt to track down the cash. Along the way, Akilla goes back over his own life and remembers how the cycle of trauma is manifesting before his eyes in Akilla.
Charles King’s use of this noir story of drug dealers and gangsters isn’t the type of film the audience will expect. The film is actually a commentary on multigenerational violence and toxic masculinity. Both take a toll on Black men everywhere. The international setting will give Americans a new perspective on a topic that has tackled for far too long. Watch out for Thamela Mpumlwana, the young actor who plays young Akilla and Sheppard. He carries the film well, easily sliding between roles. Audiences will also appreciate King’s depiction of violence as it is more implicit than we are used to from films that delve into the drug trade and gang violence. Akilla’s Escape is a movie that may end up being an education for us all.
Rating 4.5 of 5
Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough are Mickey and Chloe, two people who fall hopelessly in love after a Friday night together in Athens, Greece. They are passionate and so deeply in love that by Monday, Chloe decides not to fly out to take a job in the US. That weekend was her last one before the big move. After falling for Mickey, Monday brings a whole new life for her. Monday picks up at the place where most romances end, right after the moment that true love is confirmed, and the couple commits themselves to be together. What ensues is the reality of loving a person you hardly know. For Chloe and Mickey, this also means asking if that first romantic feeling is really enough to keep a couple going after the lust has rubbed off.
Monday offers the stark reality of romance, something that fans of the genre will find interesting. The beginning is shot so well and feels so rich that it feels like enough. The second act, however, flips the entire script onto its head as we see the chemistry influence some very misguided choices that both end up having to live with if they ultimately stay together. There’s a drugged, drunken, desperate dash to rekindle things in the end that may end up making this situation monumentally worse.
Rating 4 of 5
The Third Day
Jude Law, Naomie Harris, and Katherine Waterston lead this cast of an HBO miniseries about a curious little island that can only be reached by a road that appears in low tide. The Law is Sam, a father, and a husband who goes into the woods on a serious sentimental mission. There he finds a girl attempting suicide. His day ends at this little island where they are preparing for a music festival. However, all signs point to shenanigans afoot. Viewers won’t be able to shake the feeling that Sam should’ve gone home when he had a chance. Not the tide is in and the road is gone until morning. He meets Jess (Waterson) who is there for the festival too, but also well aware of the ancient, Celtic rituals that the island residents are so proud of. They come in Summer.
Winter is Helen, Naomie, is a mother of two biracial girls who come to the island on an outing. She booked the Air BnB, but now no one wants her and the girls in their place. Everyone is inhospitable and they really should leave. However, that means getting to the causeway before the tide comes in. Their stay on the island comes after Sam’s, after the festival. The vibrant, charming community is now ravaged, feral, and the site of a gory happening that may not be over.
TIFF showcased two episodes of the show that were definitely not enough. This eerie show has the feel of that old FOX series Wayward Pines. Nothing is as it seems, and a sinister power seems to be in control of things. These two visits prove that. What is going on and why are two things we must figure out when the show airs on HBO.
The Third Day premieres on HBO September 14, 2020.
Rating 4.5 of 5
Ruth, played by Jessica Barden, is a girl living in the Rust Belt, in Ohio. Her mother is struggling with opioid addiction, and her brother is a high school dropout. Blaze (played by Gus Halper) is struggling to keep himself and his sister from being hungry and homeless.
The factory that is the only decent workaround has no room. Worse, Ruth gets accepted to college and needs to pay the bill. She and Blaze team up with a no-good scrapper to do nightly raids on construction sites of their precious metals. This illegal job is bringing some real cash and also some danger. Can Ruth get her money and get out safely?
The story is one by the director, Nicole Riegel. I can’t help but wonder why she made Ruth so ambivalent to all the people trying to help her. Blaze even says at one point “I am getting tired of being the only one sticking up for Ruth.” This hints at his annoyance with her ambivalence. I am not sure if it’s a survival mechanism or something more. I also had a tough time getting into this film because it triggered me a bit on a story from earlier this year. Ahmad Arbery was run down by two white men who saw him coming from a construction site. They accused him of doing what Ruth nonchalantly calls work. Ruth and a whole crew of white men and later a woman. The girl’s ambivalence comes off worse with this knowledge on my mind.
Holler is an interesting look at white America in the Rust Belt, their struggle. It drags a bit and is sometimes tedious. However, they do offer a message of struggle to get out of poverty that some may find intriguing.
Rating 3 of 5
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