TIFF Day 6 Log: (Nobody Has to Know, Charlotte, The Middle Man)

Hey everyone! Another day of TIFF has come and gone and I must admit the 3 movies I have to report on today were all disappointing. It’s always a bit hard being critical of these independent films that clearly have so much love and care put into them. Nevertheless, I have to share my opinions as a film critic, so let’s see what I thought!

Nobody Has to Know

I feel like when you describe the premise for Nobody Has to Know it sounds more interesting than it actually is. The film is written, directed and stars Bouli Lanners and it certainly is an ambitious project. He plays Phil a man who loses his memory after a stroke. A woman named Millie comes to his aid but she also says they had a relationship before the stroke. Phil doesn’t know whether to believe her and we as an audience are skeptical as well. Is this a desperate ploy for companionship or a real connection Phil’s forgotten?

Nobody Has to Come explores these questions with good cinematography and performances. Unfortunately the pacing is very sluggish and the film meanders away from the core premise a lot. Maybe in a theater it would have kept my interest better but at home it did not. The acting is excellent and it is beautifully shot. Unfortunately the script let’s down an interesting premise.

To be frank Nobody Has to Come was simply dull. So I admire what they tried to do but can’t recommend it in the end.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Charlotte

Being an animation buff I was obviously looking forward to both of the animated films at TIFF. I love indie animation and have a whole podcast once a month where my friend and I focus on indie and obscure animation. Unfortunately both of the animated films (not including Flee which I saw at Sundance and loved) ended up disappointing me during this festival- particularly Charlotte.

This film tells the story of Charlotte Salomon who was a German-Jewish artist murdered at Auschwitz concentration camp after completing her series of over 700 paintings. Indeed, the most captivating part of Charlotte is the addendum at the end talking about Salomon’s works in a traditional documentary fashion. It’s a problem if a section at the end is more effective than the entire rest of the movie!

The animation is pretty bad in Charlotte which feels awkward in a movie about an artist. And while the voice cast is impressive the voices didn’t match with the characters. Keira Knightley does a good job as Charlotte but her voice seems too old for a young artist in her 20s. None of them fit!

But the main problem is the story, which manages to feel bland and ordinary when it should be exceptional. Like I said the brief documentary at the end is much better than the story we get in the entire film. You’d honestly be better off reading an article on Salomon and giving Charlotte a pass. It’s a real shame because it had a lot of potential if it was executed better.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Middle Man

I’m not the biggest fan of dark humor. Every so often in something like The Addams Family it can work but for the most part it falls flat and ends up being more disturbing than elevating. The Middle Man, a new absurdist kind-of dark comedy is such a film and I really disliked it. Not for me.

The Middle Man tells the story of Frank who has been hired to be the ‘middle man’ for their community which has a bizarre number of accidents (he’s not with the military or anything like that). It’s a weird dystopian without being a dystopian.

It’s hard for me to explain why I found this movie to be so irritating. Maybe it’s because it is so repetitive? Maybe it is because it is pretentious and dealing with topics like death and grief in such a trite way? Maybe it’s because it dragged on and was so obviously pleased with itself? Either way it was not for me. It reminded me of Kajilionaire which I also hated with its unlikable characters and repetitive frustrating script. However, most people seemed to like that film so maybe they will like this? Like I said- it’s not for me.

2 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it 3 frowns. No fun when that happens. I hope you had better luck if you are covering TIFF or with whatever you are watching. I hope the festival finishes out on a run of good movies after this weak batch. Take care!

TIFF Day 1 Log: As in Heaven, Petite Maman

Hey everyone! I hope you are doing well. This week has been very busy with all my normal busyness plus getting ready for the beginning of TIFF (The Toronto International Film Festival). I am blessed to be accepted as accredited press with the ability to participate in the digital festival (I hope to go in person next year but I was too afraid of getting caught in Canada with a surprise attack of COVID to go this year.

Unfortunately the festival had a rough first day with the digital player not working on any browser. This caused them to reschedule some of the screenings and I was only able to get 2 films in. On the plus side I was able to get ahead on other projects so I should be able to watch more movies this weekend.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the 2 movies I did get to see today as part of the festival

As in Heaven

As in Heaven (Du som er i himlen in Danish)

First time filmmaker Tea Lindeburg tells a story about a young girl named Lise who is trying to help her family get through the long couple of days of her Mother being in labor and enduring a difficult pregnancy. Her and her children struggle with the thought of losing their mother and Lise hopes to someday escape the small world of her farm.

This movie is beautiful with some of the most striking cinematography I’ve seen in a long time. I also felt like I connected with the characters as my Mother had difficult pregnancies when I was a teenager (obviously this is a period piece but I still connected with the worry).

It will definitely be too slow for some as there isn’t a ton of plot. It’s a fly on the wall kind of movie where you watch and experience life with the people in the film. It also has some pretty grisly birthing scenes so viewer beware! Still I was moved by As in Heaven and I recommend it to anyone who can handle the pacing and challenging subject matter.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Petite Maman

One of my most anticipated films of the festival was Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman. I really enjoyed her film Portrait of a Lady on Fire from 2019 and this more modern story of 2 young girls looked very sweet.

Unfortunately, now that I’ve seen it I must own to being quite disappointed. Nearly everyone else I know seems to be loving this so maybe my hype hurt my experience but I didn’t see anything special in this film.

I was right about the 2 girls being cute. They are adorable little girls and the child actors do a great job playing and having fun together. They don’t feel like the too precocious child actors you sometimes get in Hollywood films. We all know kids just like these girls.

The problem is with the script. Nothing really happens. You spend a weekend with the girls as they help pack up one of their recently deceased Grandmother’s homes. That’s it. They pack things, eat cereal, build forts. It’s cute but not enough to sustain a feature film. It’s once again an indie festival film that would have been much better as a short.

It’s interesting because both Petite Maman and As in Heaven are slice of life narratives but the latter worked more because the stakes are so much higher if the family loses their mother. In Petite Maman it’s cute but the emotional weight isn’t there. Like I said, I’m definitely in the minority on this one but that’s part of the festival experience. I always have a couple festival favorites I don’t love.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

So there you have it. Hopefully tomorrow I will have many more films to log! Happy movie viewing!

SXSW DAY 4 LOG (Lily Topples the World, The Fallout, Swan Song)

Hi everyone! And now I am back for my final update on the SXSW festival. Honestly the festival started out rough but by the end I enjoyed most of the films I saw. There weren’t that many I adored and can see ending up on my top 10 of the year but I am still glad I attended the festival. I hope next year I can go in person but for now I’m grateful to have been able to attend in this virtual environment.

Thank you to all the volunteers and workers who made the festival a success and all the creatives who put their films out for us to judge and enjoy. I am very grateful!

So here are my final movies

Lily Topples the World

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Before watching this documentary I had never heard of domino toppling as a thing and these kind of ‘feature an odd hobby/career’ docs are always a lot of fun. Lily Topples the World tells the story of Lily Hevesh and how she creates incredible displays with dominoes that are toppled with the toppling being part of the art.

These installations are stunning and she has found a way to make a career out of it both on youtube and working for corporate clients like the Seattle Lottery.

Lily is also an adoptee from China and it was interesting to hear about her experiences and how she identifies and doesn’t identify as an Asian American. The documentary does feel a little stretched out and would have probably been better as a short but I still enjoyed it and especially loved watching all the artwork on display.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Fallout

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This outstanding drama is written and directed by actress Megan Park in her debut film! (Megan is a veteran of many Hallmark films so it was so cool to see her have such a successful debut). The Fallout tells the story of a young woman who is dealing with the aftermath of a school shooting at her high school. The scenes of the school shooting are intense and visceral and lead actress Jenna Ortega is fantastic. (She is also in the new comedy Yes Day on Netflix that I also enjoyed. She has huge star potential!)

This film could have felt manipulative and frustrating but I bought what it was selling. It is moving and the various responses to the trauma felt real and authentic. Julie Bowen is excellent as her Mother and Shailene Woodley is her therapist and they all work great.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Swan Song

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Swan Song is an endearing film about a man in a nursing home who breaks free for a weekend to do the hair of a beloved past client of his who has passed away. Udo Kier is wonderful in the lead role and he is the reason to see this film. I don’t know if I have ever seen him before but he’s charismatic and charming.

My favorite part about this film is how it captures the sense of longing we feel for those that have passed who we miss so much. They might be in a better place but we miss them just the same.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

SXSW Day 3 LOG (Best Summer Ever, Fruits of Labor, Aliens on Stage, Inbetween Girl, The Drovers Wife)

Hi everyone! So I am days late in my SXSW logs but I am here to play catch up. I just got so busy between watching all the films and all the stuff I have to cover for my podcasts that I missed my daily coverage of the films.

Anyway, let’s get to it and talk about some movies

Best Summer Ever

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Anyone who knows me knows I am a sucker for a musical. Even cheesy low budget musicals I defend like the DCOMS on Disney Channel I think are sweet and entertaining. As such I was excited for Best Summer Ever. I also love that it features an inclusive cast with disabled actors. I think that is fantastic. Unfortunately everything from the writing, to the acting, to the story felt painfully amateurish. Most importantly there wasn’t a memorable song in the show. I was hopeful this would be this year’s Anna and the Apocalypse but that film had good songs and was well put together.

I don’t want to be too hard on this film because obviously they had the best of intentions but it just didn’t come together for me

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Fruits of Labor

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This documentary follows several teens working in the strawberry fields with dreams to graduate from high school and improve their lives. I enjoyed following the girls and seeing their lives play out but the director is heavy handed with cheesy metaphors of butterflies coming out of their cocoon. The director needs to trust their audience that we can figure out the meaning behind what is happening.

For the girls alone I will give it a passing recommendation but it could have been a lot better.

5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Alien on Stage

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I am a huge lover of local small theater productions and I’ve missed those so much in this pandemic. As such, this documentary about a group of friends who put on a stage production of Ridley Scott’s Alien was good for my soul. I loved seeing them come together to make the clever sets and costumes and then when they get picked to perform at the West End in London it is such a happy moment! I love this group and love their story! I highly recommend checking this film out.

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

The Inbetween Girl

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This has sweet moments and I liked all of the performances. However, I have a hard time relating to young adult, coming of age movies with such intense relationships. It’s so different from my experience. Shouldn’t teens be having fun going on dates and enjoying time together? Shouldn’t it be the exception to the rule that have intense relationships with a boyfriend or girlfriend?  It might not be fair to make my own experience the standard but at certain point I need to connect with melodrama of a coming of age story and I didn’t with this film.

Most of the film is about the lead girl cheating with a friend of hers who is dating a frenemy of hers. Something about it didn’t feel authentic or true but I’m sure others will connect with it. It’s not a terrible movie but not something I became invested in.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Drover’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson

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Watching this film was a bit of a risk for me because I am normally not the biggest fan of westerns. However, it had buzz around the festival so I decided to give it a shot. I recently enjoyed News of the World so you never know with any genre. Unfortunately, The Drover’s Wife was no News of the World.

I guess it is adapted from a play and I don’t think that would be my kind of play. The whole film is so unceasingly bleak and unpleasant. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It’s well made and the performances are good but it was not for me. I couldn’t wait for it to end.

4 out of 10

Frown Worthy

SXSW Day 2 Log (I’m Fine, Twyla Moves, US vs Reality Winner, Here Before, Tom Petty, Recovery)

Hey everyone! After a rough start to the South by Southwest Film Festival Day 2 proved to be much better. In fact, I liked all 6 films I watched today to one degree or another. Hooray!

So let’s get started with the recaps!

I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)

I have to say COVID is proving to be a better setting for storytelling than I might have guessed. In this first entry writer, director and star Kelley Kali gives us a day in the life of a grieving widow trying to get housing for herself and her daughter during the pandemic. She travels around down in roller skates and does various gig work and gets more desperate as the day goes on.

It’s a sobering film but Kali is such a likable presence on screen it keeps us invested. It kind of reminded me of the first act of Moonlight in a lot of ways. Some will find the slice of life concept to be a dull but I enjoyed it.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Twyla Moves

Twyla Moves is a documentary done by PBS for their American Masters series (it actually airs this weekend on TV). I really enjoy American Masters and this goes right along with what they do. It kind of reminded me of Ailey about Alvin Ailey from Sundance 2020 (which was also for AM).

This one is about choreographer Twyla Tharp who I had never heard of but is absolutely incredible. They listed off her resume and she had major projects every year since the 70s including films like Hair and Amadeus. I kind of wish it had gotten into more of her backstory and personal journey but it stays mostly in the professional realm but still fun to watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

United States vs Reality Winner

From the minute I heard federal secrets dropper Reality Winner’s name I wanted to learn more about her and that’s what this documentary does. It’s fairly basic in its presentation but the story is so strange and compelling it doesn’t need much manipulation to work. If you want to learn more about Reality than give this one a watch.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Here Before

If you are looking for an artsy thriller at the festival Here Before may be the movie for you. It stars Andrea Riseborough as a woman who becomes convinced her new neighbor is actually her dead daughter reincarnated. This is a beautifully made film with an excellent performance by Riseborough (who is almost always good even in Birdman which I do not like). The pacing is very slow in this one and there were times my attention drifted away but still enough good to recommend.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free

Obviously this Tom Petty film will be a must watch for fans of him and his music. However, I also think it will be interesting to anyone who has a love of music and is curious to go BTS of the making of an album. In this case it is his ‘Wildflowers’ album and of course everything is touched by the knowledge of his sudden passing in 2017.

If you are looking for Tom’s backstory or how he became a musician that’s not what this is. It’s a showcase of the making of an album and all the people and hours of work that went into it. As a lover of music I enjoyed learning about the process and hearing lots of great Tom Petty songs!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Recovery

My friend Jonathan actually told me this movie was premiering at the festival. It stars Mallory Everton (who also cowrote and directed) and Whitney Call. They are both stars of the comedy skit youtube show Studio C and they bring that zany energy to this hilarious comedy.

Recovery is definitely a hair edgier than what you get on Studio C but it should be fine for adults. It’s about 2 sisters who have to go get their Grandma from a nursing home infected with COVID. A comedy like this comes down to the writing (which is very funny) and the chemistry which these 2 have in spades. I loved i! You may think it’s too soon to laugh at COVID but give it a chance. I bet you will find yourself cracking up just like I did.

It’s definitely the best of the festival so far. I loved it!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy