By Dan Skip Allen
Here are a handful of the films I saw at the Urbanworld 2020 Film Festival, which gives a voice to directors who haven't been in the spotlight before. They have all been telling very interesting and important stories in all different genres and styles. Some of them can be found right now on HBO Max and Amazon Prime. The rest will be available soon.
Charm City Kings
Based on a documentary, Charm City Kings depicts the lives of three young men who want to be somebody in life. They don't want to just be working stiffs in a downtrodden section of Baltimore, Maryland. Mouse (Jahi Di'Allo Winston), Lamont (Donielle T. Hansley Jr.), and Sweartagawd (Kezii Curtis) are childhood friends. Like most kids their age and creed, these guys have a hard time adjusting. They only really enjoy themselves when there riding their bikes through the streets of the neighborhoods. Mouse wants more, though. He wants to join the Midnight Clique, a dirt bike crew that roams the Baltimore streets. The boys see the fast money that comes with riding with the Midnight Clique, so the lines between the straight and narrow are blurred.
All In: The Fight for Democracy
Over the decades, this country has had its fair share of voter fraud and even downright intimidation at the polls, mostly in the southern states but sometimes out West. Voter suppression is an old trick by people intending to fraud a particular county, district, or state. Fine print put into laws that have been passed over the years is a very frequent trick to cause voter fraud. Amendments 14, 15, 16, and 19 were very hard to get put in the constitution. All voter laws. The country suppressed different groups for many years. Lisa Cortez and Liz Garbus decided that they were going to focus on one particular person to focus their energy and vision on: Stacy Abrams, who ran for Governor in 2018. The film explores how voter suppression affected that election and how government officials running for office shouldn't be in charge of said election. This led her to make a concession speech mainly focused on voter suppression. This was the start for her becoming an activist against voter suppression not just in Georgia, but around the country.
The Water Man
Actors becoming directors isn't anything new to the film industry. Over the years actors have delved into the realm of directing. Some with great success, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Costner, Mel Gibson, and Robert Redford, and others not so well. With The Water Man, David Oyelowo takes his turn in the director's chair. It is a relative success, but not overwhelmingly so. Gunner (Lonnie Chavis) is a young man dealing with a sick mother (Rosario Dawson) and a father (David Oyelowo) trying to keep his house and family together despite his wife's illness. Lonnie hears about a mythic character named The Water Man that has found a way to escape death. He sets out on an adventure to find out about The Water Man. During his adventure, he meets a young girl named Jo (Amiah Miller) who helps him along the way.
The Donut King
The Donut King, Ted Ngoy, grew up in Cambodia as a kid and as a young man, the Khmer Rouge took over his country and forced all the people out of the cities and into internment camps. Ted and his family were able to escape to America where they were housed in different internment camps ran by the military. Cambodians were able to leave the camps if they could get a family to sponsor them. Ted and his family got sponsored by a church, its minister, and his family. This was able to help Ted and his family make a life for themselves in America
The Urbanworld Film Festival which ran September 23-27.
One of the writers from disappointment media worked on a film playing as part of the Dances with Films Festival, but they were not involved with the writing of this review.
By Sean Boelman
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival featured a reduced lineup of just fifty films, but even so, it would have been impossible for anyone to maintain their sanity while watching and reviewing every single one. Still, between the Official Selection and the Industry Selects sidebar, which added even more to the slate, disappointment media was able to catch a total of fifty-six feature films! Below are some of the films in the Official Selection that we didn’t get the chance to do a full review for, but we wanted to highlight anyway.
Manijeh Hekmat’s road movie Bandar Band was one of the more alluring international offerings of this year’s Official Selection, but it didn’t live up to that potential. Following a band who travels through the flooded roads to Tehran, the film struggles to find a balance between meditative and joyous. Had the film been able to narrow itself down to one of its two purposes — an ode to music or a hard-hitting film about political issues — it would have been far more compelling. As is, it’s just a bunch of inconsistent scenes strewn together with a loose narrative.
The second runner-up in this year’s Audience Award voting, Tracey Deer’s coming-of-age drama Beans isn’t the average uplifting crowd-pleaser. Sure, the film does hit a lot of familiar beats, but they are presented with such an authentic voice that the end result doesn’t feel overly conventional. Exploring the Indigenous experience in a way that is empathetic and accessible to general audiences without pulling a lot of the punches that the genre is known to shy away from, it’s an entertaining and thoughtful film. And Kiawentiio is a star in the making with her phenomenal lead performance.
The Best is Yet to Come
The journalism drama The Best is Yet to Come is sure to leave viewers nostalgic for the era in which print journalism actually mattered to the public. And while print still very much matters as a medium, the story of this film doesn’t. The audience will undeniably care far more about the journalist’s experience than the issue which he is investigating. This may not be an inherently bad thing, but it also doesn’t sustain a nearly two-hour runtime. It simply lacks the scope of the more riveting entries in the genre, causing it to be mostly forgettable.
At every festival, there seems to be at least one film that gets in based on its star power alone, and this year, it’s Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut Falling. Even though this story of a gay man trying to teach his elderly homophobic father some empathy is undeniably well-intentioned, it’s so misguided in its execution that it feels like a ticking time bomb that just barely manages to not explode. And if listening to an old man shouting homophobic rhetoric isn’t off-putting enough, the film features one of the year’s most truly bizarre sequences in which a young boy becomes enamored with a duck he shot.
Gaza mon amour
The Nasser Brothers’ romantic drama Gaza mon amour is a nice little movie and a welcome relief from the noticeably somber tone of much of the Official Selection. That said, this film about a man trying to court the woman with whom he is secretly in love is the very definition of slight. There are definitely some great things about it, like an excellent performance from Salim Dau, but other parts feel extremely underwhelming. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the film is that the extremely talented Hiam Abbass, who plays the love interest, isn’t used to her fullest abilities.
Get the Hell Out
The Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival is well-known to bring out some of the weirdest and most messed up movies of the festival circuit, and the Taiwanese zombie flick Get the Hell Out fits one of those two descriptions. Unfortunately, despite a really interesting premise, the commentary is underbaked and the visual style is inconsistent at best. A few bursts of satisfyingly gory violence and the occasionally witty one-liner don’t make up for the film’s lack of substance. With a more experienced director at the helm, this could have been much more entertaining than it is.
I Am Greta
Greta Thunberg has done some exceptional things in her life already despite being as young as she is. And while the cause for which she fights is undeniably a good one, and her accomplishments speak for themselves, she doesn’t yet have enough of a command of her persona to carry a documentary. It also doesn’t help that Nathan Grossman’s documentary is painfully conventional, causing it to be little more than a dull and straightforward biography. Those who are a “fan” of Thunberg’s work will be interested in this, but most others will find themselves a bit bored by its lack of depth.
One of the more ambitious and unconventional documentary offerings of this year’s festival, Michelle Latimer’s Inconvenient Indian brings author Thomas King’s book to the screen. This deconstruction of the colonization of Native Americans is absolutely fascinating. Making use of abstract imagery complemented by commentary from King, this is a very profound film. Admittedly, there is quite a bit going on here in a short ninety minutes, so the film feels a bit busy as a result. Nevertheless, Latimer’s passion for and connection with the source material is evident, and this allows her to craft a film that is completely captivating from start to finish.
Ben Sharrock’s dark comedy Limbo gets off to a running start with a quirky introduction that shows the film’s potential to be a commentary on the very important issue of immigration. That said, after this initial intrigue wears off, the film turns into something much more conventional. Following a young immigrant alone in a foreign country waiting on the status of his immigration paperwork, the film struggles to find that balance between the satirical and the somber and meditative. Still, thanks to some excellent character work, it manages to be mostly compelling, even if it falls short in a few other departments.
A Brazilian thriller with a darkly comedic edge, João Paulo Miranda Maria’s film Memory House would make a great double-bill with the indie favorite Bacurau. Following a factory worker who comes across a house that reminds him of his cultural origins, the film’s unique pacing will prevent it from connecting with most general audiences. Regardless, the observations that the filmmaker offers about cultural identity are quite insightful, and it is quite fascinating as such. The true highlight of the film, though, are its haunting visuals which create a nightmarish world rich in Latin American history and culture.
What is sure to be the most divisive film to come out of this year’s lineup, Michael Franco’s New Order is an absolute mess, but in the best way possible. Taking place in a city experiencing unrest that turns into full-on class warfare, the film is disturbing and brutal, but to powerful effect. Anyone who is Latino can tell you that Latin American history is covered with blood, and Franco does an excellent job of showing how these cultures are not as pretty as they may seem. There are a few issues, but for the most part, it’s powerful stuff.
No Ordinary Man
Although No Ordinary Man is at face value a biography of a trans masculine icon, it is also so much more. In their exploration of the life of Jazz musician Billy Tipton, filmmakers Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt explore not just Tipton’s life, but the way in which society tends to remember LGBTQ+ individuals and their experiences. Although there are some moments that utilize traditional documentary techniques, like archive footage and talking heads, it is the other, more innovative approaches to this story that will make it stand out. As the title would suggest, this is no ordinary biography.
Adapted from her own short, Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby is a wonderful and brisk little comedy. Taking place nearly in real time, the film follows a young woman who runs into her sugar daddy while attending a funeral with her family. This is one of those comedies that really relies on secondhand embarrassment to milk an uncomfortable laughter out of the audience, and boy does Seligman succeed at that. It’s a truly hilarious exploration of familial bonds, among other things, and features some great performances to boot from Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, and Fred Melamed.
Young filmmaker Suzanne Lindon’s debut Spring Blossom is mostly notable because she wrote it as a teenager, and for a first film, it’s quite good. It’s definitely a very slight film, more impressive as a statement of the potential that Lindon has than a demonstration of it in action, but it’s a pretty enjoyable romance/coming-of-age film. Lindon’s best work in the film is arguably not as the writer or director, though — it’s in her leading role as the actress. It will definitely be exciting to get to see her do some more work with someone else at the helm.
Summer of 85
François Ozon has become known in recent years for making films that push the envelope, and while Summer of 85 may be a bit more safe, it’s still a tremendous work. A summer love movie with a dark twist, Ozon appears to be using this familiar story in unfamiliar ways, recapturing some of the stereotypes and cliches of LGBTQ+ cinema. Excellent performances from Félix Lefebvre and Benjamin Voisin ground the film, but it is Hichame Alaouie’s cinematography that is the real MVP. It’s an entertaining and breezy film that is a much more substantial alternative to the typical teen romance.
Naomi Kawase’s True Mothers has a really interesting concept, but it quickly devolves into little more than an upscale melodrama. Great cinematography and excellent performances can’t save a script that starts strong but goes all-in on the histrionics after the first act is over. Telling the story of a woman who is contacted by her adopted child’s birth mother, the convoluted narrative structure results in this film being about thirty minutes too long. Kawase shows a lot of talent behind the camera, but unfortunately, this is a film that easily could have benefitted from a substantial re-write.
Under the Open Sky
Miwa Nishikawa’s drama Under the Open Sky feels very long despite only clocking in at just under two hours. This story about a former yakuza trying to re-integrate himself into society simply isn’t as interesting as it should have been. There are definitely some things going for the film, like a phenomenal performance from Koji Yakusho and some solid cinematography by Norimichi Kasamatsu, but it feels like too much of the same old stuff we’ve seen countless times before. A few good moments aside, this film is fine but forgettable, which is a shame given the amount of talent involved.
Stacey Lee’s music documentary Underplayed deals with a tremendously important issue: gender inequality. However, in depicting the success of these great female DJs in the face of the adversity and opposition they have faced, Lee fails to do anything but shallowly inspire. Had she focused specifically on two or three of these artists, she would have been able to go into more depth on their experiences and how they are indicative of the industry as a whole. This general survey is still nice, and it obviously offers the opportunity to listen to some great beats, but otherwise, it doesn’t live up to its potential.
Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer have made some truly harrowing shorts, so their feature debut Violation had a very high bar to meet. Unfortunately, despite some interesting ideas and a few disturbing moments, the film largely falls flat. This definitely isn’t a standard rape-revenge thriller, but it’s a character drama without much interesting character work. Mancinelli and Sims-Fewer try to leave too much unspoken and as a result fail to convey much of anything. It’s an eighty-minute movie stretched into over an hour-and-forty-five, and apart from one anxiety-inducing scene, it will test the viewer's patience.
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival ran September 10-19.
By Sean Boelman
Because of the reduced number of films that the festival was able to screen due to the unique challenges faced for this year’s edition, the Toronto International Film Festival debuted a new Industry Selects sidebar. These films, still receiving the honor of being recognized by the festival outside of the Official Selection, screened for press and industry and the festival. The following are some of those films.
The feature debut of Greek writer-director Christos Nikou, who worked as the second assistant director on Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth, Apples is an unusual film that feels destined to find success on the art house circuit. Telling the story of a middle-aged man who falls victim to a pandemic that causes the sudden onset of amnesia, it may lack the dryly satirical edge that makes Lanthimos’s films so beloved, but it makes up for it in its existential musings on memory and identity. And lead actor Aris Servetalis gives a great performance, elevating the film from above average to legitimately memorable.
In Between Dying
Hilal Baydarov’s In Between Dying is a wandering movie in both a literal and a metaphorical sense. Following a young man searching for meaning in life, it definitely feels like there is a lot to dissect here, but the audience is never really given a reason as to why they should. Lacking either the narrative strength or the character development to justify its occasionally meditative rambling. It’s an absolutely gorgeous film to look at thanks to some beautiful scenery and great cinematography by Elshan Abbasov, but it works better as pleasant background noise than a compelling cinematic experience.
Kill It and Leave This Town
As an avant garde animated film, Mariusz Wilczynski’s fascinating Kill It and Leave This Town shows the tremendous potential that the medium has beyond the constraints of traditional storytelling. A surreal and often trippy voyage through the memories of the protagonist, it’s a very bizarre film that is likely to be a bit too much for most tastes. And while the animation style of the film isn’t what one would usually call attractive, as it is quite harsh and rudimentary in nature, it offers some uniquely nightmarish images. It very well may test some viewers’ patience, but it is absolutely worth the resolve.
Like a House on Fire
The relationship drama Like a House on Fire throws a very unique twist on a familiar story. About a young mother trying to reconnect with her estranged husband and their daughter, Jesse Noah Klein’s film feels intensely personal and hits much harder than expected. Of course, the film owes a lot to the powerful performances given by its two leads, Sarah Sutherland and Jared Abrahamson, but there is just a lot of empathy in Klein’s script. This is one of those films that is understandably very difficult to watch, but is rewarding nevertheless as a challenging, emotional experience.
Argyris Papadimitropoulos’s romance Monday obviously wants to be something more profound than it is, but it works just fine as a breezy summer romance. A snapshot of a relationship between two American expats living in Greece, the film is at its best when it lets its characters just have fun and struggles a bit when it tries to do something more substantial, almost crossing the line into melodrama. The chemistry between the two leads, Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough, is probably the single most important factor in selling this film’s emotion, but slick cinematography by Hristos Karamanis and a good score by Alexis Grapsas seal the deal.
My Best Part
The comedy-drama My Best Part, co-written, directed by, and starring Nicolas Maury, is probably one of the biggest disappointments to come out of this year’s market — not because it’s the worst, but because it showed the most potential. There are plenty of glimmers of greatness in this film about an actor who returns to his childhood home after his breaking point, but too often, the film comes across as annoying and out-of-touch. Despite a committed performance from Maury, the character is whiny and unlikable, and it’s a significant hurdle that the film is never able to overcome.
Based on a bestselling book from the nineties, Danielle Arbid’s Passion Simple appears designed to have cashed in on the demand for mainstream erotica, but came a couple years too late. Tracking a relationship between a mother and a Russian diplomat, the film is watchable and has some solid cinematography and a great soundtrack, but it’s too low-brow for the art house and too cold for the horny crowd. As the title suggests, it’s a pretty simple film, with very little about it that isn’t straightforward. One just wishes that Arbid could have spared some more creativity for the steamy scenes.
The newest film from cult filmmaker Bruce La Bruce, Saint-Narcisse is the type of film that would have been in an expanded Midnight Madness lineup in a more normal year. A noir-tinged and darkly-comedic mystery about a man who sets out to better understand his past and makes some surprising discoveries along the way, it’s a weird and campy movie in many regards. And while the film’s occasionally extreme content and handling of taboo issues may put off some viewers, it will definitely catch the attention of those more daring fans of the festival circuit.
Like an edgier version of last year’s Les Misérables, the police thriller Shorta serves as a much-needed contribution to the discussion of police brutality. And although audiences probably don’t want to see more movies about cops at the moment, this film about two police officers who get trapped when news gets out of a deadly shooting really dissects the ways in which the law enforcement system is fundamentally broken. Though the action and suspense is undeniably the focus of filmmakers Frederik Louis Hviid and Anders Ølholm, there is a lot beneath the surface here that makes it worth a watch.
Having earned a lot of comparisons to last year’s Marriage Story because of their similar themes, Baumbach’s film and Daniele Luchetti’s The Ties differ quite a bit narratively. Exploring a marriage in crisis over several years as the parties attempt to stay together for the sake of their children, it’s an undeniably emotional watch. The segmented narrative, as would be expected, has some moments that are much stronger than others, but as a whole, the level of empathy with which the film treats its story and characters goes a long way in making it feel more resonant.
Well-made but disappointingly straightforward, Zaida Bergroth’s biopic Tove had the potential to be something really interesting but falls victim to a few too many cliches to be particularly memorable. Dramatizing the story of Tove Jansson, the artist and creator of the Moomins, the biggest issue of the film is Eeva Putro and Jarno Elonen’s script, which is simply too busy. By attempting to juggle too many storylines, the film ultimately falls flat when it could have been something more compelling had it been streamlined. Still, Alma Pöysti’s performance saves the film from landing in failed biopic obscurity.
Never Gonna Snow Again
Malgorzata Szumowska and Michal Englert’s film Never Gonna Snow Again is the only film of this group that was not a participant in thse Industry Selects sidebar, and rather just screened for press and industry via an online private screening via the festival’s platform, and interestingly enough, it may be the best of the bunch. An unabashedly weird and meditative film about a masseur who offers guidance to his much more wealthy clients, this is one of those multi-layered films that immediately demands multiple viewings. Its idiosyncratic nature makes its commercial prospects low, but when its audience finds it, it will undoubtedly be among their favorites of the year.
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival ran from September 10-19.
By Adam Donato
Devil was supposed to be the first of a trilogy of stories based on supernatural happenings in a modern urban society titled “The Night Chronicles”. The sequels never happened and we are left with just the one: a movie about five people who are trapped in an elevator and one of them is the devil. The film easily outgrossed its $10 million dollar budget in the first weekend and went on to make $60 million at the box office. The critical reception was mixed, which for Shyamalan at the time was a good thing. He did not direct Devil as he was making the most infamous blockbuster of all time, The Last Airbender. Oh, what a year…
As the title states, this movie is being judged like a nothing horror movie dropped in the middle of September. Compared to The Godfather, Devil is terrible. As far as low-budget horror films go, this movie is a crowd-pleasing delight. It’s the whole package. You will be scared, you will laugh, and by the end, you may feel a bit emotional. The best horror movies have something that most others don’t even bother attempting, a character arc. Devil has two.
Trapping the main characters in an elevator is a great way to force the movie to stay short and character-driven. With an eighty-minute runtime, Devil spends half of its time forcing the trapped citizens to interact and reveal interesting details about themselves. The other half of the movie follows a depressed, no-nonsense detective as he tries to get them out alive. This balance helps to keep the movie feeling fresh, without compromising either storyline.
The cinematography is worth a mention as Devil’s is Tak Fujimoto. The same guy who did the cinematography for Silence of the Lambs, The Sixth Sense, and Signs (the last two being directed by Shyamalan), is doing a cheesy, low budget horror movie. His choices are brilliant, considering the movie he is making. The close-up, Dutch angle shots while in the elevator help to convey the claustrophobic paranoia of the scenario. Also, say what you want about how ridiculous the opening and closing shots of this movie are, but it works. Yes, it’s cute having the movie being bookended by flipped shots of the Philadelphia skyline. Wait a minute, Philadelphia? Isn’t that where all of Shyamalan’s movies take place? That’s cute.
Speaking of cute, the completions of the two character arcs in the film. The shady male in the elevator, who ends up being the final survivor, confesses his sin of committing a hit and run on a mother and her son. As it turns out, that mother and son were the families of the detective of the elevator case. The detective volunteers to take the lone survivor in and, on their ride, he reveals that his family was the victim of a said hit and run. Forgiveness is given as the narrator says “if the Devil is real, then God must be real, too.” Both arcs come to completion as they come together. The film, which is, for all intents and purposes, just a cheesy horror movie, to end on such a profound and optimistic note is wildly impressive and unprecedented in today’s general horror fare.
The movie is cheesy to the max. The entire cast is full of extreme stereotypes and they are all connected in the most outrageous fashion. The biggest indication of cheesiness in the movie, despite the villain being the actual Devil, is the “jelly side down” scene. One of the building’s security guards claims that there is something supernatural going down in the elevator as he sees an evil face in the elevator security footage. He goes on to test this theory for the skeptical detective by throwing a piece of jellied toast in the air. When it lands jelly side down, he loses it and actively starts praying as this is a sign of the Devil for bad things to happen when he is around. Gold.
Part of the fun of the movie is betting on who in the elevator is the Devil. At the end of the movie, it is revealed to be the old woman. This is an odd twist as the second person to be killed is the old woman who was hung with the elevator chords. Is it possible that the Devil possessed multiple people in the elevator throughout the movie? Then again, it’s hilarious if the Devil pretended to be an old woman, and on her way to kill some people decided to steal a random person’s wallet. The movie does a good job of spreading the evidence amongst all the suspects in the elevator as each person gets a turn on the hot seat.
The horror genre is not given as much credit as it should because the market is saturated by low-budget, non-scary crap. A lot of horror movies don’t work on any level, so to see one that not only succeeds as a horror, but also as a comedy with characters who arc. This isn’t high brow material, but it knows exactly what it is. Devil is unabashedly itself and for what it is, it’s a masterpiece. Not only that, it deserves to be brought up in the conversation for the most underrated horror movie of all time.
By Dan Skip Allen
Martin Scorsese has been known as the gangster film director during his fifty years as a filmmaker. His first gangster film was Mean Streets where he started his long term relationship with collaborator Robert De Niro. As Johnny Boy, De Niro would be the kind of actor Scorsese would create time and again in future films. Goodfellas was littered with these types of wiseguys. They would come quite frequently in other films such as Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed, and most recently The Irishman. Goodfellas, though, would stand out decades later as one of the most groundbreaking achievements in film history and among Scorsese's filmography.
When talking about great films such as Goodfellas one has to point to the things that Scorsese does that are now commonplace in the business of movie-making. One thing that comes to mind that is a terrific achievement is the tracking shot where Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Karen (Lorraine Bracco) are walking through the Copacabana nightclub to the music of The Crystals, "And Then He Kissed Me". This was a scene unheard of before but now everybody does this with a crane looking down over the actors. The crane shot was groundbreaking in 1990 when this film came out.
Scorsese always attracts a great cast to work with him. Even his little film's he gets great performers to line up to appear. Goodfellas was no different. Of course, his usual cast of characters would be cast in the starring roles. Such as Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Frank Vincent. The stand out in this great film was Ray Liotta though. He embodied Henry Hill in this film. The scene where he is high on cocaine and he is going back and forth getting the bag of guns and he noticed the helicopter was following him. He was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams but Goodfellas was his breakout role — the role he'll be remembered for the rest of his life. Scorsese always can get the most out of his actors.
Scorsese likes to take real events and make them into fantastic films. Goodfellas adapts a very famous heist in history. The Lufthansa Plane heist was a real event that happened. Adapting the book from Nick Pileggi ("Wiseguy") Scorsese brought this story to life. Whereas other gangster films were fictional takes on the life, Goodfellas was ripped right from history. Of course, the names are changed for this film. The real Henry Hill was sent into the witness protection program because he turned state's evidence on his childhood and adult friends. They were like his family, as seen in a prison scene where he helped the don Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) make pasta.
As mentioned earlier De Niro has a great history with Scorsese, but Joe Pesci has a great working relationship with him as well. As Tommy Devito, he gives a great performance and delivers one of the best scenes in film history. When he jokes with Hill and says what's so funny and then shoots Spider played by Michael Imperioli. It's no coincidence that the creators of The Sopranos scooped up a bunch of the cast of Goodfellas for their terrific show on HBO. Bracco is great alongside Liotta as well, getting an Oscar nomination. Pesce was the only win though for the film.
Obviously, The Godfather films are considered the creme de la creme of gangster films. Goodfellas is a top three gangster film though. It has groundbreaking filmmaking by Martin Scorsese, great acting by a stellar cast of actors, and a very well adapted screenplay from Scorsese and Pileggi of a true heist in American history. Thirty years ago this film was considered one of the best of the year. It stands up as one of the best ever and one of Scorsese's best as well. The realistic nature of the story and frantic filmmaking at times make for an exciting and very entertaining film. In another thirty years, people will still be talking about Goodfellas, Scorsese, DeNiro, and Pesci alongside the greatest films, directors, and actors of all time. This genre never gets old for me so I can watch this film over and over again. Goodfellas is as great now as it was then in 1990.
By Sean Boelman
As part of the “new normal”, disappointment media has been providing coverage of virtual and hybrid film festivals and the films that are a part of their official lineup. While we would love to be on the ground in Toronto covering films for the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, we also realize that the U.S. is in much worse shape than Canada, so it wouldn’t be fair of us to our Northern neighbors to travel at this time.
Still, disappointment media was honored to be selected to participate in remote coverage of the festival as a part of the Media Inclusion Initiative. That means we will be getting to watch some great films and access exciting conference events (from the safety of our home) and report back to you about what you should keep an eye out for.
Although the Official Selection for this year’s TIFF was reduced to just fifty films, a fraction of what it would be in normal circumstances, those films that were selected are sure to be exciting! Presented with a combination of in-person traditional, open-air, drive-in, and virtual screenings (geoblocked to Canada), this is sure to be a unique year for the festival. BUT it also means that there are more opportunities than ever to check out these intriguing films and more! Here are five movies that we personally can’t wait to see!
Thomas Vinterberg is arguably one of, if not the most versatile directors working today, directing everything from intense dramas (The Hunt) to war movies (Kursk) and almost everything in-between, and his newest film Another Round, a dark comedy, has all the signs of another hit. Starring Mads Mikkelsen as a teacher who sets out with his friends on a social experiment to remain slightly drunk throughout the day while maintaining their daily lives. If the Vinterberg-Mikkelsen reunion isn’t enough to excite the cinephile in you, it sounds absolutely hilarious, but knowing Vinterberg’s past work, it is sure to have more layers than the average drinking comedy.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds
Speaking of directors with eclectic filmographies, prolific filmmaker Werner Herzog’s newest film (and his third that will be released in the U.S. this year) Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds sounds like an absolute treat for anyone who is an astronomy buff. Offering an intimate portrait of scientists hunting meteors, Herzog’s distinctive style will make this an undeniably cinematic watch even if you don’t find your interest piqued by the material. And given what we’ve seen of Herzog’s documentary, we can expect some absolutely breathtaking cinematography to come out of it.
Summer of 85
The lower-profile of the two seaside LGBTQ+ romances set to debut at this year’s festival and arguably the one that looks more interesting, acclaimed French filmmaker François Ozon’s newest work, Summer of 85, explores a relationship between two teen boys that soon turns into tragedy. From the images and trailer, it looks like it is going to be one of the most gorgeous films of the festival, at least in terms of the cinematography and the scenery it depicts. And Ozon’s previous work gained a lot of notice for being so personal, so let’s hope that this one follows that trend.
Documentarian Frederick Wismean is ninety years old and yet is still going strong. His last film, Ex Libris, was considered by many to be a significant Oscar snub this year, but maybe his newest work, City Hall, which seems much more political, will finally get him the love he deserves from the Academy. Its four-and-a-half hour length is admittedly a bit intimidating, but Wiseman’s exploration of civil service is sure to be a fascinating watch if his previous work is any indication. This will be an endurance test for even the most committed of festival-goers, but one that promises to be rewarding.
Shadow in the Cloud
One of the most exciting things about festivals are the midnight movie sections, and while TIFF’s Midnight Madness isn’t running at full steam this year, there are three selections, and all of them sound great. The most exciting of them, Shadow in the Cloud, sounds like a uniquely feminist take on WWII action-horror. The program’s description doesn’t reveal a whole lot about the story, meaning that it probably contains plenty of unexpected twists and turns, but one thing we can anticipate is a typically excellent performance from Chloë Grace Moretz, who seems to be playing against type here but will surely be fun to watch nevertheless.
And these are just a few of the films we are excited for in this year’s festival! Unfortunately, with the festival only lasting ten days, it would be impossible for someone to get to everything showing in the lineup, but there truly is something for everyone. So for those in Canada, it’s not too late to look through the schedule and buy your tickets now, because there are some films you’re not going to want to miss!
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival runs September 10-19.
By Adam Donato
1990’s Darkman stars Liam Neeson and Frances McDormand, two all-time talents, and is written/directed by Sam Raimi. Raimi is one of the greatest horror and superhero directors of all time. Darkman brings both of these elements together and nobody talks about it. This was a year after Burton did Batman in 1989. The film did turn its $16 million budget into $33 million at the box-office but isn’t brought up when people talk about underrated comic book movies. Is it just not that good or are people not aware that Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was not his first superhero project?
Darkman is the story of a scientist who seeks revenge against the goons who physically mangled him while trying to find his way back to his old life with his girlfriend. Neeson carries the movie as the titular character and is so much fun to watch on screen. In interviews, he’s spoken about how the character’s inner turmoil and overall self-hatred is what attracted him to the role. Raimi speaks of how the character started out as a normal dude, then seeks revenge, and has to face the monster he feels he has become. Darkman is an anti-hero as he spends the majority of the movie murdering people, but then again, those people are bad people. He also lies to his girlfriend, which prohibits them from moving forward together. References to The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Phantom of the Opera are big influences on Darkman. His inner conflict is a sympathetic one, while his external conflict is a formidable opponent.
Robert G. Durant, played by Larry Drake, and his goons are fun villains to watch. The opening sequence of the movie shows an even larger gang of thugs being taken out by Durant’s group thanks to a fake leg that is a gun and a cigar cutter that is used to cut off the fingers of his enemies. One of the goons is played by Ted Raimi, who is popular for working at the Daily Bugle in the Raimi Spider-Man movies (“It’s hip, it’s now, and how?”), and it’s always a joy to see him pop up in his brother’s movies. The complaint, if any, about this movie is that the action sequences are lackluster due to the villains just being goons. Darkman can’t feel pain and has the ability to change his appearance, so while a movie about him fighting just goons is a good starting point, it would be interesting to see him fight a villain with a more interesting skillset. That being said, the action scenes are not bad by any means. There’s balancing on steel beams and even Darkman hanging from a helicopter. It’s a wild ride for such a small scale hero.
The love interest is Julie Hastings played by soon-to-be Oscar winner McDormand, who is a step above the rest when it comes to superhero love interests. Not only is she extremely likable, but she’s also an active part of the plot apart from her relationship status. Her noticing of the memorandum is what puts the wheels in motion as Strack has to cover up his misdoings by taking her out. The relationship between Peyton, Darkman’s alter ego, and Julie is compelling in the sense that you want them to be together, but you understand why they can’t. There’s a beautiful scene where Julie is visiting Peyton’s grave when Peyton confronts her. The cavalcade of emotions in this scene is touching as we see her go from shock to horror to sadness to relief in his embrace. You want Peyton to get the girl, but you see the monster that he has become in his actions. This point is hammered home when Darkman chooses to leave Julie at the end of the movie, proving that nobody will ever judge us more than ourselves.
The special effects are great, but that’s no surprise as Raimi is known for it ever since The Evil Dead. Darkman looks terrifying, but you can still identify the man under the gauze. Neeson talked about how he struggled to speak as he wanted the fake teeth to move as little as possible. Part of the fun of this kind of movie is where special effects weren’t used. When Darkman is wearing a mask of one of the goons, their performance as Darkman wearing the goons as a mask is fun to watch. The holograms in the movie look good considering that this movie came out in 1990.
Anytime Danny Elfman does a score for a movie, it deserves to be brought up. The film is given life thanks to Elfman. He not only heightens every single action scene, but he also makes the credits fun to watch, which is an accomplishment. It was very cool to see that Elfman worked on this movie in hindsight due to his future works with Raimi on the first two Spider-Man movies.
So it’s a forgotten gem of a movie. It still has that Raimi cheesiness to it that makes such a dark movie so enjoyable to watch. The whole cast knocks it out of the park. The movie pulls everything off from special effects to score to characters and themes. The ending is the icing on the cake for any Raimi fan. As Julie chases after him, Darkman gets lost in the crowd. His mask, an unknown man played by Bruce Campbell himself. Not only that but left with the tragic feeling of losing oneself as Darkman embraces who he has become. Please do yourself a favor and check this one out.
By Adam Donato
The Cornetto Trilogy, affectionately titled, is the baby of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. After making Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Wright went on to make an adaptation of the popular graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. The film’s lead is Michael Cera, star of comedies such as Superbad and Arrested Development, and is supported by what is now an all-star lineup. After completely bombing at the box office despite its critical acclaim, the film has persisted in the hearts of fans as a cult classic to be remembered.
Edgar Wright can’t make a bad movie. There are arguments to be made, but all five of Wright’s directorial features are great in their own way. Ranking them has to come down to a personal preference of genre as each installment in his filmography is near flawless. Go ahead, say this is over-hyping Wright and his movies. Jordan Peele makes two great movies and he is the next Hitchcock. Shyamalan was heralded the next Spielberg after three great movies. Wright is at five great movies and only Baby Driver grossed over $100 million. What’s the problem? He’s worked with notable stars and received plenty of critical praise. None of his movies is more criminally underappreciated as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
How good is Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? 2010 was a big year for movies and Scott Pilgrim belongs up there with the greats: Inception, Toy Story 3, The Social Network, and The King’s Speech. If that is your top five for the year, you’re not wrong. There aren’t many movies quite like Scott Pilgrim. It feels like a video game movie had a baby with a comic book movie. The action is over the top and usually borrows the look of a combat video game. The comedy is fast paced and utilizes on-screen speech/thought bubbles to get inside the head of Scott Pilgrim. Obviously the film is an adaptation of a comic, and therefore not classified as a video game movie. This means that Scott Pilgrim is in the same club as Wreck-It Ralph, the best video game movies not based on a video game. Utilizing the strengths of a genre with untapped potential? Well played, Wright.
Writing a piece detailing the outstanding quality of Scott Pilgrim is complicated. To the active film fan, this is a film that is regularly heralded as underrated due to the low initial audience viewership. If you love movies, you know how good Scott Pilgrim is. The problem is that there are too many people who have never even heard of it. So yes, here is another declaration of love for Scott Pilgrim. Maybe one day the rest of the world will join us.
Arguably, the best part of the movie, besides Wright’s stylized fight scenes and quick-cut comedy, is the characters and the cast who embodies them. Back when this movie was being cast, a lot of these actors hadn’t become household names yet. Honestly, the only actor not to peak after this movie was Brandon Routh (Superman Returns was not his fault!). Brie Larson, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Evans all dominate in this movie and most of them went on to be superheroes. Other established talents like Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman, and Kieran Culkin all stand out in a movie full of memorable names. Everyone has a distinct style and personality. All of the seven evil exes are unique in their fighting styles. Even the names that are not known still kill it with Mark Webber, Ellen Wong, and Johnny Simmons making their mark.
Let’s talk about the love triangle. Scott starts out the movie with Knives who is, in fact a high-schooler (which is weird). So when he ends up with Ramona, it is a relief. That being said, the alternate ending where Scott ends up with Knives over Ramona doesn’t seem wrong. That way, the film would start and end in the same place, except Scott is now proud of his earned relationship. He loses Ramona who he should lose due to his overt jerkiness. Then again he cheated on Knives more than he cheated on Ramona. Honestly, Scott shouldn’t end up with anyone. He earned the power of self-respect, but there are consequences to playing games with the feelings of the people you hold closest. That’s the closest thing to a flaw in this movie. Of course, Scott is a human being and him getting a second chance with the girl of his dreams isn’t completely wrong.
Michael Cera is perfect for this movie. His soft-spokenness and general “Charlie Brown energy” make his portrayal of the title character generally likable. Apparently Cera already knew how to play the bass guitar and is very good, which is impressive. Also, the fact that someone who looks like Michael Cera can lead an action movie full of fistfights featuring himself is quite impressive. It’s sad to say, but it’s arguable that Cera just isn’t a marketable name in Hollywood. Maybe Jonah Hill is what really sold Superbad. A decade later, what has Cera starred in since? Not much. It’s a shame.
The best thing about this movie, it’s good to see Edgar Wright can thrive all on his own. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is fast-paced and fun. The jokes are funny and memorable. The action stands out in a day and age full of big-budget, CGI action sequences. The romance is easily bought as the viewer is whisked away through open doors to the song “Ramona”. Scott's arc is poignant and does a good job of standing out in what is primarily a love story. How can you support someone else if you can’t support yourself? His reward for discovering self-respect, he gets the girl he fought seven evil exes and himself for. If you love this movie, buy it on DVD again to show support. If you haven't seen this movie, please, do yourself a favor: it's the best video game movie that's not a video game movie. Sorry, Ralph, but at least you got a sequel...
By Sean Boelman
One of the world’s premier genre film festivals, this year’s Fantasia Film Festival is happening later than usual and in an unprecedented way with an all-online presentation. With a blend of offerings available on demand and being shown via livestream, this year’s selection is packed with some amazing and exciting offerings for genre cinephiles in Canada.
Unfortunately, due to rights restrictions, these screenings have to be geo-blocked to Canadian audiences only (with the exception of the new Troma film #ShakespearesShistorm, which I personally can’t wait to see), but disappointment media is still covering many of the films in the lineup because many will make their way to international audiences sooner or later. That said, for our Canadian friends, here are five films that you absolutely will not want to miss in this year’s festival.
Screening: August 20 @ 9:45 ET
Japanese filmmaker Shinichiro Ueda made his way to American audiences in a big way with his ambitious genre-bending zombie movie One Cut of the Dead (which also played at Fantasia), and his newest movie Special Actors is somehow even better. Like One Cut, this is best experienced knowing as little about the plot as possible, but know that it’s a quirky comedy that doubles as a satire of the art of acting. With plenty of laughs and some truly unexpected twists, it’s an insanely fun film in more ways than one, but it also packs a surprising amount of emotional heft.
Crazy Samurai Musashi
Screening: On Demand
Speaking of one-takes, the movie that seems most likely to gain a cult following out of Fantasia is Yuji Shimomura’s insanely ambitious action flick Crazy Samurai Musashi. Inspired by a real battle that has become the stuff of legends, the film is one take minus a brief prologue and epilogue. It’s certainly more of a technical feat than a narrative one, and it’s far from perfect, but the things that Shimomura is able to pull off are insanely impressive. Holding it all together is a committed performance from martial artist Tak Sakaguchi, who handles the intense choreography with both grace and intensity.
Screening: On Demand
Noah Hutton’s sci-fi/comedy directorial debut Lapsis was supposed to receive its premiere at this year’s SXSW, but that festival was sadly cancelled due to the pandemic. Luckily, the film was still able to secure U.S. distribution thanks to great buzz, and Canadian audiences get a chance to see it as a part of Fantasia. This wickedly funny satire is set in a not-so-distant future where independent contractors embark on dangerous hikes in order to connect cables for an emerging trading market. Examining the flaws and preaching the fears of the ever-growing gig economy, this film is even more relevant now given a recent unemployment crisis.
Screening: August 22 @ 7:00pm
The other film that just screams timely is the Taiwanese rom-com I WeirDo. Telling the story of two people who suffer from OCD as they find love in each other’s compulsions, it’s eerie how much the character’s feelings of isolation resonate with the current situation. That said, even without that connection, the film would still be great, largely thanks to the wonderful chemistry of its stars Austin Lin and Nikki Hsieh. Also impressive is that the film has some gorgeous iPhone-shot cinematography and ridiculously detailed production design. It’s a charmer made with a lot of care, something that is rare for the genre.
Texas Trip - A Carnival of Ghosts
Screening: On Demand
Steve Balestreri and Maxime Lachaud’s documentary Texas Trip - A Carnival of Ghosts is one of the hardest films in the lineup to sell, and it may have a hard time appealing beyond its niche, but that’s all the more reason to catch it while you can at the festival. Connecting drive-in theaters with alternative music artists, it’s almost as if Joe Bob Briggs and the guy from Frank got together to make a movie about creative expression. It’s weird as hell, but also a mesmerizing and beautiful sensory experience. This is one of those smaller and more out there festival films you just have to take a chance on.
With how massive the lineup is this year, there’s no shortage of films to check out, and there truly is something for everybody. If you live in Canada, even if none of these five films tickles your fancy, you should check out the lineup because I can pretty much guarantee that there will be something that will. Stay tuned to disappointment media for our ongoing coverage of the festival.
Virtual tickets are now on sale for the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 3, geoblocked to Canada.
By Sean Boelman
After being delayed from its original April dates and being expanded from its usual ten days to a whopping two weeks of great films, this year’s Florida Film Festival kicks off today at the Enzian Theater in Orlando, FL. Following all recommended state and local guidelines and with added safety precautions in place, film lovers from Orlando will gather (socially distanced, of course) to watch the great selections made by the FFF team.
While all eyes will be on the in-person portion of the festival, as the success of the event may be a good indicator of how a reduced capacity festival may work for the rest of the year (and potentially into 2021), it’s important to note that this year’s festival also features a virtual component which will allow cinephiles to check out a majority of the films in the lineup from the safety and comfort of their own home for the low price of $40!
Leading up to the festival, disappointment media has had the opportunity to check out some of the films playing online and at the Enzian via exclusive press screenings or having had seen some of them via different festivals. Below are five of our favorite films that were included in the selection, and hopefully you get the chance to check them and some of the other great selections out!
Section: Spotlight Films
Screening: Virtual ONLY, 12-6pm on August 13
Although the midday screening time of the film may prevent those with a nine-to-five from checking out this film, Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss’s documentary Boys State is one NOT to miss if you can work it into your day. Following a group of boys at a summer camp where they form a mock representative government, this is both frequently hilarious and surprisingly horrifying with its commentary on American democracy. Although one may think that a bunch of teenagers may not be the most knowledgeable about the ins and outs of our government, there’s a surprisingly deep level of insight about some of the issues we are going through right now to be found in this film.
Things Happen Because
Section: Animated Shorts
Screening: August 12 @ 6:30pm; Also Available Virtually
Unlike some other festivals, the Enzian crew and Florida Film Festival take great care to feature up-and-coming filmmakers, and the community often comes out in droves to these shorts programs featuring exciting new voices. There isn’t a better example of that this year than Frank Volk’s Things Happen Because, an expressive (and very funny) Hertzfeldt-inspired short. It’s weird, dark, and not particularly family-friendly (leave the kids at home for this block), but it has a lot of charm in its five minutes. And if you still need to be convinced of how great this film is, it earned a spot in the main Animated Shorts competition rather than the more local “Sunshine & Swampland” block.
Some Kind of Heaven
Section: Florida Films
Screening: August 8 @ 12:00pm
Another great thing about the Florida Film Festival is that it always features films that are of significant local interest, and this year’s “Florida Films” feature is a particularly wonderful one: the Darren Aronofsky-produced documentary Some Kind of Heaven. Following some of the residents of the Florida retirement community The Villages, the film is equal parts funny and sad, and its cinematography is absolutely gorgeous. This examination of the facade that is suburban America may not be too flattering to the people who actually live in the area, but those who have visited will be intrigued by the ways in which director Lance Oppenheim calls out the hypocrisy of his subjects.
Fully Realized Humans
Section: Narrative Competition
Screening: August 8 @ 8:45pm
Last year’s Florida Film Festival featured a tribute screening of The Blair Witch Project with a reunion Q&A featuring the film’s cast. This year, one of those cast members, Joshua Leonard, returns to the fest with his new directorial outing Fully Realized Humans, an authentic and riotous look at the anxieties of parenthood. With some of the greatest visual gags in any film so far this year, this will have viewers rolling in their seats with laughters (although it’s not for those who are a bit prudish). And to top it off, the film features the interesting angle of having been shot while Leonard’s co-star Jess Weixler was actually pregnant and about to have her first child!
Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President
Section: Spotlight Films
Screening: August 18 @ 3:30pm; Also Available Virtually (Limited to 100 Tickets)
The other thing for which the Florida Film Festival is well-known is programming some excellent flicks for musicophiles, and while this year’s “Music Films” section is exciting, there’s another great music doc snuck into the Spotlight Films section. Mary Wharton’s documentary Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President is not only interesting because it explores the 39th Commander-in-Chief’s affinity for rock-and-roll, but also because its biographical portion is structured similarly to the traditional rock doc. It’s a consistently entertaining film packed with great tunes, some excellent interviews with musicians, and of course the opportunity to get to hear President Carter’s story in his own words. Both music fans and those interested in politics will definitely want to check this one out.
And that’s only a sampling of some of the great films that this year’s festival has to offer! Stay tuned to disappointment media to check out our ongoing coverage of the festival, which runs from August 7 through August 20 at the Enzian Theater. And if you’re in the Orlando area, you may just run into us at a few screenings, but please don’t run into us at home as we watch the virtually-available selections!
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.