We may be sleep deprived, but we’re back with another slate of films to bring you live from the Toronto International Film Festival 2023 (TIFF)! We continue to overpack our schedule with screenings instead of actually taking care of our health, but ya know; suffer for you art and passion and all that! Anyway, here’s another round of films we’ve seen to put on your radar!
“THE PROMISED LAND “
Mads Mikkelsen is back with a vengeance in “The Promised Land,” a film that centers around Mads as army captain who’s dream is to settle and cultivate land on the baron wastelands of heath in the early centuries of Denmark rule. The film grants Mikkelsen a chance to actually play a protagonist this time around as opposed to his often maligned villain roles. “The Promised Land” is a brutal, violent, unforgiving revenge epic that constantly feels like a powder keg ready to explode. It sports one of the most vile and despicable villains of the year (not Mads this time, a worthy contender in Simon Bennebjerg) and will have you rooting for the titular hero every step of the way. It’s ending, though satisfying is also as emotionally charged as it is bittersweet much like the desolate land of heath. Mikkelsen delivers once again, and not since Samwise Gamgee have potatoes been so vital to a story.
Our first Midnight Madness world premiere, “Kill” lives up to its name and then some. A sort of “The Raid Redemption” on a train with a Bollywood flare, THIS is how you kick off your late night extravaganza. We have never before seen a literal needle drop of violence, and “Kill” is packed with HOLY SHIT moments. Once that drop hits, along with a delayed title card this is quite possibly the best we’ve ever seen and never lets you catch your breath. It smartly plays with its audience in the beginning, adding a a sense of cheesy melodrama fit for the country of origin and teasing a well choreographed but nothing spectacular setup. But once that drop hits, a shot of pure insanity is infused into this wild train ride with some of the most violent kills we’ve seen on screen in while. “Kill” lives up to its name and hype, and the bloodletting is enough to satisfy the most avid of over the top violent action fans. This is what midnight madness is all about, and this is the kind of movie you need to see with a loud, rowdy crowd. Y’all are not ready. Indian action is coming for us all.
“AMERICAN FICTION “
This was a welcomed surprise for us, and quickly entered into the top 5 after it ended. We saw this one a the tale end of movie going bender, and didn’t think it would do enough to jolt us awake to make it through the night. But “American Fiction” proved to be the perfect, hilarious film to revive us. Cord Jefferson’s adaption of the novel “Erasure” is a triumph. A biting satire that is laugh out loud hilarious while remaining thoughtful and conscious about its subject matter. The humor never undercuts the drama in any kind of forcible way, making it feel tonally balanced throughout. Beneath its social commentary is a heartwarming family story, the kind that reminds us that familial relationships are hard even in the best of times. A slight drag in the 3rd act, but Jefferson’s confident and assured direction as well as his sharp screenplay paired with terrific performances all around makes this one a genuine crowd pleaser with something important to say. Jeffrey Wright has never been better, and “American Fiction” is packed with pitch perfect performances that will have you needing to see again because you missed a line laughing so hard.
“WOMAN OF THE HOUR”
We love Anna Kendrick and we love true crime, so the combination of both of these things in one film directed by Kendrick herself was always going to be at the top of our list of must watches. “Woman of the Hour” is a strong debut for Kendrick, who delivers a well crafted and tense thriller while also balancing the silliness of the game show and the darkness of the true crime serial killer story. It is both funny and haunting without ever feeling out of purpose. Daniel Zovattov is haunting as real life serial killer Rodney Alcala, and constantly brings a sense of unease and unsettling atmosphere to every scene. Even the liberties taken with the story aren’t distracting, as Kendrick’s themes about misogyny and the dismissal of women and their stories resonate and only add to the harsh (and true) reality that allowed Alcala to rape and murder at will for so long. The final scene is sure to be divisive, but overall “Woman of the Hour” is a terrific effort from Kendrick.
“QUIZ LADY “
As a die hard Jeopardy fan, this film should be tailored made for us. Unfortunately “Quiz Lady” feels overproduced and undercooked, with everything from the narrative to the characters to the comedy unfolding at a distance. It plays more like a collection of sketches rather than a fully realized feature, and struggles with consistency and tone throughout. Sandra Oh and Awkwafina make a good comedic pairing but even their chemistry can’t overcome a messy script that is only occasionally funny and very rarely memorable. “Quiz Lady” is unequivocally a Hulu film, and you are free to interpret that however you choose. This will be a film that will probably play better at home than in a theater. It’s the sort of movie you put on in the background, one that you say “oh look, ‘Quiz Lady‘ is on Hulu I should check that out” the half watch it while you sit and play on your phone for 90 minutes.
“HIS THREE DAUGHTERS”
Break out the tissues, folks. “His Three Daughters” is a devastating, intimate portrait of grief, loss and sibling relationships. Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, Elizabeth Olsen, Carrie Coon and Natasha Lyonne rip into your soul with their work and remind us that no one hurts or loves quite like family. Azazel Jacobs crafts such an emotionally arresting story that feels visceral and lived in, and through his powerhouse trio captures the explosive nature of family reunions as well as the many ways of how we all process grief differently but in the end remember that we aren’t doing it all alone. This one hit us hard in the feels, and will have you thinking about all the ones you’ve lost as well as the ones you still have time with. If you need a good cry, “His Three Daughters” is where you’ll find it. Now go hug your mom, apologize to your siblings and tell your dad you love him.
“WICKED LITTLE LETTERS“
“Wicked Little Letters” is a delightful crime comedy about misogyny and pious virtuosity, one that could go horribly wrong were it in less capable hands. Thea Sharrock’s choice to frame the story as a quirky crime thriller and bury the subtext and themes underneath early 1900s cursing as opposed to a slow burn drama makes it far more accessible and adds broader appeal, allowing the audience to access the nuances and subtly more quickly and easily. “Wicked Little Letters” avoids the overdramatic and preachy elements baked into the story, and Jessie Buckley and Olivia Colman are just incredible together. Their chemistry is off the charts and it shines bright as their comedic timing rattles out a mile a minute, but never forget their abilities as dramatic and heartfelt performers. Anjana Vasan is a scene stealer and solidifies herself as one to watch, holding her own against the two lead powerhouses with seeming ease. I hope these wonderful women keep making films together because after “Wicked Little Letters” we’re here for whatever else they want to do together.
So there you have it! More films (and many more to come of course) we’ve seen at TIFF.