Critics Discuss Hits And Misses At The Toronto International Film Festival

Sep 12, 2019
Originally published on September 13, 2019 7:17 am
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

More than 400 movies in ten days - that is the Toronto International Film Festival. This year, the most talked-about films include the Mr. Rogers movie "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD")

TOM HANKS: (As Fred Rogers) Hello, neighbor.

CHANG: ..."Harriet," a biopic about former slave Harriet Tubman...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HARRIET")

CYNTHIA ERIVO: (As Harriet Tubman) Don't you tell me what I can't do.

CHANG: ...And "Hustlers," a comedy about strippers who turn the tables on their Wall Street clients.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HUSTLERS")

JENNIFER LOPEZ: (As Ramona) The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

CHANG: We're joined now by film critic Joelle Monique and NPR's Bob Mondello. Hey, guys.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Hey.

JOELLE MONIQUE: Hi.

CHANG: So Joelle, I want to start with you. All three films that we just mentioned were directed by women. How unusual is that?

MONIQUE: You know, for other film festivals, I would say highly unusual. For Toronto, I would say not so much. They had least four films last year that featured female voices directing, and of course, this year, as you mentioned already, "Harriet," "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood" and "Hustlers" all have women. But then you also have one of my favorite movies, "Radioactive" by Marjane Satrapi.

MONDELLO: And even with male directors, there were a lot of very strong women on screen. I'm thinking Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. She is amazing. I wasn't ecstatic about the movie, but she is fantastic.

CHANG: So I want to ask you, Bob - I mean, you see, like, a million of these every year. So when you walked away from the festival this year, what stuck with you?

MONDELLO: Actually, it was the fact that there's so many movies about income inequality. There's one called "Greed" by Michael Winterbottom. It's a satirical look at the super-rich. There's "Parasite," a Korean picture that is a satire of class divisions in Korea. They're strong pictures. They are also comic movies about the fact that there are a lot of losers in today's society.

CHANG: Losers like people who are not getting by.

MONDELLO: The winners tend to be incredibly rich people already, and it's interesting because it's so distressing, and yet they have made comedies out of this.

MONIQUE: I think if you want to take a cynical look at "Joker," you could even see the opposite side of that, which sort of seems to be a look down at economic anxiety.

MONDELLO: Excellent point.

MONIQUE: Those of us suffering - yeah.

MONDELLO: Yeah.

CHANG: So we've already mentioned some big studio movies like "Hustlers," "A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood." What were some other, like, standout commercial films that you saw at the festival this year?

MONDELLO: "Knives Out."

MONIQUE: "Knives Out" is excellent.

MONDELLO: It's so much fun. It's a murder mystery of the Agatha Christie-meets-Alfred Hitchcock persuasion...

CHANG: Wow.

MONDELLO: ...And very funny.

CHANG: Cool.

MONDELLO: I mean, just really funny. And then how about "Ford v Ferrari?" Did you see that one, Joelle?

MONIQUE: I did, and to me, it sort of felt like paint by numbers. There wasn't any kind of specific moment that shocked me or even really informed me. I don't know that much about cars. And I had a lot of problems with "Joker," which is the other kind of big studio film...

MONDELLO: Yeah.

MONIQUE: ...That was there.

MONDELLO: A lot of people did.

CHANG: Like what?

MONIQUE: I mean, where to start? While the performance was incredible - Joaquin's performance as Joker...

CHANG: Joaquin Phoenix.

MONIQUE: ...Is legendary. He did a wonderful job. The script overall I found rather boring as a person who comes from a comic book background. I'm a huge Batman fan, and when you put the villain before the guy in the mask, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I also had a lot of problem with the way poverty is depicted, and then on top of all of that, I think the film just winds up being very boring, kind of slow in the middle. You don't really feel like you're gearing toward anything.

CHANG: OK, so then quick take from both of you - what should we pay money to see when these movies open?

MONIQUE: "Pain And Glory."

MONDELLO: Oh, that was one of my first. "Pain And Glory" is about a director who is on sort of a slow fade. And it's made by Pedro Almodovar, who is an amazing director and is not fading away at all, and it's just - it's a wonderful movie. And I loved "Marriage Story"...

MONIQUE: So good.

MONDELLO: ...The new Noah Baumbach picture. It's just exquisite - Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in a marriage that is coming apart. But it's just lovely.

CHANG: That's on my list.

MONIQUE: I'd also say "Radioactive," which I know we mentioned earlier in the show. If you're a comic book fan, Marjane Satrapi takes this beautiful, like, love letter to Madam Marie Curie that was a graphic novel and turns it into this weird, gorgeous kind of movie. And it's not a perfect film, but man, did I enjoy watching it. She takes the life of Marie Curie and compares it to the known life of radium, so she hits major events like Chernobyl...

CHANG: Wow.

MONIQUE: ...Like the use of it to fight cancer.

MONDELLO: So I take it you would give it a glowing review.

MONIQUE: I would...

CHANG: Oh, Bob.

MONIQUE: (Laughter) Oh, Bob.

CHANG: One more thing, Bob - you came back from Toronto singing some song by Stephen Sondheim, and I need to know. What the heck were you singing?

MONDELLO: (Singing) Someone to hold me too close, someone to hurt me too deep.

Because Adam Driver sings it in - that's...

CHANG: In "Marriage Story?"

MONDELLO: ...In "Marriage Story." It's a song from "Company," and Scarlett Johansson has another song from "Company" in that. And it was like - in "Joker," when he's being beat up, they sing "Send In The Clowns"...

CHANG: Oh, wow.

MONDELLO: ...Viciously, of course. And there's another one. In "Knives Out," Daniel Craig is sitting in a car, singing at the top of his lungs "Losing My Mind." And I'm sitting there - oh, my God. This is - all this Sondheim - I feel so seen.

CHANG: (Laughter) Film critics Bob Mondello and Joelle Monique on the Toronto International Film Festival, which wraps up this weekend. Thanks to both of you.

MONDELLO: Really fun.

MONIQUE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BEING ALIVE")

RAUL ESPARZA: (As Robert, singing) Somebody, pull me up short and put me through hell. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.