September 2022: TIFF, Tallgrass and Kiki's Delivery Service
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It was wonderful returning to Toronto International Film Festival this year. Marya and I attended last year when the Canadian border had just reopened for Americans, Toronto was emptier (with less foot traffic) and the theaters employed capacity limits (the premiere of Last Night in Soho, for instance, was a third filled). All-in-all, the 2021 edition of the fest was a surreal ghost town. This time, the vibrancy of TIFF returned. As did the workload! All told, with festival writing and other pieces included, I wrote 21 reviews, 1 piece, and my usual action streaming column (whew!!). Here’s everything I wrote:
TIFF 2022: Prisoner's Daughter, What's Love Got to Do with It, Walk Up
Not only did I attend TIFF, I also spent the tail end of the month in Wichita for the Tallgrass Film Festival as a juror for the Gordan Parks Black Excellence in Filmmaking Jury. It was so enriching being in such a tight-knit festival (it felt like everyone at Tallgrass knew each other) with independent filmmakers totally dedicated to the exploration of their craft. My fellow jurors and I awarded our top prize to Jon Sesrie Goff’ After Sherman (a lyrical documentary I wrote about out of Tribeca) and gave a special mention to Ellie Foumbi’s gripping thriller Our Father, The Devil. You can read about the other winners, here.
With two festivals also came plenty of movie watching. I ended up viewing 92 films last month, which has to be a personal best for me. Here’s a smattering of the ones, unrelated to TIFF, that stuck out to me.
Foolish Wives - A 35mm print of Erich von Stroheim’s silent epic, which follows a charlatan count (von Stroheim) hoping to seduce a rich woman out of her money, the intertitles feature some of most hilarious, purple prose you’ll find. It’s also swift and melodramatic 142-minute watch that flies by.
Kiki’s Delivery Service - The first Hayao Miyazaki film I ever watched — it chronicles the adventures of a young witch trying to hone her powers in the big city — Kiki’s Delivery Service remains my favorite from the Japanese master. An unflinchingly empathetic picture that really informed by personal artist ethos when I watched it at 10-years old; it was gratifying returning to this childhood treasure. I can remember my dad bringing the VHS back home. And now, over twenty years later, I can’t fathom what drew my dad to this Miyazaki film (he certainly ever espoused a love for any of the director’s other works). But I’m glad this fell into my hands, and came back now as I’ve been meditating on what I want creatively out of my career.
Klondike - Timely is the tip of the iceberg for Maryna Er Gorbach’s wartime drama concerning a pregnant woman (Oksana Cherkashina) and her husband (Serhiy Shadrin) fighting to survive amidst Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula back in 2014. The country’s submission to the Academy Awards for Best International Film, the last 15 minutes are about a bleak as any film you’ll see this year.
Moonage Daydream - I watched and reviewed Brett Morgen’s documentary back at Karlovy Vary. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch this immersive sensory overload of David Bowie’s career again when it played at the Music Box Theater. It was just as kinetic and brilliant as my first viewing, if not more.
Our Father, The Devil - Though I’ve already mentioned the film above, it’s worth noting control Foumbi holds over her visual language in a haunting story about Marie (Babetida Sadjo) a young Rwandan chef living in France who receives an unexpected visitor that awakens her hidden traumas. The Cameroonian Foumbi is a bold new voice that you need to keep an eye on.
Plan 75 - Japan’s surprise choice for Best International Film for the Academy Awards, Chie Hayakawa’s meditative, soft-dystopian story of an older woman (Chieko Baisho) opting to join a state-sponsored assisted euthanasia program rocked me. Its sly dark humor intermingled with cultural commentary — how we mistreat the elderly — is somehow both forlorn yet life affirming.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles - Of the many retrospective screenings at Tallgrass, John Hughes’ Planes, Trains and Automobiles, a comedy I haven’t watched for the better part of decade, made me feel like a fool for not making it a consistent comfort watch. It’s not that I didn’t like the movie beforehand, but seeing John Candy and Steve Martin (two perfect comedic actors) mixing and matching gags for laughs, reignited my love of Hughes’ Thanksgiving from hell classic.
Sisu - Jalmari Helander’s one-man WWII action flick is an admittedly dumb movie. But that’s also what makes this myth of a grizzled Laplander protecting his newly discovered gold against a band of Nazis so delectable. Lush gore and spaghetti Western tropes add up to a rip-roaring adventure that Hollywood has seemingly forgotten how to produce.
Within Our Gates - A 35mm print and a live, original score performed by the Alvin Cobb Jr Trio made their way to Chicago for a presentation of this foundational work from pioneering director Oscar Micheaux. Somewhat a response to D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, Within Our Gates packs an epic narrative within a 79-minute runtime that espouses racial uplift and the desire to humanize Black folks one elegant image at a time.