Tag: Tiff 2020

TIFF 2020: Penguin Bloom Review

TIFF 2020: Penguin Bloom Review

When I first heard Penguin Bloom would be at TIFF 2020, I was excited. It was a film that garnered some buzz in the ramp-up to the festival, and it had a solid cast, and an interesting based-on-a-true-story premise. Telling the story of the Bloom family as they overcome tragedy with the help of a feathered friend sounds like it could be a winner. Sadly, despite some strong performances, Penguin Bloom falls flat, leaving little depth and a lot of wasted potential.

Following the events and story behind the real-life Bloom family, Penguin Bloom brings Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) together as the parents of the Australian based family. An accident in Thailand leaves Sam (Naomi Watts) paralyzed from the waist down and her life is in tatters. As a lover of fitness and surfing, this accident crushes her motivation and drive to push herself in life.

Penguin Bloom starts by giving a sense of how her life has lost its meaning since the accident. When one of her sons finds a Magpie on the beach needing aid, the life of the Bloom family changes for the better, with Sam finally finding the will to push through her injury and find a new vigour she never thought possible.

Penguin Bloom takes what could be a memorable, and engaging story and squanders it under sappy concepts and half-baked ideas that never feel lived in or genuine. The story of the Bloom family has captivated countless people, yet director Glendyn Ivin crafts this movie as it if were made for the Hallmark channel, with all the corny false emotion that entails.

Penguin Bloom (2020)

Even the titular Magpie, has little impact on the actual plot. While it is present and has some fun moments with the family, this is really Sam’s movie. It is a movie of her recovery, and her journey to push past her injury. There is nothing wrong with this fact, as her recovery and eventually finding success as a para-surfing athlete is exciting, and sadly more interesting than anything Penguin does throughout the runtime.

This is Naomi Watts’s movie, and it shows, she steals the scenes, and in a better movie could have delivered something exciting to watch. But, a flat, disjointed script and an inability to find a good tone, means that Watts is unable to elevate the rest of what is on offer. While there is some stunning cinematography, great concepts and loads of potential, it’s ultimately squandered in the end.

I walked into the Penguin Bloom wanting to like it, and with the cast and concept, it sounded like a winner. Unfortunately, not even Naomi Watts’ performance is enough to salvage this half-baked flick. The subject deserved better, but alas, this is a movie that is best saved for a mediocre streaming night, where you can enjoy the animal antics and the family drama but not expect much more than that. 

TIFF 2020: Holler Review

TIFF 2020: Holler Review

Unemployment and the decline of the American manufacturing backbone is a topic that is on the forefront of many people’s minds right now. With an election looming, and the factories closing more each month, it is a backdrop tailor-made for a harsh, modern coming of age story that puts in stark contrast to the now mythical American dream of achieving anything through hard work and perseverance. And this is where writer/director Nicole Riegel’s latest, Holler, comes to deliver a gripping film that is as stunning and engaging as it is bleak.

Jessy Barden’s Ruth (The End of the F***ing World) is a high school senior who has just found out she is accepted to college with no possible way to pay for her next stage in life. She and her brother Blaze (Gus Halper) work collecting scrap, along with a few other jobs to make ends meet. It is a sparse and brutal existence, fighting for every penny they can get. With no way to pay for school, and the little paychecks they do get barely enough to pay for living, the pair join a dangerous scrap metal crew run by shady scrap yard owner Hark (Austin Amelio) and find that easy money comes at a price.

Holler is a film about people struggling to get by, with everyone feeling like they have depth and character beyond what is seen on screen. There is enough humour and heart to make even the most bleak scenes feel like there is a slim ray of hope. These are people that don’t have time to live in self-pity, with the next job — and potential job — being the difference between starving or making ends meet.

Hollar (2020) – TIFF 2020

The stunning cinematography works to paint the harsh cold winter of Ohio as the backdrop to the story. The rust covered factories and crumbling landscape gives a stark reminder to what the characters suffer though on a daily basis. What was once vibrant is now rusting away, only having value as they sell it off to China for scrap. Holler is a film set squarely in the modern American Rustbelt, where the once vibrant communities only have memories and hope to keep them moving forward.

Jessy Barden steals the show, giving a subdued, but engaging performance. It is a nuanced take on the role, painting a picture of both hope and resignation, and gives a sense of the struggle this character has gone through to reach the point we find her in. There are small hints at the struggles Ruth goes through, and the true fragility of her character, but thanks to Barden’s take it feels woven perfectly into how she acts, carries herself, and pushes for her dreams.

With amazing performances, and a stark take on modern American landscape, Holler is a film that is as powerful as it is harsh. It is a coming of age story that is not afraid to show the brutal truth along with the hope for a better future. Nicole Riegel directs a film that puts the class divide in stark contrast and is an engaging work from beginning to end. 

TIFF 2020:  Akilla’s Escape Review 1

TIFF 2020: Akilla’s Escape Review

The titular Akilla (Saul Williams) is a jaded, middle-aged drug dealer in Toronto planning on quitting the game. Things go wrong quickly when he arrives at one of his regular stops, arriving in the middle of a robbery. Akilla manages to knock out one of the thieves, a teenager named Shepard (Thamela Mpumlwana). Akilla sees himself in the boy (in a much more literal case with Mpumlwana playing both Shepard and the younger version of Akilla in flashbacks), and resolves to both recover the stolen items and prevent Shepard from repeating the violent cycle he endured as a youth, all over the course of a single night.

The film frequently alternates between two time periods: Akilla’s present situation in present-day Toronto, and his introduction to the life of crime in 1995 New York City. The whole film is impressively shot, with the Toronto-set scenes making beautiful use of colors and darkness to lend to its neo-noir style. The music is equally as cool as the look, with 3D from Massive Attack laying the score. The strongest parts of the film reside mainly with the two leads. Saul Williams brings an impressive amount of depth to Akilla. He manages to maintain a presence of wearinessand empathy while also maintaining an air of someone you don’t want to mess with.

Akilla’s Escape (2020)

Additionally, Thamela Mpumlwana is a true up-and-coming talent in the making. As Shepard, he is mostly doing the standard aggressive teenager role, whereas with young Akilla, he truly gets to shine and showcase some real emotional range. He has to grapple with caring for his mother and dealing with a stepfather that eventually brings him into the life he currently lives. Unfortunately, the same can’t fully be said for most of the supporting cast. There aren’t any distinctly bad performances, they aren’t exactly written as well as the leads. They all feel less like people and more like stock characters needed to fit the genre. The only real exception is Ronnie Rowe as Akilla’s father. While the film is only just 90 minutes, the slower, deliberate pacing and lack of any real action sequences means things can feel a bit sluggish around the halfway point.

Regardless, I still found myself enjoying Akilla’s Escape. Despite its faults, I still found it to be a very cool, low-key neo-noir with an interesting setting and very engaging lead characters.

TIFF 2020: Good Joe Bell Review

TIFF 2020: Good Joe Bell Review

Mark Wahlberg has never rung true as a good dramatic actor for me. While he has had some decent roles over the years, his persona and history have painted him in a certain light that is hard to escape. Even his remarks about being “creeped out” by its details of gay life when he turned down a role in Brokeback Mountain stick to him as a person and an actor. But oddly enough. But it is this very baggage that helps paint him as believable in the role of Joe Bell. While not a perfect film, with its fair share of issues, Good Joe Bell is a survivable tale of atonement and bigotry in the modern age. 

Based on a true story, Good Joe Bell is a story of activist Joe Bell (Wahlberg) as he walks across America to raise awareness of bullying, and treating LGBTQ youth in America with respect. Joined by his gay son Jadin (Reid Miller) the two seem like a father and son duo ready to take on the ills of the world. As the film starts, it suggests Joe Bell is a loving father, one that only wants what is best for his son. But as the layers are peeled away, the truth of whom this father is, and what he really feels slowly comes to the surface. 

The latest film from Brokeback Mountain writers Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, Good Joe Bell is speaking to a very different audience than their past work. This is a story about redemption and acceptance of one’s own demons, over the utopian ideal of acceptance of others. Joe Bell is a flawed lead, one overwhelmed with his own darkness, and the facts he is not as accepting as it is first shown. Mark Wahlberg does a survivable job in the role, and he is believable as a stuck in his ways father that still loves his son, but it is the chemistry between him and Reid Miller as Jadin that steals the show.

Reid Miller stands as one of the breakout stars with TIFF 2020 as he captures the feeling of a teen struggling with acceptance in the face of adversity, unsure what he needs to do to find love. As his father hides his disappointment under fake acceptance, and the town shuns him at every turn, Jadin is trapped in a spiral of self-hate and a longing for acceptance, that is stolen away at every turn. Even the touching moments of love and compassion are quickly crushed under a society that is not yet ready to push aside hate.

While Reid Miller’s Jadin steals the show, Good Joe Bell is ultimately a film for the family and friends of LGBTQ teens, and how to accept. As Jadin fades to the background in the last segment of the movie, it is clear this is a story about Bell’s atonement rather than his benevolent nature. Though flashbacks and smart character moments, the audience gets a better picture of the family, the struggles they face, and the choices that lead them to this moment.

With scenes of Americana throughout, and the film focusing on the time in the Midwest, Good Joe Bell is firmly planted as a story for the people who want to be an ally but don’t know how. Touching on the potential of acceptance in the heartland of American this movie acts as a cautionary tale for those who are not ready to accept. From people in small towns, to overcoming past prejudice, Joe Bell is a testament to what happens when you can’t see those you love for whom they really are.

Heavy-handed, and overly sentimental at times, Good Joe Bell works despite the flaws, thanks to a solid concept, and mostly fantastic performances across the board. While not as strong as some other movies in the genre, or as impactful as Brokeback Mountain, Good Joe Bell is an interesting take on tolerance that shows just how flawed even the people that try hard to be allies can be. Despite the issues Mark Wahlberg’s personal life, and past work bring to this role, Good Joe Bell delivers a message well worth listening too.