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Author: J. Don Birnam

TIFF Film Review: THE QUEEN OF KATWE

Nominally a sports triumph movie, The Queen of Katwe is not your typical Disney princess fairytale. But look closer and you’ll notice that the studio has managed to magically mix its two signature genres into an endearing rags-to-riches quasi-fairy tale. “Sometimes the place you are used to is not the place you belong,” the coach explains to his rising chess player. But, for the House of Mouse, straight-forward inspirational stories are precisely where it is meant to be, and where it most easily triumphs. Phiona, portrayed by newcomer Madina Nalwanga, is an impoverished young girl, living in Ugandan slums....

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TIFF Film Review: A Monster Calls

Stories are the wildest things of all, The Monster tree proclaims at some point in the adaption of the children’s fairy tale A Monster Calls. But derivative tricks and uninteresting symbolism make it difficult to care about this TIFF movie, a purportedly sprawling drama about a boy dealing with loss. It’s not that the story is not touching—it is—but the manner in which it is told does not lend itself to a natural emotional connection. Its rich production values are impressive, but the somewhat terrifying nature of the titular Monster character make it of questionable value even as a...

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TIFF Film Review: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Few movies this year will be more aesthetically satisfying than Tom Ford’s TIFF-released thriller, Nocturnal Animals. Lavishly enriched with moody shades and sensual talent, the fashion designer’s second feature obtains a stranglehold on your attention from the opening sequence. Immediately, he manages to transfix you by making sexual the grotesque, by juxtaposing the obscene with the erotic. And while the overall tonality of the movie at times suffers from this heavy hand, it is overall a seductive piece that will both be seared into your memory. The focus is on Susan Morrow, an insomniac depressive woman played with her...

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TIFF Film Review: LOVING

Great American stories of triumph over adversity, of rising above circumstances, beg to be made into sprawling epics. But too often filmmakers give into temptation and turn bombastic even the mundane, overblowing the ordinary into Hollywood-style spectacle for the benefit of ticket sales or award nominations. Made amid this cacophony, the crowning achievement of Loving is its steadfast refusal to thread into extravagance or to resort to stately speeches and grand pronunciations to capture its audience. Loving, released at Cannes and caught by us at TIFF this week, is instead a modest movie about quiet suffering and determined resistance, about...

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43rd TELLURIDE FILM FESTIVAL Introduces Oscar Hopefuls

Over Labor Day weekend we had the chance to attend the 43rd Annual Telluride Film Festival, staged in the idyllic Colorado mountains. Here is a bit of what we observed and learned about this year’s films and awards season (you can find some of my reviews elsewhere on the page). On opening night the biggest surprise was the world premiere of Clint Eastwood’s Sully. The film was produced by one of Telluride’s favorite sons, Frank Marshall, leading many to speculate that it had been selected for that reason alone. Having seen the film I have to agree—it is neither...

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