TIFF ’22: ‘The Whale’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Life can change within seconds and alter how we view the world. More importantly, when life serves us lessons, we also look at ourselves differently. Sometimes, we even question the value we offer to the world. One can lose faith in humanity when those who supposedly supported you turn their back on you in your time of need. It takes a very strong person to continue to be positive and uplift others after going through their own traumatic experiences. This is who Charlie (Brendan Fraser) is in The Whale. He has lost his family and his lover, but the one thing he hasn’t lost is his positivity which is the most endearing thing about him.

We meet Charlie as a reclusive English teacher who is suffering from severe obesity and attempts to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) for one last chance at redemption. On the surface, it is a chance for Charlie to get to know Ellie after years of being forced to stay away from her by her mother. He believes that the only thing that he has ever done right is bringing his daughter into this world and he knows the potential she has to be great. There is so much pain between the two of them; Charlie for leaving her and Ellie for feeling abandoned. Sadie Sink gives a rugged and emotional performance that counters Fraser’s vulnerability and kindness. 

Darren Aronofsky’s direction is very strong as he keeps the essence of the play, written by Samuel D. Hunter. The story takes place in one apartment and even though it feels static, the characters that fill each scene bring so much to the atmosphere. The physicality of Charlie moving through the apartment actively expresses how much of himself fills the apartment and how much of his past self lingers on the walls. Fraser gives a career-defining performance in this film and it’s because of how well he understood Charlie. It’s a tough role to play because Charlie purposefully cares about everyone else but himself. He wants to fade into nothingness because of his past trauma but still leave something meaningful behind. 

The Whale is a stunning character piece for Brendan Fraser who gives such an emotionally raw performance as Charlie. He is the driving force of this film. Without Fraser, the connection to the character would hold no weight. There’s so much care that went into Charlie’s story and Aronofsky captured every side of him in this apartment. Fraser and Sink have such emotionally charged scenes that show the similarities between their characters. They both have the same level of intellect but use it differently throughout the film. The ending of this film holds so much power because of the slow build between Charlie and Ellie’s relationship. Every small detail throughout is tied together to create an emotional ending. 

TIFF ’22: ‘One Fine Morning’ Review

Sometimes we wander through life with the years passing us by. Some could have gone through a tough relationship, others could experience a great loss, and some feel trapped in their current situation. Either way, whatever anyone is going through, sometimes we may forget to live. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our heads that we forget there is a world of endless possibilities. What Mia Hansen-Love does in One Fine Morning is explore both sides of the spectrum at the same time. Even if we are happy in one moment, the sadness still lies there waiting to bubble up to the surface when we least expect it. 

We meet Sandra (Léa Seydoux) who has a father suffering from neurodegenerative disease. She lives with her eight-year-old daughter and is a professor at a local college. While struggling to secure a decent nursing home for her father, she runs into a friend who, although in a relationship, embarks on an affair. Hansen-Love shows that when it rains, it pours, and the small moments in life that you seize can shine a dim light for a little while. After losing her husband, Sandra was in a more private state and focused on raising her daughter. She is someone who has become selfless and hasn’t looked at herself in many years. When her father’s condition gets worse, she sees how short life is and starts living again. 

She takes a risk with a married man Clément (Melvil Poupaud) and this affair gives her more heartache than love at first. The one time she does anything for herself, it ends up being one of the most difficult relationships for her. Seydoux gives a strong performance as she internalizes her pain. Her emotions come out the longer she has to endure the pain of losing her father and her new love. It’s an intimate, emotional film for those who have cared for a sick parent. It’s extremely difficult to move forward with your own life when the person who raised you is slowly slipping away. Hansen-Love uses small spaces to fill the room with many emotions. Each character adds more to Sandra’s life and at times it can feel suffocating.

One Fine Morning is a tender film about love, loss, and life. Hansen-Love works with Seydoux to create such a loving and open atmosphere in this film that you will feel so close to Sandra. She was able to pull from her own experiences to present a different reality for those caring for their elders. This film shows the importance of trying to live your life, even though it feels like things are coming to an end. Whether you’re pushing forward for yourself or your loved ones, life is worth living for the small moments that make you happy. Sandra was stuck in her routine until her father’s illness changes the way she looks at life in general.

TIFF ’22: ‘Pearl’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

After watching Ti West’s X in theatres, he surprised audiences with a teaser for the prequel film Pearl. Now, if you haven’t watched X then you might not understand what West is trying to do in this prequel. It’s possible to watch Pearl and then go watch X but the plot twist is not as effective watching it in that order. Pearl (Mia Goth) has had a troubled past and her parents know just how dark her mind is. West set this prequel in 1914 at the height of Spanish influenza and in the middle of wartime. The story is co-written by Goth and is a powerful character piece for her. Goth is incredible in Pearl and will go down in horror history as one of the best murderers.

In this prequel, Pearl is an ambitious starlet who wants to be in the pictures. She is stuck on the farm with her strict mother and sick father, while her husband Howard is off at war. West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett recapture the magic of classic Hollywood with vibrant technicolour and a glossy glow. The film would not be complete without Tyler Bates’ thrilling score that would creep out at the right moments. These aspects are essential to set the tone and create an atmosphere for Pearl to project her personality into the frame. Goth delivers one of the best performances of the year as she shows her range. Pearl wants to be famous more than anything, she wants people to love her and adore her. And as the film goes on, she understands that she is not like the others.

Pearl undergoes an identity crisis. There’s this sad realization that living our dreams comes in different forms and sometimes it doesn’t happen the way we plan it. Pearl’s mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) explains that sometimes you have to work with what you have. The second half of this film has Pearl facing different obstacles as she descends into her madness and ultimately accepts who she truly is. Goth gives an impressive monologue and speaks with sincerity. It’s heartbreaking to watch her fall apart and then watch her rebuild herself within moments of expressing her deepest secrets. Pearl just wanted to break the cycle so she wouldn’t end up like her mother, and she does it more graphically. 

From the moment we meet Pearl we are locked into her world. We fall into her ambition to become a star and stick with her through it all. There is a part of Pearl that many can resonate with and that’s why you will end up rooting for her. Many uncomfortable moments happen throughout but that just adds to the mystery of Pearl. Goth can play both sides incredibly well and the anticipation to see what she does next is what drives this to the end. Pearl is a simple story that shows how life doesn’t go as planned but you learn how to make the best of what you have, even if that means you go a little bit mad. It is a refreshingly original horror picture that will suck you into her world and spit you back out in the end. 

TIFF ’22: ‘The Fabelmans’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we think of quintessential Steven Spielberg, we think about his early work filled with childlike wonder, heart, and playfulness behind the camera. The Fabelmans shows the start of Spielberg’s dream to make moving pictures. What started as a phobia while watching a train heading straight for the screen, he turned it into a true talent that has blessed the film industry for years. Instead of holding onto that fear, he took control of one aspect of his life translated into freedom of expression. Spielberg’s heart and soul are in this movie. The culmination of his work has come before this to make this one of his most personal films to date. 

We meet a young man named Sammy Fabelman (Gabriel Labelle) growing up in post-World War II era Arizona. He discovers a shattering family secret and explores how the power of films can help him see the truth. Films are a version of the truth, a particular window to see different stories through multiple perspectives. Sometimes movies can show us what lies beneath the surface and how the mind truly works. Co-writers Tony Kushner and Spielberg craft an autobiographical coming-of-age story that incorporates family issues, mental health, and the power of cinema. It does take a bit to find its footing, but once the pieces come together Spielberg works his magic.

Sammy’s artistic and emotional connection with his mother Mitsy (Michelle Williams) is the most beautiful relationship in this film. As Sammy grows older he sees life through a different lens. He understands and also sees his mother as a woman trying to do her best. Sammy escapes into filmmaking to create a space for himself. His father calls his work a hobby and that can be extremely frustrating for anyone with an artistic side. In each movie, Sammy makes a step closer to his dreams and it was inspiring thanks to Spielberg’s direction. Newcomer LaBelle gave such a heartfelt and inspiring performance as Sammy. The warmth that came from his character through his love of movies was the driving force of this film. In a way, you could feel Spielberg shine through him in certain scenes. 

The Fabelmans is one of Spielberg’s most personal films to date. It is a coming-of-age film that balances the reality of life and what it’s like to be a dreamer. Once you have a connection with art, it’s hard to ever close that part of your brain. Spielberg shows the link between personal issues and creating something beautiful from all of those emotions. Michelle Williams gives a career-best performance as Mitsy because of how she slowly exposed the complexities of being a mother and a woman. It felt as if Spielberg had so much fun going back to his roots and exploring his family while showing the audience why he loves the movies.

TIFF ’22: ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Murder mysteries can come in many forms but the best ones feel like an intricate jigsaw puzzle that feels impossible to even assemble. What director Rian Johnson does in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is divert the audience’s expectations at every turn. It takes a bit to become familiar with these characters but once they get to the island it all changes. The story is interesting even though it can feel overwhelming at times. There are many moving parts and each character has a compelling backstory. This ensemble works differently than its predecessor and once Johnson hits his stride in the middle, it is wildly entertaining. 

We meet tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) who invites his friends for a getaway on his private Greek island. When someone turns up dead, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is put on the case. First and foremost, Daniel Craig is even funnier in this sequel and adds more to Benoit Blanc’s character. Blanc has been looking for a good case to get back into the groove of things and when this one, in particular, falls into his lap, the audience learns how his mind works. With each Knives Out mystery, Benoit Blanc becomes more complex and an even better detective. Craig is the glue that holds this entire cast together and it’s so fun to watch.

There are always standouts in an ensemble cast, even if they do have a fair amount of screen time and great chemistry. The star of this film is Janelle Monáe. She has such a presence on screen and she didn’t even have to say much. The third act of this film is where she truly shines and she steals the spotlight. The one who had the quippy one-liners and possible the most fun working on this film was Kate Hudson. It was lovely to see her back to play a tone-deaf washed-up model in this story. Johnson brought a different, more modern type of humour to this script and worked in the context of the players in this game. 

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery is even more intricate than its predecessor and feels like a never-ending cycle of twists. The way Johnson set up this murder mystery plays out on different levels and it’s up to the audience to keep track of where the story is going. There are some unique choices made by Johnson both behind the camera and with his script. He was able to explore different character dynamics because of how he pieced the story together. There are moments in this film that will leave you impressed with how Johnson managed to write something so layered and fun. Craig and Johnson will continue making whodunnits because they work together well.