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. 

TIFF ’22: ‘We Are Still Here’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The world is made up of stories that all stem from history within communities. In We Are Still Here, 10 Indigenous filmmakers come together to share stories in this anthology film. This feature is in response to the 250th anniversary of a historically celebrated colonizer’s invasion of their land. Each filmmaker shared their stories from Australia to New Zealand to the Pacific Islander Nations. The structure of this anthology film highlights the important moments that create emotional depth for viewers to resonate with each filmmaker. Even though it feels like you haven’t stayed with the characters long, the obstacles they face make an impact. The placement of stories flowed into each other as the animated segments were edited at the beginning of each new story. 

The animation was able to show different Indigenous perspectives and their relationship with other communities. To preface each story the animation would symbolize how Indigenous people felt about how they’ve been treated over time. There were stories from different periods to show that they have a place on this land and have remained resilient in the face of racism and oppression. The title of this feature anthology is powerful because of the many stories highlighted that place their hardships at the center. They started at the beginning when the Sheriff would come onto their land and just take what they wanted without even thinking. And then, in the end, they decided to bookend the feature with a modern-day run-in with the police. 

Indigenous people have adapted and grown as a community during these obstacles, while the police force has remained the same. These filmmakers showed that no matter the period, police have always been against Indigenous lives and have not changed. Further showing that they are still here and this is still their land no matter what. There are stories about Indigenous women and their entirely different experiences within and outside of their community. How they have been seen by others over time and how they too have struggled with their identity. One story, in particular, explored Indigenous men during the war in 1917 and how they fought for this land, but are not seen as equals. Although this anthology has many stories, some will resonate with others. 

We Are Still Here has many voices from filmmakers who have used this medium to express their feelings about history. The title of this anthology feature is impactful because of how each story unfolds. They have each faced some form of hardship and these filmmakers have looked deep within their history to show that they are still standing. Through this collection of stories, audiences will be able to connect to each character because of the importance placed on identity, self-love, family relationships and acceptance. History will always be seen through different perspectives and cinema is a medium that can authentically show them all without fabrications. 

TIFF ’22: ‘Bros’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

It seems that once every five years the world is graced with one great romantic comedy for the ages. In this case, Bros is not only a wonderfully structured rom-com but a genuinely hilarious film. Nicholas Stoller and Billy Eichner used familiar moments from past rom-coms to create something quite special for the LGBTQ community. Not only does it have queer representation but it is also a story that will universally resonate with everyone. Eichner speaks so much truth about the history of queer lives and how stories have progressed. It’s authentically Eichner in comedic beats but it highlights important conversations within the community itself.

Any romantic comedy that references When Harry Met Sally multiple times is a winner in my book and that is just what Bros feels like. It’s a mixture of gay cliches, romance and modern-day dating. Everyone will feel seen in this movie because many characters have different life experiences. From the moment it starts Eichner puts the gay community on blast and reasonably describes how everything works for him. He defines what love means to him and how gay love has been manipulated to please heteronormative ideologies. This is a rated R inside track on what it’s like to date within the queer community and how difficult it can be. Eichner highlights the different ways to approach men and how to date them.

Bobby (Billy Eichner) and Aaron (Luke McFarlane) are two emotionally unavailable men who have had commitment issues in the past. They’ve never been in love and they don’t want to even attempt falling for anyone. One night when they catch each other’s eye at a bar their journey begins. Their relationship is a slow burn which is always fun to watch. Eichner and McFarlane have fantastic chemistry with each other. The reason why this movie is so entertaining and fun comes down to how honest the writing is for these characters and their experiences. The more authentic the story is for a romantic comedy the more people will connect with it. 

Bros is a romantic comedy for the modern age of dating and one of the funniest movies of the year. The most important aspect of this film is that Eichner gives general audiences an LGBTQ history lesson which is almost vital for the big screen. Their stories are part of history and people should be educated on everything the community has done up until now. This is more than just a romantic comedy; it incorporates significant authentic pieces of gay lives everywhere. Everything about Bros is lovely from beginning to end. It will have you howling at the one-liners and be one of the most quoted movies moving forward.