Fresh off her Gotham Awards nomination for Breakthrough Actor, Rachel Sennott is an emerging star. She floored us at TIFF ’20 with a breakout performance in SHIVA BABY, directed by Toronto’s own Emma Seligman. We loved how the Film was a witty coming-of-age story, but yet a witty Psychological Horror. Sennott was just mesmerizing as Danielle! And while the pandemic prevented her from being able to make it to the City last year, late is better than never, right?
Sennott was in Toronto a few weeks ago working on her latest, BROOKE & SAM, which centers on a young woman immersed and navigating the world of Comedy. She plays Sam and Olga Petsa plays Brooke. It is directed and written by Ally Pankiw – her first Feature as Director – who has worked on videos for Ariana Grande and Janelle Monae, plus series like The Great and Schitt’s Creek! She is actually developing a series with Dan Levy!
Brooke & Sam is a female-driven dramedy about hope, love, and how humor can heal. It follows Sam, a young stand-up comedian and au pair struggling with PTSD, as she decides whether or not to join the search for Brooke, a missing girl she used to nanny. The story exists between the present, where Sam tries to recover from her trauma with the help of her friends in the comedy community, and the past, where memories of Brooke make it harder and harder to ignore the petulant teen’s disappearance; and harder and harder to get back on stage.
Comedian Mae Martin (Feel Good) produces.
We are so thrilled to have met some of the Cast who were in and around Bloor West filming a few Comedy Club scenes over a couple days. I had hoped to sign-on to be in the background as they were looking, but sadly my work schedule wouldn’t allow. Would’ve been epic seeing this Cast of comedic geniuses at work!
Also on-set were fellow Comedian-Actors Sabrina Jalees and Caleb Hearon who play supporting roles, Paige and Philip respectively. Despite the rain, they were all energy and good vibes getting ready for a day of filming. Sennott needed her Venti Iced Coffee. Us too, girl, us too!
TIFF ’20 sensation SHIVA BABY finally is on its way to us this April! See the new Trailer and release date below.
A near college graduate, Danielle, gets paid by her sugar daddy and rushes to meet her neurotic parents at a family shiva. Upon arrival, she is accosted by various estranged relatives about her appearance and lack of post-grad plans, while her confident ex-girlfriend, Maya, is applauded by everyone for getting into law school. Danielle’s day takes an unexpected turn when her sugar daddy, Max, arrives at the shiva with his accomplished wife, Kim, and crying baby. As the day unfolds, Danielle struggles to keep up different versions of herself, fend off pressures from her family and confront her insecurities without completely losing it.
See the Trailer:
Pacific Northwest Pictures release SHIVA BABY On-Demand and Digital on Friday April 2nd, 2021.
TIFF NEXT WAVE 2021 kicks-off later this week, running Friday, February 12-15, 2021. Celebrating youth-oriented films and programming, the Festival adapts to a virtual format this year, allowing for safe, pyjama-comfort enjoyment right from home!
Our Justin Waldman (@DubsReviews) got to preview some of the most-anticipated titles of the Festival and here are some of his thoughts.
DEATH OF NINTENDO
Death of Nintendo has a lot right going for it, including ’90s nostalgia. The Movie focuses on a group of teenage boys living in Manila, taking place before the Mt. Pinatubo eruption, with a heavy dose of Nintendo throwback, as this group comes into their own identity.
The Film focuses on Paolo (Noel Comia Jr), Kachi (John Vincent Servilla), and Gilligan (Jiggerfelip Sementilla) who are all friends trying to come into their own. At once, they are escaping their own individual issues whether they be problems at home, heartbreak, or not being satisfied with what they have. Everyone is trying to overcome their own personal issues/demons. Their greatest escape is playing Nintendo and being able to escape into their own world, something we might know a thing or two about right now.
Death of Nintendo has some excellent performances from its trio of leads. The universally relatable story by Valerie Castillo Martinez and direction from Raya Martin help these stories excel. The future looks bright for everyone featured here. Death of Nintendo does fall into some coming of age tropes, but the high points are definitely worth the journey.
DEATH OF NINTENDO premieres at TIFF Next Wave Friday, February 12,2021.
Leonie Krippendroff’s Berlin-set Feature Cocoon takes place in the summer of ’18 with themes of exploration, discovery, and change. The Film boasts some fantastic performances from its Cast. This is a beautiful story of self-discovery.
Nora (Lena Urzendowsky) follows her sister Jule (Lena Klenke) around, along with her friend Aylin (Elina Vildanova). Nora endures a horrific accident in school. Retreating to the bathroom in complete embarrassment, she meets Romy (Jella Hasse) and discovers that she feels for Romy, realizing she isn’t interested in boys and vying for their attention, like Jule and Aylin.
Cocoon is metaphoric of the awakening Nora goes through, but also applies to the breakout performances in this Film. There is something so genuine and captivating about Urzendowsky and Hasse’s work that transcends the screen.
COCOON premieres at TIFF Next WaveSaturday, February 13, 2021.
There are a lot of uncomfortable things that occur in this directorial Feature debut from Olivia Peace and first Screenplay by Jess Zeidman. However, Tahara handles some serious subject matter with a bit of levity and comedy, making it a bit tragic, comedic, yet undeniably brilliant.
Tahara takes place in Rochester, NY at a funeral service/Hebrew school. It revolves around a few friends, love interests and classmates as they mourn the passing of their fellow classmate. The Film focuses on Hannah (Rachel Sennott) and Carrie (Madeline Grey DeFreece) as they explore their sexual abilities with each other, so Hannah can make a move on Tristan (Daniel Taveras). Carrie and Hannah realize there might be more to their friendship than initially thought, and things become awkward between them.
Both Sennott and DeFreece deliver fantastic performances with a great, emotion-filled comedic punch. Their chemistry also breaks the tension of the backdrop of the story, losing a classmate at such a young age. Zeidman’s Script delivers, with Peace’s direction focused. This is a must-see!
TAHARA premieres at TIFF Next WaveFriday, February 12, 2021.
Just announced, Rachel Sennott will appear on TIFF‘s Instagram Live 7:30 PM ETFebruary 12, 2021, discussing her career and her Comedy. More details here.
The 28th annual TORONTO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL runs October 22-November 1, 2020. The Festival adapts to our current climate with a digital format this year with a wide range of Films to cater to all tastes with 50+ available films to watch, produced in Canada and abroad. TIFF ’20 breakout hit SHIVA BABY will be screening at the Festival too in case you missed it at TIFF and INSIDE OUT! Other highlights include Eytan Fox-directed Drama, WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT, an Adaptation of the popular Novel, SUBLET and Music Documentary ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND.
Fans still will be able to attend Q&As with the Filmmakers by typing in questions, selected by a Moderator and these also will be recorded also for later viewing in case they are missed.
Our Justin Waldman and George Kozera had a chance to preview some of this year’s key titles! See their thoughts.
IF YOU SEE MY MOTHER
By Justin Waldman
If You See My Mother tackles loss and grief in an unconventional way in Nathanaël Guedj’s feature debut. With some levity and comedy as well as outstanding performances by Max (Felix Moati) and Monique (Noemie Lvovsky), the Movie truly can deliver for some. It follows Max as he grieves the loss of his mother, but spiritually she survives and haunts Max’ relationships and attempts to move forward in his life.
Guedj along with Sophie Glaas, Alexandre Smia and Marc Syrigas wrote the Script together, and with four Writers one would hope that the Script would feel a little tighter than the final product amounts to. However, the performances from the two Leads certainly bring much life to the Script, helping them transcend onto the big screen. The only issue lays in the subject matter and the way Max deals with his loss may be uncomfortable and unsettling to some audiences.
If You See My Mother screens virtually October 23rd – October 24th.
BORN IN JERUSALEM AND STILL ALIVE
By Justin Waldman
Yossi Atia does it all in Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive as he is Star, Writer, and Director in this Dark Comedy about tragedy, anxiety, and terrorism. The movie follows Ronen (Yossi Atia) as he starts on an adventure of doing self guided terror attacks down Jaffa street for tourists, on one of his tours he meets Asia (Lihi Kornowski) and now he now has to navigate these tours, some personal issues with his father and this new-found relationship.
What makes Born in Jerusalemand Still Alive work really well is the levity that Yossi Atia brings to his Script, direction, and performance with taking something tragic which happens all too often and bringing some light hearted comedy to these events will engulfing the hardship of taking care of a stubborn parent. Lihi Kornowski and Yossi Atia’s performances are both charming and endearing, bringing a lot of charisma and life to the well-crafted Script. Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive is a heavy film that is levitated by its comedy.
Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive screens October 30th – October 31st
By Justin Waldman
Emma Seligman, read this name, know this name, remember this name. She is a force to be reckoned with, as Writer and Director of her Feature debut Shiva Baby you would be hard pressed not to include her on a top 10 directorial debuts and a name to be remembered. Shiva Baby is equal parts uncomfortable (for its absolute realism) and hilarity ensues as it navigates the uncomfortableness that presents itself during a family gathering, in this case, a shiva.
The Movie focuses on Danielle (Rachel Sennott), again another name to note, as she is attending a shiva that her parents asked her to attend. While at the shiva, she runs into her friend Maya (Molly Gordon), and there is a history there that her parents do not want to be rehashed out in this family gathering. Some other events and characters trigger a series of unfortunate, yet quiet hilarious, events that truly exemplify the horrors of being at large gatherings while trying to accept first and foremost who you are as an individual without being shunned by your family. Shiva Baby is arguably one of the best films you will see this year and should not be missed!
Shiva Baby screens digitally Monday October 26th – Tuesday October 27th.
WHEN HITLER STOLE PINK RABBIT
By Justin Waldman
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is an incredibly-famous Book written (semi-autobiographically) by Judith Kerr. With Caroline Link in the Director’s chair and Anna Bruggemann adapting, the Book sees its first Feature adaptation and what results is a hauntingly-beautiful film that will tug on your heartstrings. The Film focuses on Anna (Riva Krymalowski) as she with her mother Dorothea (Carla Juri), father Arthur (Oliver Masucci) and brother Max (Marinus Hohmann), set-out bravely to escape Berlin in 1933. They find refuge in Switzerland, being Jewish and her father is a Journalist known for having criticized Hitler publicly. The performances by the entire Cast are exceptional, but the delivery from its Lead Riva Krymalowski in her first Feature, is a performance that will linger with its audience long after they finish the Film. Her acting encompasses a wide range of emotions and this is truly a beautiful performance. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a masterful adaptation and likewise acted brilliantly.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit screens Thursday October 29th – Friday October 30th.
THOU SHALT NOT HATE
By Justin Waldman
Thou Shalt Not Hate directed by Mauro Mancini tells the story of Surgeon named Simone (Alessandro Gassmann) who is peacefully canoeing in a small river along a highway in Italy when he hears and sees a horrific crash on the highway. He rushes-up the hill to the roadside to call an ambulance and check on the victim. After trying to preserve the man’s life, he discovers an SS tattoo on his wrist and a swastika on his chest, and he decides to not follow the oath he swore to. As a son of a survivor of the Holocaust, Simone refuses to help the dying man, but winds-up hiring his daughter Marcia (Sara Serraiocco) due to the remorse he feels for letting her father die.
Thou Shalt Not Hate features impactful performances from both Alessandro Gassmann and Sara Serraicocco, raising questions around moral dilemmas and professional oaths. The Movie is unsettling and thought-provoking, with the Italian landscape as a backdrop that will linger in ones head for days to follow.
Thou Shalt Not Hate screens virtually October 23rd – October 24th.
By George Kozera
The recently Tony Award nominated (and past winner) John Benjamin Hickey stars in SUBLET, in which he plays Michael, a gay, partnered travel writer in Tel Aviv for 5 days to document the less touristy parts of this city. Rather than stay in a hotel, he sublets an apartment from Tomer (Niv Nissim in his Feature film debut), a young aspiring Horror Film Director. Despite their age difference, the two men develop a trusting friendship.
Directed and co-written by Eytan Fox (Walk on Water), SUBLET succeeds on many levels. Tel Aviv, a city underrepresented on the big screen, shines with vibrancy and energy which is also reflected in the stunning musical score and songs. It is impossible to not overstate the brilliance of Hickey’s performance. Every movement is precise and he expresses a range of emotions without saying a word. It is a towering achievement that is richly complimented by the charismatic (and supremely handsome) Niv Nissim. His is a confident and hypnotic achievement and SUBLET should do for Nissim that “Crazy Rich Asians” did for Henry Golding; it will make him a star, On a self-indulgent note, as someone who hates onions, Tomer’s reaction to being told that “onions give it all the flavour” is Oscar-worthy!
SUBLET has signed a permanent lease as one of my favourite films seen in 2020.
ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND
By George Kozera
Movies described as “camp” usually have that description bestowed as it wasn’t the Filmmaker’s original intention (Mommie Dearest, Showgirls, Valley of the Dolls). Very few features are made with camp in mind, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show or the films of John Waters. ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND is the first Documentary I have ever seen where camp is the raison d’etre and destination and it is a hoot!
Army of Lovers was a Disco band in Sweden who freely admit they couldn’t sing well or play musical instruments (think Milli Vanilli with an Abba beat and vocals) but could wear high heels well. They became famous in Europe due to their outrageous videos, flashy costumes and a musical back beat that is impossible not to shake your booty to. This Documentary is about the flamboyant Jean-Pierre Barda, with his mane of hair that rivals that of Diana Ross and clothes that look like they’re from the closets of Cher and Bob Mackie, as he moves to Israel to start a new life.
If you’re a camp aficionado, ARMY OF LOVERS IN THE HOLY LAND will put a happy grin from ear to ear on your face, make your hands raise the roof during the musical interludes and also show what life is like in Israel.
Like the famous meatballs Sweden is known for, this Movie is irresistible.
By George Kozera
Set in a tiny village in the Ukraine during the Bolshevik Revolution and the rise of Trotskyism, ANTON is a powerful film about hardships and violent atrocities through the eyes of two young boys. The bond of friendship between Anton (a German-Catholic) and Yasha, who is Jewish, is unshakable and they find strength together as they cope with a myriad of deaths and uncertainties.
Based on a Novel by Canadian author and politician, Dale Eisler, ANTON is an engrossing and spiritual film with stunning Cinematography and exceptional performances. I was especially impressed by Tetiana Grachik‘s portrayal of Dora, the Red Devil. Her propensity towards violent actions (shocking they may be, but never overly-gratuitous) made her one of the most fascinating on screen villainess I’ve seen in a long time. Nikita Schlanchak and Mykyta Dziad (as Anton and Yasha, respectively) are outstanding, belying their young age. I urge you strongly to have tissues on hand while watching ANTON as you will weep watching this remarkable achievement.
By George Kozera
The Documentary BREAKING BREAD opens with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain: “Food may not be the answer to world peace…but it’s a start”. We then meet Dr.Nof Atamna-Ismaeel, an Arab Microbiologist, who won “Masterchef Israel”. Her mission in life is to see Jews and Arabs come together through food and has started the A-Sham Food Festival in Haifa, which may be Israel’s most diverse city as it celebrates Christmas, Ramadan and Hannukah equally and proudly. She pairs Jewish and Arabic chefs from different areas in Israel and asks them to transform traditional meals together. The Chefs we meet are not only supremely-talented in their craft and charismatic, their creations will have you salivating – do NOT see this on an empty stomach!
Writer/Producer/Director Beth Elise Hawk not only concentrates on the food, but touches on topics as the past and current political situations and religious and cultural differences with an assured hand and vision. More importantly, nearly every scene is framed with charisma and passion. I particularly loved the scene where Dr. Nof talks about seeing an American table setting that had cheese dips, guacamole, salsa and hummus, the traditional Middle Eastern staple and says “Hummus has no borders”. It struck home with me as I feel the same way every time I see non-Montrealers talk about or make Poutine.
I’m a self-proclaimed and obsessed Foodie, hence BREAKING BREAD had me transfixed throughout. It’s a Master Class Documentary, hosted by a Masterchef winner, created and helmed by a masterful filmmaker. Lastly, watch the End Credits and you’ll see a website listed that has the recipes of the food we just watched. Yes, it’s time to rattle them pots and pans!
By George Kozera
Set in the late ’80s in the Brighton Beach area of Brooklyn and based on Short Stories from Canadian Author (and Giller Prize finalist) David Bezmozgis, MINYAN tells the story of David, a high school yeshiva student with self-identity issues which includes being gay in a conservative Jewish community. In the role of David, Samuel H. Levine brings gravitas and intensity in this Feature film project following his being part of the Cast in the recently Tony-nominated milestone play “The Inheritance” (which also starred John Benjamin Hickey who can be seen in “Sublet” screening at TJFF). Whereas slightly-too-mature looking to portray a 17-year-old and some of the acting choices register a theatricality that need to project to the last row of a theatre versus a more naturalistic and subtle cinematic one, Levine is impressive.
The Supporting Cast, which include Ron Rifkin, Mark Margolis and Alex Hurt (William Hurt’s son), all give earnest performances but are tinged with an over-the-top sensibility that almost verge on cliché-ridden. Director Eric Steel, who’s had successes as a Producer and had fashioned two Documentaries, may have bit off more than he can chew with this Feature film debut.
The Cinematography is dark and murky. The pace is a tad too languid, the competing storylines are a tad too serious. The rare times David would smile or a character would say something in jest were a much needed relief to the somber events on screen. However, Samuel H. Levine’s star power is never in question. I expect great things from him in future endeavours.
Tickets are available now for purchase. Click here for more.
The 30th annual INSIDE OUT FILM FESTIVAL kicks-off this week, running October 1-11, 2020. Showcasing 150 films and 9 episodic series. The Festival will go by a digital platform this year as we navigate the Pandemic. Programming will be made available via insideout.ca and also via Inside Out’s new AppleTV and Roku apps. This will allow INSIDE OUT patrons to customize their own schedules from home for the first time ever.
Headlining the Festival this year is a special conversation with talent from Netflix‘s upcoming Series BOYS IN THE BAND, adapted from the popular Broadway Play. The Series premieres on Netflix September 30, 2020.
Also Gabriel Range‘s David Bowie Biopic STARDUST, filmed in Toronto, will open the Festival with a special Drive-In Premiere at Ontario Place. The Premiere will feature Drag Queen and Drag King performances by: Drag Queens:
–Shada Jada Hudson
Acclaimed Festival favourites also will surface at INSIDE OUT this year including THE OBITUARY OF TUNDE JOHNSON, COWBOYS, NO ORDINARY MAN and TIFF ’20 fan favourite, SHIVA BABY.
Our George Kozera (@PartyG) had the pleasure of previewing some of the key titles at the Festival and here are some of his thoughts:
NO HARD FEELINGS
Parvis (Benny Radjaipour) has been sentenced to 120 hours of community service at a Red Cross refugee centre located in Hannover, Germany to be a Farsi translator. Though born in Germany to Iranian parents, he struggles with the various dialects, which affects him emotionally. As a happily-open young gay teenager, partying late nights at local bars and using apps for sexual hook-ups, he tones his image and mannerisms down somewhat when at the refugee camp as to not bring unwanted attention to himself from glaring homophobic eyes. After one frustrating translation session, Parvis sits on a stoop, wiping away tears, and is approached by the handsome, curly haired Amon(Eidin Jalali), with whom he shared furtive glances with up to this point, who offers a sympathetic ear (much to the chagrin of his fellow soccer playing buds). Amon is at the camp alongside his sister Bana(Banafshe Hourmazdi), both awaiting word on their immigration status. The three young people become great friends and Parvis and Amon fall in love with each other.
It is easy to see why NO HARD FEELINGS won the Teddy Award for Best LGBTQ film at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. The performances by the three leads are refreshing as they go about their daily lives chanting their mantra: “the future is ours”. Their optimism is intoxicating to watch, despite their feelings of not really belonging anywhere and coping with the racism and homophobia they frequently encounter.There are powerful scenes of many young adults in the refugee centre with looks of despair on their faces as they await their fates that was heartbreaking to see. But whatever the future has in store for the three main characters, we root for them as they approach their lives with hope and dreams to fulfill. NO HARD FEELINGS deserves to be seen.
BREAKING FAST fills a void that is sorely lacking: a charming, funny Rom-Com first date movie for gay men. It has it all…the two very attractive leads, the campy (but all knowing) gay best friend, the gorgeous exteriors (this time, it’s West Hollywood), fabulously decorated homes. Throw-in witty banters, a love of Musical Theatre, a Soundtrack that include songs from Lizzy, Sarah Vaughn and TLC, plates upon plates of sensually-photographed food as well as deep dark secrets and you have a classic movie for the ages!
Mo (Haaz Sleiman) is a gay Muslim doctor, out to his family, who gets dumped by his boyfriend Hassan (Patrick Sabongui, best known for his recurring role on TV’s “The Flash”) on the first day of IFTAR (the meal after sunset during the holy month of Ramadan) for fear of being outed by a family member. Fast-forward a year later, same time of the year. Mo is still aching the loss but grudgingly accepts the invitation to celebrate the nth anniversary of his best friend Sam’s 21st birthday. As Sam, Amin el Gamal illuminates the screen with panache, style and bitchiness! At the party, Mo meets Kal (Michael Cassidy) and the attraction is instant and eventually theirs is a relationship of sweeping romantic gestures as they celebrate Iftar together. Minus any intimacy between the two as those are verboten during Ramadan and Mo is a devout Muslim. After a contentious accidental meeting with Kal’s mother (Veronica Cartwright) that ultimately brings out secrets Kal has and with Hassan trying to reconnect with Mo, the relationship has hit an impasse.
Writer/Director Mike Mosallam has a deft hand, eye and ear and he navigates through the turbulent waters of being gay and Muslim with valid opinions on both ends of the spectrum with intelligence. I also admired how he portrays an interracial relationship without that being an issue. The chemistry between Sleiman and Cassidy is authentic and the Cinematography is sensual.
And, if you’re like me, the “Climb Every Mountain” scene at a karaoke bar will leave you all goosepimply and teary-eyed. BREAKING FAST is priority viewing.
Have you ever seen an undiscovered star miraculously burst through the galaxy and light up the heavens? Let me introduce you to one by the name of Matt Fifer, the Writer/Director/Producer/Editor of CICADA, a movie consummate on so many levels that it continues to resonate with me days after seeing it and will undoubtedly make my list of the best in 2020.
As this Movie opens with a “based on true events” disclaimer, it should come with no surprise that Fifer also plays the lead role of Ben. Once engaged to a woman, this mopey, handsome bisexual man having meaningless sex with anyone and everyone is portrayed provocatively and humorously in a series of vignettes. Then he meets an attractive black man in front of a used book store. Sam (Sheldon D. Brown) is easily charmed by Ben’s flirtatiousness and quick wit and the two hook-up. Set against a backdrop of a never more beautiful looking Manhattan and Greenwich Village, their relationship blooms and as they blossom together, they slowly reveal their inner fears and demons which range from the insecurities of admitting who they are to their family members to much more shocking revelations of sexual and physical violence, racism and homophobia. Their relationship has hit numerous stumbling blocks and we watch and hope they can survive as a couple. I know I am being deliberately vague about their many obstacles, but one of the powers of CICADA is the sense of discovery that sucker punches you in the heart. Like a great Documentary, Fifer and Brown (who also contributed to the Screenplay) expertly navigate the topics with finesse.
While on the topic of experts, Cobie Smulders (from the recently cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns TV series “Stumptown”) dominates the screen in her role as Ben’s psychiatrist and Neil Patrick Harris’ real-life husband David Burtka shines subtly in his role as a DILF who hires Ben as a House Painter.
Fifer is a powerhouse hyphenate. Taking his incredible acting chops talents aside, his vision is a fully realized accomplishment; from sweepingly-romantic scenes replete with too many laugh out loud one-liners to heartbreaking circumstances, CICADA must be seen. It’s cinematic gold.
A monster breakout hit at this year’s TIFF and already written about on this site by my talented colleague, Amanda Gilmore, I just want to quickly add how much I loved SHIVA BABY and I hope this Movie resurges Polly Draper’s career. Her comic timing is brilliant. I literally almost fell-off my chair when she accuses her daughter of being too thin by saying “You look like Gwyneth Paltrow on food stamps”. Hollywood Casting Agents: can’t get Oscar and Emmy winner Allison Janney? Hire the Divine Ms. Draper.
AHEAD OF THE CURVE
AHEAD OF THE CURVE is a Documentary Feature about Franco Stevens who, with grit and determination, printed the first lesbian lifestyle glossy Magazine. “Curve” was the first of its kind as the many talking heads in this Film (that include Melissa Etheridge and SAG and Obie winner, Lea DeLaria) expound what a significant impact it made on their lives. The Movie opens with the fear that the print edition of this iconic Magazine may be heading towards extinction and how an online version could successfully compete in an already over-saturated environment. I was fascinated with all aspects of starting and maintaining the many successes that was Curve magazine and the constant battles initiated by the readers over the use of the lesbian on the cover versus words like gay, dyke, queer, etc.
Where AHEAD OF THE CURVE falters with me is that it spends considerable screen time on many topics and issues that, though very important (homophobia, transphobia, legal inequities…the list goes on), had little to do with the Magazine itself or the life of Franco Stevens. Whereas earlier in the Movie, there are many theories, humorously depicted, as to why the magazine was first called “Deneuve”, these same women express shock and indignation when the magazine is sued by Catherine Deneuve for infringement. Much of Stevens’ personal life is glossed over. She married a man at 19 and after one class realized she was gay…that was a head scratching revelation. I found many aspects of AHEAD OF THE CURVE informative and interesting but, all in all, for me, it’s a noble misstep.
THE OBITUARY OF TUNDE JOHNSON
Written by then 19-year-old Stanley Kalu (now 23) then having its world premiere at TIFF ’19, THE OBITUARY OF TUNDE JOHNSON is, sadly, as timely today as when it was first conceived. The Movie opens with its Narrator saying “Tunde Johnson departed this life 9:30pm, May 28th, 2020 at the hands of police officers in Los Angeles, California”, the day he came out as gay to his wealthy Nigerian-born parents. His crime? Being black while driving. Using “Groundhog Day” as a template, we relive Tunde’s school day and his tragic fate over and over again, though the reasons for the death change as the story takes us along different paths. Nevertheless, death for sitting in an expensive car or walking alone in a prosperous neighbourhood or standing in front of a store smoking a cigarette is heinous and difficult to watch. Steven Silver (Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”) gives a multi-faceted, intense performance in the lead role and is complimented greatly by all the Supporting Actors, which include David James Elliott. Director Ali LeRoi succinctly and eloquently depicts the movies many issues as racism, police brutality, LGBTQ acceptance, drugs and mental health. It is a searing commentary on the consequences of being black in America, made even scarier if you’re young and gay. THE OBITUARY OF TUNDE JOHNSON is a towering and powerful achievement.
NO ORDINARY MAN
NO ORDINARY MAN is a fascinating documentary that focuses on the life of Billy Tipton, a popular Jazz Musician in the ’40s and ’50s whose Trans identity was not publicly revealed until after his death in 1989. In a male-dominated Jazz scene from which women musicians were excluded, the talented Tipton found work and fame dressed as a man; he married a woman and together they adopted 3 children (from whom he continued to keep his gender a secret). After his death, the tabloid newspapers and TV shows (including Oprah and Geraldo) fixated on the salacious and a posthumous Biography, titled “Suits Me” added flames to the horribly-misinformed fire. I found NO ORDINARY MAN absolutely engrossing and illuminating as Trans men are sadly under-represented in the arts. TV shows like “Pose” and multiple Emmy nominated Laverne Cox shed positive portraits of Trans women but who gets more media attention: Chaz Bono or Caitlyn Jenner? Not only do Directors Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt employ Tipton’s photographs, music and personal tape recordings, the “talking heads” interviews shed insights into a world of Transmasculinity and gender versus sexuality. I particularly enjoyed sequences where Trans men were reading from a Script about a proposed Tipton Biopic and their unique and individual interpretations of how Tipton would react, intermingling with their own thoughts and experiences. NO ORDINARY MAN is groundbreaking and triumphant.
The handsome, charismatic and talented Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) is the centerpiece in the introspective, languidly-paced MONSOON from writer/director Hong Khaou. Playing Kit, he returns to the country of his birth, Vietnam, to scatter the ashes of his late parents. While there, he reunites with his childhood friend, Lee (David Tran), meets an Art Curator, Linh (Molly Harris) and has an online hook-up with Lewis (Parker Sawyers), the son of a troubled Vietnam War vet. The lush Cinematography of modern day Vietnam only accentuates the rich heartfelt performances by everyone in MONSOON.
When you’re a closeted gay teen attending high school in picturesque rural Ireland, life would be so much easier if everyone just thought you were in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Which is exactly what Eddie (Fionn O’Shea) and Amber (Lola Petticrew) do; they become each other’s’ beard. DATING AMBER takes us on their journey filled with uncomfortable hugs and kisses in public and awkward meetings with their parents as they individually deal with their own coming out processes.
Like Garbo, I rarely laugh but could not help myself guffawing throughout. The two leads are as supremely talented as they are photogenic. Writer/Director David Freyne infuses the screen with authenticity and charm, with letter perfect performances from all the supporting characters. DATING AMBER is a richly composed and executed movie and a must-see!
Troy kidnaps his child, Joe from his estranged wife Sally and the two travel on horseback through the wilds on Montana towards Canada. Flashbacks show us 11 year old Joe’s discomfort wearing a dress at a family picnic and the exceptionally close bond with Troy. When Joe tells Troy that she is not a Tomboy, but a boy trapped in a girl’s body, his total and complete acceptance of the news contrasts dramatically from how Sally reacts.
COWBOYS is a powerful and complex movie, tackling the subject matter of being a transgender child with grace and eloquence. Not only is this Steve Zahn’s (as Troy) best screen performance ever, young trans actor Sasha Knight’s accomplishment belies his age. As the police officer in charge of finding the two outcasts safely, the always great Ann Dowd adds another feather to her accomplished cap. Against the majestic backdrop of the Montana forests, COWBOYS resonates with compassion.
Perennial undergrad student Dani (Rachel Sennot) is at a crossroads in her life. She doesn’t know what to do with her career and she’s in a money-exchange relationship with an older man Max (Danny Deferrari). When her parents haul her to a Shiva (a Jewish mourning event), her past, present and future converge in one house. Surprisingly, she encounters her ex Maya (Molly Gordon) and current flame Max. At once, she is hounded by questions from extended family and friends at the affair. As the pressure surmounts, Dani’s anxiety reaches a breaking point.
It’s hard to believe Shiva Baby is a first-time Feature. Writer-Director Emma Seligman navigates her story with the precision and confidence of a seasoned Filmmaker. She has a clear vision and executes it masterfully. Her Script includes heavy themes of inner-turmoil laced with Comedy, making can make this tightrope to walk. Seligman manages to balance herself steadily.
Another feat Seligman achieves is giving this Dramedy a very distinct feel. She borrows a bit from the Horror genre to heighten Dani’s anxiety. The disquieting Score by Ariel Marx could easily have been used in a Horror film, yet it triumphs in this heartfelt Coming-of-Age story. Not only does it parallel the trepidation of the protagonist, but instills great tension in its audience.
There are moments where Seligman’s whip-smart dialogue is delivered by multiple characters in succession, overpowering us as we immerse ourselves in Dani’s building unease. As a result, we feel both a mix of empathy and anxiousness. Cinematographer Maria Rusche adds to the escalating tension with close-up shots that induce a claustrophobic feeling. This is further aided by the stellar, concise editing by Hanna Park, who for example, makes quick jumps between dialogue, close-up shots and the ear-piercing cries of a baby.
At the heart of Shiva Baby is its endearingly-flawed characters. Seligman manages to get us invested in each character because she gives the same detailed attention to her one-line characters as she does Dani. Our protragonist is placed in a series of cringe-worthy situations which many of us relate to. Refreshingly, she’s never pigeon-holed and is perfectly brought to life by the outstanding performance from Sennot.
As the lead, Sennot commands the screen and encapsulates the essence of Dani – her anxiety, her secretiveness and her fire. However wrong Dani’s actions are, we sympathize with her because Sennot makes it hard not to. She also excels at understanding the power-dynamics within each scene in Seligman’s Script. Sennot is surrounded by an immensely-talented Ensemble. Gordon is delightful as the still-in-love ex. Polly Draper and Fred Melamed are superb as Dani’s supportive, yet overbearing parents. And Dianna Agron is just captivating as a woman slowly learning of her husband’s deceit.
Overall, Shiva Baby is a hilarious, heartfelt Film about the surmounting pressures of family expectations and growing up. At its core are its stellar performances and expert filmmaking all around.
Shiva Baby screens at TIFF:
Thu, Sep 10
Online at Bell Digital Cinema
Streaming in Canada Available from: