HOLD YOUR FIRE (TIFF2021) – Review by Pam Grady

Taking place only months after the bank robbery/hostage situation that inspired Dog Day Afternoon, the January 1973 incident at John and Al’s Sporting Goods in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, went on far longer – lasting nearly four days – and resulted in the death of a cop. It is also the event credited with ushering in the modern age of hostage negotiation. And it is has been pretty much lost to history – until now with the Toronto International Film Festival world premiere of Stefan Forbes’ Hold Your Fire, a riveting documentary on the subject.

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SILENT NIGHT (TIFF2021) – Review by Pam Grady

Apocalyptic stories are no strangers at the Toronto International Film Festival, my favorite of all time (granted one that predates my time at the festival) being Don McKellar’s TIFF award-winning Last Night, in which the Toronto native imagines how a group of city residents count down humanity’s final hours and emerges with a drama that is captivating and oddly, beautifully romantic. This year, the festival chose writer/director Camille Griffin’s Silent Night, another end-of-the-world story that like McKellar’s film tries to strike a tone beyond pure horror, but one doesn’t quite work with pieces that don’t quite fit. Griffin deserves credit for taking the risk, but it is one in which pay off proves elusive.

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SILENT NIGHT (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Can you remember the first time you really knew you were going to die? You know, when you learned that every human and living being on the planet has an expiration date, including you? What if that date was Christmas, and everyone else was going to die, too? That’s the premise for writer/director Camille Griffin’s film Silent Night. The film is terrifying and as dark as a starless sky, not because of the premise itself, but because of how the story unfolds. Absolutely not for children, and not even for adults who avoid movies with children in peril, this is decidedly not a Christmas movie.

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WHERE IS ANNE FRANK (TIFF2021) – Review by Ulkar Alakbarova

Anne Frank’s diary has been told, filmed, and has many documentaries about it. It seems there is nothing more left to be said until you watch Ari Folman’s Where is Anne Frank. This time, it takes a novel approach and revolves around Anne’s imaginary friend, Kitty, who finds herself in Frank’s house in Amsterdam. Getting a physical form, she steals Anne’s diary and begins the journey of her dearest friend, as she, with deep sadness, learns about Anne’s tragic fate.

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SALOUM (TIFF 21) – Review by Maitland McDonagh

The genre-warping Saloum starts out as an action-heavy thriller and glides seamlessly into a supernatural horror tale with intense psychological underpinnings. Congolese filmmakers Jean Luc Herbulot Herbulot and Pamela Diop draw on both real-life horrors and fairytale darkness, and combined with intense performances across the board the result is genuinely disturbing. Suffice it to say that the film’s most disturbing images have nothing to do with bogeymen.

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THE ELECTRIC LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

If you have cats in your home as part of your family, you have Louis Wain to thank. He was the 19th century illustrator of cat images and he introduced Victorian London to the wonder and joy of cats. A socially inept, eccentric soul, Wain created paintings and sketches of anthropomorphized felines, though many of his images were of his beloved pet cat Peter. In Will Sharp’s The Electric Life of Louis Wain Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, along with Andrea Riseborough as one of his five sisters, and Claire Foy as his beloved Emily. The film is charming, sad, has great performances, and is visually sumptuous, with some of the best costuming and makeup you’ll see this year. It has such undeniable heart, you’ll be sure to forgive it being a little overly sentimental.

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FLEE (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Danish writer/director Jonas Power Rasmussen’s documentary Flee about Afghan refugee Amin, his arduous journey getting to Denmark, and how that experience colors his current life, is destined to become a shining example of great indie animation. It may be painful to watch Amin go through the horrors he describes, but it is also an incredibly uplifting, inspiring story that will leave its viewers with a powerful feeling of hope.

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THE SURVIVOR (TIFF2021) – Review by Leslie Combebale

It’s strange to say that a film based around the Holocaust is hopeful, but it’s true. Barry Levinson’s The Survivor is based on the real life story of Hertzko Haft, a jewish boxer who survived Auschwitz by fighting 76 brutal life or death matches against other Jewish prisoners, only to carry that trauma into his postwar life. As Haft, Ben Foster is the best he’s ever been. The Survivor is hopeful, in part, because Levinson has a way of finding the balance between darkness and light in his movies, and in part because the Jews of the world didn’t come out of the Holocaust without reaching for hope.

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ALI & AVA (TIFF2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

A strong screenplay, strong direction, and – of course – two strong performances from Adeel Akhtar and Claire Rushbrook make Clio Barnard’s Ali & Ava something genuinely precious and electrifying, all while remaining focused on the low-key minutia of the everyday lives of its two central characters. Only going from strength to strength, Ali & Ava is another extraordinary achievement in Barnard’s unrelentingly impressive filmography.

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YOU ARE NOT MY MOTHER (TIFF 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

You Are Not My Mother is dominated by a range of women characters who collectively challenge and reveal the complexities of the “strong female character” cliche. Tensions between binaries such as strength/weakness and good/evil are rendered far more sophisticated and difficult to unknot here in a way that is subtly subversive, disguised as it is as a fun, spooky, popcorn-friendly horror film. What makes You Are Not My Mother such compelling viewing is how it seeks to defamiliarize our moral and ideological expectations surrounding women and the broader concept of strength, challenging us to think in more complex ways about gender and power.

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