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.

Read more

THE GUILTY (TIFF 2021) – Review by Pam Grady

Twenty years after his breakthrough film, Training Day, Antoine Fuqua returns to the environs of the Los Angeles Police Department to deliver a very different, more subdued drama. A remake of a 2018 Danish thriller of the same name and shot under COVID protocols, it is a film where interest never flags but one that is hampered by its shaky night-in-the-life-of scenario, delivering a too shallow portrayal of the life of a troubled man.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL (TIFF 2021) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Melanie Laurent creates a compelling world in which discarded women are blithely mistreated. She has also laid out a strong case for why women of the early 20th century, as in the time of The Snake Pit, as well as women today, struggle with being heard and believed by the mental health and medical communities. The Mad Women’s Ball is the kind of layered, femme-centric and very political story we need more of, and by fearless female filmmakers like Melanie Laurent.

Read more

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.

Read more

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.

Read more

THE MAD WOMEN’S BALL (TIFF 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Mélanie Laurent’s debut feature The Mad Women’s Ball announces the arrival of a filmmaker of enormous skill and talent. The film is adapted from Victoria Mas’s bestselling novel. Laurent both directs, co-stars in and co-wrote the film adaptation’s screenplay, resulting in a movie that, although being in French, will surely woo even the most subtitle-phobic English language viewer with its powerful story, sumptuous filmmaking style, solid performances and the inescapable contemporary edge to its core thematics.

Read more

SMALL BODY (TIFF2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

In the introduction to the screening of her feature debut Small Body, Italian filmmaker Laura Samani reveals its origins were in 2016 when a man told her about a local legend that held stillborn babies could be brought briefly back to life long enough to be baptized. Instantly fascinated by the story, Samani learned that official history frequently put men in the center of these stories and – as is her nature – she was willfully drawn to find the cracks in that assumption, and to discover where women fit.

Read more