Tag Archives: TIFF19

TIFF19 review: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ (for The Film Stage)

I quite enjoyed FORD V FERRARI at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival; I gave the film a B+. Here is my Film Stage review.

James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is, in a word, sturdy. It’s the kind of airtight drama that could never be called groundbreaking or even original. But it offers ample pleasures in performance—from stars Matt Damon and Christian Bale—and design. While it could be a bit nastier, this is unquestionably intense grade-A Hollywood entertainment. The racing sequences are genuinely thrilling, and even the boardroom and back-office battles are compelling. 

While the story itself—the Ford Motor Company hires auto racing legend Carroll Shelby (Damon) and brash driver Ken Miles (Bale) in an attempt at taking down Ferrari’s dominance at the legendary Le Mans—will be new to some audiences, the structure is undoubtedly familiar. That is an issue, especially at 152 minutes. But Mangold and screenwriters Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller keep this baby humming–there’s little time to ponder structural issues when we’re moving too quickly to care.

This sense of storytelling efficiency is present from scene one, in which we watch Damon’s Shelby win the grueling, 24-hour Le Mans in France. Soon, however, health issues left the driver unable to race, and he moved into auto sales and a behind-the-scenes racing role. Beyond one shot of a messy trailer, we learn next to nothing about Shelby’s personal life, yet the film spends plenty of time on that of Ken Miles, a Brit racer struggling to keep his repair shop afloat. While the audience gets to know Miles’s wife (Outlander star Catriona Balfe, who gives a fine performance) and son, and hear of his wartime heroics, Ford v Ferrari is not very interested in its characters’ pasts.

It instead immerses us into the crucial collision of these people in the 1960s. The legendary Ford Motor Company, led by the literally and figuratively heavy Henry Ford II (a scene-stealing Tracy Letts) was in dire straits. Executive Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) developed a plan to make Ford appealing to younger drivers, and it hinged on gobbling up the sexy but struggling Italian kingpin Enzo Ferrari. He rebuffed the offer, setting into motion a new plan: strike back by winning Le Mans. 

The brilliant, passionate Shelby was an essential hire, but just as important was the driver. It is clear from his first onscreen appearance that Miles is an uncontrollable hothead, but a hothead who can drive, making him the subject of frequent battles between Shelby and an ever-annoyed Ford executive (Josh Lucas). As the design and testing process and eventual early races make clear, there is no driver better suited for the arduous task. It all culminates in La Mans, and this lengthy sequence is pumping with adrenaline. It features some of the best work of director Mangold’s career.

It is interesting to note that Michael Mann was originally set to direct a film with Bale as Enzo Ferrari. That project never came to fruition, and now Mann is listed as a producer, and Bale plays a different role. It is rather intoxicating to wonder what the Collateral director would have done with racing sequences like those found in Ford v Ferrari. Yet Mangold’s work should not be taken for granted. He will never be confused with Mann’s visceral touch, but the Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, and Logan director’s track record is remarkably consistent–a feat that continues here.

The director brings a dependable mix of strong characters in physically intense situations, aided by splendid cinematography (by Phedon Papamichael), full-throttle editing (by Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland), and especially Marco Beltrami’s stirring score. Bale has the showier role here, as a man seemingly on the verge of eruption at all times. (Ford v Ferrari is the rare film in which his actual voice appears.) Surprisingly, though, it is Damon who stands out. He’s the rock of this story, the figure who must navigate a minefield of relationships and keep the ultimate goal top of mind. 

Ford v Ferrari is an easy film to scoff at; there is nothing new here, and there is no debating that fact. Instead, we have a compelling story told in simple, intelligent fashion. It deserves a spot on the list of great racing dramas, and the list of the year’s most entertaining dramas.

Beyond the Galas: 10 under-the-radar TIFF19 entries (for BuffaloSpree.com)

Kristen Stewart in Seberg
COURTESY OF TIFF

My second pre-2019 Toronto International Film Festival piece for BuffaloSpree.com looks at 10 non-Galas that are seem hugely intriguing.

As September 5 draws closer, the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival lineup is growing more and more. That’s how it works: After the initial announcement — I summarized the first batch here — the following weeks feature more of, well, everything. That means high-profile releases from masters like Terrence Malick (A Hidden Life), starpower from the likes of Natalie Portman (Lucy in the Sky), Midnight Madness selections, and plenty of other unique features and docs.

The Galas draw much of the attention, but some of the most interesting TIFF selections can be found elsewhere. Here are ten non-Galas that could create some buzz.

The Capote Tapes: The life of Truman Capote is a treasure trove of anecdotes peppered with cameos from some of the most important and iconic individuals of the 20th century. In this documentary, friends of the In Cold Blood author discuss the iconic author and his fascinating career.

Clifton Hill: No, this is not a film about 19-year-old Buffalonians hitting Clifton Hill for a night of debauchery. Instead, Albert Shin’s thriller is centered on a Niagara Falls native investigating a kidnapping from years before. The cast includes the great director David Cronenberg.

Color Out of Space: Cult filmmaker Richard Stanley (Hardware) returns to screens with an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage. Yep, Cage at a TIFF Midnight Madness screening. This horror flick sounds unmissable. 

Hope Gap: Could this be the year in which Annette Bening finally captures an Oscar? Hard to say, but this drama about a married couple’s breakup does seem like Oscar fodder. The American Beauty and Being Julia star goes toe-to-toe with the always engaging Bill Nighy. 

How to Build a Girl: Lady Bird and Booksmart standout Beanie Feldstein plays a teenager-turned-music-critic in a coming-of-age story based on Caitlin Moran’s book. Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd co-star.

Les Misérables: Ladj Ly’s violent, hot-button drama earned a Special Prize at Cannes. Set in contemporary France and inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel, the film highlights the nation’s political unrest and social change. 

Liberté: Can Albert Serra top his stunning historical drama The Death of Louis XIV? Perhaps; on paper, his latest sounds like a delectable treat. It “follows an ensemble of libidinous 18th-century French aristocrats who embark on an extended night of woodland cruising to live out their sexual fantasies.”

Seberg: Kristen Stewart’s recent TIFF track record — Personal Shopper, Clouds of Sils Maria, underrated 2018 selection JT LeRoy — is hard to top. Her pairing with Una director Benedict Andrews on a biopic of controversial actress Jean Seberg could offer Stewart the meatiest role of her career. 

Synchronic: Filmmakers Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson seem to grow stronger and more ambitious with each film — see Spring and The Endless for proof. Their latest features Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as paramedics investigating a series of deaths. 

Wasp Network: Another TIFF, another entry from Olivier Assayas. The director’s follow-up to TIFF18’s Nonfiction stars a high-profile cast — Penélope Cruz, Edgar Ramírez, and Gael García Bernal — in a thriller exploring the lives of Cuban dissidents in the 1990s.

There’s still more to come — come back to buffalospree.com for updates, and see the current lineup at tiff.net.

19 thoughts after TIFF’s first lineup announcements (from BuffaloSpree.com)

Tom Hanks stars as Mister Rogers in TriStar Pictures’ A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Photo by: Lacey Terrell

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival made its first batch of announcements in late July, and I broke it all down for BuffaloSpree.com.

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival is a little more than one month away, but buzz is already building. Last week, TIFF announced its first batch of galas and special presentations, and from now until Sept. 5 (the festival runs through Sept. 15), lineup news will be steady. 

Here are 19 (how appropriate) thoughts on the first lineup announcements.

  1. More than many other film festivals — I’m looking at you, Cannes and Venice — TIFF has made it a point to program features from female filmmakers. More than 50% of the TIFF19 gala selections are directed by women.
  2. Warner Bros. must be very confident in Joker, Todd Phillips’ dark comic book drama starring Joaquin Phoenix. The film will play both Venice and TIFF. The latter, especially, indicates that the studio believes Joker will play well with mainstream audiences.
  3. Perhaps the most surprising absence was Little Women, Greta Gerwig’s hugely anticipated Lady Bird follow-up. Perhaps her Louisa May Alcott adaptation will be a late addition. 
  4. Just like at TIFF18, the 2019 festival is Netflix-heavy. Biggies from the streamer include Dolemite Is My Name(starring Eddie Murphy), Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, and Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story
  5. The opening night film, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, certainly looks worthy; there are few bands with a more fascinating backstory than The Band. Yet it’s undeniable that the documentary would be more enticing if it was directed by Robertson’s old friend Martin Scorsese. He produces this one; Daniel Roher directs. 
  6. The closing film, a Marie Curie biopic titled Radioactive, almost seems like a parody of the well-intentioned borefests that often open or close fests like TIFF. However, this one is directed by the talented Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and stars Gone Girl’s Rosamund Pike. That’s promising! 
  7. There is no obvious Best Picture winner here so far, although a few, like an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, seem promising on paper. James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is another strong possibility. But it’s too early to tell. 
  8. It’s hard to think of Tom Hanks not being a player in the Best Actor race for his role as Mr. Rogers in Marielle Heller’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Once one gets past the initial humor of Hanks as Rogers, the trailer is wildly engaging.  
  9. There are some stellar world premieres on tap, like Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit, Heller’s Beautiful Day, Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, and Cory Finley’s Bad Education. 
  10. My most anticipated? Probably Knives OutThe Last Jedi’s Johnson is back in Brothers Bloom mode here, and the cast includes Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Toni Collette, and Don Johnson. 
  11. There is lots of new blood heading to Toronto, from Heller, Waititi, and Finley to Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse) and genius brothers Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie (Uncut Gems).
  12. Want some star power? Festival visitors will likely include Christian Bale, Matt Damon, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Eddie Murphy, and Meryl Streep. 
  13. Yes, there are some TIFF usual suspects in the lineup: Atom Egoyan, Michael Winterbottom, Noah Baumbach, and Pablo Larrain all have new films at the fest. 
  14. Two more regular TIFF visitors come bearing favorites from this year’s Cannes Film Festival: Bong Joon-ho, whose Parasite captured the Palme d’Or, and Pedro Almodóvar, whose Pain and Glory earned Best Actor honors for Antonio Banderas. 
  15. Bruce Springsteen should be in the house, as TIFF premieres Western Stars. The Boss is the subject and co-director of this documentary.
  16. The presence of Isabelle Huppert propels Frankie to the top of the most anticipated list. The French icon stars as an aging actress in the latest from the great Ira Sachs. 
  17. Most intriguing description has to go to Motherless Brooklyn: “Edward Norton wrote, directed, produced and stars in this 1950s-set crime drama, about a private detective living with Tourette syndrome who ventures to solve the murder of his mentor and best friend — a mystery that carries him from the gin-soaked jazz clubs of Harlem to the slums of Brooklyn to the gilded halls of New York’s power brokers.”
  18. Expect one of the most buzzed-about selections to be Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the latest from writer-director Girlhood director Céline Sciamma. The story of the relationship between two women in 18th-century Brittany earned the Queer Palm at Cannes. 
  19. My goodness, TIFF19 is off to a strong start — and that makes me even more excited for the announcements to come. Watch BuffaloSpree.com for more.