Queen Of My Dreams | Written and Directed by Fawzia Mirza
I gather the Cape Breton-raised filmmaker Mirza brings a lot of autobiography to this light, charming film. Azra (Amrit Kaur) is a queer woman living in Toronto with her girlfriend (Charlie Boyle) when her father dies suddenly while visiting Pakistan. Azra must go to Karachi and deal with her devout Muslim mother, Miriam (Nimra Bucha, so wonderfully hissible as the villain in Polite Society). We then flash back to 1969 and young, far less uptight Miriam (also played by Kaur, with the picture nodding to Bollywood actors playing multiple generations early on) who’s being wooed by a young med student, Hassan (Hamza Haq).
The fetching cast here is excellent, the cinematography in Pakistan is bright and colourful — how they were able to convincingly de-age Karachi by more than 50 years is a genuine feat. A genuine affection for both Bollywood romantic traditions and the connections between mothers and daughters is the beating heart of this lovely first film, and Amrit Kaur has genuine star power — her smile lights up the screen.
Hit Man | Directed by Richard Linklater | Written by Linklater and Glen Powell, from an article by Skip Hollandsworth
Perhaps the best script Linklater’s worked with since Before Midnight, the joy of this light comedy are the tight twists coming thick and fast. It details the life of Gary Johnson (Powell), a mild-mannered New Orleans teacher who moonlights doing computer work for the NOPD before getting roped into going undercover to meet people who want to hire him to kill someone — when they hand over the cash, the cops grab ’em. Turns out Gary’s alter-ego, Ron, is talented with costume and make-up while being entirely smooth and assertive, which gets him into trouble when he gets involved with a woman (Adria Arjona) who wants to hire him to rub out her abusive husband.
Powell is effective as Ron, but from the jump his actual cat-loving, milquetoast teacher persona is unconvincing. He’s already way too self-composed — you can imagine someone like, say, Kevin Hart, being a whole lot more plausible at delivering anxiety — and so Gary/Ron has no arc. It’s a real problem for the film, despite the other elements working so well. Powell has a Bill Pullman or Aaron Eckhart energy — in other words, not really a movie star — but with his ripped physique he might do better in action, maybe as a heavy.
Wildcat | Directed by Ethan Hawke | Written by Hawke and Shelby Gaines
“The truth doesn’t change according to your ability to stomach it,” is a line out of Hawke’s biopic of American Southern gothic author Flannery O’Connor, starring his daughter, Maya, and that gets to the core of what he’s trying grapple with — O’Connor’s problematic relationship with race in the south and how she depicts it in her stories — which frequently (as the film does) utilize the n-word. Ethan depicts O’Connor’s home life as she suffers from Lupus, which forces her into the care of her mother, Regina (Laura Linney), and then recreates a number of O’Connor’s stories for the film, also casting Maya and Linney as characters where they’re stand-ins or at least reflective of real life counterparts. It’s a big swing, and in the 18 or so films I’ve seen at TIFF so far this screening had the most walk-outs. The flipping between O’Connor’s difficult life and fictions makes for a humorous, somewhat uneven narrative, but as a technique aiming to deliver both a writer’s interior and exterior lives onscreen, it’s entirely effective.
In Restless Dreams: The Music of Paul Simon | Written and Directed by Alex Gibney
A three-and-half hour documentary on the life and work of legendary American singer-songwriter Paul Simon should be at least comprehensive at that length, but as a longtime fan I was disappointed not by what it includes — which is a lot of good stuff — but by what it omits. Details of his early days in Queens, New York with angelic-voiced school chum, Art Garfunkel, their larger success in the 1960s, Simon’s Grammy-award winning solo career, his brief marriage to Carrie Fisher, his fraught reunions with Garfunkel, and then his 1980s success with Graceland, and the work he’s doing with Edie Brickell, his current wife, and Wynton Marsalis on his new album, Seven Psalms, all of that is here. But Gibney doesn’t get to the collaborations with the African musicians, arguably Simon’s biggest success, until the third hour, and then spends far too much time with concert footage that’s readily available online. After that there’s a brief mention of his 1990 album, The Rhythm Of The Saints, but the film leaves out almost any mention of the music he’s made in the past 30 years — including at least five studio records and the Broadway flop, The Capeman. A little more warts-and-all attention to that would’ve made this a more well-rounded affair for us acolytes, but the care to which Gibney talks with Simon about his songwriting craft and the elegiac nature of his new record is touching, and the focus on the early work is thoughtful and well-researched.