#TIFF2023 Reviews: The Boy And The Heron, Shoshana, Gonzo Girl

The Boy And The Heron | Directed by Hayao Miyazaki | Written by Miyazaki and Genzaburô Yoshino 

I was thinking how universally beloved this animator is, and the legendary Studio Ghibli. I think it has to do with his ability to plug into our subconscious in his storytelling. He may be using Japanese cultural touchstones, but they translate remarkably well to audiences everywhere. Following at least two retirements, Miyazaki is back with one more film — the story of a boy, Mahito, in the Second World War who leaves Tokyo with his industrialist father after the death of his mother. His father is remarrying to a woman who looks suspiciously like his mother, and they settle in a rural community.

There Mahito is badgered by an aggressive grey heron and discovers a mysterious tower, which is a gateway to a dreamlike alternate world with lots of unfriendly birds. Part of this feels very much like your standard boy’s own adventure, a young hero’s journey to a magic land full of dangers, except the dream logic and spiralling plotting makes next to no sense. Best to just go with it — enjoy the gorgeous animation, the humour, the wondrous creatures. Everyone wants to eat everyone else for dinner, especially those giant parakeets.

Shoshana | Directed by Michael Winterbottom | Written by Winterbottom, Laurence Coriat and Paul Viragh 

I’ve always been impressed by Michael Winterbottom’s courage as a filmmaker — he tackles material as varied as Code 46 and The Trip while frequently choosing subject matter that evinces a compassionate political stance. Here he’s made a solidly anti-colonial, anti-extremist thriller set in late 1930s Tel Aviv. Shoshana Borochov (Irina Starshenbaum, magnetic) is a Jewish journalist who falls for a British cop, Thomas Wilkin (Douglas Booth, not my favourite actor by any stretch but he and Starshenbaum have sizzling chemistry). They stake their relationship and moderate, humanist politics against the backdrop of various Zionist groups fighting the occupying Brits for Statehood and the fundamentalist Palestinian factions, with Harry Melling as Geoffrey Morton, a British officer quashing rebellion with torture and executions. This film is intelligent, nuanced, and more than a little sexy, and it deftly manages both its political and genre ambitions — I’d compare it favourably to both Spielberg’s Munich and Weir’s The Year Of Living Dangerously.

Here’s Winterbottom today at TIFF:

Gonzo Girl | Directed by Patricia Arquette | Written by Rebecca Thomas and Jessica Caldwell, based on the novel by Cheryl Della Pietra 

Arquette’s first feature as a director feels like a throwback, and not just because it’s set in the 1990s. For one, it’s the first movie I’ve seen in ages that goes out of its way to make acid seem like psychedelic fun. It also refuses to condemn the bad behaviour of an iconic male writer past his prime, nor the younger women who worked for him, procured his drugs, or slept with him — sometimes all three of those things. The novel is a lightly fictionalized account of Della Pietra’s time as Hunter S Thompson’s personal assistant at his Woody Creek farm in Colorado. Sex, drugs, and celebrity was the whole scene while Thompson, here renamed Walker Reade (Willem Dafoe wearing the right clothes but avoiding impersonation) struggles to find anything in his work like the genius of his prime. Alley Russo (Camila Morrone) discovers she not only is expected to mix the drinks, she’s also doing the writing while he goes on an ether bender. The casting is solid, with Arquette also onscreen in support, along with Jack Nicholson’s scion, Ray, and a Sean Penn cameo — but this is Morrone’s show. Arquette favours a scrappy vibe with lots of close-ups while Morrone delivers the potent but confusing cocktail of having been seduced by the celebrity while also wanting it for herself.

Here’s Arquette, Dafoe, and Morrone at this everning’s screening:

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.