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TIFF: Sea Fever

The ocean depths hold many secrets. Marine biologist Siobhán (Hermione Corfield) has devoted her young career to studying the patterns of ocean life in an effort to take the mystery out of the sea. Little does she know that a sea creature awaits her, beyond the scope of anything she has ever studied or could ever know.

Siobhán joins a fishing trawler manned by married couple Freya (Connie Nielsen) and Gerard (Dougray Scott). Fisherman are incredibly superstitious and Siobhán’s red hair is a sign that they’re in for some bad luck. Also on the vessel are a trio of fisherman Sudi (Eli Bouakaze), Johnny (Jack Hickey) and Ciara (Olwen Fouere) as well as fellow scientist Omid (Ardalan Esmaili). Siobhán is quiet, serious and anti-social and the spirited Johnny starts to bring her out of her shell. The bad luck rears its ugly head when a luminous creature that spews a blue slime, latches its tentacles onto the boat. Siobhán, the only one on board equipped for scuba diving, meets the creature face to face. The shipmates soon learn that the creature has wiped out the crew of another trawler and they’re next. One by one the creature exposes its blue slime into open wounds, laying its eggs that explode out of its victims. Will the crew be able to escape in time before the creature infects them all?

Sea Fever feels both classic and brand new. It’s in the same vein of those classic sci-fi thrillers where the creature serves a vessel to help tell a very human story. Writer and director Neasa Hardiman offers a slick and emotionally devastating story. There are so many themes that come bubbling up to the surface. Man versus nature, fear of the unknown, the importance of social bonds, and self-sacrifice for a greater cause.

There are no stereotypes. Everyone is their own character, true to themselves and not a pawn for the sake of the story. Siobhán is a fascinating protagonist and Hermione Corfield does her justice. Studious, smart and emotionally distant, we see her grow over time as she becomes the film’s hero. It’s great to see what a woman director/writer can do with a science fiction story featuring a strong female lead. Sea Fever had me enthralled. I usually don’t go for this genre but I’m glad I took a chance on this film. It’s thrilling in a quiet way. It’s not splashy, doesn’t depend on elaborate action sequences or fancy special effects (although the special effects it does have are pretty slick). Instead it latches on to its characters and won’t let go.

Sea Fever had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Discovery series.

TIFF ’19 – Preliminary Picks

The first slate of Gala Presentations and Special Presentations for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival were announced yesterday. I’m thrilled to be going back to TIFF this year as press. I’ll be covering the festival on this site as well as with DVD Netflix, Cine Suffragette, on my social media and beyond. 

I learned so much from the last TIFF and I know better how to navigate this next festival. My focus this year will be on female directed and female focused films, Spanish-language films (and foreign cinema in general), LGBTQ themed films and a few big releases thrown in for good measure. The Gala Presentations will be in high demand and thus the most difficult to get access to. I’ll be very selective when it comes to those. The full list of TIFF films will be announced on August 20th and from there I’ll curate my final list.

In the meantime, here are my top 10 picks from the first slate of announced films. It was difficult to narrow it down to 10 so I can’t even imagine what it will be like to come up with some semblance of a schedule when all the films are announced. This is an impressive line-up!

Gala Presentations

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – Courtesy of TIFF

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – World Premiere

dir. Marielle Heller and starring Tom Hanks as Mister Rogers.

I was perfectly content with Morgan Neville’s doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor? and didn’t necessarily think I needed a Mister Rogers biopic. But Hollywood loves a good biopic! Mister Rogers was and still remains a very powerful figure in my life and I’m incredibly curious what story it has to tell and how he’ll be portrayed. I think his story is in very capable hands with director Marielle Heller whose film Can You Ever Forgive Me? was one of my favorites from last year’s TIFF.

Joker – Courtesy of TIFF

Joker – North American Premiere

dir. Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix

I wasn’t even remotely interested in a new Joker movie UNTIL I saw that trailer. Damn. I love that the film takes a deep dive into the character’s origin story and the psychology behind why he became the Joker. I enjoy Todd Phillips’ work and Joaquin Phoenix is an excellent actor and I’ll watch anything he’s in. I predict this film will be a hot ticket at TIFF. I’ll have to be realistic about my chances of getting in.

Other Gala Presentations

  • Abominable – dir. Jill Culton – World Premiere
  • American Woman – dir Semi Chellas – Canadian Premiere
  • Blackbird – dir. Roger Michelle – World Premiere
  • Clemency – dir. Chinonye Chukwu – International Premiere
  • Ford v. Ferrari – dir. James Mangold – Canadian Premiere
  • The Goldfinch – dir. John Crowley – World Premiere
  • Harriet  – dir. Kasi Lemmons – World Premiere
  • Hustlers – dir. Lorene Scafaria – World Premiere
  • Just Mercy – dir. Destin Daniel Cretton – World Premiere
  • Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band – dir. Daniel Roher – World Premiere (Opening Night)
  • Ordinary Love – dir. Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn – World Premiere
  • Radioactive – dir. Marjane Satrapi – World Premiere (Closing Night)
  • The Sky is Pink – dir. Shonali Bose – World Premiere
  • The Song of Names  – dir. Francois Girard – World Premiere
  • True History of the Kelly Gang  – dir. Justin Kurzel – World Premiere
  • Western Stars – dir. Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen – World Premiere

Special Presentations

Ema – Courtesy of TIFF

Ema – North American Premiere

dir Pablo Larrain and starring Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael García Bernal

There’s very little information about this film besides a basic description of the plot. However, I’m already excited about the potential for this film. This Chilean film follows Ema (Mariana Di Girolamo) as she “sets out on a risky quest to reset her life” after a terrible accident.

Greed – Courtesy of TIFF

Greed  – World Premiere

dir. Michael Winterbottom and starring Steve Coogan, Isla Fisher

I adore Michael Winterbottom and had such a fun time attending the premiere of The Wedding Guest at last year’s TIFF. Greed stars Steve Coogan as a fast-fashion mogul who throws a lavish party that is overthrown by nearby refugees. There’s a lot of potential here for both absurdity and serious social commentary.

A Herdade – Courtesy of TIFF

A HerdadeNorth American Premiere

dir. Tiago Guedes 

You may be surprised to discover that this is my #1 pick for TIFF. I’ll clear my schedule just to get into a screening. Portuguese films are rare and getting access to them is very difficult. I’m half Portuguese, fluent in the language and fascinated by Portugal’s cultural history. This film follows a wealthy family in mid-20th century Portugal and according to the description offers a look at the political, economic and social history of the country. SOLD!

Judy – Courtesy of TIFF

Judy – Canadian Premiere

dir. Rupert Goold and starring Renee Zellweger

I’ll be covering Judy for my classic film blog Out of the Past. I’m not as big a Judy Garland fan as some of my fellow classic film buffs are and not as precious about how she’s portrayed. There’s been some backlash from the community about this film but I’d like to see it before jumping to conclusions. I’m just hoping Judy offers an honest portrayal of a complicated woman rather than just another salacious biopic.

Knives Out – Courtesy of TIFF

Knives Out World Premiere

dir. Rian Johnson and starring Daniel Craig, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, etc.

You really can’t go wrong with a star-studded murder mystery. It pretty much sells itself. Craig plays the lead detective and Plummer is the murder victim. I’m expecting a whip smart mystery with an eccentric cast of characters. Just watch the trailer and tell me you’re not immediately hooked.

The Personal History of David Copperfield World Premiere

dir. Armando Iannucci and starring Dev Patel, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, etc.

A new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel has Dev Patel playing David Copperfield and I am here for this. I love period pieces and classic novel adaptations and while I have a love-hate relationship with Dickens I’m eager to see what this new spin with a POC protagonist has to offer.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire – Canadian Premiere

dir. Celine Sciamma and starring Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami

Set in 18th century Brittany, this French film tells the story of an artist who is hired to paint a portrait of a would-be-bride and the two women develop a romantic relationship. This ticks off a lot of boxes for me. Female-focused, female-directed, foreign and LGBTQ! I just hope it doesn’t break my heart.

While at War  – World Premiere

dir. Alejandro Amenabar and starring Karra Elejalde, Eduard Fernández, Santi Prego

This Argentine-Spanish film is set in the early days of the Spanish Civil War as dictator Francisco Franco comes into power. The story focuses on writer Miguel de Unamuno and his rebellion against El Generalisimo. I was impressed with the trailer I’m particularly interested in stories about political persecution, rebellion and repression so this is right up my alley.

Other Special Presentations

  • Bad Education – dir Cory Finley – World Premiere
  • Coming Home – dir. Wayne Wang – World Premiere
  • Dolemite Is My Name – dir Craig Brewer – World Premiere
  • Endings, Beginnings – dir. Drake Doremus – World Premiere
  • Frankie – dir. Ira Sachs – North American Premiere
  • The Friend – dir. Gabriela Cowperthwaite – World Premiere
  • Guest of Honor – dir. Atom Egoyan – North American Premiere
  • Heroic Losers– dir. Sebastien Borensztein – International Premiere
  • Honey Boy – dir. Alma Har’el – International Premiere
  • Hope Gap – dir. William Nicholson – World Premiere
  • How to Build a Girl  – dir. Coky Giedroyc – World Premiere
  • I Am Woman – dir. Unjoo Moon – World Premiere
  • Jojo Rabbit – dir. Taika Waititi – World Premiere
  • La Belle Epoque – dir. Nicolas Bedos – North American Premiere
  • The Laundromat – dir. Steven Soderbergh – North American Premiere
  • The Lighthouse  – dir. Robert Eggers – North American Premiere
  • Marriage – dir. Noah Baumbach – Canadian Premiere
  • Military Wives – dir. Peter Cattaneo – World Premiere
  • Motherless Brooklyn – dir. Edward Norton – International Premiere
  • No. 7 Cherry Lane – dir. Yonfan – North American Premiere
  • The Other Lamb – dir. Malgorzata Szumowska – World Premiere
  • Pain and Glory – dir. Pedro Almodovar – Canadian Premiere
  • The Painted Bird  – dir. Vaclav Marhoul – North American Premiere
  • Parasite – dir. Bong Joon-ho – Canadian Premiere
  • Pelican Blood – dir. Katrin Gebbe – North American Premiere
  • The Report – dir. Scott Z. Burns – International Premiere
  • Saturday Fiction – dir. Lou Ye – North American Premiere
  • The Two Popes – dir. Fernando Meirelles – Canadian Premiere
  • Uncut Gems – dir. Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie – International Premiere
  • Weathering With You  – dir. Makoto Shinkai – North American Premiere

Check out the full list of offerings on the TIFF website.

TIFF Review: A Star is Born

by Raquel Stecher

A Star is Born
dir. Bradley Cooper
Starring Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga


Before I begin my review of A Star is Born (2018) I would like to acknowledge the movies that came before it:

What Price Hollywood? (1932)
Constance Bennett, Lowell Sherman
A Star is Born (1937)
Janet Gaynor, Fredric March
A Star is Born (1954)
Judy Garland, James Mason
A Star is Born (1976)
Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson

Hollywood has a long tradition of revisiting and remaking its own stories. A Star is Born has evolved over the past 80+ years from a story about actors to a story about musicians. But the essence has stayed the same. What happens when an established star, on the path towards self-destruction, meets an unknown talent and falls in love? Out of the ashes of one career comes the genesis of another. A star is born.

Having seen all of the previous versions, I came to this latest iteration of A Star is Born ready to compare it to all of those other movies. And you know what, Cooper’s movie holds its own.

There are many ways in which Cooper’s A Star is Born improves upon the previous versions as well as makes this classic story relatable to a new audience. These added layers enhanced the overall story.

  • The relationship between Jackson and Ally is fleshed out more and their physical attraction to each other is palpable. While the 1937 version is still my favorite, Gaynor and March’s romance is tender but there is no sexual chemistry there. And there is no chemistry at all between James Mason and Judy Garland in the 1954 version. Fast forward to 1976 and we get a bit of chemistry with Kristofferson and Streisand (but it didn’t help that they didn’t get along in real life). In the 2018 version Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper helps us understand not only why Jackson and Ally were attracted to each other but what drew them together as artists and as individuals. It’s a more well-rounded portrait of a romantic relationship.
  • In addition to Jackson Maine’s drinking problem, he as degenerative hearing loss which adds another layer of drama to his tragedy.
  • SEMI-SPOILER: Jackson Maine’s suicide is depicted differently than in the previous versions and the method is more relevant to the conversation regarding suicide today. Also there is an added element that serves as a gut punch to the audience.
  • Pays homage to previous versions including the one last look/goodbye, the bathtub scene from the 1976 version, this is Mrs. Jackson Maine, etc.
  • Ally and Jackson Maine collaborate in their live performances and song writing. We see the pairs in the previous versions work together to some extent but it’s more substantial here. The mentor-student relationship here is key until Ally outgrows her need for Jackson’s guidance.
  • Lady Gaga’s Ally and Bradley Cooper’s Jackson Maine are presented fairly equally. The 1954 version is a Judy Garland showcase and the 1976 is meant to highlight Barbra Streisand, even though Kristofferson gets some good screen time too. It was more even handed in the 2018 which to me seemed more true to the 1937 version with Gaynor and March being almost equal counterparts in the story.
  • Lady Gaga shows true vulnerability in her performance as Ally which is not something I got from Gaynor, Garland or Streisand. Or even Bennett. All are superb actresses who deliver on their own vision for the part but Gaga’s Ally felt the most real to me.
  • Added characters like Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father and Dave Chapelle as Jackson’s best friend are great for enhancing our understanding of the two main leads. Ally’s relationship with her father shows us that she’s always been taking care of the men in her life. Jackson’s best friend sticks by him through the worst further showing us how difficult it is to have someone in your life who is completely self-destructing.
  • Anthony Ramos as Ally’s BFF can be seen as a call back to the 1937 version where Gaynor’s Lester has a close friend, played by Andy Devine, who has been there for her since the beginning and see her through ups and downs. Sam Elliott’s Bobby takes the manager role to a deeper level with Bobby and Jackson as brothers. The added family dynamic enhances the drama. The two brothers have their own A Star is Born storyline with Bobby’s failed musical career.
  • Garland, Streisand and Lady Gaga are all icons in the gay community. In this new film, it pays homage to that with Gaga’s Ally performing La Vie en Rose in a nightclub. She’s the only female in a line-up of drag queens and it’s at this point where Ally and Jackson meet. At the A Star is Born Press Conference at TIFF, Lady Gaga proclaimed “I wouldn’t be here without the gay community.”


A Star is Born (2018) has a lot to offer movie-going audiences. When I watched it at TIFF I was blown away by the stellar performances and the original takes on the story. I left telling myself “this is what a movie should be.” It should be an experience, one that touches your heart and makes you swell with emotion. This is all in addition to the amazing music performed and in part written by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. These are the types of songs that give you goose bumps and take your breath away.




A Star is Born (2018) hits theaters October 5th.

I attended a press and industry screening as well as a press conference for A Star is Born at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF Review: Colette


by Raquel Stecher

dir. Wash Westmoreland
starring Keira Knightley, Dominic West, Denise Gough,


Colette was a woman ahead of her time.

Wash Westmoreland’s biopic follows Colette (Keira Knightley) from the age of 18 to 34; the pivotal years when she was married to writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, also known by his nom de plume Willy (Dominic West). Colette starts her married life as a dutiful wife, helping Willy out with his business which involves hiring writers to create stories to be published under his name. Willy is a complete cad, spending the family finances on prostitutes, in gambling dens and treating others to expensive meals. When Colette tries her hand at some writing to help Willy out, the Claudine novels are born. Published under Willy’s name and not hers, these stories become the toast of Paris. As Colette begins to discover her authentic self, Willy finds himself losing control over her. We follow Colette’s trajectory from spunky country girl to fully realized woman and creator. She comes into her sexuality discovering her physical attraction to women. As Colette and Willy’s relationship falls apart, she falls for Missy (Denise Gough), a woman defying society by presenting as a man. Through her personal and professional relationship with Missy, Colette blossoms and finds the strength within herself to live courageously.

“My name is Claudine, I live in Montigny; I was born there in 1884; I shall probably not die there.”

The first line of Claudine are repeated throughout the film as a declaration of identity. And that is what this film, a story about discovering your true self.  Colette is a superb character study exploring gender dynamics and politics within the confines of deeply entrenched double standards. The real life Colette challenged sexual norms while finding her agency. Her message of female empowerment is desperately needed today.




The idea to bringing Colette to the big screen came from Colette herself. In conversation at the Colette press conference at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival, Westmoreland said he and the late Richard Glatzer found Colette’s story to be  “a compelling narrative of a woman creating while a man was taking credit.”

As someone who loves a good period piece, Colette was rich in period detail. The cast wore real costumes of the era and scenes were shot in historic buildings. This imbued the film with a great sense of place and time. The part Colette fits Keira Knightley, no stranger to period pieces, like a glove. At the press conference she proclaimed, “I stood very tall when I played Colette. She was a maverick.” Colette is quite bold for a period piece. Comparing it with the relatively tame period pieces of previous decades, this movie demonstrates that you can still tell a story about the past that is provocative and interesting to contemporary viewers. Westmoreland went on to say, “for a long time period pieces have gotten a reputation for being a kind of safer genre. But I think at the moment there is something happening with period pieces that are radicalizing.”

Westmoreland found many parallels to Colette’s turn-of-the-century France with modern day. It was an era when people were questioning gender roles and women were demanding more access to power.  Westmoreland collaborated with screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who added the necessary female insights needed for the script. Actress Denise Gough called the casting one of the most progressive that she’d ever been involved with. Westmoreland went on to say:

 “With the casting we tried an approach that I don’t believe has really been tried before of having a very inclusive cast. We have trans men playing cisgender characters. We have trans women playing cisgender women. We have an out lesbian actor playing heterosexual. We have our gay actor playing someone who said he was heterosexual, we’re not quite sure. And we have Asian British actors playing characters who were historically white. We have a black actor playing someone who in history was white. And guess what? It all works. And these have been sacred rules for so long…. Colette broke a lot of rules so we though we should too.” – Wash Westmoreland




Colette is in select theaters starting today.

I attended a press and industry screening as well as the press conference for Colette at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.

TIFF Review: The Wedding Guest


by Raquel Stecher

The Wedding Guest
dir. Michael Winterbottom
starring Dev Patel, Radhika Apte, Jim Sarbh


It’s seems like a disservice to you, dear reader, for me to summarize the plot of this movie. The greatest joy I experienced while watching this film at TIFF was going into it knowing nothing. With no trailer and only a vague description, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I found myself enveloped in this world, not knowing what was going on or who these characters were or where this story was taking me. It was magical.



Jay (Dev Patel) is a mysterious traveler arriving in Pakistan for a wedding. He’s not your average wedding guest because he’s there to kidnap the bride Samira (Radhika Apte). Jay’s been hired by the bride’s secret Indian beau Deepesh (Jim Sarbh) to save her from an arranged marriage. When Jay kidnaps Samira, his carefully executed plan is thrown off by a nosy bodyguard who Jay has to kill to escape. When Jay tries to return Samira to Deepesh, things are not as they seem. As news of the bodyguard’s death and bride’s kidnapping spreads, Jay and Samira find themselves on the run.

Director Michael Winterbottom’s The Wedding Guest is shrouded in mystery. It draws the audience in, peeling back the layers of the story all the while holding us at arm’s length. I got lost in this world, in the setting, in the lives of Jay and Samira. And these characters are two of the most perplexing and enigmatic ones you’ll ever encounter on screen. Every time I learned something new about them, a morsel of information, it made me hungry for more. We don’t fully understand them but we’re willing participants in their game.

Patel and Apte deliver A+ performances. Sarbh doesn’t have a big role but he stands out as the shifty beau with a secret agenda. The film was shot in India and Pakistan with a small crew which gave the film a profound sense of realism (you feel like you’re right there with them) and also an intimacy. The movie is filled with really amazing cinematography and some great aerial shots courtesy of Giles Nuttgens.

The Wedding Guest is a superbly crafted mystery with terrific performances.  Winterbottom is such a versatile director. Go see this one!

I attended the world premiere of The Wedding Guest at the Elgin Theatre as part of the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Below is a Q&A with Winterbottom, Nuttgens, Patel and Apte. However it does have a major spoiler so I don’t recommend watching it until you’ve seen the film!

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