Breaking News
More () »

‘Joker' packs the house as Cleveland connections dot landscape at TIFF 2019

Here's a look at some of the films creating big buzz at the Toronto International Film Festival so far.
Credit: TIFF
Adam Sandler is constantly searching for 'Uncut Gems.'

TORONTO, ON — As it has been in each of the previous 25 years that yours truly has been visiting here, there are basically two kinds of screenings at the 44th annual Toronto International Film Festival.

One is for the public, with each film playing two or three times during the 10-day feast, which ends Sunday. The other is called a press and industry screening, meaning that accredited media members and movie professionals, that is, mostly the gals and guys working in the film business, check a long list and, generally, wait in line to get in a specified time and place – first come, first served.

It’s a system that usually works, with plenty of notice allowed and the bigger movies given at least two industry screenings from which to choose. Yesterday, though, someone decided (weeks ago) that both P&Is for what has been TIFF 2019’s hottest ticket, “Joker,” would play at the same time: High noon in two separate auditoriums at the 13-screen Scotiabank Theater.

Neither Batman nor I were there, but by 11 a.m. the wild and wooly scene outside those two auditoriums must have been something out of Gotham’s darkest days. Seriously, I arrived at 11:30 (from seeing another film, what else?) and stood in a short line that grew to about 300 others before we were told that our chances of getting in were very slim.

So, now, watching the well-received back story of how a troubled young man (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes the Caped Crusader’s most infamous nemesis will have to wait for Cleveland. And, whenever that may be, Mr. Joker, we’ll see who has the last laugh.


The reason I was “late” – if 30 minutes early can really be considered tardy – is that I was on my way from a 9 a.m. showing of a genuine festival surprise.

It’s called “Uncut Gems” and features some exceptional work from Adam Sandler, of all people, making our heads spin as a high-end degenerate gambler/jeweler seriously on the edge of the biggest score of his life. This doozy from New York directing brothers Benny and Josh Safdie has a slew of Big Apple players hidden among a unique cast that includes LaKeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Judd Hirsch, Eric Bogosian and ex-NBA star Kevin Garnett.

Speaking of dizzying performances, the Canadian “Anne at 13,000 ft” finds the young title character, a daycare worker doing the best she can with a mental malady that has her awkwardly dealing with co-workers, kids and a new boyfriend. Both star Daragh Campbell and director Kazik Radwanski take us to emotional places we’ve rarely seen before, if ever.

Then there’s “The Traitor,” an epic crime drama from Italy that’s based on a real story, throws some nods toward the Corleone family, and runs on the backs of the marvelous cast assembled by master director Marco Bellocchio.

RELATED: Stars talk on and off the screen as fans, industry soak it all in at TIFF 2019

Last but not least, benchmark TV reviewers (Gene) Siskel and (Roger) Ebert used to warn against the dangers of overrating movies with big-name casts. Still, among the 22 movies seen so far, writer/director Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” has to be included as a standout with its bows to the game of Clue, Angela Lansbury and even, perhaps, a bit of Inspector Clouseau.

And the cast? How ‘bout Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Don Johnson, Frank Oz, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon, LaKeith Stanfield (again!) and M. Emmet Walsh?


As mentioned earlier in the week, we think Eddie Murphy’s “Dolemite Is My Name” has become another big TIFF surprise. But, did you know that the real “Dolemite,” comedian and blaxploitation star Rudy Ray Moore, built his early career in Cleveland?

Though the movie mentions that Moore was born in Arkansas, which is true, he came to our town as a 15-year-old and started singing, dancing and telling enough jokes to get him thinking about getting to L.A. Moore died 11 years ago in Rittman, where he had moved to be close to his daughter.

We also told you before about the fine TIFF Opening Nighter, “Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band.” Limited time and space, though, kept us from mentioning Cleveland’s own Scheele Brothers in the story.

Bill Scheele, The Band’s longtime equipment manager, is a prominent talking head throughout the documentary and, of course, points out a pivotal Band concert date at our own old Municipal Stadium in the process. Bill remains a prominent member of our arts community, living in Bratenahl and the longtime owner of Kokoon Art Galley at 78th Street Studios.

John Scheele, meanwhile, has a few distinctive movie moments, too. He was the group’s official photographer and now lives in Sana Monica, from where he has been a key member for a number of Oliver Stone movies and is one of Tinseltown’s premiere effects and production design specialists.

Hey, the directors of the second highest grossing movie of all time (“The Avengers: Endgame”) are in Toronto as well! Yep, Cleveland golden boys Joe and Anthony Russo are both here as producers.

Their movie is “Mosul,” a fact-based story about the Iraqi SWAT team that battled to recapture their city from the Islamic State. It’s first-time directed by Matthew Michael Carnahan, a Detroiter who has written such films as “Deepwater Horizon,” “World War Z” and “State of Play,” among others.

By the way, return here Friday when we hope to track down Cleveland Cinemas President Jon Forman and Cleveland International Film Festival stalwarts Bill Guentlzer and Mallory Martin and urge them talk about their own experiences at TIFF 2019.

RELATED: Bio-based pics about ‘Judy,’ ‘Seberg,’ and LaBeouf play early at TIFF 2019, and ‘The Band’ doc rocks


Adam Sandler is constantly searching for “Uncut Gems.” (Photo courtesy of TIFF

Before You Leave, Check This Out