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The Ups And Downs Of The Toronto International Film Festival


The Toronto International Film Festival is underway. It's the 40th year of the fest, and for a week now, our colleagues Linda Holmes and Bob Mondello have been tweeting and blogging from Toronto. Bob is our film critic and Linda is our pop culture blogger, and both liked "The Martian," by Ridley Scott and starring Matt Damon.


MATT DAMON: (As Mark Watney) I'm entering this log for the record. This is Mark Watney, and I'm still alive - obviously. I have no way to contact NASA or my crewmates, but even if I could, it would take four years for another manned mission to reach me, and I'm in a Hab designed to last 31 days.

CORNISH: Bob and Linda are back and join me now.

Welcome back guys.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Good to be here.


CORNISH: So "The Martian" is big. It looks very hyped (laughter). It looks very expensive. And it's Matt Damon - big movie star. Was it that good?

HOLMES: Yeah, I think a lot of people were worried that it wouldn't retain the wit of the Andy Weir book that it's based on, but it really does. He's a funny character. He has a sense of humor about his isolation. And he spends a lot of time doing very sophisticated science, which is fun to watch, and which they give you plenty of. It's nicely adapted. It's really terrific.

MONDELLO: And it's exciting - oh, my gosh. And it's gorgeous.

CORNISH: I mean, he's lost in space, right? Like, this is the plot, basically (laughter)? It sounds scary.

MONDELLO: He's lost on Mars and then later in space. Yeah, it's a terrific picture.

CORNISH: All right so that's the kind of big, splashy film. Anything else - maybe something smaller - that you would just absolutely recommend?

HOLMES: I really enjoyed "Room," which is the adaptation of the Emma Donoghue novel of the same name about a woman who is held captive in a shed and eventually gives birth to a boy who she raises there. And he's 5 years old as of this point in the story, and a lot of the movie is about how she tries to care for him in these terrible circumstances, including trying to figure out what to tell him about their life. He doesn't know any different. And at one point, she uses a classic tale to draw an analogy to their situation.


BRIE LARSON: (As Ma) Do you remember how Alice wasn't always in Wonderland?

JACOB TREMBLAY: (As Jack) She fell down, down, down deep in a hole.

LARSON: (As Ma) Right. Well, I wasn't always in room. I'm like Alice.

HOLMES: So that's a wonderful performance by Brie Larson, and also the young...

MONDELLO: And the kid (laughter).

HOLMES: Yeah, the young actor, whose name is Jacob Tremblay - who was, I believe, 7 when they shot this movie - is stunning and really expressive. It's a very fine kid performance.

CORNISH: It sounds very intense. Is there anything that you expected to love and then, you know, didn't?

MONDELLO: Yeah, I - well, I went in thinking "The Danish Girl" was going to be terrific. Eddie Redmayne just won best actor last year for playing physicist...

HOLMES: Stephen Hawking.

MONDELLO: ...Stephen Hawking. And he's playing the Danish girl, who is the first transgender woman to attempt a surgical intervention back in the 1920s. And I thought the picture felt more upholstered. It's more about the costumes than it is about the emotions of all of that. It wants to be, but I just wasn't feeling very much.

CORNISH: There's so much hype about this film, I think in part because there's, like, a slate of films that address LGBT issues, like "About Ray," you mentioned "The Danish Girl." Do you see a trend or any kind of theme that comes out in these films?

MONDELLO: Well, there's a lot of it at the festival, and there's going be a lot of it this fall. I thought it was interesting because most of these pictures are not about the things that gay films have been in the past. A lot of times, gay films are about coming out or about suffering in some way. And these were films in which the characters were gay, but they were actually films about other things.

CORNISH: So not just about identity.

MONDELLO: Right. So I thought that was kind of interesting. There's a movie with identical twin gangsters, it's called, "Legend." Both of the gangsters are played by Tom Hardy, and one of them is gay. I mean, that's the way that gay issues are being incorporated into films this year. It's not about identity necessarily, it's about gay people in life.

CORNISH: And there's also been tweets about the human rights issues that have come up in films. And is that something, Linda, that you saw as a trend? I mean, were there a number of films like that?

HOLMES: There are a lot of films like that, and one of the ones that I really was very affected by is called "Angry Indian Goddesses," and it's a - they say it's mostly improvised, and it's a group of Indian women who get together for the wedding of one of them. And they spend a lot of time just kind of socializing and jawing about their lives and talking about how everything's going, and you kind of feel like you're getting a little bit of a buddy comedy. But then ultimately it turns out to be a film that is strongly and unapologetically about the threats to the way that they live, and their fears, and the way that they're treated by police and by elements of government. And so it actually turns out to be quite a devastating film in some ways, but it's also wonderful and often funny and warm. And it hit me very, very hard, that one.

MONDELLO: Boy, that's a lot more affirmative. I didn't see that one, I'm afraid. The ones I saw were so distressing to watch and brilliant. I mean, "Son Of Saul" is an astonishing picture about the Holocaust that is so first-person that you feel like you're in the room with the character that is there, and the rooms he's in are in Auschwitz. It's a really grim and extraordinary picture. I mean, just brilliantly made and wrenching.

"Beasts Of No Nation" is about child soldiers, with Idris Elba. "Dheepan" is about immigrants from war-torn countries. There were just all of these difficult films. To some extent, you go to a film festival and you expect to see important pictures. There were a lot of pictures that felt important this year.

CORNISH: And now we are headed into that time of the year where all the kind of big movies come out, and the kind of award-winning, hyped movies come out. Are you feeling good? Are you feeling like people have a lot of choices going to the movies, come fall?

HOLMES: Yeah, and I think what I always take away from a festival like this is, a lot of these films aren't perfect across the board, but they offer something. I saw one called "Born To Be Blue," in which Ethan Hawke plays Chet Baker. It's kind of a weird, shaggy, somewhat unformed movie, but it's really interesting how they go about shooting it. It's an example of - you know, a lot of times, you're not going to see a perfect top-to-bottom project. You're going to see something that has great interesting elements, and I think if that's what you're looking for, I think it'll be - yes, a good fall.

CORNISH: You're already the movie critic, so I know you're biased here.


MONDELLO: Well, I think - I mean, I saw four or five pictures that I thought as I was watching them, well, that's going to up for an Oscar, probably for best picture. "Anomalisa," a new picture by Charlie Kaufman that is animated and that is incredibly emotional, and - I mean, seriously, we're talking about these figures who are all - they're made out of felt, and yet, you feel for them. It's a remarkable picture.

And so I was looking at pictures and seeing how much they seemed to be about form and about filmmaking, in a way, which just fascinated me.

CORNISH: Well, I want to continue this conversation online, where you can find both Bob and Linda.

Bob, you tweet where?

MONDELLO: At @bob_mondello.

CORNISH: And Linda?

HOLMES: I'm at @nprmonkeysee.

CORNISH: Linda Holmes is our editor for our pop culture blog, Monkey See. Bob Mondello, our film critic.

Thanks so much to you both.

MONDELLO: It's a joy.

HOLMES: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.
Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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