TIFF Dispatch #5: Rustin, Linklater’s Hit Man and Chris Pine’s Directorial Debut Poolman Drop

Image courtesy of Netflix

The weekend festivities may be over at TIFF, but the movies are still going strong. Day 5 commenced with an early screening of the Netflix award hopeful Rustin starring the wonderful Colman Domingo as the civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. Despite his memorable performance playing the figure who organized the 1963 March on Washington, Rustin never rises above its conventional mechanics, which includes showy, over-the-top performance from several recognizable faces, including Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Ami Ameen, and CCH Pounder.

In other words, it’s missing some meat on the bone, especially in regards to Rustin’s closeted love life, which is given all the pathos of a melodramatic soap opera. Director George C. Wolfe, a veteran in the Broadway circuit, admirably showcases how Rustin was able to pave his way in a deeply divided and homophobic world. Again, props to Domingo who manages to carry the movie's weight on his shoulders and make an otherwise generic biopic something worth watching.

Next up on the docket, and world premiering in the Special Presentations section of the festival, is Niclas Larsson’s ambitious, though narratively confounding Mother, Couch. It stars Ewan McGregor, Rhys Ifans, and Lara Flynn Boyle as estranged siblings who have reunited under the circumstance of their mother (Ellen Burstyn) refusing to, well, leave a couch in the middle of a department store. You can tell Larsson’s has taken a thing or two from the WTF? Playbook and the film is made in the spirit of Charlie Kaufman by way of Ari Aster.

Image courtesy Charades

Taylor Russell has some mileage playing the odd department store clerk, Bella, but it's McGregor’s show and his emotional depth almost brings the bizarre and abstract movie to port. It didn’t quite work for me, but I can appreciate what it’s trying to do in its exploration of grief in anticipation of a parent passing away. More movies should take these kinds of risks.

Not so much taking risk, but paying homage to the campy 80s slashers that came before (the main character is named Jason), the Midnight Madness selection Hell of a Summer sees Stranger Things star Finn Wolfhard, alongside collaborator Billy Bryk make their writing-directing debuts. It follows, of course, a squad of camp counselors, played respectively by Woolfhard, Bryk, D’Pharaoh Woon-A-Tai, Fred Hechinger, Abby Quinn, Julie Lalonde, Matthew Finlan, Daniel Gravelle, Krista Nazaire, and others, as they are stalked by a masked killer at the remote Camp Pineway at some point in the mid-to-late eighties.

Image courtesy of 30 West 

The formula of this genre has been written, rewritten, and then regurgitated in hundreds of different ways, but Wolfhard and Bryk manage to carve out their own slice in this medium and the laughs and kills, for the most part, stick their landing. There is an odd choice with about 45-minutes left in the movie to reveal the motive and identity of the slasher behind the mask thus removing any suspense in the latter half. Still, if these movies are your bread and butter, Hell of a Summer has the goods.

Another movie that also has the goods is Richard Linklater’s sleek and sexy comedy Hit Man which gives frequent muse and Top Gun: Maverick star Glen Powell one of those career defining roles that solidifies just how much of a movie star he already was. He co-wrote the script alongside Linklater and loosely based it off a Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth about undercover cop Gary Johnson. Johnson, who is played in the film by Powell, worked for the New Orleans police department. His objective was to arrest folks who would hire one of his hit man alter egos (Powell harbors several of these disguises in a hilarious montage). Most of the time, the culprits were jaded wives, disgruntled employees looking to exact revenge on their boss, or angsty teenagers.

Image courtesy of VVS Films

Some of that is dramatized, as is the main romance at the heart of film between Powell’s Johnson and Adria Arjona’s Maddy Masters who, in the film, hires Johnson to kill her abusive husband. Naturally, the two strike up a nice courtship and the sizzling chemistry between Powell and Arjona can’t be denied. It’s also a film that slowly unravels itself in hilarious, break-neck succession and sees Linklater return to top form. There’s no distribution yet, but don’t be surprised if this sells to a major streamer in what will be a huge sale.

Another “man” in the TIFF lineup on Day 5 would be Chris Pine’s directorial debut Poolman and let’s just say it didn’t rock anyone’s socks off during the world premiere. Trying to be a comedic satire in the vein of Chinatown, but missing the flavor or nuance to really pull it off, Pine plays the titular character Darren Barrenman, an environmentally conscious owner of his own pool cleaning business Awesome Aquatics.

Image courtesy of AGC Studios

He’s the subject of a documentary, which is being directed by his neighbors Jack (Danny DeVito) and Diane (Annette Bening), as he constantly bombards LA city council meetings with wild theories (some include lizards). Pine, who co-wrote the script with Ian Gotler, is committed to the bit and plays Barrenman as if he were the poor man’s The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Some of it works, but the mystery and noir elements at its center (he uncovers a shady water heist conspiracy that is neither interesting or cohesive) make you wonder how this managed to sneak its way into a major film festival. It was shot on 35mm, so at least it looks good.

-Nate Adams