TIFF Dispatch #3: Dumb Money Goes To The Moon, Reptile Doesn’t Bite, and The Peasants Dazzles

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Day 3 got off to a strong start with the Craig Gilespie Sony comedy Dumb Money, which chronicles the infamous short squeeze of the GameStop stock that bludgeoned hedge funds and made the stock trading app Robinhood public enemy no. 1. It’s The Social Network with the ethos of The Big Short and will have broad commercial appeal when Sony starts rolling it out towards the end of September.

The film features a plethora of recognizable faces (and needle drops), chief among them Paul Dano playing notorious YouTuber and OG GameStop champion Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty in the Redditsphere. Elsewhere, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Seth Rogen, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley make up the majority of the cast playing Hedge fund CEOs and every day average joes who managed to make a quick buck on the craze.

Dumb Money, an expression the billionaires use when retail traders ignore logic and throw money to the Wall Street tigers, does a solid job juggling all these various characters and intersecting plots. It’s easy to follow, easy to root for, and easy to get the full scope of how this happened in the first place. Big fan.

Image courtesy of Netflix

I wasn’t as much a fan of the latest Netflix thriller Reptile, which debuted in the Special Presentations section of the film festival. It’s a slow-burn noir procedural that sees the wonderful Benicio Del Toro trying to solve the grim murder of a local real estate agent. Heavily influenced by David Fincher and Prisoners, Reptile begins with promise as we follow Del Toro’s homicide detective Tom Nichols as he’s been tasked with finding out who killed the agent. The suspect list includes her husband, played by Justin Timberlake in an over-the-top performance; an ex-husband, and the token creepy dude who is so obviously not the culprit, you mine as well stamp innocent on his forehead. Alicia Silverstone co-stars as Nichols' wife and, as you can probably guess, does absolutely nothing.

Directed and co-written by Grant Singer (Benjamin Brewer and Del Toro also share screenwriting credit), Reptile would like to think it's smarter than the audience, but if folks pay close enough attention, they’ll be able to pick this one apart early (trust me, it won’t be hard). And then you’re life to stew in the discovery for nearly 45-minutes as the film drags on well past the two hour marker. Del Toro is great, but this will be the #1 movie on Netflix for one weekend and then be dismissed quickly.

Something that won’t be as quickly dismissed will be Loving Vincent filmmakers DK and Hugh Welchman gorgeous The Peasants. Like their previous film, they employ a team of animators, who work by hand, to paint every frame. To put into perspective, it takes one painter five hours to complete a single frame, so by watching The Peasants you’re essentially viewing over 40,000 watercolor paintings, and it’s a thing of beauty.

Image courtesy of MUBI

As for the story, it’s adapted from the gigantic 900 page opus Chlopi from Pulitzer prize winning Polish author Wladyslaw Stainslaw Reymont. The filmmakers manage to condense that into an approachable two hour journey (when you’re not being intoxicated by the depth and detail of the animation). The film stars Kamila Urzedowska as Jagna, a poor, Polish woman who causes ire and frustration among the town folks after she marries a wealthy farmer (Miroslaw Baka) who also happens to be her lover’s (Robert Gulaczyk) father. Talk about an awkward triangle.

That might not sound like it lends itself to this medium, but I couldn’t imagine this story being told in any other capacity. Add in the sensational score by Lukasz Rostowski and it makes for an unforgettable, one of a kind cinematic experience.

Image courtesy of Wayfarer Studios

A movie with its heart in the right place though ends up feeling like a lukewarm Lifetime movie, Tony Goldwyn’s Ezra, which debuted in the Special Presentation section of Tiff, has a solid (and makertable) cast, but ultimately, the film never treats its characters with a shred of authenticity. Which is especially grueling considering the movie is about a child with autism. Instead, everyone is just playing broad caricatures, including Bobby Cannavale’s Max Bernal, a struggling stand-up comic and recently divorced from Jenna (Rose Byrne) who together co-parent young Ezra (newcomer William A. Fitzgerald).

Ezra is on the spectrum and has trouble learning at school. When it’s recommended, after a dangerous altercation that brings into question Ezra’s mental instability, he should be medicated and attend a special needs school, Max flips out and takes him on a cross country journey for reasons poorly explained (though at one point both Rainn Wilson and Vera Farmiga show up!). Robert De Niro co-stars as Max’s father or Ezra’s “pop pop,” but his character never feels suited for Tony Spiridakis’ thin screenplay. Emotions must be earned and not taken for granted, and the entirety of Ezra is both manipulative and formulaic. Not to mention, there’s hardly any chemistry between Cannavale or Fitzgerald despite the newcomer giving it his best effort. Deep down, there’s a better movie here, and parents who have children with autism may gravitate towards it, but “Ezra” whiffs. It’s currently seeking distribution.

Image courtesy 20th Century Studios/Disney

Another well intentioned though stiff comedy, one where the characters bicker and scream at each other for long periods of time, Jessica Yu’s Quiz Lady is a strange movie and squanders the talents of co-leads Awkwafina and Sandra Oh. In what feels like a raunchy version of Disney’s ill-fated College Road Trip, the plot follows sisters Anne (Awkwafina) and Jenny (Sandra Oh) as they embark to pay off their mothers gambling debt (how she procured this debt or basic questions like what does their relationship look like are never explored) by getting Anne to appear on a popular Jeopardy-esq quiz show (which she watches religiously and routinely gets every question correct while sitting on the couch) or else her dog, a pug named Linguine, will never be seen again.

Aside from Will Ferrell hamming it up as the Alex Trebek stand-in or the anti-Ken Jennings inspired Jason Schwartzman, Quiz Lady is another boring retread, with diversions related to drugs and slapstick physical comedy, that stretch beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief. There is one bittersweet cameo in the closing moments, but it’s not enough to make up for a humorless streaming comedy where you don’t care about the stakes or the characters involved. Hulu has it slated for a November 3rd bow.

-Nate Adams