Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we pull focus on a few subjects that have everyone reeling, and recommend some books worthy of two thumbs up (or ‘fresh’ certification, depending on your internet age).
Not only did this past weekend see more movie drama at the Venice Film Festival than the Billy Wilder classic Sunset Boulevard, today marks the start of the closer-to-home Toronto International Film Festival, which returns in a big way this year, with massive gala events and screenings across the city’s downtown.
So we’re shining the spotlight on ten films that will screen at the 2022 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and recommending books you or your young reader might enjoy if you don’t happen to snag tickets at the box-office. Lights . . . camera . . . action!
One of the most anticipated world premieres at TIFF is Devotion, a war film about the American Navy’s first Black aviator and his friendship with his white wingman that stars Jonathan Majors (who we all loved in Lovecraft Country, even though it scared us). But if you can’t make it to the movie, you can read Sprouting Wings by Louisa Jaggar, Shari Becker, and illustrated by Floyd Cooper. The book tells the story of another Black aviation pioneer, James Herman Banning, the first African American to fly across the country in 1932, over 20 years before the events of the film.
The festival’s closing night film is Dalíland, a biopic about the surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dalí (played by Ben Kingsley) and his wife Gala, directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho). If you can’t be at the gala, you can always check out Just Being Dalí by Amy Guglielmo and Brett Helquist, a picture book that celebrates the artist’s individuality, from his melting clocks, his lobster phone, and his pet ocelot Babou. (No word yet on who plays Babou in the film!)
Music fans are losing it over TIFF’s opening night film for the Midnight Madness program, Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. This embellished account of the rise of everyone’s favorite parody songwriter promises to be a good time. And while no one has written a picture book about Al yet, Rosemary Mosco and Jacob Souva created Flowers Are Pretty … Weird!, which not only shares a similar title, but also shares a love of the strange, the funny, and the floral (be it real plants or Hawaiian shirts).
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
Though it’s not premiering at TIFF, Martin McDonagh’s new film The Banshees of Inisherin, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, has been generating a lot of buzz on the festival circuit. Set on a remote Irish island, it illustrates what happens when one friend decides to abruptly end a longtime relationship. It’s not a perfect pairing, but the story reminds us a bit of the depiction of friendship in Wolfie and Fly by Cary Fagan and Zoe Si. Renata Wolfman (‘Wolfie’) doesn’t see much point to friends. But friendship finds her in the form of Livingston Flott (‘Fly’), a weird and loquacious boy Wolfie doesn’t like much at first, but then finds it hard to live without.
Another world premiere at TIFF is The Menu, a satire about high-end cuisine from one of the creators of Succession and starring Anya Taylor-Joy. While it’s not quite a satire, Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster by Rachelle Delaney, is a comical book set in the world of food, as Alice must work with her culinary historian father to compete in a cooking reality show – while simultaneously solving a delicious behind-the-scenes mystery!
We’ll never say ‘no’ to a new Nicolas Cage film. And Butcher’s Crossing, a Western in which he plays a buffalo hunter in the 1870s who convinces an Ivy league grad to join him in a dangerous expedition, is on our “must-see list.” But if we can’t get a ticket, we’ll read R. J. Palacio’s similarly ambitious middle-grade Western, Pony. Though twelve-year-old Silas is no Ivy league student, he is drawn out on a dangerous journey – to find his kidnapped father, rather than hunt bison.
TIFF will also host the world premiere of Wendell & Wild, an animated collaboration between Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas), in which demon brothers team with a goth teen to defeat their demonic dad. All these Satanic high school hijinks make us think of The Mystery of the Meanest Teacher: A Johnny Constantine Graphic Novel by Ryan North and Derek Charm. The book is a middle-grade take on the comic book occult detective, in which Salem tweens John and Anna (with some help from a friendly demon Etrigan) use their occult powers to uncover if his homeroom teacher is really a witch. And, like the film, destined to be a goth teen cultural touchstone.
Another premiere at TIFF is Bros, written by and starring Billy Eichner, one of the first big-budget queer Hollywood rom-coms. Bobby is a cynical podcaster who writes off boring (but good-looking) Aaron, until they find something special blossoms in this movie that plays with the tropes of rom-coms. If the idea of unexpected romance and play with rom-com conventions through a queer lens is your thing, you’ll want to read Kevin Van Whye’s Nate Plus One, a friends-to-lovers story that takes place in the lead-up to a Johannesburg wedding.
Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is back in Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which has its premiere at TIFF. The Southern detective has a new case and a new cast of suspects, all hiding their own mysteries, but this time they’re on a remote Greek island. Want a twisty mystery that’s also the second in a series AND set on an island? How about Family of Liars by E. Lockhart, in which readers return to the Sinclair family’s private island (made so popular in We Were Liars) and uncover the secrets of a previous generation. (If only there had been teen Benoit Blanc on hand to sort things out!)
Finally, we can’t believe we’ve waited this long to gush about The Woman King, the new film by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love & Basketball) and starring Viola Davis. Davis stars as Nansica in this true story of the Agojie, an all-female military regiment charged with protecting the African Kingdom of Dahomey (in what is now known as Benin). The warrior women in Namina Forna’s The Gilded Ones may be fictional (and have certain magical powers), but the alaki in this fantasy novel share a few commonalities with the subject of this highly anticipated film, and were based somewhat on the stories Forna learned growing up in nearby Sierra Leone.
See you at the movies – AND the bookstore!