Indie Focus: The view from Toronto

Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

This week I am writing from Toronto, where the Los Angeles Times has deployed a cadre of journalists to cover the Toronto International Film Festival.

I wrote a preview on this year’s fest, which will host the world premieres of Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out,” Kasi Lemmons’ “Harriet,” Craig Brewer’s “Dolemite Is My Name,” Lorene Scafaria’s “Hustlers,” Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit” and many more.


This year’s festival will also feature an awards gala, recognizing Hollywood stars such as Meryl Streep and Joaquin Phoenix, as well as French actress and filmmaker Mati Diop and others.

“My take is that we can’t start from awards. We start from the films, the quality of the films and the quality of the artistry we see in front of us on screen,” said Cameron Bailey, artistic director and co-head of TIFF. “It’s not just this year’s film — it’s recognizing people who are remarkable artists who’ve already contributed a lot.”

Also in Toronto are a number of films that just premiered at the festivals in Telluride and Venice.

From Telluride, Josh Rottenberg interviewed Noah Baumbach, writer and director of “Marriage Story,” a divorce drama starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver that already feels like one of the fall’s big films.

Baumbach addressed how he has grappled with the acclaim it has already earned. “Staying off the internet is helpful,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s always just nice when people like what you’ve done. You go into all of the movies with the same intention, which is just to make it as good as you can.”

Josh also spoke to Trey Edward Shults, writer and director of “Waves,” the ambitious drama starring Sterling K. Brown, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell and Lucas Hedges.

From Venice, Justin Chang reviewed “Joker,” Todd Phillips’ dark tale starring Joaquin Phoenix. “Certainly, there will be much more to say about this bleak, troubling and damnably accomplished movie before and after it reaches theaters,” he noted, “but for now, it’s already clear that this clown didn’t come to play.”

Justin also wrote about the ongoing debate over Netflix, which had “Marriage Story,” “The King” and “The Laundromat” in Venice, plus even more titles in Toronto: “Can you disrupt an industry and earn its admiration at the same time?”

We will have more screening events and Q&As soon. For updates on future events, go to

Linda Ronstadt, 73, at her home in San Francisco. "I’ve never felt that music is a competition,"  she says.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

‘Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice’

Directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice” is a look at the ‘70s and ‘80s pop singer. Known for songs such as “You’re No Good” and “Heart Like a Wheel,” she has more recently been in the news because she is grappling with Parkinson’s disease, which prevents her from singing. Ronstadt appears in and narrates the movie, which also features friends and collaborators, including Dolly Parton, Jackson Browne and others.

Reviewing the film for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote, “The portrait we get overall is of a remarkably level-headed individual, a perfectionist with a sense of personal integrity whom fellow singer Don Henley aptly characterizes as having ‘a solid core, a very determined woman.’”

Amy Kaufman visited with Ronstadt at her home in San Francisco. Ronstadt’s low-key, self-effacing demeanor was in full effect when she said, “I know there are some things I did that I’m pretty happy about. I had a lot of formidable competition. Joni Mitchell and Carole King — I felt like the freshman class and they were the senior class. Fortunately, I’ve never felt that music is a competition, so it doesn’t matter if Joni Mitchell can sing better than I can, or Bonnie Raitt, who can sing rings around me anytime. I just did what I did and tried the best that I could.”

In a review for the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote that “nothing in the movie gets too wild. Compared to some of the other recent movies about baby boomer musicians — ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ‘Rocket Man,’ ‘David Crosby: Remember My Name’ — ‘The Sound of My Voice’ goes easy on the sex and drugs. And there’s more to the story than just rock ’n’ roll. Part of what secures Ronstadt’s place in the pantheon of great 20th century American vocalists is her eclecticism. Starting out in the ’60s at the crossroads of folk and rock, she adapted her style to the major pop trends of the next decade and a half, from country-rock to New Wave.”

For Pitchfork, Kristen Yoonsoo Kim noted Ronstadt’s collaboration with other female artists such as Emmylou Harris. “Ronstadt was a woman who supported other women, even when the industry lent such little room for them to succeed. She was un-diva-like, happy to sing backup harmony for Parton and simply share the stage with her personal idols. There was one thing Ronstadt was unrelenting about, though, and it was her desire to freely explore whatever genres she pleased, be it straight-up country with her girls or mariachi canciones with her family.”

Expectations are high for the horror thriller "It Chapter Two," with Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, James Ransome, Isaiah Mustafa and Jay Ryan.
(Brooke Palmer / Warner Bros. Pictures)

‘It Chapter Two’

Directed by Andy Muschietti, “It Chapter Two” again draws from the 1986 novel by Stephen King. The first film went on to become the highest-grossing horror film of all time domestically, so expectations for the new one have been running high. While the young cast from the first film appears in flashbacks, this one also features actors such as James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain and Bill Hader as their grown-up selves.

In her review for The Times, Jen Yamato wrote, “By selectively whittling down the novel’s interwoven timelines and characters, ‘It Chapter Two’ refocuses its telling of King’s 1,100-plus-page bestseller into not just a scary clown movie — which it also is, thanks to Bill Skarsgård’s demented return as the trans-dimensional titular monster — but an elegy of memory, trauma and healing, minus the more extreme and controversial elements of the novel… Muschietti nevertheless strains to weave the journeys of his seven characters across two timelines while cramming a convoluted surplus of plot into one saga-ending sequel.”

Sonaiya Kelley spoke to actor Finn Wolfhard, who was made a star by the first film and the series “Stranger Things” and will appear in the upcoming adaptation of “The Goldfinch.” On the success of “It,” he said, “I didn’t really care if it was a big hit or not because I had so much fun, but I was really pleasantly surprised.”

In a review for Vulture, Angelica Jade Bastién wrote that “‘It Chapter Two’ moves with an almost too swift purpose, never feeling the weight of its nearly three-hour run time; although it is long, the film feels frustratingly thin. Meanwhile, the film is aggressively sentimental, and moments of emotional catharsis or terror don’t often hit the way they need to. When they do, it is because of the dedication of the acting.”

Tiffany Chu in a scene from "Ms. Purple."
In “Ms. Purple,” Tiffany Chu portrays a young woman who, when not caring for her ailing father, works in the dark karaoke rooms of Koreatown.
(Oscilloscope Laboratories )

‘Ms. Purple’

Directed and co-written by Justin Chon, “Ms. Purple” is set and was filmed in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. The story revolves around a young woman (Tiffany Chu) who in trying to care for her ailing father has to reach out to her estranged brother (Teddy Lee) for help.

Reviewing the movie for The Times, Robert Abele praised the performances by Chu and Lee, while also writing, “If you think of second features as pitfalls of either sameness or overreach, Chon’s ‘Ms. Purple’ is more curious than most in that it feels like an alluring mixture of the two, a family story with artistic ambitions that’s tone-conscious to a fault, but rarely chord-rich.”

When Jen Yamato interviewed Chon and Chu back when the film premiered earlier this year at Sundance, Chon spoke about what he drew from the response to his first feature in moving on to his second. “Instead of going bigger, I wanted to go more intimate and more specific and more tribal — because I feel that the more specific it is, the more universal it tends to be.”

Email me if you have questions, comments or suggestions, and follow me on Twitter: @IndieFocus.