Toronto International Film Festival 2013 Journal
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Harsh, gritty prison drama with solid performances and well-developed characters. It occurs to me that this is one of those cases where the main character could've easily felt too cold or distant, or that his tendency to always react so aggressively would render him unsympathetic to the audience, but Jack O'Connell's lead performance and Jonathan Asser's screenplay don't ever let that happen. The movie eventually starts to feel repetitive, and it's not unwarranted to feel as though it gets to a point where it has already said and done everything it wanted to say and do, but the final moments are strong enough to make it worth getting there, especially considering that the film makes some great visual choices during one of its peak climactic moments.
This one's due for a 2014 release in the UK, so I'd imagine it'll take some time before it reaches this side of the world, but I can't imagine it'll have a hard time finding an audience who appreciates it.
They don't make movies as interesting and intriguing as Under the Skin anymore. The first shots of the movie are visually spellbinding, and from that point on, it's as absorbing as it gets. This is so different, so very much its own movie. It doesn't move at a very fast pace, but don't let that make you think it's boring, because slow as the pace may be, one can't wait to see the destination to which the movie is going to take us. Yes, the ultimate destination at which it arrives isn't earth-shattering or otherwise carry much of a punch, but it's an awesome ride getting there nonetheless.
Scarlett Johansson will likely get flack for her performance. I can imagine critics using Michael Fassbender's performance in Prometheus as a point of comparison, in order to say that it's possible to give a layered performance even when playing an emotionless non-human. And it's true that Johansson's turn is pretty one-note, but this isn't a case in which that problem affects the movie's effectiveness all that much. Oh, and speaking of Johansson, "weird" as this movie may be, I predict it'll have no problem whatsoever reaching theaters on our side of the world.
Now, here's where my physical presence at the festival made it harder for me to be as harsh as I would perhaps usually be in talking about a movie. You see, as much as I didn't like The Sacrament, the experience of watching it, followed by the in-person Q&A session with director Ti West, was a pivotal moment in my understanding of how and why I respond to film the way I do. For a long time, I've wanted to understand why I'm so partial towards new movies that are very unknown or that were made on a shoestring budget (or both, which is usually the case). Now I know why. These movies get whichever merit they're gonna get exclusively from the effort that the team puts into it. They can't coast on the well-known name of a director or actor, and they can't, like so many movies today, simply re-use the title of a familiar franchise/TV series/comic book in order to automatically score ticket purchases. And I have a strong desire to support anyone who has nothing other than his/her creative instincts and efforts as the tools to try to make a great film.
Ti West is exactly the kind of filmmaker I'm interested in supporting. That's why I felt bad that I joined in on the lack of applause after The Sacrament ended. The film has an initially cool premise that, unfortunately, ends up going in a pretty lame direction. The found-footage approach is used poorly, and there are several lines of dialogue towards the end that are not only cause for eye-rolling, but that totally take you out of the sense of authenticity that you're supposed to at least feel while watching one of these films, even if you know it isn't real. Worse, this movie came at a time at which I'm growing severely weary of religion being whored out in horror movies. I liked The Conjuring just fine, but even with that film, there was a feeling of "This stuff again?". As I'll mention when I discuss one of the later films I saw at the festival (one of the best horror films I've seen in years), I believe that the creative mind has an ability to delve into the dark realms of the supernatural or of non-religious lore in order to come up with stuff that truly frightens. Leave God and the Devil out of it already.
With all that said, yes, I still felt bad, because it's hard when you actually see the person whose efforts went into play and when you can tell that he worked hard to get it done and that he's passionate about it.
The movie's getting released by IFC. I don't blame you if you wanna see it because you're as curious about it as I was. But don't say I didn't warn you.
Mary Queen of Scots (2013)
Mary Queen of Scots is decent, but if I ever saw another movie in a theater at 9:00 in the a.m., I'd hope for something with a little more spice to it, as was suggested by the trailer. Instead, this doesn't really stand apart too much from other period costume dramas we've seen, many of which are better. It doesn't appear to have a release date, but this is one you'd be better off renting anyway.
Of all the films for which I had tickets during my week at TIFF, the vibrant and incredibly well-paced Kill Your Darlings is the one I was most looking forward to. Needless to say, it didn't disappoint and it just might have exceeded expectations. The movie is relentlessly entertaining, it looks great, and it makes plenty of cool creative choices in terms of how it stages several scenes. Dane Dehaan and his penetrating eyes absolutely kill the role of Lucien Carr.
There's an aspect in which I seem to be in the minority. Audiences have apparently responded very positively towards the route the movie takes during the climax and towards the particular historical event it chooses to focus on, and during the Q&A session, the director basically said that this event is what led him to make the film. That's all fine and well- and I agree that the climax has its share of emotional resonance. But there's something about the way in which it's edited, and the way certain scenes are shown out of context and/or shown again later that felt a little bit messy and not quite as crisp as what we'd gotten before. It might make me look a bit superficial to say that I enjoyed the shenanigans and academic buffoonery that came before the climax more than the climax itself. And it's not really that I enjoyed them more- I just thought they were handled better than the film's final moments.
Still- what an impressive first feature. I can't imagine what a rush it must be to get your first film to play at one of the biggest theaters at which I've ever seen a movie play, and to then get such a positive response from the audience.
It's due to be released in theaters in November. Go see it.
I was planning to maybe not do a write-up for The Wind Rises, because I'm not educated at all in Hayao Miyazaki's filmography. I thought I had seen one of his prior films, but it turns out the movie I'd seen wasn't directed by him. So, The Wind Rises was my first time being exposed to his work, and that might have something to do with the fact that I didn't respond to it with the awe that seemed to permeate the theater I was in after it was over. The movie looks and sounds marvelously great, and it's got plenty of individual emotionally stirring moments, but I wouldn't say it's something that I thought was great as a whole film- it's got plenty of moments in which the characters' conversations center entirely around airplane mechanics and construction, which I can't say is something I found myself too interested in.
With all that said, considering the little buzz that animated movies have generated this year, the only Oscar prediction I might derive from the movies I saw at TIFF is that this could very well win the best animated feature film Oscar, especially since it'd be a farewell to a filmmaker who's obviously extremely respected. But yeah, I don't think I'm in a position to pass much judgment on this one until I've seen what he did before it.
It comes out in February 2014. Worth seeing in a theater for sure.
Rigor Mortis (2013)
There was a moment or two during which I dozed off for a few seconds during Rigor Mortis, not because it was boring (which is the opposite of what this movie is), but because when you go to a midnight film after not getting many hours of sleep the night before and having already watched three other movies earlier in the day... well, I'm only human. That said, if I'd been scheduled to watch Mary Queen of Scots, The Wind Rises or even Kill Your Darlings at that time of the night, I would've probably been kicked out of the theater for snoring. But that wasn't possible with Rigor Mortis.
Don't ask me what it's about, because I'm not sure I can explain it to you, but what I can tell you is that it's by turns frightening and suspenseful and insanely creative. There's plenty of bloodshed that somehow never feels gratuitous. This film did exactly what I've been craving, as far as delving into the dark gallows of the supernatural, without turning to religious bullshit, to make for something truly scary. I might be overrating it, and I probably need to see it again, but considering how fucking stale the horror genre has been for years, this was an awesome surprise. Unfortunately, I have no idea when I'll get a chance to see it again. Why am I getting the feeling I'm gonna have to wait till it's on Netflix?
The lone breath of lightness that we got from the overwhelmingly dark selection of movies we saw at TIFF was the cool Canadian comedy The Art of the Steal. I have to admit I didn't anticipate how necessary this movie was going to be. It's certainly nothing special, but even I need a break from the grim every once in a while, and this did the trick perfectly.
It's a caper comedy. There's nothing original or suspenseful about the caper itself, and the reveal of the obligatory twist ending is edited exactly the way in which such reveals have been edited in oodles of other movies (at the very least, this twist ending is nowhere as offensively ludicrous as Now You See Me's). Caper and twist ending aside, though, what I did appreciate about the movie is how it comments on itself and how the characters poke so much fun at each other- it's not unwarranted to think that one could've just sat and watched these guys argue in a living room without making them go through all of the film's plot machinations.
As far as Q&A sessions go, this has got to win the award for most entertaining, as the director came out with two of the cast members, and if anyone had any doubts after the movie and the credits that these people had tons of fun shooting this, those doubts were obviously dispelled during the Q&A session.
This is supposed to come out in the next few weeks, and considering the cast and the genre, it'll probably do really well.
We're now down to the last two films I saw at TIFF. One of them was the best movie I saw at the festival and the other was the worst. The weirdy-weird Proxy gets the latter award. The film's director came out before the movie began, and asked anyone who ended up not liking the movie to not share their thoughts on any social media, but I think he's underestimating the value of negative criticism. I've read plenty of negative reviews that have made me want to see the movies reviewed, if only because the criticisms seem to be things I'd like. I already used the term "weirdy-weird" in reference to Proxy and some of you probably already want to see it just for that.
Proxy wants to swerve and constantly go in unexpected directions, which is something I'd normally enjoy, but not when the situations are as asinine as this and the performances are so mediocre. The film's most compelling and interesting character takes a departure from the film when we don't expect her to- yes, the surprise is nice, but it doesn't help that, once she's gone, it feels like everyone left is either a buffoon or a stereotype or both. It's just really silly. The film has plenty of scenes that don't go anywhere and that exist exclusively for the sake of awkwardness. See, as I write this and I read what I'm writing, I can tell a lot of people will probably be intrigued by the movie. So, again, bad reviews really aren't such a bad thing.
Like I said, I'm a supporter of small independent efforts, and Proxy is supposed to be one, yet it never even looks like one. It's got the sheen of something they might show on the Syfy network. And that made it all the more unappealing to me.
The gut-wrenching, cringe-inducing and heartbreaking Moebius was the perfect conclusion to my experience at TIFF. This will make me sound pretentious, but this is the only screening I attended after which I found myself using the word "film" instead of "movie" while talking about my reaction to it. That's because it's the only one I saw in which everything came together perfectly: entertainment (not pleasant entertainment, but the kind of entertainment that keeps your eyes glued to the screen and keeps you transfixed throughout the entirety of the film), splendid performances, and moral/emotional complexity.
Moebius navigates issues as basic and domestic as the instinct to take care of one's progeny against all harm and suffering to issues related to the dark and troubling realms of sexuality. That it conveys everything with zero dialogue, without ever physically showing more gruesome material than necessary, and with even a dollop of comedy to offer respite within the mire in which it drowns us is nothing short of a remarkable achievement. The film's climactic moments are the very definition of tragically beautiful. It's been a long time since a film has riveted me throughout like this.
Getting the chance to attend the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was, for me, one of those things I always dreamed about doing but figured I'd never get a chance to do. It just seemed like something one would be crazy to do, in the sense of allocating the time and money to do it, and I also figured that, if I ever did have the time and money to do it, I'd have no choice other than to do it alone, because no one else would be crazy enough to do it with me. And doing something like this alone simply wouldn't have any meaning, because although watching a movie may technically be an individual experience, attending an event life TIFF only confirms for me that movies exist so that those who love them can share their experiences watching them with other people who also love them. So, the first thanks goes out to Listal, because it was through it that I met someone who was crazy enough to do this with me. :)
Not a single one of the negative expectations I had towards TIFF came true. I expected it to be ridiculously hard to get tickets for the films I wanted- turns out, if you get a membership, it's very easy to get exactly what you want. I expected that it would be difficult to get good seats at the theaters, but that was never the case- the rumors that you have to arrive an hour before a screening starts are false. Finally, the "I know more than you" snobbery and pretense that I expected to encounter among audience members was nowhere to be found. What I encountered from the people who were watching these films with me was a lot of support and excitement towards film and a strong sense of empathy towards how hard it is to get films made, coupled with curiosity as to how specific things about each film were accomplished. It also helps immensely that the members of the volunteer staff at the festival are so ridiculously helpful, cheerful and efficient.
Last but not least, I'd like to thank Mr. X for being all kinds of awesome, as well as insane enough to have the idea of doing this with me. For a much better representation of the experience we had in Toronto, be sure to check out his TIFF list here. Oh, and yeah, I should definitely also thank him for having gone through the effort of finding and posting nearly all the pictures I'm using for this list.
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Published 5 years, 7 months ago
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