Rowthree Staff Summary of TIFF 2016

Our traditional round-up of impressions and reactions to the massive slate of Toronto International Film Festival has arrived in its ninth edition here in the third row. A always been the case, Row Three staff and contributors along with a few a regular reader or two provide a tiny capsule, a postcard if you will, of all the films that they saw at the festival, accompanied by an identifier-tag: [BEST], [LOVED], [LIKED], [DISLIKED], [DISAPPOINTED], [FELL ASLEEP], [WALKED OUT], [HATED] and [WORST].

Collectively we – Kurt Halfyard, Matt Brown, Bob Turnbull, Mike Rot, Ariel Fisher and Sean Kelly – saw a sizable chunk of the 300+ films shown at the festival. Hopefully this post can act as a ‘rough guide’ for films that will be finding distribution on some platform, whether on the big screen, or small internet enabled screen, in the next 18 months.
 
 

THE SHORT VERSION:

Personal BEST: MOONLIGHT [Mike Rot], [Ariel] & [Matt B.], MANCHESTER BY THE SEA [Bob], NOCTURNAL ANIMALS [Kurt], and LA LA LAND [Sean].

Personal WORST: Several folks were not willing to truly hate anything they saw this year (and that’s cool) but the low-lights were: THE DUELIST [Kurt], ONCE AGAIN [Bob], and DOG EAT DOG [Sean].
 
 
Other Consensus Picks: PATERSON, PERSONAL SHOPPER, CERTAIN WOMEN, AFTER THE STORM, RAW, LOVING and GRADUATION.
 
 
The ‘MASSIVE’ version is below. All our thoughts and impressions from offerings of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.


 
 
MOONLIGHT
Barry Jenkins’ followup to Medicine for Melancholy (2008), Moonlight is a compelling, significant, timely film about the nature of masculinity and sexuality in an African American community ravaged by drugs and crime. Following the story of our main character in three parts, Little/Chiron/Black (played exceptionally by Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes respectively), Jenkins has effortlessly adapted Tarell McCraney play for the screen. -Ariel [BEST] 
Eagerly anticipated second film from Barry Jenkins does not disappoint. Felt like I was watching a movie made just for me – and I’m a cis/het white guy, so the cinematic empathy machine is clearly working. – Matt B. [BEST] 
One of the greatest depictions of loneliness ever put to film, like seriously, put it up there with In The Mood For Love, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Wendy and Lucy. Heart-wrenching, beautiful, relevant, a movie that deserves Oscar recognition, deserves to be part of the Criterion Collection. -Mike Rot [BEST]   
 

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
Masterful. Kenneth Lonergan achieves a remarkable balance between very funny and goddamn soul-crushing. Fantastic performances all around. -Bob [BEST] 
One of the saddest, and one of the funniest movies of 2016, Kenneth Lonergan’s small town drama is also one of the best of its kind. Extracting exceptional performances from Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler and newcomer Lucas Hedges, it examines the discomfort of returning to a tiny town, where everyone and everything can drudge up painful memories. Among other things, it is also a surprisingly good hangin’ out movie. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
Tom Ford’s sophomore film is no slump! He assembles Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon and gets pure cinematic tinder. The filmmaking on display here is some of the best I’ve seen all year! A woman reads a book written by her ex-husband, gets caught up in its violent narrative, and reminisces on the collapse her first idealistic marriage while in the middles of her empty second marriage. It’s more riveting than words can describe. If you love cinema, this is a must see. -Kurt [BEST] 
Plays tonally like a continuing chapter of Mulholland Drive, set in the same cracked mirror universe, the same Hollywood hills and ominous music. The story within the story device feels strained at times (I wanted to spend more time with Michael Shannon and Jake G in the novel that Amy Adams was reading). There’s an urgency to that story that makes the surrounding one inconsequential. Still, if anything, it’s a case of too much goodness for one movie to hold. -Mike Rot [LOVED]  
 

LA LA LAND
A wonderful homage to classical Hollywood musicals, which is arguably the best original movie musical since Moulin Rogue. While this is the type of film I expect a backlash to develop against come Oscar time, it is still a bright and colourful and crowd-pleasing film. -Sean [BEST] 
So much sugar that I felt like I needed an insulin shot. Yes this was the People’s Choice winner this year, but I found a saggy middle, and an unwillingness to make some actual storytelling choices made this overlong throw-back to classic Hollywood musicals exhilarating and frustrating in equal measure. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

PATERSON
Heaven. -Mike Rot [LOVED] 
Jim Jarmusch has created the perfect portrayal of writers and poets through Paterson. With subtle suggestions at writing as a coping mechanism for PTSD, we’re given a glimpse into the life of a person brimming with expression, but afraid to be seen. It feels profoundly personal, and at the same time beautifully engaging. What a treasure. -Ariel [LOVED] 
Jim Jarmusch’s ode to the ‘small’ picture is a wonder to behold. No real plot, conflict, or stakes exist here, but it is nevertheless one of the best films I have seen this year. Adam Driver plays a bus driver named Paterson in Paterson New Jersey. He writes poetry inspired by William Carlos Williams on his breaks, and he walks his wife’s dog (and has a pint at the local bar) at night. That’s it, and it is astounding. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

LOVING
I love it when movie titles review themselves – Matt B. [LOVINGED] 
Completely avoids any bluster and overdone melodrama by telling a simple, heartfelt story of two quiet people in love. Wonderful stuff. -Bob [LOVED] 
Jeff Nichols’ biopic of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married approaches some big American issues in a very intimate way. This is the right way to do Oscar bait, and I really hope the exquisite central performance from Ruth Negga is recognized next year. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

ARRIVAL
Villeneuve delivers (shocking, I know). Smart, original, beautiful, the sounds, the images, the ideas, he makes it seem so easy. The best sci-fi movie since Upstream Color. – Mike Rot [LOVED]  
 

TONI ERDMANN
Boy oh boy does this movie build fantastically to some wonderfully funny and poignant moments…The duet between the father and daughter had the audience break into spontaneous applause while the team event gave us all, um, some new approaches towards getting people to REALLY know each other better. Deserves all the Cannes acclaim. -Bob [LOVED] 
At a 162 minute running time, Toni Erdmann is in no rush to develop the love/hate father/daughter relationship that is central to the plot. In fact, in can probably be argued that the most entertaining moments in the film don’t arrive until the final 45 minutes, when the film turns into a quite insane comedy. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

ELLE
Isabelle Huppert’s Michele is fierce in NOT letting you define her life. A far more interesting & salacious tale than the revenge fantasy I initially signed up for. -Bob [LOVED] 
Paul Verhoeven goes full ‘french arthouse’ with his signature violence and controversial sexual image systems. Isabelle Huppert gives one of her best performances (and that is truly saying something for the prolific and incredible actress) as a woman who is raped, and deals with the situation in a way that has never been done on screen before. The film has a very unique rhythm that is both ghastly in terms of social behaviour, but also, oddly comedic – if you have a very dark sense of humour. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

SIERANEVADA
A formally dazzling 3-hour long family meltdown. It’s not a comedy per se (and not for all tastes) but it is funny at times. Long takes, a unique roving camera strategy, and an unblinking portrait of a discomforting family gathering. Masterpiece. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

CERTAIN WOMEN
Kelly Reichardt’s natural feel for directing lived-in performances continues with the 3 separate (though slightly related) stories within CERTAIN WOMEN. Each provides glimpses of lives in transition. If your heart doesn’t break just a bit for Lily Gladstone’s farmhand you have no empathy you heartless bastard. -Bob [LOVED] 
Three Montana-set Maile Meloy short stories are delicately combined into a feature by indie-darling Kelly Reichardt. The film is scored with train sounds, and everyone seems to munching on hamburgers while dealing with subtle personal Mid-West malaise. The final story involving a female Native American rancher (Lily Gladstone, astounding) who falls in love with a young lawyer (Kristen Stewart) is the easily best of the three, but fine work from Jared Harris, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams and the always stalwart James LeGros make this far more than just a place-holding anthology film. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

AFTER THE STORM
Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest family drama might just be his best one yet. Set (and shot) in the same tenement buildings the director himself grew up in, it involves a deadbeat dad with a gambling problem, supplementing his income with gambling, and trying to make it as a writer. But the director never lets plot bog things down, it is a study in humanity first and foremost, and Kore-Eda regular Kiki Kilin here playing the wise and terribly funny mom gives such a warm and inviting performance, that you will want to see everything else she has ever starred in. -Kurt [LOVED] 
My love of Kore-era continues unabated. The honest emotion of his films come from the warmth & humor of its characters interacting. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

PERSONAL SHOPPER
Olivier Assayas merges three movies into one, which makes for a strange, but very satisfying experience, not the least of which is due to his ongoing collaboration efforts with Kristen Stewart. Ghost story, materialism satire, and travelogue self discovery drama. Who knew this could even be done? Although in hindsight, Assayas has been doing this sort of thing over his entire career, and this is another superbly directed entry in this own personal genre. -Kurt [LOVED] 
Olivier Assayas meets Kiyoshi Kurosawa and stuffs his film with so much to unpack that I’ll be the unboxing throughout numerous revisits. -Bob [LOVED] 
While not as solid a film as Cloud of Sils Maria, Kristen Stewart continues to demonstrate that she is quite capable of driving a dramatic narrative. Also, the film is appropriately creepy and atmospheric during its ghost-hunting sessions. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

GRADUATION
As you watch each small rationalization in the film build upon previous ones, you can’t help but go down a rabbit hole of your own previous moral shortcuts and justifications. -Bob [LOVED] 
Oscar winning Cristian Mungiu (4 Weeks, 3 Months, 2 Days) paints a lengthy picture of ethical short circuits in a compelling, long-take fashion. It begs the question, “when was the first time you did the wrong thing for the right reasons, and how did that leave you feeling?” A father games the system a bit after his daughter in assaulted and shaken up as to prevent optimal performance on her university scholarship exams. – Kurt [LOVED]  
 

JULIETA
Pedro Almodovar showcases his exceptional ability to portray women, while confirming the universality of Alice Munro’s work. Stunning performances fill this piece about a strained relationship between mother and daughter. -Ariel [LOVED] 
Its theme of guilt takes a bit too long to really show itself and therefore leaves a bit of a messy tale. But with the amazing Emma Suarez, some great shots and some other Almodovar flourishes, this was still enjoyable. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

THE SALESMAN
Asghar Farhadi continues his amazing ability to tell a story that slowly unravels the consequences of its central characters’ actions – in this case, the desire for revenge. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

THE BAD BATCH
Ana Lily Amirpour’s “sophomore slump” is a beautiful dream. Don’t overthink it. -Matt B. [LIKED] 
After her too-cool-for-school Iranian vampire flick, Ana Lily Amirpour returns, with a sun drenched, existential cannibal romp, that is about, you know, family. Employing her deft touch for needle drops, and pretty swanky sense of mise-en-scene, the film nevertheless suffers from being only skin deep. Points for unconventional use of Ace Of Base’s “All That She Wants.” -Kurt [LIKED] 
There’s an interesting world that’s created within the music-laden sequences of Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow up to A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT, but the story clunks whenever the characters actually speak. A mixed bag. -Bob [DISAPPOINTED] 
An exquisitely shot film with endless desert landscapes and featuring a great soundtrack ranging from Ace of Base to Culture Club. While somewhat more glossy than her previous film, The Bad Batch continues to show that Ana Lily Amirpour is a young director to watch. -Sean [LOVED]  
 

RAW
This is what happens when you let French extreme cinema remake the gentler Canadian classic Ginger Snaps. I don’t mean that literally, but the sisters, the transformation into flesh eating monster is there nonetheless. With its hazing rituals, and high energy clubbing vibe, Julia Ducournau directs the holy hell out of this picture, making it one of the most visceral film experiences I’ve had in some time, and it more than overcomes the kind of silly ending. -Kurt [LOVED] 
Great little essay on how social behaviour is used to normalize the atrocious. Read all about it right here. -Matt B. [LOVED] 
An inventive cannibal film, Raw is a delightful first feature film from French newcomer, Julia Ducournau. Raw has some truly sick moments throughout, but feels like it doesn’t quite fit its feature length boots. -Ariel [LIKED]  
This film was sadly overshadowed by blown out of proportion media reports surrounding people passing out at the Midnight Madness screening. While Raw does feature a few gruesome, cringe-inducing moments, the film is actually a surprisingly touching coming-of-age story, with a good description being “Ginger Snaps with Cannibalism.” -Sean [LIKED]  
 

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
Wowsers! An impressive zombie movie, that like most of the good ones, isn’t really about zombies. The new ideas and tones to the genre are always welcome (but as a touchpoint, if you love Day of the Dead, you’ll love this one), however it is the lead performance from child-actor Sennia Nunua that makes this this film a real winner. -Kurt [LOVED] 
A truly unique protagonist, played brilliantly by Sennia Nanua. Needed a truly great director to elevate the rest. -Matt B. [LIKED]  
 

THE RED TURTLE
A restricted colour palette and complete lack of dialogue may sound like limiting factors for an animated film. Nope. Not when it is so economically and wonderfully told with such beautifully composed frames. -Bob [LOVED] 
80 minutes of impressive sounding weather, a very mature set of ideas and themes around family and purpose, Ghibli’s foray into international production feels both new and familiar, upscale and original, and definitely for adults. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

AMERICAN HONEY
It earns its epic length, slathers on an impressive soundtrack, and takes a sledgehammer to the American Dream. Andrea Arnold’s first foray this side of the pond is impressive and engaging, both for the head and the heart. -Kurt [LOVED] 
Pointlessly bleak, with ham-fisted employment of musical cues and references, American Honey attempts profundity while merely spending almost three hours depressing its audience for no reason. It never seems to come to a head with any kind of moral or purpose, making the cinematic alienation feel worthless, and the time spent watching it wasted. -Ariel [DISLIKED]  
 

THE HANDMAIDEN
The latest from Park Chan-wook embraces his penchant for double crosses threefold in this erotic dramatic thriller. A film very much about women reclaiming their right to their own lives, The Handmaiden feels like an Edith Wharton book through Chan-wook’s perverse lens, a delightfully controversial blend. -Ariel [LOVED] 
Chan-wook Park sure can deliver one very pretty package with bows, ribbons & sparkles. However, this feels like the first time he has delivered a film that only had form – no function. -Bob [DISAPPOINTED] 
Beautiful but oh so empty, the latest picture from Park Chan-Wook is a superbly constructed con-artist film that is weighed down by its ‘dirty-old-man’ central story involving a secret society of pornographic literature. This is the first of the South Korean masters films that is absent of anything resembling humanity. It’s all surface gloss and cheap titillation, which completely undermines its feminist intentions. -Kurt [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
The Office meets Battle Royale premise is elevated with gleefully violent abandon by Wolf Creek director, Greg McLean. Coming to a theater near you. – Mike Rot [LOVED]  
 

THE AGE OF SHADOWS
Kim Jee-Woon delivers a glossy, but rather fantastic, turn of the century spy thriller involving double, triple, and quadruple-crosses while the Japanese occupied South Korea. Song Kang-Ho and Lee Byung-hun lead a superb cast that essay folks on both sides as human beings, rather than plot mannequins (for the reverse of this, see The Handmaiden). The set-pieces, while few and far between, are nevertheless masterful works of art. -Kurt [LOVED] 
From Kim Jee-Woon comes what turns out to be a quite decent historical crime thriller, mixed with an espionage film. However, the graphic torture sequences late in the film might turn off some viewers. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

YOURSELF AND YOURS
Another delightful situation where people sit around snacking and drinking lots of Soju and occasionally cheat on one another. The high-concept that director Hong Sang-Soo brings to this annual iteration of his filmmaking is that the female lead might be a serial liar, a twin sister, or an amnesiac. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

WINDOW HORSES
A Beautiful story of self-discovery, poetry, and Persian history from Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming. An animated film for grown ups, Window Horses speaks to the lost child in all of us, our need to belong, our need to understand ourselves, and our need to understand the world around us. Truly a touching and compelling film. -Ariel [LOVED]  
 

I, DANIEL BLAKE
In keeping with Ken Loach’s filmography, I, Daniel Blake is a powerful story about the people society overlooks, who are the very same people they’re meant to protect. Shot with beautiful realism, this heartbreaking story is one that will speak to people the world over. -Ariel [LOVED]  
 

DIVINES
Fantastic visual storytelling and one of the strongest young acting performances I’ve seen in years by Oulaya Amamra. This should be on NetFlix soon – watch it! -Bob [LOVED]  
 

FREE FIRE
Sure there’s some fun quips, moments & performances here, but it becomes incredibly repetitive & frankly a bit dull. Lots of boom-booms if you like that kind of thing. -Bob [DISLIKED] 
A personal best for Wheatley, Free Fire keeps it streamlined and simple. Veering away from Wheatley’s typical cerebral lean, we’re given a straight up shoot-em-up action comedy that’s sure to entertain. -Ariel [LOVED] 
Brilliant concept aside, a feature length shoot out where every major character is shot (but not killed) in the opening round, the obnoxiously flat lighting, and the lack of innovative gags (not to mention the severe underuse of an impressive ensemble), left Ben Wheatley’s latest exercise in polyester period styling feeling like a waste of my time. -Kurt [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

MESSAGE FROM THE KING
If you’ve seen Point Blank or The Limey, this film will certainly feel familiar, but that is not a bad thing in my book because I like the cocktail of hyper-masculinity, silky cinematography, and arthouse thriller sensibility. Plus, in the age of endless draught, when was the last time you saw Los Angeles soaked with rain? -Kurt [LOVED] 
There were memorable moments: the dangling bike chain, a Dana Andrews clip on TV, Chadwick Boseman and (probably my favourite quote from the fest) “Dentists are to men as gynecologists are to women”. Otherwise, I was very disappointed in the lack of depth in the heroes and villains. -Bob [DISLIKED]  
 

COLOSSAL
Somehow, Spanish wunderkind Nacho Vigalondo mashes a toxic American relationship drama with Kaiju shenanigans in South Korea. While it is a feminist film par excellence, it’s also kind of a ‘white people are more important’ movie too. Take that as you will, it’s kind of like Chris Rock #OscarsSoWhite putting on that Asian accountant sketch. What is a social justice warrior to do? Putting all that aside, Colossal is a very engaging and funny genre picture with big name actors, Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, totally game for the tonal mash-up. -Kurt [LIKED] 
A very fun twist on the monster film, which asks the question what exactly is the real monster in all of this chaos. There are definitely some metaphors about alcoholism at play throughout the film, with the mostly humorous film getting quite dark in the back half. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

WAKEFIELD
Howard Wakefield, a lawyer fed up with his routine existence, impulsively decides against returning home one night after work and bunkers in his garage attic. From the window, he observes what becomes of his family in his absence, and as the months pass, things really get weird. Bryan Cranston does some despicable things in this Walter White-esque depiction of toxic masculinity but the film resists the temptation to be didactic, and lets both the premise and the resolution happen with convincing realism. I left the theater arguing with my friend about the virtues (or lack thereof) to Howard’s journey, and it’s precisely that available ambiguity in the screenplay and direction that makes this a thoughtful, engaging film. – Mike Rot [LOVED]  
 

HAPPIEST DAY IN THE LIFE OF OLLI MAKI
Convene the board of Webster’s Dictionary and redefine the word “charming” to “Olli Maki”. Just an absolutely wonderful experience on every level, the film also has one of the most perfect cinematic moments in recent memory – a simple quiet kiss. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

THE LONG EXCUSE
What a simply lovely, very heartfelt and finely detailed piece of work. It covers and hits a wide swath of emotion without ever pandering. Oh, and once again a Japanese director coaches a charming yet non-sugary performance from a young child. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

OLD STONE
An impressively tense debut (and deservedly the winner of best Canadian first feature) that has a very cynical view of humanity and slowly but surely collapses the world around its central character. The deep frustration with bureaucracy is matched only with the lack of empathy its characters show each other. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

A MONSTER CALLS
Though a little on the nose and slightly overwrought, Bayona paints a truly effective look at a child’s struggle with loss, grief and anger while also understanding how complex it is for everyone involved. It also contains two glorious animated sequences brilliantly rendered to look like watercolours. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

UNA
Rooney Mara and Ben Mendelsohn act the heck out of this big screen adaption of Blackbird, a very successful Scottish play. The film involves a young woman confronting a former lover who was convicted of statutory rape, hers. First time film director, Benedict Andrews, uses a collection of warehouse locations to reflect the emotional landscape of the confrontation as mysteries are revealed. It’s pretty exceptional all around if you can stomach the difficult material. -Kurt [LOVED]  
 

HARMONIUM
The past will come up and bite you…Over and over again…Cruelly and forcefully. A deft script pulls it all together. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

THE EAGLE HUNTRESS
Integral viewing for young girls and women around the world, this Daisy Ridley-narrated Otto Bell film is empowerment on film. It works to dispel the myths that women are only meant for certain roles, while allowing young girls the luxury of believing in themselves. All this through Aisholpan, the 13-year-old Eagle Huntress who can change the way women around the world are regarded. -Ariel [LOVED]  
 

WITHOUT NAME
I always knew mushrooms were the spawn of the devil…Some stunning photography helps to create a dreamy, atmospheric eco-horror. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

LITTLE WING
A quiet, graceful, Scandinavian coming of age story that shows that parents don’t exactly have it figured out either. When you’re 12, that can be pretty frustrating. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
It hits every single one of the standard tropes of the teenage film, but it does it all so very well you won’t care and has a huge enjoyment factor. My 16 year old laughed throughout just as much as I did. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

A QUIET PASSION
It’s entirely possible the entire film was simply an excuse by Terence Davies to give a voice to Emily Dickinson’s poetry and have it read aloud. Oddly enough, even with its languid pace, I was totally fine with that. Superior performances by Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle as they completely sell the very mannered dialogue. -Bob [LOVED]  
 

DENIAL
An accessible, mainstream account of the heinousness that is Holocaust denier, David Irving’s, trial to defend his claim that over 6 million Jews were not murdered during WWII. Rachel Weisz gives a wonderful performance with a rather affected Queens accent, and Timothy Spall is positively repugnant. A stellar cast of actors – including a wonderful turn by Tom Wilkinson – combines to elevate the film. -Ariel [LIKED]  
 

THINGS TO COME
Mia Hansen-Love’s latest quietly invokes sadness at things lost & hope for whats to come. And it loudly proclaims Isabelle Huppert is awesome. But admittedly, it is fading quickly as a memorable story. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

PREVENGE
aka “Fetal Instinct”. Triple threat Alice Lowe (writer, director and star while she was 7 months pregnant) works out a few pre-birth feelings and is clearly having a great deal of fun. That translates directly to the audience. -Bob [LOVED] 
I completely admire what Alice Lowe is doing here but I wish it weren’t so mind-numbingly repetitive and, ultimately, uninsightful. Reminds me of Teeth, another great feminist concept movie that went nowhere. -Matt B. [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

KATI KATI
Similar to Kore-eda’s AFTERLIFE, this lovely debut film from Kenya explores purgatory, the nature of death & how a great sound field adds so much to a film. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

TRESPASS AGAINST US
A modern Gypsy story of fathers and sons and crimes and punishment has big wins in the acting department (Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris) but was a bit too Sundance-Cute for my tastes. First time director woes? -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

AQUARIUS
Sonia Braga’s performance and all the familial interactions within the story far outweigh plot elements that don’t register much. Fortunately, just spending time with Braga’s character is enough entertainment. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

THE COMMUNE
Amongst the many strengths of Vinterberg’s latest is the dazzling performance by Trine Dyrholm. Though the film doesn’t quite match the spark and bitterness of CELEBRATION (ie. FESTEN), it creates an interesting conflict between conviction & emotion. -Bob [LIKED] 
Life in the 1970s in Denmark was both liberating and social awkward, particularly in unconventional shared accommodations. Unfortunately, to these eyes anyway, Thomas Vinterberg never fully gets a complete handle on his movie, despite lovely performances (in particular by Trine Dyrholm and Ulrich Thompson. Sometimes cartoonish, other times dire, the ending here defies all convention, and is a bit of a head scratcher. -Kurt [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

GIMME DANGER
Despite being directed by Jim Jarmusch, himself a self-described Stooges fan, Gimme Danger is not all that different than any other music documentary. With all the original members of The Stooges, except for Iggy Pop, having since passed away, Gimme Danger works as a fine epitaph of one of the most influential bands of rock history. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

CARRIE PILBY
Like its central character, the film is occasionally awkward and a bit cliche, but also oddly charming. Bel Powley’s performance has a lot to do with that charming aspect. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

BUSTER’S MAL HEART
An elliptical construct of the domestic man and the wild man, Mr. Robot himself, Rami Malek, straps on a slave-wage tie, or shits in a casserole dish. Which one is real, or are both situations plausible in a cruel, cruel world. On the whole I liked Sarah Adina Smith’s first feature, The Midnight Swim, a little better, but this one has its moments. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

HEARTSTONE
It appears that no one can manage to wrap as much teen angst, pain and awkwardness into one very small town as much as Iceland can. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

INTO THE INFERNO
The detours are the best part, the way Herzog can illuminate disparate elements to make a satisfying whole. Very much in the spirit of Encounters at the End of the World (including some borrowed footage). – Mike Rot [LIKED] 
On paper, a documentary about volcanoes by Werner Herzog sounds like a great idea, however in execution, Into the Inferno didn’t exactly turn out to be the film I was expecting. Herzog’s typical existential narration is downplayed in favour of the on-screen actions of scientist Clive Oppenheimer, which is either too scientific or mundane, with me ending up quite bored throughout much of the film. -Sean [FELL ASLEEP]  
 

THE NET
Ki-Duk’s cynicism & anger isn’t lessened for a second by a storyline that is a bit too on the nose in its view of the North/South Korean relationship. -Bob [LIKED] 
Sometimes, but not often, blunt and didactic is the way to go. In Kim Ki-Duk’s latest, a North Korean fisherman who accidentally drifts into South Korea when his net tangles his motor. This poor fellow is then worked over harshly by the intelligence agencies of both North and South, if only to demonstrate that governmental paranoia is pretty shitty whatever your political leanings are. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

BOYS IN THE TREES
This film of the Halloween evening of two teenage boys (ex-best friends) should have let its splendid imagery speak louder and more often than its dialogue. It felt somewhat trite when people spoke, but fortunately was also occasionally evocative. -Bob [LIKED] 
This Aussie coming of age movie set in the 1990s wanted to be DONNIE DARKO so hard. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES INSIDE THE HOUSE
Director Osgood Perkins follows up his debut film February with this very poetic and low key horror film, which opts more to send chills down the viewer’s spine, rather than repeatedly shock them with jump scares. I Am the Pretty Thing is driven almost entirely by the lead performance by Ruth Wilson, whether it be her on screen actions or haunting narration. -Sean [LIKED] 
The atmosphere really oozed from every pore of the ghost-inhabited house. Slow & rewarding. -Bob [LIKED] 
It’s a one note film but it’s a pretty good note. Taking some haunted house cues from as far afield as lit-gothic chiller The Turn of the Screw to 80s nostalgia in the vein of Ti West’s House of the Devil, this is horror as slow poetry. Not for all tastes, but I dug it, and a wee bit more than Osgood Perkins’ (nephew of Anthony) first, quite similar, film, February. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

WEREWOLF
A very low key two character drama, which reminds me of the similar-themed 2014 drama Heaven Knows What. A very striking film and and a fine debut for director Ashley McKenzie. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

MASCOTS
This is another Christopher Guest ground-rule double. Mocking the ‘world’ of minor-league sports mascots, may be shooting fish in a barrel, but as always, it is the delightful improve that is very hard not to love. His stable of repertory player get some youth injected in the form of Chris Dowd (The IT Crowd), Zach Woods (Silicon Valley) and Sarah Baker (Louie), but the film lacks the sweet-pathos of Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara who are conspicuously absent here. -KURT [WALKED OUT, but for festival logistics reasons]  
 

THE DREAMED PATH
So minimalist, that you might not even know what you got here. German director Angela Schanelec’s shows two relationship falling apart, one in the 1970s and the other in the 2010s. Its less about the generalities, and more about the crafting of individual scenes, which play out like isolated short films in and of themselves. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

76
The telling of a significant (but failed) Nigerian military coup in the 1970s, the acting here more than compensates for the occasionally muddled narrative. The soundtrack here is amazing, even if it is often used to ‘annoy’ the main characters. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL
Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) brings to light the hypocrisy of a small Chinatown bank being charged on larceny crimes the big banks got away with. The charm of this documentary comes from watching the family who owns the bank working together to fight back against the charges. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

LE CIEL FLAMAND (Flemish Heaven)
An intriguing mother/daughter drama set amongst the backdrop of the sex industry. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

NIRVANNA THE BAND THE SHOW
Matt Johnson (The Dirties) returns to his beginnings as he remakes the 2007-2009 webseries he made with Jay McCarrol. The hijinks shown in these three episodes of the upcoming Viceland TV series are quite hilarious to watch and I look forward to checking out the full series. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

BLEED FOR THIS
Miles Teller is fine in the lead role of Vinny Pazienza, even though he is acting with his poor excuse of a mustache than anything else. That said, Bleed for This probably has Aaron Eckhart’s best performance in years, which shows that he really needs to take more dramatic roles. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

OKO ASHEWO
A Nigerian sandwich of Pulp Fiction and Taxi Driver suffers from some dodgy narrative choices and pacing issues, but knocks out some compelling footage of a taxi cruising around Lagos (with a Gandalf The Grey hood ornament). I just wish the festival saw fit to put some english subtitles on the film’s pidgin dialect. -Kurt [LIKED]  
 

PYROMANIAC
An effective portrait of a broken mental state. I’m not sure it digs any deeper than just that surface painting. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

I CALLED HIM MORGAN
Though the tale of trumpeter Lee Morgan is a bit fractured and left with lots of holes in it, the documentary footage of him and other jazz greats of the era is worth the price of admission. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

PRANK
The giggling 40 year-old men behind me certainly emphasized the juvenile nature of the film (and almost ruined it at times), but the young cast managed to be engaging while covering pretty well-trod ground. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

SALT AND FIRE
Herzog tackles climate change, pollution, and capitalism in the strangest of ways. He wants scientific data to be poetry, but the film is kind of a hasty mishmash. Where he leaves his characters rather stranded of meaningful things to do he does make some nice use of the landscape as state of mind. -Kurt [DISAPPOINTED] 
In some ways, it seems like Werner Herzog has made Salt and Fire solely to showcase the awe-inspiring visuals of Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats, where the film was shot. Salt and Fire is worth it for the visuals, if you can make it past the somewhat weak story. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE
Starts off like a horror and gore version of CSI, ends up like a shitty version of The Conjuring, all jump scares and nonsense. What a waste of fine actors Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. And where did all the droll humour from the directors previous effort, Troll Hunters, disappear to? -Kurt [DISLIKED] 
An effective horror film that begins as a bit of a mystery and turns into a full-on supernatural shock fest. It should be warned that the graphic autopsy scenes are probably not for the weak of heart, though there is also some effective suspense, and plenty of jump scares, in the latter half of the film. -Sean [LIKED]  
 

THE UNTAMED
Though I ended up on the “dislike” side of the spectrum, it’s with mixed feelings. It never fully grabbed me with its story and felt somewhat arid, but I certainly can’t deny it was effective with its theme (showing how our base need for pleasure can lead to ruin) as well as creating one hell of a monster moment. -Bob [DISLIKED] 
My favourite part was when the pleasure monster developed a sucker to clasp directly onto the heroine’s nipple -Matt B. [LIKED]  
 

DAGUERROTYPE
Like the models in the titular photos, the film spends a long time standing still. Too still. Some stunning moments don’t make up for a turn towards a dull plot. -Bob [DISLIKED] 
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is responsible for some of the best Japanese chillers ever filmed. Here he relocates to Paris and tries to do his usual thing in another country. The first half of the film, involving an apprentice being schooled in the art of large-scale plate photography, is engrossing and fresh, but the back half becomes exceedingly strained and artless, the conclusion is empty and ludicrous at the same time. -Kurt [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

(RE)ASSIGNMENT
Walter Hill’s transgender revenge picture features Michelle Rodrigues in a beard with a 10 inch cock (while flaccid). This is not the issue here, however, it is the talky, talky screenplay that has nothing to say, nor an interesting way to say it. It takes work to make Tony Shaloub and Sigourney Weaver looks this bad in a scene together. -Kurt [DISLIKED] 
Walter Hill squanders a gender flip concept that had potential to be both fun and relevant – not by playing it stupid, but by simply being dull in action & duller in script. Sigourney Weaver does salvage a few fine moments though. -Bob [DISLIKED]  
 

PLANETARIUM
Though its central theme about needing to live outside your bubble is an interesting one, the film’s style & script just kept reminding me how bland and staid everything was. -Bob [DISLIKED]  
 

THE GIANT
Look man, at this point in my filmgoing career I’ve just seen too many iterations of this. I wasn’t even disliking it that much, I just had better things to do. – Matt B. [WALKED OUT]  
 

CITY OF TINY LIGHTS
Riz Ahmed is cloaked in cigarette smoke as he goes full gumshoe private detective in a gritty multicultural onscreen representation of London. Even by noir standard set byThe Big Sleep, the storytelling here is erratic and convoluted. I liked the deep red cinematography, but so many of the visual and narrative choices here are muddled, that the film just kind of washes out in a sea of indifference. Alas. -Kurt [DISLIKED]  
 

VOYAGE OF TIME
The most ambitious film is also the most solemn prayer. A movie about the creation of the universe and the quiet hunger for love and meaning. – Mike Rot [LOVED] 
Dang. The first Terry Malick movie that failed utterly for me. The Cate Blanchet offering a banal poetry voice-over on top of National Geographic visuals is intercut with Malick’s working vacation in Bhopal India shot on 1990s era digital video. Instead I will be over here watching Tree of Life, with the A-footage, thank you very much. -KURT [HATED]  
 

HANDSOME DEVIL
There isn’t an original moment in the entirety of HANDSOME DEVIL. It means well, but it continually frustrates by bringing nothing of interest to its storytelling. I expect more from the Irish Film Board. -Bob [HATED]  
 

BRIMSTONE
For 2 hours and 15 minutes (up until the fourth and final section called “Retribution” arrived), a variety of women and small children were tortured and put through hell. The film looked great, had a strong structure and a good storyline, but it really seemed like an excessively long way to go for that last 5 minutes of payback. -Bob [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

SADAKO VS KAYAKO
If a litmus test of a horror film is whether or not you find it scary, I would say that Sadako vs Kayako fails in that regard. This is with the possible exception of Kayako, whose gurgling and crawling never fails to give chills. The titular battle is somewhat on the anti-climatic side, even though there are some fun crowd-pleasing moments. While it doesn’t hold a candle to either of the original J-Horror classics, it was still an enjoyably campy crossover. -Sean [LIKED] 
I left 75 minutes into this 90 minute movie and Sadako had yet to meet Kayako. -Matt B. [WALKED OUT] 
Though there wasn’t quite as much ghost-on-ghost action as you might like and less creep than either of the original films, the film was pretty chock full of fun and frivolity. It dispenses with some of the previous legends, but retains a whole whack of long black hair. -Bob [LIKED]  
 

MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA
The movie itself summed up my feelings: “Mixed to negative with moments that are dazzling”. -Bob [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

BLAIR WITCH
I have been a growing fan of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, since I saw You’re Next at Midnight Madness five years ago. However, Blair Witch is a deliberate attempt by the duo to cater to the mainstream and while it’s a fine enough film, and way superior to Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows, at the end of the day Blair Witch is a sequel that nobody asked for and the fact that it is bigger doesn’t exactly mean that it is better. -Sean [DISAPPOINTED]  
 

ASURA: THE CITY OF MADNESS
To be fair, this was a 2.5 hour film that started at 9PM just after the midpoint of the festival…So my zero engagement in the film was partially on me. But after an hour or so of one angry man yelling at another angry man and simply not caring if either of them were good cops, bad cops, undercover cops, criminals or informants, I had pretty much had enough. Exit. -Bob [WALKED OUT]  
 

RAGE
With a 142 minute running time and multiple plotlines, Rage is a quite slow moving film, which didn’t always keep my interest. While there are the occasional flashes of violence, including a quite graphic rape scene, most of Rage is more a drama than a thriller and even the presence of Ken Watanabe was not enough to bring me fully into this long, slow, and sometimes confusing film. -Sean [FELL ASLEEP]  
 

HEADSHOT
Ugh. I intensely disliked every fake-shaky, overdrive-scored, fight-ruining-CGI frame I saw. I’m told it got better in the second half, but I’ll probably never bother validating that assertion. -Bob [WALKED OUT]  
 

GODSPEED
The biggest problem with Godspeed is that it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a thriller. While there are many darkly humorous moments throughout the film, there is one scene in particular, which is quite sadistic and violent, marking a huge tonal shift from the rest of the film. The dialogue-heavy film also moves at a snails pace and was frankly a bit of a chore to watch. -Sean [FELL ASLEEP]  
 

DEATH IN THE GUNJ
Too many uninteresting characters filled with low self-esteem who receive no character arc (redeeming or otherwise). Un-involving. -Bob [HATED]  
 

DOG EAT DOG
This is that SNL episode where Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe parody gritty crime capers from the 1970s and the 1990s. It’s funny in fits and starts, but there ain’t no actual movie here. I would be lying if I said it didn’t work for me in the Midnight Madness environment. Plus: 5 minutes of Cage doing Humphrey Bogart is indeed something. -Kurt [LIKED-ISH] 
If there is a shining star to Dog Eat Dog, it is Willem Dafoe’s psychotic and violent performance, though it’s not enough to save a film that is at times too dark and also doesn’t seem to have a real sense of direction. By the time Nicolas Cage starts acting like Humphrey Bogart, the film had completely lost me and my faith in Paul Schrader as a filmmaker. – Sean [WORST]  
 

ONCE AGAIN
The kind of festival film that makes you question why you attend in the first place. Pointless, inert and truly awful. -Bob [WORST]  
 

THE DUELIST
A Russian Muscle-bound Rupert Everett doppelgänger pouts for 2 hours in fake period drag. The duels, such as they are, don’t even involve skill, but rather luck. It is an Andy Kaufman cinematic prank that the filmmakers are not even aware they pulled off. -Kurt [WORST]  
 

[fin]

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rot
Guest

had a ticket for Una and couldn’t get to it due to exhaustion (7 movies over four days is A LOT let me tell you). The play was incredible.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

The movie is so perfect at what it does (foregrounding the acting, backgrounding the landscape to underscore theme) that I’m not sure I want to see the play (even if the Broadway version was Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels!). This movie is really good at what it does.

rot
Guest

Is it all in one scene? I heard Jeff Daniels is better than Ben but Rooney is better than Michelle.

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

It’s way beyond one scene, the film is fantastic from top to bottom. Nice bit part for the always excellent Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Four Lions) too.

(And Ben Mendelsohn is pretty fantastic, as he always is.)

rot
Guest

so office scene and cutaway flashbacks? Please don’t tell me this story is told chronologically?

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

You can rest assured, it’s elliptical.

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