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.

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Cinecast Episode 456 – So Far So Good…

The summer of 2016 officially winds down to a stop (thank the maker) as The Toronto International Film Festival comes to a close. Kurt spends a good chunk of this episode going through the best of the fest (from his perspective) and one or two things that didn’t work out quite as well as one would hope. Before we get there, we join Antoine Fuqua and his Magnificent Seven as they attempt to defeat the evil, mining industrialist, Peter Sarsgaard. It’s as close to an A-list cast as one can hope for these days, so does that pay off on the IMAX screen as it once did for the Western Blockbuster (if there ever was such a thing)? Lastly, Andrew has clearly had some time away from recording and producing to see quite a fair number of films. And breezes through a half-dozen of those before the boys call it a done deal. Regrets for not tying off the DePalma retrospective with a Scarface ribbon this week as promised; though that is in the works for next episode.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

We’re now available on Google Play!

 

 
 

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TIFF 2016 Review: Nocturnal Animals

 

If you are an honorable cinephile, right from the opening credit sequence of Nocturnal Animals, you will know you are in good hands. Hyper-glossy and daringly un-commercial in the same breath, it puts some fine Lynchian bonafides on the table early. Then the camera pulls back from this tone-setting overture to reveal that these seemingly context free images (which will remain unspoilt by me, but might prevent the film from playing in a multiplex near you) are very much present, and in fact are part of the gala launch of a Los Angeles art gallery.

The curator and architect of the exhibit (but, tellingly, not the artist) is Susan, played by Amy Adams in heavy make-up, and chunky jewelry. The deep lighting makes her red hair stand out like smoldering coals in the dark. Forget for the moment director Tom Ford’s penchant for enhancing surfaces, Adams delivers an understated inner-performance entirely with her eyes and posture. Mere seconds on screen and you can immediately deduce she is unhappy with the not only the exhibit but with her many if not most of her life choices.

Later that evening, Susan is abandoned to stew in her own juices by her husband (Armie Hammer) who is the kind of high-stakes businessman that is required for a cross-continental flight upon a moments notice. Nocturnal Animals is a film about we process our thoughts when alone, versus reacting in the company of others.

It is also a master-class in ‘show-don’t-tell’ filmmaking. A brief domestic conversation, prior to her husbands exit from the film, is practical and efficient. We learn that their glass and concrete mansion and designer lifestyle is on the verge of bankruptcy, but again, the body language and framing suggest that money, in and of itself, is the least of their problems, matrimonially.

The very same evening, Susan receives a package in the mail from her previous husband, whom she has not spoken to in nearly two decades. The manuscript of his soon-to-be published novel is included with a personal note thanking her for the inspiration (and life experience) provided finally write something significant. The book shares the name of the film, but the film is adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, “Tony and Susan.”

Tony is the name of the character in the book that Susan reads, a man whose family is threatened and jeopardized on a lonely West Texas highway by a gang of good ol’ boys led by an extraordinary effective, and completely unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has come a distance from Kick-Ass and wins the Tom Hardy award for chameleon-like disappearance into a part.

It is exceptional that Ford has made a film about a woman that spends the bulk of the runtime sitting on her couch (or bed, or in the bath) reading a book, into one of the most compellingly ‘lean-in’ films of the year. Half of the runtime is devoted to the novel, which is anchored by a Zodiac or Nightcrawler calibre performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and a scene-stealing Michael Shannon as a cancer stricken Texas Sheriff who is both funny, and yet, simultaneously scared the absolute shit out of me. The remaining half is split equally between Susan’s languorous present, and flashbacks to her optimistic courtship with her first husband and youthful writer, Edward; also played by Gyllenhaal.

The cross-cutting and transitional matching shots (note a certain red couch, for instance) provide an invigorating road-map to what the movie is actually about. The editing in this film, the fimmaking in general, is among the best films of the year. And, it is in a genre, the psychological thriller, that is so radically absent, presently, that make this is a breath – a gale? perhaps a tempest – of gloomy air.

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Mamo 455: Vulvaesque

mamo-tiff16

We almost made it out of TIFF 2016 without ever doing a show, but not quite! Joined (and prompted) by special guest star Shelagh Rowan-Legg, we have a look at a couple of remarkable genre films about women – RAW and THE UNTAMED – before diving into MOONLIGHT and the question of representation, as things finally begin to move forward.

As mentioned in the show:

  • Get your tickets to My So-Cast LIVE! here – https://www.universe.com/events/my-so-cast-live-tickets-2G3VPW
  • More information about the Musicale screening of LITTLE SHOP here – http://www.musicale.ca/
  • Get your copy of Shelagh’s book, The Spanish Fantastic, here – http://www.ibtauris.com/Books/The%20arts/Film%20TV%20%20radio/Films%20cinema/Film%20styles%20%20genres/The%20Spanish%20Fantastic.aspx?menuitem=%7B1E8BB86C-2C2C-4769-A440-E6D2CA51E0D6%7D
  • TIFF 2016 Review: American Honey

     

    Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
    The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

     

    In America, when you have nothing else to sell for a living, you can always sell yourself. Your enthusiasm, your wits, your company, your gumption? All of it can be sold.

    What happens when one sells it may vary.

    American Honey is about one young woman and her desire for anything resembling a way out. When we meet Star (Sasha Lane), she is dumpster-diving behind a K-Mart to try to take care of two small children. While inside the shop, she encounters a group of late-teen/early-twenties boys and girls that seem to be high on life. One of them – Jake (Shia LaBeouf) – approaches her and asks if she wants to come with them and earn money.

    Soon after we discover that the children she is caring for aren’t hers, so after they are nudged back towards their birth mother, Star is off on the road in search of opportunity.

    Officially, the group is making their cash peddling magazine subscriptions. Unofficially, they are hustling for cash any which-way they can get it, and kicking it up to the queen bee of the group, Krystal (Riley Keough).
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    TIFF 2016 Review: Buster’s Mal Heart

     

    Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
    The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

     

    One thing is for sure in the wake of Buster’s Mal Heart: I will never look at the people taking care of me late at night ever again. All of those cashiers, gas station attendants, hospital employees, hotel clerks? All of them now get painted with a very different brush.

    It’s the early 90’s when we first meet “Buster” (Rami Malek); a hermit avoiding law enforcement in the woods. He is squatting in luxury cottages left vacant for warmer climates and telling anyone he encounters that the end is coming. Once upon a time, “Buster” was Jonah – a mid thirties husband and father who worked the night shift as a concierge at a middle-of-nowhere hotel.

    One day he meets a mysterious stranger (DJ Qualls) looking for a room without ID or a credit card. He’s convinced that the end is nigh, and doesn’t want to become part of a system that’s about to come crashing down around him.

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    So how does the stranger affect Jonah and send him on a path of wandering? Well, that’s sort of a long story.

    Director Sarah Adina Smith works wonderfully in concert with her star to tell a story that is becoming more and more apt with every passing year: how much is too much? While we live in an era where many who join the workforce seem averse to “paying their dues”, there’s “dues” and there’s “overtaxation”. Jonah is clearly overtaxed; already doing something to provide for others, and even then beings asked to do far more of it than he rightfully should.
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    TIFF 2016 Review: The Bad Batch

     

    Hero cookies to guest publisher, Ryan McNeil, for this review.
    The original post of this article can be found at TheMatinee.ca

     

    How do you know you’ve taken a wrong turn on your journey?

    Maybe if you happen upon a preacher testifying on top of a giant boom box? What about an ex-con missing an arm and a leg? Perhaps a knife-wielding beast of a man, strewn with tattoos, who finds serenity drawing and painting to pass the time.

    What about all of it in the same place? Yeah – definitely a sign you made a wrong turn back around Albuquerque.

    The Bad Batch is a designation given to a class of criminal all interred before a great fall of civilization – they are caught, branded, and kicked into a massive, fenced-off wasteland with nothing but a jug of water. A bad-batcher named Arlynne (Suki Waterhouse) manages to walk straight into the path of a band of cannibals – a sort of tribe within The Bad Batch. She is captured, her right arm and right leg severed, cooked, and consumed…all inside of the film’s first fifteen minutes.

    Eventually, short two limbs, she manages to escape the cannibals and is dropped at the gates of Comfort; a sort of post-apocalyptic cult compound. After she is taken in and given a prosthetic leg, she happens upon two more cannibals outside of Comfort’s gates. She kills the woman, and takes in the little girl.
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    TIFF 2016 Review: The Girl With All The Gifts

     

    Opening with the eponymous girl locked in a cell and counting upwards to a thousand, The Girl With All The Gifts may as well be ticking off the sheer number of zombie films that a fan of the genre is ‘forced’ to contend with in these days of “The Walking Dead”. In actuality, twelve year old Melanie is being gathered for daily school lessons, dressed prisoner’s duds while strapped to a wheelchair along with her classmates in neat rows, all equally restrained. Halfheartedly walking through a memorization exercise, a teacher (hint: not one of the good ones) mutters under her breath, “content is not really relevant, is it?” This is a thesis that screenwriter Mike Carey (adapting his own novel) and director Colm McCarthy clearly want to shatter into a million pieces. For indeed, the zombie movie has new places to go and new ideas to explore: Consider the The Girl With All The Gifts in stride with South Korea’s Train To Busan, argues that fast zombies (being all the rage) have evolved to the point where they are here stay, where a good filmmaker can have his protagonist and eat him too.

    While I have not had the pleasure of watching the second season of BBC’s gangster drama “Peaky Blinders” nor the supernatural 2010 drama Outcast, it is very clear that McCarthy knows when to put something in the frame and when to leave it out. Rare is the movie in this genre that is not only patient in its world-building, but also handsome in its photography. (28 Weeks Later… springs to mind, and it shares a grace note or two with this film in the idea that social progress should be never be managed by the military.)

    In The Girl With All The Gifts, The UK (perhaps the world also) has been infected with a fungus that elevates hunger beyond consciousness (read: zombies). Like in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, there are military enclaves that have survived and are actively working the problem while fences keeps the hordes at bay. Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) seems very close to a solution with a small group of children born after the plague that exhibit tendencies of both the ‘Hungries’ (read: zombies) and normal children. Certain smells in certain circumstances set the children off, preceded by dry heaving and ending in chomping with lower jaw (think Keira Knightly in David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method).

    The eager and innocent Melanie is the best and brightest of all the children. Clearly she is Caldwell’s Bub, only with kinder eyes and a keen vocabulary. Young Sennia Nanua is indeed the gift the movie gives to us. Her character represents our own better natures as human beings – being bright, confident and unfailingly considerate to others. Melanie is the hope that any parent might have for their own offspring and Nanua realizes all of this seemingly effortlessly as perhaps most capable child actor I have seen in years. This is telling, because not only has child acting come a long way in the past 3 decades, but Nanua spends a sizable portion of the film wearing a transparent Hannibal Lecter mask covering her blood stained face. Talk about artistic constraint! I cannot wait to see this girl grow up and star in, hopefully, dozens of films, the talent here is staggering.

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    TIFF 2016 Review: The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography

    “Almost all human endeavour is ephemeral, all that is left in the end is love and friendship.” So said Errol Morris at the screening of his latest movie, The B-Side, in which he spends a little over an hour on-screen with his friend and family portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman. Now 78 and into retirement, she is known primarily for working in a rare, large-format of Polaroid instant camera, 20″ x 24″, of which there are only 6 of in existence, one of them owned by her for decades. And while she has photographed many famous people, from Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Faye Dunaway and her close friend, beat poet and conscientious objector, Allan Ginsberg (who does features largely here in life and death) it is her career as an everyday portrait photographer that Morris is most keen on exploring here.

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    A self-proclaimed nice little Jewish girl from Massachusetts, Dorfman has a sunny outlook, and a warm personality that makes the short time we get to spend with her leafing through her flat-filing cabinets of prints over the decades, an absolute pleasure. Using a multi-camera set-up (no Interrotron here) this is Morris at his most loose and relaxed, but his subject and approach is in no way lacking in rigour and revelation.

    The director has a long history of thinking about the nature of photography, from his 25,000 word essay on two photos from a canon-ball strewn road taken during the nineteenth century Crimean War, to his documentary feature on the famous torture photos taken by military personnel at the famous Abu Graib Prison, Standard Operating Procedure. When Dorfman scoffs at the ‘camera capturing the soul’ in her work, there is a kindred spirit at play.
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