Welcome to our fifth annual Toronto International Film Festival Mega-Sized wrap-up post. Getting several Row Three contributors and friends to provide over 100 capsule reviews and a quick identifier tag for [BEST], [LOVED], [LIKED], [DISLIKED], [DISAPPOINTED], [WALKED OUT], [HATED] and [WORST]. Collectively we – Kurt Halfyard, Matt Brown, Mike Cameron, Tom Clift, Ryan McNeil, Bob Turnbull, and Marc Saint-Cyr – saw a tonne of films and this list can act as a kind of Oscar Season (and the months beyond) Consumers Guide as things eventually find their way to either the cinema, a streaming avenue or one of those increasingly antiquated shiny discs.
The Bests: Amour (Kurt, Ryan), Cloud Atlas (Matt B., Tom), Silver Linings Playbook (Mike Cameron), Frances Ha (Mike Rot), Rhino Season (Bob), and Something In The Air (Marc)
The Worsts: Yellow (Kurt, Matt B.), The Impossible (Tom), A Werewolf Boy (Ryan), To The Wonder (Mike Rot), At Any Price (Bob) and Leviathan (Mike Cameron)
Grab a coffee and dig into one of the largest posts ever on this site. We take our TIFF seriously.
Bikini clad Disney girls go off the rails in Spring Breakers, a candy-coloured sledgehammer satire from notorious provocateur Harmony Korine. The story of four sexy college girls who rob a fast food outlet to fund their Spring Break vacation, the presence of tween icons Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place) and Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) belies the film’s seriously twisted approach, albeit one that’s made immediately evident once the movie begins via an extensive slow motion montage of drunken beachside revellers abandoning dignity along with their clothes. But although Spring Breakers is initially compelling – in Korine’s typically perverse and garish kind of way – its repetitious jabs at teenage hedonism and entitlement soon become grating, as the picture lags into a disappointing second half that, for all its explicit content, is actually kind of dull.
Gomez, in a good indication of the level of subtly on which Spring Breakers is operating, plays a devout Christian youth group member named “Faith”, who’s roped into the schemes of her three reckless friends, played by Hudgens, Ashley Benson (Pretty Little Liars) and the directors young wife Rachel (Mister Lonely). After holding up a fried chicken shack the foursome hightail it down to Miami for a chaotic week of drinking, gyrating and drug abusing. But the paradise they seek soon collapses in on itself, as the girls turn to increasingly desperate and more disturbing means to make their Spring Break dreams last forever.
After Korine shot his last film, the aptly named Trash Humpers, on worn VHS tape, Spring Breakers looks like the work of a completely different director. Glossy and gaudy, the film is a slick production lit up by neon pinks, yellows and turquoises that seem to pulsate along with the soundtrack (a skull thumping mix of Skrillex and Cliff Martinez). Even in the early sequences of the film, before things go south, scene changes and edits are accompanied by the sounds of guns being loaded, contributing to an intense, suffocating feeling that violence lurks just around the corner.
Thanks once again to Ryan McNeil of The Matinee for dropping back in for our huge TIFF recap (and almost spoiler-free!). Andrew sits in quiet solitude on the sofa, acting mainly as an audience member (admittedly, mostly fiddling with Pinterest and playing Tiger Woods Golf) with much amusement as Ryan and Kurt recap a large chunk of their TIFF experience. Sadly, due to the late hour of recording, there was no time left for The Watch List. We are happy, hoever to kick of the Fall Semester of homework assignments. The discussion gets pretty spirited where there is agreement and disagreement on many of the films screening at this years festival. Drop in again next week for a return to our usual programming: a lengthy discussion on PT Anderson’s The Master and responses to this first volley of homework assignments.
As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!
One of the best rock albums of the past 20 years is undoubtedly Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” record. His follow-ups were pretty great too but something about that album just soars in my memory and heart and it’s still a weekly listen. So when I heard a movie was being made loosely reflecting the Jeff and Tim Buckley biography, I got kind of excited. Not sure why exactly as I knew/know nothing about their personal live or their relationship. But hey, I absolutely adore the album, so a movie about the guy would probably be cool right? And hey, James Franco would fit the role perfectly!
So here we are; about six years after the announcement of the film and we finally have a trailer – and alas, it is not James Franco, but another guy that pretty much looks as close to Buckley as need be in Penn Badgley (who?). Perhaps more important than the looks, Badgley appears to have the voice down pat. Nice touch.
Greetings from Tim Buckley follows the story of the days leading up to Jeff Buckley’s eminent 1991 performance at his father’s tribute concert in St. Ann’s Church. Through a romance with a young woman working at the concert, he learns to embrace all of his feelings toward the father who abandoned him – longing, anger, forgiveness, and love. Culminating a cathartic performance of his father’s most famous songs, Jeff’s debut stuns the audience and launches his career as one of the greatest young musicians of his time before his early demise at age 30. [via]
The film played at this year’s Toronto Int’l Film Festival to apparently decent reviews. If you’ve seen the film, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Otherwise, here’s the trailer for the movie. Quite honestly, it’s nice to see Imogen Poots getting some work, but otherwise, just judging from this trailer, this movie looks like an absolute slog of a snooze-fest.
Where to begin with Cloud Atlas? The interminably long film is basically the Voltron of off-beat science fiction movies. This is what happens when you take five (or six) familiar genre-stories and juxtapose them (ok, put them in the blender and hit frappe!) in an effort say something profound about the human condition. That the end results is merely a structural confection, its ambition successful in making all the pieces fit more or less together into a grand puzzle but sacrificing the very reason why we like these tales. The sacrifice on the altar of science fiction grandiosity is empathy, character development and me ever giving a damn. The films basic ideas and premise agree with me: That social boundaries are made to be broken (as per director Larry Wachowski crossing genders to Lana); that we process the human condition through narrative; that we’ve not grown as much as we like to think as a species over the past few thousand years, and maybe, that we never will. These are all great things to tackle in your science fiction blockbuster, yet each and every one of them is treated here in the most facile (and banal) fashion. Remember all the flat, unnecessary shenanigans in The Matrix Reloaded around the Zion (The dreadlocked rave, Link’s domestic situation, et cetera)? So much of Cloud Atlas felt that way to me: Lifeless and tedious. In blockbuster adventure movie terms, it makes the handsome, turgid pile of good intentions that was John Carter seem as fresh and rollicking as The Empire Strikes Back.
In all of its 2 hour 45 minute run time, the only real surprises, you know, those big ‘Ooooh!’ moments in any film (either pop art or art house) are during the closing credit sequence when you discover how the make-up department slapped on goop and facial prosthetics to disguise each member of its ensemble. This is a fundamental problem, one of Python-wannabe-ism and Cloud Atlas ends up an act of accidental and unfunny sketch comedy. Even if it has little in the way of intentions to be funny, outside of the thread where Jim Broadbent is imprisoned in an old age home by his brother, too much of the generic story telling in each of the individual stories comes across as half-sketched ideas where gimmicks and not actual humanity, are the glue that binds. One can only take so many cringe-worthy Tom Hanks accents in a film. The most egregious of these is his Tru-Tru speak as a middle aged man running around in rags with Halle Berry in a Ridley-Walker-lite post-apocalyptic world (which is not even Earth, but who cares at this point, right?) I’ve always wanted to see an attempt a film of that iconic yet ‘unfilmable novel,’ and it pains me here to see the form used just as a mere building block. The filmmakers reach very much exceeds their grasp and they are so swallowed by the breadth of their ambitions that they lose sight of the very humanity they are trying to encompass. The film decides that one trip with Jar-Jar-Hanks is not enough and so revisits the character as a goofy old codger. A storyteller that Hanks ‘matures’ into after ‘winning’ Cloud Atlas’s karmic video-game (Spoiler Alert – A typecast Hugo Weaving and a surprisingly versatile yet often unrecognizable Hugh Grant come out as the big karmic losers.) Hanks’ is the Ur-narrator, the everyman, even though his thread is end-story chronologically, it is also the most primitive. Get it? Get it? Any time in human history, we have the same problems and we strive onward and that the striving may seem futile but it is not. I like the idea, but this is kindergarten Buddhism in the telling.
The gang assembled for TIFF almost every night at Midnight to catch up on the days films as well as anticipate what gory and gonzo cinema would scar our psyche in the Midnight Madness sidebar. Below (tucked under the seat) are a few of the Substream segments that Rajo and Mike prepared with a series of guest hosts for each night of the Madness. Matty Price, Matthew Brown, Kurt Halfyard all host a segment (and cameo in other segments), while occasional row three contributor Tom Clift was all the way up from Melbourne, Australia to talk about his festival in Part 10 of the video series. Plenty more friends, critics, film directors, hell, even Programmer Colin Geddes’ mom chime in, along with random folks waiting in line, on what it is like to attend TIFF Midnight Madness – and why you should be planning out your way-after-hours vacation time for September 2013.
Special guest star Andrew Robinson joins us on the last day of the Toronto International Film Festival 2012 for our final TIFF ’12 podcast! We wrap up the festival including the audience choice award announcements, and talk To The Wonder, Cloud Atlas, 90 Minutes, Room 237, Reality, Byzantium, Ginger & Rosa, The We and the I, and Everyday. And that’s the end. See you next year!
Two sisters try to lay low in Dublin while being pursued by long-coated inspectors. Having committed a rather kinetic and conspicuous murder in the opening sequence of the film, the Webb sisters are actually a pair of highland blood suckers, a 200 year old mother and daughter pair of vampires. Possibly the last of their kind, moving from town to town and still working out some serious parent-child issues (not the least of which is their approach to handling their prey) Gemma Arterton literally vamps it up, putting on a prostitute pose to seduce lowlives and cops, while her daughter, plays more school girl, a more subtle and melancholic performance by Saoirse Ronan. The opposite disposition of these ladies (and the secrets they keep) are the engine for a plot that takes its sweet time to get going, but eventually, perhaps too late, pulls the narrative strings together.
Neil Jordan is no stranger to either fairy tales or gothic drama having started his career with Red Ridinghood horror picture, In The Company of Wolves, peaked commercially with the romantic vampire studio picture, Interview With The Vampire, and recently brushed up with Irish folklore in Ondine. Even the directors indie dramas, The Crying Game and The Butcher Boy flirt with gothic and melodramatic stylings. If you want to do a more stately and classical take on the modern vampire (read: no sparkling emo treacle) it would appear that Jordan is your man. Which makes it a bit baffling how Byzantium never really soars, even as it pulls all of its narrative strings together in a somewhat satisfying conclusion. The film tries to establish the contrast between its bodice-ripper (Gemma Arterton’s cleavage upstages her somewhat histrionic performance) segments and stylized urban melancholy. Neither Anne Rice nor Mike Leigh, the film offers some compelling images in an attempt to marry the two, but it is an uncomfortable union.
Pulling back, deliberately and slowly, from a soap-opera on the TV which is all song and dance and character introductions, the 315 minute long Gangs of Wasseypur kicks off with a single shot Johnnie To style unbroken assault on the stronghold of Faizal Khan with automatic weapons, grenades and narrow alleyways. It’s the bright hearald of a major film career just leaping onto the international stage. Let us get this out of the way first: Anurag Kashyap’s generation spanning story set in the coal capital of India and spanning almost 70 years comfortably, nay confidently, belongs alongside the great crime sagas of the cinema: The Godfather Trilogy, City of God, Bertolucci’s 1900, Heimat and Election. The perfect nexus of history, craft, thematic heft, and balls-to-the-wall entertainment, it why cinema was invented in the first place. It is HBOs “Deadwoo”d rogues gallery of character actors as much as it is the legacy scheming driven plot mechanics as “I, Claudius.” Rare is the opportunity of novel-style story telling and mighty cinematic craft to come together in such a marvelous package. It’s a gift to film lovers. Shown into two parts, each one well past the 2.5 hour mark, but conceived as a single film it, in the director’s words, shows “frogs in a well,” 200,000 people spread across three streets. The rough and impoverished criminals are unwilling to leave or even look beyond the small neighborhood and spray as much blood as possible for ownership of its organized crime opportunities which are equally transient.
Wasseypur may change hands geographically (India to Bengal), ethnically, even religious borders are mobile, but the Khans and the Singh’s have been at each others throats since the dawn of the coal era where two patriarch’s fought over the rights to hijack coal trains. When Ramadhir Singh kills Shiva Khan in this conflict, the Kahn’s young child Sadar shaves his head and vows to destroy Singh, not by murder, but my unravelling his empire piece by piece. As Singh enters politics to cement his empire, Sadar collects a growing number of wives, fathers several sons and kills a lot of folks with a machete. The law stays out of Wasseypur for fear of escalating slaughter, and a fair bit of carrot-stick mechanics from Singh. Part one of the diptych has an almost documentary feel, it even weaves a hefty of documentary footage to establish the context of the era spanning the 1940s up until the 1980s. Popular music from the cinema and TV act as a greek chorus to the proceedings, but begin to establish a theme that will pay off in the second part. Namely that the second generation of gangsters are so influenced by what is thrown up on screen, it leads an elder Singh to offer, “Everyon has his own movie playing inside his head, it it were not for the damn movie’s there would be no fools in this country.” This as the film slowly moves out of history lesson mode and into Scorcese mode. One advisor Nasir (think Robert Duvall or Derek Jacobi) narrates the film Goodfellas style as the crime moves from the coal industry to owning the fisheries, to unabashed extortion, to eventually the burgeoning Iron business. If it is hard to keep track of the characters in the first 90 minutes of the film, they’ve all been immortalized after that point with impeccable attention in narrative craft establishing relationships and motivations and territory.