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.


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].
The ‘MASSIVE’ version is below. All our thoughts and impressions from offerings of the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Rowthree Staff Summary of TIFF 2015

Welcome to our eighth annual Toronto International Film Festival wrap-up post. As has always been the case, regular Row Three contributors along with a few readers 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, Matthew Price, Ryan McNeil, Bob Turnbull, Mike Rot, Ariel Fisher and Sean Kelly – saw almost half of the 350 films shown at the festival and 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.


Personal BEST: ARABIAN NIGHTS [Kurt] & [Matt B.], ANOMALISA [Mike Rot] & [Ryan], OUR LITTLE SISTER [Bob], SHERPA [Ariel], and THE SLEEPING GIANT [Sean].

Personal WORST: OFFICE [Kurt], HIGH-RISE [Mike], THE MISSING GIRL [Matt B.], THE WAVE [Bob], LACE CRATER [Ariel], LONDON ROAD [Sean], and THE LOBSTER* [Ryan].


The ‘MASSIVE’ version is below. All our thoughts and impressions from the 2015 Edition of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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TIFF 2015 Review: Legend

Brian Helgeland’s Legend owes more than just passing “respects” to Goodfellas. It should kneel, kiss its ring and swear to handle whatever favours are asked of it. From its use of period precise music to its narration to long take club-entering shots, Legend shoots for that Scorsese vibe and view of the intoxicating power of gangster life. It doesn’t achieve that of course (primarily due to far too many moments that are inexcusably mundane), but still manages to keep a good pace and remain mostly entertaining. And that is primarily due to two key performances: those of Tom Hardy and also Tom Hardy.

Legend covers the rise and reign of the Kray brothers – the legendary gangster twin siblings who grew up in London’s East End. As the film opens, the pair are already local celebrities who ingratiate themselves with the neighbourhood while also running protection rackets and a few nightclubs. Reggie has business sense and can put things into context, but can also suddenly “lose his temper”. As violent as he can be, it feels controlled and with purpose. His brother Ron, however, is all instinct, fight first and ask questions never. He feels that when in doubt, it’s always best to stir things up. He doesn’t easily mix in with general society, though has no issues in openly proclaiming his bisexuality even though the film takes place during the 50s-60s. He begins the film in an asylum, but is released after a little “convincing” of his doctor by Reggie. Clearly no one believes he is in his right mind due to his appetite for mayhem, but Reggie wants/needs him out – they’re brothers after all. Though Reggie wrestles with it occasionally, Ron always wins the competition for Reggie’s allegiance – a battle fought more often after Reggie marries the beautiful young Frances (Emily Browning with a fantastic supporting performance by her cheekbones). Though not necessarily looking to give up “the life”, Reggie does somewhat long to simply run his new club in the West End. It’s profitable, the rich & famous drop by and it’s a sign that they have moved towards conquering all of London and acquiring that broader respect. Of course, that doesn’t fit with Ron’s plans and he actively destroys the regular clientele when Reggie has to do a short spell in prison.

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TIFF 2015 Review: Our Little Sister

I want to bundle this movie up and hug it. Tightly. For a long time.

That was my first thought after seeing Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister (also known as Umimachi Diary or “Diary Of A Seaside Town”) due to its joy, charm and humanity. I simply wanted to extend my experience with it and let all of its wonder continue to wash over me.

Don’t take that as indication that the film is slight or sickly sweet though. It’s neither. The emotions, reactions and behaviours are all very real and relatable (regardless of your cultural background) and the story of 3 sisters discovering they have a 14 year-old half-sister gets to core aspects of family – what we share, how we relate to each other and how we make assumptions about our family members. The film drifts in and out of gentle melodrama at times with musical cues denoting the prevalent emotion of the scene, but none of these moments felt forced or constructed purposely to tell the viewer what to feel. Kore-eda’s style is always there to support the story and characters. And what wonderful characters…

The three sisters (ranging from early 20s to early 30s) all live together in the old family home and have different personalities and approaches to life. Though they all fit certain templates – eldest is the maternal responsible one, middle child has bad taste in men and drinks to excess, youngest is a bit goofy – they each have fully-fleshed out characteristics that make them endearing, interesting and a bit frustrating. Kind of like everyone’s own family…Though their Dad is on his third wife by the time they attend (with little emotion) his funeral, their half-sister Suzu was actually the daughter of his second wife (who had passed away previously). This clues the older siblings into realizing that she won’t get any attention or love at all in her remaining non-blood family. Even though they have just met her, Sachi impulsively invites Suzu to live with them and the household brightens considerably with the teenager’s arrival. They share the house with their Great Aunt and the mid-section of the film is chock full of wonderful family dynamics scenes – ranging from cute to passive aggressive. Behind all of this is the spectre of the mother (Dad’s first wife) of the three adult sisters, how she fits into their lives and what might transpire when a larger family gathering will take place.

I will readily admit that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Kore-eda fanboy, so my biases are clear. I adore pretty much everything I’ve seen by him because he builds characters with whom you not only want to spend time, but also desire to discover more fully and who stay with you long afterwards. In the case of Our Little Sister, the screenplay was actually adapted from a manga by the original author Akimi Yoshida so I can’t give full credit to Kore-eda. But his ability to extract wonderfully natural performances from his actors continues here and makes the film feel “lived in”. Especially when it clearly revels in the small details of family life and traditions as the story winds its way through all the seasons of a full year. You can almost taste the plum wine they make from the fruits of their property’s trees and its oh-so-sweet. Not saccharine, but sweet.

Cinecast Episode 411 – We Wanna See The Business

Despite seeing nearly 100 films combined at TIFF 2015, Ryan from The Matinee and Kurt indulge Andrew by getting out to the multiplex to see the latest Johnny Depp performance, as James “Whitey” Bulger in Black Mass. We have a spoiler discussion on that, but needless to say, no one was overly pleased with Andrew for suggesting it. Kurt and Ryan attempt to wrassle TIFF to the ground after 11 days of shared screenings and food. They, in part, hash out the bests, the beasts and the worsts (or in the cast of Love 3D, the wurst) of some of the films on hand.

But wait, there is more.

Ryan and Andrew have a Watch List which includes re-evaluated Spielberg, various Afflecks and a new-ish film starring Matthew Broderick. Hunker down with your favorite blankie, take out your blue contact lenses, and settle in for the show!

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




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TIFF 2015 Review: Anomalisa

When the philosopher says, “Hell is other people,” he, perhaps, means that in trying to figure ourselves out, we are beholden to the reflections and interactions with other people. Or maybe he is talking about the modern customer service experience. In what is sure undoubtedly a high-water mark in animated cinema, Anomalisa is an utterly adult portrait of middle-age loneliness. Anonymous hotel rooms and the myriad awkward social contracts we perform daily with strangers become the grist for intimate, whisper-quiet apocalyptic storytelling. Kaufman is one of the few ‘auteur screenwriters’ working in the United States today, and much like his previous work, the idea of ‘the self’ is intelligently deconstructed by way of bittersweet cinematic creativity.

Absent are the science fiction notions (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and the weird scale (Synecdoche, NY) of his previous work, Anomalisa‘s most unconventional aspect that it is stop-motion animated instead of live action.

The team of animators working for co-director Duke Johnson deliver, on a Kickstarter budget, a film that looks as wonderful as anything from Laika Studios (Coraline, The Box Trolls) while, literally, leaving in the seams on the faces of the puppets untouched. Usually, these are digitally erased in post, but here they are thematically relevant, and left in. The miracle of artifice is miracle enough, and in one of those artistic contradictions, probably enhances the honestly of it.

The story is a beguilingly delicate, often savagely funny man-meets-lady tale that takes place mainly in the most impersonal hotel of the most boring city in North America. Cincinnati: Try the local chili, visit the zoo, slit your wrists. Perhaps the town is not truly that bad, but we get it from the weary perspective of Michael Stone, a married, middle aged man visiting for couple of days to give a lecture based on his how-to book on customer service.

Stone is wearily voiced by versatile actor David Thewlis, perhaps best known to cinema lovers as the young angry street philosopher Johnnie in Mike Leigh’s Naked. The lonely man he plays here here is the straight laced, sold-out, compromised 180 degree inversion Johnnie. Both are still lost souls though. Thewlis can convey ‘drowning in his own murk’ better than pretty much ever actor working today, and here he does it only with his voice.

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TIFF 2015 Review: Sherpa

On May 29th,1953, Nepalese guide Tenzing Norgay brought New Zealand philanthropist mountaineer Edmund Hillary to the summit of Mount Everest. The very idea of crawling to the top of the highest mountain on earth, with its punishing temperatures and near lack of oxygen, captured the imagination of the planet. Hillary (and expedition leader John Hunt) were both knighted. Their smiling, deferent, ethnic companion was bestowed with a lesser honour, the George Medal, which nevertheless made him the most famous man from Nepal in the world. The significance of this, however, a legacy which has outlasted all three of these men, is that Norgay’s ethnicity, he is from the Sherpa clan, ceased to be the name of a people, and thereon became a global brand name.

Flash forward nearly 50 years to April 18, 2014, when that terrible avalanche killed 16 sherpas just beyond the first Everest base camp, and the mountain know by the locals as Chomolungma is now Nepal’s chief economy. Thousands of people from around the world pay one of 38 expedition companies huge amounts of money for the now tourist exercise of getting to the top of Everest. The Nepalese government makes millions. The sherpas however, which (literally) do most of the heavy lifting and shoulder the most risk, see the tiniest fraction of this money. It is still one of the best paid (and most dangerous) gigs in the Himalayas, but there is a spiritual and family cost to this profession that is not appreciated by may of the foreign adventurers that train hard and pony up for the privilege.

Australian director Jennifer Peedom initially went to make a documentary what Everest looks like in the 21st century, with its logjam of international climbers, from the point of view of the sherpa community. What her and her team ended up making is the most important film on Everest since the newsreel footage from the original climb. The tragedy in 2014 not ended the climbing season for that year, but brought to a head, a brewing labour movement that had be brewing since Nepal became a democracy in the 1990s and a generation of younger, more educated, sherpas started hauling oxygen, gear and fuel up the mountain.
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TIFF 2015 Review: My Big Night

Alex de la Iglesia is a filmmaker who delights at putting mayhem up on the screen, be it clowns with machetes fighting in the Spanish Civil War or the painted living-statues on La Puerta Del Sol knocking off a bank with shotguns. With his latest film, My Big Night, he gets to dissect his penchant for high-energy artifice and at the same time indulge in screwball farce.

Opening with a pop-funk musical number that is as toe-tapping as it is glossy and fake, we are dropped into the midst of a large TV network, furiously shooting its live New Year’s spectacular. Only, it is actually October, the audience members are paid extras, and everything is staged. The food and drink are as plastic as the smiles and the laughs. The studio is embroiled in a massive labor protest after recently laying off hundreds of employees, and the street outside threatens to erupt into war. Meanwhile, on the main sound-stage, the show must go on. The special is weeks behind and the non-union staff and players are forbidden to leave the lot until this over-budgeted clusterfuck is complete.


Making fine use of his large stable of regular players, in addition to Spanish musical icon Raphael, who had kind of a spiritual cameo in the climax of Alex de la Iglesia’s The Last Circus but here is more central to the story playing a grotesque hybrid of himself and Tom Jones. Several overlapping stories are quickly established and developed over the course of 24 hours. The two ‘power-couple’ hosts (Hugo Silva, Carolina Bang) are fighting over their exposure in the script as well as their marriage. The son of the headlining act Alphonso (Raphael), played by Carlos Areces in a blonde buzz cut and moustache, has hired an assassin (Jaime Ordóñez) to speed along his inheritance, but the killer has designs on being a songwriter and is a massive fan. Two conniving women steal the sperm of a Fabio-esque pop-star (Mario Casas) in the hopes of blackmail. (I will not spoil how they, ahem, pull this off.) The camera operators nearly kill an extra during a tricky crane shot, and his schlubby replacement (Pepón Nieto) is forced to bring his senile, cross-bearing mom onto the set, and, oddly, is flirted with by a woman way out of his league (Blanca Suárez). The owner of the network (Santiago Segura) is still working his way through a downsizing list and the two lesbian producer-editors (Carmen Machi and Carmen Ruiz) feel they may get the axe.

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Cinecast Episode 410 – Mid-TIFF Recap Starring Ryan McNeil

The Toronto International Film Festival is halfway through its course. Which means Andrew is halway through being jealous. Kurt is in full-on festival mode, so per usual, Ryan McNeil from The Matinee joins us for his annual mid-fest recap. We cover a bunch of his TIFF screenings as well as a couple things happening back here on the home front. Of course we keep things totally spoiler-free for the TIFF stuff. Andrew wants to get populist and so we talk some Avengers 2 and the amazingness that is the send-up of Fast & Furious with Joseph Kahn’s Torque. Ryan of course cannot leave well enough alone and insists on starting up the Mistress America debate. And we end with Purple Rain. Because it’s Prince.

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



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TIFF 2015 Review: Mississippi Grind

Regular collaborators Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson, Sugar & It’s Kind of a Funny Story) team up once again as both writers and directors of this road movie. Mississippi Grind sees hard-up gambling addict Gerry (Ben Mendelson) befriend the charismatic poker player Curtis (Ryan Reynolds). Gerry thinks Curtis brings him luck and wants him to help build the collateral to get in on a high end poker game. So they travel across the south of the USA from casino to casino in an effort to take Gerry out of the rut he’s forever stuck in.

The first half of this is excellent. I’m a big fan of Half Nelson and a lot of the magic of that is here. As a believable and at times heartbreaking character study, the film is particularly strong, with regards to the Gerry character more so than Curtis. Ben Mendelson is incredibly good as the troubled gambler who doesn’t know when to quit. It’s a subtly powerful and controlled performance that should gain a lot of attention come awards season. If it doesn’t I’ll be very disappointed. Ryan Reynolds is very good too, but his character isn’t as well written. His motivations aren’t clear and his character has less of an arc through the film, making him feel like little more than an enigma even though his story takes up a large proportion of the running time.

This is one of the reasons why, for me, the film loses steam as it goes on. A lot of the turns that the plot takes didn’t make sense and I didn’t find the finale particularly satisfying either. So what begins as an understated yet strikingly good look at gambling addiction turns into a bit of a damp squib by the end. That may be a bit harsh though. The film is still certainly worth watching. It does a great job of capturing the mood and feel of the lonely world of the gambler and the look of that area of America. Mendelson’s stunning performance alone makes it a film to recommend, even if it doesn’t come together as a satisfying whole.