Rowthree Staff Summary of TIFF 2017

Our traditional round-up of impressions and reactions to the massive slate of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival has arrived in its tenth (!) edition, here in the third row. Happy Decade to us! As always, several of the 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. These are accompanied by an identifier-tag: [BEST], [LOVED], [LIKED], [DISLIKED], [DISAPPOINTED], [FELL ASLEEP], [WALKED OUT], [HATED] and [WORST].

Collectively we – Kurt Halfyard, Bob Turnbull, Courtney Small, Mike Rot, and Sean Kelly – saw a sizable chunk of the films shown at the massive public 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, small screen, or streaming service, in the next 18 months.


Personal BEST: FACES PLACES [Bob], mother! [Kurt], CALL ME BY YOUR NAME [Courtney], LADY BIRD [Mike], and I, TONYA [Sean].

Personal WORST: The personal low-lights were THE RITUAL [Kurt], THE CONFORMIST [Bob], VERONICA, [MIKE], and FIRST REFORMED [Sean].
The ‘MASSIVE’ version is below. All our thoughts and impressions from offerings of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Mamo 455: Vulvaesque


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 –
  • More information about the Musicale screening of LITTLE SHOP here –
  • Get your copy of Shelagh’s book, The Spanish Fantastic, here –
  • 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.


    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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    TIFF 2016 Review: Personal Shopper

    French critic-turned-filmmaker Olivier Assayas has always had a knack for combining verité, day-to-day life with stylish genre elements. His previous film, The Clouds of Sils Maria, coaxed a assured performance out of Kristen Stewart as a confident personal assistant to a French movie star; to the point where she almost overshadows the glamourous lead of the film, Juliette Binoche. Assayas collaborates once again with the young star in Personal Shopper – again in the employ of a famous actress – but here, he places her in practically in every shot.

    Mixing the abstract with the mundane, Stewart plays Maureen, a budding amateur medium who trying to commune with her recently deceased twin brother. The movie starts almost like a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, with Maureen attempting to make contact with the beyond by spending the night in the a dark old French country manor. Her day-job involves buying insanely expensive clothing and jewelry for a wealthy young movie star. It is clear that Maureen hates this job, she confesses this outright to her employer’s sleazy boyfriend, but it pays the bills while she tackles her unfinished spiritual business.


    Not content with just restless spirits and luxury goods, Assayas also drops in an anonymous sexual stalker and murder-mystery to boot. And yet, Maureen spends nearly the entire film alone, in shops, on her scooter, or on the train between England and France. Her boyfriend is in Morocco and occasional talks to her via skype. Her boss is always in one city or another, for a film shoot or a fashion show, and communicates with Maureen via notes left in her upscale Paris apartment. And the stalker sends copious amounts of anonymous text messages. I mean a LOT of text messages. For a film that has its lead spend a good chunk of its run time glancing down at her phone, one would think it might get boring, but it is not so.
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    TIFF 2016 Review: Free Fire

    TIFF 2016 Review

    One of the most wonderful things about Free Fire is its simplicity. Coming from a filmmaker who has more often than not leaned on the edge of cerebral, this proves as a magnificent departure. A straight shoot-em-up action film, Free Fire delivers on its premise, without overcomplicating things.

    The film takes place in the Boston of 1978. Two IRA members are meeting with a couple of American arms dealers to broker a deal. Tensions are high at the offset, and everything goes south incredibly quickly. What results is a high-octane shootout in the vein of Hard Boiled (1992) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976).

    Free Fire Original Poster

    The film features Brie Larson as, presumably, the token chick, Justine. The go-between for IRA members Frank (Wheatley regular Michael Smiley) and Chris (Cillian Murphy), and South African and American arms dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay) respectively, Justine is the conductor of this soon-to-be-derailed train. But her tokenism (and, arguably, Martin’s) is quickly debunked. Both Justine and Martin are integral to the both the premise and execution of the film.

    Larson’s turn as Justine is yet another reason to love her as an actress. She sheds the delicate or wounded skin of her previous characters from Short Term 12 (2013), The Spectacular Now (2013) and Room (2015). In its place is a suit of armor with matching heels. Equal parts feminine and ferocious, Larson is a refreshing joy.

    With character actors like Ceesay, Smiley, and Noah Taylor alongside Copley, Murphy, Sam Riley, and a hilarious Armie Hammer, the whole ensemble works together brilliantly. Tossed in with excellent editing, wonderful sound and set design, a fantastic score, and some of the best writing we’ve seen yet from Wheatley and partner in crime and life Amy Jump, Free Fire is quite possibly the tightest, strongest film from Wheatley’s oeuvre.