It is with a heavy heart that we heard today that George A. Romero, god-father of the modern zombie, has passed due to Cancer in Toronto today. Romero of course gave us the Dead series of films starting in 1968 where he envisioned zombies not in the traditional Haitian, plantation sense, but as the end of the world, and as a (possibly accidental) metaphor for racism and the 1960s. It was also a rip-roaring good horror flick that has stood the test of time for nearly 50 years for being ahead of its time (in part due to the lead character Ben (played by Duane Jones) being black, but also in terms of narrative and filmmaking style).
The director started making industrial/commercial films for various companies after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but after Night of the Living Dead he was a pretty major indie filmmaker and followed Night with a sequel, the more ambitious, both in gore and metaphor, Dawn of the Dead, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest films the genre has ever made. And while 1985’s Day of the Dead is kind of ignored by the mainstream lovers of the genre or considered ‘lesser’ than the first two entries, I personally love it dearly.
While Romero was often type-cast as ‘that zombie director’ he also re-invented the witchcraft film with Season of the Witch, government conspiracy and chemical weapons, The Crazies, the venerable vampire film as an addiction metaphor, Martin, as well as the creature feature anthology with Creepshow. There are so many nutty little corners of his career, from directing an episode to Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood, to (effective!) primate freak-out horror Monkey Shines, and gonzo medieval motorcycle cult favourite, Knight Riders.
Romero struggled in the 1990s and 2000s as he churned out a few more Dead films (including a modest sized studio entry, Land of the Dead) to diminishing returns. He moved to Toronto and acted as part-time mentor to several members of the local filmmaking community, and was popular at conventions and in repertory screening Q&As. I recall seeing him enthusiastically offer his unvarnished opinions on the large resurgence of the Zombie Genre he helped popularize in the early 2000s, a renaissance that has continued to this day. It is notable, that like John Carpenter, many of his classic films have been officially and unofficially remade, and homaged in every conceivable way.
Mr. Romero will be missed, but his contributions to the wilder side of cinema will likely never be forgotten.
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.
It’s that time of year where Documania runs wild in Toronto for the city’s second highest profile festival, one I myself have come to prefer every year. The selections for Hot Docs 2016 are stacked and wonderfully curated. If you pick a bad one, it’s probably on you. While the selections below are reviewed based on screeners, I highly encourage who can to get out and see these in the cinema. It’s so rare to see a documentary with a packed crowd, and the Q&A’s that happen during Hot Docs are so much more special than the ones you see at TIFF by nature of centering around real stories and real characters rather than the cloud of celebrity. You never know what to expect.
MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE
(dir: John Dower, 100 minutes) Tickets
After a decade of videos from Wise Beard Men, numerous expose books, countless articles, and most recently, the dense info dump of Alex Gibney’s Going Clear, you’d think we’d had enough Scientology documentaries. And maybe so. But along comes John Dowler and well known UK presenter Louis Theroux to pull an Act of Killing by hiring actors, who with the help of former Scientologist Marty Rathburn, recreate bizarre and violent events from David Miscavige and others that he had witnessed during his decades as a high ranking church official. MY SCIENTOLOGY MOVIE is far less concerned with the usual informative points of interest regarding Xenu and obsession with celebrities than it is fascinated with the justifications in behavior made by past and present members of their secretive organization. What results is a lot of cameras directed at other cameras, paranoia, intimidation, and cheeky provocation. This documentary is in no way a great starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, but for those of us who thought we’d seen and heard everything, this fresh angle is for you.
TONY ROBBINS: I AM NOT YOUR GURU
(dir: Joe Berlinger, 115 minutes) Tickets
Speaking of cults, Tony Robbins and his self-help seminars have themselves often been thought of as such, and similarly have been behind closed doors as well as very expensive. From Joe Berlinger of PARADISE LOST / METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER fame comes this unprecedented look at Robbins’ Date With Destiny series, and if there’s a twist to be found, it’s that Tony Robbins comes out of this looking really really good, to the extent that some have accused I AM NOT YOUR GURU of being an informercial. While the film generally takes Robbins at his word and some subtle touches (fonts, establishing shots) might give off a brochure esthetic, these criticisms fall on deaf ears when Berlinger lets the confrontations take center stage, where attendees are pushed to their emotional breaking points by the charismatic, foul-mouthed, no-bullshit-taking Robbins. Robbins operates as a Gordon Ramsay for your life, and Berlinger’s concert film/cinema verite approach allows the viewer to walk away deciding for themselves if this is a good thing. Robbins is appearing at Hot Docs which makes this an especially hot ticket, but you can catch this when it comes to Netflix on July 15th.
LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
(dir: Werner Herzog, 98 minutes) Tickets
I have to wonder if I could have accepted a film like this from anyone other than Werner Herzog. LO AND BEHOLD is a meandering series of anecdotes about the wired age that almost feels like a proof of concept for a Cosmos-type TV series. Which is to say, it’s entertaining and Herzog’s trademark calm, collected nature makes it feel like a stream of consciousness. From the unbreakable box that represents the invention of the Internet to the solar flares that will destroy us all to all of the harassment in between, Herzog’s fascinations and questions make this a very personal look at the increasingly impersonal. A favorite segment finds Werner visiting with those suffering from the very real EHS that fans of Better Call Saul will recognize, literally having gone off the grid, paying a personal price for our need to Google the name of that one guy who was in that thing. Admittedly, LO AND BEHOLD does feel like it could end at any moment, and there is an opportunity for a stronger final thought that isn’t there, but 98 minutes with Herzog is always worth your time.
CREDIT FOR MURDER
(dir: Vladi Antonevicz, 87 minutes) Tickets
If there is one documentary I have been pushing people to see, it is this film from Israeli director Vladi Antonevicz, a jaw-dropping, cinematic undercover procedural adventure which finds him posing as a white supremacist in Russia to solve the horrific murder of two immigrant men which had been posted to Youtube and ultimately became an infamous viral video. CREDIT FOR MURDER draws you in with the sordid allure of your first convincing conspiracy video and never lets up. The intricate detective work, superb presentation of event timelines, and mind-boggling admissions from far right nationalists are astounding. These Neo-Nazi antagonists fear nothing and if anything are trying to impress the viewer with how hateful they are. They are too trusting of the man with the camera, and too secure that there will be no reckoning for their actions, which makes for great viewing. This is provocative, detailed, vital documentary filmmaking and will almost certainly be in my year end top 10.
(dir: David Farrier, Dylan Reeve, 92 minutes) Tickets
The less said about TICKLED is to your benefit, and the filmmakers would prefer it stay that way. All you need to know is that co-director and journalist David Farrier found a video online for something called “competitive endurance tickling”. Huh. Considering that we have pillow fight and ax throwing leagues, it was not absurd to want to make a short quirky news story about this oddball sport. But it became clear very quickly that the people behind this “sport” did not appreciate the publicity, opening the door to an investigation that keeps paying off sinister revelations and mysterious puppeteers. TICKLED easily surpasses Catfish in the WTF is With People department, and will keep you guessing.
(dir: Morgan White, 90 minutes) Tickets
Just a bit over a year ago I finally laid eyes on THE REP, Morgan White’s excellent documentary about the rise and fall of the beloved and sadly out-of-business Toronto Underground Cinema. I went into this follow-up unsure if a focus tracing the cultural impact of a single piece of film memorabilia could sustain a feature length, and was more than pleasantly surprised to see that not only will THE SLIPPERS satisfy film lovers let alone Ozheads, but that White has significantly leveled up in his craftmanship in a short period. This is a slick, professional piece of work that indicates a passion for the subject matter that rivals that of his wealthy subjects. The story of the titular ruby slippers keeps going into unexpected places – conspiracy theories, capers, failed dreams, and deep envy. The lively talking heads, including a healthy dose of Debbie Reynolds, collectively reveal the rise of memorabilia collecting and how these props take on iconic and symbolic significance that transcend their original context into objects of inspiration, achievement, and how sad it can be to watch what happens when they fall into the hands of someone who doesn’t appreciate them.
HOW TO BUILD A TIME MACHINE
(dir: Jay Cheel, 82 minutes) Tickets
Like THE SLIPPERS, Jay Cheel’s first documentary feature since 2011’s terrific, hilarious BEAUTY DAY dials back the lunacy into a more contemplative but equally compelling place through two obsessed men and an iconic piece of film memorabilia – the HG Wells time machine. Animator Rob Niosi has been replicating the prop for years in extreme nitpicking detail. Rob Mallett became a theoretical physicist for tragic reasons. Cheel’s Errol Morris influences shine through even more so than his previous effort as he ties both stories together via the power of cinema as it’s own time machine, and milking emotion out of hobbies and fields of studies often thought of as cold and impersonal practices. If any film has convincingly proven that the journey is as important as the destination, it’s this one.
SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR
(dir: Deborah S. Esquenazi, 89 minutes) Tickets
The wave of interest in true crime stories laced with a dose of injustice is still in full swing, and another to add to your list is this film, which like PARADISE LOST before it, comes out of the last gasp of the Satanic Panic, and led to four Texan women subject to a homophobia-driven, literal witch hunt. This film, faced with the problem of not much footage from the time of the trial, forgoes suspense for an emotionally charged story about the exoneration process 15 years later, the difficult reintegration process, solidarity in clearing their name as one, and the regret and trauma of someone who had been manipulated into a false confession as an act of revenge.
*ANOTHER* cult documentary? Actually, HOLY HELL might be *THE* cult documentary. Director Will Allen spent 20 years within the Buddhafield, a hippie-ish cult, where he served as the official documentarian and too-close friend of Michel, a guru clad mostly in speedos, obsessed with his own appearance to levels that would make Liberace blush, and of course – dangerously drunk on power, spiritually and emotionally abusive. Michel is as creeptastic as they come, always staring through you, looking like a melted Martin Short even as he holds himself up as a paragon of beauty through the bizarre films and awful 80s-tastic music videos Will Allen created to glorify his master. This is an escape film, a revenge film, an ode to lost friends, and it has the most satisfying ending sequence(s) of anything I’ve seen from this year’s festival. And it may be coming to a theater near you sooner than later.
MAGICIANS: LIFE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE
(dir: Marcie Hume, Christoph Baaden, 85 minutes) Tickets
Of all things, MAGICIANS reminds of the Jerry Seinfeld COMEDIAN documentary, as well as the pro wrestling documentary BEYOND THE MAT. In all cases these are entertainers who face a stigma around their chosen profession, a struggle to attain a certain level of skill, and an even greater struggle to stand out among the field. And then there’s the unique hits to relationships, jealousy and finances that almost all performers face. Hume and Baaden’s film follows four extremely talented magicians in different stages of their careers, from a Tonight Show regular to a master of cards to the flashy Vegas showman who has to worry about bigger names stealing his act right when he’s finally on the edge of his big break. There’s something wonderful about watching people who are so very good at one specific thing weave their (wait for it) magic. Not being told how they do it just adds that extra level of intrigue, and finding out why these wonderful weirdos do it more than makes up for it.
After a turbulent couple of weeks in the social wars, Mamo convenes to ask: does online culture lead to groupthink? Can connected societies actually make things better? And what public blunder will eventually bring us down?
Toronto’s crop tops, the #FHRITP response, and Peter Howell vs. Tom Hardy vs. The Internet are contemplated in detail as we get to the middle of it, Mamo-style. Would you like to know more…?
We boys mourn the loss of True Detective, and anticipate the upcoming Game of Thrones, but in this small gap between prestige TV projects from HBO, it was a pretty damn good weekend at the multiplex. A spirited if brief discussion on the pros and cons of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, including Ralph Fiennes’s gift for comedy, Jeff Goldblum’s facial hair, Harvey Keitel’s pectorals, F. Murray Abraham being frozen in time, and underwritten supporting roles for Tilda Swinton and Saorise Ronan. We then discus sexual assault by cunnilingus with Matt Gamble’s wife, Angela, along with other assorted Me-Decade insensitivites in the ongoing 1984 Project feature: Revenge of the Nerds.
Kurt weighs in on the strange Canadian psycho-thriller Enemy which features Toronto as a sickly concrete hellscape and two Jakes (Gyllenhaal’s that is.) He thinks it is the best thing released theatrically in 2014 so far. Our Watch List as diverse as old-timey Miramax product, Chocolat, Teller’s documentary on art and craft and forgery, Tim’s Vermeer and an early 1990s bit of hipster TV, Fishing with John. Have at it.
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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Director: Denis Villeneuve Screenplay: Javier Gullón (Based on a novel by José Saramago) Producers: M.A. Faura, Niv Fichman Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mélanie Laurent, Sarah Gadon, Isabella Rossellini MPAA Rating: R Running time: 90 min.
Denis Villeneuve is a national tresure. The Canadian director who has garnered acclaim around the festival circuit for years, landed in Hollywood with a bang, delivering the great 2013 thriller Prisoners, that didn’t rip him of his artistic integrity. Unsatisfied with simply one movie, Villeneuve was also in post production on a second feature which co-produces with France instead of Hollywood. Far smaller, Enemy is also proving to be the more ambitious of the two projects in both subject matter and scope; a tall feat considering Prisoners went to some pretty deep places.
The basics of the story are fairly simple: while watching a movie, a history professor named Adam spots a man who appears to be his identical twin. Adam becomes obsessed with the idea of meeting his double and after some stealthy manoeuvring, discovers his double’s name (Anthony) and address. The pair eventually meet and it’s immediately clear that beyond looking identical, they share nothing in common. Adam is mousy and bumbling while Anthony is confident, womanizing and conniving.
As one might expect, the pair eventually trade places but the events surrounding the switch are far more nuanced and complicated than anything Hollywood has ever offered up from mistaken identity stories. Mind you, Enemy is adapted from a José Saramago novel so exploration of deep, philosophical ideas are to be expected and screenwriter Javier Gullón doesn’t shy away from any of them.
Adam is completely engulfed and haunted by the discovery of his double, almost as if he’s discovered some secret that will change his world. Helen, Anthony’s pregnant wife, is just as shaken by the discovery of her husband’s double but for Anthony, the emergence of Adam simply provides him with an excuse to be even more self centered. I can’t help but think that maybe Gullón and Villeneuve are making a statement on the perils of self involvement because things don’t progress very well for Anthony.
Ben Wheatley has asserted himself as the new face of avant garde cinema. From Down Terrace’s darkly comedic family crime story in 2009, to 2012’s bleakly hilarious Sightseers, nothing is by-the-book. Wheatley’s latest venture is no exception. Desolate, oddly funny, and visually volatile, A Field in England, while not a perfect film, certainly solidifies Wheatley’s role in the contemporary culture of cinema.
Set in the thick of the English Civil War, the story focuses on a band of merry deserters. Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith), an alchemist’s assistant, flees the field of battle. Terrified, he runs from the chaos, and encounters a threatening man named Cutler (Ryan Pope), and his two companions, the slovenly Jacob (Peter Ferdinando) and simpleton Friend (Richard Glover). Attempting to find a nearby alehouse, they inexplicably discover a lost alchemist, an Irishman by the name of O’Neil (Michael Smiley). Holding them captive, O’Neil forces the men to help him find a treasure presumably buried in the field they’ve been trudging through.
In spite of its relatively straightforward plot, the execution of the film is far more mystifying. A highly visceral sensory experience, the film is shot in stark, at times flat, black and white. The dutiful warning at the film’s start that there are strobes used is, by the film’s end, not nearly warning enough. The experience is jarring, and at times physically difficult to withstand. Unless you’re into less accessible, more confounding content. Would you like to know more…?
Hot Docs has chosen English documentary filmmaker and journalist Adam Curtis as the recipient of its 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award. In honour of the award, a retrospective will be screened during the 21st annual Festival, which runs from April 24 to May 4, 2014.
“Adam Curtis blends journalism and cinematic storytelling to critique media and power in society with an unmatched style and complexity,” says Hot Docs director of programming Charlotte Cook. “It’s our pleasure to be able to showcase the work of a master of our craft and to celebrate his incredible contribution, not only to the art form, but to our culture as a whole.”
Adam Curtis is a multiple BAFTA award-winning documentary filmmaker and journalist. Known for his visual style, he favours exploring themes of power and its function in society, allowing viewers to arrive at new perspective on sociology, philosophy and political history. He’s been closely associated with the BBC throughout his career, and currently writes a blog for the public service broadcaster. Would you like to know more…?
Hot on the heels of today’s “Friday One Sheet” post below, comes the full trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s doppelganger thriller, Enemy. I complement the French Canadian director on the baroque Fincher-esque stylings here: the cavernous architecture aesthetic of Toronto’s high-rises are put to good use here along with a sickly yellow colour interiors palette. Perhaps Jake Gyllenhaal investigating a strange series of ‘leads’ ala Zodiac, or maybe I’ve just been so enamoured with True Detective, that everything is starting look brooding, dark and philosophical. Either way, this looks fantastic.
After preparing a enthusiastically cooked and relaxing fry-up of fillet mignon for his cat on a lazy Saturday Morning, the everyman at the centre of Brett and Jason Butler’s Mourning Has Broken returns to the cozy confines of his own bed to discover that his wife has passed on. Rather than deal with the immediate and quite difficult emotions (and logistics) of his spouse’s condition – we will find out later she was seriously ill for some time – he instead decides to grab the weekend ‘to do list’ off the fridge and finish up her last requests, as it were, even if it is just buy groceries and pick up the drycleaning and a red-velvet cake.
This might sound like an opportunity for difficult and deep drama, and judging by the wonderful visage and performance chops of Robert Nolan the actor is up to the task, but instead the film aims for some rather blunt humour of how the minor annoyances of everyday social contracts – the logistics of running those errands or simply indulging a tedious barfly or neighbour – can be, or perhaps are completely, coloured by our own moods or own self-induced anxieties. As a species in these modern times, we are weak and our coping mechanisms barely up to the task and that is worthy of art. But it feels like a lot of the ideas here come from over-tilled situational comedy soils.
Our ‘hero’ succumbs slowly to his emotional impulses and his half-checked anger as the grind of bad Toronto drivers, tedious and unhelpful (or too helpful!) shop clerks, inconsiderate neighbours, and all manner of selfish urban denizens carve a blood-red slab off of his dwindling supply of patience with humanity. It is not long before we find the man for whom we are sympathizing with, begin rant like a lunatic to cinema-goers about their rude behaviour and utter lack of understanding on why we go to movies in the first place: to have a common emotional experience. It is too much and not enough at the same time. Slowly, inevitably, I found myself turning on the poor fellow, as he pisses on the unkempt bathroom of a local bar and buys a baseball bat intent on petty revenge. That our man is swallowed up by his own environment is tragic, that it all seems so self-inflicted pushes it into grunge-opera. This is a fantastic and ripe concept. But the string of situations presented feel too conscious, not funny enough, or crazy enough, or developed enough – an unfortunate side-effect of fast shooting and zero budget.
After its world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, Antisocial has toured several major international genre festivals and garnered a great deal of critical acclaim. Breakthrough Entertainment proudly announced today that the film will have its Toronto theatrical premiere this December at the Carlton Cinema.
Antisocial, is the social-media-savvy horror film from Cody Calahan and Chad Archibald that turns on its head the claustrophobic horror convention of scared young people locked up together as all hell breaks loose. In the movie, a worldwide pandemic marked by violence, suicide and hallucinations, breaks out on New Year’s Eve. And five university friends witness it all live via network TV and the ‘Net – from personal blog feeds to video chats gone insanely wrong. How long can they keep the apocalypse at bay inside a locked apartment?
Celebrating is the last thing on the mind of Sam (Michelle Mylett), when she reluctantly accepts a New Year’s invite with her friends Mark (Cody Thompson), Jed (Adam Christie), Steve (Romaine Waite), his girlfriend Kaitlin (Ana Alic) and Chad (Ry Barrett). Sam’s boyfriend Dan (Charlie Hamilton) had broken up with her earlier in the day, in front of an entire network of online friends on a popular portal called The Social Redroom. The geeky Jed is inclined to invite the whole world to the party through his computer, and in doing so is the first to see all Hell break loose. As it plays out, they know exactly what to look for when the virus finds its way inside their padlocked apartment/haven. Would you like to know more…?