For the second year in a row, I have pushed it to the limit with the Toronto International Film Festival. 10 days, 10 movies. This time, because of smarter scheduling, it wasn’t so exhausting, although by the end of the first 3 days, I had seen 6 movies (3 in one day). To do this, you gotta love, I mean, REALLY love movies. And I guess over the years, I’ve given into that. I haven’t always loved movies, and I’m not one of those cinephiles that reference the classics from 50 years ago. I’m actually allergic to very old movies. Just can’t do it. There are a few exceptions. But mostly, I’ll pass.
Anyway, TIFF 2016 had a lot to offer this year. There were high-points (more interactive Q&A’s, high quality cinema, etc.) and low-points (mainly TIFF’s new demand-based pricing structure, over-zealousness with the “Premium” stamp, and it’s problematic alignment with “Ticketmaster” for the first time this year). The negative effects of the low-points on festival-goers is a whole other blog post in itself, so we’ll leave that right there.
Instead, for the first time, I will give you a run-down/review of the films I saw which will inform your movie theatre going-experience for the upcoming year.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
This one, starring veteran actor Brian Cox (Troy, The Bourne Supremacy, Morgan) and a much less obnoxious version of Emile Hirsch (Into The Wild, The Girl Next Door, Lone Survivor) as a father-son autopsy team, surprised the hell out of me. Just like instant classics like Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, the less you know about this one going in, the better.
Here’s the premise: The film opens on cops casing the gruesome scene of a multiple homicide in a suburban home. In the basement, they find the partially buried body of a young woman. As the murder scene is very alarming, they rush the seemingly untouched body of the young woman to the local, family-owned morgue that is run out of the basement of the house of Brian Cox’s character. The woman’s body seems pristine and the cause of death is not apparent, until they open her up. But with every cut, they are opening a much more sinister fate for the unsuspecting family.
Although, the TIFF pickings were great this year, this film was easily my favourite festival film of the year, which was unexpected because I am not a Hirsch fan. I loved it because it is a complete, self-contained movie, that is unique and original, and succeeds in pulling the viewer all the way in. This movie should be picked up by a distributor, and hopefully released just in time to mingle with the slew of scary movies that will hit theatres next month. If you ask me, my money is on this one for quality goosebumps.
The Belko Experiment
This one was a special nightmare from the mind of James Gunn, director and writer of my favourite movie of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy. This was a film that took him 9 years to get made. He wrote it years ago, but stepped away from it. After watching it, I can see why. It. Is. Dark. This is not a superhero movie. Superhero movies usually tend to have an underlying message of how humans or superhumans can dig deep and access their best selves to survive the deadliest odds. This movie is the antithesis of that idea.
It starts on an unassuming day in Colombia at the headquarters of a company. The company is made up of Columbian nationals and an equal number of American workers who have been brought there over the course of the year to work at this typical company that has a seemingly typical arbitrary job function. On this particular day, at the checkpoint at the entrance of the property that is in the middle of nowhere, all the Colombian nationals are being turned away, while the Americans go to work as if it were just another day, except it takes them awhile to realize that ALL of their Colombian counterparts were not present. Almost immediately after that realization, a voice thunders over a PA system that nobody, not even the CEO, expertly played by Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn, realize the building even had. The voice informs all employees that they have 2 hours to turn 80 employees to 40 or 60 will be instantly killed by a chip implanted in the backs of their heads (originally willingly allowed by the employees in the name of protecting them against frequent kidnappings in the hostile country). They are subsequently sealed into the building with no access to the outside world, and whoever is running the show gruesomely demonstrates they are serious by executing a few random employees remotely. Amazing premise.
Although I love James Gunn’s work and there were a few parts of the movie that were fun, I left this one feeling very disturbed. You get to know all the personalities in the film, you may even like a couple, but the film is so dark, it’s almost like watching a slow human train-wreck. Not in the sense that the movie is bad, it’s not. I think I just got tired of watching innocent people being killed by innocent people. The only bad people in this film are the ones who are turned that way so that they can get home to their families. Although the movie has a great cast and great performances by Guardians’ Michael Rooker, The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr, and John C. McGinley (Scrubs, Platoon, Set It Off) because of the darkness, I would be surprised if this film gets more than a few screens.
Colossal is a tricky movie. It stars Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, Rachel Getting Married, The Intern) and Jason Sudeikis (We’re The Millers, Saturday Night Live, The Last Man On Earth). With top billing like that, you would perhaps expect a romantic comedy. Without giving any spoilers, I will tell you the first half is that, but the 2nd half takes a left turn into sci-fi. Underneath it all, there are humanistic themes around Alcoholism and going home again, but then… it gets pretty dark. I don’t want to give too much away but here’s the pitch: A woman named Gloria (Anne Hathaway), going through a breakdown of a nervous variety as a result of a drinking problem, returns to her hometown to put herself back together. Around the same time, a kaiju appears in Seoul, South Korea at the opposite site of the world, and wreaks havoc on the citizens of the city, and somehow, this monster is directly connected to Gloria.
This movie has it’s fun moments, but it is flawed in areas. Despite the incredible experience that Gloria goes through, you want to see some more character development. Instead her amazing circumstance, rather than being a tool for change, simply becomes a distraction to her. One thing I will say that I was impressed by in this film was Jason Sudeikis’ clear growth as an actor. He has range in this film, by the end, you may not even recognize him. This is one of those bridge films where a great comedic actor makes the (usually) inevitable strong move to dramatic actor. In my opinion, Sudeikis, in a supporting role, out-shines Hathaway when it’s all said and done. It is an enjoyable flick, but if you are looking for a romantic comedy, don’t look here. But you have my permission to tell your girl it’s a rom-com to get her in the theatre. It is a movie for guys and girls, and it will do on a Saturday. I’m almost positive this film will get medium to wide release, despite it’s flaws and dark turn.
The Girl With All The Gifts
The Girl With All The Gifts is based on a popular Zombie novel by M.R. Carey. The zombie genre has been done to death at this point. This one does succeed in throwing some original twists into the mix. In this one, the human race is holding on by a thread as there are only a few left. The ones we are aware of are holed up in a military compound. In this compound, we know only a few things. There are about 20 children being held in prison-like conditions. They are let out once a day to attend a version of “school”, but before they are “transported” to school, they are strapped into specialized wheelchairs built specifically for restraint, and for good reason. All the children are infected by the zombie virus, however, they appear normal unless presented with appropriate stimuli — the smell of human flesh and blood. All the members of the military facility, for this reason, are forced to wear a special cream that blocks their scent, and keeps the students from turning. If any of them are bitten, even once, they become fully infected within minutes…. or food.
One of the students, Melanie, stands out from the rest. She has dreams, and has a strong evident shared affection for her teacher, Miss Justineau, played by Gemma Arterton. She also has hope, just like any other 11 year old. Dr. Caldwell, played by Glenn Close, after lobotomizing several of the students in an attempt to find a cure, believes that Melanie, might have the anti-bodies to create one, but she must be sacrificed in order to do so. Just as she is about to cut into her, Miss Justineau, storms in and demands that she live. And immediately after that the compound is overrun by zombies, and the key players have to try to escape.
This movie actually plays out like a novel, which can be rare for book adaptations. The direction, tone and feel of it almost presents as prose up until the very last frame. Although it was a decent film, after the initial story points, it becomes less unpredictable and surprising and actually becomes a little too “Lord Of The Flies” like. It is very proud of it’s ending, but to me, the ending left me with a lot more questions then answers and was unsatisfying. The performances by Arterton and Paddy Considine were impressive as always, yet surprisingly, Close and Sennia Nanua, who plays Melanie, had performances that were a little too over-the-top and at times, while cute, got annoying, respectively. Some people may disagree with that assessment.
As for the TIFF experience, it was a Midnight Madness screening, most of the notable figures are usually present. This is the first time that I went to a MM screening where the lead actor, Gemma Arterton, was there for the intro to the movie, along with the writer and director, but actually left before the Q & A leaving the others to field questions without them. Sometimes people take that as a show of enthusiasm that the actor may have for the finished product. If that is what’s behind her absence, all I will say is I get it.
If you liked The Raid: Redemption or The Raid 2, you will love Headshot. It features the star of both of those movies, Mr. Badman himself, Iko Uwais. One of the on-screen fight choreographer geniuses who are capable of reaching Bruce Lee status. This guy has the skill and power to become a staple to North American audiences (he recently appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
The premise: A VERY bad man escapes a prison and looks to get his crew back together. One of them has been found on a river bank, devoid of any memories. This is our hero. After months of rehab by a beautiful young nurse who has taken a liking to him, he is back on his feet. But the bad man catches up to him and kidnaps her. He then goes on a quest to save her from his former team, while remembering his skill and bits and pieces of who he used to be along the way.
This is a kung-fu flick at it’s heart. But Iko’s acting skills have greatly improved over the year, and he has a face for even bigger things. The action sequences in this film that were choreographed by Iko’s team are unlike everything you’ve seen before. One of the things that stood out to me are all the details that are highlighted in the sequences, for example the actual consequences of some of the choices that are made in fights that aren’t as clean as they’ve looked in previous films (because fighting, even of the kung-fu variety is not always clean). You see the main character make many mistakes and leave himself open several times during the sequences and have to recover and overcome, part by instinct, part by quick learning. A naturalness that is, at times, overlooked in movies of this genre (save for Jackie Chan’s comic delivery of the same concepts). This movie was highly enjoyable. If you love violent Kung-Fu movies with a good plot and some above average acting, Headshot is for you. As a result of it’s showing at TIFF, it has garnered a global release, most likely VOD. Look out for it.
As for the TIFF experience, we actually got a treat after the Midnight Madness screenings. Sometimes it pays to stay up. Check this out:
This is why you stay after the Midnight Madness screenings end. This demo occurred long after the credits rolled (about 2:00 a.m. on a Friday night). Good times.
We decided to split this one up, so come to spend some time with me in my world at CurtisMorgan.ca for Part 2 of my TIFF 16 review, that features Justin Timberlake, Nick Cannon, Busta Rhymes, and my “conversation” with Janelle Monae.