TIFF

TIFF

It happens at every film festival, and this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is no different – a string of titles are announced that sound almost laughably similar, either thanks to their actual titles (there’s a film called October November and one called September? Are you kidding me here?) or their overriding themes (no, you didn’t imagine that there are two films about regular dudes who discover creepy doppelgangers that are also both based on novels at this year’s festival). How will you ever unravel such strange mysteries? As a public service, we’ve compiled a guide to some of the most confusingly similar films at this year’s TIFF. Who’s going to be the first person to forget that Paradise is a standalone and Paradise: Hope is part of a trilogy? Not you! After the break, learn to tell the difference between Bastardo and Bastards, find out just who Joe and Belle and Therese and Violette are, unravel the mystery of dueling doppelganger-centric features, and find out if Love is the Perfect Crime has anything to say about Life of Crime (hint: it doesn’t).

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the dog fund this

You likely already know that Dog Day Afternoon was based on a true story. But did you know the inspiration for Al Pacino’s character didn’t die until 2006? His name was not Sonny Wortzik, it was John Wojtowicz, and there’s a new documentary about him titled The Dog. Directed by Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, the film is set to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. The production needs some extra financial help, though, to continue working right up until the event and complete all the finishing touches in time. And for their campaign, Berg and Keraudren have gone with a new crowdfunding outlet called Seed&Spark, which lets you pick specifically what parts of the film you want to donate to from a “wish list.” This project’s options include archival footage and photo licensing ($25-$100 apiece), poster design ($500) and color correction ($25 per portion).

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The Green Inferno

Pleated skirts and revenge! Jungle protests and secret societies! Whatever Rigor Mortis is! These are some of the brutal delights that programmer Colin Geddes has set up for the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness slate. The whole thing opens with Lucky McKee‘s (The Woman) latest film All Cheerleaders Die where he teams with writer/director Chris Sivertson to remake one of his early movies. This new version tells the supernatural story of a rebellious girl who joins the cheerleading squad in order to take down the captain of the football team. There’s also new Eli Roth, Sion Sono, Hitoshi Matsumoto…The hits keep coming, and I still can’t tell what’s going on in Rigor Mortis. Here’s the full lineup to drool over.

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Screen Shot 2013-07-23 at 9.56.52 PM

With only a little more than a month before the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) kicks off, more and more marketing campaigns have sprung up for the films premiering at the festival. First came Twelve Years a Slave and The Fifth Estate; now Half of a Yellow Sun is the latest TIFF premiere to debut its first trailer. Check it out after the jump.

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PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

Note: Andrew Robinson’s review originally ran during TIFF 2012, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Derek Cianfrance‘s The Place Beyond the Pines is broken up into three chapters. We open with Luke (Ryan Gosling) coming back into town with the circus and finding out that he has a son. He decides to stick around, but since he’s unable to make a living to support his family, he begins robbing banks using his skills as a professional motor bike rider. The narrative is then handed over to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a police officer heading into politics and struggling with family matters. The film takes its time in making sure that we get a good grasp on each character as there’s very little overlap in screen time between each. The reckless rise of Gosling’s bank robbing spree and the troubled rise of Cooper’s political/social standing in the world parallel one another beautifully. What the film truly discusses is what someone is willing to do selflessly for others. While, morally, Cooper and Gosling’s acts are complete opposites of each other, their motivations start out in the same place, the intention to provide for their family. Luke’s robbing banks was never about himself; he never wants to take credit for them, reflecting his clear shame. Cross’s actions are one of motivations head-butting his own desires, even at the expense of his son’s affection.

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Editors Note: The following interview was conducted in September 2011 but has never been published before today. It is finally seeing the light now because The Day is finally hitting DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, November 27.  In an interview posted earlier today, director Douglas Aarniokoski and actors Cory Hardrict and Michael Eklund discuss the beneficially miserable conditions of shooting The Day, a post-apocalyptic thriller about a band of starving survivalists who go up against a group of cannibals. After talking with them, I sat down with Dominic Monaghan, Shawn Ashmore and Ashley Bell to talk about their own experiences making the film and developing characters they were given little background on. Monaghan and Ashmore also addressed aspects of The Day extra-diagetically relating to their work on Lost, The Lord of the Rings and the X-Men films, while Bell discussed her role as a kick-ass action heroine, which I’ll admit is the highlight of the film. Someone should give her a franchise besides the Last Exorcism films.

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Editors Note: The following interview was conducted in September 2011 but has never been published before today. It is finally seeing the light now because The Day is finally hitting DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, November 27.  After seeing the minimal-exposition post-apocalyptic thriller The Day at the Toronto Film Festival last year, I wanted to rename the film “The Real Hunger Games.” Not because it’s anything like The Hunger Games but because it’s about a group of survivalists (played by Dominic Monaghan, Shannyn Sossamon, Shawn Ashmore and Cory Hardrict) who are starving. And unlike another group (led by a man known only as “Father,” played by Michael Eklund), as well as the majority of humans still roaming the land, they won’t allow themselves to become cannibals in order to stay alive. Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, a protege of Robert Rodriguez, The Day was apparently purposefully a grueling film to shoot, with the ensemble cast making the effort to play their parts as if they were actually living the 24-hour plot, suffering freezing temperatures and avoiding craft service in service to their craft. I talked to Aarniokoski and most of the actors about working on the movie, with the group separated into two groups. First up is my conversation with the director, Eklund and Hardrict about the production and why being miserable on location is actually a great benefit.

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If you’re looking to make a talking heads movie that’s able to create big drama using little more than simple dialogue scenes, then populating your cast of characters with a bunch of sensitive, insecure creative types is probably a good strategy. And it’s exactly the strategy that first time writer-director Josh Boone has used for his debut picture, Writers. The film focuses on an unusual family that includes a critically acclaimed author (Greg Kinnear) as its patriarch, a daughter (Lily Collins) who has just published her first work, a teenaged son (Nat Wolff) who is developing his craft through journal writing, and a mother (Jennifer Connelly) who has been excommunicated from the family, probably because the guy she left the father for doesn’t have an impressive enough personal library. Each character has a struggle to go through. Kinnear hasn’t been able to get through the dissolution of his marriage, and he has found himself in a slump of depression that has not only affected his work but also turned him into the sort of creepy weirdo who hides in his ex’s bushes and peers through her windows. Collins, still processing the loss of innocence she experienced due to the infidelity in her parents’ marriage, has built a wall of acting out and defensiveness between herself and the rest of the world and may be in danger of becoming permanently bitter. Wolff is dealing with the pitfalls of being a sensitive young man in a world where thoughtlessness is a more […]

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The bad thing about The Exorcist is that it has been so influential that we’re coming up on 40 years since its release and still we’re getting a handful of cheap knockoffs released in theaters every year. From The Devil Inside, to The Rite, to The Last Exorcism, to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, demonic possession movie after demonic possession movie is made with the same plot, the same characters, and the same tone. And every time you watch the whole thing play out, it manages to hit with slightly less impact than it did the time before. It was with great enthusiasm, then, that I watched J.T. Petty’s (The Burrowers) latest film, Hellbenders, which is finally, finally an exorcism movie that’s nothing like all of the other exorcism movies that have come before. There are no creepy little girls and wise but weary priests here. Instead, Hellbenders populates itself with foul-mouthed, hard-partying priests who seem to be more comfortable sinning than they do going to Sunday mass. You see, the conceit is this: in order for a priest who deals in exorcism to be ready to take a demon into his body and escort it to hell — by offing himself — he must always have enough sin wracked up to actually be worthy of going to the place. So, the merry band of miscreants that this film follows have checklists to make sure that they’re on top of their sinning. They curse, they steal, they blaspheme, they engage in […]

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TIFF

Editor’s Note: A few months ago, we chose to send a Jamaican blogger to Canada to cover the Toronto International Film Festival for us. It was his first film festival and his first time writing for us, but our biggest concern was that any temperature under 72 degrees would freeze him instantly. Fortunately, he survived, and he’s here to share what he learned. Hopefully, you’ve all enjoyed my coverage of TIFF these past two weeks. You might be tired of hearing about it, but spare me one more moment to talk a little about what I’ve learned on my trip to that spot of land a bit north of the USA. This was my first time going to TIFF, going to Canada, covering and even attending a film festival. It’s a lot of firsts for me to handle – I hope I did okay. I watched a grand total of 35 films (all listed here). I posted reviews for 22 films and did 1 interview. I took in 4 movies and 3 cups of coffee a day. I walked out of 2 films, fell asleep in 3 and couldn’t complete 2 due to projection issues. I saw my first film ever projected in 70mm (The Master, of course) and overall had a blast. I’m still trying to figure out how to go back to “normal” everyday life after that, but so it goes. So here are some things I learned from my very first film festival:

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Film, like any art at its core, can be like philosophy in its pursuit of things not easily quantified. With Cloud Atlas it’s easy to say that Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer came together to make a film which spans time periods and geographical locations (some as far away as the edge of the galaxy) to show that as tiny as each of our lives are, they are still interconnected threads that shape things to come. Cloud Atlas is the definition of epic. In the beginning, we see Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) at a typewriter, narrating his work saying, “I know that you’re tired of flashbacks and flash forwards. However,…” in a playfully pleasant way of apologizing for its misgivings. Then, the sprawling, era and personality-jumping film opens up to grow into something massive and wonderful. Don’t worry about the flashbacks, Mr. Cavendish.

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Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a collector for a loan shark. He cripples his non-paying clients in order to collect the insurance money. One day a woman, played by Cho Min-soo, appears claiming to be his mother who abandoned him as a child. This discovery leads Kang-do down a path which includes reconsidering his line of work and his viewpoint on life in general. Kim Ki-duk‘s Pieta plays wonderfully into an ever-growing subgenre of South-Korean revenge films (including I Saw the Devil, Oldboy and The Man From Nowhere). Here we’re able to enjoy a very slow burning plot as it’s broken into two separate sections. The first being where Kang-do is the collector who breaks limbs to reconcile debts, the next being where he’s a love drowned character, adoring his mother in an almost childlike state. As the film turns to that second half the reveal leads to interesting ideas of what one will do both for revenge and for love. We see characters endure in the face of despair as Kang-do’s mother goes missing and he goes hunting, believing this to be the work of one of his crippled former clients.

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If you’ve watched a movie about love, marriage, the environment and religion all wrapped up together with only enough dialogue to fill a few minutes of a Tarantino screenplay, it was probably a Terrence Malick film. His latest, To The Wonder, uses the same voyeuristic style that the director has been working on from Days of Heaven and refuses to discard. The film uses emotion and voice over as a narrative compass which pushes the film forward in a way that almost feels documentary-like. We’re cutting into this couple’s life at distinct points to find out how they truly feel about one another and how that progresses. It’s easy to casually view Malick’s latest efforts and label it with a word like “pretentious.” The film is very demanding and requires great attention as well as an ability to consider rounded viewpoints on the topics at hand. This is where Malick’s style comes to an advantage. The film makes the core themes become points of discussion as opposed to cannons bursting with the filmmaker’s own position.

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What can one truly say about Shakespeare? He’s a writer whose work has survived centuries of history, and his stories are still being adapted, both directly and indirectly. While his dramatic work is what’s most delved into by filmmakers, his comedies are what’s most fascinating. The plot of Much Ado About Nothing centers on Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) serving as matchmaker to a few lovers in waiting. Pedro’s job involves matching not only the compliant, Hero (Jillian Morgese) and Claudio (Fran Kranz), but also the not so compliant, Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof). He sees what many do not and with the use of a few simple tricks to help push each couple in the right direction, he’s able to create a scenario in which love finds its way. Not focused on depth, Joss Whedon‘s take offers comedy gag after gag, and there’s barely any time when a joke doesn’t land perfectly. It helps to have the likes of Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Denisof and Kranz in your cast. The actor spotlight begins early in the film, where a character calls for music, they turn to the iPod and Gregg starts swaying – creating an inextricably funny moment solely from his expression intertwined with his movement. So many comedies are unable to have more than a handful of memorable moments like this, but Much Ado About Nothing has dozens.

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Ben Wheatley‘s Sightseers is the ultimate dark comedy. It puts the most audacious visuals in front of you and dares you not to laugh at them. In the film, Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) take a week out caravanning across the English country-side. Little does she know, he’s a murdering psychopath with a short temper. Eventually, the two are traveling from one landmark to another killing anyone who pisses them off. Earlier this year, Bobcat Goldthwait similar God Bless America received a lukewarm response from critics. This feels like a less overbearing version of that film. While most instances of violence come from things that aggravate our protagonists, the murder spree doesn’t come out of some sense of entitlement. Chris and Tina kill just because they prefer that person dead, for their own gratification and to better enjoy their holiday. It’s not to improve the world around them. The film derives some great comedic moments from the bookends holding scenes together. Chris kills a man for telling him and Tina to clean up a piece of excrement, which is followed by them asking themselves, “Isn’t the country lovely?” The film revels in how easily Tina and Chris can justify their murders and brush them off as a part of their holiday.

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Matteo Garrone‘s new film, Reality, opens with a horse-drawn carriage, looking like it’s from the Victorian era, heading down a busy street filled with cars. As we zoom in closer and closer, the fantastical is highlighted more and more. It becomes pretty obvious that the film will wow us in a way not many others can, by presenting something that we just can’t believe is real. Luciano (Aniello Arena) is very much a larger-than-life character. After much pushing and prodding from his children, he tests to be on Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother. After performing so well, Luciano is certain — as is the entire town – that he will be called up to be on the show. The film follows his descent into madness as he waits for the call. An aspect of the world we live in that’s always ripe for discussion is the concept of celebrity. What is a celebrity? What do you have to do to become one? Would you want to be one? These are questions the audience asks while watching this film. Luciano never showed much interest in being on TV prior to his children’s suggestion, but when he gets a hint that it might happen, his fixation on being prepared for it causes his vanity and paranoia to get the better of him. We see Luciano become a celebrity in his own town, first for the potential of being on TV and then eventually for losing his mind.

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When you live in small-town Middle America, it seems that you have only three options. You farm, you drive a race car, or you leave. Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart; Chop Shop; Goodbye Solo) is a filmmaker who tends to look at immigrants in America who are trying to find a livelihood away from home. With his new film, At Any Price, he takes a closer look at the struggles of Middle America and how the shift in business models over the generations threatens the very fabric and moral pride of the people. Due to the bigger demand for more-focused growing, it’s become impossible for small farmers to survive on their own. As a result, these people become either antiquated and bankrupt or form progressive, self-made conglomerates. We then see the effect of corporate America and ask, “Is this great for the economy? The man? Both? Neither?” In At Any Price we see Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) as the farmer trying to be as progressive as possible. One of his first scenes puts him at another farmer’s funeral, offering to purchase land from the man’s bereaved son. Henry’s passion is his farm. He wants to make it into an even better business than he received from his father, so that he can then hand it off to his son. The problem is that he’s made some morally questionable decisions in the process of seeking to resolve his ambitions. And these decisions eventually come back to haunt him.

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Michael Winterbottom is, as was often said during a recent screening at TIFF, a highly prolific filmmaker. He’s made big to small, funny to shocking, and any other adjective you can attach to a film. With Everyday, he looks to tell a story of a family broken apart for five years when the family’s patriarch is locked up in prison. What makes it unlike similar films is that while it’s not narratively strong, it is an amazing emotional piece. Everyday is primarily filled with scenes of Ian (John Simm) in jail on the days that his family visits him or when he is released on a furlough to see them at home. We are there for the moments when Ian gets to be a father, but we’re also there for the moments that he’s noticeably absent as the film spends time with his wife Karen (Shirley Henderson) and her children at home. It shows the passage of time in the most effective way possible, making the struggles of a virtually-single parent impossible not to focus on.

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TIFF Review Smashed

Smashed takes a look at alcoholism through the eyes of a married couple, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), who should so happen to both be alcoholics. Their relationship is completely based on their shared love of a bottle of beer, wine, whiskey, tequila, and such other recipes for liver disease. After an incident at her job (elementary school teacher, oops), Kate decides to try getting sober, which proves to not only be a massive personal undertaking, but one that puts a huge strain on her marriage. Smashed quickly proves that Kate’s alcoholism, while not good for her, is exactly what makes her relationship with Charlie seem great. Before we reach the point where it’s clearly more than a just little problem and the audience is ready to call for their own intervention, the scenes of Paul and Winstead together on screen (while obviously self-destructive) are fantastic to watch. We see the couple doing such mundane things as playing croquet and riding their bikes, but these scenes are so beautiful that we really get a sense of their connection. 

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Dredd 3D

“Judge Dredd” started as a comic book series in 1977 and eventually became so long-lived and popular that it spawned a really bad film adaptation in 1995. Get that movie out of your head now – pretend like it never happened – because Dredd 3D is a completely new take on the character; one the values hard-hitting action over comic book camp, one that has no interest in wacky side kicks or studio mandated love interests. The story is simple: in the far future, humanity has started living in gigantic city-states the size of small countries that are densely populated and densely developed. What with so many people being piled on top of one another, poverty has run rampant, crime is ubiquitous, and street gangs rule the day. The only line of defense between innocent people and complete chaos are the Street Judges, a group of dangerous and highly trained operatives who prowl the streets on their big motorcycles while carrying their big guns, acting as judge, jury, and executioner all in one. Our story centers on a Judge who goes by the name of Dredd; he’s pretty much the most badass one.

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