Andrew’s Journey Through TIFF 2013: Episode II

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The Toronto International Film Festival is one of the first stops on the journey through film awards season. This year, Andrew was fortunate enough to be in attendance and is now recapping the films and events he attended while at TIFF.

TIFF Day 4

Following the insanely energetic experience of Midnight Madness the night prior, it’s safe to say that I would have benefited greatly from a solid night’s sleep. It wasn’t meant to be however, as the next morning I had a film scheduled for 9AM. Four hours of sleep later I woke up and around 7:30 walked to the Metro station, not even aware that it was Sunday. The station was closed of course and so I did what any intelligent person would do: take the six mile journey on foot. Now that may not sound all that impressive, but when you’re only going on a few hours of sleep and your feet are already blistered up from waiting in endless lines the day prior, it is. I sped walk the whole way and made it in about an hour to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, perhaps the finest movie theatre I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a patron of. I plopped down in the first row, exhausted.

Jason Reitman’s Labor Day

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My 9am film that day just so happened to be Jason Reitman’s Labor Day, a total change of pace from the kind of films Reitman’s made thus far in his still young career. Centered on a depressed single mom (Kate Winslet) and her son (Gattlin Griffith) whose worlds are upset upon the arrival of a wounded convict (Josh Brolin) who recently escaped from a local prison, it’s a definitively more low-key drama than Reitman’s norm. Labor Day is a work of extreme confidence without much in the way of Reitman’s usual comedic tinge and although he’s already proven adept at drama, it’s still quite a shock to the system at first. All three of the leads give fine, quiet performances that deliver a sense of intimacy not felt in most awards-player dramas.  One negative note however, is that Labor Day is yet another film featuring Tobey Maguire voice-over. Now I am not a hater of voice-over in general, but here it doesn’t seem to serve the story of the film in a particularly compelling way. Overall, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the film due to my severe lack of sleep, but it’s definitely an interesting drama that I very much look forward to viewing again upon it’s official theatrical release.

In Conversation with… Spike Jonze

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Although a premiere for my most anticipated film of the rest of the year, Her, wasn’t in the cards at TIFF, I fortunately got to settle for a Q & A with the director himself, Spike Jonze. Moderated by fellow contemporary filmmaker Kelly Reichardt, the panel began with an immaculately crafted video combining all the aspects of Jonze’s varied career. From the crazy music videos to his Jackass adventures, people often to seem to overlook the fact that although he’s only directed three feature films to date with a fourth on the horizon, Jonze is a filmmaker as hard-working as any. The meat of the panel began with Jonze and Reichardt exchanging compliments on each other’s work, which then led to the reveal of an array of exciting clips from Her. I didn’t need anything to increase my excitement for the project but increase my excitement it did. From Joaquin Phoneix’s offbeat and tender portrayal of a lonely man, to glimpses of comedic supporting characters from the likes of Amy Adams and Chris Pratt, this is pure Spike Jonze. The panel continued with Jonze’s awkward energy on full display, seemingly unaware that people think of him so highly as a director that he would actually be an influence on aspiring filmmakers. Modest, funny, and most importantly real, Spike Jonze made sure the Q & A was an offbeat brand of fun.

Although my day at TIFF was not supposed to end there, my absolute exhaustion made sure of it. I did have a ticket for yet another film at Midnight Madness, Oculus, but I chose sleep instead.

TIFF Day 5

Refreshed and renewed from a seemingly endless sleep, I ventured down to the metro station around 7:30 and this time was spared the ‘pleasure’ of walking.

Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot

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I was fortunate enough for my first TIFF experience to see a selection of films that, for the most part, were of the highest quality. Unfortunately, Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot was not one of those films. Taking an inherently compelling and interesting story like that of the West Memphis Three and making it dull and lackluster is no easy task, but that is exactly what Egoyan has achieved here. High-caliber actors like Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon are wasted in thankless roles that provide them with little dramatic material of note. While there have been a series of fantastic documentaries about the West Memphis Three that have gone in-depth in terms of the case and the people behind it, Devil’s Knot doesn’t go in-depth at all. It’s a surface level view of the events of the trial of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, two of the three, and the boys themselves are barely given anything to do for much of the film’s running time. Egoyan stated in the Q & A after the film that he’s well aware that Devil’s Knot is a much different film for those who have seen the documentaries as opposed to those who haven’t. Well, he couldn’t be more right. For those who know anything about the case itself, Devil’s Knot is quite simply a bad film. I highly recommend that if you are interested in the West Memphis Three, check out the Paradise Lost trilogy of documentaries in addition to the recently released West of Memphis documentary. And yeah, skip Devil’s Knot.

Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity

Gravity

There is nothing quite like the experience of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity to wash the thoughts of a bad film from your mind. Well, let’s make that shred. It’s safe to say that I’ve never quite had an experience at a movie theatre quite like that of Gravity, so much so in fact that I hesitate to even call it a film. It’s a thrill ride, it’s a rollercoaster, it’s an other-worldly experience. Gravity is, first and foremost, a director’s film and who better to have in the chair than the ever-inventive Alfonso Cuaron. What he has crafted here is a tense, nail-biting, exhilarating journey into the depths of outer space. Sandra Bullock plays Dr. Ryan Stone, an inexperienced astronaut who is forced to survive one of the most terrifying experiences of her life when she and fellow astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) are stranded in space after being separated from their space station. Bullock is solid here and that’s no easy task to actually get me to compliment an actress who I’ve never understood the praise for. Although a lot of talk has been thrown her way in regards to Best Actress at the Oscars, I don’t really see it. She is simply an object floating in the greater and more compelling character of space itself. I’d argue that Cuaron is the most-deserving of Oscar talk and if he isn’t nominated for Best Director then it would certainly be a great travesty. I strongly urge you to check out Gravity when it is released in a few weeks time. Although it is not an absolute triumph in regards to its storytelling, it is a visual and visceral experience of the highest order with a fantastically bombastic score. Gravity is a thrill ride, now it’s up to you to take it.

Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin

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The strangest and most purely artistic film I saw at the festival was Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin. Featuring Scarlett Johansson as an alien who takes the form of a human woman in order to seduce Scottish hitchhikers, it’s safe to say that many audience members were not prepared for this deliberately-paced meditation on humanity through an alien lens. Much of the film was interestingly shot unbeknownst to many of the male hitchhikers whom the alien preys on, Glazer only telling them after the fact in order to get their permission. Due to this, the film comes across very realistically in spite of the other-worldly content and I found the film very compelling. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and some of the shots are utterly terrifying (that baby). Glazer is a filmmaker who clearly knows what he wants but also trusts the audience enough not to feel the need to reinforce the story of the film through dialogue. Most of the film is quiet and sparse with dialogue and that only leads to an incredibly effective and unsettling atmosphere. Under the Skin is a film made by intelligent people for intelligent people, and there’s something so gratifying about its conclusion that it’s hard for me to put it into words. If you can prepare yourself for something different entirely, I highly recommend Under the Skin. If you can’t, maybe you’ll simply be swayed by the fact that Scarlett Johansson does in fact, go nude.

To Be Continued…

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