TIFF Recap: Days 1-4

We take a look at the  films from the first four days of the  Toronto International Film Festival.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival, this is the most intense, packed fest I’ve ever been to. I won’t get to see Moneyball ‘til later and Ides of March not until I get back. I’m going in reverse alphabetical because somehow the later in the alphabet the better the movie has been.


You’re Next – This is exactly what a midnight movie should be. It’s so visceral you can’t even go to sleep afterwards. A dysfunctional family reunion is interrupted by an attack by masked killers. The family continues their passive-aggressive issues while taking cover and coming up with plans to escape or retaliate. This film does it all. The kills are imaginative, the heroes fight back in a bloody rage, the D-bags get punished. You can tell it comes from the mind of horror lovers who got to put everything they ever dreamed of in the ultimate horror movie. You’ll be rooting for a kill that’s been built up, and they’ll come up with something even better.


The Skin I Live In – This could be a midnight movie but it’s highbrow Euro-cinema so it gets into daytime schedules. Really it’s a mad scientist movie Almadovar style. Antonio Banderas plays a burn doctor perfecting his experimental skin on what seems like an unwilling patient. That’s messed up, but the story unfolds so it gets more and more messed up in the most glorious ways. Each segment changes your view of the previous plot thus far and when you finally realize what the good doctor has done, not only can’t you believe a character would do that, you can’t believe a film would go there. Read the subtitles, it’s worth it. And there’s boobs, but it’s so messed up you may feel bad about looking at the boobs. But then your perceptions will change and you’ll be glad to remember the boobs. But then you’ll realize whose boobs you’re looking at. I don’t want to spoil anything but you can tell it’s shaken my foundation for boobs.


Restless – I love movies where people deal with death and mortality in healthy ways, and Restless is the death movie of the year. It captures a whimsical tone as a teenaged cancer patient (Mia Wasikowska) deals with the last three months she has to live. And her new boyfriend, the funeral crashing Enoch (Hopper) has a connection to the afterlife because he woke up from a near-death coma. Funeral crashing, morgue visits, play acting and funny ghosts give the young couple a proactive way to accept death that’s really healthy. It allows the characters to break down and get raw as a satisfying conclusion.


Machine Gun Preacher – Based on the true story of a reformed convict who got involved in resisting a genocidal warlord in the Sudan, Machine Gun Preacher is a very important movie. I don’t care much for important movies unless they can get beyond being important. Machine Gun Preacher is really about exposing this important tragedy and celebrating the hero who did it for real. It’s well done. Marc Forster knows how to make a movie. It’s interesting when Sam goes overboard and attacks saving the Sudanese children as intensely and angrily as his old criminal ways. Point well taken and reminds me not to forget the problems elsewhere in the world, but also its first priority seems to be its own importance.


Hick – Hick is the I Melt With You of Toronto (see Sundance roundup for details.) There may have been more walkouts than the 63 I counted at Melt, though I was sitting up front this time and couldn’t get an accurate view of the folks behind me. There were major gaps in the sold out house by halfway through the movie. Those people didn’t even see it go totally overboard into creepy fetish. Hick is one of those movies that revels in the misery of tragic situations, rather than offering a constructive perspective on it. A 13-year-old (Chloe Moretz) leaves her alcoholic parents but ends up encountering more alcoholics, drug addicts and sex offenders on the road. Now I know there are real girls who have suffered this tragedy, including the author of the novel and screenplay. I don’t belittle that at all. Portraying it in a drama can’t punish the audience though. I think it still sexualizes Moretz. I know real 13-year-old girls in the south wear shorts, but it’s different when you point a camera at it. It just is. It’s not even as balls out ridiculous as Melt, it’s just miserable characters and story. Hick is this year’s Hounddog.


God Bless America – I love Bobcat Goldthwaite movies, but this one isn’t as edgy or perceptive as it thinks it is. Its portrayal of American culture’s worst is really obvious, and old news by now. American Idol? Cable news pundits? Cell phones in movie theaters? He’s got a good point about America becoming mean, but the characters rebelling against it are just more complainers. They go on a killing spree against all the brats and D-bags and some of the kills are satisfying. God Bless America may be amusing in parts but I can recommend some brilliant satirists making better points (Bo Burnham for example.)


Descendants – I’m going to be the one guy who doesn’t love this movie. I mean, it’s fine, but it’s pretty obvious drama confronting family secrets. The comedy is really easy. I mean, swearing kids make it “edgy” and surfer dudes provide awkward social interactions. Clooney’s good as a wounded soon-to-be widower. It’s an honest movie. I’m sure many families go through these revelations. I just can’t be that guy that falls in love with the same movie as everyone else. I guess it’s just not in me. And come on, it’s no Sideways. Nothing that deep, nothing that funny. Just okay, which is surely not what they were going for.


Comic-Con: Episode IV – A Fan’s Hope – Morgan Spurlock’s latest documentary is a sweet love letter to the fans. I didn’t imagine there was anything you could show about Comic-Con that we don’t already know, but he finds four solid narratives to follow. There’s the aspiring comic book artists, the old school comic book retailer, the cosplay Masquerade competitors and the geek who plans to propose to his nerd lover during Kevin Smith’s panel. Celebrities and experts explain the phenomenon of Comic-Con, and the film only gives minimal time to the Hollywood component.


The Artist – This must be the first silent movie produced since Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. I hope it does really well so Hollywood starts copying it, like the 3-D movement. George Clooney, Nicolas Cage and Vin Diesel should have to show their chops without dialogue. The film celebrates the best of silent comedy and drama. A popular silent actor falls from the spotlight when talkies come in. Kind of the reverse of Singin’ in the Rain because the film stays silent, except for a few brilliant meta moments with sync sound. The physical comedy is impeccable and the drama is real without playing up the lack of sound.


Anonymous – If these are the guys calling Shakespeare a fraud, I’m going to take Shakespeare’s word for it. The conspiracy about who might have actually written the plays (allegedly) is interesting. The portrayal of the story in the film is totally hammy ridiculous costume play acting. Perhaps it’s bold that Roland Emmerich attacks a “serious drama” with the same bravado as his explosion disaster movies. I don’t imagine it as an ironic take on costume drama though. It was probably just a misguided direction towards overwrought drama.