In 2012 I experienced my first TIFF with a total of 10 features and one special event. This year I broke that record with 15 films and one more special event. This year featured an interesting array of new and classic films to discuss here.
Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope
Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
As part of former Midnight Madness programmer, Colin Geddes’ farewell to the program, he decided to show us something old, and yet something new. Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope is a 1975 Japanese exploitation film based on a manga. The feature was never released in North America until earlier this year on Blu-Ray (without the original subtitle listed) so this was considered it’s North American Theatrical premiere. It’s a baffling film with just as many fun action scenes, uncomfortable plot points, boredom, and sheer chaos about a man with the “powers of a wolf” investigating a series of murders. Lon Chaney Jr., he Isn’t, as this Wolf Guy doesn’t actually follow the rules of what you think a werewolf looks like or acts like. I’d love to go into greater detail but this bonkers film revels in its madness and every twist should be experienced fresh… BUT it won’t be for everyone. While I had fun with this film that doesn’t know what it wants to be, my friend beside me at the same screening had wished he’d gone to another film that night.
BODIED: Rap Battle Showdown
As long as TIFF has been doing the Festival Street during opening weekend, it has been home to screenings of classic film and television as well as musical performances. This year one performance was more hyped than any other, in promotion of the new rap battle film, Bodied, written by Toronto’s own Kid Twist, Alex Larsen, Twist took to the stage to battle Madness, an Orlando based rapper, with a part in the film. Twist being a hometown boy, wiped the floor with Madness who had a few good lines but far more fumbles. As they quite proudly stated the film was sold out but if the packed street and people’s choice award for Midnight Madness are any indication, Bodied will be a massive hit, very soon. [Admin’s Note: Worth noting that at Fantastic Fest, Bodied received a standing ovation, which isn’t common at Fantastic Fest].
The Death of Stalin
Directed by Armando Iannucci
Based on a French graphic novel, itself based on true events, The Death of Stalin is in fact about just that. Stalin is seen as a character briefly but Iannucci, the creator of Veep, In The Loop and Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge, uses his 1953 death as a jumping off point to tell exactly the kind of story he knows. One about deeply flawed people grasping for power. The film is filled with British and American character actors playing their parts with their own accents, barring new Star Trek captain Jason Isaacs who adopts a working class, Cheshire dialect and lower tone to his voice as General Georgy Zhukov. It features a stellar performance by Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev as well as scenes stolen by Homeland’s Rupert Friend, Jeffrey Tambor, and Monty Python’s Michael Palin! As hilarious as it can be, it’s also not afraid to discuss the horrific things that were going on in the Soviet Union at the time. See it!
I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing
Directed by Patricia Rozema
This 1987 Canadian film took a while to grow on me but boy did it. Sheila McCarthy (Die Hard 2, Little Mosque on the Prairie) plays a flighty, childlike, temp who begins to idolize the curator of a local gallery. This film hangs on the three lead performances, McCarthy most of all. I’d originally only gone to the film because it had come highly recommended by the late Roger Ebert but wanted to remain fairly fresh and not read his actual review until after I’d seen it. I’d suggest doing the same. No wonder why it’s a Canadian classic.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
There is very little to be said about Dunkirk that hasn’t already been said but it was an absolute privilege to be able to see it on 70mm IMAX film in the first permanent IMAX ever built. To have Nolan there as well was simply icing on a spectacular cake.
The Shape of Water
Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
This mix of Beauty and The Beast and The Creature From The Black Lagoon is violent, disgusting, sexual, foul-mouthed, happy, sad, funny, touching, relatable and beautiful all in one. While the cast is pitch-perfect all the way through, Micheal Shannon has never been more terrifying than as Del Toro’s twist on the square-jawed American “heroes” of monster movies past. It wears its heart on its sleeve the same way La La Land did before it, even if Doug Jones’s creature may not look like Ryan Gosling… which may make him more relatable anyway. BEST FILM of the festival.
Professor Marston & The Wonder Women
Directed by Angela Robinson
As previously reported Professor Marston’s film is alright. It’s a flawed but inoffensive afternoon matinée but far from the thrilling and fascinating life, I’ve read about in books and articles.
Picture of Light
Directed by Peter Mettler
This 1994 documentary about attempting to film the Northern Lights was gorgeous to look at and very entertaining but the editing can be completely baffling, to the point where I wondered if the print was off and the narration sometimes tedious. Beyond the shots of the lights themselves, the people they encounter along the way are interesting characters in their own right and there is also a hilarious bit involving a gun and a plan to make an indoor snow drift that must be seen to be believed.
Directed by Brian O’Malley
This Irish gothic horror film doesn’t reinvent the wheel but is a perfectly lovely little scary story that invokes the early horror work of Hammer. The Lodgers about two twins who live in a ramshackle mansion being tormented by whatever it is that life beneath the floorboards that cause strange leaking around the basement hatch-door. The twins must obey the three creepy, sing-song rules they have since childhood to keep their lives as normal as possible but that becomes harder when a boy comes to call on the one, and the family accountant, played by Harry Potter & Game of Thrones’ David Bradley comes for them both. I’d suggest this to you if you are fond of old Peter Cushing movies or perhaps more recently The Woman in Black.
Directed by Alexander Payne
I liked this one more than Andres did but I don’t think it’s even close to Payne’s best. I wouldn’t classify it as a comedy personally, there are jokes here and there but I think Payne knows he’s going to get more pleasant nods and smiles rather than even chuckles, although any joke sounds like it plays better than it normally would in a theatre that fits more than a thousand people… Downsizing has no idea what it wants to be about. It’s possible that Payne wanted the “twists” in the story to be twists that you don’t see coming but they often feel like he decided he had three films he did not know how to flesh out properly and combined them. There are good parts but they are far from perfect. This will not get the awards buzz Payne is used to and Paramount wants, but it may do good business after the holidays anyway.
I Am Not A Witch
Directed by Rungano Nyoni
I really did not care for this film. I wish I did. There were some stunning shots, including the final one, but the story seemed to meander around with little sense of how to tell a story. The film is about an 8-year-old girl, Shula being accused of witchcraft and being forced to work in fields by people who consider her a witch. The satire involved is very sharp early on but dulls the longer we spend in this world. This was Nyoni’s first feature and it felt more like a short that was stretched to feature-length.
Directed by Craig Gillespie
You never expect to feel sorry for Tonya Harding but that’s what Gillespie’s film does to you while making you laugh in the process. If the film is any indication Tonya Harding had a very difficult life long before “the incident” as it is called where Nancy Kerrigan, Harding’s main team competitor had her leg beaten with a baton before the 1994 Winter Olympics. You still hear this story pop up, here and there but to see a more complete version of what may have happened is eye-opening. The film doesn’t commit to one telling of the story, however, in keeping with its often cheeky tone, the film begins with a title card stating it is based on ‘wildly contradictory’ testimony from those involved at the time. This will be a major awards contender and people pleaser at the multiplex. Another HIGHLY recommended film.
Directed by Sôichi Umezawa
Vampire Clay is a film about evil clumps of clay terrorizing an art school in Japan. It’s got many wonderful ideas, funny characters and performances and great monster designs but the effects work is amateurish. It often looks like a mix between a fan film and 2005 era Doctor Who. The runtime is short, a brisk 80 minutes but it is still overly padded as well. Perhaps a sequel would better be able to realize the potential in the piece.
The Big Bad Fox And Other Stories
Directed by Patrick Imbert & Benjamin Renner
Adapted from Renner’s family-friendly graphic novels, The Big Bad Fox And Other Stories is an anthology film with a framing device of the stories being presented as a series of one-act plays. The first story about a Pig and incompetent Duck and Rabbit’s attempt to deliver a baby from a Stork who’s suddenly unwilling or unable to do so is uproariously funny. The second story suddenly, however, is nice is much slower paced and a bit overlong is about a Fox who attempting to steal some eggs to eat at a later time ends up raising the chicks as his own… and as foxes. The third and final brings back the earlier trio and with them the nice, fast and funny pace. In it, the Rabbit and Duck think he has killed Santa Claus and decide to take his place, despite the Pig’s insistence that they “killed” a plastic Santa. This is the team that also brought you the breathtakingly gorgeous and touching, Ernest et Celestine in 2012 but this has very little in common with that. While Ernest et Célestine feels more like a French take on Studio Ghibli’s most family-friendly, The Big Bad Fox And Other Stories is more of a stereotypical cartoon with shades of Looney Tunes and Garfield & Friends. While the middle drags and it is not the high art that its predecessor was, The Big Bad Fox And Other Stories is a jaunty delight.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Directed by Martin McDonagh
Three Billboards was a shocking choice for People’s Choice winner. The performances so great they are sure to sweep the awards categories and McDonagh as always has such a terrific handle on his characters but it’s far from a happy film. Frances McDormand plays a mother who is fed up with police not being able to solve the rape and murder of her daughter put up three billboards outside town criticizing them. McDonagh’s screenplay has jokes in it but it feels wrong to describe it as a “dark comedy” as so many have. This is a drama about deeply flawed, often down-right unlikable individuals who don’t know how to make the world any brighter but through outbursts and the odd joke. This is a tough film to watch and will be a tough one to talk about but it is one of the more important ones this year too.
Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton
Directed by Chris Smith
In 1998 Jim Carrey was working on a biopic of the life of Andy Kaufman, Man On The Moon. During the making of that film Carrey refused to be known as anyone but either Kaufman or the Kaufman character Tony Clifton. What happened behind the scenes created a more interesting film than anyone could ever imagine. Behind the scenes clips of Carrey in 1998 are intercut with a recent interview with him, bushy beard and all, explaining his thought process then, now and telling an engrossing story about both he and Kaufman. This film with a marathon title, examines celebrity, acting, and a sense of self better than any film I’ve seen before, it also helps that it was side-splitting at times as well as thoughtful. I’m a bit sad that this was a film that was later bought by Netflix as now I will not be able to own a copy. My second favourite of the festival… but only by a hair.