TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net

Trespass Against Us
Trespass Against Us

Trespass Against Us (UK, 2015): I would normally praise an A-lister for going back to his native land to do a cheaper movie, but Michael Fassbender is rather miscast in this mildly compelling drama. Fassbender is Chad, the second in command of a band of outlaws living in the forest. Chad is good at what he does and is one hell of getaway driver. He is also a family man and has slightly more common sense than his fellow thieves.

When it becomes clear his son is likely to end up as one of the inept criminals that surround him, Chad begins to consider the possibility of jumping ship. The only obstacle is his father (Brendan Gleeson), a powerful figure that keeps Chad under his thumb using putdowns and guilt-tripping.

It just takes one look at Fassbender to realize he is no shrinking violet, a detail that makes his character hard to swallow. He is not the only problem: Trespass Against Us often feels aimless, the premise is stretched over ninety minutes for no apparent reason. While we care about the outcome, the film could have use a rewrite and a less-chiseled star. Three planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 9: Trespass Against Us, The Belko Experiment, Little Wing, The Net”

TIFF ’16 – Day 8: The Girl with All the Gifts, Ma’ Rosa

The Girl with All the Gifts
The Girl with All the Gifts

The Girl with All the Gifts (UK, 2016): Between The Walking Dead and all the low-rent undead flicks, it’s hard to give a fresh twist to the zombie subgenre. The Girl with All the Gifts does its darndest to achieve it, but the surplus of ideas ends up hurting the outcome.

The film opens intriguingly enough. A group of inoffensive-looking children are treated like Hannibal Lecter by an overzealous military unit. One of the kids is the dependably polite Melanie (newcomer Sennia Nanua), who hangs pictures of a cat on her wall when no one is looking. Slowly we come to realize the children are partially zombified, but retain a semblance of humanity.

The matter of the kids’ right to be treated as people is one of the many issues the movie hints at, but doesn’t develop (likely, the novel that inspired the film is more thorough). One element I haven’t seen in other zombie movies is the suggestion that mankind is screwed anyway and we should just let it happen. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 8: The Girl with All the Gifts, Ma’ Rosa”

TIFF ’16 – Day 7: Christine, Sand Storm

Rebecca Hall in Christine.
Rebecca Hall in Christine.

Christine (USA, 2016): In 1974, Sarasota news reporter Christine Chubbuck responded to management pressures for more exciting stories by blowing her brains off on live TV. Since there is no mystery about her fate, this biopic focuses on the many factors that led her to take such drastic decision.

As depicted in the film, Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall, Vicki Christina Barcelona) was the smartest reporter in the room, with hopes to go to a bigger market. Christine was also struggling with depression, infertility and an unrequited crush on the news anchor (Michael C. Hall, Dexter).

The film is broad but successful at exploring all the elements involved in Chubbuck’s suicide. But the movie’s biggest asset is a powerhouse performance by Rebecca Hall, who builds a sympathetic character without betraying the integrity of the person who inspired it. If Christine wasn’t an indie struggling with distribution, I would call Hall a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Three planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 7: Christine, Sand Storm”

TIFF ’16 – Day 6: Deepwater Horizon, Mean Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman

Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon (USA, 2016): Given director Peter Berg’s previous output (the disreputable Lone Survivor), I was honestly expecting this movie would be on British Petroleum’s side. Thankfully, Deepwater Horizon sticks to the official story and slaps some action scenes for good measure.

Berg’s go-to leading man, Mark Wahlberg, is Mike Williams, the second in command at the ill-fated oil platform. Because of greed inspired BP directives, a number of security checks are bypassed, so when they finally agree to a checkup, all hell breaks loose.

Even though Berg goes way over the top with the jargon, the filmmaker does a good job explaining the events that lead to the oil spilling (the environmental catastrophe that ensued is only mentioned in passing). But for all the didactic exposition and superb execution of complex action sequences, the characters are one-trait ponies. Kate Hudson is in this movie solely to pace around the house and look worried (and gorgeous). Two and a half planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 6: Deepwater Horizon, Mean Dreams, Manchester by the Sea, The Salesman”

TIFF ’16 – Day 5: La La Land, Window Horses, Paterson

La La Land
La La Land

La La Land (USA, 2016): Director Damien Chazelle’s follow-up to the superb Whiplash shows a filmmaker willing to explore outside his zone of comfort. Narratively, La La Land is pat, but the visuals, music and choreographies more than make up for it.

The story is pure Hollywood lore: Mia is a small town girl (Emma Stone) struggling with getting her acting career off the ground. As she makes her way through Tinseltown, she encounters a jazz musician (Ryan Gosling) with whom she falls in love with. Opportunity doesn’t have a sense of timing and their careers get in the way of a fulfilling relationship.

La La Land is visually stunning and goes from feat to feat (the opening sequence set on a freeway is one for the books), yet it remains profoundly human. Gosling and Stone are top notch, both as song-and-dance partners and in the more dramatic sequences. The film features a coda so brilliant, it practically eclipses the rest of the movie. A strong candidate to best of the fest. Four and a half planets. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 5: La La Land, Window Horses, Paterson”

TIFF ’16 – Day 4: Denial, Julieta, American Honey, It’s Only the End of the World

Rachel Weisz in Denial.

Denial (UK, 2016): A fascinating story that could be more at home on TV than on the big screen, Denial rises above pedestrian filmmaking thanks to the power of the material and strong turns by Rachel Weisz (above) and Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner).

The court drama pits American historian Deborah Lipstadt against British rabble-rouser David Irving. Lipstadt accused Irving of fabricating and misrepresenting historic documents in order to support his belief that the Holocaust never took place. Rather unexpectedly, the neo-Nazi icon sued the academic for libel. Since in the UK the burden of proof lies with the accused, Lipstadt found herself having to demonstrate the systematic killing of Jewish prisoners during World War II.

The film is bursting with fascinating info (even when defeat seemed unavoidable, the Nazis went out of their way to hide all evidence of the Final Solution) and serves as a primer on Britain’s justice system. Just as important as the Lipstadt-Irving showdown are disagreements within the historian’s defense team. While Irving’s position is indefensible, the debate over calling Holocaust survivors to the stand is a riveting one. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 4: Denial, Julieta, American Honey, It’s Only the End of the World”

TIFF ’16 – Day 3: Queen of Katwe, Personal Shopper, American Pastoral, Moonlight, Boundaries

Queen of Katwe
Queen of Katwe

Queen of Katwe (USA, 2016): A calculated risk for Disney, Queen of Katwe fits among the uplifting sport movies the House of Mouse puts out every year, but it’s also distinctive enough to stand apart. The biopic is set in Uganda, has a mostly African cast and is directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding, The Reluctant Fundamentalist), a filmmaker with a knack to capture cultural nuances without been patronizing.

The Queen of Katwe in question is Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), an illiterate teen struggling to survive in the slums of Kampala. She falls in the radar of an outreach volunteer (David Oyewolo, Selma) who teaches underprivileged kids to play chess. Turns out Phiona is a prodigy, but no matter how much natural talent she possesses, when you live under the poverty line, basic necessities take priority. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 3: Queen of Katwe, Personal Shopper, American Pastoral, Moonlight, Boundaries”

TIFF ’16 – Day 2: Free Fire, Elle, Snowden

Free Fire
Free Fire

Free Fire (USA/UK, 2016): Ben Wheatley is without a doubt one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers at work, but his filmography is far from immaculate. He often engages in self-indulgence and glamorization of violence.

Free Fire embodies both of Wheatley’s main flaws. In fact, more than a movie, Free Fire feels like an exercise in style, following the infinitely more complex and ambitious High-Rise.

1978, Boston. A group of IRA members intents to purchase a number of automatic weapons from a shifty South African dealer at an abandon warehouse. The already tense exchange shifts into hyper-drive when men at both sides of the transaction succumb to the pressure. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 2: Free Fire, Elle, Snowden”

TIFF ’16 – Day 1: Toni Erdmann, Werewolf, The Commune, Neruda

Toni Erdmann
Toni Erdmann

Toni Erdmann (Germany, 2016): A Cannes sensation, Toni Erdmann has already been celebrated as one of the comedic achievements of the decade, even making its way into the 100 Best Movies of the 21st Century list, according to the BBC.

Guess what. It’s overrated.

Don’t get me wrong, Toni Erdmann is far from a bad movie, but the 160 minutes-long comedy doesn’t deserve such unrestrained praise.

Winfried, a music teacher and incorrigible joker, tries to reconnect with his daughter Ines, a serious businesswoman on assignment in Rumania. The prankster fails in his first attempt, so he brings out the big guns, namely his alter ego, Toni Erdmann. The character is an obnoxious bore, but at least gets a reaction from Ines, noticeably depressed but unaware of it. Continue reading “TIFF ’16 – Day 1: Toni Erdmann, Werewolf, The Commune, Neruda”

Adventures at FanExpo ’16: Gillian Anderson

Photo by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Gillian Anderson, a staple of the increasingly larger Toronto FanExpo, draws large crowds. There was a full house at her Q & A even though she didn’t have anything new to promote (her next high profile gig is as Media in the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods). Here are some nuggets of her talk:

  • Gillian hasn’t seen a single complete episode of Hannibal, the show many attended the Q & A to hear about. She has watched some scenes, but more often than not she covered her eyes at the gory parts. Asked what she liked more about her character, Lecter’s therapist Bedelia Du Maurier, she responded with a curt “I don’t fucking know”.
  • Anderson has no clue if or when The X-Files are coming back.
  • The character she relates to the most is The Fall‘s Stella Gibson. Scully is “too square”. The most fun role? Blanche DuBois in the stage version of “A Streetcar Named Desire”.
  • Asked about a piece of advice that has gotten her through hard times, Anderson responded, “Everything passes”.