Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My Mini Tiff Preview

Next Wednesday to Friday – the 14th to the 16th – will mark my annual trip to TIFF. Back in the day, I used to go for the whole week, but that hasn’t been the case since my first daughter – who just turned 5 – was born. Now, I only get a few days every year, and am grateful for that. I’ll see 13 films over those three days, and unless something changes, the films below are what I will be seeing. I would have loved to see some of the any number of films –American Honey, American Pastoral, Aquarius, Arrival, Blair Witch, Certain Women, Elle, Free Fire, Graduation, I Daniel Blake, It’s Only the End of the World, Jackie, Julieta, La La Land, Manchester by the Sea, Mascots, Moonlight, My Entire High School is Sinking into the Sea, Paterson, Personal Shopper, Prevenge, Rage, Rats, Raw, Safari, Sieranevada, Snowden, Sweet Dreams, The B-Side, The Bad Batch, The Handmaiden, The Salesman, The Unknown Girl, Things to Come and Toni Erdman – were all films that jumped out at me when the selection was announced – but either they conflicted with something below, or more likely either didn’t play on the days I’m going (the festival, despite some effort on their part, is still ridiculously frontloaded), or already off sale by the time I got to use by Back Half Package. I knew all that when I chose my package – but going later in the festival has always been preferable to me than earlier – everything is more relaxed, everything runs more or less of time, there are less celebrities and media, and you can concentrate on the films themselves – which is why I’m there anyway. Besides, I’ll be able to see all of those films at some point – some of them fairly soon. And even having to fit 13 films into three days, on a tight schedule, I only have two “filler” movies – those films that normally I wouldn’t have been all that interested in other than the fact that I had to see something. I’ll give a mini-wrap up after it’s all over, and until then, here’s my mini-preview.
Christine (Antonio Campos)
Indie-provocateur Campus (Simon Killer, Afterschool) returns with this film about Christine Chubbock (Rebecca Hall), a Florida newscaster who committed suicide on live TV in the 1970s. The reviews out of Sundance were mixed – but anything Campos does will get mixed reviews. In a perfect world, I’d be able to see Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine – about the same woman, which also debuted at Sundance, and stars Kate Lyn Shiel, and is a mixture of documentary and drama, which also debuted at the same Sundance Film Festival, to stronger reviews – which has just opened in August – but not in my area, so who knows. I’m mixed on Campos myself, but he remains a filmmaker whose films demand to be seen.
Gimme Danger (Jim Jarmusch)
The overall strong reviews for Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop and the Stooges documentary out of Cannes was enough to get me over my trepidation over another Jarmusch rock doc – I love him as a filmmaker, but his Neil Young film, Year of the Horse, is downright awful. Still, this should be an interesting look at an interesting subject – even if I wish the other Jarmusch film at TIFF, Paterson, could have fit into my schedule a little more.
Heal the Living (Katell Quillevere)
This wasn’t a film that was much on my radar when the schedule first appeared – I am unfamiliar with Quillevere’s other work, and this film kind of sounded like either an Altman wannabe or an episode of ER or Grey’s Anatomy, as it is about multiple storylines that intersect around a hospital, etc. But the cast – including Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), Emmanuel Segnier and Anne Dorval, intrigued me – and the rave review by Variety out of Venice sold me on it. When my first choice for this spot fell through, this was an easy choice – one I made gladly, because I had been kind of angry I was going to miss it. I love making discoveries at TIFF – and here’s hoping Quillevere is one of those for me this year.
LBJ (Rob Reiner)
Rob Reiner has directed any number of films I love – This is Spinal Tap, Stand by Me, The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men, The American President – and even if the most recent of those was 21 years ago, and I haven’t like all that much since, Reiner strikes me as a decent choice to make a straight down the middle political biopic about Lyndon Johnson. Part of me agrees with all those people who don’t like biopics – but I’m a sucker for political ones in particular – and the idea of watching Woody Harrelson as LBJ and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ladybird strikes me as something I would like. And if all else fails, at least I know this will finally get me to watch Bryan Cranston in All the Way, which I’ve been meaning to for months (if either that or this is as good as John Frankenheimer’s underrated Path to War with Michael Gambon as Johnson, I’ll be happy).
Loving (Jeff Nichols)
Jeff Nichols latest – and second of the year after Midnight Special – got good reviews out of Cannes, and may well be the type of film that does even better in North America than at a place like Cannes. The film stars Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton in the true story of the Lovings – a couple who fought a legal battle for a decade for the right to be married. Since this is a Jeff Nichols film, Michael Shannon is also on board. This doesn’t sound much like Nichols’ other stuff – but given his output so far, I trust him to take me pretty much anywhere.
Maliglutit (Searchers) (Zacharias Kunuk)
Last year, Kunuk’s debut film – 2001’s Atanarjuat – was elected the greatest Canadian film of all time – and it’s likely to keep that title for a while, seeing as the #2 film was Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine, and that was before the allegations against the late director were made, and the other great Canadian directors – Cronenberg, Egoyan, Maddin, Arcand, Polley, etc. – all have multiple that people vote for, titles, that tend to split the vote for any individual film. Kunuk has spent most of his time producing or directing short docs since the success of Atanarjuat – the one exception being 2006’s The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (which I saw at a test screening – and half the audience walked out), which was greeted with quiet respect from most critics, and little else. Yet, he still has talent, and this one – an Inuit take on John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) – one of the best films ever made, and a film that has inspired many great films (none greater than Taxi Driver, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg), so this one has me kind of excited.
Ma’ Rosa (Brillante Ma Mendoza)
One of the many controversial winners at the Cannes Film Festival this year (where the media seemed to prefer films that didn’t win anything, like Toni Erdman), was Jaclyn Jose for Best Actress (the controversy seemed to be more about whether it was a lead or supporting role, rather than the quality of the performance). This movie – about a drug dealer, and corruption on the streets of the Philippines. One of themes of my selections this year’s seems to be catching up with filmmakers I have heard about for years, and never seen films by – Mendoza certainly fits here, as I’ve heard about him since Kinatay, but have yet to see anything by him. Looking forward to doing so.
Never Ever (Benoit Jacquot)
French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot has been a filmmaker who I have heard about for years now – films like 3 Hearts, Deep in the Woods, Farewell My Queen, Diary of a Chambermaid, etc. – but I haven’t actually seen anything yet. His latest, based The Body Artist by Don DeLillo, is at TIFF, and it seemed like the time to finally see it. Starring Mathieu Almaric and Julia Roy about a relationship between a filmmaker and a body artist. Looking forward to this one quite a bit.
Two Lovers and a Bear (Kim Nguyen)
This is, admittedly, one of my two “filler” titles. Nguyen’s breakthrough film, Rebelle (War Witch), was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film – an African set film about child soldiers and the supernatural. He has changed gears more than a little bit here, as he has made a film set in the Arctic – starring Oprhan Black’s Tatiana Maslany and Dane DeHaan – about, yes, Two Lovers. The reviews out of Cannes were mixed, but respectful. I’m interested in this one, but it wasn’t particularly near the top of my list of must-sees.
Una (Benedict Andrews)
Benedict Andrews directorial debut inspired praise, debate and controversy when it played at Telluride over the weekend – the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that Rooney Mara is brilliant in the title role. Based on David Harrower’s play Blackbird – which I remember hearing about a decade ago, when it played Broadway with Michelle Williams and Jeff Daniels, this film is about a young woman (Rooney Mara) confronting the older man (Ben Mendolsohn) who raped her as a child. Not for the faint of heart to be sure, but a film that will almost undoubtedly inspired a lot of debate – which is one reason to go to film festivals.
The Untamed (Amat Escalante)
Yet another director I’ve heard about for years, but have somehow missed all their films. Mexican director Amat Escalante won the Best Director prize at Cannes for his last film – Heli – which did come out in America, but barely (if I am not mistaken, there is a pubic hair on fire scene in the film, which probably explains that). His latest just debuted at Venice, to mixed reviews, but its combination of domestic drama, sci-fi and horror – apparently heavily influenced by Andrzej Zulawski’s wonderful Possession (1981) – which I watched for the first time earlier this year – makes this one I cannot wait for.
Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey (Terrence Malick)
I’m not sure there is another filmmaker other than Malick who could make a film entitled Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey and not sound pretentious (okay, maybe Herzog). This 90 minute doc by Malick is apparently about the history of the universe. No matter what you think of Malick’s latest work, he remains a vital, one-of-a-kind filmmaker, whose films have to be reckoned with. I look forward to doing this once again at TIFF, which is where I saw To the Wonder.
Yourself and Yours (Hong Sang-soo)
I only discovered Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo a few years ago, and for the most part have really enjoyed his films – none more so than the last one I saw, Right Now, Wrong Then. At TIFF, he’s back with what the program describes as a spin on Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire – his final film (and final masterpiece) – that has me intrigued. One great filmmaker playing on another? I’m in.

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