the shape of water red band trailer

Another Toronto International Film Festival has been resigned to the dust, and it is time for us to look back on it and remember all the great (and not so great) films we witnessed there.

Truth be told, this year’s fest was slightly less exciting than last – the films were good, and some were even fantastic, but overall they did not pack as much of a punch as I’d been hoping. Still, it’s hard to deny the thrill one gets from attending TIFF; day after day, you spend hours upon hours watching films with audiences who are genuinely excited to be there, unlike seeing a film at your local multiplex, where the crowd could care less. If you’re covering TIFF as press, you rise at dawn, make your way down to the Scotiabank Theatre and spend almost the entire day there. It can be exhausting and draining, but it’s also wonderful.

For the sake of completion, I’ve compiled links to all the /Film reviews (written by me and Marshall Shaffer) out of this year’s TIFF, as well as a blurb or two for films that did not receive a full review. Here is every movie we saw at TIFF 2017.

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lean on pete review

Andrew Haigh’s Lean on Pete is a social realist drama of the highest order, combining the gentle pastoral touch of David Lynch’s The Straight Story with a probing sympathy for individuals on the edge of society recalling the best of the Dardenne brothers. There’s no armchair sociology here, just rich character observation steeped in a spirit of compassion. Haigh never veers into grandstanding “issues movie” territory or troubled youth drama. It’s just the story of an adolescent boy in need of the tiniest bit of permanence and security.

That boy is 15-year-old Charley Thompson, played by Charlie Plummer, a pure but restless soul hitched to the fortunes of his good-natured single father Ray (Travis Fimmel). When the film starts, the two are just getting settled into a new home in Portland, and Charley clearly has the routine down. He unpacks his trophies, goes for a run around unfamiliar streets to acquaint himself with the area and puts his Cap’n Crunch in the refrigerator to avoid the roaches. Charley is no hopeless, despairing victim – he’s just stuck in a situation beyond his control. From a young age, he has already learned not to get sentimental and accept nothing as permanent.

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let the corpses tan

Anyone who can bear to stare directly into Let the Corpses Tan may walk away with the sensation that their eyelids are burning, almost as if someone seared them with a scalding hot poker. That’s by design. And for those who don’t mind the pain, the embrace of directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani will provide a masochistic thrill.

This isn’t just gross-out, go-for-broke genre cinema. Let the Corpses Tan begins with a jarring gunshot, from which Cattet and Forzani proceed to fire on all cylinders, deploying a full arsenal of cinematic techniques to induce the visceral response they seek. Color, framing, montage – you name it, they’re using it at full throttle. Edited at the zippy speed of a sleek commercial, this is 90 minutes of pure cinematic sensory assault.

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Gilbert Gottfried Documentary

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried is best known by general audiences for being a wholly inappropriate comedian with an extremely grating voice. They may not know his name, but they recognize that signature voice, the same one that brought Jafar’s parrot sidekick Iago to life in Disney’s Aladdin. But they definitely don’t know the real Gilbert Gottfried.

Gilbert is a documentary that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival this past spring, and it’s finally arriving in theaters this year. You might be surprised when you hear Gottfried speak during interviews in this documentary, because his voice isn’t piercing your ears as it usually does. Because Gottfried doesn’t talk like that all the time – it’s part of the calculated character he’s created for his stage persona, and the real Gottfried is even more fascinating, sweet and wonderful than you could have ever imagined.

Watch the Gilbert Gottfried documentary trailer below to see what we’re talking about. Read More »

foxtrot review

Comedy and tragedy are usually treated as two wildly different emotions – the Golden Globes even consider them so different as to break up their film awards into two tracks on those lines. But for a writer/director like Samuel Maoz, the dichotomy is not so clear-cut. His new film Foxtrot, the stealth sensation of 2017’s fall festival season, evinces how these two experiences are not opposites, but rather two sides of the same coin. Maoz, in just his second narrative feature, repeatedly demonstrates the way hilarity and calamity are never far removed from one another. Just one break in the other direction can produce a wild twist of fate.

With the absurdist deadpan of Swedish master Roy Andersson, Foxtrot captures a unique look at how young men respond to both the banality and boredom of war, as well as how adults absorb the trauma of death. It’s best to let the strange whims of life in the film guide the viewing journey; go in as blind as possible. As he charts the impact of a calamitous development, Maoz responds to a full range of human reactions. They’re never treated as separate gears to operate. Instead, pain and humor are complementary forces that overlap and bleed into each other.

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unicorn store review

“The most grown-up thing you can do is fail at things you really care about,” imparts Joan Cusack’s Gladys to her daughter, Brie Larson’s Kit, towards the close of Unicorn Store. It’s the perfect nugget of wisdom for a tale of stilted, prolonged adolescence. But the film, Larson’s debut behind the camera, is a world away from the Seth Rogen-style manchild so prevalent in the past decade of comedy.

Kit, like many millennials, struggles to adapt to a corporate environment and bristles at the drabness of office life. She’s an artist by training with an instinct to color outside the lines, a proclivity received unkindly by her stern professor. Kit snags a temporary gig at PR&R PR, where she finds herself unsure of how to reconcile her well-nurtured passion for individual expression with the mandate to be a productive, contributing member of society. At this sterile company, suit-clad men envision selling products on their purpose alone. Kit wants to set her imagination free to convey how those same products make her feel.

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tiff

Another Toronto International Film Festival has come and gone, bringing with it a wealth of great movies and a few weirdly disappointing ones too. This usually sets the stage for the remainder of the year in film – the movies that generated buzz at TIFF will likely go on to be talked about ad nauseam come Oscar season. TIFF itself gives out awards as well, and the big winner was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which took home the Grolsch People’s Choice Award.

I didn’t see it. Sorry!

But I did travel to TIFF and take in a slew of memorable films, which I will now present special awards to for the sake of wrapping-up the fest. Some spoilers follow.

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Man on the Moon Documentary - Man on the Moon Documentary - Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond Review

“When did this movie start?” asks a modern-day Jim Carrey to director Chris Smith. It’s the start of what we know as Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond – With a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. It’s also probably one of the more normal things Carrey says or does throughout the documentary, a work presenting unreleased footage shot by Carrey behind the scenes of his Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon.

Read our Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond review from TIFF below. Read More »

First Reformed Review

We’ve quietly entered a renaissance of master American filmmakers tackling religious subjects with the gravity, dignity and seriousness they deserve. Add Paul Schrader’s latest movie First Reformed to a growing list of modern masterpieces on faith through hardship that includes Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man and James Gray’s The Immigrant.

Read our full First Reformed review from TIFF below. Read More »

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hostiles review

“The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” So begins the epigraph of Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, a Western that explores America’s then-undeveloped territories as a fertile ground for nihilism, despair and self-reflection. Gone is the frontier myth of endless possibility and opportunity, replaced by a plot that is quite literally a march towards death.

As his final assignment, Christian Bale’s hardened Captain Joseph Blocker gets charged to return Adam Studi’s ailing war chief Yellow Hawk back to his tribe’s sacred land in the Montana territory. It’s a ferrying operation of the direst degree, and one that Joseph approaches with a fair amount of trepidation. He knows the route and the perils inherent in crossing this way. In order to let Yellow Hawk die with dignity, many others may die along the way getting there.

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