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Our Most Anticipated Films of TIFF 2018

From big guns like ‘First Man’ and ‘Halloween’ to the latest from acclaimed indie directors like David Lowery, these are the films we’re most excited for at 2018’s TIFF.

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Today marks the beginning of the 43rdToronto International Film Festival, and with it comes the usual electricity in the city. From all the biggest stars getting picked up from airports and dropped off in downtown Toronto, to the long line-ups for even the smallest movies, the festival is one of the most hyped events in the city for tourists, residents, and the illustrious film industry alike.

This year marks an onslaught of high profile films from directors like Damien Chazelle and Barry Jenkins (Will there be another Moonlight vs La La Land situation at the 2019 Academy Awards?), as well as Bradley Cooper and Jonah Hill’s respective debuts behind the camera. And then there is my personal favourite section: Midnight Madness. Every year it’s a riot, and the staple venue of Ryerson Theater is opened up to a bunch of genre fans waiting to catch the next big obsession.

Among it all there are films waiting to be discovered, the less-talked-about movies itching for that buzz that will push them into the end-of-the-year conversation. TIFF’s People’s Choice Award winner is almost always a safe bet to receive a nomination come award season, so we’ll have an indication of what to look forward to this fall/winter season. There are plenty of movies to get excited about, but these are a handful of the ones we can’t wait to witness on the big screen.

Boy Erased

Boy Erased

Adapting the memoir of a gay teenager forced into conversion therapy by his religious parents, Joel Edgerton is quickly establishing himself behind-the-camera just as much as he has in front of it. Boy Erased looks to be an incredibly emotional follow up to his directorial debut, The Gift. That film was one of my personal favourites from that year, serving as a taut thriller and a moving look at the way our words can do just as much harm as our actions. With Boy Erased, Edgerton serves on scriptwriting duties again, with an all-star cast that is led by Lucas Hedges, Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, and Edgerton himself. This is a movie making its moves at almost every festival this fall, so the push is on to prop it up for an Oscar run — which it looks like it has the potential to achieve.

First Man

First Man

Damien Chazelle can pretty much do no wrong at this point. With both Whiplash and La La Land receiving universal critical acclaim, and the latter winning Chazelle the Best Director award at the 2017 Oscars, it isn’t surprising to see him come back so soon with Ryan Gosling in tow again. Buzz is already out from Venice about whether this Neil Armstrong biopic reaches the moon or not, and it seems like technically it is a marvel to behold, with Claire Foy standing out amongst a swarm of male actors.

The trailers have all been incredible and the IMAX preview before screenings of Mission: Impossible – Fallout was breathtaking. Once again, First Man is taking on all the film festivals it can, leaving no doubt that people will be hard-pressed not to hear buzz about this film for the rest of the year. It also helps that Chazelle’s last film at TIFF was La La Land, which won the People’s Choice Award that year.

Hold the Dark

The body count is allegedly higher than Green Room, and Jeremy Saulnier is not afraid to let audiences suffer through tension and a dark atmosphere, so to say that Hold the Dark is promising would be an understatement. Saulnier’s particular blend of dread and violence is on full display in the trailer for the Netflix film, but it also feels like his most ambitious effort yet. Mystery plays a larger component, which is all well and good when you have Jeffrey Wright at the helm to uncover it (he’s uncovered enough mystery in Westworld this season). Alexander Skarsgard, Riley Keough, and James Badge Dale round out the cast with the usual appearance of frequent Saulnier-collaborator Macon Blair. Expect a miserable experience of the best kind.

In Fabric

In Fabric

I was unimpressed with the widely celebrated Berberian Sound Studio, which seemed to catapult Peter Strickland to arthouse stardom, but The Duke of Burgundy is a hell of a sensory experience, and it stood out as something unique and utterly compelling from its sound design and editing. Strickland returns again with an entry in the Midnight Madness programme that sounds like someone taking the title Phantom Thread extremely literally. Sidse Babett Knudsen returns after her stint on Westworld and starring in The Duke of Burgundy, and alongside Game of Thrones’ star Gwendoline Christie, this makes for what will undoubtedly be a trip and a half.

Halloween

Halloween

The Midnight Madness lineup has two of the biggest films of the year headlining it: The Predator and David Gordon Green’s Halloween. While Shane Black’s take on the Predator franchise looks promising, it’s about time there was a good version of Halloween since John Carpenter unleashed Michael Myers on the world in 1978. Co-written by Green and Danny McBride, with the blessing of Carpenter (and a new score from him), this film is forgetting that any of the sequels happened, and picking up decades after the original. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is back, and prepared for the inevitable moment when Myers returns for more. The trailer is extremely promising, and TIFF is building this “One Night Only” event up as something that can’t be missed before the film releases wide in October. Add the impact that Blumhouse has had on the horror genre, and it’s hard not to get your hopes up just a little bit.

Widows

Steve McQueen is back from his 2013 Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave to offer something that looks both powerful and thrilling. Viola Davis leads a group of widows whose husbands all died on a heist, and they decide to step up and finish the job. The plot alone is rife with potential, but it’s that cast that demands attention. Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, and Daniel Kaluuya aren’t even all the ones worthy of talking about. With Sean Bobbitt shooting the film and Hans Zimmer contributing the score, as well as Gillian Flynn co-writing with McQueen, this is an easy sell come awards season. Whether it holds up beyond its incredible talent is the question, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario where this isn’t one of the most talked about films of the festival.

Killing

Killing

Playing in the Masters platform, Killing is Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest film — and one of his longest, even though it clocks in at only 80 minutes. The Japanese actor/writer/director has had a wild filmography filled with oddities that would fit perfectly in a Midnight Madness slate (I’m looking at you Tetsuo: The Iron Man). Sometimes not for the faint of heart, yet often entrancing to say the least, Tsukamoto tends to veer into obscure territory with a plot that can twist and turn in the same frantic way the camera does. Killing is exciting because it is placed within the very well-worn samurai genre, and images from it look to lean less into the insanity that Tsukamoto is known for. This could be a tamer film than we’re used to from the director, but what excites me is how he will work within a genre so familiar.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born

Okay, we’ve heard the story a million times, and we have no idea whether Bradley Cooper can take what he’s learned from being on film sets and translate it to a directing role. What are probable guarantees is that the soundtrack for A Star is Born will be great, both Cooper and Lady Gaga will likely be a great duo on-screen, and it’s hard not to get a little excited after all of the buzz from Venice. Lady Gaga has been making her acting chops slightly known on American Horror Story, as well as from her music videos, which are lavish affairs that demand a star. The story is tried-and-true, but placing Lady Gaga in the lead female role is an absolute certainty for success. The buzz has been positive, and every time I hear Lady Gaga sing in the trailer I get goosebumps. This is definitely one of the movies that cannot be missed from the awards season.

Climax

Controversy is the last thing you should be thinking about when going into a Gaspar Noe film. The man is trying to provoke you, so just walk into all of his films knowing that upfront and putting it in the back of your mind. If you do that, this Sangria-fueled dance nightmare looks to be less inaccessible, yet still filled with the kind of insanity Noe fans have come to expect. Climax fits right at home in the Midnight Madness slate, pitting itself up against movies like The Predator and Nekrotronic just to see how crazy they’re willing to go. But most importantly, how far are you willing to go through this delirious-looking movie? We saw it at Cannes this year and can attest to its entertainment value.

If Beale Street Could Talk

I mentioned earlier that we may have a recurrence of the La La Land and Moonlight debacle this awards season. If you’ve seen the trailer for Barry Jenkins’s latest effort, you can understand why. While a movie like First Man looks like an easy frontrunner for the Oscar, La La Land also looked like that when it lost to Moonlight, the little movie that could. As powerful as the latter is, If Beale Street Could Talk seems primed to be another moving film that will have you holding back tears while equally thinking about the world we live in. Place Regina King in anything and I’m there, but adapting a James Baldwin novel and following up the masterpiece that was Moonlight adds more hype to a movie that really shouldn’t need to make its name known. We should already be looking forward to this, and I suspect after its World Premiere at TIFF, we will.

Hotel by the River

Hotel by the River

South Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo has been on a rapid-fire streak the last few years. He directed three films last year (all varying degrees of excellent), and already has another movie under his belt from earlier this year. Hong’s switch to lower budgets and digital photography has helped speed up his pace and give him the freedom to experiment. His relationship with actress Kim Min-hee (The Handmaiden) has also replenished his art; Kim is the strongest actor Hong has even worked with. The bigger names have mostly disappeared from his recent films, but her presence makes up for any perceived talent drain. Hotel by the River shares the same gorgeous black and white cinematography of recent works like the excellent The Day After, but it promises to be darker and more emotional than that film, or its even more buoyant counterpoint, Claire’s Camera. Hong is operating at the height of his powers, and each new film is an occasion for celebration.

Transit

Transit

One of my favorite discoveries from 2014 was Christian Petzold’s Phoenix. Petzold wasn’t exactly new, but that film, an inversion of Vertigo set in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, was a simultaneously brutal and ravishing portrait of a woman reclaiming her identity. The director again explores identity, this time focusing on a man who adopts the identity of a dead writer, and begins to obsess over the dead man’s wife. It sounds quite a bit like The Passenger on paper, but Petzold’s film promises to strike out toward a bold new territory.

22 July

22 July

Paul Greengrass has already made one of the defining films of a national tragedy in United 93, and here he returns with 22 July, another austerely titled film that takes as its subject the tragic terrorist attack that devastated Norway. The killer, a reactionary right-winger, targeted a leftist youth camp, slaughtering 77 people and injuring hundreds more using explosives and high-powered rifles. Greengrass’ film is based on the excellent One of Us, the definitive history of the massacre. Despite using Norwegian actors, the film is in English, which may leave it open for some possible Oscar love. The Academy Awards aren’t crazy about films focusing on international subjects, but Greengrass might just have enough clout to catch their attention.

High Life

High Life

Claire Denis has long been esteemed among cinephiles, but her films haven’t always been easy to come by in North America. The more readily available works have been hopelessly dour meditations that leave one with a sour taste in the mouth. Yet last year’s Let the Sunshine In was a bold new step for Denis. Its romantic comedy rhythms were new for her, yet utterly arresting and fresh (and the final scene with Gerard Depardieu is one of the single best moments of film from the past decade). Denis now makes her English-language debut with High Life, a science fiction film starring Robert Pattinson, and also reunites her with Juliette Binoche. Denis has experimented with genre filmmaking before, but never to this extent. Considering that Pattinson’s last few roles (Good TimeThe Lost City of Z) have been his best work to date, this new collaboration with Denis is sure to be exciting.

The Old Man & the Gun

The Old Man & the Gun

It’s clear that Robert Redford doesn’t mind being a bit coy about his future projects. The legendary actor and director has made it clear that The Old Man & the Gun will be his last acting project, though he still plans to direct (and he’s not opposed to returning to acting if a role speaks to him). David Lowery, who made last year’s heartbreaking meditation on loss, A Ghost Story, returns to work with Casey Affleck, who plays a detective chasing after Redford’s charmingly polite bank robber. Lowery is one of the strongest voices in independent cinema at the moment, yet he has also shown an ability to effectively steer studio creations like Pete’s Dragon. Redford’s greatest sin as an actor is that he has rarely challenged himself in the last few decades, but Lowery is someone who can push him to go out on a high note.

***

Those are the ones we’re most looking forward to, but who knows what surprises await? Goomba Stomp will be covering the whole festival, so check back for our daily coverage of 2018’s Toronto International Film Festival!

Chris is a graduate of Communications from Simon Fraser University and resides in Toronto, Ontario. His favorite films include The Big Lebowski, The Raid 2, Alien, and The Thing. You will often find him with a drink in his hand yelling about movies.

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Film

‘Rambo: Last Blood’ Suffers From Action Anemia

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After 2008’s surprisingly intense and entertaining Rambo, it was hard not to be curious as to what sort of bloodbath would be cooked up for the reluctant warrior’s next outing. Alas, the familial revenge story portrayed in Rambo: Last Blood feels like it was written for another character entirely — a much luckier and stupider one — and not the cunning, lethal combatant we’ve come to know and love. Suddenly introducing a pseudo-family life and the ability to express emotions beyond morose murmuring (Rambo smiles!), the story gets too bogged down in its half-baked drama before finally remembering the reason everyone came to see a movie about a guy who used to fire two machine guns at the same time in the first place. And by then, it’s too rushed, too little, and too late.

For those looking to get to the pulpy meat of the matter, be warned that Rambo: Last Blood instead takes its sweet time telling the hackneyed story, with a few false starts just to keep action fans frustrated. So, having mowed down hundreds of people across the world (especially in Burma), John Rambo has unceremoniously returned to the good ol’ U.S. of A. in search of that peaceful life that always seems to elude him in war-torn countries. To that end, he has somehow acquired a large ranch, where he for some reason is good at training horses, and somewhat okay at being an “uncle” to the 17-year-old Gabrielle, who is ready to leave her life on the ranch with her grandmother and this grizzled veteran, and head off to college.

When Gabrielle makes the idiotic (but understandably teenage) decision to disobey the guy who actually knows what he’s talking about when he says that the world is full of black-hearted people, she winds up drugged, kidnapped, and held prisoner in Mexico by sadistic creepos who deal in the sex slave trade. Sure, Rambo: Last Blood takes a little too long to get here, but the hostage scenario is ripe for the kind of one-man assault upon a bunch of dudes who more than deserve a serrated knife to the chest that this franchise specializes in (for reference, see Rambo: First Blood Part II, Rambo III, and Rambo). As Rambo gets that familiar crazy look in his eye, it appears that’s exactly what’s going to happen, but writers Matt Cirulnick and Stallone have other ideas.

Audiences have grown accustomed to the stealthy, sneaky tactics of Sly’s special forces soldier, and so when Rambo — who has rarely made a misstep in his pursuits of killing folk — blunders like a naive fuddy-duddy into an obviously unwinnable situation, the result is both a jarring and disappointing setback from which the script is never able to recover. Had Rambo: Last Blood foreshadowed this critical brain fart by depicting an aging lethal weapon losing control over his mental faculties (popping some glossed-over medication doesn’t do the trick), perhaps this behavior might have flown. But the labyrinthine tunnels and later booby traps (oh yes, there will be plenty of booby traps) suggest that this guy has still got it. Except for that one time, apparently.

The majority of Rambo: Last Blood is wasted on trying to get audiences to care about Rambo’s thinly constructed relationships with people they’ve never met, as if that will somehow make the multitude of deaths to come more personal. But because of the shoddy build up — including an underused Paz Vega as an “independent journalist” also affected by this crime ring — it just doesn’t seem to matter why these thugs need to die. They’re cartoonishly evil; let’s get to it already.

Unfortunately, by the time the action arrives, Rambo: Last Blood operates as if it’s on the clock, already needing to wrap things up. Whereas now would be the time to revel in the catharsis of blood-spattered stabbings, steel poles through the head, and grisly dismemberment, impatient editing cycles through each killing as if quickly ticking off boxes. Cringe-worthy moments are cut short, never allowing the gruesomeness to sink in, to affect. Add to that a disorienting lack of proper staging that splits up the dumbest assailants ever and allows Rambo to appear out of thin air right behind nearly all of them as if he were everywhere at once, and the whole thing end’s up a confusing, unsatisfying mess.

Director Adrian Grunberg — whose much more interesting Get the Gringo knew how to use violence for shocked giggles — also hurts the effort with a bland visual style that is annoyingly claustrophobic. Seemingly unable to place his camera anywhere that might visually enhance a scene, Grunberg instead pushes in too far on the action, and winds up showing little that’s comprehensible. He carries this tendency into conversations as well, getting overly intimate with craggled faces and greasy beards, sacrificing blocking in the process. There’s not much to look at here outside the beautifully deserted, southwestern ranch setting, but do you think Rambo: Last Blood will use this intriguing, open prairie environment for a different take on jungle warfare? Even the horses don’t pay off.

This is all a shame, as Stallone still has that dour Rambo charisma when he’s not trying to be a father figure, and few characters can perform such gruesome deeds with an audience still behind them. But though the beleaguered battler at one point insists that he hasn’t changed, Rambo: Last Blood drains some of the edgy fun from the franchise. If it truly is the end, then it’s a dull finish for one of cinema’s keenest he-men.

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Anime

‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’

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Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.


No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 4, 2019 as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. 

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TIFF

TIFF 2019: Best of the Fest

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The Lighthouse

Have a conversation about movies with your family or coworkers late in the year and there’s a good chance someone will break out this old chestnut: “There just weren’t many good movies this year.” It’s a statement that says more about the speaker than the state of cinema; there are more great movies in any given year than anyone can manage to see. One of the great qualities of the Toronto International Film Festival is that the massive slate of films includes its own high-profile premieres, as well as screenings of festival favorites that bowed to acclaim earlier at places like Cannes and Venice. It’s a clearinghouse of sorts that gives one of the most well-rounded glimpses into the year’s best movies. Below are the ten best films we caught at the festival.

Anne at 13,000 ft

Anne at 13,000 ft

This world premiere, directed by Kazik Radwanski, initially presents the eponymous Anne (an astounding Deragh Campbell) as a daycare attendant having her first experiences with skydiving. Though Anne is alternately blissful and ecstatic when she’s jumping out of a plane, something is amiss at work, where she’s more interested in playing with the kids than supervising them. As she starts a new relationship with a man she met at a wedding (Matt Johnson), cracks in her façade start to appear. Radwanski keeps Anne’s breakdown front and center by putting her up close in the frame; she’s on screen almost every second of its brief 75-minute runtime. Featuring an astounding, aching lead performance, Anne at 13,000 ft sympathetically captures the moment the world starts to tilt for one woman. (Brian Marks)

Crazy World

Crazy World

With an extremely low budget and hearts of gold, the Wakaliwood movement in Uganda is a force of nature waiting to be fully unleashed on the world. Director IGG Nabwana’s Crazy World is the latest film to be translated for western audiences, having been originally produced in 2014. It showcases an international action scene that desperately needs to be seen by those who love films packed with ingenuity, comedy, and a genuine love for the medium that exudes from the screen. A fever dream of martial arts and absurdity, Crazy World is the kind of gonzo-action that can’t be denied its place in the pantheon of international action cinema. Placing this as the closing night film for the Midnight Madness program only ensures it gets a bigger audience than it otherwise would have. (Christopher Cross)

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life is inspired by the true story of Franz Jägerstätter, an Austrian farmer who was executed after he refused to swear allegiance to Adolf Hitler. Jägerstätter is played by August Diehl, best known to American audiences as the lead Nazi in the bar shootout in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Writer-director Terrence Malick makes a glorious return to fully scripted films after three adventurous, mostly improvised movies that divided critics. Though Jägerstätter was eventually beatified for his stand against the Nazis, Diehl and Malick don’t try to make him a saint — he’s just someone taking a stand when overcome by conscience. Malick’s searching camera makes the Austrian hillside look invitingly gorgeous and lush, turning it into a kind of paradise from which Jägerstätter is brutally snatched. His more improvised films are all essential works of cinema, but A Hidden Life is Malick’s best work since his career-defining masterpiece, The Tree of Life. (Brian Marks)

Jojo Rabbit

Jojo Rabbit

Receiving the TIFF Ebert Director Award this year, Taika Waititi came out with two awards, as his latest film, Jojo Rabbit,won the Grolsch People’s Choice Award, as well — and that for a film no other director would probably consider making: a comedy about Hitler. It’s a reductive elevator pitch, which is how many will approach the film when it is officially released, but Jojo Rabbit is hardly that. Instead, Waititi satirizes hate itself, as well as all the ridiculously extreme convictions people have that hold the world back from being peaceful. Easily the most audacious film in the director’s filmography, Jojo Rabbit successfully balances the quirky humor of Waititi’s previous efforts with a dark subject matter. The result is a movie that not only will make audiences laugh, but will have them valuing the importance of laughter and niceties in a hate-fueled time. (Christopher Cross)

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers blew everyone away with his debut feature, The Witch, which ratcheted up the paranoia until there was nowhere to go but supernatural. While his sophomore feature doesn’t feature a Black Phillip-stand in, The Lighthouse trades witchcraft and Satan for mermaids and Lovecraft. The result is another film drenched in paranoia, as its two lead actors give some of the funniest, nuanced, and entertaining performances of their careers. The Lighthouse isn’t just Eggers proving he’s not a one-trick pony — it’s Eggers proving he’s one of the greatest horror filmmakers working today. (Christopher Cross)

Marriage Story

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach’s newest film, Marriage Story, is partly inspired by his divorce earlier this decade from the actress Jennifer Jason Leigh. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson star as Charlie and Nicole; he’s a renowned theater director in New York, and she’s an actress best known for starring in a popular teen comedy, though in recent years she’s starred in her husband’s productions. The film opens with a touching set of dueling montages, as both characters recite their favorite aspects of their partners — only to reveal that they’re separating, and this is just an exercise cooked up by a mediator to keep their relations positive. Driver and Johansson are at the top of their game, and Baumbach has never been better. He keeps his camera work reserved so as not to distract from his airtight screenplay and the moving performances. No film can convey all the heartache and longing that comes with divorce, but Baumbach may have gotten closer than anyone else. (Brian Marks)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire began attracting rapturous praise when it premiered at Cannes, and its presence at TIFF has only confirmed its stature. Set sometime in the late 18th Century, Portrait concerns two young women struggling against the stifling societal expectations that govern them. Noémie Merlant stars as Marianne, the daughter of a respected painter who has her own artistic talents. She has been called to Brittany to paint a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), which her family desires in order to send it to a Milanese suitor they hope to marry her off to. If he finds her beautiful enough, then the survival of their bloodline is guaranteed. But Héloïse has no intention of sitting for a portrait, forcing Marianne to get creative. Over time, she begins to question her role in Héloïse’s future, and the two develop an unshakeable bond. Herlant and Haenel give wonderfully tender performances, perfectly playing off each other for escalating dramatic tension. Sciamma is almost clinical in the way she films the two women, yet there’s a welcome touch of the fantastic that occasionally intrudes. A love story for the ages. (Brian Marks)

Saint Maud

Saint Maud

Rose Glass’s directorial debut, Saint Maud, is a film that wowed many audiences at TIFF, even if it didn’t necessarily win any awards. Picked up by A24 soon after the festival, the film highlights a nurse in private care that goes to extreme lengths to show her devotion to God and curing the world of sickness. A slow-burn that is masterfully handled through character work, this psychological thriller takes its time to get where its going, but is never a bore while getting there. Yet, once it does make its way to the intense final act, there is little room to breathe as Saint Maud moves and moves until its phenomenal conclusion. A strong debut with a fantastic lead performance by Morfydd Clark, this is the kind of film that will have you biting your nails as it sucks you into the mind of someone passionately devoted to God and trying to save her soul. (Christopher Cross)

The Twentieth Century

The Twentieth Century

With his debut feature, The Twentieth Century, Matthew Rankin reminds us of the seemingly limitless possibilities of cinema. The film documents the rise of former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King in a truly bizarre style, featuring gorgeously saturated yet simultaneously faded colors that evoke the feel of early color films from the 1920s and ’30s. Dan Beirne plays a neurotic version of the future politician, who lives in perpetual adolescence and has a dark secret: he gets his rocks off with women’s heels. Rankin is clearly indebted to fellow Canadian Guy Maddin, and takes the same relish as he pulls from bits of film history while thoroughly deconstructing the traditional biopic. Rankin’s off-putting sense of humor and the movie’s otherworldly visuals will frighten off many viewers, but hopefully, it will delight even more. The Twentieth Century won the award for Best Canadian First Feature, and it’s sure to be a midnight movie classic. (Brian Marks)

Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo have crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness. (Christopher Cross)

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Film

‘Villains’ Offers Strong Performances, But Not Much Else

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Through its first nine months, 2019 has been quite a year for movies in which characters are trapped in a house for most of the running time, and that continues with Villains, an unconventional but ultimately underwhelming entry in the horror-comedy subgenre in which four very good performances can’t save a talky, underwhelming script. 

Written and directed by the team of Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, Villains was on the “Black List” of unproduced screenplays a few years back, and it debuted at South by Southwest this past spring. Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise himself, in his normal handsome visage) and Millennial horror queen Maika Monroe play a dimwitted but loving couple who are also small-time robbers, in the tradition of bumbling wannabe criminals like in Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket. Fleeing a robbery they committed at a gas station and dreaming of a life in Florida, the pair stumble into the home of George and Gloria (Burn Notice‘s Jeffrey Donovan, and Kyra Sedgwick), where things take a bit of a creepy and violent turn as the petty crooks discover the thing (or things) that this other couple is hiding.

Overall, Villains feels at a piece with that Southern, used-car-salesman patter associated with the current prestige cable shows The Righteous Gemstones and On Becoming a God in Central Florida. Unfortunately, though it sports a good structure and all four leads perform well, Villains never quite finds that extra gear. Also, the film isn’t quite as good at managing the often-jarring tonal shifts between horror and comedy that such entries as Ready or Not and Satanic Panic were able to pull off. 

Villains has a lot of what we’ve seen in this type of movie before: long sections where one or both of the protagonists are held hostage, that slow realization that characters we previously thought were normal are far from it, and bloody violence that tends to come out of nowhere. It also has that annoying thing where movie characters who run out of gas never had any indication until that moment that they were running low. And here, unlike in most of those instances, the characters have just come from — literally — robbing a gas station. 

However, the cast isn’t a problem. Monroe, so memorable in such horror movies as It Follows and Greta, is the highlight, while Skarsgård shows himself as an interesting actor when not encumbered by the Pennywise clown makeup. Donovan, sporting a wispy mustache, plays his part over-the-top, while Sedgwick, who isn’t on screen nearly enough these days, is clearly having a great time playing a wildly unstable character. 

Villains begins with a strong, heavy metal-scored introduction, and there’s a nifty, animated closing credits sequence. A shame that both offer a much more impressive visual and filmmaking sense than the movie we just watched. 

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TIFF

TIFF 2019: ‘Crazy World’ Brings Wakaliwood to the Masses

‘Crazy World’ is the latest Wakaliwood film from Uganda to be translated and brought to the world, containing crazy action on a low budget.

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Crazy World

With an extremely low budget and hearts of gold, the Wakaliwood movement in Uganda is a force of nature waiting to be fully unleashed on the world. Director IGG Nabwana’s Crazy World is the latest film to be translated for western audiences, having been originally produced in 2014. It showcases an international action scene that desperately needs to be seen by those who love films packed with ingenuity, comedy, and a genuine love for the medium that exudes from the screen. A fever dream of martial arts and absurdity, Crazy World is the kind of gonzo-action that can’t be denied its place in the pantheon of international action cinema.

As children are being abducted by the Tiger Mafia — led by a pint-sized leader frequently mistaken as a child himself — parents begin formulating a plot to rescue the children and get revenge on the thugs who keep destroying their village. Unfortunately for the Mafia, they’ve made the mistake of kidnapping the Waka Stars — children with can outsmart and beat up anybody when they work together. Other characters include a parent who has gone insane six months after his child was abducted (and now lives within the village dump), and of course, characters named after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan for good measure.

Crazy World

As silly as the premise sounds, Crazy World is even more absurd in employing a trademark of Ugandan tradition by incorporating narration from a VJ — or “video jockey” — who describes what’s happening, why it’s happening, why it’s bad that it’s happening, and who is about to get their heads kicked in. A side note about the midnight screening for TIFF: the narration was done live, and made the whole experience all the more delirious. But even without the live narration, what’s there is simply a staple of Wakaliwood films. The narration can have to do with the film itself, or even suggest the social and political anxieties that make the scenes all the more striking.

It’s also impossible to talk about Crazy World without mentioning the utter insanity of the action. For starters, every kick and every punch lands with the loudest thud imaginable. It sounds like a boxing match is happening, but it’s actually kids beating up grown men. The fights tend to be contained to a small set where green screen is quite obviously employed (to hilarious effect), and some of the worst special effects show buildings and vehicles being blown up. This isn’t a knock; in fact, these low-budget effects work exceptionally well because the film itself feels just as DIY and cobbled together. It’s infectious how fast Crazy World moves and how well it works, simply due to well-choreographed action.

Crazy World

Crazy World is my entry point to Wakaliwood, and there will be many who have never seen a film like this. However, those that do might find a new favourite style of action filmmaking — one that leverages its set pieces against the backdrop of regional concerns in Uganda. It’s a movie that transports you not because it’s put together well, but because it’s put together so lovingly. A hilarious romp, Crazy World is one-of-a-kind cinema that sets the bar for low-budget filmmaking.

The Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 – September 15

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Indie Game reviewers.

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