There was a teaser for this a few months ago but now, apparently, this has obliterated TiFF’s Midnight Madness crowd, and when you see the glimpses of what is on offer I think we can understand why;
Extensive drone footage, elaborate 4K digital long takes and a simulacrum of computer game FPS was inevitable I guess, although I do wonder if this evolving 21st century format has a narrative to support itself beyond the pyrotechnics. Still, this looks like quite a fucking experience eh?
How far would or could you go to protect your children? That’s the core question lurking at the heart of Denis Villeneuve’s new Hollywood thriller Prisoners, a surprisingly brutal police procedural which definitively signals the end of Summer season and marks the beginning of that brief serious window of pre-award product nervously skulking into cinemas. I’ve already recommended Villeneuve’s uncompromising Incendies on here before so I was already pre-disposed to give his first American picture a chance, it was one of my TiFF targets which I failed to nail due to competing priorities, so I was rather pleased to see such a quick European release for what may well be included in the top-tier of films of the year. Villeneuve’s credentials aside I was in the mood for some more mature material if I’m honest, I’ve had my fill of comic book ballast and action abrogations for the moment, having recently rewatched Star Trek: Into Darkness I was quite shocked at just how terrible that film is once the CGI scales fall from the lens flared eyes, so something much more intelligent and caustic was an oddly welcome confection as the nights start to draw in and the Autumn clouds gather.
Against a murky and bruised framed sky of mid West America two working class families gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. Keller and Grace Dover (Hugh Jackman & Mario Bello) clearly love their son and younger daughter and are a relatively happy unit, her mildly mothering concern standing in muted contrast to his masculine stars n’ stripes stoicism. Nancy and Franklin Birch (Viola Davis & Terence Howard) are a little more happy-go-lucky, their similar affection for their daughter slipping into frantic histrionics when the two girls vanish after a post dinner stroll, the owner of a decrepit RV lurking in the area becoming the initial suspect in a desperate race to locate the missing children. Enter the oddly named Lt. Loki (a exhaustively blinky Jake Gyllenhaal) who of course has never failed to close a case, his initial suspicions of the greasy simpleton Alex (another mournful turn from Paul Dano) thwarted by a concrete lack of physical evidence. After Alex is released from custody a desperate Keller decides to take matters into his own bloodied hands, as his conviction that he can beat a confession out of his incarcerated suspect are surpassed by more inchoate discoveries….
It’s quite rare these days to be assaulted by a Hollywood product which is serious in intent and so sour in tone, as this is a very exhausting and oppressive picture which doesn’t compromise with its serious approach to severe themes. That said it unfortunately does resort to some textbook screenplay coincidences in its final manoeuvres which does taint the overall effect, but the quality of the performances, the gripping plot and unexpected clues and misdirection will keep audiences guessing right until the amputative end. The cast both supporting and lead are adequately painful and writhing in winterlit misery, Jackman in particular peddles a fine line of frustrated fury whilst Gyllenhaal elaborates on his Zodiac obsessive convictions with a physically orientated performance stuffed full of nervous tics and zen attuned observation. The religious iconography may be ladled on a little thick by Villeneuve including pendulous crucifi, slithering serpents and an opening monologue yearning for a biblical scale of ferocity, but those ambitions are partially met with a duo of scenes which are expertly orchestrated as the sinister saga damns then exonerates suspects in a constantly mutating manner.
The real star of the show however is cinematographer Roger Deakins outstanding work, I honestly hesitate to use the word genius as much as I can but he is just so consistently brilliant again and again and again that the man deserves every accolade in the cinephile dictionary, lacquering the piece with a frosty oppression which enshrines Prisoners as essential big-screen viewing, a rain drenched car chase elevated to a cardiac inducing hallucination, the cobalt beams of the police vehicles strafing through a desperate darkness of despair. The obvious antecedents are of a similarly smothering sort, from the aforementioned Zodiac to Se7en to Gone Baby Gone this is similarly uncompromising adult material in both content and approach, although the plot mechanisms may lapse into formula there is a clear metaphor of losing one’s humanity and moral authority in the face of an incomprehensible, ethereal and elusive foe. In that sense if you’re looking for torturous analogies you won’t need a forensic scientist to align this with wider moral US failures of recent years, like those righteous ambiguities this isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination but worth the price of admission for Deakins adumbral etching alone, a fevered American debut which Villeneuve needs to supplement with a more accomplished ambit;
Having just got back to the UK I’m too shattered to offer much at the moment, but I have made a start on a aftermath post which should hopefully wrap things up and highlight my top five – so here’s the final montage from TiFF to close the circle until the weekend;
I′m a big fan of symmetry, so it seemed apt to conclude this epic expedition film wise in a manner similar to how we opened all those movies ago – with another four hour documentary. As one of the all time great documentarians Frederick Wiseman′s At Berkerly may not appeal to everyone′s taste, but I found it be a fascinating peek behind the scenes at one of the learned centres of our civilization;
So that is indeed that, I have a day of shopping and maybe taking in a couple of museums tomorrow – I′m skipping Niagara Falls as the logistics are to irritating and I suspect I′ll be back here in the future anyway – before a stopover in Montreal for one night and then back to blightly and the return of the real world, can′t say I’m looking forward to that. I′ll probably write my general festival overview on the flight back to keep me distracted, especially as I′m back into the fray with the day job straight away and there has been some potentially interesting developments on that front whilst I’ve been away, but let′s not jinx that with any details here shall we?
Monday morning, and like a man possessed of the protestant work spirit I awoke at an ungodly hour and managed to get down to the media centre and crank out another review – the way I figure it only one a day is remotely feasible, and I can catch up with some of the flotsam and jetsam when I get back home. I then had the pleasure of Bullock & Cuaron’s company;
The more I think about Gravity, the more I like it, I;m definitely enlisting fora IMAX revisit back in London. Now I know everyones going crazy about 12 Years A Slave but believe me this opinion is not shared in every quarter – some colleagues I have been speaking to (and believe me you can’t grab a cup of coffee or a slice of pizza in this town without getting caught up in a debate, its great!) have outlined some concerns which at face value sound quite valid, I doubt I’ll make it to the last press screening given other priorities so I guess I’ll just wait until the LFF. Anyway, then it was time for another documentary, the contemporarily anticipated Known Unknowns by the mighty Errol Morris;
It was good, he never completely nails his quarry but of course Morris likes to give his subjects enough rope and let them construct their own noose, but Rumsfeld is one slippery bastard – Its quite a weary ride through the last decades still reverberating war crimes. Now since there is no trailer yet here is some footage from Venice;
The strongest indie’ film (whatever constitutes indie these days is a whole other article but I digress) of the festival so far, a packed screening of Reichardt’s Night Moves which was one of my most anticipated films of the whole schedule. I can’t do it justice here but if you like Meeks Cutoff or Wendy & Lucy then you’ll like this – she hasn’t ‘sold out’ by employing Fanning and Eisenberg who are both very good. Tomorrow we see if I can get Under The Skin;
One of the great pleasures of festivals is taking a chance on something new, of going to see a film sight unseen, a celluloid equivalent of Russian roulette without the potentially lethal consequences. In that vein I decided to go and see You’re Not Here on a hazy Sunday morning, I did have the deja vu inducing The Double in my headlights but I can slot that in further down the line – it looks like its worth a double-take;
With the benefit of hindsight I kinda wish I’d evaluated You Are Here beforehand as it would have warned me off such lunatic risk-taking, as this was an exceptionally flat and tedious film with maybe two mild laughs in the whole two hours, you know there might just be a problem when fellow colleagues are clandestinely exiting the screening around a half hour in. I genuinely shocked that such a run-of-the-mill fare was offered by the creative mind behind Mad Men, I think Mr. Weiner must ave been having a particularly poor day when he committed to that script. Then I thought some horror was required so I braved Eli Roth’s new massacre The Green Inferno, again no trailer has circulated yet despite the film getting it’s World Premiere here today – review here. I got chatting in a bar with a fellow festival goer in a bar when waiting for some friends, turns out the chap is the Film Programmer for the University of Maine and was a good personal friend of Ebert, which gives me an excuse to post this;
A poor day for celebrities number wise, but a personal best proximity wise, I was quite surprised to turn around during this morning queue efforts and seeing Robin Wright Penn standing next to me – she’s tiny;
OK, I think I′m getting the hang of this now, I get up, cleanse thyself, dress, wander down town and grab a hurried breakfast, peek into the morning press conference then it’s simply movies, movies, movies. Having fully got my bearings and located the majority of the screening venues I also think I’ve got a feel of the tempo of this celluloid circus, and I usually manage to squeeze in a review before retiring for the evening – although that ‘free’ time will shortly be dismissed as my schedule begins to expand to encompass more material. Much of the Midnight Madness and challenging Vanguard strands of the festival are beginning to appear on the horizon, and all these dramas, comedies and documentaries I’ve caught so far could really do with a few buckets of claret soaking the screen. Now, time to make the ladies jealous;
So after a intergalactically fraught wait I finally got to see Gravity in the 556 seating auditorium of the impressive Scotiabank theatre, this was my first taste of the real urgency that the bigger films can create as this throughly packed screening was quite an electric experience with enormous queues and a true festival like urgency – obligatory review link here. I really shouldn’t post this extended spot as it does give away details of some key sequences in the film and you really should go into this spectacular experience as cold as the distant recesses of the cosmos, I managed to avoid watching it until today and I should make it to the film’s press conference tomorrow;
So then a personal best thus far in celebrity spotting for day three, including Mark Cousins who had natter with some ladies queueing behind him from the Irish Film Council, Dexter ′Spike′ Flectcher, John ′Film Critic whom none of you will have the faintest idea who he is′ Powers, oh and Maria Bello, Melissa Leo, director Denis Villeneuve, Terence Howard , Huge Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano. This exercise is beginning to sound like the cast to a Woody Allen picture;
We’re finally here gentle reader, work has been concluded, out of office notifications programmed, bags are packed and itineraries scrambled – TiFF 2013 is finally a go. So my intentions which will no doubt be obliterated when ‘in country’ is to produce a daily round-up style post and ad-hoc full reviews over at my patron sponsor Sound on Sight, like the LFF the maple syrup brigade produce daily video summaries of the red carpet activity so I’ll try my best to post those alongside any blistering hot press conference action to keep things simmering here at the Menagerie. Some more new trailers have slowly begin to struggle for the light, this looks like it should generate some debate;
I am intending to take a couple of ‘rest’ days and actually, y’know, go for a nose around Toronto whilst I’m there, given the fact that one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring natural features is only a couple of hours away I’d quite like to slot in some traditional tourist gawking as well – that’s where some of Superman II was shot, right? Then again, speaking of awe-inspiring natural features Scarlett Johansson is in town (for a full list of confirmed attendees check this out) so maybe I’ll just hang around the posh hotels and, erm, see what comes up;
Now that looks mildly terrifying (shivers), and early reviews from Venice are throwing around five star kudos and muttered allegations of a ‘masterpiece’ – wow. With a gobsmacking range of forty to fifty film screenings every day – yeah I know and that’s just the fucking press schedule – I’m certainly not going to be bereft of movie choices, thankfully some of the hot ticket items (your Gravity’s, your12 Years A Slave etc.) are getting duplicate screenings in order to sate outrageous demand, although I’m not entirely confident on how the various tiers of prestigious access badges will unfold out on the battlefield. One thing I hadn’t considered is the side strand of industry talks, discussions, workshops and debates, it honestly sounds as if the entire city goes celluloid crazy, so as initial sortee I’m aiming for a production discussion with the terrificly talented Sarah Polley and if I’m lucky a seat at the Spike Jonze interview and Q&A. So that’s that, please do bookmark my and my colleagues feed over at the impregnable Sound On Sight and we’ll see you on the other side;
Just to set the tone, here’s tonight’s Menagerie Watch-List just to get me in the mood – this looks hugely unusual;
Fuck man I dunno either, I just work here. Hitoshi Matsumoto is at the festival with his new effort R100 – looks like that will also go down well with the cult movie crowd. In other news, in a moment of unfortunate timing this years LFF crew announce this years programme tomorrow, (yeah I bit the bullet and ponied up the cash for my pass) somehow I doubt I’ll be giving them my full attention as my efforts must be focused elsewhere. Then we’ve got this to see;
This ties in nicely with The Green Inferno, Eli Roth’s new cannibal exploitation homage which of course should be quite painful. Finally here is a nice survivors guide for the uninitiated, then I’ll be getting into a movie which was shot in Toronto which has also generated its own cadre of quietly devoted cult movie fans;
One more post before tomorrow’s final summary and method statement, just to set the tone and expectations for the following ten days – Jesus, I clearly do need a holiday as my programme management speak is incrementally bleeding into my hobbies – I think it’s time to update the critical path risk register. Like all respected festivals with a few quid to chuck around this year’s specialist TIFF team have commissioned or acquired prints of recently restored classics, a historic celebration of the art form to align with new talents and contemporary voices, so here is a brief summary of what’s in store retrospective wise at this year’ festival;
Gun Crazy – I think it was during my ‘The Best Films You’ve Never Seen‘ post that I admitted to my omission of Gun Crazy from my noir list of the usual suspects, so the chance to finally apprehend this monochrome forerunner to Bonnie & Clyde, Badlands, and just about any other homicidal couple on the run picture, a series which continues with this years Malickian Ain’t Them Bodies Saints. I’m pretty sure that these must be the same prints that the BFI commissioned a couple of years back, so effectively I have travelled an ocean to finally plug this win with a bellyful of hot lead.
Rome Open City – One of the core texts of the Italian Neo-Realist film movement, those socially arrayed, macro attuned films shot in the closing months and immediate aftermath of the second world war, cobbled together on scraps of film stock with an urgent political reality by the likes of Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti and in this case Roberto Rossellini (father of Isabella since you ask). This is text-book film studies 101 viewing for any budding cinephile although my personal favourite was always the devastating Umberto D, so we’ll see how the campaign develops – I’m fairly sure it clashes with All Cheerleaders Die and we all know who’s gonna win that conflict, right?
Shivers – As I mentioned before Cronenberg’s original infection has been given a digital antiseptic bath, as I only reviewed the film a couple of weeks ago I can’t say I’ll be killing myself to assimilate this horrid little herald of things to come, but we’ll see how events organically unfold with my competing priorities – I’m sick like that.
Hiroshima Mon Amour – I first saw this world cinema masterpiece around ten years ago when I was as my friends would have it a little bit squinty, quite what possessed me to fire up a black & white subtitled art house artefact after a Friday evening on the ales is beyond me, but nevertheless I remember a fantastically interwoven love story which flits and flutters through its cinematic temporal dimensions. This was a genuinely revolutionary film for its period which prefigured the mosaic methodologies of Roeg and more recently Nolan and Carruthers, by inspiring them to manipulate definitions of time and space and abandon the restraining straightjacket of causality and the strictly observed momentum of narrative logic, so the chance to see this with the celluloid still dripping fresh really should not be missed.
An Autumn Afternoon – A change of pace from the hectic speed of Canada’s most populous and economically driven city should be provided by a refreshing sip of one of Ozu’s modest masterpieces, I’m really going to make an effort to see this as other than that viewing of Tokyo Story a few years back my track record with the big screen sensei has been simply appalling, as in non-existent. I’m not sure if this is a digital scan or an analogue restoration, hopefully the latter for ancient authenticity but these days given the relentless march of technology I doubt it.