The Toronto International Film Festival has become one of the largest publicly-attended film festivals in the world. Having celebrated its 41st year recently (which I guess is a thing you celebrate?), the Fest certainly brings the hoopla. Streets are shut down, bringing out larger crowds to celebrity-watch than to movie-watch. The sidewalks are flooded with blazer-dudes with lanyards anchored around their necks. It is, for some, as inescapable a nuisance as the Canadian International Air Show.
This year marks my ninth season attending films at TIFF. My experience of the festival has changed somewhat in the almost-decade since attending my first Midnight Madness screening. Let’s get real, though: My experience of basically everything life has to offer has changed in the last decade. There are those, though, that point to a palpable change in the ways that the festival operates, and those who question whether or not this is a good thing. Also, something something Ghostbusters(?).
This is not for me to say, and that’s not what I’m here to discuss. I’m here to tell you about some fuckin’ movies I watched, bud.
Arguably the best film I caught at this year’s festival, Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight was a gorgeous and troubling surprise. The film focuses on the experiences of a young man growing up in a rough area in Miami, as he struggles with the hard nature of his surroundings and questions regarding his sexuality.
Moonlight is an absolute gut-punch, but an uncommonly gorgeous and poetic one. Its handling of stories not often told manages to dig deep beyond our preconceived notions of “type” and present its characters with dignity and humanity. This kind of tale could easily have been told in a shmaltzy, sentimental manner, but Jenkins avoids this and delivers a picture that is heavy without feeling heavy-handed.
I could go on about the different levels on which the film succeeds (the cinematography is gorgeous), but it’s too much to get into here. You’re better off taking a look for yourself when Moonlight is released. Recommended.
I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE
There’s something pretty telling about the ways in which the film landscape has been changes when you sit down to watch a film at a major festival to be greeted by the familiar Netflix klaxon & logo. Which isn’t to say that this should be an indicator of a film’s relative quality. It’s just that in this case, it is perhaps an indicator of a film’s relative quality.
I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is the latest from Osgood Perkins, who directed last year’s TIFF-selected February (unfortunately renamed The Blackcoat’s Daughter for release). I enjoyed February very much, and was disappointed by this year’s effort from Perkins.
Pretty Thing is a hyper-economical haunted house yarn that hinges on a lead performance by Ruth Wilson. One could complain about pacing, an underdeveloped plot, or perhaps some lousy camera work, and be totally justified in it. But I’m afraid that my chief issue with this picture lies in Wilson’s performance, which I just couldn’t find much to like about. Given that she has so much screen time, her “Gee golly” approach made it difficult for me to care much when she inevitably found herself in trouble.
There’s some reasonably compelling writing and the gloomy atmosphere had me interested for a while, and I’ll concede that there are a number of decent scenes of creepy dread. This movie just didn’t pay off for me. I know people who felt very differently, though, so your mileage may very. This will be coming to Netflix (in October, I believe), so you can check it out at that point.
Holy shit. Somebody thought that this would be a good idea.
(re)Assignment is a film in which Michelle Rodriguez plays a hitman. A male hitman. Michelle Rodriguez is paid to assassinate Sigourney Weaver’s brother. Sigourney Weaver is a genius insane surgeon, so naturally she pays to have Michelle Rodriguez kidnapped and proceeds to – as punishment – perform a sex-change operation, turning her into the female Michelle Rodriguez who we know and love. Michelle Rodriguez doesn’t love this, though. Because the rest of the movie is Michelle Rodriguez killing everybody.
There are a whole pile of ways in which this movie is a terrible disaster that never should have been attempted. The most obvious of these is that the notion of using an unwanted surgical sex transition as a plot device is insulting and insensitive to the trans community, not to mention that this person’s punishment is that they have to be a woman instead of a man, because obviously being a man is better. In one of the film’s more audacious moments, Weaver’s mad surgeon invokes Edgar Allan Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition” to explain that she is an artist and Poe says that art ought to be judged purely in reference to itself, not by outside moral or aesthetic values. This is a) hahaha batshit and b) writer/director Walter Hill’s hilarious attempt to absolve his film of any responsibility for its reprehensible premise. Nice try, Walter.
The thing is, this film could have done itself a favour by embracing its sleaziness and going insane Hobo With A Shotgun levels of absurdity. Instead, its just kind of boring. Which may be an even bigger sin than its painfully forced “provocative” premise.
Boo, (re)Assignment. Boo.
SADAKO vs KAYAKO
TIFF’s Midnight Madness screenings are – in my opinion – the best reason to bother visiting the festival at all. This comes from a place of heavy bias, given that I love horror movies and staying up late, but I think that it’s a pretty well-accepted fact that the MM screenings at the Ryerson Theatre are the place to be for a spirited film experience during TIFF.
Speaking of spirits – holy shit, you guys. Sadako vs Kayako.
Due to the fact that I’m old and also a wuss, I limit my Midnight Madness screenings to one a year. This year, I decided to visit Sadako vs Kayako. While I have since found out that I probably should have gone to the screening of Raw, my choice was a totally reasonable one. I saw Freddy vs Jason three times during its theatrical run. Not a joke. I love the dumbest things.
This film doesn’t need a plot, but I’ll let you in on it. Sadako, the evil ghost from the Ring film series, has planted her curse on a couple of silly college girls. Kayako, the evil ghost from the Ju-on/Grudge series, has planted her curse on a silly schoolgirl. The whole setup exists just to get the two ghosts cursed by each other so that they can fight.
The whole thing is a lot of fun and super dumb. The final confrontation between the two ghosts is distressingly short – even shorter than the showdown between Freddy and Jason (which was also too short). Despite this anti-climax, and despite the fact that they rehash the original films to an unnecessarily detailed degree, on a minute-to-minute basis, Sadako vs Kayako is charmingly silly and fully of weird Japanese wit. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the original Ring and Grudge films, you’ll be making a solid choice to watch this goofy mess with some friends.
If you’re a Twitter user and genre film fan, I recommend following Midnight Madness. Year-round news and fun from the world of genre film. Good times.