TORONTO - Joe Begos is a time traveler.
Oh, sure, he'll deny it, and he'll try to claim that "Almost Human" is a new film that he made with creative partner Josh Ethier and an enthusiastic cast including Graham Skipper and Vanessa Leigh, and he'll say that he shot it on a Red 4K camera and that his DI artist helped create a 16mm look for the thing, and he'll say it's a loving tribute to the DIY indie slasher films of the '80s, but I know the truth. This film was made in 1987 and then somehow Begos fell into a wormhole, got transported to the present day with his finished movie, and now he's passing it off with this elaborate cover story. I mean… which is more likely? My version, or the notion that this talented bunch of loonies pulled off this straight-faced an homage down to the smallest detail?
TORONTO - Joe Begos is a time traveler.
TORONTO - For the last two days, every time I've mentioned to someone that I planned to see the film "Man Of Tai Chi," which marks the directorial debut of Keanu Reeves, the reaction has been the same. Rolled eyes, some sort of joke, and a general attitude that there's no way they would end up joining me for the screening. At the screening tonight at the Ryerson, there was only one other journalist there that I recognized, despite this being the premiere with Reeves in attendance.
Shot in China, with a Chinese cast, and with the entire thing shot in Chinese with English subtitles, "Man Of Tai Chi" is a no-apologies martial arts film, a movie that features wall to wall fights that are shot and choreographed with such an obvious love for the genre and for the poetry of fighting that I was won over almost immediately. Chen Lin-Hu stars as Tiger Hu Chen, a modest student of Tai Chi master Yang (Yu Hai). Tiger works as a delivery guy for a Fed Ex-like company, and he trains for a tournament where he hopes to prove that Tai Chi is not just for exercise, but is a real martial art capable of defeating anything else. Even in the early training sequences, it's obvious that Tiger is impatient to learn, which is at direct odds with the teachings of his master. Even when they're in the midst of a practice fight, Tiger is always moving too fast, his master urging him to slow down, to find a meditative place within himself.
TORONTO - One of the things that makes the 25th anniversary of Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival so worthy of celebration is the number of careers that have been launched from that stage in the Ryerson. I've seen it happen several times over the last few years, and I'm fairly sure I saw it happen again on Monday night, when "Afflicted" was screened.
It's a safe bet that Derek Lee and Clif Prowse, who co-wrote, co-directed, and co-starred in the film, are big fans of the John Landis classic "An American Werewolf In London." I've seen a lot of people try to capture the particular alchemy that makes the Landis film such an intoxicating kick over the years, and I've seen most of those attempts fall completely flat. To their credit, "Afflicted" doesn't play like a film that has been specifically engineered to follow that model, but more like a movie made by people who have completely absorbed that film and who understand what they love about it. Like "Werewolf," the film "Afflicted" follows two young men who are traveling in Europe together, only to encounter trouble that leaves one of them dead and the other one in a severely altered state. Both films use humor and horror expertly, never undermining one in favor of the other. And both films build something fresh from one of the most basic of the horror tropes.
Oh… and did I mention it's a found footage movie?
TORONTO - This year's festival has certainly not been short on star power, but I've done fewer interviews this time around than any year I've been up here. That's good in a way because it means I've seen more films, but there were a few conversations I absolutely couldn't miss out on.
We'll be bringing you chats with Ron Howard, Daniel Bruhl, and Olivia Wilde in support of the new film "Rush" very soon, but for tonight, I wanted to share just a bit of the conversation I had with Chris Hemsworth, who plays Formula 1 superstar James Hunt in the film.
When we first saw Hemsworth in "Star Trek" in 2009, he stole that film in just a few short minutes at the beginning, and it didn't remotely surprise me that Hollywood immediately started trying to figure out what else they could do with him."Cabin In The Woods" is a movie I like a lot, but it's not really a showcase for who Hemsworth is as a performer. Sure, he gets the special "Samuel L. Jackson in 'Deep Blue Sea' Award" for going out in style, but it's not his movie.
TORONTO - One of the reasons people often seem frustrated by horror films is because of how often certain tropes are trotted out and dressed up for new audiences, and at some point, it starts to feel like you've seen every variation, every interpretation, and it just becomes familiar and numbing. The truth, of course, is that good storytelling is good storytelling, and familiarity does not have to be a bad thing by definition. Mike Flanagan's "Oculus" is a strong example of how you can take something that sounds familiar and, by focusing on performance and the small details, create something that elevates formula.
Director Mike Flanagan, working from a script he co-wrote with Jeff Howard, tells a pretty conventional haunted house story in an unconventional way, and it's so smartly built, so smoothly handled, that you may not realize that about 90% of the film takes place inside this one house. I've seen plenty of low-budget films that were restricted to that sort of space because of money, and they don't know how to keep it interesting, but Flanagan does an exceptional job of not just effectively managing the space, but also juggling chronology. The film begins with a dream involving a man, a gun, and two kids, and as it reaches the culmination, we cut to a psychiatrist's office, where Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites, who has the best haircut I've ever seen on a mental patient in a movie) is describing the dream to his therapist. Tim's just turned 21, and his doctor believes that he has been cured and is ready to be released to the world again.
TORONTO - Tracy Letts has had three of his plays adapted to film now, and I think based on the evidence of the latest, "August: Osage County," it is safe to say that William Friedkin has a far better handle on how to handle his scripts than John Wells does. Both "Bug" and "Killer Joe" are sweaty, upsetting movies that put us face to face with unsettling characters in dire circumstance, and both films have a jangling nervous energy to them that seems perfectly in sync with what Letts does on the page. Considering the stage version of "August: Osage County" won Letts a Pulitzer, it would not be outrageous to suggest that this arrives on movie screens with more expectations than the other two films, and that perhaps it is precisely because of those expectations that the end result feels like a disappointment.
In the film's opening moments, a beautifully cast Sam Shepard plays Bev Weston, the patriarch of a largely-absent family, and he talks about the truce he has made with his wife Violet (Meryl Streep). She takes pills, and he drinks, and the two of them leave each other alone about their vices. It seems like an uneasy peace, though, and as he talks more about his wife and her habits, we see that he's interviewing a Native American girl named Johnna (Misty Upham) about becoming their housekeeper.
TORONTO - On the heels of "Avatar," Hollywood went slightly crazy for 3D, and between weak post-production conversions and unnecessary use of the process, they have already started to kill any interest the audience has in it, which is a shame. Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity" makes a strong case for the dramatic potential of the format, and now Nimrod Antal's "Metallica Through The Never" reinforces just how visceral an experience it can be when used correctly.
This morning's screening of the film at the Toronto Film Festival was held in the IMAX theater at the Scotiabank complex, and I can honestly say it was one of the most technically impressive screenings I've seen in IMAX anywhere. The soundtrack alone is such an intense experience, such an assault, that I started laughing trying to imagine the horrified crowd sitting in a tender, quiet Iranian drama next door. I've said before that the sound systems in IMAX theaters are as important as the size of the screen, and it sounded like this film gave that system a workout it's never had before.
TORONTO - Since the first time I came to Toronto for the annual film festival, I have viewed Midnight Madness as my favorite part of the entire event. I've managed to attend nearly every possible Midnight Madness screening each year, and some of my favorite memories of my time here come from not only the movies shown, but the people in the audience and the lunacy of the event surrounding the movies. Programmer Colin Geddes throws a hell of a party, and until I'm in the Ryerson, surrounded by the bloodthirsty fans of the madness he unveils every year, I don't really feel like I'm in Toronto.
As a result, the first two nights of this year's festival left me a bit off-balance because scheduling issues left me stranded, unable to get to either "All Cheerleaders Die" or "The Station." I hope to catch up with both of them, but it won't be the same as it would be with that audience. On Saturday night, however, I finally worked things out and I made it to my favorite aisle seat in the Ryerson in plenty of time for Eli Roth's world premiere of his new horror film, "The Green Inferno."
TORONTO - One of the things I love about music is the way it can act like a sort of time machine, transporting you back to the moment you first heard it or a particular performance you saw, and more than that, it can remind you of the person you were at that moment. I hear certain songs, and the world around me melts away and I find myself feeling and remembering and I can't think of anything else that does it quite the same way.
In 2001, I made a last minute trip to Sundance with Kevin Biegel, another of the writers for Ain't It Cool. We didn't plan it. We had no idea what we were doing. It was the first time at a major film festival for either of us. And for the most part, we just sat in the press screening rooms watching whatever played, not sure what to expect. At the end of one of those days, already packed with great movies like "Chain Camera" and "Dogtown & Z-Boys," we saw the first screening of "Hedwig And The Angry Inch," and when it got to the song "Origin Of Love" in the middle of the film, I was transported. It seemed to me to be the perfect explanation of what it is we look for in this world in other people, inclusive of everyone, optimistic but heartbroken, and by the time the song was over, it was one of my favorite songs of all time.
TORONTO - At some point in the future, when people are writing a history of how cinema processed and showcased the way HIV and AIDS affected life in the late 20th century and beyond, "Dallas Buyers Club" will definitely be part of that conversation, and the film seems to occupy a space at both ends of the timeline right now. It deals with the early days, when people still didn't understand much about it, but it looks at that time with the perspective of right now, allowing them the distance to really get the story right.
It is my sincere wish that we never see Matthew McConaughey star in another shitty romantic comedy again. He is way too interesting for that, and there's a reason he became a punchline for a few years. It's not because he's a bad actor; far from it. It's because it looked like he decided just to coast and not push himself. You cannot say that about "Dallas Buyers Club," though. This is a ferocious performance, funny and angry and emotional, and watching it, I felt like it fulfilled all of the promise he has shown over the years and then some. There is nothing held back here, and that laconic cowboy charm of his is put to perfect use. Ron Woodruff was an electrician and a sort of low-level hustler/party boy who loved his drugs almost as much as he loved his sex. In the early sequences in the film, he is blatantly homophobic, a "good ol' Texas boy," through and through, and it's so casual, so much a part of the everyday language he and his buddies use, that when he learns he has HIV, he practically goes crazy and attacks the doctor. He is furious that anyone would accuse him of having something that is supposed to only kill gay people.