For the second year in a row, I have pushed it to the limit with the Toronto International Film Festival. 10 days, 10 movies. This time, because of smarter scheduling, it wasn’t so exhausting, although by the end of the first 3 days, I had seen 6 movies (3 in one day). To do this, you gotta love, I mean, REALLY love movies. And I guess over the years, I’ve given into that. I haven’t always loved movies, and I’m not one of those cinephiles that reference the classics from 50 years ago. I’m actually allergic to very old movies. Just can’t do it. There are a few exceptions. But mostly, I’ll pass.
Anyway, TIFF 2016 had a lot to offer this year. There were high-points (more interactive Q&A’s, high quality cinema, etc.) and low-points (mainly TIFF’s new demand-based pricing structure, over-zealousness with the “Premium” stamp, and it’s problematic alignment with “Ticketmaster” for the first time this year). The negative effects of the low-points on festival-goers is a whole other blog post in itself, so we’ll leave that right there.
Instead, for the first time, I will give you a run-down/review of the films I saw which will inform your movie theatre going-experience for the upcoming year.
The Autopsy of Jane Doe
This one, starring veteran actor Brian Cox (Troy, The Bourne Supremacy, Morgan) and a much less obnoxious version of Emile Hirsch (Into The Wild, The Girl Next Door, Lone Survivor) as a father-son autopsy team, surprised the hell out of me. Just like instant classics like Netflix’s “Stranger Things”, the less you know about this one going in, the better.
Here’s the premise: The film opens on cops casing the gruesome scene of a multiple homicide in a suburban home. In the basement, they find the partially buried body of a young woman. As the murder scene is very alarming, they rush the seemingly untouched body of the young woman to the local, family-owned morgue that is run out of the basement of the house of Brian Cox’s character. The woman’s body seems pristine and the cause of death is not apparent, until they open her up. But with every cut, they are opening a much more sinister fate for the unsuspecting family.
Although, the TIFF pickings were great this year, this film was easily my favourite festival film of the year, which was unexpected because I am not a Hirsch fan. I loved it because it is a complete, self-contained movie, that is unique and original, and succeeds in pulling the viewer all the way in. This movie should be picked up by a distributor, and hopefully released just in time to mingle with the slew of scary movies that will hit theatres next month. If you ask me, my money is on this one for quality goosebumps.
The Belko Experiment
This one was a special nightmare from the mind of James Gunn, director and writer of my favourite movie of 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy. This was a film that took him 9 years to get made. He wrote it years ago, but stepped away from it. After watching it, I can see why. It. Is. Dark. This is not a superhero movie. Superhero movies usually tend to have an underlying message of how humans or superhumans can dig deep and access their best selves to survive the deadliest odds. This movie is the antithesis of that idea.
It starts on an unassuming day in Colombia at the headquarters of a company. The company is made up of Columbian nationals and an equal number of American workers who have been brought there over the course of the year to work at this typical company that has a seemingly typical arbitrary job function. On this particular day, at the checkpoint at the entrance of the property that is in the middle of nowhere, all the Colombian nationals are being turned away, while the Americans go to work as if it were just another day, except it takes them awhile to realize that ALL of their Colombian counterparts were not present. Almost immediately after that realization, a voice thunders over a PA system that nobody, not even the CEO, expertly played by Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn, realize the building even had. The voice informs all employees that they have 2 hours to turn 80 employees to 40 or 60 will be instantly killed by a chip implanted in the backs of their heads (originally willingly allowed by the employees in the name of protecting them against frequent kidnappings in the hostile country). They are subsequently sealed into the building with no access to the outside world, and whoever is running the show gruesomely demonstrates they are serious by executing a few random employees remotely. Amazing premise.
Although I love James Gunn’s work and there were a few parts of the movie that were fun, I left this one feeling very disturbed. You get to know all the personalities in the film, you may even like a couple, but the film is so dark, it’s almost like watching a slow human train-wreck. Not in the sense that the movie is bad, it’s not. I think I just got tired of watching innocent people being killed by innocent people. The only bad people in this film are the ones who are turned that way so that they can get home to their families. Although the movie has a great cast and great performances by Guardians’ Michael Rooker, The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr, and John C. McGinley (Scrubs, Platoon, Set It Off) because of the darkness, I would be surprised if this film gets more than a few screens.
Colossal is a tricky movie. It stars Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables, Rachel Getting Married, The Intern) and Jason Sudeikis (We’re The Millers, Saturday Night Live, The Last Man On Earth). With top billing like that, you would perhaps expect a romantic comedy. Without giving any spoilers, I will tell you the first half is that, but the 2nd half takes a left turn into sci-fi. Underneath it all, there are humanistic themes around Alcoholism and going home again, but then… it gets pretty dark. I don’t want to give too much away but here’s the pitch: A woman named Gloria (Anne Hathaway), going through a breakdown of a nervous variety as a result of a drinking problem, returns to her hometown to put herself back together. Around the same time, a kaiju appears in Seoul, South Korea at the opposite site of the world, and wreaks havoc on the citizens of the city, and somehow, this monster is directly connected to Gloria.
This movie has it’s fun moments, but it is flawed in areas. Despite the incredible experience that Gloria goes through, you want to see some more character development. Instead her amazing circumstance, rather than being a tool for change, simply becomes a distraction to her. One thing I will say that I was impressed by in this film was Jason Sudeikis’ clear growth as an actor. He has range in this film, by the end, you may not even recognize him. This is one of those bridge films where a great comedic actor makes the (usually) inevitable strong move to dramatic actor. In my opinion, Sudeikis, in a supporting role, out-shines Hathaway when it’s all said and done. It is an enjoyable flick, but if you are looking for a romantic comedy, don’t look here. But you have my permission to tell your girl it’s a rom-com to get her in the theatre. It is a movie for guys and girls, and it will do on a Saturday. I’m almost positive this film will get medium to wide release, despite it’s flaws and dark turn.
The Girl With All The Gifts
The Girl With All The Gifts is based on a popular Zombie novel by M.R. Carey. The zombie genre has been done to death at this point. This one does succeed in throwing some original twists into the mix. In this one, the human race is holding on by a thread as there are only a few left. The ones we are aware of are holed up in a military compound. In this compound, we know only a few things. There are about 20 children being held in prison-like conditions. They are let out once a day to attend a version of “school”, but before they are “transported” to school, they are strapped into specialized wheelchairs built specifically for restraint, and for good reason. All the children are infected by the zombie virus, however, they appear normal unless presented with appropriate stimuli — the smell of human flesh and blood. All the members of the military facility, for this reason, are forced to wear a special cream that blocks their scent, and keeps the students from turning. If any of them are bitten, even once, they become fully infected within minutes…. or food.
One of the students, Melanie, stands out from the rest. She has dreams, and has a strong evident shared affection for her teacher, Miss Justineau, played by Gemma Arterton. She also has hope, just like any other 11 year old. Dr. Caldwell, played by Glenn Close, after lobotomizing several of the students in an attempt to find a cure, believes that Melanie, might have the anti-bodies to create one, but she must be sacrificed in order to do so. Just as she is about to cut into her, Miss Justineau, storms in and demands that she live. And immediately after that the compound is overrun by zombies, and the key players have to try to escape.
This movie actually plays out like a novel, which can be rare for book adaptations. The direction, tone and feel of it almost presents as prose up until the very last frame. Although it was a decent film, after the initial story points, it becomes less unpredictable and surprising and actually becomes a little too “Lord Of The Flies” like. It is very proud of it’s ending, but to me, the ending left me with a lot more questions then answers and was unsatisfying. The performances by Arterton and Paddy Considine were impressive as always, yet surprisingly, Close and Sennia Nanua, who plays Melanie, had performances that were a little too over-the-top and at times, while cute, got annoying, respectively. Some people may disagree with that assessment.
As for the TIFF experience, it was a Midnight Madness screening, most of the notable figures are usually present. This is the first time that I went to a MM screening where the lead actor, Gemma Arterton, was there for the intro to the movie, along with the writer and director, but actually left before the Q & A leaving the others to field questions without them. Sometimes people take that as a show of enthusiasm that the actor may have for the finished product. If that is what’s behind her absence, all I will say is I get it.
If you liked The Raid: Redemption or The Raid 2, you will love Headshot. It features the star of both of those movies, Mr. Badman himself, Iko Uwais. One of the on-screen fight choreographer geniuses who are capable of reaching Bruce Lee status. This guy has the skill and power to become a staple to North American audiences (he recently appeared in Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
The premise: A VERY bad man escapes a prison and looks to get his crew back together. One of them has been found on a river bank, devoid of any memories. This is our hero. After months of rehab by a beautiful young nurse who has taken a liking to him, he is back on his feet. But the bad man catches up to him and kidnaps her. He then goes on a quest to save her from his former team, while remembering his skill and bits and pieces of who he used to be along the way.
This is a kung-fu flick at it’s heart. But Iko’s acting skills have greatly improved over the year, and he has a face for even bigger things. The action sequences in this film that were choreographed by Iko’s team are unlike everything you’ve seen before. One of the things that stood out to me are all the details that are highlighted in the sequences, for example the actual consequences of some of the choices that are made in fights that aren’t as clean as they’ve looked in previous films (because fighting, even of the kung-fu variety is not always clean). You see the main character make many mistakes and leave himself open several times during the sequences and have to recover and overcome, part by instinct, part by quick learning. A naturalness that is, at times, overlooked in movies of this genre (save for Jackie Chan’s comic delivery of the same concepts). This movie was highly enjoyable. If you love violent Kung-Fu movies with a good plot and some above average acting, Headshot is for you. As a result of it’s showing at TIFF, it has garnered a global release, most likely VOD. Look out for it.
As for the TIFF experience, we actually got a treat after the Midnight Madness screenings. Sometimes it pays to stay up. Check this out:
This is why you stay after the Midnight Madness screenings end. This demo occurred long after the credits rolled (about 2:00 a.m. on a Friday night). Good times.
We decided to split this one up, so come to spend some time with me in my world at CurtisMorgan.ca for Part 2 of my TIFF 16 review, that features Justin Timberlake, Nick Cannon, Busta Rhymes, and my “conversation” with Janelle Monae.
Let me set the scene for you. You enter the night club, the ladies are there, the drinks are there, your friends are there,… but there’s something missing. It takes a second, but then you realize it: There’s no music playing. All you can hear is crowd chatter, and glasses clanking, yet you look around and see the dance floor full… bodies are moving, gyrating even, could it be that they are dancing? Then you look up and notice that each of the vibrating bodies have heads that have headphones on them. This is not a trippy dream that you had. You are at a silent party.
Wikipedia defines a silent party as an event where people dance to music listened to on wireless headphones. Rather than using a speaker system, music is broadcast via a radio transmitter with the signal being picked up by wireless headphone receivers worn by the participants. Those without the headphones hear no music, giving the effect of a room full of people dancing to nothing.
This phenomenon has spread in popularity from Europe, to the United States, and finally here to Toronto.
In July, Silent Events Toronto (@SilentEventsToronto) held the first Silent Party dubbed “Hush” in Toronto on Canada Day at Pearl Lounge. Three different channels of the best in a wide range of party music were available to patrons as they actively chose between the blue, green and red channels on their headphones. Settling on whatever vibe they were feeling at the time.
Taking off the headphones provides quite an experience in itself. You can hear different groups of friends singing songs of different genres at the same time. That sensation coupled with the different coloured illuminating headphones makes it a one of a kind event. It was a real music-lovers adventure as everything from Lionel Richie to Future, to Konshens was rocked out to, depending on what channel was being listened to. As the lights went on, patrons didn’t want to leave, and the lounge stayed open til 4am as people continued on.
The silence is golden and the party goes on. This Saturday, August 13th, at Pearl, another silent party will be held. Pearl is making it a monthly event. Contact email@example.com to find out how to host your own Silent Party event.
What were you doing this time last year? We can’t help but look back on what an amazing summer it was in the T-Dot of 2015. So many things happening, Pan-Am Games, playoff berths, Suicide Squad had the JokerMobile racing up and down our streets late at night. But for us, the highlight of the summer was something that no one anticipated. Mr. Sean Jones held a Monday night residency at Casa Loma and together with Liberty Group, they created something that Toronto has never seen.
The idea was simple, really. Take a classic setting that is the Castle in the center of the Metropolis that usually holds court to classical performances that involve woodwinds, brass and chorale singing, that fits with their already prescribed demo and for one night a week, take that out, and replace it with something fresh, inject some soul into the castle and the beautiful garden behind it. Put up a stage and a covered tent, put up spectacular lights and chandeliers, get the mood right. Now all you need is the RIGHT performer, with the RIGHT band. They could’ve picked from a number of Canadian staples that came with a built-in audience that many of us have seen before. A safe choice…but…
Enter Sean Jones, who dropped his new album Waiting for Midnight, earlier that year. Waiting for Midnight is a classic soul record that invokes the greats of a time long past. Sean skillfully called on the angels and demons of true urban soul music (emphasis on the “soul”) and created a mood, a palpable feeling on this record, that elevated him above his earlier incarnation as one of the members of the Juno Award Winning group, In Essence. Sean was ready to step out on his own. Liberty bought into the vision. And with the help of the musical direction of the genius that is Michael Shand, Soul in the City at Casa Loma featuring Sean Jones was born… but would they come?
The album was making moderate noise, through an online push, as well as showing up in stores eventually. Radio play was limited to jazz stations although some AC stations did pick up the lead single “One In A Million“. Things were going ok when the first Monday of Soul came around. When we arrived, we expected a decent show. That’s not what we got. We were greeted by the amazing Casa Loma staff, dressed to the nines, and a beautiful sculpted garden area, classy sponsors, gelato servers, an exquisite menu and wine list, and because it was the first week, seats very close to the stage (a luxury that we would have to fight for in the weeks to come), and this was all before the show even started. But, then… it did. Mike and the band took the stage and then they quickly set things off with an uptempo groove that highlighted their live AMAZING brass section, they ran it for 16 bars, then Mike gets on his mic and says, “Ladies and Gentlemen,….. Sean JONES!” (like you were about to see James Brown, himself). Right on cue, Sean bursts from the back of the room and takes his place and commands the audience to listen by exploding into his first song. We knew then that we were in for it.
Video courtesy of SeedNine (watch til the end to see a cameo by your new favorite blogger).
Long story short, on that first night, which only had about 150-200 people, we were blown away. All of us. And I imagine that none of us could stop talking about it to our friends. Because the next week, there was over 300 people there, the week after that, 400, and so on and so on. The 4-week limited engagement was eventually extended to 10 weeks, and on the final night, the attendance was over 1000. The power of word of mouth. Casa Loma had to put tables and chairs with TVs showing the stage on the outside of the tent until the entire garden was full to capacity. Over the 8 times or so that we went, we got to sit in the covered part maybe three times because of how many people attended.
And the VIPs… A who’s who in Toronto came to see Sean Jones do his thing. CP24’s Steve Anthony, Mayor of Toronto John Tory, some Toronto Maple Leafs showed up, Kardinal Offishall, and countless entertainment industry execs. Sean, if you know him, is a great guy with a great heart so it was no big thing for him to share his success. Every Monday, he invited a guest or two to come and do their own thing or do a duet with him. The likes of Jully Black, Divine Brown, Canadian legend, Alan Frew of Glass Tiger, Johnny Reid, Liz Loughrey, Adrian X, Jackie Richardson (amazing), Nefe, Canada’s Neo-Soul Princess, Ivana Santilli (spectacular), and on one of the last nights, R&B legend, Eric Benet graced Sean’s stage. Monday nights in the summer were never going to be the same.
Luckily, for you, and thanks to Liberty Group and new sponsor, Nordstrom, Soul In The City has begun it’s second year at Casa Loma, and Sean continues his reign over the kingdom. Almost every Monday night through the 2nd week of September, you can come and witness greatness under the stars in the shadow of the castle walls. Show starts at 7:30pm, but because I like you, I’ll give you this hint: Get there as soon as you can after 5 to secure a seat inside the covered tent, (not that it is as necessary as last year, as this year, they have installed a jumbotron to wonderfully accommodate those seated in the courtyard — brilliant addition).
Just to give you a taste of the spectacularness that is Sean Jones’ Soul In The City, here’s his amazing rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World“:
Here are some pics from last week’s show:
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