TIFF 2015 Review: Southbound

Over the course of a single day, along a deserted state highway somewhere in the desert, five subtly interconnected tales of terror (introduced by a gravelly voiced, ominous radio DJ, played by Larry Fessenden) unfurl. Two dudes covered in blood find themselves trapped in a time loop and pursued by fallen angels. A three-piece all-female rock band suffer a tire blowout and hitch a ride with a seemingly innocuous married couple that harbour demonic intentions. A distracted driver on his cellphone brings the body of someone he hit to a creepy, abandoned hospital. An old man with a shotgun infiltrates a secret society, with hopes of rescuing his long-lost sister. And a family wanting to spend one final weekend with their teenage daughter before she heads off to university find themselves the victim of a terrifying home invasion.

While anthology horror is back in vogue, the uniquely solid Southbound blows all other examples out of the water quite handily. Although the five stories boast different writers and directors (Patrick Hovarth, Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner and filmmaking collective Radio Silence), they blend together so seamlessly that it feels like everyone was on the same page, in terms of tone, construction and sense of menace. While some tales are deeper and more developed than others, there aren’t any weak links (although, admittedly, the hospital sequence is the biggest, squirmiest highlight).

What makes Southbound almost revolutionary is that none of the segments are played as jokes (despite all of them boasting a great deal of humour), none are found footage, all of them are incredibly cinematic and, most importantly, they’re scary and gory without being misogynistic, sleazy or torturous. It’s the purest old-school horror show I’ve seen in ages. John Carpenter, George Romero and the Cryptkeeper would approve.

TFS Festival Quickie: Luiza Cocora, director of Remaining Lives

Partially drawing from autobiographical elements, Remaining Lives is a glimpse of the immigrant experience through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl. Filmmaker Luiza Cocora takes us on an intimate and affecting journey. Cocora gave further insight into the making of her debut film in a recent conversation with Toronto Film Scene. Remaining Lives screens as part of Short Cuts Programme 5 at TIFF 2015.

Describe your film in ten words or less.

Feeling trapped between the past, present and a virtual world.

What inspired you to make this film?

In terms of the narrative, I was inspired by bits of real stories that happened to people I know. On the conceptual level, I was inspired by my experience, by the acute feeling of distance — of rupture from my old self — that I felt when I moved to Montreal from my home country of Romania.

What was the best thing about production? Most frustrating?

As with my first film, I really enjoyed working with an experienced team and learning as much, and as fast, as I could throughout the whole process.

The hardest thing was the editing part. I had to let go of some scenes that were dear to me, but were less relevant to the story.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?

I’ve always enjoyed listening to people talk about their lives. There are always those very precious moments when the people you’re listening to open up and start talking about something very personal — a particular event that makes them feel very vulnerable. It’s always an incident that’s completely banal, unspectacular, but at the same time, deeply human and touching.

I wanted to create a story about such an event — about an everyday life moment of extreme fragility. I wanted to make a film stripped of any artifice, in a context where nowadays we see so much sensationalism on the screen that we tend to become immune to it.

The immigrant story has been told before. What do you think makes Remaining Lives stand out?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the film is about the feeling of distance. Of course there is the physical distance between the characters’ country of origin and their new home, and that is what a typical immigrant story is about. But beyond that, my film explores the concept of distance in a context where new technology has a strong impact on human relationships. Through social media, Internet and videogames, people are getting used to a new way of being alone together. In my film, there is also the idea of distance between two people that are physically together but, at the same time, separated — each one alone in his/her individual bubble. There is also the idea of the distance from one’s self, as it is sometimes easier for a person to escape into a virtual reality than confront his/her problems.

The fact that the whole story is seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old girl, who has no interest in technology whatsoever, adds to the originality of the film.

What will you be working on next?

I just received a SODEC scriptwriting grant for my first feature film. It is a story about a woman from Montreal who accepts, in exchange for money, a marriage of convenience with a stranger, so that he can get Canadian residency. In order to convince the authorities that their relationship is sincere, the two of them create a fake love story, under the strict guidance of the real girlfriend of the guy. But all three of them end up getting trapped in the lie, which slowly becomes bigger than life. For my feature film, I’ll be working with Art et Essai, the same company that produced Remaining Lives.

Your film is screening as part of TIFF. What are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?

I am really excited about the master classes of Jia Zhangke and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and seeing Zhangke’s latest movie, Mountains May Depart.

Also, meeting the other directors from the Short Cuts programme and making friends from all over the world is pretty fabulous, too.

With TIFF celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, what has been your best experience with TIFF in the past, personal or professional?

I remember watching the news about TIFF on TV when I was back in Romania. At that time, I would have never imagined that one day I would be at the festival, in the Canadian Short Cuts programme, with my first short film, which I directed in Montreal. This makes me realize how unpredictable life is, and that’s a good thing.

TFS Festival Quickie: Mark Slutsky, director of Never Happened

Mark Slutsky’s latest, Never Happened, is a sci-fi comedy about two coworkers who resort to an unusual method to rectify their business trip transgression. Slutsky uses technology to initiate a moral debate. In a recent conversation, Slutsky elaborates on the making of Never Happened and tells Toronto Film Scene about other projects he’s working on. Never Happened screens at TIFF 2015 as part of Short Cuts Programme 7.

Describe your film in ten words or less.

Two colleagues have an affair and forget about it.

What inspired you to make this film?

I was travelling in China a couple of years ago and I woke up from a dream super-early one morning, totally jet-lagged, with the script almost fully formed in my head. Then I basically forgot about it until producer/DP Brendan Steacy called me in January and said he had the resources — equipment and favours to call in — to make a short with no money, and did I have a script laying around I wanted to shoot?

What was the best thing about production? Most frustrating?

The best: working with my actors: Mia Kirshner, Anna Hopkins and Aaron Abrams. They were so effortlessly great; they actually made my job really easy. Most frustrating? Not really having access to a lot of locations because of the financial limitations. In the end, I think it strengthened the film by having to find creative workarounds.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?

I would actually love it if people went in cold. There are a few surprises in there. (Maybe that’s what I want them to know.)

What will you be working on next?

Two features: one, an adaptation of my short film, The Decelerators, and a romantic drama based on my friend Sarah Fobes’ life, You Can Live Forever, set among a Jehovah’s Witness community in an Alberta mountain town. As well as a crazy documentary about “uncreativity” called Noriginals.

Your film is screening as part of TIFF. What are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?

I’m most excited about showing my film to the always wonderful TIFF audiences, and also seeing a bunch of great movies.

With TIFF celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, what has been your best experience with TIFF in the past, personal or professional?

Growing up as a film geek in Toronto, going to TIFF as a teenager was always a really important experience for me. I vividly remember getting to meet my then-hero, Hal Hartley, after the premier of one of his films. Being able to come back decades later with my movies has meant a great deal.

TFS Festival Quickie: Olivia Boudreau, director of The Swimming Lesson

Childhood is full of complicated experiences and instances when adults cannot shield you from reality. Olivia Boudreau illustrates this experience in her latest film, The Swimming Lesson. Boudreau spoke with Toronto Film Scene about what it was like working with a young lead and the wonderful collaborations that took place on set. The Swimming Lesson screens as part of Short Cuts Programme 9 at TIFF 2015.

Describe your film in ten words or less.

A little girl, a pool and a dream.

What inspired you to make this film?

I was inspired by how it can be difficult to integrate into a new social sphere even as an adult and how it all comes down to those first experiences outside the family circle.

What was the best thing about production? Most frustrating?

I am first and foremost a visual artist used to doing everything by myself with very few resources. The generosity and engagement of every collaborator was an amazing boost of energy. The most frustrating? Time was such a rare commodity.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?

That kids experience very complex situations and emotions; they deal with these in their own ways, sometimes under the radar of adults. They have an emotional life and mind of their own.

How was your experience directing a young lead?

It was very fulfilling. My actress, Jasmine Lemée, is a very intelligent and committed person. Watching her being so professional and hardworking was an inspiration for everybody on set.

What will you be working on next?

Experimental fiction based on a text by Evelyne de la Cheneliere, a very talented Quebec playwright.

Your film is screening as part of TIFF. What are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?

My priority was to see Chevalier and The Lobster. I am a big fan of Athina Rachel Tsangari and Yorgos Lanthimos. Now that I have seen those, I want to see as many shorts as possible.

With TIFF celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, what has been your best experience with TIFF in the past, personal or professional?

The first time I came to the festival, I was totally overwhelmed by its energy. It’s invigorating to see so many people running to see movies and discussing what they saw.

TIFF 2015 Review: Wolkaan

From the streets of Tehran to the American Midwest, we journey through memory and loss.

Wolkaan is a complex meditation on cinematic juxtaposition, as director Bahar Noorizadeh takes us on a journey down two roads. Her vivid imagery transports the audience, drawing out emotion through long, slow-moving shots.

Initially the two varied settings provide contrast, but slowly the experience melds hypnotically into a single journey. The theme of migration becomes apparent, though few words are exchanged.

Noorizadeh’s experimental storytelling methods aim to be immersive and fluid; she uses sound design to enhance the experience. The settings may be vaguely recognizable, but Noorizadeh frames her shots and works in foreign elements in such a way as to make them seem alien, as if viewed through an immigrant’s point of view.

TIFF 2015 Review: The Swimming Lesson

Childhood fears appear very differently through the eyes of a child than to those on the sideline observing. The Swimming Lesson is an exploration of that fear.

Filmmaker Olivia Boudreau brings us into the world of a seven-year-old, showing us the insurmountable fear that can come from seemingly ordinary events. Boudreau establishes her young character’s point of view right off the top, with camera angles situated at her eye level. We see mom and other adults looming large, and children at her height.

Boudreau is also careful in her storytelling, depicting a complex sense of insecurity, but never at a level of sophistication that pulls us away from the protagonist. The events in front of our eyes are nothing unusual, but slight distortions in sound and camera angles are enough to make us feel off-balance and mildly distraught. Boudreau does an excellent job of getting the audience inside a child’s head while appealing to our senses.

The Swimming Lesson is told on a sensory, rather than narrative, level, despite having a very clearly defined story.

TFS Festival Quickie: Kevin Papatie, director of Kokom

Kokom is a celebration of, and journey into, the Anicinape people’s history via the use of mixed visual mediums, sound design and narration. Director Kevin Papatie pays loving tribute to his grandmother in the film, one of the Anicinape people whose admirable resilience contributed to the preservation of their culture. Kokom screens as part of Short Cuts Programme 5 at TIFF 2015.

Papatie spoke to Toronto Film Scene (bilingually!) about the making of Kokom.

Describe your film in ten words or less.

Mon film parle de resistance, de resilience, de courage. Des aines de ma commnauté ont vu le dechirement provoque par la loi sur les indiens. Plusieurs  familles separées par un mefaits legislatifs qui a coupe la vie anicinape dans plusieurs couches de la societe anicinape.

What inspired you to make this film?

My mom and the elders of the community inspired me; we still use the Anicinape language to communicate with them. There are few of them and they are the keepers of the knowledge of Anicinape life.

What was the best thing about production? Most frustrating?

I used something that frustrated me and turned it into a positive. Learning the technical side was fun, but also frustrating at the same time.

What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?

I want people to know that I’m using experimental stuff to tell stories in my film. I like mixing technologies with cultural issues, building bridges in every possible way.

Do you think it’s more important to raise awareness about unique aboriginal cultures or to preserve these cultures among their descendants?

Both are important.

Reveiller la concience et garde la culture à travers mes créations sont deux choses que je ne disociraient pas. De pouvoir les partager et faire une difference sont des objectifs que je vise.

What will you be working on next?

I just finished working with two Kuna people from Panama, in a cultural exchange with them. We just did two shorts films and I have to finish another at the end of the month. I’m also writing a script for a long fiction story and I’ve started research for a documentary.

Your film is screening as part of TIFF. What are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?

I’m happy to be part of the 40th anniversary of TIFF; it is an honour to be a representative of my people in the industry. I hope people will learn from my films and make a difference.

TIFF 2015 Review: Kokom

Kokom is Kevin Papaties’s presentation of the history and resilience of his family’s aboriginal heritage. Using mixed media, we are taken on a journey of memory and preservation. Papatie pays loving homage to his grandmother, whose very way of life and distinctive elements of Anicinape heritage were threatened and nearly wiped out.

Papatie employs a creative collage of illustrations, photographs and other representations. Some elements of the history of the Anicinape people are presented via sound design and narration.

Kokom belongs perfectly in Short Cuts programme 5, which is meant to explore distinctiveness, acceptance and finding the strength to defy societal structures.

Kokom‘s visual mediums and five-minute running time give it a unique feel; it’s something that could work as part of an installation or as a standalone film. Some portions are more interpretive, but you never lose sight of its celebration of a distinctive culture.

TIFF 2015 Review: Mr. Right

After discovering that her boyfriend has been cheating on her, loveable, scatterbrained Martha (Anna Kendrick) starts looking for omens in her day-to-day existence, eventually realizing she lacks the capacity to allow adventure into her life.

This all changes when a mysteriously charming man (Sam Rockwell) randomly crosses paths with her at a convenience store. He impetuously invites her on a date and the two of them hit things off famously. She chooses to ignore that he’s slyly coy about what he does for a living, despite never lying to her. He’s actually a hit man from a secret government program, who’s developed not only a moral code, but a capacity for deep emotions that make him more of a liability than asset. On his trail are a former ally (Tim Roth) and a mob family (Anson Mount, James Ransone, and Michael Eklund), which want to enlist his services for a convoluted, somewhat suspect hit.

Mr. Right starts off as a play on a gender-swapped Something Wild and then riffs on Grosse Pointe Blank and True Lies, but there’s a great deal of wit and originality. Director Paco Cabezas (who most recently directed Nicolas Cage vehicle Rage) makes the most of a low budget by just letting his actors and the quality of his action and set pieces speak for themselves.

The script from Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) creates a realistically likeable role reversal, with Rockwell enlisted to play a highly sympathetic, almost lovably childlike “manic pixie dream dude.” The dialogue is sharp and the chemistry between Kendrick and Rockwell (who dances a great deal here — the hallmark of a great Rockwell performance) is positively off the charts.

It’s a wonderful bit of entertainment that showcases three major talents at the top of their games, and a supporting cast (including RZA, as a laid back hitman) matching them every step of the way.

 

TIFF 2015 Review: Stonewall

Danny (Jeremy Irvine) flees his small Indiana home after he’s publicly outed as a gay man and heads to New York City and eventually Greenwich Village where he joins the gay subculture of Christopher Street in 1969. However, as tensions on the street rise and Danny adjusts to life as an openly gay man in the big city, violence breaks out, culminating in the historic Stonewall riots that kicked off the Gay Liberation Movement and is still commemorated today with Gay Pride Marches.

Roland Emmerich is a curious choice to make a stirring historical epic about the Stonewall riots. While a story about Stonewall deserves intimacy and a sharp sense of cultural context, Emmerich trades in bombast and corn syrup. You wouldn’t think he’d be the right man for the job — and you’d be right. Stonewall proves it.

From Jeremy Irvine’s whitebread protagonist whose motivations wildly vacillate scene to scene to the underwritten (and fictional) hustlers that dominate the film’s focus to the weak portrayal of the violently homophobic police, Stonewall is a dreadful miscalculation. Why the filmmakers chose to insert fictional protagonists into a narrative filled with fascinating, important historical figures is baffling. The end result is a whitewashed, soap opera version of a milestone in American civil rights.

If you’re looking to understand the importance of the Stonewall riots in American history look elsewhere because Emmerich’s Stonewall will confound instead of illuminate its significance.

TIFF 2015 Review: Overpass

Mathieu (Téo Vachon Sincennes) spends an evening spray-painting graffiti on the side of an overpass, trying to finish before the police catch him. Narrowly escaping, he returns home to sleep on the couch. His mother wakes him, bothering him about his laziness and reminding him that they have to meet his brother at the airport later that afternoon. When his family departs, the true reasons behind his graffiti are revealed.

Overpass is a short film from director Patrice Laliberté, and it’s the type of film that forces you to wait until the end for the pay-off. The purpose and point of the short are mysteries at first, leading to a fairly slow beginning. The end result is powerful, moving and completely worthwhile, but you need to realize going in that it’ll be a journey.

Laliberté creates a beautiful-looking work that focuses entirely on Sincennes, never leaving him out of the frame for more than a few seconds. He’s lethargic and engages very little with the world around him, even when he’s out with his friends. It’s only when spraying graffiti that he comes alive and when we finally see why, it’s an incredibly powerful moment.

Don’t be fooled by the emotionless opening; Overpass hits hard at its conclusion.

TIFF 2015 Review: Hurt

In 1984 and ’85, amputee Steve Fonyo captured the emotions of the nation and raised millions of dollars for cancer research by running from the East coast of Canada to the West, something national hero Terry Fox famously couldn’t do. However outside of being dogged by criticism that he merely aped the goodwill previously generated by Fox’s attempt at the same feat, the reality of Fonyo’s life after his brush with fame — something he craves to this day, almost like a drug — is far worse.

Recently “divorced,” homeless and addicted to cocaine and crystal meth, Fonyo has begun shacking up with his new girlfriend (who’s also an addict, with an ex that never seems to leave her side), in one of Canada’s worst neighbourhoods in Surrey, BC.

For documentary Hurt, filmmaker Alan Zweig (Vinyl, When Jews Were Funny) brings a unique journalistic style to a subject that’s far better than a factoid regurgitating biopic or cautionary tale. Visiting Fonyo several times over the course of a year, Zweig openly talks to his subject, sometimes following the fallen hero into dangerous situations. However, he never poses his questions as condescending soft balls, and Fonyo responds in kind, often stopping himself in the middle of a lie he would have normally told anyone else.

Zweig also refuses to paint Fonyo as a victim of a rough life or a slick opportunist and addict who turned to petty crime and bad decisions to fund his habits. It’s uncomfortable to watch Fonyo squirm at having to confront the harsh truths about his choices and see him floundering through a less than comfortable life, but Zweig displays remarkable empathy, free of judgement and scorn. It’s dark, but there’s warmth.

TIFF 2015 Review: The Danish Girl

Danish painter Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) finds himself at a major crossroads in his personal life when he finally embraces the gender he feels inside. Insisting he’s a woman in a man’s body, Einar begins dressing and identifying as a female named Lily Elbe, in public and private. Lily makes the decision to transition fully in the physical sense in the 1920s, establishing Lily as the first recipient of sexual reassignment surgery. She’s supported by a sometimes confused, but unwaveringly faithful wife (Alicia Vikander) and an understanding childhood friend (Matthias Schoenaerts).

It’s difficult to adequately grasp the frustration and admiration Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl convey. On one hand, the depiction of being transgender in the ’20s feels refreshingly no frills, but it’s also a story told from a wealthy, privileged perspective. It’s the tale of someone who can largely afford, and get away with, being in touch with, and changing, their gender, with little societal naysaying.

The script (adapted by Lucinda Coxon, from a fictional novel by David Ebershoff, based on Elbe’s real life memoirs) feels diluted and rushed. Einar first explores his new sexuality simply by putting on female clothing for the first time, and the film is off and running at a blistering pace from there, instead of examining the personalities at the heart of the story. It often feels too clinical for its own good, with its main issue being trying to transition into a story about transitioning.

However, it is the most technically adept film from the overrated Hooper (Les Misérables, The King’s Speech), with the director ditching some of his more annoying visual flourishes in favour of a genuine, stately feeling (although his love of making everything gray and using swaths of useless negative space still rankle). Redmayne clearly sees this as another shot at an Oscar, but the scenes where he goes a bit too “big” with his performance are merely in service of how the material was written.

The standout is Vikander, who gives the film a large amount of compassion and vibrancy. It’s as much her story as his and, as you can likely surmise, that’s both good and bad.

TIFF 2015 Review: Der Nachtmahr

Sixteen-year-old Tina (Carolyn Genzkow) spends most evenings attending raves and wild parties in Berlin. During one such event, she passes out, only to wake and find that a very strange creature is following her. Only Tina can see it and her attempts to convince her parents of what’s happening only lead them to seek psychiatric help for their daughter. Tina soon realizes that she needs to accept the creature, in order to live some semblance of a normal life.

Der Nachtmahr is the type of film that one may never fully understand, and you certainly won’t experience it the same way as the person watching next to you. The strange relationship between Tina and an ugly, yet somehow cute creature could be a metaphor for any number of issues. Perhaps it’s her impending adulthood or a mental illness she must learn how to manage. It could actually be a number of clichés as well, but it’s never actually revealed.

The film merges dream and fantasy quite well, leaving the viewer to wonder if anything is really happening at all. The further Tina pushes her contact with the creature, the stranger it becomes. The only stumbling block is the creature itself; it looks great — almost too great — standing out as the obvious CGI elephant in the room. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it does mar your suspension of disbelief.

TIFF 2015 Review: Lolo

Violette (Julie Delpy) is an uptight Parisian career woman who is searching for love after a string of failed relationships. She meets Jean-René (Dany Boon) who is an awkward countryman. Violette recognizes he is not her type of man. She at first keeps him at a distance until becoming seriously romantically involved with him. They experience a beautiful and lustful relationship together until Violette introduces Jean-René to her teenage son, Lolo (Vincent Lacoste). Lolo is a mischievous smart-ass who does everything in his power to spoil their relationship.

Delpy is best known for her role in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset trilogy. This is Delpy’s sixth commercial directorial feature. Delpy takes ownership of this film completely with starring in the lead role, writing the screenplay and directing. This is no different than her other features which include 2 Days in Paris, 2 Days in New York and The Countess.

The humour in the film is goofy, playful and stays true to Delpy’s style. In Lolo, Delpy delivers a wildly funny and satirical look at finding love later in life while juggling a son and a career. Delpy boldly steps away from the standard elements of a romantic comedy and adds an unapologetic and hilarious spin to the harsh realities of love and relationships. Lacoste (who is also appearing in Parisienne at the Festival) gives a strong and hilarious performance as Violette’s son.

TIFF 2015 Review: Maggie’s Plan

Maggie (Greta Gerwig) has decided she wants to have a baby, despite not necessarily wanting a partner. She originally settles on inseminating herself with the sperm of a Brooklyn hipster/pickle entrepreneur (Travis Fimmel), but quickly becomes infatuated with a professor of fiction-critical anthropology (Ethan Hawke), who works alongside her at the New School.

He’s married to a Nordic-accented, fellow anthropologist (Julianne Moore), whom he has two kids with. Maggie ends up ruining their marriage and goes about raising her child, along with his son and daughter. However, after three years of being fed up with his fixation on finishing his first fictional work (a boldfaced reimagining of their affair), Maggie begins to wonder if her husband belonged with his ex-wife and that she wrongfully meddled with fate.

If any part of that plot description made you break out into a rash or popped a blood vessel from quirkiness, Maggie’s Plan (the latest from writer/director Rebecca Miller) should be avoided like the plague. At first, it’s hard to tell if Miller is attempting a parody of one of the films Gerwig has more or less made her career on (and, to a lesser extent, the work of writers like David Sedaris and David Eggers), but it quickly becomes apparent that the film is genuinely earnest.

It’s the type of film where people say things like “taking a constitutional” or “I’m subletting from a poet” and it’s never clear if it’s supposed to be a put-on or if it’s serious. No one, save for Hawke, talks, acts, reacts or moves like a flesh and blood human. It’s the most “modern Brooklyn” film ever created, and that’s not a compliment. In short, it might be the whitest film ever made — something born from such privilege that it becomes grossly insufferable.

At least the performances are entertaining, and Miller does direct her wonky material with a good eye and a great amount of conviction. Gerwig and Hawke are pretty much incapable at this point in their careers of delivering a terrible performance, and Moore hits the sweet spot between camp and sympathy. Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader steal a few scenes as Maggie’s married friends; it’s the cast that keeps the audience in it even when the material is so eye rolling it could induce whiplash.

TIFF 2015 Review: Colonia

In 1973, flight attendant Lena (Emma Watson) decides to spend a few extra days in Santiago, Chile, with her social activist boyfriend, Daniel (played by Daniel Brühl), whom she’s been having a long distance relationship with. Unfortunately, their time together coincides with Augusto Pinochet’s coup d’état.

Daniel’s support of former President Allende’s government leads to his capture, torture and placement in the infamous “Colony of Dignity,” a cult-like compound funded by Chile’s secret police, run by a religious zealot and madman (a legitimately terrifying Michael Nyqvist). Fearing for her boyfriend’s life, Lena willingly goes undercover at the compound to make sure he’s okay and help him escape, which takes considerably longer than either intended.

Based somewhat on true events, tense potboiler Colonia (from German director Florian Gallenberger) tries, at times, to do too much for a single film. In the early going, it clearly wants to be a love story, then a film about a cult and, finally, it wants to be a tense escape thriller, à la Argo. It’s always engaging, but as numerous side characters begin to get added once the film reaches the titular compound, it threatens to become overly top-heavy.

Watson anchors the film, and it’s refreshing to see a work depicting a woman attempting to rescue her boyfriend, instead of the usual damsel-in-distress scenario. Also, having her do so in a relentlessly and depressingly misogynistic hellhole adds a layer of depth and greater audience investment.

It’s scary, exciting and thoughtful in all the right places, even if the pacing is a bit convenient.

TIFF 2015 Review: Being Charlie

Charlie Mills (Nick Robinson) is only 18, but he’s escaped, or lied his way out of, as many rehab facilities as most people trying to recover have seen in their lives. Frustrated with programs that don’t meet his needs and constantly looking to score heroin, budding stand-up comic and high school dropout Charlie’s issues are compounded by the fact that his actor father (Cary Elwes) is running a campaign for the governorship of California.

His mother (Susan Misner) is loving and supportive. His best friend (Devon Bostick) is a bad influence, but loyal, almost to a fault, and he finds joy and love in his life courtesy of another addict (Morgan Saylor) he meets at his latest in-patient program.

It’s hard to believe that the addiction narrative for the emotionally resonant Being Charlie comes courtesy of filmmaker Rob Reiner, delivering his best effort since Misery, some 25 years ago. Working from a screenplay written by his son, Nick Reiner, and co-scribe Matt Elisofon, Reiner still crafts a somewhat Hollywood version of rehab, but since the story takes place amongst those types of characters, the ultimate point feels earned.

Charlie isn’t the most likeable person, and neither are those around him, but thanks to a tight script and a wonderful performance from continually rising star Robinson, Being Charlie manages to be remarkably empathetic and non-judgmental. There are a few late developments that feel dramatically convenient — it is a movie, after all — but everything that comes before feels like a bit of wish fulfilment.

Not everything gets wrapped up neatly, but after slogging through a great deal of tough material, it’s hard not to want a better, healthier life for Charlie, a young man with more to live for than he realizes.

TIFF 2015 Review: Hardcore

Henry, who’s never seen, since he provides the audience’s perspective, and never speaks, because he’s mute, wakes up in a secret government facility somewhere in the sky. He’s awoken, with no memories, by a woman claiming to be his wife (Haley Bennett), and informed that he had been killed in a battle of some sort. He’s resurrected as a cybernetic super-soldier, able to run, jump, punch, kick, dip, dive and dodge faster than most humans. When a telekinetic villain and his legion of henchmen kidnap his “wife,” Henry sets out on a journey across Russia to rescue her, helped by the mysterious Jimmy (Sharlto Copley, who’s a lot of fun to watch), a master of disguise that apparently cannot die.

When people deride films based upon videogames as watching someone else control what you’d much rather be playing, they’re talking about the first-person shooter elements of Hardcore. The story, from first-time feature director and punk musician Ilya Naishuller, sounds and moves like a crappy videogame, right down to the stilted dialogue, nonsensical direction and queasy amount of homophobia and misogyny — this is dangerously close to the kind of film Gamergaters will lose their minds over. There’s no point trying to discuss the narrative, since it’s akin to trying to explain rocket science while severely concussed and having your tongue cut out.

On the other hand, the film is a technical marvel in many ways, with a pair of chase sequences (one on foot and one that involves hopping from car to car with a Gatling gun) providing some admittedly amusing high points. None of that excuses the fact that the audience is constantly waiting for prompts  as to which buttons to press and in what sequence to make the hero move. It unlocks a technical achievement, but the story and execution required a few more playthroughs in the testing stage.

There’s something here, and in the hands of a better filmmaker, with a more original idea — one less beholden to videogame nostalgia over the past ten years — the first-person actioner might have a future yet.

TIFF 2015 Review: Zoom

Emma (Alison Pill), a Toronto-area, custom sex toy craftsperson and budding comic book artist, with buyer’s remorse over a pair of far too big fake breasts, sketches out the life of her ideal man. Said ideal mate is a hotshot Hollywood director and lothario (Gael García Bernal, who’s animated for his section of the film), normally known for action movies, but is making his first art film. It’s the story of a female novelist (Cláudia Ohana) new to the limelight, who takes off on an international getaway to work on her novel, which is about Emma trying to sell a bunch of cocaine with one of her co-workers (Tyler Labine) to raise money to get rid of her fake breasts. Emma gets upset with her creation, gives her dream man a small penis, with erectile dysfunction issues, and everything gets thrown out of whack for all involved.

Zoom is directed by Brazilian filmmaker Pedro Morelli (Entre Nós), written by Canadian scribe Matt Hansen and memorably scored by Kid Koala. It’s certainly an experiment in storytelling and a larger allegory about the creative process, but it’s not as successful as it could have been. The story takes too long to get going, with only Pill and Labine getting much of anything interesting to do.

The filmmaker and novelist segments are placed on the backburner until they need to finally be integrated halfway through. In the early going, Morelli and Hansen give off a vibe that’s almost too cool for school, stuck somewhere between conventional narratives and the art house, which never gels, even after the film begins to entertain when the stories overlap. The cast is great and once things pick up, there’s some fun to be had; it just can’t be sustained to the overly meta-conclusion.