By David Baldwin
TIFF is a cruel and unforgiving mistress. You can dip your toe in and catch a handful of movies, or jump head first and see four-five movies in a day. Sleep is a precious commodity, and if you’re not careful – you may doze through portions of your movie. This has already affected me multiple times in the past, but none more embarrassing than last fall. I slept through the majority of the now-titled “The Assignment” in an aisle seat in the Ryerson Theatre, just one row over from Sigourney Weaver. Freakin’ Ellen Ripley watched me sleep through her movie! It does not get any worse than that. I tell you this, so you can understand the frame of mind I went into Saturday and Sunday with, where I had 4 and 5 movies scheduled (Tying my personal best for number of movies in one day). While I have yet to top “Call Me By Your Name,” a few movies came close.
Click below to find out what.
“Molly’s Game,” Aaron Sorkin’s first foray into directing, is a terrific debut. The writing is as impeccable as we have come to expect, the humour is really funny and the direction is assured. The man has learned from the greats and does not stumble where so many other first-timers do. He tells the story of Molly Bloom (As played by a magnificent Jessica Chastain in most cases, even in her early 20s) over the course of multiple timelines, but it all feels natural, fresh and flows quite nicely. He owes a great debt to Martin Scorsese in his structure, using witty voiceover to move the story along from scene to scene. It works in most cases, but I found the only fault in Chastain is that her work as a narrator just did not match her acting performance. The words are all there, but her inflections are not. The only other issue with the film is the running time. At 140-minutes, it could use a slight trim to make it a little more quickly paced.
And as more of a nitpick than anything else, the film could have used a whole lot more of the walking and talking Sorkin is known for. There’s just not nearly enough here for my liking. But that aside, I expect the Screenplay and Chastain’s ferocious performance to turn up come Oscar time.
“The Current War” is entertaining enough, but is also nothing special. It is your typically lavish Weinstein Company Oscar-baiting period drama we can all sniff out a mile away, and it makes no attempts to transcend that designation. It looks and sounds great, and packs in more laughs than you might expect. But the performances from the likes of Tom Holland, Katherine Waterston, Nicholas Hoult, Michael Shannon and especially Benedict Cumberbatch all feel second-rate. They never phone it in, but they have all been so much better than this in the past. And as a result, the film lacks a heart it so desperately needs. But I must say, Cumberbatch’s accents are continuing to improve with each new movie – so on that front, it more than succeeds. It will no doubt show up in the technical categories, but unless it gets a fresh edit by November, it will be a relative non-factor.
And after avoiding trailers and reviews like the plague, I was able to catch the premiere of “mother!” with Darren Aronofsky, Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem and Ed Harris all present. And if you have read anything about the film, it probably still will not prepare you for how certifiably insane a film Aronofsky has gifted us with. You will need to watch it multiple times to pick up all the subtext and references he is mining here, and even then, you may not quickly want to rewatch it. It goes to some dark and truly disturbing places – showcasing some of the most shocking and revolting imagery in a film this year. I am still processing it hours later and still have zero idea how to feel about everything that I watched. The Q&A was absolutely no help, with Bardem staying silent, Harris just not getting it and Aronofsky not willing to divulge any of his secrets. But the film is a visual masterpiece even with its deliriously chaotic third act, and the sound design is absolutely astonishing. It is a very, very well-made film. But it is going to divide audiences and piss a lot of people off. Lawrence may not get an acting nom, but it would be a damn shame – she is absolutely spectacular here, practically radiating off the screen.
As for the other also rans – “Kodachrome” tells a predictable story about father and son using analogies for why film is better than digital, and it works a little better than you might expect; “I Love You, Daddy” is Louis C.K’s absolutely hysterical mess of an ode to black and white movies of the 1940’s and 1950’s that could use an editor to make sense of the point of the movie (Hopefully without losing John Malkovich or Charlie Day in the process); “Mom & Dad” has an insane plot – a TV/radio signal coaxes parents into murdering their children – and an absolutely loopy performance from Nicolas Cage, but it lacks coherency and consistency; “The Ritual” is a monster movie that neglects the monster and spends more time focused on the grief and regret of the main character (Played by a very good Rafe Spall); “Cocaine Prison” was a documentary focused on three characters effected by the war on drugs that packs in fascinating footage from inside a Bolivian prison, but gets boring and uninteresting quickly; and “Mary Goes Round” was a solid little Canadian drama from first-time feature filmmaker Molly McGlynn that packs in a great performance from “You’re the Worst’s” Aya Cash.
And in the middle of all of this, I had what will easily be the highlight of this year’s TIFF experience. While waiting by the stage door for a picture with Nicolas Cage (Which I sadly did not get), I let him know that he was my spirit animal. He looked right at me, pointed and yelled “Now that was good!” Positively magical.
I got a lot more sleep in this morning than I have other days, so hopefully it helps propel me through the next few days. Onto Day 5!
You can follow David and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @davemabaldwin