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Festivals (#110 of 1087)

Toronto Film Review Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy

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Toronto International Film Festival 2017: Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy

The Orchard

Toronto International Film Festival 2017: Louis C.K.’s I Love You, Daddy

Louis C.K. loves a mess, and I Love You, Daddy, his first feature film as a director since 2001’s Pootie Tang, is exactly that. That’s not to say that each and every scene lacks purpose, but that chaos, mostly of the emotional sort, is C.K.’s preferred m.o. He’s certainly treading into hot-button territory throughout this often funny yet ultimately flimsy dark comedy about a flavor-of-the-month sitcom writer, Glen Topher (C.K.), whose spoiled 17-year-old daughter, China (Chloë Grace Moretz), takes up with 68-year-old Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), a film director who Glen worships, and also a known lech who’s equal parts Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.

Toronto Film Review Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Roman J. Israel, Esq.

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Toronto Film Review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Sony Pictures Classics

Toronto Film Review: Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool and Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Not all Oscar bait is created equal. Glenn Close trolling the Academy with 2011’s shameless Albert Nobbs isn’t in the same wheelhouse as her fellow always-a-bridesmaid Annette Bening, who actually seems, whatever the performance, like there are plenty of other motivators for her work beyond gold-plated statuettes. Make no mistake, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, in which Bening plays aging Hollywood icon Gloria Grahame, is a tailor-made awards showcase, but the actress doesn’t settle for mere look-at-me mimicry.

Bening nails Grahame’s hyperventilator’s voice and flighty demeanor, as well as the seemingly out-of-nowhere sultriness that, for example, Nicholas Ray (Grahame’s second husband) used to striking effect in the 1949 noir A Woman’s Secret. Yet Bening also gives you a full sense of Grahame’s often-tortured depths, be it the obsession with her looks (her upper lip being the prime offender) or the scandal she courted. A prime plot point here is her marriage to Ray’s stepson, Anthony, in 1960, which led to the waning of a film career that included such highlights as 1950’s In a Lonely Place and 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, for which she won a supporting actress Oscar.

Toronto Film Review Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

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Toronto Film Review: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Toronto Film Review: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro is an ingenious crafter of dioramas, of which The Shape of Water, a Cold War-era drama tinged with elements of the paranormal, is no exception. Yet where Crimson Peak’s clutter of dilapidated, rotting luxury felt like the jumping-off point for the Mexican filmmaker’s imagination to run amok, here del Toro appears restrained by the concrete and steel of an underground research facility. The setting yields an inherent coldness that the film must work to overcome, and for the first time in his career, del Toro visibly struggles to reconcile his premise with its execution.

The film’s protagonist, Eliza (Sally Hawkins), is a mute woman who works as a cleaner in a classified government laboratory. Del Toro establishes her loneliness via montages of her daily routine that show her boiling eggs, swabbing floors, and, in the most obvious giveaway of her emotional state, vigorously masturbating each morning inside a bathtub. Limited in communication to signing with her co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), Eliza largely keeps to herself, rarely making eye contact with superiors and expressing herself only in private.

Toronto Film Review Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

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Toronto Film Review: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

TIFF

Toronto Film Review: Paul Schrader’s First Reformed

Everything Paul Schrader has done throughout his career has led him to First Reformed, potentially the finest entry in what my friend and former Slant contributor Jeremiah Kipp refers to as the writer-director’s “men in rooms” films. These include 1980’s American Gigolo, 1992’s Light Sleeper, and 2007’s The Walker, all woozy character studies of not-quite-alpha males drifting through impeccably maintained, utterly empty lives that are summarily upended. The spaces these men inhabit seem an extension of their preplanned existences. Look at the way, for example, Richard Gere’s high-end sex worker, Julian Kaye, in American Gigolo organizes his California apartment as if it were a sun-dappled monk’s cell, with Armani suits as his chaplain’s wardrobe and a luxury-linened bed as his altar.

Toronto Film Review Wim Wenders’s Submergence

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Toronto Film Review: Wim Wenders’s Submergence

TIFF

Toronto Film Review: Wim Wenders’s Submergence

Wim Wenders does not return to his former greatness with his latest, Submergence, a hollow romance that dares the audience to question just how much a meet-cute can change two people. The filmmaker’s cinema of displacement reaches new extremes of literalism in the relationship between water engineer James (James McAvoy) and biomathematician Danielle (Alicia Vikander), whose brief encounter reverberates throughout their lives.

James and Danielle make each other’s acquaintance at a hotel in France’s northern coast where each is resting before major work trips. They strike up a rapport through interminably detailed descriptions of their jobs; indeed, Danielle spends their first date listing the layers beneath the ocean surface with a curiously seductive air, using phrases like “mesopelagic zone” as if they might cause arousal. Wenders shoots James and Danielle’s cavorting along the coastline—an extended montage of laughing and twirling around on cliffs and beaches that Terrence Malick would probably find too chaste—as if marking time. Their conversations, at once circuitously poetic and tediously scientific, lack any spark, and neither of the characters displays any sense of deeper connection to one another beyond mild attraction.

Toronto Film Review Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley

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Toronto Film Review: Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley

TIFF

Toronto Film Review: Haifaa Al-Mansour’s Mary Shelley

Casting attractive young stars Elle Fanning and Douglas Booth, respectively, as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley makes Mary Shelley, director Haifaa al-Mansour’s biopic of the mother of Gothic fiction, a kind of grandfather’s paradox of the modern wave of eroticized young-adult romantic fantasy, reconfiguring the ancestor to match its descendant. The film’s cleverest trick, foregrounded from the moment that a teenaged Mary meets Percy as a radical with scandalous notions of free love, is to suggest that, in YA terms, Percy himself is the monster with whom the bright, ambitious woman falls hopelessly in love. As such, Mary is only able to see his most intoxicating properties and none of his numerous dangers.

Toronto Film Review Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

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Toronto Film Review: Sophie Fiennes’s Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

TIFF

Toronto Film Review: Sophie Fiennes’s Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami

It’s enough to just train a camera on the towering Grace Jones and the glam, glitter, and inimitable fierceness will quickly follow. Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology) begins her biographical performance doc Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami by seamlessly intercutting two separate performances of the same song from a 2016 concert. In the first, Jones prowls the stage catlike, purring from behind an Eiko Ishioka-designed death mask. In the second, she croons the same lyrics while effortlessly, endlessly twirling a hula hoop. The message is clear: Jones is both these people, and more. She walks on some kind of undefinable razor’s edge, reinventing herself as whim and circumstance dictates, and Fiennes’s film follows that lead.

Toronto Film Review George Clooney’s Suburbicon

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Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

Paramount Pictures

Toronto Film Review: George Clooney’s Suburbicon

A truly nasty piece of work, Suburbicon sees a bunch of candidly left-leaning movie stars doing their best to out-awful each other throughout. George Clooney, working behind the scenes as director and co-screenwriter, dusted off an old Joel and Ethan Coen screenplay set in a 1950s suburban tract community and detailing a murderous insurance scam gone wrong. Then, with writing and producing partner Grant Heslov, he grafted on a slow-burn racism subplot meant to resonate with contemporary U.S. anxieties. Yet the result is a hysterical and simplistic—if still in-the-moment compelling—parody of bourgeois American greed and ignorance.

Locarno Film Festival 2017 Mrs. Fang, Mrs. Hyde, 3/4, & The Wandering Soap Opera

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Locarno Film Festival 2017: Mrs. Fang, Mrs. Hyde, 3/4, & The Wandering Soap Opera

Locarno Film Festival

Locarno Film Festival 2017: Mrs. Fang, Mrs. Hyde, 3/4, & The Wandering Soap Opera

Albert Serra’s recent The Death of Louis XIV feels like a fictional cousin to Mrs. Fang, winner of the Golden Leopard at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, as Wang Bing’s latest similarly maps out the process by which the glow of a human life is dimmed. Mrs. Fang, a sixtysomething former farmer from rural southeast China, has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for several years. Wang visits her modest family home on two separate occasions: in 2015, when she’s already unable to speak or leave her bed and her family discusses her funeral, and a year later, in the days before her death. Throughout these visits, Wang employs his by-now familiar mode of calm, unadorned observation, moving smoothly between the conversations conducted around Mrs. Fang’s bed, forays outside the cramped home to follow discussions on the street and villagers on fishing trips, and tight close-ups of Mrs. Fang’s face on the pillow—the latter of which suffused with an intimacy so intense that it makes the surroundings disappear and time stand still for a while, despite their only making up a comparatively small part of the film.

Locarno Film Festival 2017 Cocote, Prototype, A Skin So Soft, & Milla

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Locarno Film Festival 2017: Cocote, Prototype, A Skin So Soft, & Milla

Cinémadefacto

Locarno Film Festival 2017: Cocote, Prototype, A Skin So Soft, & Milla

The first days of the Locarno Film Festival were dominated by a heat so intense that it took great effort to focus on the challenging cinema for which the Swiss festival is renowned and not just on staying hydrated and fleeing to the next air-conditioned space. But as the warmth receded and proper concentration returned, several titles that screened on the opening weekend emerged from the fug as some of the most intriguing films of the year.

Unlike in Switzerland, the sweltering heat of the Dominican Republic inspires fervor, even hysteria—as in Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias’s Cocote, which opened the festival’s experimentally minded Signs of Life section, which this year became a competitive section for the first time and opened its doors to films of all lengths. Much like the filmmaker’s Santa Teresa and Other Stories, a very loose adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, Cocote proceeds by inserting enough flights of fancy into an established narrative that its through line often becomes thrillingly blurred. While this film’s plot doesn’t draw on any preexisting material, it does feel broadly archetypical, telling the story of how Alberto (Vicente Santos), a gardener working at a wealthy estate in Santo Domingo, returns to his home village following the death of his father at the hands of a local bigwig. Alberto’s smart attire and newfound respectability mark him as a prodigal son for his mother and sisters, who expect him both to take part in a nine-day burial ritual and avenge his father, neither of which are in keeping with his sense of urban rationality and poise.