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Toronto International Film Festival (#110 of 139)

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 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. 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 subplot that tackles racism, and as such is 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.

Toronto Film Review Walter Hill’s (Re)assignment

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Toronto Film Review: Walter Hill’s (Re)Assignment

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Walter Hill’s (Re)Assignment

Walter Hill’s first feature film since 2012’s Bullet to the Head is, like much of the finest pulp fiction, designed to shock. To wit: Did you hear the one about the rogue surgeon who turned the hitman into the hitwoman? What a hook! And what a lurid, tattered paperback it would make, though Hill treats the story more like an underground comic book, complete with transitional sequences featuring exaggerated thought bubbles and garish splash panels.

Sensitivity, at least of the calculated sort, doesn’t enter into the proceedings. The film’s as steely as Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Rachel Kay, a sort of Hannibal Lecter by way of Marlene Dietrich who liberally quotes Shakespeare and Poe, and has a monomaniacal disdain for most of humanity. But as she tells the smug head psychiatrist (Tony Shaloub) of the mental hospital where she’s imprisoned, the main target of her ire is assassin Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez), who murdered her brother (Adrian Hough) several years before. The doctor’s elaborate revenge culminates in the bearded, virile Kitchen given forced gender reassignment surgery. And then the counter-revenge begins.

Toronto Film Review Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

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Toronto Film Review: Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

However you feel about Denis Villeneuve, you have to hand it to the Quebecois director: He knows how to start a film. His latest, Arrival, balances two significant, image-driven arcs in its first few minutes. The first concerns the tragically brief motherhood of linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who we see in a montage giving birth to a daughter and raising her all the way through the girl’s death as a teenager from a rare disease. The second shows the sudden appearance of UFOs in various corners of the globe, kicking off a worldwide frenzy of fear. Louise finds herself deputized into service by the military’s attempts to deal with the situation, brought in to try and decipher a language of guttural roars and hisses to facilitate communication between humans and aliens.

Toronto Film Review Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal

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Toronto Film Review: Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal

Toronto International Film Festival

Toronto Film Review: Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal

Nacho Vigalondo has a knack for making movies that feel simultaneously apiece of their attendant genres while flush with mordant, if not schizoid, self-awareness. So it goes with Colossal, which stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria, an alcoholic writer who somehow finds herself telepathically linked to a scaly monster on the other side of the world, laying waste to Seoul and killing hundreds of innocents during one blacked-out evening.

Gloria has relocated to her tiny hometown after bottoming out in her posh New York life (SoHo apartment, Brit boyfriend, infinite chances to screw up), putting her childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), in position to help her get things back in order again—and, predictably, make good on his unconsummated lifelong crush. After she’s shared her secret with him, he steps onto the same patch of earth (an innocuous playground) and finds himself controlling a towering kaiju right beside her. For much of Colossal’s runtime, the symbolism is irresistible: Vigalondo archly deploys a bogus premise to interrogate alcoholism and entitlement, making the monster and robot into stand-ins for the long post-9/11 hangover of the American id.