We kick off our coverage of the 12th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival with a look at six offerings from this year's line-up including opening gala My Friend Dahmer, closing gala Tragedy Girls, Sixty Minutes to Midnight, The Villainess, Rabbit, and Cult of Chucky.
For her sixth feature film, director, writer, producer, actor and all around DIY Jill-of-all-trades Ingrid Veninger takes filmgoers to Porcupine Lake (set to make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week). A unique coming-of-age story from one of Canada’s most resolutely independent filmmakers, the latest from Veninger (MODRA, The Animal Project) represents both a departure for her cinematically and a telling of one of her most personal stories to date.
In addition to screening hundreds of feature films every year, the Toronto International Film Festival (kicking off on Thursday, September 7th and running to the 17th) boasts an exceptionally strong line-up of shorts. The Short Cuts Programme has become one of the most prominent showcases of short filmmaking in the world, but films functioning outside of the sexier, long-form norm can be found popping up throughout the festival in various sections, perhaps most notably in the daring, boundary pushing Wavelengths program.
The low-key comedy Sundowners, the latest directorial effort from Canadian filmmaker Pavan Moondi, could have easily been a tale of two not-particularly-likable people getting their comeuppance for recent karmic infractions, but instead it’s a jovial, unforced, and delicately paced look at best friends stuck together on the worst job of their professional lives.
Boasting a star making performance from Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, the rousing, crowd pleasing, smart, and inspirational Patti Cake$ follows closely in the vein of other films about hip-hop artists trying to make it big while still maintaining a unique sense of setting and cultural identity. The first half of Patti Cake$ is heavily indebted to Craig Brewer's Hustle and Flow, while the second half finds ways of riffing on Curtis Hanson's 8 Mile, but despite these obvious storytelling comparisons, first time feature writer and director Geremy Jasper's film has enough unique characters and insights to set itself apart.
Modern day faith based films are an often dire, but highly profitable lot. Usually preaching the teachings of Jesus Christ while lecturing the viewer that bad things will happen if they don’t follow, or perhaps even more dangerously telling people to keep praying for solutions instead of being proactive, these cheaply made tracts of choir preaching tend to send mixed messages about what it means to live a holy life. So when a film like the imperfect, corny, but wholly genial and genuinely well meaning All Saints comes along, it’s cause for minor celebration. Sure, it’s still pitched at the same emotional level as a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, but at least it’s about good people doing good things and never sitting around waiting and hoping that God will just bail them out for being good.
First time feature filmmaker and veteran musician and music video director Geremy Jasper is from small town New Jersey, the setting for his story of a young, aspiring, and white female rapper Patti Cake$ (opening exclusively in Toronto this weekend and expanding nationwide in the coming weeks). His choice of leading lady, Danielle Macdonald, is so far removed from New Jersey and hip-hop street cred that hearing the Australian performer’s natural accent is shocking. But you’d never know she wasn’t from Jersey if all you knew of her career was the equally confident and insecure Patricia Dombrowski.
Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was a cultural trailblazer whose historical, cultural, artistic, and archaeological research changed perceptions of the Middle East. But like many intelligent women, Bell - who was once quietly regarded as the most powerful female in the British Empire - saw many of her contributions ignored, suppressed, or erased from public and private record. That's staggering when one considers that she was hugely instrumental in the fight for Iraqi independence from British rule and basically redefined the borders in the region that are more or less still in use today. Filmmakers Sabine Krayenbühl and Zeva Oelbaum aren't content to merely look back on Bell's legacy, but let their subject speak for herself in the well researched and assembled documentary Letters from Baghdad.
I’m always amazed whenever a drama like The Only Living Boy in New York gets made. I’m not amazed in terms of how it reflects upon the human condition or how it’s able to convey grand emotions in subtle ways. I’m amazed by films like director Marc Webb and screenwriter Allan Loeb’s The Only Living Boy in New York because they feel like they’re made by artists who have never once sincerely interacted with flesh and blood human beings. Together, Webb and Loeb have crafted something so thoroughly self-aggrandizing, stultifying, and pretentiously off-putting that it essentially has no real audience outside of a select handful of hermetic, standoffish bibliophiles who are silently waiting for the world to end so they can catch up all the reading they missed during the cold, harsh, eternal winters of the apocalypse.
The cinema of the mid-twentieth century gave us a lot to love; too much to list in a review that isn’t expressly or specifically about some of the best films ever made. By that same token, there are plenty of tropes, attitudes, and practices that are best left forgotten about and uncelebrated. No one told that to Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba when he was making The Queen of Spain, a pointless, long gestating sequel to his 1998 backstage dramedy The Girl of Your Dreams. Unoriginal and old-timey in all the wrong ways, The Queen of Spain is the kind of film that only an octogenarian who hasn’t seen a movie in fifty years could love. If this were made in the 1940s or 50s and it weren’t a sequel, it would have slipped into the public domain by now with no one clamouring to claim ownership over it.