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by Stephen Mayne

14 Sep 2016


Paul Hamy in The Orinthologist (2016)

Today finally brought the kind of weather I’d hoped for at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Stepping outside first thing it was warm and sunny, but not too hot. Previously we’ve veered from excruciating heat (at least for someone who neglected to pack summer wear) to torrential rain. Day 6 at the fest had neither. What it did have was a light two film schedule, both decent films in very different ways from one another.

The morning screening took me off to Portugal for The Ornithologist. As befits a João Pedro Rodrigues film, it’s far from ordinary. Fernando (Paul Hamy), a ruggedly handsome ornithologist is off in nature going about his bird watching business. Absorbed in his kayak watching a bird circle above, his boat goes over rapids, he’s injured and passes out. This throws him into a crazy world of castration obsessed Chinese pilgrims, goat suckling deaf and dumb shepherds, urinating gangs and topless horse-riding women.

It’s not any less odd than it sounds as Fernando is forced through a surreal version of the stations of the cross. Events escalated a little beyond me by the very end (the topless rifle slinging women broke the camel’s back), but it is something of a marvel to look at. Rodrigues’ shot composition is varied and inventive while the cinematography manages to be lush without adding artificial gloss. If it came to it, I’d have been quite happy watching Fernando lie in the reeds spying on birds for two hours.

Alex Russell and Aaron Pedersen in Goldstone (2016)

Alex Russell and Aaron Pedersen in Goldstone (2016)

Goldstone is a much more straightforward watch than The Ornithologist, but it’s not without its own complexity. In 2013 director/ writer/ editor/ cinematographer/ composer (yes some people really are too talented) Ivan Sen brought us Detective Jay Swan in Mystery Road. Played by Aaron Pedersen, Swan is on the outside of all communities in his small town as an Aboriginal working for the police.

A drunken mess following the death of his daughter, he’s packed off to a mining town to investigate a missing Asian prostitute whom no one really wants found, least of all local officials in cahoots with mining company executives. The plot is a continuation of the story in Mystery Road, touching on the same themes only doing it bigger and better. As with Swan’s previous outing, social commentary is layered in, as if it’s going out of fashion. Alcohol abuse and the chronic mistreatment of aboriginals, women, and anyone not a tough white fella willing to go along with the status quo, lie simmering beneath the surface.

We also get a collection of stunning shots and carefully paced action that has all the more impact for refusing to rush. Mystery Road ended on a quite brilliant shootout. Goldstone proves no slouch, either. It’s a cynical world Jay Swan inhabits, albeit not without a sliver of hope. The best he, or anyone else gets, is a glimpse of something better.

At that I was forced to conclude my daily viewing for other engagements, not to mention the vast pile of work mounting from earlier in the festival. It’s a tough life but someone has to live it.

by Michael Barrett

14 Sep 2016


How do you make a movie called Cat People? That was the question faced by producer Val Lewton when put in charge of his own RKO unit with a mission to make B horrors from titles provided by the studio. He had the freedom to crank out a movie attached to whatever cheesy moniker was handed to him, as long as he stayed under budget.

He rose to the challenge with a series of atmospheric wonders that saved his effects budget in favor of suggestions and shadows. The first of these, Cat People, became a surprise hit, cannily (or uncannily) exploiting the nation’s wartime jitters.

by Stephen Mayne

13 Sep 2016


Tom Wilkinson in Denial (2016)

Part of the challenge of festivals is attempting to work out which films will pack in pass holders and which ones can be breezed into with a minute to spare. Day 5 at the Toronto International Film Festival had a bit of everything on that front, and a very high standard across three films that all dipped back into the 20th century.

First up was Denial, playing in the morning in the biggest screen. It was hardly a packed house, but those that did show got very solid entertainment. It’s the story of the trial that finally broke any remaining credibility disgraced British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving had. He brought the action, as well. After calling him out in her book, Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory (1994), American historian Deborah Lipstadt found herself taken to court in London for libel. If she were to lose, the claims of Irving and those like him could have gained acceptability.

by Michael Barrett

13 Sep 2016


Remy Marko (Broderick Crawford) was a successful businessman: he sold bootleg hooch during the Prohibition. The legalization of alcohol was catastrophic to his affairs, but his wife (Claire Trevor) convinces Marko to go legit despite the fact that his beer is basically undrinkable and no longer sought after. Sliding into debt and repossession by the bank, Marko finds that good honest work is not for the faint of heart.

Winking and nodding somewhere in the background of Stop, You’re Killing Me is a satire of capitalism and the cut-throat world of debt and consumption. It all comes to a head one weekend at Marko’s Saratoga mansion when he throws a big party just as his barely reformed goombahs (Charles Cantor, Sheldon Leonard, Joe Vitale) discover the bodies of four murdered robbers in an upstairs bedroom.

by Stephen Mayne

12 Sep 2016


Lene Cecilia Sparrok in Sami Blood (2016)

At film festivals the normal calendar fast fades into irrelevancy. Days of the week matter little compared to the screening schedule.

The same is not true for the rest of the world outside the film bubble, as I found at the subway. Completely unaware it was Sunday, I arrived early in the morning to find the station locked. This put the first film of the day in doubt. Thankfully someone did eventually open the doors and a train turned up 25 minutes later. It meant a close-run thing, but a little bit of sprinting meant I only missed the first ten minutes of Sami Blood.

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