Film

TIFF 2016: Colossal, Pyromaniac, Nocturnal Animals, Arrival, American Pastoral, Trespass Against Us

Anne Hathaway in Colossal (2016)

Monster mayhem, aliens, Philip Roth and dysfunctional families -- it's all in a day at Toronto International Film Festival 2016.

We have a lot of ground to cover, but before launching into day 2 of Toronto International Film Festival, there’s a little business from day 1 to finish off. So let’s head to Anne Hathaway and her monster with a brief detour in the forests of Norway.

Colossal is about as high concept a film as you can manage. That it makes little sense were you to think about it for more than ten seconds is just part of the charm. Hathaway plays a burnt out New York writer who spends her nights drinking and days crashing at her boyfriend’s apartment. Given she’s not contributing to the rent after a year of unemployment, he understandably has enough, kicks her out, and she's back to the small town she grew up in.

So far Nacho Vigalondo’s film is firmly in the comedy-drama territory, especially when she meets up with her old friend Jason Sudeikis and resumes the destructive behavior that put her there in the first place. This all makes for an amiably entertaining set-up. Oh, and I might not have mentioned it but a giant monster is also destroying the South Korean capital. The two events don’t seem directly related, but Hathaway discovers a weird connection to the monster.

The ensuing madness is generally great fun, sagging a little towards the end before rallying for a strong finish. There may be more moving films at TIFF, but for pure enjoyment Colossal is hard to beat.

Per Frisch in Pyromanen (2016)

Off to Norway and another monster awaits us, this one taking a more human form. Out in the remote Finsland area, an arsonist is terrifying inhabitants, building up from burning shacks to burning people. This is no real surprise given the film is called Pyromanen. It’s from Norwegian director Erik Skjoldbjærg, who has a good track record with thrillers. He made the original Insomnia (remade by Christopher Nolan), and was last seen sowing conspiracy theories into the oil industry in Pioneer.

His latest is two thirds of a good film, full of beautiful countryside and horrific blazes. The villain of the piece is the weak link, presented as slightly more than a blank slate but not as a real person. This reduces an otherwise solid release.

Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Now that that’s out the way, we can move to day 2, which started with another 9am belter. Manchester by the Sea seemed untoppable, and yet Nocturnal Animals gets mighty close. It’s the second film from Tom Ford, better known for his work in the fashion industry, and it starts by playing to his strengths.

Amy Adams is a conceptual artist living in an expensively austere and oh so modern mansion. She has a distant husband and a strong sense of a life wasted. Then a manuscript turns up from her ex-husband.

Here Ford tips the film on its head, the manuscript becoming the story as she reads all about Jake Gyllenhaal’s night-time troubles when three guys kidnap his wife and teenage daughter on a remote Texan road. This side of the story is full of dirt and sweat, and could almost be real were it not for Michael Shannon’s show stopping turn as a local police officer. Throw in a brilliant score, impeccable visuals and some Lynchian touches, and we have ourselves a real winner. Sure it’s odd, but who wants normal?

Amy Adams in Arrival (2016)

Let’s take stock for a moment; we’ve had giant monsters, fire loving monsters and Texan monsters. Arrival has none of these. It comes with aliens, instead. Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve has carved out an impressive record of late. He follows Sicario last year with this first contact sci-fi drama. Amy Adams is back again having given up the art to become a language specialist. When 12 silvery objects land across the globe, she’s brought in to try and communicate with one that's hovering over a field in Montana.

Watching Adams attempt to teach the aliens English is remarkably gripping, aided by some genuinely breath-taking shots. One had me almost mesmerized as Adams and Jeremy Renner’s physicist ascended (or descended or just plain walked sideways -- the gravity in these things is confusing) into the ship.

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked part of Arrival, but it tacks on a horrible personal backstory concerning Adams and a sick child. Apparently, the wonder of first contact isn’t enough to move us, so we need an attempt at emotional profundity that falls flat no matter how pretty the strings sound. I'm in the minority on this one it seems, but this irritated the hell out of me. Ask everyone else and they plain loved Arrival. There’s no accounting for taste, it seems.

Ewan McGregor and Hannah Nordberg in American Pastoral (2016)

That’s a lot of ground covered already but don’t go anywhere yet. We still have two more films left. Both at public screenings as well after I traded in some of my jealously guarded ticket allocation. First up there’s American Pastoral. I’m a big Philip Roth fan and this is one of his best books. His writing style doesn’t lend itself to decent adaptations and I can’t say my hopes were high. After two hours of emotionally flat Roth-lite, my worries were not extinguished.

Ewan McGregor takes the lead role as Swede Levov, a man living the American dream in the '60s. At least until his daughter gets involved in terrorist activity and disappears from his life. McGregor makes his directing debut, and although he draws decent performances from a cast including Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning, this adaptation loses the rich inner life of the novel without replacing it with anything.

Indeed, the longer it goes on, the less impact American Pastoral has. It also makes the unforgivable error of weakening the central themes of the novel. Adaptations must be their own thing, but not by losing the core of the work. Which is exactly what happens here.

Brendan Gleeson and Michael Fassbender in Trespass Against Us (2016)

There was still a chance to redeem the evening as I exited the cinema only to circle back round and join a queue to go in again. After period drama, it was time for a change of pace with Trespass Against Us. The pace change is immediate in this debut from English director Adam Smith. It opens with a car careening through a field. Michael Fassbender sits in the driver's seat but his young son has the wheel. Fassbender is Chad, the golden child of traveller kingpin Colby (Brendan Gleeson). He does his bidding and always has, but now he wants out.

Family dynamics moor this arresting drama, though for pure exhilaration a couple of chase scenes steal the show. With authentic and almost impenetrable dialogue, and performances that take the cast far from their comfort zones, this is a very strong debut. It goes on a little too long, but that’s hardly the worst cinematic crime in the world.

I do have to admit I was happy when it all ended. I emerged at midnight off the back of five films (another embargoed until the next installment). Given the first of the day started at 9am, all I want now is sleep. Then we go again in the morning.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.