OUR MAN IN TORONTO
Damian ‘Damo’ Spandley is Curzon’s Director of Programme overseeing film and event content. Having reached these heady heights we asked him for his Toronto Film Festival diary so we can keep abreast of the parties, premieres, Q&As and of course, what happens on the ground in the record shops and bars.
Forget Mayweather versus McGregor, today I had front row seats to Close versus Pryce in The Wife (world premiere at TIFF), a heavyweight acting battle that goes the full 12 rounds. On the surface a wonderfully happy autumn couple, Glenn Close plays the long-suffering but loving wife of a famous author (Jonathan Pryce) who’s just learnt he’s to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. She is his rock; she softens family arguments, picks food from his beard and makes sure he takes his pills on time. But on the trip to Sweden to conclude the ceremonies, cracks begin to appear in their relationship and heartbreaking truths emerge. Christian Slater oozes as the sycophantic and unwelcome biographer scratching around for dirt. A 45 Years within the literary world, it’s a powerful drama that showcases in particular Glenn Close’s luminous power as an actress - in a role that could see her in awards contention next February. I watched it saddened to think it might be too old fashioned to be heard in today’s noisy film market, but I was instantly put right by a 5-star review in The Guardian.
mother!'s North American premiere was here in Toronto this week, just days before its release back home this Friday (book now). Aronofsky’s latest is a completely barmy metaphysical arthouse horror like nothing you’ve seen before - a brilliantly original, imaginative and suspenseful piece of work. A self-centred blocked writer (Javier Bardem) and his beautiful younger wife (Jennifer Lawrence) occupy a remote and gorgeous old house, But their isolation is brutally interrupted with the arrival of pilgriming fan (Ed Harris) and this wife (Michelle Pfeiffer), who literally open the door to an expanding entourage of rude and inconsiderate house guests. The film then becomes a psychological horror for the houseproud (which is me - I was squirming), with Bardem oblivious to his wife’s discomfort as he laps up the praise of his new found friends. Both prim and protective of the house, the interruptions, which grow more personal and become more violent, are increasingly tormenting for the young wife, as the situation escalates to a wholly unexpected and show-stopping climax. Aronofsky puts to work the tools of the horror genre (the haunted house - isolated in a forest, bumps in the night, body horror, unwelcome strangers, horror as a manifestation of marital problems) to construct a Trojan Horse from which springs a complex thesis about the commodity and vanity of celebrity, mass societal behaviour, procreation, religion and more.
Today was a day for films about people stirring things up in their families and communities, and about British films stirring things up here at the festival.
I managed to squeeze in two world premieres today, but not before one of my favourite films of the trip so far, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It already has the best and most expletive trailer of the year that you should watch immediately (finish reading this, first - don't be rude!). But I'm happy to say it still delivers above and beyond the marketing - and even if you've giggled at moments in the trailer - you'll laugh harder when you meet them again in the feature. Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) writes and directs, but not to be confused with his brother, John Michael McDonagh (big bro's last film was the potty mouthed War On Everyone, so I'm imagining a breakfast table challenge was issued at some point between the siblings as to who could make the sweariest movie).
So today started with me getting up at 6:30am in order to watch my team take a 5-0 beating in a dawn-opening Toronto Sports Bar. But it got better...
Unarguable genius Armando Iannucci's The Death of Stalin premieres here in Toronto, a brilliant satirical send-up of the final day of Stalin’s life and the immediate aftermath of his death, with his cronies portrayed superbly as a bungling pack of sarcastic and self-serving plotters and imbeciles by Simon Russell Beale, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Paul Whitehouse and others. An expertly curated cast also includes Andrea Riseborough, Olga Kurylenko, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, and Jason Isaacs as a bombastic general with a Lancashire accent who nicks many of the best lines (“I took Germany, so I think I can handle a flesh lump in a waistcoat”, etc.). Based on a French graphic novel, Iannucci’s effectively In The Looped mid-20th century Soviet politics, with well-crafted period, a sophisticated and playful sense of farce and a generous helping of his signature foul-mouthery. I loved how clever it all is, an almost Avid Merrion-like reimagining of historical personalities, events and behaviours that’s absurd in its distortion - but rings truer as a result. The film plays Curzon Cinemas from 20 October - get in the mood for this 5 star satire by reading the Guardian review from here in Toronto.
I smashed it today, with a pretty formidable line up of movies.
Last night I was at Midnight Madness, the fevered late night cult screening strand that has legendary status worldwide for genre fans. I saw Bodied, an Eminem-produced rap comedy about a white grad student at Berkeley falling into battle rapping while researching his thesis. Not quite sure what the critics will think if but it was a lot of fun, or that's certainly the opinion of the whooping and hollering fanboy crowd I saw it with. A playful satire on the music, the film also explores the more unsavoury aspects of rap lyrics, such as casual misogyny, homophobia and racism. It’s Scott Pilgrim meets 8 Mile, in a way. And, in a way that recalls Dear White People, a broader debate permeates the film with black versus white culture and racial privilege.
Cut from the same saddle cloth as Curzon's own Lean On Pete, (the new film from 45 Years' director Andrew Haigh) The Rider also has UK distribution (through Altitude) - and will be released next year. Recalling early David Gordon Green films (particularly in the excellent use of non-actors to authentically portray the working class American heartland), this is the assured 2nd feature from Chloé Zhao.
The stand-out film for me on day one of screenings was Mudbound. Already well buzzed and with a 5-star Guardian review out of Sundance, Dee Rees' second dramatic feature is caked dry with earthy authenticity. I went in with manicured hands and left with dirt under my fingernails. Normally voiceover or internal dialogue niggles me, as it's usually used lazily. But Rees put it to work masterfully here to build atmosphere and to give a poetic voice to an ensemble of characters, who in post-War Mississippi wouldn't have had much to say, not out loud anyhow. It's the story of a determined farmer, who moves his educated wife (Carey Mulligan) to a farm in the Southern state, and the impact of that move on his family and the black family that rents land from him. It weaves a rich tapestry that also comments on the impact of service in WW2 on two young men from each family, black and white, and simmering racial tensions of the region in that period. We hope to bring you exclusive screenings of this title in November, so watch this space.
Although I saw it in London, a special mention and congratulations to all involved for Borg vs McEnroe, which is being release by Curzon in the UK on 22 September (book now) and enjoyed its world premiere as opening film of the festival tonight, with Shia LaBeouf on the red carpet.
My flight didn't have movie screens; instead flyers are asked to access in-flight movies via their devices. My airline was so cheap they ask you to bring the screen with you. It's a bold business move that we won't be considering at Curzon. And the hardware wasn't the only economy: the selection was old. Browsing it reminded me of hiring a VHS from The Wine Box, the off-licence with a video rack that greatly informed the viewing habits of my Blackpool neighbourhood while growing up.
That said, they did have Lion, which The Wine Box never did (for historical reasons). So I finally watched it after shamefully missing out earlier this year. On my iPhone too, my first mobile feature. It made me cry at the end when - for a brief moment - I forgot I was a hard-nosed film professional. I had to keep pausing it to regain my usual poise in case anyone noticed. The stewardess that served me a drink must have thought I was very thirsty indeed: that people don’t usually get that emotional about barely warm filter coffee. Mrs S cries at pretty much every film I take her to (even sci-fi), so I recommended it to her to watch while I'm away - with the caveat that she lays down towels to protect our sofa.
So I've touched down in Toronto and tomorrow the movies begin - but can they live up to Lion on my iPhone?!