A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Estonia/France) is the first collaboration between experimental filmmakers Ben Rivers and Ben Russell — and man oh man, was it music to my eyes. Structured into three segments (comparisons to Kelly Reichardt's 2006 Old Joy are inevitable), this experimental documentary is uniquely personal, to the point of leaving many audience members at a loss for words, for better or worse.
Intrepid filmgoer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks' reports from the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival continue this week. Stay tuned for more posts, including Jesse's upcoming list of his top 12 films from the fest!
From director David Gordon Green, gothic Texan tale Joe gives Nicolas Cage a showy role, in the manner of Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans (2009). Luckily Joe turns out to be a rambling bundle of fun, thanks in no small part to Cage's typically uneven (yet always hypnotic) performance. That said, the film earned some glaringly obvious comparisons to Jeff Nichols' Mud (2012), including the casting of teen actor Tye Sheridan, who plays a similar role in both films.
Swedish auteur Lukas Moodysson is back and he may have just created one of the most riotous punk rock extravaganzas ever. We Are the Best!(Sweden/Denmark) played to packed houses throughout the entire Toronto International Film Festival, creating an astounding word of mouth buzz.
The surprise crowd-pleaser of TIFF 2013 was John Turturro's Fading Gigolo (US). Showcasing Woody Allen in a rare acting-only role, this surprisingly romantic tale about a man in his mid-50s (played by writer-director Turturro) is as charmingly hilarious as it is deftly dramatic.
Mike Flanagan's evil-mirror flick Oculus (US) received first runner-up for "Best Midnight Movie," which now seems appropriate since James Wan's recent Insidious: Chapter 2 basically uses the same flashback structure (to much stronger effect.) Still, Flanagan (2011's Absentia) is a young director worth keeping an eye on.
Eli Roth's latest direct-to-streaming effort The Green Inferno (US) pays homage to Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust (1980) with some of the most deliciously disgusting violence seen onscreen in quite some time. Like Nicolás López's Aftershock (2012), which Roth wrote, produced, and starred in, Inferno has a wonderful B-movie quality that will probably prevent it from achieving mainstream success. (Splatter fiends, however, are in for a treat.)
A Touch of Sin (China/Japan) is the latest thoughtful triumph for Jia Zhangke, the king of China's sixth-generation filmmaking. This time around, his suffering, disaffected characters are entangled in an even more violent environment than in previous outings Unknown Pleasures (2002), The World (2004), and Still Life (2006).
All Cheerleaders Die (USA) is the follow up to Lucky McKee's attention-grabbing The Woman (2011), which stunned Sundance audiences with both its subversive take on gender issues and its violent brutality.
Taking a much lighter tone with co-director Chris Sivertson, Cheerleaders (an expanded remake of his 2001 short by the same name) nicely echoes the ironic horror-comedy vibe of Joss Whedon's Cabin in the Woods (2012) while still managing to deliver a genre entry for text-crazed teenyboppers. Goths, jocks, some faux feminism, and a bevy of ass and crotch shots should make fans of Harmony Korine's Spring Breakers quite satisfied.