TIFF diary #7: Southern gothics

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Nicolas Cage (with Tye Sheridan) turns in a memorable performance in David Gordon Green's 'Joe.'
Courtesy of tiff.net

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.

Another gothic tale, this time from Virginia: it's very important to keep your eyes glued to the screen throughout Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin. This modern-day Western captures the genre's grittiest glory by way of contemporary conflicts, with a cast led by Macon Blair. His physical and emotional transformation is one that few performances this year will rival.

Director Saulnier now has two gritty little ditties to his name this year, following up his cinematography credit on I Used to Be Darker, which screened at Sundance in the NEXT category. Blue Ruin reminds me of what John Carpenter was doing 35 years ago with Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). His characters live and breathe and their driving motivations are the stuff that genre audiences can really dig their fingers into. Let's hope Saulnier is able to make a few more low-budget films before Hollywood snatches him up to make a superhero blockbuster. (And I bet he'll do a smash-up job if he does.)