September Recap, Part 2: TIFF 2016

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Earlier this summer, I was planning on skipping TIFF altogether because my sister was expecting around the same time, and I knew it was just going to be a really crazy time. And then they started rolling out film announcements. The first wave they announced was already full of films I really wanted to see and just couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see them early. So I made the conscious decision to still go to TIFF, but not in the same way that I’ve been doing it the past few years. What I normally did was buy the TIFF Choice Premium Package, which had the TIFF programmers pick 3 premiere movies for me to attend. Sometimes I’d get lucky and got a movie I actually wanted to see; most times I’d get movies that weren’t necessarily high on my list, and sometimes they were at really odd times. Anyways, so instead of going that route, I opted to buy the 10-pack Flex Package, which meant forgoing the Premieres for tickets to regular screenings. The upside to the Flex Pack was getting to choose my films before the single tickets went on sale, which was a blessing because the new system TIFF implemented to get tickets was really confusing.

So between my Flex Package, my friend handling single ticket sales, and checking the websites for additional tickets at 7 AM, I ended up getting tickets to 11 movies. That’s right. ELEVEN. In all my years of going to TIFF, this was a record for me, especially considering my time/travel constraints. But that’s what happened and I don’t regret it at all, because I got to see some really good movies.

Colossal was a weird movie. Good, but weird. Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, the movie stars Anne Hathaway as a woman who moves back to her hometown to get her life back together, and suddenly figures out she somehow controls a monster in Japan. Like I said, weird. Yet somehow it works.

For the second screening of COLOSSAL, there was no appearance from stars Anne Hathaway or Jason Sudeikis. But we got writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and supporting actor Austin Stowell.

For the second screening of COLOSSAL, there was no appearance from stars Anne Hathaway or Jason Sudeikis. But we got writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and supporting actor Austin Stowell.

ARQ is a sci-fi movie, that’s just totally right up my alley. Even though I knew it was going to be on Netflix, literally the week after I saw the movie, I still wanted to see it on the big screen. Also I was really hoping to see Robbie Amell again, despite the fact that it was a second screening; lucky for me, he was there! The movie was written and directed by Tony Elliott, who is also a writer on Orphan Black, which is a plus right there. Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor star as a couple who find themselves in a time loop. That’s the very simplified version of it, but it really is such a well-crafted script that puts a nice twist to the already complex idea of a time loop. Definitely one of my favourites from the fest. Like I said, already on Netflix, check it out!

ARQ writer/director Tony Elliott, and of course, star Robbie Amell

ARQ writer/director Tony Elliott, and of course, star Robbie Amell

Moonlight is such an understated but powerful movie, chronicling the life of a man at three points in his life: as a kid, a teenager, and an adult. The movie deals with what it means to be a gay African-American male in Miami, struggling with definitions of masculinity and identity. It was just so well done, on so many levels. This is the type of movie that needs to be seen and talked about. A bit heavy for a 9 AM screening (as I had done) but completely worth it. I fully expect Oscar nods for writer/director Barry Jenkins, and some of the cast. With the main character being played by three different actors, categorization gets a little complicated, but Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris need to be nominated in Supporting. The movie is slowly getting released in theatres, so go watch it when you have a chance!

I was truly not expecting to see the cast during this second screening and at 9 A.M! But it was certainly a welcome surprise. L-R: Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, writer/director Barry Jenkins

I was truly not expecting to see the cast during this second screening and at 9 A.M! But it was certainly a welcome surprise.
L-R: Trevante Rhodes, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, writer/director Barry Jenkins

Queen of Katwe (which is already out in theatres) centers around the true life story of a Ugandan chess prodigy named Phiona. I honestly don’t understand chess. The movie though is truly inspiring, with great performances from newcomer Madina Nalwanga, who certainly holds her own opposite Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. Not gonna lie, I teared up towards the end.

I honest to goodness was going to wait until SING! came out in theatres (around Christmas time), so I could take my nieces to go see it. But when you find out the all-star voice cast of the movie, including the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson, are going to be in town to attend the premiere, you go! And that’s exactly what happened! The movie itself, which is about a theatre owner putting together a singing competition to help revive his theatre, was pretty darn adorable. Bonus was getting a short set from Tori Kelly and Jennifer Hudson after the screening, performing a few songs from the movie.

SING! Premiere! L-R: Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey

SING! Premiere! Look at all those beautiful people!
L-R: Jennifer Hudson, Nick Kroll, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Scarlett Johansson, Reese Witherspoon, Matthew McConaughey

OH. MY. GOD. LA LA LAND! I heard the hype and praise. I obviously wanted to see it because Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a musical was enough to sell me on it. I was bummed when the premiere and subsequent screenings were during the week. But then, TIFF did me a solid and added more screenings, one of which was on a Saturday, meaning I immediately swapped one of my other movies for it. And man, it was just SOOOOO GOOOOOOOD!!! I left the screening singing “City of Stars” and just the biggest smile on my face, despite the rain that day. I can’t wait until December to go see it again, not to mention get my hands on that soundtrack!

Another film based on a true story, Brain on Fire centers on Susannah Cahalan, a New York Post journalist who suffered through a month of various health issues that went misdiagnosed by various doctors, before she was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. It’s certainly a challenging feat to not only do right by Cahalan’s real life story, but also present the medical side of things without making it seem like an episode of House. Director Gerard Barrett struck the right balance in adapting Cahalan’s book, and Chloe Grace Moretz, who played Cahalan, found herself in one of her best roles to date. It was informative and eye-opening, but also a bit scary to think of the struggles that Cahalan and her family went through in that time period.

I had been waiting so anxiously to see Justin Timberlake + The Tennessee Kids, the concert documentary from renowned director Jonathan Demme, shot during the last two dates of The 20/20 Experience Tour in Las Vegas. When they had initially filmed, I just thought it was going to be released on DVD just like other concert movies. When they announced it as screening at TIFF, I was surprised but then figured it was probably more documentary than concert. When I saw it, I realized it was pretty much the concert I had seen in person, minus one hour, and it was still WONDERFUL! Of course, what the film really showcased was not just JT, but also all the dancers, band members, back-up singers (aka The Tennessee Kids), and even the crew members who worked so hard to literally put the show together. And watching it again on the big screen, with the surround sound? It felt like I was there again, and all I wanted to do was get up, dance and sing along.

Burn Your Maps centers on an 8-year-old boy named Wes (played by the ever adorable Jacob Tremblay), who is convinced that he was born in the wrong place and is supposed to be a Mongolian goat-herder. His tenacity and beliefs pushes him and his mother (played by Vera Farmiga) to go on a journey to Mongolia and find themselves. It’s a unique story to say the least, and I certainly found myself enjoying the film quite a bit.

Blue Jay turned out to be a movie that was both something I normally wouldn’t have chosen to go see in theatres, but also something that I have been drawn to lately. It stars Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass as ex-high school sweethearts, who run into each other when they return to their old hometown. The movie plays out with them reconnecting, with a sense of nostalgia. Shown in black and white, it gives off a feeling of an old home movie and you’re not sure what’s going to happen with these two (while you also wonder when they’ll reveal why they broke up 20 years ago). It felt almost too personal, like you’re intruding on this reunion, but even if you haven’t gone through it yourself, it made you connect with them.

My last movie of the festival was Arrival. I love Amy Adams, like Jeremy Renner, and have become quite the fan of Denis Villeneuve’s work that I really wanted to see this before it gets released in November. Adams plays Louise, a linguist, who along with Renner’s scientist Ian, is tasked with helping the army to communicate with a group of creatures that have appeared in spacecrafts in 12 places around the world. I don’t want to even attempt to explain more, in fear that I might spoil it. Trust me though, it’s a smart sci-fi drama, and definitely worth your time.

So all in all, it was yet another great year at TIFF. Was I a little bummed that I didn’t get to do my premiere screenings like I normally do? A little bit. But honestly, it became a nice reminder of why I liked going to TIFF – the movies…and of course, getting to be among the some of the first people to see a movie. The movies are what it’s all about though.

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