Spotlight opens in a police station in the late 1970’s, before cutting to the more modern 2001. It is supposed to be an early set-up and introduction to this true life tale of a group of journalists uncovering corruption within the Catholic church in Boston (and later and more horrifically, worldwide), but it also suggests nostalgia for the era a film like this would have thrived. They just do not make slow-moving procedurals like this anymore, with no gloss, no flair and a mantra of “just the facts mam”.

But much like it’s grandfather All the President’s Men, Spotlight is a riveting piece of cinema that feels authentic and real. There are no superheroes saving the day, just honest, hardworking journalists who stopped at nothing to deliver a story they knew people needed to know about. It may feel slow and long-winded in certain instances, but no frame or detail goes wasted. In fact, the film seems so driven on chronicling the story that it barely mentions 9/11, using it only to establish the film’s timeline. That is certainly not something we have come to expect from American cinema, but director Tom McCarthy has never been one to follow typical conventions. While he may have struck out with last year’s Adam Sandler vehicle The Cobbler, he has always strived to be unique and atypical with his previous films like Win WinThe Visitor and The Station Agent. With Spotlight, he continues that trend and will become a director to truly look out for now.

Acting wise, everyone is at the top of their game here, from Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, all the way down to scene-stealers like Stanley Tucci and relative unknown Brian d’Arcy James. There are no stand outs because everyone seems to be on the same footing, all working together much like the team in real life, to deliver a truly moving and captivating film. As a student of journalism, I could barely look away from what was happening on-screen; I was just fascinated from beginning to end. The story at the heart of Spotlight may be despicable, but seeing how the team broke the news to the world is a more than worthwhile investment.

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Nearly two weeks later, and I am still not quite sure what to make of Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa. It was a curiosity when I first picked it in my TIFF package, and remained that way well after it premiered at Telluride and Venice. I have always admired his work, and he was one of my favourite screenwriters for a very long time. But he has been entirely absent from the big screen since 2008’s Synecdoche, New York — a film that is easy to admire but hard to sit through — and his only credit since is for an unaired FX pilot starring Michael Cera.

But you would never think any of that based on how wonderful a film Anomalisa is. Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a motivational speaker on a trip to Cincinnati. Michael has no real drive, and nobody stands out to him — everyone just sounds and looks the same. He meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and is immediately quite taken with her.

Revealing anymore about this unconventional romance would be a disservice to Kaufman, his co-director Duke Johnson and their extremely talented production team. The description may not have hinted at it, but Anomalisa is filmed entirely in stop motion, with puppets, and only has three credited voice actors starring in it (the other is character actor Tom Noonan, who does his very best to make every character sound just as mundane and ordinary as the next). But I cannot even begin to imagine this as a live action film. It just has too much imagination and wonder compacted within its 90-minute running time. While the look of the film is truly wonderful, the details of each puppet are even more spectacular. The emotions they display are nothing short of astonishing, and truly compliment the impeccable voice work.

Kaufman’s screenplays have by and large been about people on the fringes of life, wrestling with internal conflicts and how mundane life can become. And Anomalisa is no different. It says so much, by saying very little. I enjoyed it by and large, but there is something about it that is compelling me to revisit it as soon as I possibly can. And with Paramount buying and releasing the film by year’s end, it will not be nearly that long a wait.

Anomalisa does not quite measure up to the brilliance of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it is yet another eclectic and unique treasure that only a man like Charlie Kaufman can deliver.

So it’s the day after TIFF, and I’m exhausted. I got a lot of sleep yesterday since I decided against seeing the People’s Choice Award winner — Room. I had already watched it on Tuesday at the Toronto premiere and after watching the trailer today and getting choked up just watching fragments of the film, I think I made the right choice.

And yes, it is just as terrific as you have heard. I will have a more comprehensive capsule review for it later this week. So in the meantime, here’s a few smaller reviews (along with links to the films’ synopses), along with a picture of the special guest from the Midnight Madness screening of Takashi Miike’s Yakuza Apocalypse. It’s best you don’t ask what it is, because I am still not sure.

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There is a fierce bidding war on-going for Ilya Naishuller’s Hardcore, and for good reason. It is unlike anything we have ever really seen in a movie before. Think the video game series Call of Duty meets Crank (which itself was akin to a video game), but high on cocaine. The lead character is named Henry, but he is really you since the film takes place entirely through first person POV. He has just been brought back from the dead as a super soldier, and when his wife is taken from him, he intends to destroy his way through Russia until he finds her.

Hardcore is a bit weak storywise (and somehow moderately confusing with some character motivations), but it makes up for it all in its relentless and kinetic visuals. The camera is always moving and the action very rarely stops. And it only becomes more intense and ridiculously violent as it goes along. Thankfully the film never feels like a gimmick like that sequence we all remember from the Doom film adaptation in 2005. Naishuller uses the camera to feel like a genuine part of the action, allowing for the visuals to become truly creative and inventive. Sharlto Copley of District 9 and Elysium shines as a bizarre accomplice and guide named Jimmy, giving a performance that is beyond description. He is off-the-wall and practically delirious in nearly every instance. If you can think of the most ludicrous thing you can while reading this, chances are Copley does it during the film (including an absolutely insane musical number).

Hardcore will not be for everyone — a person fainted at my screening, and it is quite nauseating in some instances with the way the camera moves. But it is a lot of fun, and a product that feels genuinely unique. Prepare yourself and strap in for the ride.

So there was a really big learning curve this year taking the whole week off for TIFF: do I see as many movies as I possibly can, or do I only see a select few and spend the rest of the week writing? As you can probably tell, I picked seeing the movies. I have 3 scheduled for today, but the first does not start until 6:45 tonight — and tickets are still available, so I am not anticipating a crowd.

I’ve been running behind on posting photos as well, so here’s a taste of the main cast from Spotlight on stage after the premiere on Monday, along with the real journalists they were portraying:

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So here are a few more things I learned, or have confirmed over the past few days:

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This is a group photograph of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several Commanders in Chiefs taken on July 1, 1983, in the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff dining room, located in the Pentagon. Shows (left to right): U.S. Navy Adm. Wesley L. McDonald, Commander in Chief, US Atlantic Command; U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Paul X. Kelley, Commandant of the Marine Corps; U.S. Army Gen. Paul F. Gorman, Commander in Chief, US Southern Command; U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert C. Kingston, Commander in Chief, US Central Command; U.S. Army Gen. John A. Wickham, Chief of Staff, US Army; U.S. Army Gen. Wallace H. Nutting, Commander in Chief, US Readiness Command; U.S. Air Force Gen. James V. Hartinger, Commander in Chief, Aerospace Defense Command; U.S. Navy Adm. William J. Crowe, Commander in Chief, US Pacific Command; U.S. Air Force Gen. Charles A. Gabriel, Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force; U.S. Army Bernard W. Rogers, Commander in Chief, US European Command; U.S. Army Gen. John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; U.S. Air Force Gen. Bennie L. Davis, Commander in Chief, US Strategic Air Command; U.S. Navy Adm. James D. Watkins, Chief of Naval Operations; and U.S. Air Force Gen. Thomas M. Ryan, Commander in Chief, Military Airlift Command. OSD Package No. A07D-00347 (DOD Photo by Robert D. Ward) (Released)

Well the cat’s out of the bag — Michael Moore’s secret documentary Where To Invade Next premiered on Thursday night at TIFF and it was nothing like anyone expected. Instead of skewering the American government and their foreign policies abroad, Moore decided to travel various European countries and discuss social/economic improvements they made that could help improve the quality of life in the US. The only footage on US soil is archived news and cell phone videos.

What he discovers abroad is initially ludicrous in how wildly different it is from American (and by proxy Canadian) life. 8-week vacations in Italy. Amazing school lunch programs in France. Free college education in Slovenia. Some of the things he discovers are downright mind-boggling. Of course, he avoids all of the social problems each of those countries have in favour of cherry-picking the best elements to contrast to American life, but that is besides the point. Instead of grabbing American government by the throat, Moore calmly and carefully lays out the ways life can be improved. It is a very different kind of movie for him, and I think that’s why it resonates so well. It provokes discourse in the best possible way, and is moving, hilarious and downright disturbing all at the same time. This is easily his best work since Bowling for Columbine, and one that does not feel like it is entirely agenda driven.

If I hold anything against it, it is that it feels a bit sluggish at 2 hours (but this could also have been due to the delayed and increasingly late time I watched it), and I’m not entirely sure his culminating thesis is sound. He presents a lot of information, and by the time the film comes to an end, it does not feel all that conclusive. Almost as if something is missing.

But that said — Moore is tired, and he wants to continue campaigning for change. But he does not want to be the only one. And Where To Invade Next may just be his last attempt at trying. Hopefully it helps.

If you can score tickets (or want to test your luck in the rush line), the film is playing at the Ryerson on Friday September 18 at 12pm and Sunday September 20 at 6pm.

So it’s Day 3, and I’ve already failed at updating daily. I knew that was ambitious…

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Anyway, so far I’ve only seen one film — Where to Invade Next. It’s Michael Moore’s best work since Bowling for Columbine. Saw it at the World Premiere on Opening Night with filmgoers, press and film buyers. Apparently the film had never been unspooled for anyone at that point, and you could tell Moore was nervous and anxious before and after the film was done. I’ll have a review up shortly with my brief thoughts.

 

weloveyoujakeCelebrity wise, I saw Moore that night, along with Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts on the red carpet for Demolition. I’ve been doing red carpets for six years taking pics (and trying for selfies), but ever since camera phones have caught on, it seems like I get more shots of those than I do the celebrities. Or whatever enterprising idea autograph hounds have for getting their attention and ensuring the autograph turns out. Or whatever attention this girl desperately wanted from Gyllenhaal.

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tiff40Tomorrow marks the beginning of TIFF — the Toronto International Film Festival. It runs for 11 days every September, this year’s running September 10-20. Nearly 300 films are screened from all over the world, and the buzz and excitement is simply unrivaled. There is just so much to do, and so much to see, that it actually becomes quite stressful planning it all. Are you going to see movies? See stars? Try to sneak into the parties? There is no right answer as everyone does something different.

I took a bit more time off work this year, so I am hoping to beat my record of seeing 19 films in 11 days (though I will not try beating my record of seeing 5(!) films in a day). And unlike previous years, I will be blogging and writing capsules of all of the films I manage to see. I may even put up a few of my best celeb photos. The goal is to be on here daily, telling stories and letting you know which films to seek out during and long after the festival when some of these movies finally see the light of day.

I have seen 2 films so far (at private and embargoed critics’ screenings last week), and their reviews should go up sometime in the next few days over on Mr. Will Wong’s website. I know I said I’ll be posting celebrity photos, but none of mine will ever compare to his — so keep an eye on that site for updates, and for reviews from me and the rest of the crew who will be all over the festival.

So kick back and prepare for the madness. But just remember, we’ll get through this.

Another Blu-ray/DVD release #ShortCuts review for you this week — this time for Cameron Crowe’s Aloha. Pretty proud of how quickly I wrote this one up. It came out a lot longer than I thought it would. But trust me, be glad I saw it and you didn’t.

 

alohaposterRemember when I was complaining about how awful Hot Pursuit was a few weeks back? Well, I had the privilege of watching Aloha a short time later – and I think I may have found the worst movie of the year. Even that retched excuse called The Wedding Ringer was better than whatever the hell this is. Is it a comedy? Is it a romance? Is it a drama? Is it some hybrid mix of the three with thinly veiled allusions and commentaries on…everything? I could not tell you for the life of me, and I doubt writer/director Cameron Crowe could either.

Now it may sound like I am just jumping on the bandwagon and bashing this movie like everyone else did when it was released in May. But I am a huge Crowe fan – Almost Famous is legitimately one of my top five favourite films of all time. I love Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything…, Vanilla Sky and Jerry Maguire, and I did not hate Elizabethtown or We Bought A Zoo (Singles is sitting in a pile of movies waiting to be watched). But Aloha is easily the worst film he has ever done. It just lacks any form of cohesive story, the performances are all wasted, and it just comes off like a total disaster. I can readily admit I was not fully paying attention at all times, but it felt like the film had new ideas being introduced every 15 minutes, and then fully resolved without much conflict quickly afterwards.

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