As mentioned earlier in the week, the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF) is essentially the little brother to Canada’s largest film festival, held in Toronto. We don’t get all of the biggest name films, but we do get many that are worthwhile. Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the must-see films that came out of CIFF 2015.
Directed by John Crowley. Produced by Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey. Written by Nick Hornby. Release date: November 4, 2015.
Period dramas, particularly those released around Oscar season, are typically seen as “Oscar bait” – the types of movies that have been made not for money, not for artistic merit, but because there’s a good chance that it will get some of the people who made it awards. On the surface, Brooklyn looks like one such movie. It’s a period drama about an Irish girl coming to America, and struggling to figure out what she wants out of life after meeting and falling in love with a man from America, but also wishing to maintain her culture. It sounds cookie-cutter and it sounds boring, but trust me when I say that it is neither of these things.
Brooklyn is far funnier than its premise might suggest. It’s got a great deal of clever lines scattered throughout, many having to do with the way that different cultures function. It actually has some insights into this issue, too, instead of simply acknowledging the differences and moving on. Perhaps the strongest aspect to Brooklyn is its acting, particularly that from Saoirse Ronan. Ronan’s been a good actor for a while now, but it’s with Brooklyn that she shows an entire spectrum. Charming, sweet, deep, funny, awkward, determined – these are all words that one could use to describe Ronan in this film. It’s likely that she’ll be up for an Oscar for Brooklyn, and in my opinion it’ll be a deserving nomination.
As her New York-based lover, newcomer Emory Cohen is surprisingly good. He’s a nice guy who clearly has great affection for Ronan’s character. Back in Ireland, her love interest is played by Domhnall Gleeson, for whom a good performance is no surprise. The “who will she pick” aspect of the film becomes the driving force of the film’s central half, although it handles its “love triangle” in a way that isn’t like how you’d expect – and its conclusion is far greater than simply satisfactory.[rating=4]
Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos. Produced by Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Lee Magiday. Written by Efthimis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos. Release date: TBA.
The Lobster is a movie whose success comes almost solely from its premise and its writing. The former involves a near-future in which single people are outlawed, and if one becomes single, they must find a partner within 45 days. To do so, they’re taken to The Hotel, placed among a whole host of other single people, and hopefully they’ll find someone. If they don’t, they turn into an animal – yes, literally. This is what a man named David (Colin Ferrell) finds himself having to avoid, after his wife of many years dies,
The first thing you’ll notice about The Lobster is that its dialogue sounds unlike most of what you’ll hear at the movies. It’s very dispassionate, very matter-of-fact, and contains words and phrases that are uncommon in day-to-day life. It’s awkward and quite funny. It’s true that it’s the type of film that some people will love right away and others will want to disappear from the theater screen as soon as possible, but, at least for me, it was well worth the watch.
The only real problem with The Lobster is that its second half is nothing like its first, and it becomes a very different kind of movie as a result. The characters leave the hotel, an actual love story begins to develop, and then … it gets even weirder. This is fine, but I found most of the humor wound up drained from the film. It also concludes on a bit of a non-ending, unfortunately. It fits thematically, but narratively it winds up being a bit disappointing. Still, those looking for something different from the cinema will surely want to check out The Lobster.[rating=3.5]
Directed and written by Jeremy Saulnier. Produced by Anish Savjani, Neil Kopp, and Victor Moyers. Release date: April 1, 2016.
It’s unfortunate that it’s going to be several months before Green Room is released, because out of all of the films I saw at CIFF (which is 31 over the festival’s duration), it’s the one I’d most like to re-watch right away. The good news is that the distribution studio has confirmed that it will expand into a wide release in April of 2016, which means that audiences around the country will, at least, be able to watch it.
The premise is fairly simple – until it’s not. A murder occurs at a concert venue. A band, whose most prominent member is played by Anton Yelchin, finds out about it, and then finds itself locked in a room while the venue’s owner (Patrick Stewart) figures out what to do with them. Then things get bloody. A mental game of cat-and-mouse occurs first, as the two competing parties try to get an edge on the other – lots of funny lines occur during this time – before an all-out bloody war is sparked and everyone starts killing everyone else.
Green Room does so much right that it’s hard to know where to begin. It is, at times, as tense as a movie can get. It’s one of the funniest dark comedies you’ll see next year. Its violence is over-the-top, gory, and often disgusting. The characters are interesting – even the ones without a lot of screen time. And it knows how to not overstay its welcome, ending well before it begins to get tiresome. Green Room is fantastic entertainment, and it’s well worth checking out.[rating=4]
Into the Forest
Directed and written by Patricia Rozema. Produced by Niv Fichman, Aaron L. Gilbert, and Ellen Page. Release date: TBA 2016.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A family lives in the middle of nowhere. Then the power goes out. It’s the end of the world, at least in part. Supplies run low, tensions run high, and nobody knows what to do. It sounds like every start-of-the-apocalypse movie you’ve ever seen, right? Well, Into the Forest does do some things differently. First off, it focuses on a pair of sister, here played by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood. Second, they’re actually quite well off in terms of food and water, at least for a few months. The film only rarely focuses on the fight for survival. Instead, it decides to spend most of its time on the psychological impact this situation has on its characters.
That means that we have a lot more invested in these people than we typically do in these sorts of movies. The acting from Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood is astonishingly good. Into the Forest is an emotional roller coaster. It’s not all doom-and-gloom for the characters – although there are certainly moments of that. There’s also room for hope and optimism, especially when it comes to the future of, well, the human race, potentially.
It’s true that post-apocalyptic movies are a dime a dozen, and that many of them are very much not good. Into the Forest is better than the average. It actually reminded me a lot of the TV show Jericho – at least for its first few episodes. And I love Jericho (season 1; season 2 was rushed and not very good). Strong characters, good acting, interesting situations, emotional highs and lows – Into the Forest is a great movie.[rating=4]