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Author Information

Janna is a staff writer for The Hudsucker. Born and raised in a small Ontario town, she made her move to Toronto for university and immediately fell in love with the excitement and pace of the big city. She holds an Honors Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film Production from York University, specializing in editing and screenwriting. She currently works as an assistant editor for a television production company. Janna loves stories told in all mediums, especially film, and takes herself to the movies as much as she possibly can. She can generally be found taking a Zumba class, exploring some of Toronto’s lesser-known gems, or relaxing with her fluffy feline roommate.

Janna Does TIFF: Reviews from The First Weekend

As an avid film-goer, the Toronto International Film Festival is my favourite time of year. As always, this year’s festival has a diverse lineup of interesting, captivating films—and it’s impossible for anyone to see them all. But I’ve seen my fair share, and below you’ll find reviews for some of the most talked-about films from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Read on for advice on which films you should watch out for in the coming year – and which ones you’re better off skipping.

Credit Relativity Media

Credit Relativity Media

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Starring: Gugu Mbatha Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Colson “MGK” Baker, Danny Glover

Gina Prince-Bythewood, the director of Love and Basketball, has an incredible knack for pulling together elements that should be conflicting or overbearing and turning them into a powerful, moving film. She does that once again with Beyond The Lights, a music-industry drama about the rising singer Noni (Mbatha Raw), a young woman poised on the edge of stardom and barely holding onto her perfectly constructed exterior. Pushed to the brink of stardom by her mother, Noni is ready to end it all when she’s rescued—quite literally—by police officer Kaz (Parker). The two see something in each other and embark upon a love story that threatens both of their future careers, and must decide just what’s important in their lives. Mbatha Raw is incredible as Noni, playing the troubled superstar with believability and grace, and the journey she takes her character through is moving and inspiring. Parker, too, shows that he’s flexible and talented, and these actors have just the right chemistry needed to make this story believable. Minnie Driver, too, is excellent as Noni’s struggling mother, and the relationship that Mbatha Raw and Driver develop throughout the movie is fascinating and difficult to watch—in the best way possible. Watching Noni come into herself as a person, learn to trust and like herself after years of being told that her true self isn’t anything people want to see, is truly moving. Beyond The Lights is a film that many young women should see, thanks to the multi-faceted female lead and the journey she goes through, and it’s the sort of story that many will be able to relate to—even though most of us aren’t pop stars.

Credit Chernin Entertainment

Credit Chernin Entertainment

Directed by Michaël R. Roskam
Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Matthias Shoenaerts, John Oritz

The Drop, set in Brooklyn, tells the story of a Brooklyn bartender named Bob (Hardy), a man who’s simple and streetwise with a big heart. He works at Cousin Marv’s, the neighbourhood bar  run by Marv himself (Gandolfini), that doubles as a drop bar for local Chechen gangsters to launder money. When a drop is stolen in a robbery, Bob and Marv must find a way to get the money back to the Chechen gangsters while evading the police’s investigations. Bob’s life is further complicated when he finds a puppy left in the trash bin of his neighbor Nadia (Rapace), and the two of them struggle to keep the puppy safe as Bob’s own past returns to haunt him. The film is a little uneven, with scenes that are captivating and tense up next to scenes that are bland, confusing and forgettable. Marv has a plotline that doesn’t feel altogether thought-through and isn’t fully clarified for the audience, which feels frustrating. But the standout of the film is Hardy as Bob, a man so simple upon first viewing, who becomes far more than meets the eye by the end. His portrayal is quiet and stoic, his Brooklyn accent never slipping, and it’s easy to see why this is being hailed as one of Hardy’s most accomplished performances to date. The film builds unevenly for awhile, but comes to a mind-racing conclusion. But it’s worth seeing for the performances alone—not only is Gandolfini excellent as always in his final film, but Hardy is stellar. He’s a talented actor in a film that will leave audiences reeling.

Credit Grand Peaks Entertainment

Credit Grand Peaks Entertainment

Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan

The Last Five Years, based off the successful off-Broadway musical, is an impressive and beautiful new addition to the movie-musical catalogue. Both uplifting and melancholy, it tells the story of the five-year relationship between rising novelist Jamie (Jordan) and struggling actress Cathy (Kendrick). As Jamie’s novel vaults him to the top of the literary scene, Cathy struggles to land auditions and spends time in regional theatre, their relationship suffering from their diverging levels of success and confidence. Told largely in song, with few spoken dialogue parts, their stories are told in opposite order; the film begins with Cathy, and the end of the relationship, and with Jamie at the beginning, and works its way along the path until they meet in the middle. It’s a tale of love that’s both hopeful and tragic, and while most of the story’s conflict is internal and told through song instead of externally shown through action, it’s easy to feel for the characters. Kendrick and Jordan are perfect, with both their acting and their singing completely top-notch. The score is beautiful and moving, with moments that will bring up both laughter and tears for audiences. The film’s one downside is the cinematography; often the shots are lit rather flat, with camera moves that serve no real purposes and shots that needed to be steadier than they actually were. It’s a shame that the film’s cinematography isn’t as beautiful as the music deserves. However, Kendrick and Jordan excel as Cathy and Jamie, and their treatment of this beautiful score makes The Last Five Years a wonderful look at the ups and downs of love.

Credit Possible Films

Credit Possible Films

Directed by Hal Hartley
Starring: Liam Aiken, Aubrey Plaza, Martin Donovan, Parker Posey, Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak

The third and final film in the trilogy written and directly by Hal Hartley, Ned Rifle picks up several years after 2006’s Fay Grim and over a decade after 1997’s Henry Fool. Ned Rifle focuses on Ned, the son of Henry and Fay, who leaves witness protection at the age of eighteen with the goal of hunting down and killing his father for ruining his mother’s life. But this doesn’t make the film grim and dour—in fact, it’s an off-kilter comedy, full of dark humour and strange characters. Hartley has a very distinct style of filmmaking, dry and stilted, and Ned Rifle is one of the best of the trilogy. However, his style certainly isn’t for everyone—more often than not, the rhythms of the dialogue feel forced and unnatural, as if everyone is reading directly from the script. It’s also shot in a way that uses a lot of medium shots and close-ups, with fewer wide shots to set up the scene, leaving the audience possibly disoriented. While the story is interesting and moves along at a good pace, the film’s style is distracting and would be off-putting for many. While Aiken is good as straight-laced Ned, just wanting to do the right thing, it’s Plaza that really shines in this piece. She manages to successfully blend her own mannerisms with Hartley’s distinct style, rendering her delivery and scenes believable even when her character Susan is being ridiculous. For fans of Hartley and his trilogy, Ned Rifle is a welcome final chapter to this story. For audiences at large, it’s unbelievably dry.

Credit IACF

Credit IACF

Directed by Chris Rock
Starring: Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric the Entertainer

Chris Rock has never been one to hold back—he’s a comedian with sharp talent, one who doesn’t hesitate to comment on gender, race, sexuality, and politics. His work in Top Five is no different. Rock plays comedian and movie star Andre Allen, who’s struggling to be taken seriously in an industry that only wants him to make them laugh. His dramatic films bomb, he’s savaged by a New York Times critic, he’s set to get married to a reality TV star (Union), and is struggling to stay sober. He’s joined for a day by an intelligent journalist (Dawson), eager to write a profile piece about him on the eve of his wedding, and the two spar as Andre confronts his past, his demons, his fears, and his future. Rock and Dawson make a fantastic pair, the chemistry palatable as both hold their own beautifully in their roles. The cast of supporting characters around them are entertaining and given their moments to shine. While the film does get a bit too crude and explicit for my own personal tastes in several spots, it offers lots of laughs and some sharp commentary about race and relationships. The audience at the festival loved it, and fans of Rock will too.

Credit Origin Pictures

Credit Origin Pictures

Directed by Morgan Matthews
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Jo Yang

Set in equal parts England and Taiwan, X+Y tells the story of Nathan (Butterfield), a teenager on the autism spectrum who struggles with understanding social cues and feeling human compassion, but excels at mathematics. Thanks to the encouragement of his mother (Hawkins) and unorthodox teacher (Spall), Nathan lands a spot on England’s team at the International Mathematics Olympiad, where he learns to open up, grow, and begin to understand the people around him. X+Y handles mental illness with sensitivity and honesty, and treats all its characters with respect—even those who seem strange or unlikable at first are given backstories and struggles that endear them to the audience. The acting all around is superb, and both Hawkins and Spall should be commended for the depths to which their take their performances and the layers they bring to life in their characters. But it’s Butterfield who’s the standout as Nathan, making Nathan’s struggle real, palatable, and genuine, and it’s amazing to think this actor isn’t even yet eighteen. A scene towards the end of the film, with Nathan and his mother in a coffee shop, is powerful and honest, strong all around. X+Y is moving and engaging, and sheds much-needed perspective on those born with autism and the way both they and their loved ones struggle to handle its challenges.

Stay tuned next Monday, September 15th, for Weekend 2 Reviews!

Are you attending the Toronto Film Festival this year? What are some of your favourite films? Share with us in the comments below.

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  1. Janna Does TIFF: Reviews from the Second Weekend | The Hudsucker - September 16, 2014

    […] As an avid film-goer, the Toronto International Film Festival is my favourite time of year. As always, this year’s festival has a diverse lineup of interesting, captivating films—and it’s impossible for anyone to see them all. But I’ve seen my fair share, and below you’ll find reviews for some of the most talked-about films from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Read on for advice on which films you should watch out for in the coming year – and which ones you’re better off skipping.  This is the second of two posts—you can find the first set of reviews here. […]

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