After finally getting a decent night’s sleep, I awoke bright and early Saturday morning in an effort to snatch up the remaining coveted tickets for 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen’s new film that is already being heralded as sure sweep at this year’s Oscars. I’m a massive fan of McQueen and feel he is top amongst a new generation of filmmakers that are not afraid to break the rules. I was mesmerized during the nearly twenty minute long take scene in 2008’s Hunger and believe 2011’s Shame is one of the most important films in the past decade. A handful of tickets for the screening were released at 7 am and at 7:01 am were promptly sold out. Determined and slightly daft I made my way across town to the rush line where I waited in the pouring rain. Four hours later I was drenched, freezing, but most importantly seated for the film.
I have never in my life seen a standing ovation last as long as it did once the screen faded to black and the first credits rolled on 12 Years A Slave. The film is a moving and intense portrait of hardship and hope that connects on a deeply personal level. The true story of Solomon Northup registers emotionally with the audience in a way that most period tales of slavery simply cannot. The concept of having one’s freedom taken away and being thrust into the darkness raises fear and empathy in those that would otherwise find it easy to distance themselves from the dreary and oppressive existence of slavery. The directing, cast, cinematography, score, literally everything about this film is flawless. That said, with all due credit to the rest of the cast, 12 Years A Slave solidifies the fact that Michael Fassbender is God. Despite his character’s despicable nature I couldn’t help but be mesmerized every moment he was onscreen.
After a quick coffee refuel I lined up for Jason Reitman’s latest, Labor Day. Thank You For Smoking is amongst my snarkiest favorites, and I still feel Young Adult never got the recognition it deserved, but my favorite thing about Reitman is his ability to keep trying new things. Labor Day is another departure from the norm for Reitman. Based upon the novel of the same name by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is a sentimental coming of age story that dwells in the scarred past of relationships with a glimmer of hope towards the future. Henry (Gatlin Griffith) and his depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet) live alone, with Adele rarely venturing outside.
What starts as a simple shopping venture winds up leading to a whirlwind weekend as they encounter a mysterious stranger who could pose a threat or a new beginning. Labor Day’s premise seems more suited for a melodramatic flimsy romance, but Reitman keeps it moving with expert pacing and structure. The film stays truthful to the novel and views the experience through the eyes of Henry, grounding the story and providing a balanced dynamic to the leads. A film not without flaws, it’s the directing talent, electric leads, and minute decisions that keep the film interesting and engaging.
The night brought one of the most anticipated films of Midnight Madness, Eli Roth’s cannibal horror flick The Green Inferno. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Roth has a certain charm that can’t help but make you grin. He turned it on high from the moment he introduced the film and asked the audience to go into it without any preconceptions about what type of movie they thought they would be viewing. So is it his triumphant return to the director’s chair? Or as Roth put it “Should I have stuck to judging wet t-shirt contests with killer piranha?” Well, it’s a bit of both. Look, I don’t expect much quality out of a horror movie’s setup, that’s just a necessary evil so we can get to the good stuff: cannibals. The Green Inferno’s shaky start has nothing to do with the hurriedly clipped dialogue, the questionable acting, or the eye-roll inducing plot devices. No, those are genuinely part of the fun of a good gore flick.
My problem with the first 15-20 minutes is that it looks like shit. The cinematography and lighting are amateurish and just plain ugly. Even if you despise all Roth stands for and the torture porn subgenre many blame him for popularizing, Hostel still looks like a film. It’s dark, foreboding, and oddly beautiful even in its foulness. However, perhaps it was a conscious (and lazy) choice because as soon as the film gets going, with aid from the natural scenery of the Peruvian jungle, Roth falls into his old rhythms. From the moment our conscientious and desperate co-eds step out of the plane into this mysterious green expanse, the film becomes a gore filled, dark humored thrill ride. Lingering camera movements and sweeping shots of the landscape provide a certain quality that felt absent from the film’s opening. Hardcore gore fans and cheeseball horror geeks alike will find something to love in The Green Inferno.
TIFF continues Sunday with Ti West’s found footage film The Sacrament and of course my two cents on the latest episode of Breaking Bad titled “To’hajiilee.” To’hajiilee is where it all started for Walt and Jesse, could this be where the end begins?