TIFF 2010 - Midnight Madness, first three selections

Toronto is a very user-friendly major city.  The entertainment district encompasses a large section of downtown, but most everything is easily walkable.  From the Southernmost point in which there are hotels in the area, the furthest theatre takes maybe 45 minutes by foot.  It's really quite convenient for a film festival.  There are tons of films playing - somewhere around 300 - and most look like they would be worth my time if I had it to spare.  The most anticipated portion of the festival's programming before I got here - the always promising Midnight Madness selections at Ryerson Theatre - have held up to my expectations.  Today is Monday, and I've only seen three, but they have so far been fantastic and completely unique in many ways in the world of genre filmmaking.

Friday night saw the world premiere of James Gunn's SUPER, an absurdist, ultraviolent, completely irresponsible real-world superhero film starring Rainn Wilson and Ellen Page.  The film plays a lot with convention, including the responsibility a hero has to not kill the people he's constantly beating to a bloody pulp, but throws it out the window for sheer insanity.  The third act's super dark tone doesn't quite work with the lighter absurdity that comes before it, but it does help the audience swallow all of the bludgeoning with a wrench that happens earlier in the film, as well as the uncomfortable eroticism of being, essentially, raped by Ellen Page, after one of the filthiest, dirtiest lines of dialogue I've ever heard in a film.  Anyone who knows Gunn's work with Troma, or his previous film, SLITHER, has an inkling of what to expect, but this is one difficult flick to take stock of, even by his gratuitous standards.

Saturday night's BUNRAKU, by first time filmmaker Guy Moshe, is a completely unique, wholly original experience that I swear to you is completely unlike anything you've ever seen before.  Imagine a pop-up book filtered through Hollywood noir and Hong Kong action filmmaking, and you have a bit of something to work with.  SIN CITY through the eyes of Yuen Woo Ping, but with the cinematography of DICK TRACY.  In a world where guns are outlawed, all disputes must be settled with fists, and there's lots of dispute settlin'.  This will be an interesting film to follow through to a release, because it defies categorization.  There are moments of such amazing choreography and stuntwork that it's mind-blowing, but then you remember that it's a highly stylized and streamlined narrative that features some really challenging moments of suspension of disbelief.  Wonderful film.

The third night's selection saw Midnight Madness get creepy, with Brad Anderson's (THE MACHINIST, TRANSSIBERIAN) new film, VANISHING ON 7TH STREET.  The premise is classic TWILIGHT ZONE set-up, with a darkness spreading and the majority of a city's citizens disappearing with only their clothing crumpled on the ground where they stood.  Shadows play an integral role in the terror of the film, organic entities that are attempting to grab up the remaining living souls, who have all wound up together in a neighborhood bar being kept lit by a back-up generator.  Hayden Christensen, who I've given plenty of crap for his acting on a lot of occasions, turns in a pretty strong performance, rediscovering the promising chops he showed back before he was cast as young Darth Vader.  Thandie Newton's character is a bit one-note, and John Leguizamo's conspiracy-theorist movie theater projectionist is a standout, but he's given too small a role.  Honestly, this is one creepy film that, much like Anderson's SESSION 9, utilizes its dark atmosphere to stunning effect.  A possible sleeper if it's released wide in the U.S.

The next few nights have some promising fare - John Carpenter's THE WARD and James Wan's INSIDIOUS bring the creepy some more before things get shaken up with RED NIGHTS and THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, AND THE SWORDSMAN, which I will sadly miss.  In any case, MM is really a highlight of the festival for genre fans, as well as anyone looking for something truly outside the box.  I haven't written the last of my thoughts on these films here.  Look for more in the future.

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