My TIFF15 recap: Hard rain, large crowds, unforgettable ‘High-Rise’

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Writing my Toronto International Film Festival weekend recap for Buffalo.com gave me a chance to ponder the great “High-Rise.”

It rained during the first weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival. And then it rained some more, soaking the long, long lines of ticket holders and celeb-watchers on the streets of TO.

But amid the raindrops were a number of stunning films. There was even one next-level, hallucinatory masterpiece — more on that in a moment.

While many of the festival’s early favorites premiered at other festivals, their strong showing in Toronto cemented their reputation as ones to watch when they open in Buffalo. I skipped some biggies soon to touch down in Western New York, including Johnny Depp’s “Black Mass” and Matt Damon’s “The Martian.”

Yet my TIFF was one of numerous highs. Some of my personal favorites from the opening weekend include:

  • “Son of Saul”: A fiercely original, immersive story about concentration camp inmate’s attempts to give a young boy a traditional Jewish burial, “Saul” is sure to be one of the year’s most talked-about films.
  • “The Witch”: This “New England folk tale” about a 17th century family torn about by mysterious forces is the scariest psychological horror film in ages.
  • “The Lobster”: If you’ve ever come upon director Yorgos Lanthimos’s “Dogtooth,” you will not be surprised to hear his new film “The Lobster” is strange, startling, darkly hilarious, and genuinely disturbing. Set in a hotel in which residents must find a partner or be turned into an animal (just go with it) is remarkable, as is the lead performance from Colin Farrell.
  • “Anomalisa”: Charlie Kaufman’s stop-motion comedy about one sad man and his night at a hotel in Cincinnati might be even better than his last effort, “Synecdoche, New York.”

There were other very good films during the course of the weekend, including the award-worthy Brooklyn, while even the so-so likes of “The Danish Girl” and “Youth” offered undeniable pleasures, specifically the performances of Alicia Vikander and Harvey Keitel (in “Girl” and “Youth,” respectively.)

But the weekend’s most boldly brilliant film, was Sunday night’s “High-Rise.” The film’s director Ben Wheatley introduced the film with jocular honesty: “It’s a big building, there’s lots of sex, violence, swear words, adult content, dancing and it’s J.G. Ballard.” Indeed, that is an accurate summary. But it only hints at the complex, ingenious design of a picture equally indebted to Cronenberg, “Clockwork Orange”-era Kubrick, and Abba. (Seriously.)

A ludicrously attractive cast that includes Tom Hiddleston (one of TIFF15’s most popular figures), Sienna Miller, Elisabeth Moss, Luke Evans, and Jeremy Irons topline the glorious rush of sex and ultra-violence, all taking place in a strange, modernist apartment building in ’70s Britain.

Exaggerated and lovingly over-the-top, often hilarious and willfully complex, Wheatley’s film made its world-premiere at TIFF, and can therefore be considered a major victory for Toronto in the fall festival wars. It may not earn wide release until 2016, but remember that title.

There is much left to screen through September 20, including the eagerly awaited “Spotlight.” But I can’t see anything topping the mesmerizing, unforgettable“High-Rise,” a film that will haunt your brain — and make your next walk through the doors of a skyscraper a very paranoid experience.

Roy Andersson’s ‘A Pigeon Sat …’ is strange and mesmerizing

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You’ve never seen a film quite like “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” — unless, that is, you’ve seen any of director Roy Andersson’s other films. The third part of a trilogy that began with 2000’s “Songs from the Second Floor” and continued with 2007’s “You, the Living” is a surreal, often funny, occasionally moving treat. Recently released in the U.S., this critical darling was the deserved winner of the Golden Lion at the 71st Venice Film festival.

Squeaky Wheel recently screened “Pigeon” in Buffalo, and this rare opportunity to see Andersson’s film was not to be missed. It is an almost indescribable experience, really, a collection of brief vignettes that are strange memorable. (One of my favorites involves the fate of the beer and sandwich prepared for a man who has just died.)

I applaud Magnolia Pictures for releasing “Pigeon,” which is destined to be a cult classic. Too “strange” for most audiences, the ambitious viewer will be mesmerized. And ready to watch again.

Photo: Viktor Gyllenberg in A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

It’s arrived! See you at TIFF15

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Friends, I’ll be spending the next few days at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, so be on the lookout for my updates on Facebook, on Twitter, and later for Buffalo.com, Buffalo Spree magazine, and BuffaloSpree.com. I’ll only be at ‪#‎TIFF15‬ for a few jam-packed, sleep-deprived, and underfed days, but I’ve also had the chance to watch a number of pre-festival screeners. So lots of fun to come in this, my ninth fest.

I urge you to also keep up with my friends Jared Mobarak and Jordan Smith for their updates, and to follow The Film Stage and The Playlist for reviews and news. I’ll also be rounding up all of my TIFF15 work here at FilmSwoon.com. More to come soon, from a long line on King Street or a steep escalator at the Scotiabank Theatre.

(In addition to my previously posted Buffalo.com work, here’s a brief piece on 10 buzzworthy titles playing this year’s fest, and another, from the September Spree, on festival tips.)

For Buffalo.com: Plan your trip to Toronto film fest

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Here’s a TIFF15 preview post for Buffalo.com. Watch the site, here, and BuffaloSpree.com for more.

In a little less than one week, some of the world’s acting and filmmaking heavyweights descend upon Toronto for the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Nearly 300 features will unspool over 11 days—Sept. 10 to 20—and it’s not too late to plan your trip. What makes TIFF especially fun for Western New Yorkers is that it’s ideal even for a day trip. Head up in the morning, breathe in cinema, and hit the QEW that night. Here are a few helpful tips.

What should I see?

You can pore over the entirety of the festival’s schedule, read synopses, and watch trailers at tiff.net. But remember that part of the fun comes from making a discovery. While you might be able to snag a ticket for the new Sandra Bullock movie (“Our Brand is Crisis”), it will eventually play Buffalo. The same can’t necessarily be said for acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Our Little Sister.”

How much will I need to spend?

Individual film tickets at TIFF are certainly more expensive than a normal Saturday night at the Regal. Yet considering what one gets for the cost of a ticket—a chance to hear from the film’s director and see the stars, the inimitable festival vibe, the opportunity to see something that may never play this close to Buffalo again—it’s hard to call it outrageous.

Note, however, that there are both “regular” and “premium” selections. The latter are star-heavy, debut screenings of such films as “The Martian” and “The Danish Girl.” Those tickets are $48 Canadian ($40 for seniors, $30 for 25 and younger). Regular screening tickets are $25 ($21 for seniors, $18 for 25 and younger).

There also is the cost of gas and meals in Toronto. Yet plenty of fun can be had before and after a film just wandering down “Festival Street” on King Street’s collection of food trucks, live music, and more. See tiff.net/festivals/festival15/street for more info.

Where can I buy tickets?

By this point, all ticket packages are long closed. However, individual tickets go on sale Sept. 6 on tiff.net. You’ll redeem those tickets at the festival box office, 225 King Street West. Tickets also can be purchased by phone at (416) 599-TIFF or (888) 599-8433, and at the box office.

Venue box offices open an hour before the day’s first screening. Note that tickets are not for sale at the box office of four of the festival’s largest spaces, Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Visa Screening Room and Winter Garden Theatre. (The latter two are in the same building.)

Anything else I should know?

Numerous screenings are held at the Scotiabank Theatre, a venue with an escalator as steep as any I’ve ever seen, but don’t let that scare you. Oh, and keep an eye out for me, the skinny dude in glasses reading and re-reading a dog-eared copy of the festival schedule.