Midnight in the Ryerson: TIFF Unveils its Lovably Bloody Midnight Madness Lineup

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There is nothing quite like the Toronto International Film Festival Midnight Madness experience. Long lines snaking outside the Ryerson Theatre, beach balls being shot around the crowd, movies chock full of deliciously nasty gore and violence — it is a film-going experience that is hard to top.

This year will be my seventh straight festival, and during the past six years, I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few of these screenings. They were, I must admit, mostly forgettable, and utterly random. Yet that randomness is part of what makes the lineup so perennially fun.

I had completely forgotten about the first Midnight Madness film (in 2008) my colleague Jared Mobarak and I saw, Spanish director Miguel Martí’s “Sexykiller,” starring actress Macarena Gómez. It was not a great film, but certainly a blast; it does not appear to have ever been released in America.

In 2010 we saw a much higher-profile release, the moderately successful vampire flick “Daybreakers,” which starred Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, and Sam Neill. Dafoe and Neill appeared at the screening, and the audience went wild.

The last Midnight Madness film I saw came in 2010: the strange, star-studded (Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore) “Bunraku.” It was an ambitious, absurd, entertaining film, one that I lost track of until stumbling upon it at Blockbuster. I recall being utterly exhausted for this one, and waiting for over an hour in the rain.

So the films I’ve seen have been a mixed bag, but there have been some biggies over the years, as this list demonstrates: “The Raid,” “Kill List,” “SUPER,” “Borat,” “The Host,” “The Machinist.”

Programmer Colin Geddes is one of the festival’s most recognizable and cool figureheads, and he has once again put together a diverse, creepy lineup; I’m especially excited to see the latest from Lucky McKee and Sion Sono on the list. Here is the full rundown; these descriptions come from the Midnight Madness press release.

 

“Afflicted”

Derek Lee and Clif Prowse (Canada/USA; World Premiere)

Best friends Derek and Clif set out on a trip of a lifetime. Their plan: travel to the ends of the earth, see the world, and live life to the fullest. But the trip soon takes a dark and bloody turn. Just days in, one of the men shows signs of a mysterious affliction which gradually takes over his entire body and being. Now, thousands of miles from home, in a foreign land, they must race to uncover the source of his illness before it consumes him completely. Footage of their travels meant to document pleasant memories may now become evidence of one of the most shocking discoveries ever captured on film … and may be their only postcard home.

 

“All Cheerleaders Die”

Lucky McKee, Chris Sivertson, (USA; World Premiere)

When tragedy rocks Blackfoot High, rebellious outsider Mäddy Killian shocks the student body by joining the cheerleading squad. This decision drives a rift between Mäddy and her ex-girlfriend Leena Miller — a loner who claims to practice the dark arts. After a confrontation with the football team, Mäddy and her new cheerleader friends are sent on a supernatural roller coaster ride which leaves a path of destruction none of them may be able to escape. (This is the Midnight Madness Opening Night Film.)

 

“Almost Human”

Joe Begos (USA; World Premiere)

Mark Fisher disappeared from his home in a brilliant flash of blue light almost two years ago. His friend Seth Hampton was the last to see him alive. Now a string of grisly, violent murders leads Seth to believe that Mark is back, and something evil is living inside of him.

 

“The Green Inferno”

Eli Roth (USA; World Premiere)

How far would you go for a cause you believe in? In horror master Eli Roth’s terrifying new film, a group of college students take their humanitarian protest from New York to the Amazon jungle, only to get kidnapped by the native tribe they came to save: a tribe that still practices the ancient rite of cannibalism, and has a healthy appetite for intruders.

 

“Oculus”

Mike Flanagan (USA; World Premiere)

“Oculus” is a spine-chilling supernatural tale of two damaged siblings (Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites) who, as children, witnessed their parents’ harrowing descent into madness and murder. At long last, brother and sister reunite as adults to expose and destroy the paranormal entity they believe is responsible: the Lasser Glass — a legendary mirror their family once owned.

 

“R100”

Hitoshi Matsumoto (Japan; World Premiere)

An ordinary man with an ordinary life joins a mysterious club. The membership lasts for one year only and there is one rule: no cancellation under any circumstance. The man enters into an entirely new and exciting world which he has never before experienced.

 

“Rigor Mortis”

Juno Mak (Hong Kong; North American Premiere)

Juno Mak’s debut feature “Rigor Mortis” is an eerie and chilling, contemporary action- and special effects-laden homage to the classic Chinese vampire movies of the 1980s.

 

“The Station (Blutgletscher)”

Marvin Kren (Austria; World Premiere)

At a climate research station in the Alps, the scientists are stunned as the nearby melting glacier is leaking a red liquid. It quickly turns to be very special juice — with unexpected genetic effects on the local wildlife.

 

“Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Jigoku de Naze Warui)”

Sion Sono (Japan; North American Premiere)

Two men, Muto and Ikegami, hate each other. Muto desperately wants to help his daughter Mitsuko star in a movie. Meanwhile, Ikegami falls in love with Mitsuko, knowing that she’s the daughter of his foe. Hirata, a filmmaker, and Koji, a young movie-lover, get dragged into this complicated situation that heads into an unexpected direction.

 

Photo from “Why Don’t You Play in Hell (Jigoku de Naze Warui)” courtesy of TIFF.net

“Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones” are Over, So Start Streaming Jane Campion’s “Top of the Lake”

top of the lake

We are in the midst of a television renaissance — just about everyone agrees, including Bernardo Bertolucci. Yet I must admit, I’m not watching very much of it. Believe me, I am dying to watch “Homeland,” “Breaking Bad,” “Sons of Anarchy,” etc., but I am not overflowing with time for all of these, and when I do have time, I try to catch up with some movies.

However, I did watch the recently concluded seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “Mad Men,” and was riveted by both. “Games” remains the most consistently surprising and involving drama on TV, while “Mad Men” did something pretty extraordinary over the last few months. I maintain that the first batch of episodes of the season were among the worst in the show’s history. The last batch? Undoubtedly among the best. I agree with a coworker, who wished the long episode had been the last of the season, instead of the first.

So my two shows are done. What to watch next, TV-wise? Some of the finest options can be screen on Netflix. Here are a few:

“Top of the Lake”: Jane Campion’s miniseries starring “Mad Men”’s Elizabeth Moss was screened at Sundance and aired on the Sundance Channel, but now it is streaming in full on Netflix. It is hard to argue against classifying Campion as hit (“The Piano,” the underrated “Bright Star”) or miss (“The Portrait of a Lady,” “In the Cut”) but even those misses are fascinating. “Top” was acclaimed by most as one of the hits. Film Comment’s Amy Taubin called this story of a pregnant 12-year-old-girl and a detective’s search for the truth “’Twin Peaks’ crossed with ‘The Killing.’”

The seven-episode series Top of the Lake, Taubin says:

“[I]s the toughest, wildest picture Jane Campion has ever made. Campion’s previous foray into television, ‘An Angel at My Table,’ a four-part biopic about the writer Janet Frame, was focused on a single character, and though dramatically and psychologically compelling, it lacked the expressive visual style of Campion’s features. With the emotional intensity of its performances and the urgency of its drama scaled to match its vast, primal setting and six-hour length, ‘Top of the Lake’ is something else again: series television as epic poem, the Trojan Wars recast as the gender war. Three women, each on her own journey, connect and bring the patriarchy to its knees. But that’s too bald a description.”

This sounds like Campion’s most important work in years, and a must-watch.

“Luther”: I can’t say for sure whether this BBC cop drama is more than just another cop show, but I can say its star is Idris Elba, and he is one of the finest we’ve got. Elba is on the verge of a major breakthrough — he appears in the soon-to-be-released “Pacific Rim” and portrays Nelson Mandela in a biopic out later this year — but many know him best from this series. The third season airs this summer.

“The Fall”: Gillian Anderson’s post-“X-Files” career has been quite interesting, especially her turns in Terrence Davies’s “The House of Mirth” and an adaptation of Dickens’s “Bleak House.” In “The Fall,” she plays a detective investigating a series of murders in Ireland, and Anderson plus detective plus murders equals I’ll watch.

“Hemlock Grove”: Eli Roth’s Netflix series received little of the critical love that greeted David Fincher’s “House of Cards,” but that’s alright. The horror series looks like a messy blast, and I like that the second Netflix original series went in such a different direction.

“House of Cards” (BBC): Speaking of “Cards,” the original BBC series is also streaming on Netflix, with Ian Richardson as the lead. It would be fun to compare his performance with Kevin Spacey’s often over-the-top but effective work.

“Arrested Development”: You know about this one. In fact, you’ve probably watched it — perhaps twice. I am working through it slowly, since any show that can show David Cross’s Tobias playing a fetus deserves to be savored.

 

Image from “Top of the Lake” from Indiewire