The Toronto International Film Festival converted Roy Thomson Hall, normally an orchestral theatre, into a massive 3D screening room in order to bring The Martian to the masses. Sean and I were lucky enough to get tickets. When I read the wonderful book by Andy Weir, I immediately passed it along to Sean. He doesn’t read much, but he always reads what I recommend, and I knew he’d love this. It was smart, funny, and action-packed. When they announced that Ridley Scott was making it into a film, I admit, I was wary. So many of my favourite books have been badly adapted to the screen. But a part of me had hope. It did have a cinematic feel to it. It could work. But would it?
The answer: yes. Without reservations or qualifications, yes. I can’t imagine a single person not enjoying the hell out of this film. Sean was initially in mourning for the bits of the book left on the editing floor, but not me. I felt it totally captured the spirit of the book while giving a little more screen time to all the famous faces on Earth. The Martian is accessible. It’s not science-fictiony; it’s not about aliens or time travel. It’s about an astronaut who goes on a mission to Mars and is accidentally left behind. The world is watching, and rooting for him. NASA is panicking and trying to redeem their reputations. His crew is guilt-ridden for having left him. But he’s just trying to survive until someone can rescue him. It takes a lot to stay alive alone on Mars, but this guy is an astronaut MacGyver and a very watchable problem-solver. Matt Damon does a great job in the role – absolutely no complaints. from me, or from real NASA astronauts who loved the book so much they gave him a call – from outer space! Now they’re hoping to beam the movie up to their space station on October 2nd when it hits theatres – and possibly the outer reaches of our galaxy. How cool is that?
We followed that up with the world premiere of About Ray. I knew this would be important to see at the festival, but I was worried that it was too trendy a topic. The movie really laid my fears to rest. Yes, it’s about a transgendered teenager, but it’s also about a family, conventionally unconventional, who love each other and support each other but struggle with change and acceptance just like everyone else. Ray (Elle Fanning) is a young man and has known this for some time. He was born in a female body but is ready to start living full-time as the gender he knows in his head he is meant for, and that means getting his parents to sign a consent form to start hormone treatments, and to change schools as his body transitions. He’s focused on this goal because he can’t truly live authentically until it happens. His mother (Naomi Watts) is amazingly supportive, and I say that because she’s supportive because she knows and believes it’s the right thing, not because it’s easy for her. Privately, she mourns the loss of her daughter and worries about what kind of life she’s consigning to her son. And when they must involve an absentee father who voices all kinds of concern along with generous doses of ignorance, things go sideways. A meddling mother\grandmother (Susan Sarandon) doesn’t help. But it does make for a very warm family feeling. There’s more here than an “issues movie.” It’s real. The three actresses are all great, and believable, and honest in their approach. Nobody gets off easily. This movie isn’t afraid to veer away from the PCness of it all, and we shouldn’t be afraid of that.
Elle Fanning does an incredible job tackling a touchy role. One wrong move and you can upset a whole community of vulnerable people. And I have heard criticism from some corners that Elle is too ‘feminine’ for the role, which is hogwash. What does that even mean? You do understand that transgendered mean born in a female body? Yes, Ray was born a girl, a girl who could have looked exactly like Elle Fanning. Transgendered bodies aren’t conveniently born butch. I’m sure that Ray is doing everything in his power to present himself the way feels he should look, but without any medical intervention, there’s only so much he can do. But no one in the transgender community should be judged on how well (or not) they ‘pass’ and neither is it fair to hold Fanning to that same standard. With Hollywood at her disposal, director Gaby Dellal could have opted to have her look fall anywhere on the spectrum, yet she’s exactly where she out to be.
In the end, this was not the sweeping triumph we hoped it would be, but with stellar performances across the board, it is a very good movie about a very interesting family.
Note: Finally hitting theatres in 2017, the movie is now called 3 Generations.
Matt, meanwhile, was taking in Ninth Floor, a moving documentary about a student protest against racism at the very University where Matt was once a student.
Next, Sean and I attended the premiere of Into the Forest, another booked turned into movie. Whereas being familiar with the story in The Martian only made me salivate for what I knew was coming, in this movie, it made me dread it. The knowledge was like a burden that I felt heavy around my neck. It’s not an easy movie to begin with: suddenly, and for no known reason, the apocalypse is nigh. The power goes out. Food and gas are scarce. People act like animals. It doesn’t happen all at once, but every day the power stays out it gets a little worse, a little more frantic. Two sisters, played by Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood, live in a remote location out in the forest. Their isolation helps keep the safe but also leaves them vulnerable. The movie is tense, and I felt like it was almost worse not knowing what was out there. Most apocalypse movies are action-driven, bloody, violent, and scary, but this one is the quietest movie about the end of the world as we know as you’ll ever see. But the quiet is ominous. Director Patricia Rozema is masterful in the creation of mood – the forest creeps around them, reclaiming what belongs to it. The movie avoids the awful tropes that usually come along with an apocalypse scenario, but doesn’t quite achieve the character study it seems to want to be either. This is really about the relationship between the sisters, and both Wood and Page give great performances with the thin material they’re given.
Matt attended Midnight Madness, a TIFF tradition programmed by Colin Geddes that features all kinds of horror, fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, and action, with one catch: it has to be BANANAS. This year Matt bravely attempted Hardcore, a POV movie that was a gamble that didn’t quite pay off. But we salute Matt for the attempt – after all, this is what TIFF is all about!