Tag Archives: Elle Fanning

10 Lesser-Known Films to See at TIFF

If you’ve been following TIFF this year, you probably know that several big films will be playing at the festival. Most notably, Rian Johnson’s sci-fi blockbuster, Looper (starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis) was selected as TIFF’s opening night film. As well, the Wachowski brothers’ Cloud Atlas
(which boasts a reported $140 million budget) will play, as well as the 3D blockbuster Dredd (which was announced as part of the festival’s Midnight Madness program). Other big names have garnered quite a bit of attention in during the lead-up to the festival, including Robert Redford’s star-studded The Company You Keep, Ben Affleck’s Argo, and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook.

Like a lot of festival-goers, I’m excited for these big TIFF titles. But the festival has so much to offer beyond movie stars and blockbusters that will show up at your local multiplex within a couple of months. To celebrate some of the smaller TIFF films, I thought I’d make a list of 10 movies I’m excited for that you might not have heard about yet. These films haven’t played at any other major festivals and don’t boast big name directors, and they haven’t received much attention, so far.

1. Ginger and Rosa (Sally Potter, United Kingdom)

This drama from Sally Potter (Orlando) stars Elle Fanning and Alice Englert as two teenage girls growing up in 1960’s London during the time of the Cold War and the burgeoning sexual revolution. I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, England, the 1960’s, and Elle Fanning, so this movie sounds like it’ll be right up my alley. Definitely one of my most anticipated for the festival this year.

2. Lore (Cate Shortland, Australia/United Kingdom/Germany)

Cate Shortland’s last film, 2004’s Somersault, helped to launch the career of Abbie Cornish. Now, she returns with a new film and another potential young ingénue. In Lore, Saskia Rosendahl stars as a teenager who must bring her siblings across the war-torn German countryside at the end of World War II, placing her trust in a man she has been taught to hate. This one looks pretty stunning.

3. Greetings From Tim Buckley (Dan Algrant, USA)

This one is a personal pick. As a massive Jeff Buckley fan, I am both nervous and curious to see how his life has been adapted to the big screen. And while the other Buckley project, Mystery White Boy (which stars Reeve Carney and has obtained the rights to use Buckley’s music) sounds more promising on paper, it’s still in pre-production (and has been in the works for years), so this one will have to do for now. I’m even optimistic about Penn Badgley, who at least showed some signs of life onscreen in a small role in last year’s excellent Margin Call.

4. In the House (Francois Ozon, France)

It’s the plot description on this one that’s got me interested. It revolves around “a high-school student whose essays about a friend’s family start to blur the lines between reality and fiction — and may conceal a dark purpose.” It also stars Kristin Scott Thomas, which is always a bonus.

5. Jump (Kieran J. Walsh, Ireland)

Jump revolves around a group of 20-somethings whose lives intertwine on New Year’s Eve in Northern Ireland. It looks highly stylish, and is described as a “twisty, blackly comic crime thriller”. And that’s enough for me.

6. Wasteland (Rowan Athale, United Kingdom)

If you follow young, British actors at all, you’ll probably recognize at least a couple of the leads in this heist thriller from first-time director Rowan Athale. You’ve got Harry Potter‘s Matthew Lewis, Attack the Block‘s Luke Treadaway, and Misfit’s Iwan Rheon all together here, and that is enough to get me interested. The plot sounds a bit standard, but enjoyable nonetheless.

7. Dead Europe (Tony Krawitz, Australia)

Dead Europe‘s TIFF synopsis boasts, “From the producers of Shame and Animal Kingdom.” And while this may be an unsubtle attempt to make the project sound gritty and shocking, aside from that, it sounds and looks like a fascinating film. Ewen Leslie plays a photographer who visits his ancestral hometown, and along the way, discovers some disturbing family secrets.

8. Blondie (Jesper Ganslandt, Sweden)

As part of TIFF’s provocative Vanguard program, this Swedish drama is bound to throw out some interesting twists. The film revolves around three sisters who reunite for their mother’s birthday, causing “conflicts to rise to the surface”. Things are going to get weird.

9. Twice Born (Sergio Castellitto, Italy/Spain/Croatia)

Italian actor Sergio Castellitto directs Penelope Cruz and Emile Hirsch in this Italian-language war romance. It looks intense and vaguely like Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey, but the cast involved is enough to catch my interest.

10. I Declare War (Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson, Canada)

This Lord of the Flies-esque Canadian film follows a group of children whose neighbourhood adventure games turn deadly. It sounds like a great Midnight Madness pick, but as part of the Vanguard program, you know it’ll pack a punch.


We Bought a Zoo (2011)

I love Cameron Crowe. He’s one of my favourite directors. Almost Famous is among my top five movies of all time, and I even enjoy his “lesser” films like Elizabethtown and Singles quite a bit. So when I heard that he was releasing a new movie last year, I was excited. Sure, the premise didn’t sound too exciting (a family buys an abandoned zoo and tries to get it back up and running), but anything Crowe is going to grab my interest. My faith waned a little bit thanks to a fairly sappy looking trailer, and the eventual response to the film (lukewarm reviews, and a general lack of interest from the public). But I went out and saw it today, and I’ll go as far as to say that this is a great film.

Okay, first of all, I will say that We Bought a Zoo has its flaws. It’s a family film, and at times, things get a little to precious and predictable. Some jokes fall flat, and some of the minor characters feel more like caricatures. But none of that really mattered to me in the end, because the film has so much heart. The relationship between Matt Damon’s character and his children is very warm, and as an viewer, you’re really rooting for them to make everything work out.

Speaking of Matt Damon, he is great here. It’s a mature, varied performance, and he plays a father very well. He hits the right emotions, and he brings a lot of warmth to the screen. Thomas Hayden Church also stands out as his brother, adding a lot of humour, and also sympathy to the character. The biggest surprise in the cast for me was Colin Ford, who plays Damon’s 14-year-old son. He’s very convincing as a moody, grieving teenager, and he brings the right combination of petulance and pathos to his portrayal. I was unfamiliar with Ford as an actor, but his screen presence here has me convinced that I’ll be seeing a lot more of him. Elle Fanning is also luminous in a smaller role. She’s proven to be highly charismatic and charming in films like Somewhere and Super 8, and she does similarly great work here with more limited screen time here. It’s also worth noting that this is one of Scarlett Johansson’s best performances. Her character is very well-defined by Crowe, and Johansson picks up on the nuances well.

As with all Cameron Crowe films, We Bought a Zoo also has a great soundtrack. Crowe digs out lots of old favourites, including Neil Young and Bob Dylan, but he also uses Bon Iver’s “Holocene” to nice effect. It’s also great to hear Temple of Dog’s “Hunger Strike” pop up, which is a neat little nod to Crowe’s love of 90’s grunge. Sigur Ros’ Jonsi also provides an original score the film, which is fantastic. It’s triumphant and uplifting, and that score adds a lot of emotional heft to several scenes. Crowe is a master of music, and the soundtrack is always one of my favourite elements of his films.

We Bought a Zoo is certainly trying to pull on your heartstrings, and for me, it worked. It’s lovely and simple, and sometimes that’s the best kind of film. A shorter run time could have made the film a bit tighter, yet I never felt bored. I find it very difficult for a film to keep my interest for the whole duration, but We Bought a Zoo did that.


Super 8 (2011)

In weeks leading up to the release of Super 8, the film came up in conversation with several friends. And in almost every instance, the person I was talking to said something along the lines of, “It looks interesting, but I have no idea what it’s about.” And while this is certainly a valid comment, I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, but isn’t that the point?” The film’s cryptic marketing campaign teased the film just enough for audiences to know that some crazy stuff was going down, but it also kept most of the plot turns under wraps. And amid complaints that a lot of film trailers today give away “too much” of the film, this seemed like the perfect antidote. Yet now that a film was playing it coy, it seemed like people didn’t feel invested.

But if you ask me, it’s best to go into this film knowing very little about it, like I did. All you really need to know is that Super 8 takes place in the late 1970’s, and it’s about a group of friends who are making a zombie movie. While they’re making it, they witness a train crash, and after the accident, a plethora of strange events start taking place in their small Ohio town. One of the boys, Joe (Joel Courtney), is the son of the town’s deputy sheriff, Jackson (Friday Night Light‘s Kyle Chandler), who inherits the job of keeping the town calm during the aftermath of the accident.

Of course, there is much more to the story than that, but at its heart, Super 8, is a really fun adventure movie. In a lot of ways, it harkens back to the films of Steven Spielberg (who is an executive producer here) from the 1970’s, such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and it has a wonderful twinge of nostalgia to it. But while it’s easy to draw parallels to other movies (the Stand By Me comparisons are also inevitable), director J.J. Abrams does a great job of balancing his obvious love for “retro” films with a thoroughly modern, FX-driven approach to the movie. Super 8 is bound to please both adults who remember the movies from the era that it references, and also older kids and teens who can identify with the film’s main characters.

Super 8 works quite effectively as an action blockbuster (for example, the train crash sequence near the beginning of the film is full of eye-popping, elegantly choreographed explosions), but I don’t think it would have worked nearly as well as a film if it weren’t for the strength of its two young leads. Courtney adds heaps of warmth (and disarmingly expressive, saucer-like eyes) to his quietly brave protagonist, Joe. He makes it easy to connect emotionally to a character that could seem distant because of his back story, and thanks to Courtney’s assured screen presence, it’s not a stretch to believe Joe as a hero. And Elle Fanning takes a step out from her usual waifish roles to play the outwardly bold but emotionally skittish love interest, Alice. Fanning is obviously the most experienced of the kids in the cast, and while that does show to an extent, she also becomes surprisingly believable as “one of the boys”. She and Courtney (in his first on-screen acting performance, by the way) also have a lovely chemistry that makes their romance sweet rather than sickly.

I’m always looking for movies that are just a blast to watch, and though they’re surprisingly hard to find, Super 8 is definitely one of them. Abrams (who also wrote the film) sets up each of the kids in a way that makes you care about them, and even amidst all the craziness that takes place in the movie, those characters never lose their sense of fun. Of course, you could pick the movie apart and argue that the children react to traumatic events in an unrealistic way, but that’s obviously the point. And for the type of film that Super 8 is, I’d much rather see the kids still cracking wise and bickering amidst the action, rather than getting relegated to plot propellers.

Because I cared so much about the characters, I found myself very emotionally invested in their plight. Joe and Alice share a couple of very tender, emotionally honest moments, and I found myself tearing up on two or three occasions during the film. I can’t say this about many films, but over the course of Super 8 I literally laughed, and I literally cried. Maybe it’s my own nostalgia for childhood (not that I’m very far beyond it), or the values of friendship, loss, and loving movies that the film celebrates, but Super 8 packs a surprising emotional punch.


Movie Trailer/Poster Round-Up

As we sift through a cinematically awful summer, at least the studio execs are giving us something to get excited about. Forget Knight and Day and Salt – all the good stuff’s coming out in the last four months of the year. Here’s a look at some recently released trailers and movie posters that have me excited.

**And as a side-note, happy 100th post to me! I could also talk about how I’m approaching my 1-year blog anniversary, but let’s just get back to the movies…**

The Social Network (October 1)

Better known as “the Facebook movie”, David Fincher’s The Social Network (based on Ben Mezrich’s The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal) is making waves for its ultra-current subject matter. I love the first poster that they’ve released (the famous Facebook bar is great, and the photo and font are bold), and hopefully this means that a trailer is right around the corner.

Somewhere (December 22)

As I saw someone mention online, this trailer for Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere makes it look as though she’s halved the ages of her protagonists from Lost in Translation and made a rather similar movie. But by the looks of this gorgeous trailer, that’s not a bad thing at all. Even though Marie Antoinette was considered a bit of a flop (I never saw it), here’s hoping that Somewhere lives up to Coppola’s potential.

Never Let Me Go (October 1)

October 1 is shaping up to be a good day for Times Likes Those favourite Andrew Garfield (who also co-stars in The Social Network), and his work here in Never Let Me Go looks quite promising. I’ve heard about the major plot point that the trailer for Never Let Me Go alludes to, and without giving it away for those who wish to go in blind, it sounds like it’ll be a very interesting movie.

The American (September 1)

I already wrote about the trailer, which was released a few weeks ago, but this striking vintage-inspired poster for Anton Corbijn’s The American is certainly worth mentioning.

Conviction (October 15)

Formerly titled Betty Anne Waters (why did they switch to such an anonymous title?), this movie looks like Oscar bait epitomized (and it reminds me of a certain viral spoof). But nonetheless, with Sam Rockwell on board (in a role that looks like it could garner some serious awards consideration), and Juliette Lewis along for the ride, I’m intrigued.