Even for a filmmaker who’s always been divisive, Ben Wheatley’s last film split people. Reaction at TIFF to “High Rise,” his J.G. Ballard adaptation, was sharply divided, and even among The Playlist staff, half of us think it’s a masterpiece, and half think it’s Wheatley’s biggest misfire. As such, it’ll be interesting to see if his newest pic, “Free Fire,” unites people or elicits similarly polarized responses. In some ways, it promises to be Wheatley’s most accessible film to date: Executive-produced by Martin Scorsese, it’s a “Reservoir Dogs”-ish contained action thriller which sees a gun trade-off between arms dealers (Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer) and IRA terrorists (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) go rapidly and bloodily south, with the woman who brokered the deal (Brie Larson, in her first post-Oscar role) trying to survive the carnage. Expect dark comedy, bullets flying and probably some bits of skull left on the floor.
“Into The Inferno”
He might be 73, but Werner Herzog is only getting more and more prolific, with TIFF seeing the North American premieres of not just his second film this year (after “Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World” screened at Sundance), but also his third as well. We have to say, the word is that “Salt And Fire,” an ecological thriller starring Gael García Bernal and Michael Shannon that actually already premiered at the Shanghai Film Festival, isn’t great, but hopefully it’ll play better with U.S. critics. But even if that’s is a misfire, we still have “Into The Inferno” to look forward to. Directed by Herzog with the help of co-creator and volcano expert Clive Oppenheimer, the film sees the pair travel the world investigating the lava mountains, from Indonesia, Ethiopia, Iceland and even North Korea. It’s classic Herzog subject matter — the beauty and horror of nature — and so we’re confident that this could turn out to top even the excellent “Lo And Behold” as his best movie of 2016.
More is riding on “Lion” than most movies at TIFF this year. Harvey Weinstein has been seen as a sort of Oscar whisperer for over two decades, but last year marked the first time in years that The Weinstein Company didn’t have an Oscar nominee, and combined with the severe financial underperformance of “The Hateful Eight” and other disappointments, it’s left the company in tougher waters than it’s faced for a while, with a number of planned releases this year being pushed back. But confidence seems to still be high on “Lion,” Harvey’s big Oscar hopeful for the year, and with good reason. The story — about a young Indian man who was separated from his family as a child, was adopted by an Australian family, and ended up using Google to track his parents down in his 20s — is a compelling one, and Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman all look to be doing fine work, while Garth Davis (“Top Of The Lake”) is enormously talented. Hopefully we’ll look back in a few months and see it as the film that saved the Weinsteins.
“The Magnificent Seven”
TIFF openers have a slightly patchy track record — sometimes you get a “Looper,” sometimes you get “Demolition” or a tiny Canadian movie that no one watches. But this year’s kick-off is among the highest profile in memory, in the shape of Antoine Fuqua’s all-star Western remake of “The Magnificent Seven.” Doing an unusual festival double — opening TIFF on the Wednesday, then closing Venice at the weekend — the new take on the classic stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Haley Bennett, Peter Sarsgaard and Vincent D’Onofrio, to name but a few, and looks like the kind of crunchy, old-fashioned unpretentious action fun that plays into Fuqua’s strengths. We’re not expecting this to be an “Unforgiven”-style masterpiece, but after a summer in which mainstream Hollywood failed to deliver so many times, we’ll take a rollicking good time at the movies.
Last year, Netflix were hitting the festival circuit hard, hoping to launch “Beasts Of No Nation” to Oscar glory through Venice and TIFF. This year, they’re a little quieter, with their biggest hitters like Bong Joon-Ho’s “Okja” and David Michôd’s “War Machine” not yet ready, but they do have one film that should bring you some joy, in the shape of a new movie from Christopher Guest. The “Best In Show” mastermind hasn’t directed a feature movie since 2006’s “For Your Consideration,” and his excellent HBO series “Family Tree” went woefully underwatched, but this looks to return him to the vein of his mockumentary classics like “Waiting For Guffman” and the aforementioned “Best In Show,” being set at a competition for sports mascots. Guest will actually be reprising his role from ‘Guffman,’ while much of his usual rep company including Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard and Ed Begley Jr. are returning, but we’ll also see newer actors like Chris O’Dowd, Zach Woods, Sarah Baker and “Love & Friendship” standout Tom Bennett. We’re delighted he’s back.
“Message From The King”
Chadwick Boseman has made his name on playing icons: He was Jackie Robinson in “42,” James Brown in “Get On Up,” and just made his debut as Black Panther in “Captain America: Civil War,” ahead of Ryan Coogler’s solo Panther outing in a few years. But it’s intriguing to see what happens when he’s playing a figure that isn’t instantly recognizable, and we’ll get that chance with “Message From The King,” a neo-noir that’s under the radar, but could be a hidden gem of the festival. The English-language debut of talented Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz (“Alléluia”), it stars Boseman as a South African man who travels to Los Angeles to investigate his sister’s murder. Teresa Palmer, Luke Evans and Alfred Molina also star, and it’s drawing comparisons with “The Limey,” which is more than enough to get us through the door on its own. And when paired with a chance to see Boseman carry a movie solo, we’re doubly excited.
“A Monster Calls”
Earlier this year, Steven Spielberg made a film about a giant and a child’s friendship, and seemingly no one cared: The film was a box-office disappointment and got unusually tepid reviews for the master. But that’s probably good news for “A Monster Calls,” another movie about a giant and a child, and one that’s been gathering buzz for a while. Directed by “The Orphanage” and “The Impossible” helmer J.A. Bayona (who’ll next make the “Jurassic World” sequel) and adapted by Patrick Ness from his prize-winning novel, it sees a young boy (newcomer Lewis MacDougall) reeling from the terminal illness of his mother (Felicity Jones) be confronted by a giant tree monster who tells him a series of stories. The book’s a powerful heartbreaker, Bayona looks to have delivered a visionary take on it, and everyone involved is very high on it, up to the point that Focus just shifted the release date to a more prime awards slot. Expect big things.