Author Archives: Luke Sneyd
It’s been a long, slow evolution. But like most change, when the moment hits, it hits with force. And it’s everywhere. Exhibit A: the badass female action hero. The road from Pam Grier’s shotgun wielding avenger in Coffy (1973) to Charlize Theron’s fearsome Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) has taken over forty years, but by now there’s no doubt that a woman can carry an action flick. And rock the house! TIFF is celebrating this signal achievement with a program called Beyond Badass: Female Action Heroes, and they’re showing some of the best.
You tend to lose people in waves. The vagary of statistics, an actuarial table fulfilling its dull prophecy, the phenomenon is disconcerting all the same. Someone close to you dies, and too often a few others follow in that death’s wake. In a scant two years, Laurie Anderson lost her mother, her husband musician Lou Reed, and her cherished rat terrier Lolabelle. Heart of a Dog is Anderson’s response to those losses, an eccentric, exceedingly beautiful cinematic essay about death and memory, the limits of language and stories, 9/11 and the quirks of surveillance in the bifurcated psyche that followed the event, the Tibetan Book of the Dead and the passage of the soul. A laundry list like that is hard to tie together, but Anderson’s agile mind moves fluidly from one piece to another, giving the film a marvellous tangential flow. Throughout, it’s a love-letter to her fittingly oddball pooch, her affection for Lolabelle a humorous anchor as Anderson trawls the philosophical depths.
If you haven’t played Destiny, you’ve probably heard someone rave about it. Or bitch about it with irritated intensity. Or both. Bungie’s massively multiplayer online shooter has been getting mixed reviews from the moment it came out a year ago. The game itself is a huge hit, by any measure. It made half a billion dollars in sales when it was released in September, 2014. There’s big-league movies that would kill for that kind of take. As of January this year, the game hit 16 million registered players. Bungie (the originator of the Halo franchise) and Activision have a ten-year plan for Destiny, so this thing is gonna be a big deal in the gaming world for a long time. The Taken King is the first major expansion for Destiny, following on two DLCs earlier this year, The Darkness Below and The House of Wolves. This time around, do they get it right? Your TL/DR is hell yes buy this game! If you want, like, reasons and stuff, join me starside!
There has to be a spot on the colour wheel for psychopath blue. You know the shade. The limpid aquamarine eyes that freeze your blood the second you see them. “Hello,” they say. “You look like dinner.” The moment we meet Johnny Depp in Black Mass, playing gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, those ice blue eyes send chills down the spine. I’m pretty sure you can get those contacts online: Murderer #1313. You instantly know this guy’s a killer and he’s barely said two words.
Being a teenager is so freaking crazy. Your body’s unrecognizable, your hormones go wild and you’ve got these outsize adult feelings coursing through a brain that feels like it’s been hotwired, feelings adults hardly know what to do with and they’ve got, what’s the word? Oh yeah, experience. Andrew Cividino’s Sleeping Giant (2015) captures the rush and confusion of adolescence perfectly. Set in a glorious Lake Superior summer, it follows the tumultuous relationship of three young teen boys frittering away not just the baking hot days but also their innocence. Boys being boys, that innocence is dubious at best, but when a girl comes between them, tense friendships unravel fast.
Baubles and energy. That’s what our modern lives revolve around. Our beautiful distractions and the juice that makes them go. Technology has revolutionized our lives a thousand times over in the past few centuries. It’s also given humanity a sense of indomitability, that this world of ours is a machine to be manipulated to our brilliant ends. Thing is, the world is big, and yet surprisingly fragile. We’re just inches away from pushing this planet irrevocably over an existential cliff. Of course, the planet itself won’t be gone. Just most of the things we recognize living on it. Us and the polar bears. All the cars and clothes and smart phones won’t make a whit of difference when there isn’t enough arable land to grow food for everybody. Think the Dark Ages with twisters and typhoons thrown in for good measure.
But that’s a future that hasn’t happened yet. This Changes Everything (2015) marks our momentous present, circuiting the globe to capture the intense environmental fights unfolding in places from Canada and the U.S. to Greece, India and China. Naomi Klein narrates the film based on her book and directed by her partner Avi Lewis. Klein has a knack for hot button issues, from burgeoning corporate advertising (No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies) to ethically appalling corporate exploitation (The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism). She’d probably dislike the comment, but her brand is anti-globalization. Fortunately she brings a tone of wry observation along for what really is the most stridently urgent issue of our time. She herself remarks in the film’s opening that she’s always hated films about climate change. It’s a disarming start, but it calls quick attention to our own stifling inaction. It’s not that it’s too hard to care. The problem is just so numbingly big.
Space wants to kill you. Very badly. All those sci-fi movies with the aliens and the monsters and the demons from other dimensions, they’re fine, hell, some of them are pretty damn awesome. But they’re kind of overkill. When you come right down to it, plain old space will get the job done without any outside help. Another planet can end you in seconds with its own unbreathable air. Why complicate things with creatures when the natural environment is hostile enough? Sir Ridley Scott gets this entirely. While he’s made one of the best science fiction monster movies of all time, 1979’s gut-wrenching Alien, Scott thankfully sees no need to repeat himself. This time. (I’m looking at you, Prometheus (2012).) With Matt Damon starring as stranded astronaut Mark Watney, The Martian (2015) is an epic survival story of man against nature, however far away and unnatural.
He’s funny, disarming, a genial presence that belies the disturbing sensibility he harbours within. But even more than that, Guillermo del Toro knows his shit. TIFF’s been offering a series of Gothic Master Classes with the renowned director, the last one happening on Monday, August 31st. I was fortunate to attend last week’s dissertation on Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940). Del Toro introduced the film, and fielded questions from the audience afterward. Sitting there in the theatre, I took four pages of notes. He’s nicknamed “The Professor” for a reason.
“This is the future. The world as we know it is gone. Scarred by endless wars, humanity struggles to survive in the ruins of the old world. This is the future. The year is 1997.” It’s a great pitch, and for Turbo Kid (opening today), a winning one. Fuelled by Mad Max and countless dystopian eighties adventure movies, this low-budget tween actioner gets its kick from gleefully over-the-top gore and a winsome underdog hero story. So strap on your power-gloves, and let’s get back to the future.