The Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival offers TIFF attendees a painful choice: You can see the most outrageous, alternative, underground and culty films of the year, but you have to stay up ‘til two or three in the morning. At a festival where many top contenders screen early the next morning, that’s a tough decision to make. So we braved the late-night hours in order to bring you these roundups featuring the most buzzworthy titles screening at midnight. (Read part one of our roundup -- including reviews of Hellbenders, The ABCs of Death and The Lords of Salem.)
If all you know about Judge Dredd is the Sylvester Stallone movie, you might not care that there’s actually a good Judge Dredd movie now. You should, though. Dredd 3D shows that Judge Dredd is a good character worthy of his own standalone movie or franchise. Karl Urban plays Dredd, a judge in the futuristic metropolis Mega-City One. To manage this state, the police force are all in one: judge, jury and executioners. These judges are not just vigilante killing machines; Dredd has an actual job and he does police work. This particular investigation traps him in the 200-story compound of a drug kingpin (Lena Heady) with a rookie (Olivia Thirlby) who happens to be psychic. The action is an exciting Die Hard in the future with a clear trajectory to the 200th floor.
The sci-fi manages to discuss the ethics of this streamlined future legal system without rubbing our faces in it. Urban is phenomenal as, essentially, a faceless character, giving the helmeted Dredd personality in his posture, movement and those lips that stick out from under the visor. Thirlby and Heady kick all sorts of ass too. The 3D does make use of scale and depth, though it would be equally fun in 2D. I hope this is the beginning of many violent R-rated Judge Dredd adventures.
This must have been the most crowd-pleasing movie I’ve seen at all of TIFF, even counting Cloud Atlas’s standing ovation. The midnight audience laughed at every line and applauded every kill. I’m actually going to offer a counter perspective. Martin McDonagh’s second film is quite different in tone to In Bruges. Obviously some people like both, but I only liked the dark comedy of In Bruges. If anything, Seven Psychopaths is too light and silly. A screenwriter (Colin Farrell) trying to write a serial-killer movie actually gets involved with a bunch of killers. The extreme cartoonish violence is a condescending joke, and the commentary on movie cliches is just obvious. It’s not as perceptive as even Scream, let alone The Player, but it's interesting to see a movie with Ferrell, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken play in Midnight Madness. It just feels like they’re playing at making a wild, crazy midnight movie, not really committing to something dark or hardcore.
No One Lives
With midnight movies, sometimes you can forgive low budgets or sloppy first-time filmmakers in the spirit of grindhouse entertainment. No One Lives is bad even by the most forgiving standards. I was sure I was watching a first feature, then learned the director was Ryuhei Kitamura. Maybe it got lost in translation, but more likely lost in execution. A killer stalks a gang of rural criminals and all the kills may have sounded awesome in theory, but seeing them manifested in live action looks ridiculous. Killing a guy with a pair of handcuffs sounds unique, but how exactly did that result in his death? Pain, sure, but huh?
Just doing a shower kill is presumptuous, but Kitamura makes it booberific so it’s gratuitous and illogical. The script was written by an American, David Cohen, so there’s no excuse for characters speaking statements that don’t need to be said. When characters talk when they don’t need to, they look idiotic. It is a first-time screenplay for sure. The psychological connection established between killer and victim really shows that the filmmakers don’t understand the emotional manipulation they’re trying to portray. But hey, it’s a good laugh at a train wreck.
John Dies at the End
At the end of the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF-goers will get a chance to see the movie that’s pleased midnight audiences from Sundance to South by Southwest. I saw it at Sundance and it is just a fun delight of a midnight movie. Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) are a pair of investigators who deal with monsters. The latest case involves a drug called Soy Sauce that causes time travel, telepathy and inter-dimensional jumping. John Dies at the End is on the much lighter and more whimsical side of Midnight Madness. This tone of whimsical spoof seems to come from a love of the genre, rather than the contempt I felt in Seven Psychopaths. Creatures are lovingly designed and performed; supernatural logic is treated with respect. You have no idea where it’s going but you’re enjoying the ride so much it doesn’t matter. Paul Giamatti shows up and he’s not slumming it -- he’s happy to be in this crazy show. The love is palpable, so the macabre laughs totally land.
Check out our other Midnight dispatch, featuring capsule reviews of Hellbenders, The Lords of Salem, and The ABCs of Death