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Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig in Downsizing

Though its title may evoke something small-scale, Downsizing, the ambitious new feature from writer-director-auteur Alexander Payne, could not be more opposite. The typically character-centric filmmaker has stepped out of his realm slightly and opted to go for a story with incredible scope, deciding to tackle a cacophony of important ideas and themes, while framing them all around the trials and tribulations of Matt Damon’s Payne-like everyman. Through a high-concept sci-fi premise, Payne presents a timely social satire tackling many of the same issues as us, through a slightly exaggerated lens.

Paul Safranek (Damon), an occupational therapist from Omaha, is unhappy. He gave up his dreams of being a doctor to care for his ailing mother, and he continues to live his life under the shadow of disappointment. Luckily for him, science has chosen this moment to unveil a solution to one of man’s biggest dilemmas: how to solve overpopulation. Scientists are now able to shrink humans to five inches tall, meaning they needs a fraction-of-a-fraction of the amount of resources to survive and create a minimal amount of waste. Not only is this a way to save the world, it — more importantly to him — provides Paul a way to escape from his dreary life.

Needless to say, this film is a fascinating way to explore some very typical human emotions and experiences, while also examining a bigger picture. Payne’s signature wit adds some much needed levity to the depressing concepts he tackles here, which range from overpopulation to climate change to voting rights to class disparity, and the list goes on. While the scale of these themes could seem like too much to cover within a single film, Payne’s incredible penchant at getting to the centre of the human condition and focusing on the specific grounds the film in a way that could elude less experienced filmmakers. In the end, we are reminded that at the centre of all these issues are people, and each person’s journey is one worth discovering.

Melissa Gonik is a Cinema and Media Studies student at York University, currently in her final year. Her favourite time of the year is TIFF, where she volunteers throughout the festival and rushes as many films as she can. She has a passion for film and television, which has led her to write reviews for FERNTV, as well as on her blog

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Ariel Hansen in Paint the Town Red

It’s the most wonderful time of the year where the city of Toronto celebrates the best in contemporary Canadian horror, genre and underground film.  It is none other than the Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival which is FERNTV’s most favourite festival to cover.   We could have not of thought of a better way to start our coverage than to reach out to Vancouver’s own Bad Cookie Pictures who opens the festival with their short film Paint the Town Red.  The film focuses on two women who decide to “Paint the Town Red” one night and attend an exclusive underground club in hopes to get hitched and a little lit.  Unfortunately for the two, those who are at the club have other ideas for them.  Paint the Town Red is the film that will spark fire to this year’s edition of Blood in the Snow.  FERNTV caught up with both directors Ariel Hansen and Christoper Graham to discuss the makings of this film.

FERNTV:  Tell us here on FERNTV of how this film came about?

Ariel Hansen – Paint the Town Red came about when we were invited to participate in a local film-making competition called Tales Beyond the Bar. The whole idea of the competition was to partner different bars around Vancouver with local filmmakers and to have each of them team together to create short films with the bars acting as the main
locations. We were paired up with a night club and neither of us are the clubbing type so we decided to take our film in a more horrificdirection.
Christopher Graham– We were hot off The Man in The Rabbit mask when Hammer & Tong invited us to be a part of their Tales beyond the Bar contest. Ariel thought it would be a good place for me to try my hand at directing and I was thrilled to. We decided to co-write and co-direct as it would help me ease back into directing and Ariel could focus more on her acting. It taught us a lot in terms of using available resources to maximize production value on a miniscule budget, as well as helping us network with people we’ve continued to work with going forward. Not only
that but it strengthened Ariel and myself as a creative team and built a strong trust between us.

FERNTV:  The film reminds us of Dario Argento’s film Demons.  Do you feel that this film had some influence on Paint the Town Red?

Ariel-  I actually hadn’t seen that film in years, but I’m sure parts of it were percolating in the back of my mind while we were writing it.
Christopher– I personally have not seen Demons, but the Giallo film movement and recent resurgence had definitely had a part to play in inspiring paint the town red. The club was meant to have a very mysterious and surreal feel to it and I can certainly say I’ve pulled influence from Dario Argento for that.

FERNTV:  The sound in this film has this dreamy type of sound.  Can you explain why you wanted to do it this way?
Ariel – We wanted the music to lull the audience into a similar mindset to that of Andie and Josephine throughout the film and play with their expectations. That way when the twist came it was all the more shocking.  Going into the film we knew music was going to be one of the most important aspects and we really wanted to support local artists so weended up licensing two songs from a local band one of our editors introduced us to call Black Magique and then had two songs composed by our frequent collaborator Kevin Williams.
Christopher– The music was meant to be intoxicating and draw the audience into the feel of the club. We wanted songs with a pounding dance beat but a little darkness to create a unique atmosphere and tone for the film. Our cinematographer and longtime friend Jordan Barnes Crouse recommended we look to indie band “Black Magique” who had two songs that were just perfect, and we went to our usual composer Kevin Williams to fill in the blanks. We knew music was going to be very important and had to make sure it fit just right.

FERNTV:  Tell us what is it like to work with Ariel Hansen and what she brings to the table?

Ariel – She’s the worst, but Topher probably has better insights on this.
Christopher– Ariel Hansen is one of my closest friends and favorite people to collaborate with. She places a lot of trust in me and allows me a lot of creative freedom even from our first project together, “Ready to Burst”.  Over the summer we dove in on a heavy amount of projects and I don’t think I could have accomplished as much with anyone else. On top of all this she always gives full effort and does amazing work and I’m truly grateful to be taking on these projects with her.

FERNTV:  What was the biggest challenge in making this film?

Ariel – To me the biggest challenge was the weather. There was a snowstorm that day which isn’t too common for Vancouver, especially in March, so of course the roads were horrible. A lot of people, especially the extras, weren’t able to make it to set on time since most buses were heavily delayed. On top of that we only had to location for 8 hours since there was a live show that night. Efficiency was the name of the game that day.
Christopher – Despite having an arguably short prep period, the film seemed to come together fairly smoothly. The real difficulty was just that we had a short time in our location and the always difficult challenge of getting volunteer extras. Once we made the film though we seem to have found a good model for making good horror cheaply and quickly

FERNTV:  Why did you want to get into the film industry?
Ariel – Ever since I was little I wanted to be an actor because I love feeling a reaction from an audience, whether it’s laughter, tears…or screaming. I initially got into directing (by way of writing) to make roles for myself as an actor, but bringing my own story to life was so fulfilling that I decided to pursue that area of the industry as well.  I’ve been very lucky to know so many great filmmakers like Gigi Saul Guerrero at Luchagore and Jordan Barnes-Crouse at Off World Pictures who were able to give me some great advice before shooting started for my first film, Ready to Burst.
Christopher – For me, film is one of the greatest creative outlets. It requires you to use all forms of art to create worlds and characters to live in those worlds. It’s also an incredibly social medium as you have to collaborate to make a successful film. I feel it is the most complete form of expression and to me expression is everything!

FERNTV:  Tell us about Bad Cookie Pictures?
Ariel – We started Bad Cookie Pictures officially when we filmed my first short film script, Ready to Burst. I had originally wanted to find someone else to direct it and I would only act in it, but when we were coming up short finding a director.   Topher encouraged me to direct it myself. Before that we had also been collaborating on a feature script that we’re still working on now. Even with that first script we’ve been trying to find ways to even the playing field for women both on and off screen.
Christopher– Bad Cookie Pictures is a company Ariel and I formed a little over a year and a half ago. We aim to create engaging genre films and specialize in the art of horror. We are excellent collaborators and whenever possible  like to give opportunities to female filmmakers as well as explore new mediums of storytelling. We’re getting stronger and better, Paint the Town Red is a film I’m very proud of, but I can’t wait to show what comes next.

FERNTV: What does it feel like to be part of Blood in the Snow this year?
Ariel – It feels amazing to be accepted by one of Canada’s top genre festivals! We’re quite sad we can’t make it out this year to experience the festival in person, especially since our friends at Off
World Pictures had such a great time there last year, but knowing that our film is opening the festival brings us a lot of pride. One of our actors, Gigi Saul Guerrero, will be at the festival representing her own film Bestia so we’ll have to bug her for a report on all the great things that happened there.
Christopher– It’s a huge honour! BITS has a great reputation and we’ll be playing alongside our friends at Offworld Pictures and Luchagore productions. We’re still fairly new and I’m proud that our work has managed to build such an appeal so fast and that we get to play against such heavy hitters in Canadian horror!

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Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird

The trials and tribulations of youth are put on display in Greta Gerwig’s confident and excellent directorial debut, Lady Bird, becoming one of the most buzz-worthy films of this TIFF season, and a coming-of-age film for the ages.

Lady Bird, which stars Saoirse Ronan as the titular Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, is a touching and hilarious portrayal of teenage life during early-aughts America. Young people so often feel suffocated by their environment, and Gerwig takes a very specific story of a girl wanting to escape her lower middle class life in Sacremento, California during the high school season of 2002-2003 for the seemingly greener grass of New York City — a place to which she has never even visited — and made it feel universal.

The film’s cast is populated by marvels, beginning with Ronan herself as Lady Bird. Throughout the film, Ronan is saddled with the task of exhibiting every single possible tumultuous feeling or emotion that a girl of Lady Bird’s age may experience, and she deftly hits them all. The stubborn and abrasive nature of the character could have led to audiences revolting against her, but Gerwig and Ronan are able to bring such honesty and heart to Lady Bird that it is hard not to feel for her and root for her, despite some misguided decisions and actions.

Though Ronan is the unmistakable star of the film, Lady Bird’s story cannot exist without the supporting characters of her life, especially her mother, Marion, played by the inimitable Laurie Metcalfe. As Marion, Metcalfe is able to be all the things a mother of a teenage girl often is, for better or for worse. What sets her apart from so many previous on-screen mothers is that she is neither just a strict authoritarian, nor is she simply a gentle and caring soul. She is many different facets in one complete package, a strict mother who is able to have fun with her daughter in between moments of scolding or condescension.

Like Lady Bird, Marion is unapologetically herself, which leads to many clashes between the mother-daughter duo, but also a silent kinship between the two. It is so refreshing to see a mother-daughter relationship that is neither that of best friends, nor that of enemies — a realistic portrayal of two people bound by unconditional love, even if that live does not always translate to liking one another. It is in this relationship that the film lives more than anywhere else, and elevates the film far above others that try to tackle the perplexing period of life that is adolescence.



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Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I cannot remember having as enjoyable a time watching a movie in a theatre as I had watching Martin McDonagh’s latest film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. While that may seem hyperbolic, the sentiment is sincere — this movie is fantastic.

Now, writing about the fun I had watching this film may seem odd, especially after reading a quick synopsis of the film’s plot. A woman (Frances McDormand) takes a stand after the inept police department have made no arrests in the case of her daughter’s murder. Based on that, it would seem that this is fairly grim tale. It is a testament to McDonagh’s wit and creativity that he is able to take what would ordinarily be a sombre story, and created a hilarious and affecting romp that packs many punches—both figurative and literal.

Though McDonagh’s screenplay and direction are imperative for the film to work as it does, the film’s esteemed cast is a huge reason for the film’s overall success. McDormand is impeccable as Mildred Hayes — a reversal from arguably her most famous role as the reasonable and polite police chief Marge Gunderson from the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996). Here, McDormand fights against the police department as Mildred, an exceedingly fierce, tough, cunning, and often rude woman who will cross any boundary to gain justice for her daughter.

The rest of the cast is made up of heavyweights, including Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, and Peter Dinklage, each of whom brings their all to the film. Sam Rockwell is the stand-out for me, and yet again proves himself to be one of Hollywood’s often overlooked but best actors.

To preserve the experience, I will not divulge too many more details about what really makes this movie stand out, as my viewing experience was definitely heightened by coming in mostly blind. I will say that this pitch-black dramedy has as much poignance as it does offensive language, and some scenes may not be for the squeamish or faint of heart. However, as the film was the winner of TIFF’s Grolsch People’s Choice Award, it seems to have resonated with audiences across the festival the same way it has for me, and I look forward to seeing the film continue to blow people away once it hits cinemas.


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