TIFF report #5: Spotlight, High-Rise, The Meddler

Today’s TIFF report includes the whistleblowing journalists of ‘Spotlight,’ a psychological thriller set inside a hierarchy of wealth in ‘High-Rise,’ and the Susan Sarandon comedy ‘The Meddler.’

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Still from ‘High-Rise’

Five days into the festival, I’m beginning to realise something that I’m sure most have already known for a while: an incessant, sleep-deprived smorgasbord of cinema is the not the best way to consume things you have to have an opinion about. The hectic schedules of TIFF and the fairly tight (though admittedly self-imposed) deadlines make it difficult to truly ruminate a film; sometimes you have no more than 30 minutes in line to think about something and jot down some illegible notes before taking in another film. I find it unfathomable that some other outfits bang out full-length reviews of films an hour or two after they first premiere at the festival; I’m already starting to waffle on my opinions for some of the films I saw.

I’ve already begun to tire of Freeheld’s trite and melodramatic structure; I’ve grown exponentially more fond of French Blood’s slow and steady barrel towards existential anguish. I’ve begun to crave laughs and lightness in a way that I rarely do; it’s made me more receptive to light ambitions and more jealous of the thousand other people shedding tears of joy in the theatre as I jot down some more illegible notes. It seems to suggest that the festival experience kills the joy of moviegoing, but it’s actually the opposite; I love it so much that I have no idea what to make of it anymore. All I want is to watch more movies.



Yesterday, I suggested that there appears to be a mini-trend in Hollywood of fetishizing early-2000s journalism as the last hurrah of the profession before it all went to shit. Tom McCarthy’s dry-as-hell Spotlight certainly seems to confirm that fact, obsessed as it is with the bloodless minutiae of reporting. As someone who truly enjoys that kind of thing, Spotlight remains fitfully interesting, but even I can admit that it hardly begs to be dramatized.

Spotlight is the oldest investigative reporting unit in the United States, having served at the core of the Boston Globe for over thirty years. Their four-person team (Mark Ruffalo, Gene d’Amoroso, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James) uncovers some worrisome evidence of molestation by local Boston priests that has gone buried and ignored for years. Under the supervision of their editor (Michael Keaton) and the paper’s deputy managing editor (John Slattery), the Spotlight team decides to go full force in uncovering the scandals despite the fact that it may earn them the ire and scorn of Boston’s fiercely Catholic population.

Spotlight is even more obsessed with the repetitive nitty-gritty of reporting than Truth; it’s all filing rooms and rolled up sleeves and late-night brainstorming sessions over a couple of Sam Adamses. The story at the core of Spotlight is compelling, but it’s not particularly cinematic; it doesn’t help that the film is indifferently shot and staged, as if to give the accuracy of information full attention above all else. It’s understandable that after the complete and utter decimation of his last film The Cobbler, McCarthy wants to delve into something a little deeper, but Spotlight isn’t far off from just being a bunch of depositions put into images.

Spotlight is scheduled for a Montreal release on November 6th.


high rise

Ben Wheatley is the rare kind of director who improves with each film. From a promising debut (Down Terrace), he’s managed to make increasingly interesting, ambitious and assured films each time he’s up at bat. High-Rise is his most ambitious film yet; it’s got the biggest stars, the biggest budget and the biggest pedigree (a cult novel by J. G. Ballard). Needless to say, High-Rise was one of my most anticipated titles of the festival—but I hadn’t quite anticipated how bizarre and brazenly ambitious the choice of material was.

Mid-70s England: Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moves into a highly modern high-rise building that contains all the amenities necessary to modern life: a pool, a gym, a grocery store… The high-rise is a modern utopia of convenience and luxury, but as Laing starts to befriend his neighbors, a chasm between the very affluent and the affluent is revealed. Class resentment begins to brew and, despite Laing’s desire to stay away from all the madness, daily life in the high-rise takes a turn for the fucked.

The satirical points of Ballard’s novel (about capitalism, upward mobility, moral relativism and the effects of technology on humans) remain relevant today, but his methods have dated somewhat. High-Rise reminds me most of 70s satires like La grande bouffe, in which the extreme content of the film was given as much weight as its actual satirical goals. It’s the kind of thing where a glimpsed orgy or scene of graphic violence is supposed to speak for itself as a sign of a greater malaise; it’s the kind of film where characters serve a structural or satirical purpose rather than a human one. High-Rise is beautifully shot and rather entertaining, but it could’ve benefitted from a bit of freshening up.

High-Rise does not yet have a Montreal release date.

The Meddler


I generally would not have given much thought to fitting a dramedy starring Susan Sarandon into my TIFF schedule, but the sheer weight of everything I’d endured prior (not to mention interview possibilities) led me to checking out the surprisingly funny and effective The Meddler from writer-director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World). It’s a character-based comedy of modest ambition that gives Susan Sarandon her best role in years; while it may not have the dramatic cachet of the street gangs, pedophile priests, muckraking journalists or dying lesbian police detectives of days past, it’s pretty good at just being pretty good.

Sarandon plays Marnie Minervini, a recently widowed woman from New Jersey who suddenly finds herself relatively wealthy and alone for the first time in her life. She decides to move to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), who’s extremely busy with work and still reeling from her breakup with a famous Hollywood heartthrob (Jason Ritter). Finding herself rather bored, Marnie begins to “meddle” in various people’s lives, hanging out with her daughter’s friends (Cecily Strong, Lucy Punch, Casey Wilson, Sara Baker), volunteering at a local hospital and spending some quality time with a retired cop named Zipper (JK Simmons).

It’s obviously a pretty personal project for Scafaria (note the name and profession of Byrne’s character, not to mention her Italian-American background) and it shows in the care and nuance given to the characters. Frankly, on paper it sounds like some kind of nightmarish scenario dreamt up by Nancy Meyers, but it’s a nicely observed, funny and touching little film. Sometimes that’s more than enough.

The Meddler does not yet have a Montreal release date.


See our previous TIFF 2015 reports here.

Keep an eye on Cult MTL for daily TIFF coverage through Sept. 20