Nicolas Cage goes on a tear in Mom & Dad & more from TIFF

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Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage in Mom & Dad

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from Sept. 7 to 17. Here’s what we saw on day seven:

Mom & Dad

Brian Taylor’s Mom & Dad is almost certainly the most insane, broadside-of-a-barn metaphor for the perils of parenthood since Cronenberg’s The Brood. Since that was a moody thriller featuring mutated children in snowsuits and this one is directed by one of the Crank guys, it may even take the crown. With an irresistible hook and a flagrant disregard for good taste, Mom & Dad is a zippy horror movie featuring Nicolas Cage at the height of free-jazz hamminess.

Cage and Selma Blair star as the titular suburban parents. They, like everyone around them, are suddenly afflicted with an unsurmountable rage and desire to kill their own children: 15-year-old Carly (Anne Winters) and 10-year-old Josh (Zackary Arthur). It’s a plague affecting the whole world, but it’ll really put a dent in their polished little McMansion.

Taylor doesn’t take any of it too seriously, piling on the Rube Goldbergian nightmare scenarios (including one with a newborn baby!) and ratcheting up the insanity in a broad but undeniably effective way. (Taylor’s style has not really budged since the Crank days, so it’s a lot of choppy camerawork and insane canted-angle close-ups.) Cage is, of course, the star of the show — each of his line readings is bespoke with insane inflections and bug-eyed lunacy (he does a thing to a can of beer that you cannot unsee), but Blair holds her own in what’s actually the film’s lead. It’s all pretty fucking silly and ultimately kind of disposable, but it’s a lot of fun.

Mom & Dad does not yet have a release date.

The Shape of Water

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I’ve never really responded to Guillermo del Toro’s movies. Though I find the man’s enthusiasm infectious, his films always strike me as too polished and too deliberate to fully work. With that in mind, I think it will not surprise you that this romance-thriller about a mute woman who falls in love with a fish-man is perhaps not making relatability a priority. It is probably my favourite of del Toro’s films — it’s the one that best melds his boundless visual imagination with a story actually worth telling, even if it does eventually reach a point where it is unmistakably a movie about having sex with the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Mute from birth, Eliza (Sally Hawkins) lives with a closeted commercial artist (Richard Jenkins) and works as a cleaner in a military facility. Her life is fairly uneventful until a new “project” is launched in her workplace, a very secretive operation spearheaded by a scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and a hard-ass head of security (Michael Shannon). The project involves the study of a humanoid creature apparently poached from the Amazon, but Shannon is more than a little brutal with the creature. Eliza begins communicating with it, finally finding someone who speaks just like her — fully understood for the first time in her life.

What’s perhaps most impressive about The Shape of Water is that it is not made for a specific commercial audience. It’s a wide-eyed fable with some degree of naiveté, but it’s also violent and sexually graphic and unafraid to go down some rabbit holes of del Toro’s choosing (including indulging his love of classic musicals). It’s a pretty far-fetched proposal in the best of cases and, although the film’s emotional climaxes didn’t really do much for me as a man who has yet to be attracted to salmon with legs, the fact that it works at all is an accomplishment in itself. It doesn’t hurt that it’s entertaining as hell, too.

The Shape of Water opens in theatres on Dec. 8.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Martin McDonagh returns with his third feature, a film that combines McDonagh’s penchant for profane and flowery dialogue with a heavier heart and more nuanced look at the way hate and anger can poison lives. It’s still a dark, violent, foul-mouthed crime caper, but McDonagh walks a very fine line here. It’s a movie where scenes can flip from vitriol to tenderness in an instant. It veers from kicking teenagers in the balls to the raw despair of grief within the same scene.

It’s been seven months since Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) lost her daughter in a heinous act of rape and murder; since then, the police have failed to come up with a culprit. Mildred takes it upon herself to rent out three billboards taking the local police chief (Woody Harrelson) to task, a move that doesn’t sit well with the rest of the town and especially officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a hateful, troubled man with more anger than sense. Becoming persona non grata only stokes the bottomless fire pit of Mildred’s anger, even as the idea of ever finding the culprit becomes increasingly unlikely.

Most actors giving a performance of this calibre would be in career-best territory. Frances McDormand is so good (here and elsewhere) that it’s just an extremely solid performance. Three Billboards is funny in spots, sombre and depressing in others, but almost always calibrated and affecting. McDonagh’s penchant for dialogue that’s a mouthful in the mouths of even the most talented actors (Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Clarke Peters and Caleb Landry Jones also appear) does rear its head here, but Three Billboards might be his most accomplished feature yet — more mature than In Bruges, more controlled than Seven Psychopaths.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens in theatres in November.

Submergence

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The general consensus on Wim Wenders is that he has more or less lost his way in the last decade or so. Apart from his documentaries (which are roundly and deservedly beloved), his films have been tepidly received at best. Wenders still has the cachet to attract major talents and financing to his projects, but stars is about all the lukewarm romantic drama Submergence has going for it. It’s not awful, certainly, and it’s less marble-mouthed than Everything Will Be Fine, but Submergence has all of the soporific flaws of your average Oscar bait and few of the qualities needed to transcend it.

James (James McAvoy) and Dani (Alicia Vikander) meet cute in a fancy resort one weekend. She’s a biochemist preparing for an extreme deep-dive that’s bound to be a career highlight; he’s a government operative posing as a water engineer who tracks jihadists in Africa. They fall in love quickly but almost immediately have to part — upon arriving in Africa, James is kidnapped by the very same jihadists he’s meant to track and chucked in a jail cell. On the other end of the world, Dani is without news from James; her texts go unanswered, her calls go to voicemail.

Wenders sort of gets fucked from the get-go. For this movie to work, we have to continue to feel the connection between James and Dani when they’re apart. Though the leads have plenty of chemistry when they’re together, they soon find themselves in their own separate movie, and suddenly Submergence seems to have a very tenuous raison d’être. It feels hermetic and closed off, a star vehicle in the most generic way possible. It’s based on a book, which explains why the script relies so much on the internal rather than the external, but it never really goes anywhere despite its portentous approach to Love with a capital L.

Submergence does not yet have a release date.

See our report from TIFF day one here, day two here, day three here, day four here, day five here and day six here.

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