TIFF ’13 – Day 8: The Cell Phone Wars

The best joke about Night Moves is the origin of the cheesy title.
The best joke about Night Moves is the origin of the cheesy title.

One of the biggest perks for the media attending the Toronto Film Festival are the Press & Industry screenings. A seat is almost guaranteed (except for the main titles) and you don’t have to spend most of your day in eternal queues. However, a recent phenomenon is pitting media against the vaguely defined “industry”: The cell phone issue.

Most of the critics are hell-bent against second screens as part of the moviegoing experience (myself included). The industry people claim they have the right to use of cell phones to conduct their business. This has led to shouting matches in the theatres that climaxed when the head critic of FirstShowing.net CALLED THE COPS on an obnoxious dude who refused to kill his phone during a public showing of The Sacrament (more on the movie later). I thought I was hardcore on this matter, but some of my fellow reviewers are seriously intense.

The organization of TIFF is remarkably ambiguous on the matter. While on screen they request to the public to turn off all electronics, in person they would claim industry is allowed to use their devices.

It’s a war out there people, and it’s time to pick sides. If the reflection of cell phone screens affects your enjoyment of a movie, speak up. Otherwise, self-involvement wins. Now let’s talk movies.

Night Moves (USA, 2013): One of the few auteurs operating in America today, Kelly Reichardt (Wendy & Lucy, Meek’s Cutoff) has brought a nouvelle vague sensitivity to independent cinema. Impressively, she has only got better with every movie. Night Moves is Reichardt’s most high profile effort to date and the filmmaker didn’t had to change her style or sensibility a lick, not a small feat in the land of selling out.

Dena and Josh (Dakota Fanning and Jesse Eisenberg) are two committed environmentalists disenchanted with the movement’s inefficiency. It’s no surprise they get involved with an eco-terrorist (Peter Sarsgaard), who seems more incompetent than they have been led to believe. Their first mission is to blow a dam, supposedly a victimless crime. When a camper goes missing, the principles that inspire them melt away and paranoia sets in.

Night Moves is a very simple thriller and the absence of any artificiality is part of its charm. The level of tension Reichardt achieves without special effects, snappy editing or plot twists is remarkable. Playing against type, Eisenberg and Fanning excel at portraying the granola crowd’s darkest side. Maybe Reichardt’s first commercial hit is at hand. Four prairie dogs in possession of too much fertilizer.

The Sacrament (USA, 2013): Once promising horror-meister Ti West has become a full-fledged disappointment. Long gone are the days of House of the Devil, the moderately scary Eighties throwback. Since then West has delivered the forgettable The Innkeepers and the most forgettable segments of V/H/S and The ABC’s of Death (a feat onto itself).

The Sacrament not only lacks originality, it uses hipsterism to score some cheap goodwill points. Three journalists from Vice Magazine (nine of ten hipster’s information source) travel to a religious colony in Africa that has adopted the sister of one of them. As any good cult, the members believe to be in heaven on Earth and a charismatic leader keeps them all in line. Most of them anyway.

The reporters find out some of the faithful are kept in the settlement against their will and all hell breaks loose. It all feels terribly perfunctory, a tasteless knockoff of the Jonestown mass suicide. Also, poison is not particularly cinematic, especially when you are incapable to build up any tension around it.

West and fellow splat-packers Joe Swanberg and Adam Wingard would greatly benefit from stop casting each other in their films. Ideas with some potential go to waste because of their poor acting skills. One prairie dog drinking the Kool-aid.

Tomorrow: It’s the end of the TIFF and I feel sad.

 

 

 

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.