Just when I think I’m out, Toronto Film Festival coverage pulls me back in.
Two films I managed to fit into my schedule down the stretch are getting all sorts of attention, for different reasons. Luckily, they both picked up distribution deals in Canada, so they’ll be coming to theaters near you soon. But while you wait, I wanted to hash over McCanick and Under the Skin, and find out why they’re tapping a nerve with this year’s festival crowd.
Josh C. Waller’s McCanick came to TIFF with a built-in curiosity factor. It represents one of the final onscreen performances for the late Glee star Cory Monteith. And in my opinion, the movie proves just how big a talent we lost when Monteith died from an overdose earlier this year.
Waller’s film is a gritty, Philadelphia-based cop thriller that’s actually a vehicle for the outstanding David Morse, who plays the title character. It’s McCanick’s birthday, but instead of a present, he learns that the slippery male escort (Monteith) whom he put away years ago has slipped out of the penal system. Hell bent on tracking him down, McCanick sacrifies time (and partners) in hopes of recapturing Monteith’s character … because the man holds a secret that could burn McCanick’s career to the ground.
The movie wants to be a contemporary answer to The French Connection, with the grizzled Morse being called Popeye Doyle by a criminal he’s beating. But while I’ve come to expect greatness from Morse, I didn’t know Monteith had the chops to hold his own opposite a veteran character actor. His McCanick character, Simon Wells, is a chameleon who is supposed to deceive the lead director at every turn, and Monteith revels in showing a darkness few Glee fans probably knew he had.
EW reports that McCanick was picked up by Well Go USA, with an intent to distribute in early 2014.
Under the Skin, on the surface, is being described by those who haven’t seen it as “the one where Scarlett Johansson gets naked a lot.” And that’s true, but ironic, given what director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Birth) eventually has to say about sexual attraction, superficial appearances and intimacy with his beautiful – and beautifully strange movie.
Johansson risks and stretches to play a largely silent alien who stalks the bleak, chilly Scottish countryside in search of horny men whom she hopes to pick up in her nondescript van. After she has lured them into her “web,” ScarJo’s creature guides these unsuspecting dudes into … well, it’s hard to explain, and Glazer doesn’t overdoes on details. The movie trades in symbolism as it casts its haunting spell, only making significant points about the love that’s supposed to exist underneath the superficial judgment game – and the dark places to which carnal attraction can take us.
Neither film is a laugh riot. Skin though, strives to say more about its chosen subject matter. If the films share a common bond, it’s that they show us actors known for one skill set throwing caution (and reputation) to the wind in hopes of furthering their careers. Johansson has “Marvel money,” a semi-lucrative gig in a tentpole franchise, and yet she’s shedding clothes for an introspective and mysterious meditation on looks and attractions. And Monteith shifts gears away from Glee to demonstrate what he might have been able to do on a regular basis, if not for the demons that plagued him. These are the narratives that still come out of Toronto, a showcase for film and conversation on an annual basis.