The perennial problem when attending a film festival of what to actually go to see. Choosing from the smorgasbord of what's available is a daunting process and here are a few things that find help me navigate the often intimidating programme schedules.
1. Will this film be on at my local cinema next week? The Magnificent Seven being a god case in point; although it opened TIFF it's essentially a big-budget mainstream movie that everyone else will have seen next week. Never underestimate the pleasure of being able to tell your friends that you've seen a highly anticipated movie months before its release date!
2. Is it a premiere? Even better a world premiere? Serious kudos follow if so, along with the possibility of cast and crew appearances. However, sit at the end of a row to allow an elegant exit once you've had a selfie with a couple of celebrity dots in the far background.
3. How many films can I see in one day? Afternoon movie fatigue is a killer; you can't keep your eyes open and know that if you can get just a few moments kip you will be fine; until you're awoken by your own snoring. So pace yourself. Three films a day is now my maximum and I need enough time to have a drink, a snack, some exercise and fresh air before entering the darkness again.
4. Watch something completely unknown to you, be it the director, cast or nation of origin. I have always found some of the most original and exciting festival screenings are films you take a gamble on and go in completely fresh to.
So with some of these points in mind I am in the Ryerson Theatre on the second day of the festival for the world premiere of Showroom Favourite Ben Wheatley's latest movie Free Fire. A film that ticks the first three of the above guidelines- it is having its first public screenings, it won't be released for ages and I will be alert. Before saying anything about the film itself, I just need to explain why I will be referring to the film being the work of both Wheatley and his partner, Amy Jump. He directs, she writes - that's what the credits usually say and Wheatley made a firm point about how this division of labour just doesn't reflect how the pair work and he sees their films as just that: theirs, not his. His only complaint about this is that Jump will not do the press and promotion side of things...so it's him up onstage after the film with the cast.
So, this latest film is yet another change of subject and pace for the pair after the dystopian High Rise. Free Fire is an intense 90 minute chamber piece set in an abandoned New York warehouse where a deal between an Irish paramilitary group and NYC gangsters goes apocalyptically wrong. The set-up is deftly done in the first half hour leaving the remaining running time to be devoted to an extended and almost continuous gun battle. The bullet-fuelled carnage is extraordinarily staged with a dozen characters allowed to be defined and developed whilst being punctured with more bullets than a pin cushion has pricks. People get shot; a lot. The violence is sometimes comedic but never flippant and Jump and Wheatley handle the mayhem with an assurance and confidence that, for me, makes this their first completely successful film. The action was intended to avoid the clichéd tropes of action movies - hundreds (actually thousands) of bullets are fired and they usually miss but when they do make contact, you feel it. The gunplay builds in a hysterical fashion so that a form of almost delirium sets in towards the end of the funny, furious and frenetic exercise in how to reinvigorate the action movie.
Oh, and if you see the film you will never listen to Annie's Song in the same way again. EVER.