Day two of our coverage of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival rolls on the day before one of the biggest film festivals in the world kicks off tomorrow, Thursday, September 6th. If you missed our first batch of reviews yesterday, head over here. For more information on films or for tickets, check out the official TIFF website at tiff.net. And stay tuned for lots more coverage in the days to come!
Director: Joe Wright
The fact that Joe Wright and Keira Knightley would reunite for an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina isn’t a surprise. The tale of delicate social taboos turning into devastating tragedy in a gloriously opulent costumes seems consistent with what the duo have made in the past. The way they present that material is quite a surprise, though. The entire film very clearly takes place on the confines of a single stage, with walls openly moving during scene changes, obvious models employed for moments of spectacle, and characters freezing in tableau for dramatic effect. There’s a Brechtian quality to the self-conscious spectacle, with the film as indebted to the likes of Fellini or Ken Russell as the traditional costume drama fair. Yet, somehow all the trickery never diminishes the impact of the human drama. It only serves to visually and viscerally heighten the literary source.
Knightley reaches beyond her ice queen safe zone as Anna, a woman torn between social and emotional obligation for her wealthy husband Alexi Karenin (Jude Law) and a chance at genuine love with the strapping young Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson). Law is uncharacteristically humble and even pathetic as Alexi, while Johnson is almost unrecognizable as his stately cocksman. The inter-character drama plays out like the slow-motion trainwreck of a domestic tragedy that it should, with Wright filling his frames with surreal stylistic flourish and a surprisingly amount of comedy. As a result, the director manages to reinvigorate the material for the easily bored generation and thankfully without any MTV-inspired shenanigans. (Phil Brown)
Friday, September 7, 6:00pm, Elgin (Visa Screening Room) PREMIUM
Saturday September 8, 12:15pm, Isabel Bader Theatre
Director: Ariel Vromen
It’s quite amazing how much energy and life a single actor can breathe into a production. They can sometimes even liven up the performances around them in an otherwise standard story. Michael Shannon proves to be such a force in Vromen’s take on the real life Jersey mob enforcer Richard Kuklinski, who it’s believed killed over 100 people from the 60s into the mid-80s.
The film chronicles the life and times of Kuklinski – a devoted family man despite not having any feelings at all about his profession – with only the cursory mob movie tough guy posturing. There’s nothing particularly new about the story being seen on screen, but Shannon delivers yet another undeniably powerful performance and it’s hard to believe that he isn’t rightfully earning $20 million a film by now. Here, however, his cast seems to meet him halfway. With the exception of an okay Winona Ryder as his clueless wife, everyone seems invigorated by being around him, especially Chris Evans (as his eventual ice cream truck driving partner) and Ray Liotta, who hasn’t been this good in a long time as Richard’s boss. There’s also a trio of great and unforgettable roles to other noticeable actors that shouldn’t be spoiled. Unless you already looked at the cast list. In that case, just know they’re great, but it’s best to go in cold (as ice). Even though the movie around them isn’t special, the performances definitely are. (Andrew Parker)
Monday, September 10th, 10:00pm, Princes of Wales Theatre
Tuesday, September 11th, 12:00pm, Ryerson Theatre
Director: Wayne Blair
The Sapphires tells the story of four Australian aboriginal women (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell), three sisters and their cousin, who form a soul group in the late 60s, playing for the US military in Vietnam. The girls’ manager, Dave (Chris O’Dowd), is an Irishman, down on his luck, trying to control his own, often hilarious, self-destructive tendencies while guiding The Sapphires through their success. The film touches on issues of family, love, loss, strength and racism, but it’s also a barrel of fun.
Blair’s film may be a soul music jukebox, but its songs are paired with a funny, light, inspiring story and the film becomes pure delight. Chris O’Dowd is, perhaps, the highlight of the film, proving himself a more-than-capable comic lead. The women also handle themselves well, bringing great chemistry, distinct characters and some wonderful voices to belt out all those sweet tunes. It’s a feel-good musical comedy that hits just about every predictable or clichéd note along the way, but always with energy and joy. The Sapphires is the definition of a crowd-pleaser sure to leave audiences tapping their toes. (Corey Atad)
Sunday, September 9th, 8:00pm, Winter Garden Theatre
Tuesday, September 11th, 3:45pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Director: Pablo Larraín
In 1988, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was under international pressure to hold some kind of democratic gesture, formulating in a national plebiscite. A stilted discussion, Pinochet’s cabinet still controlled the public voice, as his regime was most infamous for incarcerating and torturing political prisoners. The most Pinochet’s collective opposition had was an allowed set of 15-minute spots on television to convince Chileans to vote “NO” against Pinochet’s “YES” in the election. They won, and they used a happy rainbow to do it.
Pablo Larraín has been tackling Chile during and surrounding the Pinochet regime for his entire career, but it’s likely that No will go down as his most clever take. Beaming into the heart of the time, without crashing face first into cliché rebellion gestures, No isn’t about brave demonstrations or even monstrous oppression. No is about the completely absurd semiotics of marketing in the late 80s, and how the best way to communicate to vox populi is never the most obvious.
No is a battle of wits, not arms. A chess match between two partnered execs, not-so-secretly working for the other team off hours. The characters are fictional, but their advertisements, the monuments of this film, are very real and brilliantly utilized. One of the most obvious and bold aesthetic choices is the film quality, which resembles the fuzzy advertisements in focus. Grazing hipness, it instead immerses the audience into a marketing realm which could otherwise appear demented. No deserves to be talked about, plenty. (Zack Kotzer)
Monday, September 10th, 6:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Tuesday, September 11th, 3:00pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
For better or worse the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in Brandon Cronenberg’s debut feature. The son of David delivers a solid bit of satirical suspense with a healthy dose of body horror coming out of a great concept, but he also share’s his father’s latter day problems of sermonizing on a topic too directly and losing a sense of pacing.
In a world where selling the actual viruses obtained by celebrities has become big business, a salesman (Caleb Landry Jones) begins bootlegging a new and potentially dangerous virus from starlet Hanna Geist (Sarah Gadon) that’s far more dangerous to his health – both inside and out – than he ever could have imagined.
Jones and Gadon are terrific and Cronenberg shows a real knack for pristine visuals and subtly dark humour, but when the film becomes more of a corporate espionage tale at the halfway point, the world Cronenberg has created becomes lost in a series of talky sequences that explain the plot rather than moving it forward. It doesn’t damage the film too much, though, as the concepts of celebrity as a literal sickness and subtle digs at piracy are interesting enough to sustain the film. It’s also very well made for a first film despite being some raised by one of the best filmmakers of his generation. (Andrew Parker)
Monday, September 10th, 9:00pm, Ryerson Theatre
Wednesday, September 12th, 2:45pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Director: Michael Haneke
When you sign up for a Michael Haneke movie, you can count on certain things like controlled framing, deliberately measured pacing, intellectual calculation, and some form of suffering (either on screen or in the audience). What’s never expected is a warm emotional connection. Yet, that’s exactly what seems to be happening for a large portion of his latest feature Amour, with the audacious auteur compassionately sliding audiences into the lives of an elderly couple played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. She suddenly suffers a stroke and descends into semi-paralysis and dementia. He does everything he can to maintain their well-formed routine. For a while, it’s almost inspiring to see the struggling husband try.
Don’t worry though, it’s still Haneke and soon the tale deteriorates into a nightmare of obligation, abuse, and dependency. The performances of Trintignant and Riva are remarkable, vividly expressing decades of connection and months of painful decline through subtle gestures and little dialogue. As always, the director builds up incredible tension without it even being noticeable, so that when the inevitable shocks and revelations come, the impact is devastating. The film continues Haneke’s ongoing critique of bourgeoisie listlessness, only now with more of the understanding and compassion for the characters that the filmmaker has been criticized for lacking in the past. Of course in this man’s hands that connection only leads to greater tragedy with the audience drawn deeper before he twists the knife, but what else would you expect? (Phil Brown)
Saturday, September 8, 6:00pm, Elgin (Visa Screening Room)
Sunday September 16, 9:00am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
The Secret Disco Revolution
Director: Jamie Kastner
Intermittently insightful and humorous, but mostly slapdash and unfocused, Toronto based director Kastner’s look at the historical and sociological impact that the 1970s disco movement had on the world squanders a genuinely good thesis on a mishmash of talking heads a pointless, cutesy recreations that make disco look like a heist.
What starts off as a genuinely interesting look at how the era of bell bottoms, endless cocaine, and light-up dance floors helped bring equality to women, African Americans, and gay people who had been marginalized for too long, devolves far too often into people spouting off trivial facts that have nothing to do with the larger cause behind the film. Even worse, some of the interviews feel awkward even when talking to academics that seem to love the sound of their own theories rather than trying to back them up with facts and data.
It’s a love letter to a bygone era that shows respect for the music and talent, but the film can’t answer its own questions. Still interviews with disco legends, club owners, record producers, and an incredibly tense sit down with all of the members of The Village People looking incredibly pissed off to be there offer some slight entertainment value. (Andrew Parker)
Saturday, September 8th, 9:45pm, Scotiabank 3
Thursday, September 13th, 3:00pm, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Director: Luis Prieto
This flashy UK remake of Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s first feature film ends up being a mostly pointless exercise, adding a tonne of style but very little substance to the proceedings. Director Luis Prieto pushes the source material through the Guy Ritchie gangster movie filter, and in the process robs his remake of naturalism that made the rough around the edges original work. Transplanting the action from the grey streets of Copenhagen to the neon clubs of London, Prieto’s crime drama follows the structure of Refn’s first Pusher film to a tee.
The film chronicles a very bad week in the life of cocaine-dealer Frank (played by Andy Serkis doppelganger Richard Coyle), whose hard-partying life is thrown into chaos after a transaction gone wrong. Up to his ears in debt with the wrong people, Frank’s attempts to get his head above water become increasingly desperate and dangerous. Coyle and the rest of the cast manage to keep things watchable, but that said, Pusher will feel awfully familiar to anyone who has seen the 1996 version – tracksuits, gold chains, and all. The only marked difference is the remake’s more frantic pacing and over usage of dub step. Adding to that familiarity is the always wonderful Zlatko Burić, who reprises/replays the role of Serbian drug kingpin Milo in a bit of ill-conceived fan service.
This movie isn’t for fans of the original, so why bother? Though Refn produced this, Pusher can be recommended only to those who have an extreme aversion to Danish-language films and/or subtitles. (Will Perkins)
Friday, September 7th, 9:00pm, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Sunday, September 9th, 12:00pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 10
What Richard Did
Contemporary World Cinema
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Transfixing, haunting, and shockingly plausible, the perils and repercussions of teenage mischief and misplaced, hormonally driven angst have rarely been this realistically glimpsed on film. With a star making leading performance, a tight script, and top notch direction, What Richard Did definitely stands to be one of the festival’s biggest sleepers.
Content to spend his final small town summer before university mucking about at beach parties and starting up a summer romance, rugby player Richard (Jack Reynor) appears to be a model child and a loyal, charming friend despite occasionally drinking and smoking like some teens wont to do. It’s all good until one night when a drunken altercation with a depressive teammate with eyes for his girlfriend threatens to change his very identity entirely.
Writer Malcolm Campbell only tells the audience only what they need to know, but his story never feels vague and his ear for teen dialogue is superb. Abrahamson utilizes negative space around tight close ups perfectly for a film that feels like the world around these characters keeps threatening to eat them whole. But the real find here has to be Reynor, who comes from out of nowhere to deliver one of the most nuanced and psychologically gritty performances of the year. A mere capsule of his performance alone couldn’t do this film justice. Also of note: a great performance from Lars Mikkelsen (Mads’ older brother) as Richard’s father. (Andrew Parker)
Sunday, September 9th, 9:45pm, Scotiabank 2
Tuesday, September 11th, 5:45pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 8
Saturday, September 15th, 9:30am, Scotiabank 3