Day four of our overall coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival reaches the second proper day of the festival, and we aren’t showing any signs of stopping soon. If you haven’t checked out parts one, two. or three of our coverage yet, be sure to do so! And remember, for more information on films, venues, and tickets, please visit tiff.net.
Director: Ben Affleck
None were instant classics, but leading man Ben Affleck’s big forays into directing (Gone Baby Gone and The Town) were strong signs of talent. Argo is Affleck’s opportunity to seal the deal, a trifecta and departure by recapping a legitimately bizarre Canadian Caper incident. While, it too is not a new masterpiece, Argo is still plenty good.
In the late 70s, Iranian militants stormed the American embassy and took 52 hostages until the States returned the last Shah to Iran for trial. During the altercation, 6 American ambassadors snuck into the streets, ending up at the Canadian ambassador’s private home. The CIA initiated a plan to rescue their assets that’s so absurd you’d think it was from a movie: they would send people in to Iran posing as filmmakers to make a movie about a space war.
Sometimes engagingly hilarious and desperately tense, Affleck knows how to tangle up emotions in the moment, even if Argo can’t completely come together as a whole. The two halves of the film are almost separate beasts, the first as comedy with consequence and the second with the stranded Americans themselves suddenly becoming major players. The biggest faults are a jingoistic undertone that ends on a climactic parade of nerve-wracking encounters, but I’d be lying to say either fail at their mission. It’s a moment when Hollywood saved the day, a strange chapter for the books, and a good mark for Affleck’s profile. (Zack Kotzer)
Friday, September 7th, 6:30pm, Roy Thompson Hall PREMIUM
Saturday, September 8th, 11:00am, Elgin (Visa Screening Room)
Saturday, September 15th, 3:00pm, Elgin (Visa Screening Room)
The Company You Keep
Director: Robert Redford
Robert Redford directs and stars in The Company You Keep, a political thriller of sorts about former members of the radical anti-war group, the Weather Underground and a bank robbery-gone-wrong, which claimed the life of a security guard. When Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is caught after being a fugitive for thirty years, a young journalist, Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf), begins piecing together a story. He’s led to a man named Jim Grant (Robert Redford), who’s been hiding his true identity as an ex-Weatherman. Shepard uncovers this secret, which leads to a cross-country hunt to capture Grant. Meanwhile, Shepard begins to have doubts about Grant’s guilt and pursues the story himself.
The Company You Keep occasionally veers dangerously close to polemics and platitudes, but Lem Dobbs’ (The Limey) script never becomes too political. Instead, the film looks at the consequences of the radical protest of the 70s, not only at the time, but how the people involved have remained affected by it, standing in the way of proper relationships with family and friends. Redford also manages to attract a who’s who of acting talent, often holding up scenes that might otherwise fall flat. The Company You Keep is fairly standard thriller fare, but it’s also a solid little drama in its own right. (Corey Atad)
Sunday, September 9th, 9:30pm, Roy Thomson Hall
Monday, September 10th, 11:15am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
West of Memphis
Director: Amy Berg
Last year Paradise Lost 3 premiered at TIFF mere weeks after The West Memphis Three were finally released from prison, robbing the filmmakers who had followed the story for almost 20 years from getting a chance to properly conclude their documentary series. It’s not a surprise that this year brings a new doc to cap off the story, but it’s undeniably odd that director Amy Berg made the film rather than Paradise Lost directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. The reason is that this movie comes from producer Peter Jackson, who personally financed the defense case that eventually got the West Memphis Three out of prison. This is very much his side of the story and he’s featured prominently.
Berg creates a powerful overview of the case and gets the elusive footage of Damien, Jessie, and Jason finally outside of their prison purgatory. She also has access to new evidence that dismisses much of the prosecution’s case and finds a suspicious new suspect. The trouble is that much of the running time is given over to Jackson and other celebrities engaged in self-congratulatory backslapping for helping set the trio free that’s infinitely less interesting than the Paradise Lost series’ ever-shifting sense of mystery, regret, self-doubt, and righteous indignation. For anyone unfamiliar with the previous movies, it’s a fascinating account of the story. For those who have seen them, this can feel frustratingly repetitive and focused on unworthy heroes. Had Jackson and co. given the new information to Berlinger and Sinofsky, there could have been an appropriately intriguing ending to that remarkable series. Instead Paradise Lost 3 feels incomplete and West f Memphis feels somewhat superfluous. At least newcomers should appreciate it. (Phil Brown)
Saturday, September 8, 2:30pm, Ryerson Theater
At Any Price
Director: Ramin Bahrani
At Any Price is a gloomy parable telling the woes of life in small town America. Director and co-writer Ramin Bahrani’s delivers a picturesque rendering of golden-glimmering wheat fields and comforts of country living. Yet, there is a general air of melancholy that floats through this film in which stories of lust, teenage angst, and midlife crisis become implausibly intermittent.
Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) is a struggling businessman who will stop at nothing to continue his family’s farming legacy. Henry’s youngest son Denis (Zac Efron) rebels against taking on family business to instead chase his dream of becoming a NASCAR driver. Denis’ cocky attitude is confronted with evidence of both he and his father’s wrong doings.
Constantly wearing an ear to ear grin, Henry is easily the most intriguing character with his Jekyll and Hyde allure: we adore him as a family man yet are simultaneously repulsed by Henry’s adulterous, scum-bag behaviour. Yet the focus of the film is split between Henry and the angsty Denis, and alternating between the increasingly unpredictable acts of both father and son proves tiring and whimsical.
At Any Price transforms into tale that could be an ingeniously slow creeping nod to the inescapability of predestination and the threat of damnation small town living poses. But instead, the only thing At Any Price will leave you thinking about or questioning will be the price of the film you just paid for. (Brandon Bastaldo)
Sunday, September 9th, 10:00pm, Princess of Wales Theatre PREMIUM
Monday, September 10th, 12:00pm, Ryerson Theatre
Berberian Sound Studio
Director: Peter Strickland
In-between the horror buff, who will include anything, and the film snob, who will excuse nothing, is a wondrous little island of cinema known as “Giallo Horror.” It is fertile ground of surreal terror, synesthetic imagery, colourful assaults and drenching sound. It is a slice of film that has puzzled producers for decades. Peter Strickland wrote it a love letter, called Berberian Sound Studio, which is at war with itself on whether to become what it clearly loves or simply throw rose petals from afar.
Genre superstar Toby Jones is Gilderoy, an extemporarily British sound mixer ushered to Italy to work on a feature film. Having really only worked on info-reels, Gilderoy is a bit stunned to discover that his new employers, the ego-driven, horny director Santini (Antonio Mancino) and unforgiving producer Fancesco (Cosimo Fusco), specialize in brutal, elicit witchcraft titty thriller cinema. Sort of a Lucio Fulci’s Lost in Translation, Sound Studio forces Gilderoy to nauseously navigate the unflattering Italian culture and a film boiling genre that makes him queasy.
Certainly, it’s a silver screen delight. Strickland nails that invasive, whispering Giallo sound and the visuals are so slickly designed the film often resembles an elongated, enjoyable music video. Things implode by the third act. Cornered, out of material, and with time still on the clock, the film suddenly swan dives into the genre it’s honouring. The immediate departure begins to take you somewhere the film hadn’t been trying to go before, and ends off leaving you, alas, nowhere. (Zack Kotzer)
Monday, September 10th, 6:00pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
Tuesday, September 11th, 2:45pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 3
Contemporary World Cinema
Director: Andrzej Jakimowski
Utilizing a cast of mostly blind people to tell the story of a renegade teacher at specialized Lisbon school for the visually impaired adds some much needed depth and a small sense of wonder to a film that’s otherwise pretty confused as to what its ultimate motives and message might be.
Ian (Edward Hogg) has walked without the assistance of a cane for years despite being completely sightless. He tries to instil the same degree of independence on his young student, sometimes to cruel degrees that get him in hot water with administration. He also eventually strikes up a relationship with a young woman from the school (Alexandra Maria Lara, who inexplicably gets his attention by setting up trip wires and trying to nearly kill him) who wishes to gain her own sense of being able to walk on her own now as an adult.
Hogg and Lara are fine, but the film feels overly harsh since Jakimowski seemingly tries to undercut and put down his characters every step of the way. And yet, it’s done in such as way that it’s supposed to feel inspirational despite getting extremely dark in the film’s second half. Maybe if Jakimowski knew what kind of tone he wanted to strike this would be a much better film. (Andrew Parker)
Monday, September 10th, 9:00pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 3
Wednesday, September 12th, 6:00pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 4
Saturday, September 15th, 4:00pm, Jackman Hall (AGO)
All That Matters Is Past
Contemporary World Cinema
Director: Sara Johnsen
Not quite a thriller, not quite a drama, All That Matters Is Past is a strange elliptical character-piece/mystery with disturbing secrets to reveal up until the closing frames. Sara Johnsen opens her film with a murder then slowly teases out the motivations behind the crime. Janne (Maria Bonnevie) is the heroine (for lack of a better word) who grew up in a rural home with an unconventional upbringing that saw her education come mostly from discarded magazines. She was childhood friends and the first girlfriend of William (Kristoffer Joner) and when the pair reunite as adults they’re oddly drawn back to where they grew up. Once there they are reacquainted with William’s brother Ruud (David Dencik) who was disturbed as a child and possibly psychotic as an adult. What Ruud’s up to now is deeply unsettling and brings up even more unsettling memories, leading to the act of violence where the film began.
Johnsen doles out her odd and moving story gradually and non-sequentially. Much of the backstory is uncovered by the police investigating the murder and it’s not until the final moments that the entire piece comes into focus. She presents her characters with equal weight and compassion and the film is all the more devastating for it. It’s ultimately a tale of lost innocence and adults trapped and defined by that moment. A haunting film with a humanist core for those willing to trek into the darkness to find it. (Phil Brown)
Friday, September 7, 6:00pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 9
Saturday, September 8, 12:30pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 9
Friday, September 14, 9:45pm, Cineplex Scotiabank 11