As the first weekend draws to a close, we enter our sixth batch of reviews from the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. For more information on films and how to get tickets, visit tiff.net and don’t forget to check out our other five sets of reviews from earlier in the week.
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Premiering in North American to about as much movie geek anticipation as possible, The Master arrives under the assumption that it will be one of the most acclaimed movies of the year. Hey, when you’re a beloved director who takes 4-5 years off between movies, thems the breaks. Thankfully, The Master warrants the hype, even though it’s far from a conventional crowd pleaser. While There Will Be Blood hammered its themes home hard enough for everyone to leave the theatre knowing exactly what Anderson had in mind, The Master is far more opaque. Not the vicious critique of Scientology that everyone was expecting, this is a more of a perverse character study of two damaged men struggling for control in their lives.
First there’s Joaquin Phoenix’s drifting, damaged war veteran whose moonshine-fueled alcoholism prevents him from having a home or friends for long. Then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman’s subtly veiled spin on L. Ron Hubbard, who invites the lost Phoenix to join his makeshift religion, determined that he can tame the lost soul. His religion is essentially a means of controlling people and needling out their darkest secrets through interrogation, it’s message a spew of confusing rhetoric. The film is a dance between the two personalities with neither able to bend to the other and yet both inexplicably drawn to each other. The twin performances are remarkable (as is Amy Adams as Hoffman’s manipulative wife) and Anderson shoots in gorgeous 70mm film stock with vivid colors and deep focus photography that demands to be seen on the big screen. What it all represents will be debated over strong coffee and stronger liquor for quite some time, but thankfully on first viewing the film seems strong enough to warrant that bickering/attention. (Phil Brown)
Sunday, September 16, 6:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
The Silver Linings Playbook
Director: David O. Russell
Following an exceptional first hour that brings the film close to becoming the best of the year, it’s interesting to watch The Silver Linings Playbook gamble its goodwill in favour of becoming an almost over the top crowd pleaser. The gamble pays off despite the story (based on the novel by Matthew Quick) lapsing into cliché thanks to a great script and excellent performances that make the audience want to take the film at face value as pure entertainment.
In the best performance of his career by miles and one that’s sure to shoot him to the top of the list for many prestige filmmakers, Bradley Cooper plays a former Philadelphia teacher recently released from a mental hospital after 8 months following a stress induced bipolar episode. While far from well and still under court supervision, he befriends a young widow (Jennifer Lawrence) and tries to rekindle a strained relationship with his OCD and superstitious bookie father (Robert DeNiro), both of whom have their own laundry list of mental health issues.
Cooper and company all work together wonderfully to create characters and relationships that are sympathetic and identifiable, but Cooper himself finally gets the star vehicle he deserves. In a year stacked with potential Oscar contenders, he might not get a nomination for being in such a grand comedy, but as a bundle of tics, neuroses, and unfiltered thoughts, he finally gets to show actual range instead of just playing a bro or a writer. It all makes perfect sense since David O. Russell has shown that he’s probably the most accomplished “bro” filmmaker and writer out there at the moment. Together, their pairing seems like a no brainer.
Sunday, September 9th, 11:00am, Elgin (Visa Screening Room)
To the Wonder
Director: Terrence Malick
Had it been made by almost anyone else on Earth in the same exact fashion, To the Wonder would be hailed as a bold masterstroke of filmmaking. Instead, since it was directed by everyone’s favourite reclusive auteur Terrence Malick (only a year after his last film in a career where he tends to disappear for lengthy periods), people seem to be harping on it quite a bit without reason. It’s definitely the least of Malick’s films, but it’s still mostly excellent on thematic, poetic, and visual levels. All it really proves is that Malick truly does need a long time to edit his films.
Once again crafting a visual lyric poem, Malick turns his eyes and ears to the nature of love and why people feel the need to place labels on specific forms of it through dating, relationships, and by way of God. Predominantly following one couple falling in and out of love, played by a nearly mute Ben Affleck and a mostly French speaking Olga Kurylenko, Malick raises thought provoking questions about when and where love begins and ends. Assisting in telling the tale are asides about a priest (Javier Bardem) who knows nothing of love and the one woman that Affleck’s character let slip away (Rachel McAdams).
The cast adapts to Malick’s style very well, especially Kurylenko and McAdams (in a part that seems greatly reduced from a longer cut), but Malick sometimes lets his own sermonizing (literally about God’s role in the formation of love) and visual tics drag him down a bit. There’s the germ of an excellent movie in To the Wonder, but instead cinephiles will just have to settle for a really good one that they have to really work at to appreciate.
Monday, September 10th, 7:00pm, Princess of Wales
Tuesday, September 11th, 3:00pm, Princess of Wales
Sunday, September 16th, 9:45pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
Director: Deepa Mehta
To pair Salman Rushdie’s allegorical X-men tale, Midnight’s Children, with Indian-Canadian influential Deepa Mehta seems like a stunningly obvious gesture. The two creatives have come to represent, for the rest of the world, the literary and cinematic image of modern Indian culture. Mehta obviously has immense respect for the Rushdie fantasy novel, but that respect holds the film back.
Saleem Sinai was born at the stroke of midnight, the exact second when India’s independence from England was put into effect. In a rebellious gesture, a nurse switched Sinai with another baby, Shiva, landing Sinai with an aristocratic family and Shiva with an accordion playing beggar. As he got older, Sinai discovers that he has a magical power tied to his immaculate nose, which lets him psychically link all the other children born on India’s independence, who also share special abilities. Shiva, who’s gifts are never specified (in the film), grows into a spiteful rival of Sinai.
There are minute moments of glort, when Mehta zeroes in on a warm, fleeting pocket of Indian culture, but they vanish quickly. Midnight’s Children feels very much like a film aspiring to capture the entirety of a long novel, creating a marathon of a movie that strains your attention. The weaving of the narrative needs a lot of help, elements pop in and out of relevance and none of them stick. It’s hard to take Sinai’s discovery of true love seriously when it’s the third in the hour. It all feels anticlimactic, which Sinai aptly points out is also the result of independent India, not what they hoped for but not the worst thing to get, sure, all the good that does for filmgoers. (Zack Kotzer)
Sunday, September 9th, 6:30pm, Roy Thompson Hall
Monday, September 10th, 9:00am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Hyde Park on Hudson
Director: Roger Michell
Another year, another slice of British Oscar bait that’s loosely based on a true story and features famous actors portraying royalty and/or celebrities. The formula’s pretty set by now, practically custom made for endless BBC afternoon scheduling. At best these movies can be The King’s Speech. At worst they can be, well, Hyde Park on Hudson. Bill Murray stars as FDR who hosts King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) for a weekend of hot dog eating and discussions about joining the war, old chum. Well, that and some nasty little business involving FDR having an affair with Laura Linney’s soft-spoken Daisy in a tryst defined by stamp collection ogling and fumbling fingers in cars. Sigh…the good old days.
With this sort of thing practically a genre by now, Michell’s movie offers exactly what’s expected and nothing more. There are some gentle sitcom laughs involving how the British royalty consider Americans frightfully different and drama doled out in grand-standing and/or whispered speeches about dark things that shouldn’t be discussed in polite company (sex, war, etc.). It’s all fairly bland material despite the shadowy lighting suggesting otherwise. The performances waver from enjoyably awards baiting (Murray works his usual deadpan charms along with a subtle FDR impression) to irritatingly awards baiting (West stammering up a storm because that seemed to go well for Colin Firth). It’s still a decent low-key time waster, I suppose. Just one best suited to TV screens and background viewing. (Phil Brown)
Monday, September 10, 6:30pm, Roy Thomson Hall
Tuesday, September 11, 12:30pm, Winter Garden Theatre
End of Watch
Director: David Ayer
Writer/director David Ayer (Street Kings, Harsh Times) does his usual stressed out crime movie thing with a tone that wavers from violent realism to soapy melodrama (often within the same scene). This time he’s made the blockbuster Cops, a semi-found footage movie with Jake Gyllenhaal’s part-time film student/full-time ghetto beat cop recording everything he does with his partner played by Michael Pena. These are the bad boy cops too. Sure, they’ve got a strong moral compass, but they love getting their hands dirty. When the duo start drawing attention from a drug cartel rather than the usual gangbangers, things get a little out of control and since Pena’s got a baby on the way and Gyllenhaal has a lovely new ladyfriend (Anna Kendrick), tragedy is a comin’.
As expected from a Dave Ayer joint, it’s fairly a generic crime thriller that pushes all the right buttons with moments that step beyond the norm. In the case, a few unexpected crime scene discoveries involving human trafficking and severed limbs provide some genuinely intense and unexpected sequences, while everything else goes through the motions effectively. The found footage conceit is so rarely mentioned or followed that it really should have been dropped and the love interests are less characters than naked writing devices used to raise the stakes. Still, the action comes at a decent clip and Gyllenhaal/Pena are an entertaining duo (with Pena in particular being an actor in need of more attention than stealing scenes in Observe And Report can provide). The film never really rises above B-movie entertainment, but at least Ayer doesn’t strive much higher. (Phil Brown)
Sunday, September 9, 3:00pm, Ryerson Theatre
Saturday, September 15th, 9:00pm, Elgin (Visa Screening Room)
Director: Nicolas Lopez
One has to very begrudgingly give credit to writer/producer/star Eli Roth and director Nicolas Lopez’s total commitment to making Aftershock quite possibly the douchiest film ever made.
An American nerd with a kid back home (Roth) joins some friends in Chile for a week of debauchery when an earthquake levels the city and an impending tsunami threatens to wipe them all off the face of the Earth and out of a city that’s fallen prey to gang warfare and rioting. Of course, none of that happens until almost 40 minutes into the film because Roth and Lopez are just having too much fun hammering home how unlikable everyone is.
The xenophobia and misogyny are positively off the charts, but unlike his previous films, Roth has nothing of substance to hang it off of. It gets icky early on and the misanthropy only gets worse and more depressing as it goes on to the point where it squanders a great twist leading into the final act to simply hang a sequence so sleazy onto it that I nearly walked out. I wished I had so I didn’t have to see an ending so ludicrously outlandish in how hard it’s openly trying to offend people that it makes South Park look like Terrence Malick. Aftershock has nothing of interest to say and no catharsis for viewers looking for these tools to get their comeuppance. Put bluntly, despite some good low budget set pieces, it’s absolutely miserable. It’s Hostel amplified with a disaster added and all the wit and satire thrown out the window.
Tuesday, September 11th, 11:59pm, Ryerson Theatre
Thursday, September 13th, 6:15pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 3
Sunday, September 16th, 3:30pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 9
Director: Ben Wheatley
After his zero budget gangster comedy Down Terrace and the hitman horror flick Kill List, Ben Wheatley established himself as one of the most unpredictable and entertaining filmmakers on the market. His work is pitched somewhere between the Mike Leigh school of tragically comic British realism and gleefully violent gear-shift genre filmmaking. Sightseers continues the trend with a sickly hilarious tale of two casual serial killers. Tina (Alice Lowe) is a 34-year-old introvert and knitting obsessive who finally leaves the clutches of her overbearing mother to hit the road with her new lover Chris (Steve Oram), a wannabe novelist who plans to turn their caravan trip of rural England into an erotic adventure on the page.
After Chris backs over a man because he disapproves of littering, it’s clear something is wrong. Tina doesn’t object, encouraging further petty murders and joining in. Like Down Terrace, the characters are such charmingly damaged children in adult bodies that they still seem like misguided innocents with blood on their hands. Though the violence is shot straight, Wheatley and his actors (who co-scripted) create such sweetly naïve killers that it’s difficult to dislike like them for their crimes. The murders are just the result of decades of oppression hilariously exploding in bloodlust spurred on by rude behavior. A subtly eerie atmosphere, unexpected bursts of violence, and fully rounded comedic performances merge in what is now Wheatley’s patented style. Sightseers might not be as daringly and meticulously constructed as Kill List, but it has a shaggy dog charm that confirms Wheatley as the most uniquely talented British filmmaker of his generation. (Phil Brown)
Tuesday, September 11, 9:00pm, Ryerson Theatre
Thursday, September 13, 12:00pm, Ryerson Theatre
Sunday, September 16, 7:00pm, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema
No One Lives
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Ryuhei Kitamura’s gleeful and knowingly silly slasher-slash-revenge thriller No One Lives doesn’t make the cast to bring back the grindhouse so much as it makes one wish they could see it at a drive-in. A seedy spot in the middle of a dusty lot would be the perfect place to watch this tale of a group of thieves under siege after stealing from the wrong guy, a killing machine (Luke Evans) with a kidnapped heiress in the trunk (Adelaide Clemens) that feels no remorse but can take a life in numerous different ways.
Kitamura (The Midnight Meat Train) knows how tongue in cheek the territory of the movie already is, so he seeks to exploit the witty script for maximum entertainment value by playing everything perfectly straight. The cast seems to understand the tone perfectly, and the film feels lovingly like a cheapie from the 80s that combines survival horror with franchise potential. (It even has an awesome final sequence set to a Regan era synth score.) There’s not much more to it than that and there doesn’t need to be. The gore effects are top notch, the one-liners are snappy, and it never overdoses on sleaze. It’s a fun film to watch with rowdy friends over beers and pizza or in a theatre full of like minded people looking for pure over-the-top escapism.
Side note: It’s the best film to come out under the WWE Films banner (with “Funkasaurus” Brodus Clay making an appearance as one of the thieves), narrowly beating out The Marine, which would make a great double bill with this one on a starry night.
Monday, September 10th, 9:45pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 7
The Crimes of Mike Recket
Contemporary World Cinema
Director: Bruce Sweeney
The Crimes of Mike Recket is a decent mystery that never quite achieves the ‘neo-noir’ tone it strives for. Focusing on an investigation around a missing woman, much of the suspense is lost due to the fact that there is only one suspect: Mike Recket. While the title is a clear indictment, it’s structured in a way that keeps us guessing what this defrauder’s most malicious crime will be.
The odd, sometimes disorienting pace is maintained throughout by short scenes and a non-linear timeline, and it works well at certain points but arbitrarily muddles things at others. Many of these short scenes follow investigators who are forced to deliver expository dialogue resulting in stiff performances. We’re supposed to root for these deadpan detectives, but Nicholas Lea (aka Krycek of X-Files fame) steals the show as the despicable Recket.
Another saving grace is the plausibility of the crimes; con men like Recket are an unfortunate reality of our world. The almost minimalist plot doesn’t get bogged down with convoluted twists and turns, and while it wasn’t directly based on a true story, this villain’s modus operandi is by no means an invention of the writer. As much as we’d like to think that suburban Vancouver is all dog walkers and fitness freaks, that’s just not the case. (Noah Taylor)
Tuesday, September 11th, 9:45pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 7
Thursday, September 13th, 9:00pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 10
Friday, September 14th, 4:45pm, Cineplex Yonge and Dundas 6