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TIFF 2012 Reviews: Part 8

Following a much needed a hard earned day off from posting (which was spent just watching more movies to review and do interviews for), Dork Shelf returns for Part 8 of its TIFF 2012 coverage. Don’t forget to check out the other seven parts, and as always, for more information on films and how to get tickets, check out tiff.net.

Zaytoun

Special Presentation

Director: Eran Riklis

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Entering his fourth decade of filmmaking mostly based around films dealing with Middle Eastern conflicts and the hardships faced therein, Eran Riklis has made a career out of making politically charged cinema, but Zaytoun (meaning “olive,” a vague symbol of peace) might be his most entertaining effort to date.

Stephen Dorff gets back on the comeback trail he started with Somewhere a couple of years ago as a shot down Israeli fighter pilot circa 1982 that finds himself in the custody of an already bitter 12 year old Palestinian boy with no family (Abedallah El Akal). Despite being on eternally warring sides, the duo realize their no win situation, making an uneasy alliance to cross the border into safety and to get the young man back to his ancestral home.

Gorgeously shot and not nearly as dour as most films made on the subject, Riklis injects a good deal of heart and humour into his story. Dorff is a very assured lead and El Akal is definitely a face to keep an eye on in the future. (Zack Kotzer)

Screens

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Sunday, September 16th, 3:45pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Lords of Salem

Midnight Madness

Director: Rob Zombie

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Horror fans paying attention have come to appreciate Rob Zombie’s talent at directing knowing genre fair, but too many have wrongly written him off as a sensationalist. Lords of Salem could very well change all that. Gone are the grindhouse influences, replaced by a more psychological, artistic, and even cerebral set of horror nods ranging from Polanski to Ken Russell. It’s still a movie bearing all of the director’s fingerprints in the production design and horror convention favorite casting, but the template is more subdued and the pacing more controlled, even when things get explicit. Sheri Moon Zombie plays a late night radio DJ in Salem Massachusetts who is sent a mysterious record she plays on the air that awakens some spurned witches from the town’s notorious past. Nightmares and satanic shenanigans follow.

This was clearly the product of a filmmaker without tamping producers allowed to make the movie they want without interference. It’s a step forward in maturity for Zombie as a filmmaker while still delivering the dirty thrills that kept him working. Whether it could be a theatrical hit is a legitimate question, but then these sorts of horror movies tend to do best when building up attention and a cult over time. Plenty of haters will arise, but those that love it will put the film into regular viewing rotation and really, what more could you want from this sort of thing?  (Phil Brown)

Screens

Wednesday, September 12, 5:00pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 6

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Reality

Special Presentation

Director: Matteo Garrone

Matteo Garrone turned a lot of heads in his last, critically acclaimed outing, Gomorroa, an epic inspection of Italy’s current status with organized crime and the inflictions therein. Which is a bad scene, for anyone not keeping track, the mob is kind of a problem over there. So, colour everyone surprised that Garrone’s follow up to the stern gem is a comedy, albeit a black as night one. Garrone’s meditations on Italian reality TV isn’t gut funny, but the twisted turn will put a smile on you, sinister as it may be.

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Reality concerns Luciano (Aniello Arena), a hard working fish monger who’s loved in the community, despite some nasty side-work, and a known character in his tight family. When Enzo (Raffaele ferrante), winner of the previous season of Big Brother now set-for-life, stops by at a family wedding, Luciano’s family pushes him to audition himself for the program. Getting a callback and waiting for the confirmation, Luciano fixates himself on new faces in the slow community, wondering if he, a born reality star, is not experiencing some kind of voyeuristic testing process.

Reality begins on a magnificent opening shot that explains everything without a single word, tracking a fantastical, fairy tale carriage through a dusty countryside road past farm hands and worn smaller buildings on the way to its decadent wedding reception. Garrone is fixated on the meshing between our fantasies and how that effects the lenses we see our own lifestyles with, how we act regardless of who’s watching. In Luciano’s case, it’s radical, as he becomes willing to tear everything apart to appease the producer gods who will decide his fate. An eerie kind of comedy, Reality goes to some unreal places. (Zack Kotzer)

Screens

Wednesday, September 12th, 6:45pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Thursday, September 13th, 9:30pm, Scotiabank 3

Passion

Special Presentation

Director: Brian DePalma

Sometimes Brian DePalma makes thrillers for the masses and sometimes he makes them for himself. Passion falls firmly into the latter category. This is another twisted erotic thriller filled with the acrobatic camerawork, split screen set pieces, tongue-in-cheek melodrama, and gratuitous voyeurism that made his name. Those who enjoy the director at his most self-conscious in movies like Body Double or Raising Cain will delight in seeing the filmmaker trot out his old tricks in a technically sumptuous and wacko thriller defined by the old DePalma obsessions. Others will complain he’s disappeared up his own ass to produce silly trash. In a way, both groups are right. The first group just enjoys the director’s meta-winks and don’t mind a little trash when it comes with genre-bending expertise and wry grin of DePalma.

Rachel McAdams stars as a manipulative advertising executive woman with Noomi Rapace as her creative underling. After McAdams steals an idea from Rapace to boost her career and teases her sexually, a vengeful battle ensues between the two women. At first it’s a game of public humiliation, but with this being a DePalma movie, murder can’t be far off.  By the second half things dive purely into the heightened world of the director’s patented brand of stylish, baroque melodrama and you’re either on board or not. So many of his pet themes and techniques are on display (including a score from Pino Donaggio that may as well be outtakes from the 80s) that the movie practically becomes porn for DePalma fans. That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your feelings towards the director. Whether infuriated or enthralled, it’s hard to imagine you’ll be bored as the director turns the film into his personal playground. (Phil Brown)

Screens

Thursday, September 13, 8:30pm, Scotiabank 1

Friday, September 14, 9:30am, Scotiabank 3

Byzantium

Special Presentation

Director: Neil Jordan

It’s been far too long since Neil Jordan made a horror film and even longer since movie vampires represented anything beyond sparkling cornball romantics. Thankfully, Byzantium rights both egregious wrongs at once. Jordon follows a mother/daughter vampire team played by the underrated Gemma Arterton and the appropriately praised Saoirse Ronan. Like all good vampires, they are tortured nomads with a few hundred years of pain behind them. Set up in yet another new town, Arterton starts her usual brothel business, while Ronan wonders the streets endlessly rewriting her life story of two woman destroyed by men (specifically Johnny Lee Miller’s military perv) as humans and hunted by an all-male cult of vampires in their blood sucking eternal life.

There’s just as much tortured romanticism here as one would want from a good vampire tale or expect from Jordan. Ronan provides the angst as one of those kind-hearted vampires who suckles blood only out of those ready to die, while Arterton gleefully lashes out enough geysers of the red stuff to keep the genre fans at bay. Jordon and writer Moira Buffini offers some intriguing twists to the vampire mythos (including a self-sacrificing tomb where the creatures are created) while still staying true to the essential themes of the genre (the pain of eternity, the sexual overtones, etc). It’s a long film with rich themes punctuated by bursts of violence that will most likely irk some viewers looking for poetry and bore others seeking pulp. It’s also one of the best movies to emerge from the current vampire obsession. Admittedly the vampire bar is currently so low that doesn’t mean much, but at least Jordon returned to the genre with style and grace. (Phil Brown)

Screens

Saturday, September 15, 9:00pm, The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

 

The Act of Killing

TIFF Docs

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

An odd, audacious, and truly unique documentary that opens with a garish musical number by a giant fish statue before quickly transforming into a depressing tale of mass slaughter. The subject is the tragic explosion of government sponsored murder that occurred in Indonesia in the mid-60s when the country underwent a military coup. Within a year, a million citizens were killed for just the accusation of communism by local government sponsored gangsters. Decades later, the perpetrators of these disgusting crimes aren’t just alive, but thriving (many of whom have successful political careers). Director Joshua Oppenheimer points his camera at a few of the death squad leaders, inexplicably proud to tell their stories and overcome with unexpected guilt when they do.

The filmmaker’s clever tactic to slide into these mass murderers world was to suggest they restage their most glorious acts of violence for film. His great find was Anwar Congo, a movie buff who delights at the thought of reliving his gory glory days with film noir lighting, lavish costumes, and not exactly willing extras. Much of the episodic narrative is dedicated to these recreations, with Congo leaving tortured extras in tears and much to his surprise, suddenly hit by guilt for the first time.  Early on he casually discusses using wire to strangle victims from a mess-free distance, but later when he plays a victim himself and has to feel the wire, he’s left shaking in remorse. At times it can feel like Oppenheimer is meandering behind the camera, left at the mercy of subjects who don’t know when or if they are hanging themselves. But in moments when it all comes together and the filmmaker forces these war criminals to consider their crimes for the first time, the film is a powerhouse of harsh emotion. Not exactly as easy watch, but certainly something that you’ll never forget. (Phil Brown)

Screens

Sunday, September 16, 6:00pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 7

The Suicide Shop

Special Presentations

Director: Patrice Leconte

Creepiness certainly does work with cartoons. It’s done nicely for Charles Addams famous spooky clan and built Tim Burton a t-shirt, bobble-head fueled empire. Before making a career in film, Patrice Leconte worked in cartooning, and he’s making return to it with Jean Teulé’s cult novel The Suicide Shop. Spooky, ooky, kooky, whatever, the pieces all hover in there, but with no hope on gluing them together the film adaptation is dead on arrival.

In a grisly, rainy world, everyone is immensely unhappy, and though discouraged by officials, suicide is rampant and casual. This is especially good news for the Tuvaches family, who run a boutique that specializes in devices to help lowly individuals off themselves in whatever manner they see as appropriate. With no end in sight for global misery, the Tuvaches are as happy as can be, until a new child enters the picture, and grows older with a determination to turn some frowns upside-down.

The 3D does help give the affair a pop-up book feel, but the stiff-jointed animation, more often seen in television programs than feature films, isn’t going to sway many animation fans. That leaves the content to fend for itself, a bleak predicament. The material, suicide and death heavy, is far too grim for children, which wouldn’t be such a corner if it wasn’t for the fact that the musical numbers, which are so very plenty, are likely too grating for audiences over twelve. Add on a legitimately creepy, as in the other kind of creepy, chapter in which our protagonist gloats over watching his naked, sensual sister through a window, painted as an endearing moment, and you end up with a film I’m not sure is made for anyone, teen goth or not. (Zack Kotzer)

Screens

Wednesday, September 12th, 9:00pm, Ryerson Theatre

Sunday, September 16th, 12:30pm, Scotiabank 2

 

Hellbenders

Midnight Madness

Director: J.T. Petty

Hellbenders is a film about demons, drugs, sex and the clergy; it’s pretty much the closest thing to Roman Catholic rock and roll. Meet the amicably perverted members of the Hellbound Saints of Brooklyn Parish: an order of excommunicated priests whose lives are a trapped in a weed-cloud haze of boozing and profanity- all in the name of the lord that is. If there is ever an exorcism which proves too difficult, their expertise in sin allows them to invite a demon into themselves, and deliver it to hell.

With a plot like this director J.T. Petty puts a bold and clever spin on an exorcism genre which has turned into a bad shaky cam joke. Petty’s focus on the mischief of the Hellbound saints (Robyn Rikoon, Clifton Collins Jr., Macon Blair, Dan Fogler, Andre Royo) and their pedagogue in blasphemy Angus (Clancy Brown) proves too funny to turn away from. Think Ghostbusters, meets Sister Act, meets The Exorcist.

Angus leads the priests on a last crusade against an ancient Pagan demon who threatens to actually kill God. Frequently posting us in between repulsive demon and priest, Hellbenders brilliantly makes it hard not to wince in-between laughs.  Lots of blood and guts are to be seen, and it looks as if Petty took a hint from Zombieland’s playfully macabre use of 3D, which proves to quite beguiling here too.

It’s too bad Hellbenders comes to a tame and rather routine climax, and falls flat for a film which shows the talent and appreciation of a director with a fresh vision for an exhausted genre. (Brandon Bastaldo)

Screens

Saturday, September 15t, 9:15 PM, Scotiabank 2



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