ABCs OF DEATH – B-
Like any anthology film, there’s good bits, decent bits, and awful bits. Luckily, you just have to sit back and wait for another letter to come up in, um, “cue”, and it all gets either better (or worse).
THE ACT OF KILLING – A+
Stunning, unforgettable film about the nature of evil.
ARGO – A-
Fun film that plays with the facts and barely makes it through to the end without collapsing into farce, but manages somehow to keep it all together.
ARTIFACT – B+
Jared Leto stopped acting to be in a band, and then kvetched about his contract. Luckily, the film is far broader in scope than just this.
AFTERSHOCK – B
It should have been a grizzly, horrifying experience, but for some reason this Midnight Madness Tsunami shocker managed to keep me entertained while on edge
ANNA KARENINA – B
A visually sumptuous, highly theatrical take on the Russian tale of love and snowfall.
ANTIVIRAL – C+
The son of Cronenberg takes his dad’s deliberate pace and presents an interesting, if slightly meandering, debut.
ARTHUR NEWMAN – FAIL
My initial reaction was to call it “a hateful little film, a stange middle-aged male fantasy devoid of charisma, full of repellent characters.” Sober reflection hasn’t made me think any more highly of this Emily Blunt/Colin Firth fuckfest, where a man leaves his perfectly lovely family to go off on some silly quest for a better life. Awful.
BAD25 – A-
MJ’s followup to Thriller raised lots of eyebrows, but Spike’s doc does wonders to make us feel the peaks of that recording.
THE BAY – A-
Barry Levinson at a Midnight Madness screening? Sure, why not….
BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO – C-
Boy oh boy did I want to love this movie – a dark and sordid tale set inside a recording studio while Foley and voice-over for Italian exploitation films are assembled. I’m a huge sound-in-film nerd, and I thought the idea of turning this world on its aural head, complete with the erstwhile Toby Jones, would rock my world. Alas, as the film degenerated into the very thing I thought it might parody, it becomes itself something worthy of ridicule. For me, I wanted to see the film the first 20 minutes teased us it was going to be, not the messy mashup that it becomes.
BLACKBIRD – B+
An extremely strong debut from Jason Buxton, BLACKBIRD follows a SCARLETT LETTER-like tale in Small-town, where a teen’s casual online rantings lead to tragic consequences. The film’s unflinching nature is buttressed by its economical style along with some extremely strong performances. A small film worthy of a larger audience than its likely to receive outside the festival circuit.
BYZANTIUM – C-
Neil Jordan returns to Vampiric territory, this time with a film that owes more to TRUE BLOOD’s Cajun spirit than to the sparkly bloodsuckers of TWILIGHT. The blood/lust dynamic feels surprisingly cold in Jordan’s hands, and even moments of appropriately Gothic seduction are left wanting. Even buckets of gore can’t rescue this messy film.
CENTRAL PARK 5 – B+
It’s always impressive to see what Ken Burns and co. can accomplish in the documentary form. His polish is exemplary, and along with his fellow directors he has managed to craft quite a capable film about a troubling case. While it doesn’t have quite the zing as the PARADISE LOST series, in some ways this story is more important given its greater prevalence, its less hysterical focus on the role of media, police, and community in stories of this nature. Sure to generate controversy and buzz, it will still pale compared to the other work given the disparity in the type of crime and the circumstances of those accused of perpetrating. An insightful and important work.
Presented as a kind of Balkan answer to the films of Larry Clarke or Harmony Korine, this supposedly unabashed look at teen sexuality is surprisingly chaste given its hardcore reputation. Yes, there’s explicit sexuality, but it’s made clear not just with the end title card but in the awkward way that the film is cut that there’s really two casts – one we see deliver lines of dialogue, the others “stunt fuckers” brought in for whatever given moneyshot is required. This is done in action films all the time, of course, but in this kind of raw film the sudden, jarring cut makes the events seem somehow more sordid, more gratuitous while coming across more as pedestrian than shocking or integral to the plot. Removing a few cock and cum shots would actually improve the film, making us focus on the power of the narrative rather than the dangling bits meant to be either titillating.
CLOUD ATLAS – B
Bold, brash, epic, silly.
COME OUT AND PLAY – FAIL
A remake of a 1976 Spanish thriller WHO CAN KILL A CHILD?, this pointless remake by the masked Makinov is tedious to the extreme. The film starts out with a couple pointlessly going on a boat ride while stubbornly refusing to gas up (Boy, I hope THAT doesn’t come back to bite them in the ass!). Contrivance after contrivance are piled atop one another, until we’re left with the seemingly difficult decision of having to butcher a number of feral children. Honestly, by the time the film comes to that point you just want it over so badly that there’s no shock when it finally does occur. Deadly boring at a Midnight screening, it’s at best a 15 minute short film stretched to its excruciatingly dull extreme.
DEFLOWERING OF EVA VAN END – B-
A kind of love letter to Andersonian cinema mixed with some Solondz for good measure, this Dutch take on all things twee doesn’t quite live up to the American works it borrows from, but it is a charming little tale deserving of exploration.
DREDD 3D – A-
Sure, it’s a bit wacky and borrows more than a little bit from last year’s masterpiece THE RAID, but it’s hard to see how a better film could be made from such a dreary, pointless superhero character. Keith Urban nails exactly what the character needs to present, never for a moment injecting humanity or winking irony into his performance. Things go boom in delightfully carnal ways, and the 3D is effective in having even the most gratuitous shots seem both zany and epic.
FOXFIRE: CONFESSIONS OF A GIRL GANG – FAIL
What should be some grand Feminist manifesto, FOXFIRE is a clunky, repulsive little thing, a dreary remake of some after-school Jolie-starrer, Northern Ontario has never been more bleak, and the male characters have rarely come across as so one-dimensionally rapey. A foolish little thing that seems interminable, it’s an affront to the very topic it’s trying to cover, making the characters as awful as anything they’re meant to critique.
FRANCES HA – B+
Noah Baumbach slips into full Hipster territory, complete with a tale set in Brooklyn and shooting in Black and White. I realized watching the film that I still have residual affection for Greta Gerwig from last year’s DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, so that might have coloured my viewing of this work. Still, even that wasn’t able to sustain right to the end, but there’s enough in the first 4/5ths to really recommend this to more than just its target demographic, fans of HBO’s GIRLS.
FREE ANGELA DAVIS AND ALL PRISONERS – C-
One of my biggest disappointments of the fest, if only for what could have/should have been with this topic and this subject
GHOST GRADUATION – B+
A love letter to John Hughes movies that gets it about as right as it can with this kind of tale from start to finish.
HELLBENDERS – C+
Clancy Brown showed up on a Midnight Madness stage, so for that alone the screening was worthwhile. Beyond that, this darkly comic tale of a bunch of clergy kicking demonic ass lost its way pretty quickly. Even the devils didn’t quite have the bite you’d want from such a flick, it never does get the tone between horror and comedy quite right.
HOW TO MAKE MONEY SELLING DRUGS – C-
Another film I had high hopes for – what’s not to love about David Simon opining on the nature of America’s failed drug policies! – yet this cheeky, too clever-by-half documentary trades a slick, sarcastic style for substance. Alas, it squanders strong participants in order to appease its tonality, a real shame given the potential the film had to truly be great.
THE HUNT – B+
I knew that Vinterberg’s story of a teacher being accused of child abuse would be a tough slog, but I also knew it’d be a fantastic showcase for the mighty Mads Mikkelsen. I wasn’t disappointed, the nuanced, delicate performance is one of the year’s best. The film screened at the largest of the local venues, certainly not an experience to be repeated when finally released, resulting in the unique privilege of seeing this fine performer work his magic in exquisite detail.
HYDE PARK ON THE HUDSON – B-
I’m boldly (if foolishly) campaigning for Murray to get his Oscar for this one, even if we haven’t yet seen DDL do his own Presidential thing. Handjobs and diplomacy were never so bucolic, and while the film is slight, it’s still pretty enough to be enjoyable.
ICEMAN – C
A waste of a perfectly good mustache grown by Michael Shannon
THE IMPOSSIBLE – D
A truly epic Tsunami sequence is by far the best 10 minutes in the film, the rest of it leaves you pulling out your hair in frustration, seeing some pretty extraordinary physical effects squandered in a saccharine, manipulative tale.
JOHN DIES AT THE END – C+
Hey, look, another Midnight Madness film where the title gives away what happens at the end… OR DOES IT! Don Coscarelli returns to TIFF after the amusingly silly BUBBA HO-TEP (TIFF2002) with this tale of drug-induced time travel. Giamatti as always is choice, but the film is based on what’s no doubt a stoner’s choice for a cult novel, and it doesn’t quite translate for those of us not sharing in the medicine.
LEVIATHAN – FAIL
As I noted at the time, it’s “the type of film that gets birthed when European academics fail at making an engaging episode of DEADLIEST CATCH”. Irritating, incompetent, made all the more awful by those that will fill in the vacuous space with “meaning” in an attempt to burnish a turd.
A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY – THE UNTRUE STORY OF MONTY PYTHON’S GRAHAM CHAPMAN
A slightly amusing retelling of Chapman’s life story in animated form.
LONDON: THE MODERN BABYLON – A
Excellent found footage doc interspersed with interviews, this is a kind of love quilt stitched with editing to celebrate the city.
LOOPER – A+
A stunning film from Rian Johnson, a deft re-contextualizing of a constellation of genre tropes into a single, wonderful whole.
THE LORDS OF SALEM – C-
Rob Zombie does his gothic thing in style, but I found the desire to create gory tableau tiresome after only a short while, and rode the the thing right to its dreary end.
Quirky doc about those who have more than a passing fascination with our nearest celestial neighbour.
THE MASTER – A-
A must see film, yet intensely perplexing and strangely disappointing.
MEA MAXIMA CULPA: SILENSE IN THE HOUSE OF GOD – A-
A highly polished, intense documentary about abuse of children by Catholic priests in a school for the deaf. While made by HBO, the movie works quite well in the solemn sanctity of a theater, and Director Alex Gibney once again shows his eminent capabilities as a fine filmmaker.
MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN – FAIL
Masochistically I keep giving Deepa Mehta’s films a shot, and was trying harder to be excited with this one given the involvement with Salman Rushdie. About 90 minutes into what feels like a 70 hour running time, the story kills off most of the central characters in one fell swoop, and I found myself shocked at how little I cared about it at that stage. The opening minutes squandered by descent into maudlin nonsense, another in a long line of miserable failures from this TIFF Boardmember.
MOTORWAY – B-
It was stated at the Q&A that they never bothered getting permits to shoot the high speed car chases around Hong Kong, and the film is all the better for that sense of reckless danger. There’s not much here save for some car racing porn (and a nice technique for getting around a seemingly impossible turn). Sure, it’s formulaic, but it’s also fun.
MR. PIP – C+
A mildly charming, mostly forgettable take on the GREAT GATSBY myth, set on a tropical Island. Notable key performance by Hugh Laurie gives the film a soothing air, and its best when it truly becomes unflinching. Alas, even the drama (as horrifying as the events are) becomes mildly stale in the hands of the Director, and it never quite gels into something as epic as it may have been.
NO ONE LIVES – C
This Midnight Madness film gives away the ending in its title, something that sometimes plays as a bonus. In this case, not quite as much.
OUTRAGE BEYOND – C
A sequel from “Beat” Takeshi, I didn’t seem to miss much by having inadvertently skipped over the previous episode. While we get the usual Yakusa stuff, it all feels more than a little old hat, without the zing that some of his previous works brought to the genre.
PIETA – A-
Kim-Ki Duk returns to TIFF with another of his challenging, repulsive yet also strikingly beautiful films. This may not be harder to love than most, but many will still find his proclivities hard to stomach. For those willing to take the jump (pun intended), it’s a heck of a journey.
I quite liked the original Refn films, but having seen them as a trio it’s hard to pick out one story from another. This remake feels pretty stale and pointless translated into English, despite the inclusion of Zlatko Buri? returning as Milo. While Refn is still there as EP, some of his magic doesn’t seem to have rubbed off as well as it might have, and you’re far better at delving into the original.
ROOM 237 – A-
Mind-boggling doc about obsession, using the trappings of THE SHINING to expose the joy of (over)analysis. Quite simply, you’ll never see Kubrick’s film the same way ever again.
RUST AND BONE
A hard hitting, almost fetishistic film about a woman who loses her legs in an Ora-related accident. Marion Cotillard bares all, including some remarkably haunting moments of fear and sadness, and the film shows great promise from a visual standpoint. Matthias Schoenaerts is appropriately brutal when called for, yet still a strong man with heart, meaning that despite the art house grimness and frank sexuality there’s still enough of a cathartic ending that means it’s not all melancholic. Power stuff when it works, but I found the end just a bit too contrived to be invested right to the final moments.
THE SAPPHIRES – B-
Sure, the film takes its COMMITMENTS-meets-GOOD MORNING VIETNAM shtick a little too seriously, but this Aboriginal Soul Revue flick, based on a true story, is heartwarming enough to capture a receptive audience. Strong performances from the leads, and a fine addition from always charming Chris O’Dowd elevates this slight film into something with a bit more oomph. Sure, it’s forgettable, but while it’s rockin’ it’s pleasant enough.
THE SECRET DISCO REVOLUTION – B
A snarky yet amusing doc with one standout jumpcut to a James Brown “Yow!”, TSDR chronicles the intersection between Gay and Black dance grooves in the 70s that led to a social revolution that carries on today with the likes of Lady Ga Ga and her ilk. Interviews with a slew of former stars are quite amusing, and the oblivious nature of the surviving members of the Village People, juxtaposed with the far more self-actualized confessions of one of their former gurus, is worth the price of admission.
SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS – A-
Great little genre pic with a strong ensemble cast, this film seems a weird thing to slot into Midnight Madness, but was nonetheless an effective addition. Walken is his usual fun self, and the likes of Sam Rockwell and (the sublime) Tom Waits keep Colin Farrell from making a mess of the thing. Quite simply a lot of fun.
SHEPARD & DARK – C+
Laconic documentary about the mercurial writer/actor and his long time pen pal. A nice, quiet doc, its success relies upon the charisma of its participants, so when that begins to wane, so does the film.
SIGHTSEERS – B+
The blackest of black comedies, Ben Wheatley returns to TIFF a year after his Social Drama-meets-WICKER MAN mashup KILL LIST with a far more straight ahead kooky road film. There’s no shortage of macabre with the film, and the strong performances by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram make this a more menacing version of THE TRIP. Delightfully dark, delightfully British, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
A film I was going to avoid because the trailer, and it ended up being one of the finest of the fest, if not the year.
STORM SURFERS 3D – B+
A fine slice of “nature porn”, we follow the very unique relationship between aging big-wave surfers Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll as they continue to push their physical and mental limits. The photography is particularly excellent, and we get to see some wondrous sites as men on boards poke their way through the surging currents. The story between the two men elevates the film into something more special, as you see the madness and dedication each have for the sport they’ve help craft for decades.
THE SUICIDE SHOP – FAIL
What a miserable, tasteless film. It should be something cute and dark, a more morbid Tim Burton-like animated film, but this tale of a family running a shop of death who suffer with a precocious, overly happy child is just awful. You want to murder the kid about 2 minutes in, and the fact that an entire sequence plays out with the boy selling tickets to watch his naked sister dance shows how poorly the film will translate on these shores.
TAI CHI 0 – B
Shear madness, an unholy mashup of of WILD WILD WEST-meets-STREET FIGHTER, with some SCOTT PILGRIM mixed in for good measure.
THALE – C+
Creepy Scandinavian tale that bridges many genres, it’s one of those little idea movies that overstays its welcome, and probably would have worked better as a short film. That said, crazy naked tail creatures and forboding cabins in woods often makes for great moments of cinema, and even if squandered by the end, the first bits are well worth sitting through.
THERMAE ROMAE – C-
A bit of a wet mess, this time traveling bathouse romp.
THE THEIVES – C-
Great heist beginning, wide vistas, smart tactics, about an hour in I could totally see what all the fuss was about. By the time it devolves into a kind of sad video game, this interminable wreck proved to lack any sense of purpose.
A WEREWOLF BOY – FAIL
Awful, awful boring film about a family that moves back to their former house, where the mother recounts the story of the feral boy that she once took care of. Contains the most tedious shot I’ve seen in years, as the girl walks…slowly…slowly…to open a door…slowly…only to find that at that point all I wanted to do was leave.
WEST OF MEMPHIS
A companion piece to the impressive PARADISE LOST series, taking the case on from a different perspective.
YELLOW – FAIL
Intolerably bad film from Nick Cassavetes, this story of a Vicodin popping elementary school teacher is just deplorable. Even the likes of David Morse and Gena Rowlands fail to elevate this horrendous mess. It’s an unwatchable, forgettable turd.