TIFF 2012 Reviews: Part 5

By Dork Shelf
September 8, 2012

Since we don’t get days off on weeks like this, it’s time to saddle up for part 5 of our ongoing TIFF 2012 coverage. Click on these here links for parts one, two, three, and four if you haven’t checked them out already! And don’t forget to take a look at our overview of the Short Cuts Canada programme! For more information, a full list of films, scheduling, and tickets, please visit tiff.net.

The Place Beyond the Pines

Special Presentation

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Not so much a sprawling crime saga, but a multigenerational drama about the relationship of fathers to their sons, Cianfrance’s re-teaming with his Blue Valentine star Ryan Gosling bites off far more than it can chew. At 140 minutes, one would think the film would be something a bit more in-depth than it actually is, but despite all around decent leading performances this isn’t anything more than three very basic characters doing almost arbitrary actions to forward a static three act plot that never takes hold.

The lives of a heavily tattooed motorcycle stunt rider turned bank robber (Gosling), his former lover and mother of his child (Eva Mendes), a rookie cop (Bradley Cooper), and a shy teenager (Dane DeHaan) slowly become intertwined throughout the film, but after only an hour in a twist happens that makes the film absolutely 100% impossible to talk about without spoiling. That twist also divides the film into three seemingly separate parts of a trilogy that never get fully developed. What plot there is to speak of relies far too heavily on contrivance and coincidence for it to be profound, and while there are some interesting things going on in the film’s father/son relationships, the actors can’t do very much because aside from Cooper and DeHaan everyone else feels like a cardboard cut out. That doesn’t mean the film needs to be longer, though. It still needs to drop about 40 minutes. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Saturday, September 8th, 11am, Ryerson Theatre

Seven Psychopaths

Midnight Madness

Director: Martin McDonagh

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Award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh segued into film a few years back with the elegantly vulgar hitman movie In Bruges. Though very much a work of genre entertainment, that debut was as carefully and intelligently constructed as his tightest theatre pieces. McDonagh’s follow up Seven Psychopaths is another beast altogether. This insane, blood-soaked dark comedy is a tale of digressions, gleefully toying with crime movie conventions while nurturing hysterically over-the-top performances from a parade of beloved character actors. The plot concerns Colin Farrell’s alcoholic screenwriter (cheekily also named Martin) struggling to write his next film Seven Psychopaths, while his out-of-work actor buddy (Sam Rockwell) and a neckerchief sporting Christopher Walken kidnap the dog of a local gangster (Woody Harrelson) and inadvertently shove the oddball trio into their our surreal crime odyssey.

McDonagh never allows the film to settle into a conventional crime movie path, constantly shifting tones and subgenres as the characters demand. The plot is constantly broken up by Ferrell’s strange violent short stories from his script, Rockwell’s imaginary shootouts, or some bizarre side character’s lifestory like Tom Waits’ bunny-loving killer of…er…serial killers. It all comes together in a delightfully self-conscious finale that would make Charlie Kaufman proud, littering the screen with slapstick violence and hilariously delirious performances (Rockwell is a nutball standout, while Walken does his thing in an ascot). A shotgun blast to crime movie conventions with a laugh count to match the bullet count, Seven Psychopaths might not get McDonough another Oscar nomination, but it could add a legitimate cult classic to his resume. (Phil Brown)

Screens

Saturday, September 8, 3:30pm, Scotiabank 1

 

Hotel Transylvania

TIFF Kids

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky

While it won’t be much of a game changer in terms of animated children’s storytelling, Hotel Transylvania entertains effectively. It will easily keep youngsters engaged, it looks wonderful, and it’s easily the best thing Adam Sandler has put his name on in ages.

After building a remote castle to protect his daughter and provide refuge for monsters wanting to hide from humans, Count Dracula (Sandler) wrestles with his now teenaged (at 118 years old) charge’s desire to see the outside world. During her birthday party, however, an unwanted, dimwitted, Dave Matthews loving American human (Andy Samberg) turns up and nearly ruins everything for the vacationing monsters and Dracula while striking up a relationship with the birthday girl (Selena Gomez).

Plot wise, the film (co-written by Robert Smigel) plays to Sandler’s strengths and to the type of film he’s more widely known for making these days. Still, it’s nice to see him play the straight man to Samberg’s crazy guy, and the love story between Samberg and Gomez is really sweet. Powerpuff Girls creator Tartakovsky also creates some stunning visuals with a constantly moving camera to create a real sense of scope and place. The outcome of the film never once feels in doubt, but it’s still fun while it lasts. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Saturday, September 8th, 2:30pm, Princess of Wales Theatre

Saturday, September 15th, 12:30pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Thermae Romae

Gala

Director: Hideki Takeuchi

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In Japanese entertainment, there is a brand, a flavour that simply won’t resonate entirely with other cultures. Usually in film, that manifests as a directing style that’s too hectic and rapid for Westerners to sync with. With manga, especially comedic manga, it manifests as a floaty-minded romp that lives in its own universe. Thermae Romae, based on a romantic comedy manga series by Mari Yamazaki, carryies all the irksome mannerisms of all that above, unless you love romantic comedy manga. Because it’s really just a live action version of a romantic comedy manga.

Thermae Romae means “Roman Bathhouse,” and that’s the focal point of Lucius (Hiroshi Abe), an ancient architect tasked with building the bathhouses for the Hadrianus Empire. Hitting a creative wall, Lucius finds himself moping about his lack of ideas and the state of the Rome within the walls of an older bathhouse. When a strange whirlpool sucks him into the future, specifically a modern Japanese bathhouse, Lucius finds his inspiration, as well as Mami (Aya Ueto) an aspiring manga artist likewise seeking her muse.

There are good smiles to be had. Hard not to laugh at a built, naked Roman (well, a very Caucasian looking Japanese actor) in tears over the beauty of a toilet’s bidet function, but the content feels very much lifted from a comic page, and amplified with heinously cartoonishing acting. Another giveaway is the structure, which is episodic with stop-and-go pacing. New viewers will find an alienating brick wall of a comedy, a style too goofy and too bubbly to dig into, while general manga addicts may find something heinously familiar. (Zack Kotzer)

Screens

Saturday, September 8th, 1:30pm, Roy Thompson Hall

Sunday, September 9th, 12:30pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 7

Saturday, September 15th, 7:30pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 10

 

A Royal Affair

Gala

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

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A Royal Affair, the new Danish costume drama from writer-director Nikolaj Arcel, is a uniquely beautiful and frustrating experience. Telling the story of Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard) and the affair between his Queen wife (Alicia Vikander) and personal physician (Mads Mikkelsen), the film attempts to weave intense personal drama within the larger machinations of Enlightenment-era Europe. Madness, passion, adultery and politics intertwine with high stakes and potentially grave consequences.

Arcel’s visual eye is at once stunning and confused, as though he’s never quite sure which side of his epic drama deserves more attention. Extreme close-ups and drowned out audio put the audience in the mental space of the characters, but the result sometimes creates a distance between smaller story and the greater political drama. Despite its serious subject matter, A Royal Affair is injected with some great comedic touches that make the drama more engaging, particularly surrounding the mad antics of King Christian; Følgaard’s performance is a highlight. The film still feels long, though. There’s a determination in the direction, but the lack of strict focus causes it to drag when it might otherwise have been an exemplary and sumptuous period drama. (Corey Atad)

Screens

Wednesday, September 12th, 6:30pm, Roy Thomson Hall

Thursday, September 13th, 2:30pm, Visa Screening Room (Elgin)

 

Laurence Anyways

Special Presentation

Director: Xavier Dolan

While Quebecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan can’t seem to restrain himself from inserting what appear to be heavily stylized Dolce and Gabbana ads into his films to pad out an unconscionably long running time of 161 minutes, Laurence Anyways marks the most assured effort from the young filmmaker; a multilayered and decade spanning story about love and the search for identity where even his sometimes egregious stylistic touches seem to have deeper meanings about the nature of conformity and the death of individuality.

Chronicling the life of Laurence Alia (a splendid Melvil Poupaud), a 35 year old poet and university professor, who one day in 1989 tells his wife Fred (Suzanne Clement, in a powerhouse performance of numerous layers) that he would rather live life as a woman, Dolan doesn’t shy away from intimately looking at the push and pull between acceptance, selfishness, and the desire to help the person that one loves deeply. Laurence and Fred have a heavily complicated on and off again relationship that drags out sometimes beautifully and painfully over the course of ten years. Despite their pseudo-bohemian appearance and vaguely leftist doctrine of beliefs, Fred can never fully grasp what Laurence goes through and the true dramatic thrust of the film comes from watching her break down as her own sense of progressiveness comes into question. It’s all dramatically weighty stuff told by someone with complete control over their material, even if it does get a bit ungainly at times. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Thursday, September 13th, 9:00pm, Elgin (Visa Screening Room)

Saturday, September 15th, 9:00am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Smashed

Contemporary World Cinema

Director: James Ponsoldt

Well, this is a weird one to see two days after a bender, I’ll tell you that much. A story about changing lifestyles, Smashed follows a young grade school teacher, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), whose every evening caps off with her and her husband (Aaron Paul) staggering home from the bar. It isn’t abusive or destructive, the two just undeniably bond over drinking a whole dang lot. When one stupor leaves Kate awakening on top of a garbage mattress, the day after lying to her over-caring principal (Megan Mullally) about the origin of her barf, she begins to rethink her relationship to the sauce.

At its best, Smashed is one of two things. Sometimes it’s a sobering drama, about the little things that keep relationships warm, and the decaying process that begins when one precious element is removed. Sometimes it’s a mildly kooky comedy, with a parcel of funny, ongoing jokes to return to at the right times. But Smashed is not always these two things.

Smashed often hurdles into the campiest of after-school special morality routines, topped with magical Octavia Spencer black sassy sage wisdom helper. It is an endearing and well played ensemble (not even having mention Nick Offerman yet, as a well meaning, awkward confidant), and interesting thematic ideas are there, but Smashed too often floats on the surface to go anywhere truly intoxicating. (Zack Kotzer)

Screens

Wednesday, September 12th, 6:00pm, Ryerson Theatre

Thursday, September 13th, 5:00pm, Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 7

 

Rebelle (War Witch)

Special Presentation

Director: Kim Nguyen

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Winner of the Best Actress award earlier this year in Berlin, young actress Rachel Mwanza gives a revelatory performance in Canadian director Kim Nguyen’s clearly defined three act look at the life and hardship of a child soldier that takes the audience into a world where young adults are forced to kill their parents (with the chilling line “Guns are your mother and father now,”) and work as fighters for those rebelling against a fictional Sub-Saharan government.

As a young woman named Komona who’s valued by the rebel leader for her psychotropic induced visions that can sense danger, Mwanza more than effectively portrays a scared, but strong young woman willing to go to extremes when pushed in an effort to escape and potentially find her own bliss. Nguyen’s film might get started a bit too quickly and feel a bit like a reverse take on Oliver Stone’s Platoon in terms of style, but once the film begins focusing on Komona’s doomed relationship with a young man also perceived as magical, this look at damaged childhood and sever psychological scarring really begins to hit hard with shockingly brutal moments and scenes of profound tenderness. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Friday, September 14th, 9:00pm, Elgin (Visa Screening Room)

Saturday, September 15th, 3:00pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

White Elephant

Special Presentation

Director: Pablo Trapero

In the Argentinian slums of Villa Maria, two priests attempt to work together to save their flock from getting caught in the middle of a deadly drug related turf war in White Elephant, a thrilling if at times somewhat redundant and padded look at how faith can both help and hinder practicality and decision making in some of the most unexpected ways.

The title refers to the giant, crumbling tenement where the priests are based that was once intended to be Latin America’s biggest hospital. Father Julian (Ricardo Darin) takes the more traditional line of prayers and miracles when violence threatens to overtake the constantly tenuous peace of the neighbourhood, while the French Father Nicolas (frequent Dardenne brothers collaborator Jeremie Renier, in his strongest performance to date) wants to try to mediate the conflict and deal with the problems head on, a side effect of being the lone survivor of a brutal slaughter at his last Amazonian outpost where he stood frozen and incapable of helping.

While the philosophical arguments at the heart of White Elephant are easy to flesh out, they aren’t as easily integrated into the larger story and character study that’s far more intriguing. If there is one thing that director Pablo Trapero does understand, though, it’s a sense of escalation with a nearly wordless opening 15 minutes and tense conclusion that help to lessen the film’s more uneven elements. (Andrew Parker)

Screens

Thursday, September 13th, 9:45pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Friday, September 14th, 3:00pm, Scotiabank 2

Sunday, September 16th, 5:45pm, Scotiabank 2

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