TIFF 2013 Capsule Film Reviews (Updated daily)
This site will provide capsule review of films screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. This will aid you in your film picks. This article will be updated daily for your use. Enjoy and Happy Movie-going!
ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE (USA 2013) **
Directed by Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson
A high-school outsider’s plot to avenge herself on the captain of the football team turns bloody when some phantasmagorical hijinks get tossed into the mix, in this blood horror comedy. The story involves Maddy (Caitlin Stasey), a rebel and outsider at Blackfoot High, dead set on bringing down the clique of too-cool cheerleaders who rule the school. But after things turn ugly at a bush party and Maddy’s wiccan ex-girlfriend Leena (Sianoa Smit-McPhee) interferes in her plot, Maddy, Leena and the whole pom-pom-wielding posse must become unlikely allies in a supernatural showdown against the boys, led by Terry (Tom Williamson), the captain of the football team. As with a ridiculous a plot in which anything can happen, the film deteriorates quickly into gore and bloody rubbish. No one cares who kills who and the cheerleaders are quickly unrecognizable one from the next. Unimaginative and boring, ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE should quickly die itself a quick death.
ATTILA MARCEL (France 2013) ****
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
ATTILLA MARCEL is a film with no main plot or strong narrative just like the wrestling match between Attila and his wife that ends in a romantic kiss. It is made clear at the start of the film that this is a film about memories – bad or good ones that pop up at random that are uncontrollable. The protagonist of the film is 33-year old mute pianist, Marcel (Guillaume Gouix who also plays his father Attila) whose life story is told in flashbacks, not necessarily in chronological order but in random events just as memory plays in the human mind. We see Marcel as a baby, later in life in love with a Chinese cellist, playing for his aunt’s dance school and entering the piano competition before ironically damaging his fingers and not being able to play again.
There are some very inventive hilarious segments like the one with the two aunts getting drunk on brandied cherries or the segment before that when they argue against the Chinese at the party just before the host introduces his adopted Chinese daughter, Michelle. The result is once again an utterly charming film.
BASTARDO (Tunisia/France/Qatar 2013) ***1/2
Directed by Nejib Bekhadhi
Odd but compelling tale of a bastard, Moshem (Abdel Modeem) who loses his job as a shoe factory watchman because he falls for the girl who stole shoes during his shift. But Moshem slowly gains his confidence and pride back. By a stroke of luck, his house is chosen to be the site of a construction of a relay that will bring him money. This brings him heads to heads with the (unnamed) village thugs who murder his business partner. This film mixes film noir with a magic surrealism that makes the story even more fascinating. Odd characters also pop up such as the ugly obsess mother of the thugs, the insect lady who has sex with both the enemy and Moshen and others. The film drags a bit at the end in order for Bekhadhi to bring his film to a closure but it is difficult o keep up the momentum of this otherwise fascinating fable.
BLUE RUIN (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Director Saulnier returns to the director’s chair after the unheard of horror comedy MURDER PARTY with an impressive grisly violent survival slasher BLUE RUIN, the title derived from the rusty old blue car the protagonist, a vagrant lives in at the start of the film.
Dwight (Macon Blair) is forced to protect himself and his sister after a double murderer involved with killing his parents is released from prison. He cleans up his act as well as his physical appearance and the killings begin.
What distinguishes BLUE RUIN from the run of the mill slasher film is director Saulnier’s use of a strong narrative to drive his film. Saulnier reveals only enough of the plot to keep the audience in the know, while always piquing the audience’s interest. This is aided by a nuanced performance by Blair who develops a strong characterization for Dwight. Suspense and drama are well blended in this otherwise satisfying horror thriller that should keep fans at the end of their seats. Though not in the Midnight Madness category, the film could very much well be.
CANNIBAL (Spain/Romania/Russia 2013) *
Directed by Manuel Martin Cuenca
What starts off as a meticulously made horror drama involving a mild mannered tailor (Antonio de la Torre from EL CRIMO FERPECTO) doing away with beautiful women and then eating them turns into unintentional predictable shit at the end. It all starts turning awry when cannibal falls for the last victim’s sister, Nina (Olimpia Melinte) herself a suspect for the disappearance of her sister. The last 10 minutes of the film, which should be more serious turns out totally laughable. Worst still, when Cannibal confesses to Nina that he has killed her sister, then eaten her and then that he is in love with her. Wonder what the director Cunca had in mind when he made this movie. At th public screening, he seems to be taking his serious film as a joke introducing his actor as a nice man in a bad role and so on.
EMPIRE OF DIRT (Canada 2013) ***1/2
Directed by Peter Stebbings
Impressive first feature by Peter Stebbings about three generations of First Nations protagonist. Lena (Cara Gee) is a single mother who cleans houses for a living. After losing a few jobs in a row and after she finds her daughter Peeka (Jennifer Podemski) in hospital from a drug (spray paint actually) overdose, she uproots the family and they take off to the village where they came from. Lena and Peeka are put up by Lena’s mother who as it turns out threw her out when pregnant with Peeka. A lot of old skeletons (in fact to many) come out of the closet. For a movie less than 2 hours long, the script contains too many incidents and subplots. But Stebbings’ excellent camerawork and camera placement, evident from the very first frame make it all worth it. Cara Lee delivers a winning performance matched no less than playing the grandmother. EMPIRE OF DIRT is worthy both as a First Nations and a Canadian film!
LES ETOILES (UNDER THE STARRY SKY) (France/Senegal 2013) ***
Directed by Dyana Gaye
Shot in French, Senegalese, Italian and French, this 3-city (NYC, Turin and Dakar) LES ETOILES charts the accidental intersections of characters in transit. Plans are derailed, happenstance meetings change courses, and destinies intertwine. Sophie (Marème Demba Ly), a young Senegalese bride, follows her husband, Abdoulaye (Souleymane Seye N’Diaye), from Dakar to Turin , where he has travelled without papers to look for work. Meanwhile, Abdoulaye has already has left for New York , lured by his cousin, Serigne (Babacar M’Baye Fall), and a promise of better opportunities. Abdoulaye’s one contact in New York , Sophie’s aunt, is en route to Dakar with her son, Thierno (Ralph Amoussou), to bury the husband she left twenty years earlier. Director Gaye paces his film well while keeping each character interesting. His characters are by no means flawless creatures – Abdoulaye steals, the aunt quarrels and Sophie is never grateful. It is difficult to find a happy ending in a film with so many difficult circumstances but Gaye offers hope at the end. LES ETOILES is a quietly beautiful film.
FOR NO GOOD REASON (USA 2013) ***
Directed by Charlie Paul
FOR NO GOOD REASON is a documentary about British cartoonist/artist Ralph Steadman and his work in the U.S. featuring him at work and in interviews as well as featuring Johnny Depp who puts in his two cents worth for credibility. At the end of the film Depp remarks to the camera that Steadman has inspired him FOR NO GOOD REASON. But director Paul’s film proves otherwise. Steadman’s opening statement says that if he could learn to paint, he would change the world. In the middle of the film, he also states that America nurtures everything that as gone badly in the world. He has particular disdain for ex-President Richard Nixon. One of his works has Kissinger as the head of a spider spinning a web. Whether Steadman achieves his purpose in life is up to the audience to determine. But director Paul is smart to include the artist at work – which is nothing short of amazing. The film’s best scene shows how a splash of paint leads to he creation of ‘an unwanted pet’. Of course, the film also contains lots of complaints on the world by Steadman.
FOR THOSE WHO CAN TELL NO TALES (Bosnia/Herzegovina 2013) ***
Directed by Jamila Zbanic
The film starts with a tourist Kym (Kym Verco) questioned at a police station. The film flashes back to Australia where the audience learns more about Kym. She is an independent woman who likes different things such as touring weird laces and keeping a video daily. Ah takes a summer holiday through Bosnia and Herzegovina, staying at places listed in a tourist guide book. Yet her stay at a hotel in Visegrad inexplicably gives way to anxiety and sleepless nights. Upon returning home to Australia, she finds out that the Vilina Vlas hotel was used as a rape camp during the war. Evocations of the region’s atrocities begin to haunt her, as does the question of why the guidebook, or the town itself, made no mention of the event. The spectre of trauma is finally so insistent that she is compelled to return to Visegrad. The film tends to be a bit confusing with the flashbacks and the fact that she returns twice to Visegrad. But despite this little film’s flaws it gets its message across paying tribute to the 3,000 or so people murdered during the Bosnian War. Based on Kym’st true story.
GISELLE (New Zealand 2013) ***
Directed by Toa Fraser
GISELLE is the ballet performed by the Royal New Zealand Ballet company with the music conducted by the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra. The ballet tells the story of Giselle (Gillian Murphy), a peasant girl who dies of a broken heart after discovering her love (Qi Huan) is engaged to another woman. Shot with vivid costumes and expensive props, the colours, drama, music and spectacle comes across loud and clear. Who can ask for anything more? Apparently Director Toa Fraser has infused the romance of its two performers into the ballet. So intermixed with the ballet on stage, the audience gets to see the leads in modern garb for example, in fields of grass and flowers. There is absolutely no need o and whether this exercise works is up to the individual viewer. The two leads are extraordinarily handsome and perform their dance routines flawlessly.
GLORIA (Chile/Spain 2013) **
Directed by Sebastian Leilo
Paulina Garcia won the Silver Lion (Berlin) Award for Best actress as Gloria a 12–year divorcee looking for love once again. And what is wrong with that as everyone is human wants to be loved. This she finds in the form of ex-Navy man keeps his life with his ex and two daughters away from her. Worst still is that he disappears and abandons her for no apparent reason. When the film opens, the scene is in a club. At the bar, having a drink is Gloria standing alone, wanting to dance. She takes to the floor, her sour face turning cheerful as she meets with Rodolfo. But what expects to turn out to be an edgy, hilarious and maybe eye-opening comedy turns out quite plain with a single layered story of a woman unable to find love once too often. No doubt Garcia delivers a wonderful bot charming and sad performance, but one wishes the script would do more justice to her role than a rather humdrum film abut a failed woman who finally gets her revenge.
ILO ILO (Singapore 2013) ****
Directed by Anthony Chen
Singapore boasts one of the youngest film industries in the world but surprisingly turns out marvelous gems. Last year’s SAND CASTLES and this year’s ILO ILO attest to this fact. With bright but unknown director and actors, ILO ILO is a family drama with a local Singaporean touch that perhaps only Singaporeans (like myself) can truly appreciate. A Filipino maid, Terry (Angeli Banyani) is hired by a family, a couple (Chen Tian Wen and Yeo Yann Yann) with a slightly spoilt atrocious son, Jiali (Koh Jia Ler) who surprisingly grows attached to her as tie progresses. The family typical ‘Singapore’ problems like no money, keeping up with the relatives and trying to survive in a small flat. Hope is dashed a few times and director Chen shows that perseverance in the face of adversity eventually pays off –true Singapore traits. There is also a scene in which the students recite the Singapore Pledge at school. The film is shot in Mandarin, though it is rare that a family in Singapore speaks this language at home.
JEUNE & JOLIE (YOUNG AND BEAUTIFUL) (France 2013) *** (film has strong gay content)
Directed by Francois Ozon
It would appear that Ozon, the director of original naughty comedies like SITCOM, LES AMANTS is treading used waters with his tale of a young story of a prostitute by night, student otherwise after films like BELLE DU JOUR and LOVELACE. But Ozon takes his film further with the story set in a strong familial setting (many of Ozon’s films derive their strength from this familiar setting) with more subplots than can be expected. The film starts with the young and beautiful Isabelle (Marine Vecht) lying topless on a towel by the beach. She is observed by binoculars (as if the audience were voyeurs themselves) by who turns out to her brother. Her antics take to have a sexual encounter with a young German, Felix (Lucas Prisor) and later selling services to older clients. When one dies of a heart attack, when she rides him, her secret is blown. Mother (Geraldine Pailhas) finds out and Isabelle has to accept the consequences including meeting the dead’s client’s wife (Charlotte Rampling). Ozon’s tale of desire is interesting from start to finish with a few subplots left hanging, for example if Isabelle’s little brother is gay.
PARADISE: HOPE (Austria/Germany/France 2013) ***
Directed by Ulrich Seidl
PARADISE: LOST is set in a summer camp in which everyone – counselors and campers are both dysfunctional loses. But this is a diet camp set up in the Austrian countryside and of course, the teens are plump and overweight as much as the leaders are useless. Most of the teens are dumped in the camp by unhappy parents or parents that have broken up. Seidl shoots his film ‘dead-pan’ style though there is not much comedy involved. So the film can be considered to be a dead-pan drama. The film looks realistic enough as Seidl lets his characters and story unfold in real time. This is where the film looks odd but gives it a nice change from the typical Hollywood look. The camp looks unbearably clean with immaculately painted walls and murals. The climax of the film in which the main character Melanie (Melanie Lenz) almost gets raped n a small local club is both suspenseful and compelling to watch. Unfortunately here is no proper start or end to this otherwise fascinating film. This is the last of he trilogy of Seidl’s PARADISE films.
PARKLAND (2013) ***
Directed by Peter Landesman
Meticulously shot with 60’s period atmosphere and wardrobe so that one cannot distinguish old newsreel footage from the new, first time director Landesman tell the story of the 4 days following November 22 when President John F. Kennedy was shot.
With exacting precision, Landesman revisits the those fateful days as experienced by five key figures: Jim Carrico (Zac Efron), a twenty-eight-year-old surgical resident and the first physician to tend to Kennedy upon his arrival at Parkland; Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), head of the Dallas bureau of the Secret Service; James Hosty (Ron Livingston), an FBI agent assigned to investigate Lee Harvey Oswald (James Earl Haley) prior to Kennedy’s assassination; Oswald’s estranged brother, Robert (James Badge Dale); and Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), whose inadvertent footage of the shooting became the world’s most famous strip of 8mm film. It is no doubt that the film is about a serious incident in history but everyone in the film and every incident is treated as just too important in the film. It is the director’s impression that life cannot go on without the presence of John F. Kennedy in this over serious film.
LE PASSE (THE PAST) (France 2013) Top 10 *****
Directed by Asghar Farhadi
From the director of last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar Winner A SEPARATION comes another high drama about separation. This time around the subjects are trying to build their lives back together but unavailable to do so easily because of incidents of THE PAST. When the film opens, Marie-Anne (Berenice Bejo) meets her Iranian ex-husband, Ahmad at the airport. Marie-Anne is about to remarry an Arab, Samir (Tahar Rahim from UN PROPHETE), but her daughter, Lucie is totally against it and doing all in her power to prevent it. Lucie hates the mother’s lover, Samir whose son and him are also currently staying with them. Ahmad finds all this too much for him, especially when he is obliged to sort out differences. Director unveils bits of his plot little at a time, so that this drama plays like a whodunit complete with a twist at the end. Like A SEPARATION, LE PASSE puts director in a class of his own. His films have demonstrated both a good blend of story telling and drama. And not a dull moment from beginning to end, making the film top 10 of the year!
PHILOMENA (UK/Ireland 2013) **** (film has strong gay content)
Directed by Stephen Frears
Philomena is the name of an Irish Catholic woman (Judi Dench reunited with director Frears of THE QUEEN) who searches for her lost son, given up for adoption. Ex-BBC reporter Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) now a journalist aids her in the quest. It all started in 1950s Ireland, when Catholic authorities shamed thousands of “fallen” Irish women into giving their children up for adoption, with no hope of ever seeing them again. Philomena Lee was one of these women. Director Stephen Frears tells her story in his new heartfelt drama, adapted by Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope from a celebrated book by Martin Sixsmith. Based on that true story, Frears wrings out both tears and subtle laughter in a well-paced heart felt drama. Dench and Coogan complement each other just as their characters do. Martin is cynical, angry and rude while Philomena is kind, polite and forgiving. The script uses the best and worst of their personalities. Lots of surprising twists too, in this human story that marks one of the best films of TIFF.
ROCK THE CASBAH (France/Morocco 2013) ***
Directed by Laila Marrakchi
People’s Choice Award Winning (WHERE DO WE GO NOW?) director Laila Marrakchi returns to the festival with another female crowd pleaser. The death of their father (Omar Sharif) who occasionally returns as a ghost brings together three sisters. Of course, they will argue in what might appear to be the typical dysfunctional family that films love to have a their subject matter. Skeletons in the closer are also revealed. The cast of the film includes the Arab world’s most famous actresses Hiam Abbass and Nadine Labaki. But North American audiences will at least recognize Omar Sharif, still smoking a cigar and womanizing around. The script covers certain female issues as well but he film displays an obvious distaste for the male species. The uncle is shown not only as a money grabbing weasel but a child pervert. The illegitimate son shows no positive qualities. He is shown as the bad guy calling his mother a whore while the mother is depicted as a poor rejected lover.
SEX, DRUGS AND TAXATION (SPIES & GLISTRUP) (DENMARK 2013) **
Directed by Christoffer Boe
It is difficult to like a film with two disgusting characters that make it big illegally to the top before getting their comeuppance. Mogens Glistrup (pronounced Moge) (Nicolas Bro) is a brilliant numbers man who can play with accounting and financial figures such that he is able to not only aid in company takeovers but pays no taxes. His partner in crime, Simon Spies (Pilou Asbaek) unlike Mogens a family man, is a womanizer and owner of a travel agency gone extremely big by takeovers and of course, not paying taxes. No one can get off not paying taxes forever, or so Mogens thinks. Boe’s film treats his two protagonists as Gods able to out think anyone and get away with all vices including all the beautiful and young things despite their looks. The film is technical enough (in numbers) for it to be believable but the film fails to engage with characters that Boe does not make his audience care for. The end in which Mogens wins in politics is the only part of the film totally unbelievable. The film is based on true events.
A TOUCH OF SIN (China/Japan 2013) ***1/2
Directed by Jin Z.
Winner of the Best Screenplay award at Cannes this year, Jin’s (THE WORLD) film tells the stories of 4 disgrunted Chinese from different provinces that are so upset that they turn violence to obtain satisfaction. Extremely violent and occasionally hugely satisfying could be how to describe Jin’s new film. The screenplay weaves together the b4 different tales all smartly tied by a loose link and Jin also brings all the stories to a nice closure full circle. The only flaw of the film is the strength lengths of each. They are not of equal lengths. The first story of the miner who exacts his own revenge on the Chinese officials who wronged his village is the strongest and would have best been left the last as the film loses momentum after that story is done. The film also requires the audience to devote their full concentration in order to figure what is going on and what Jin is doing… but that is a good thing.
LA VIE D’ADELE (1 &2) (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR) (France 2013)*** (film has very strong gay content)
Directed by Abdellatif Ketch
The odd title BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR has nothing to do with the French translation of THE LIFE OF ADELE. Blue is the Emma’s dyed hair and also of the dress that Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) wears at the end of the film to Emma’s Exhibition. This is a 3-hour lesbian film, the sound of it sufficient to drive audiences away in droves. But the film did win Cannes Palme d’Or this year. The film does drag on and there is no break between the two parts. The film generally charts the life of Adele from the age of 15 at school to her sexual awakening. She finds no sexual attraction to the boy she dates, who eventually dumps her. She meets blue haired Emma (Lea Seydoux) and many long and repeated sex scenes result with lots of moaning and groaning. The sexual scenes are erotic enough but one can even tire of too much of a good thing. There is not much anticipation in the story. The final confrontation between Emma and Adele when Emma finds that she has been cheated for a boy seems forced from Emma’s part. And what has the boy have to say, as he just conveniently disappears? But the reason of the breakup, which implies that their relationship has not grown and grounded too much in sex is nevertheless quite accurate. A 3-hour mixed bag of tricks!
WATERMARK (Canada 2013) ***
Directed by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky
Canada’s darling Jennifer Baichwal, following her highly successful MANUFATURED LANDSCAPES returns with another well cinematographed documentary on the topic of water that could also be entitled NATURED LANDSCAPES. Most of the landscapes displayed on screen include dried out river beds, the bathers at the sacred river at Allahabad, the woodcuts of snow covered trees an the enormous dam in China that puts the Hoover Dam to humility. The film also includes a brief commentary from people in the know on the cycle of water and its importance, though not as exhaustive as one would expect. Baichwal’s film also lack a stronger narrative to get her message across. But she and fellow director/photographe Edward Burtynsky have nevertheless given audiences a wonderful looking film.