TIFF reviews: Monsters, Black Swan, Sarah's Key, Meek's Cutoff, The Sleeping Beauty, I Saw the Devil, In a Better World, Beautiful Boy, Promises Written in Water, That Girl in Yellow Boots, Rio Sex Comedy, Good Neighbours
Today marks the end of this year's TIFF which means this will be the last round-up of film reviews we post from the 2010 festival. There were 339 films screening this year and as much as we tried to see them all, we only managed to view (and review) a fraction of them. Our previous reviews can be found here, here and here. Like our previous reviews, we've sorted this final batch into those we highly recommend, recommend or suggest avoiding.
Old school monster movie meets road movie, with a love story thrown in. The monsters are extra-terrestrials living and breeding in Mexico. A photojournalist has been charged with getting his publisher's pretty daughter home safely. When time runs out on a last ferry crossing to the US, the pair decides to travel by land through the alien infected quarantine zone. And yep, it is dangerous. With a background in running a special effects company, newcomer Gareth Edwards has pulled off some ambitious scenes of destruction while maintaining a low budget indie feel. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and "highly recommend" Monsters because I really enjoyed the ride and the visuals.
Darren Aronofsky hasn't disappointed me yet and Black Swan is no exception. From the first frame, it's incredibly atmospheric; haunting and offsetting. Aronofsky has created this constantly tense and creepy world that will make you spend most of the film holding your breath and squirming. While it isn't quite the horror movie you might expect it to be going in, it has many parts that will make you jump and even more that will make you cringe. Natalie Portman lives up to the hype with her amazing performance, as well Barbara Hershey stands out as her overbearing mother. While it's probably Aronofsky's broadest film, that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you like movies that tie everything up at the end, you'll be pleased, but it's not one dimensional by a long shot -- it leaves you with plenty to mull over. (PF)
I'm embarrassed to admit that I knew little of the Vel'd'Hiv Roundup of 1942 before I stepped into the Ryerson Theatre earlier today. With a packed house at the third screening of this film the audience had clearly gotten wind there was something special here. The best film I saw at TIFF this year, Sarah's Key tells a fictionalized story of a Jewish girl and her family who were taken by French police from their apartment in Paris and sent to die at concentration camps. With excellent performances from MĂŠlusine Mayance, Kristin Scott Thomas and Niels Arestrup. (TS)
As a follow up to Wendy and Lucy, Kelly Reichardt's new film couldn't be any more different in subject and similar in style. Meek, a supposedly seasoned guide, leads three families into dry the plains of Oregon in 1845. Things get a wee bit tense when thirst and fatigue kick in, wagons start to break down, and every decision made could jeopardize the group's survival. Reichardt is brilliant when it comes to making movies that resonate intensely, with very little action or dialogue.
The Sleeping Beauty
There have been many retellings of Charles Perrault's classic fairy tale, but none quite like Catherine Breillat's. This Sleeping Beauty is a 6-year-old tomboy who falls under a hundred year sleep spell. In the meantime, she has dreamlike adventures in pursuit of a teenage boy who has left her for the beautiful Snow Queen. From a fairy tale word of unrequited love, albino royalty, dwarfs, and gypsy parties, it seems brutal to have Sleeping Beauty wake up in the contemporary world... and that's how Breillat likes it.
I Saw the Devil
Torture. Cannibalism. Gore. I saw the Devil has plenty of cringe-inspiring moments, but feels like a long ride in between. When pieces of his fiance's body are found in a river, a secret agent takes some time off to hunt down her killer. Kim Ji-woon (The Good, the Bad, the Weird) departs from the cop-out-for-revenge-on-a-serial-killer mold when his hero goes for a prolonged and gruesome torture, seeming to turn into a blood-hungry psychopath himself.
In a Better World
Between the megastar buzz films and the hard to ever see again gems, a solid movie from a reputable director can easily go unnoticed at TIFF. Case in point, In a Better World from Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, and the original Brothers). Bier's beautiful film focuses on a friendship between two young boys at the center of much larger family dramas.
Not only the heaviest movie I've seen at the festival so far, but at least in a few years. Beautiful Boy is centered around two parents dealing with the fact that their son shot up his college and trying to understand why. The best thing about this movie is it never falls into any traps or cliches when it comes to the topic of school shootings. It doesn't go into any details about the act or really even the shooter and nothing about it is shown. It is completely about the parents coping, which means the film is put on the shoulders of the two leads, Michael Sheen and Maria Bello, who do a fantastic job. Both performances are quiet but heartbreaking, especially by Sheen. The movie doesn't give any answers or really any closure, but it seems intentional in Shawn Ku's voyeuristic directing. (PF)
Promises Written in Water
Promises Written in Water is abstract, quiet, and will make you leave craving a cigarette, but you're at a Vincent Gallo movie so what are you expecting? Gallo wrote, directed, starred, edited, and did the music for this film and it works in his favour. He has a good eye for pacing. You're engaged throughout despite there being no real clear story line. Gallo also has a very powerful screen presence; he's impossible to look away from especially in the best scene of the film where he repeatedly tells about a phone call to his girlfriend. The cinematography is also beautiful, with very basic lighting, intense grainy close-ups and constantly in-and-out focus. The definition of an art film, Gallo has created more of a piece than your traditional movie. (PF)
That Girl in Yellow Boots
From Indian indie filmmaker extraordinaire Anurag Kashyap comes a compelling tale of a 20 year old English woman who has come to live and work in Mumbai while she looks for her biological father. Along the way she gets entangled with a drug dealer, a drug addicted boyfriend and pays her rent giving happy endings to clients at a massage parlour. Well paced, well acted and a bit of a surprise ending. (TS)
Rio Sex Comedy
This was without a doubt the worst film I saw this year. Stay far away - not even worth watching if trapped on a 16 hour plane ride. A complete waste of two hours of my life. The plot is ridiculous and pointless and for something that must be intended as a comedy it has very few laughs. (TS)
Going into this, I really wanted to like it. I loved The Trotsky and when I heard Jacob Tierney wanted to do something completely different, I thought that sounded great. Unfortunately, maybe he shouldn't have taken such a left turn. I loved the idea of a funny murder mystery set during the 1995 referendum, but the plot was paper thin, predictable and really not very funny. Not even the actors who I usually enjoy could save it; All of the three main characters were pretty unlikeable. I just felt like there was nothing in the movie I could grasp onto or walk away with -- other than apartments in Montreal are really nice. (PF)
With contributions from Tim Shore (TS) and Pat Fairbairn (PF).
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