TIFF Flims Toronto

What to Watch at TIFF 2011, pt. 4

It's the final days of the Film Festival and it feels like the end of summer vacation. For film fans, TIFF is like Christmas; I know a half dozen people who regularly book vacations fully through the festival so they can spend their days sipping pop, eating gummies and watching movies. It's also the time of year you see fellow film geeks, the ones from out of town, from the States or halfway across the world.

These will be our final capsule reviews of the festival and they contain a decent amount of Midnight Madness selections as well as films from the Contemporary World Cinema programme and more. To see our other reviews, you can also see part one, two and three.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

SAMSARA (September 18, 9PM)
Covering TIFF has been a privilege for many reasons, but particularly for the opportunity to screen Ron Fricke's awe-inspiring Samsara. The follow-up to 1992's breathtaking Baraka, Fricke surpasses even that great film, with an effort I can only describe in superlatives, and with what sounds like hyperbole, but isn't. Like Baraka before it, Samasra is something akin to a human-centric, arthouse Planet Earth, surveying the globe in a series of astonishing, dialogue-free, 70mm vistas, and underscored by a mixture of traditional instrumental and choral music. Fricke further demonstrates his mastery of time-lapse imagery, a technique that invests even familiar sights - say a helicopter shot of an L.A. freeway - with a hypnotic, organic rhythm. That Samsara is instantly one of the most visually-stunning films in the history of cinema is reason enough to cherish it, but Fricke and co-editor Mark Magidson achieve truly profound juxtapositions, brimming with meaning and emotion. It sounds preposterous, but it's true: In 99 minutes, Samsara achieves something approaching a comprehensive portrait of the totality of human experience. If you're even remotely fond of being alive, Samsara is not to be missed. (JC)

SNOWTOWN (September 17, 10PM)

Just as in 2010, a first-time Australian filmmaker has delivered an uncommonly accomplished debut crime drama, about an innocent teen corrupted by the poisonous, sociopathic tutelage of a deranged father figure. The principle difference, though, between David Michot's Animal Kingdom and Justin Kurzel's Snowtown is that the latter film is based on a horrific true story. In fact, the real distinction isn't merely that Snowtown is based on a true story, but that, thanks to hugely authentic, partly improvised performances from a cast of non-professionals, it feels like a true story, both tragic and terrifying. In a convenient piece of symmetry, the notable exception is Daniel Henshall, who plays John Bunting, known as "Australia's worst serial killer." Henshall gives one of the festival's standout performances as the charismatic Bunting, his magnetism enhanced by the fact that many of the cast - drawn from the depressed area where the crimes occurred and the film was shot - knew him from his work on Australian TV. It's a bleak, disturbing film, but as much as the murders themselves - which mainly occur off-screen — it's Kurzel's portrait of the prevailing, festering deprivation that devastates. (JC)

YOU'RE NEXT (Friday September 16th, 4pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox)
From the creators who brought A Horrible Way to Die to the festival last year (one of my favourites) comes You're Next, a locked-house cat and mouse game set during an awkward family dinner. The film begins with a fantastically large cast of characters, which is always fun in a horror film because it results in a more carnage. The directors have quite a bit of fun with this and don't waste any time upping the stakes. Our heroine is the savvy and resourceful Erin, a guest in the house who turns out to be a whole lot more than the killers were expecting. Despite a mounting body count, she outwits the intruders in creative and gutsy ways and had the audience cheering to the rafters for her during my screening. High tension aside, the film maintains its humour right up until the last scene, I don't remember the last time a horror film had me so terrified yet so amused for all the right reasons. (DD)

KILL LIST (September 17, 11:59PM)

Apart from all else, Kill List features the best buddy-assassin duo since Quentin Tarantino treated cinephiles to the legendary Pulp Fiction pairing of Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega. But where Jules and Vince traded QT's signature, pop-culture repartee, Kill List's Jay (Niel Maskell) and Gal (Michael Smiley) share the uncannily naturalistic banter of genuine, lifelong best mates. How director Ben Wheatley manages to balance elements of social realism - TIFF's synopsis invokes Mike Leigh with good reason - with caustic humour, extreme, graphic violence, and plenty of frantic WTF-ery, is a mystery nearly as indecipherable as the one that propels the film forward like a speeding, high-calibre slug. But balance those elements he does, and with a deftness that belies his stature as only a second-time filmmaker. (His debut was 2009's dark crime comedy, Down Terrace.) On the evidence of Kill List's late film insanity, I won't rule out with a deal with devil. Indeed, Satanic inspiration almost seems likely, given an ending that will live in infamy, topping perhaps even Se7en's anguished "What's in the baaaahx?" conclusion. (JC)

RECOMMENDED

SLEEPLESS NIGHT (Friday September 16th, 9:45pm, Scotiabank 11)
Sleepless Night takes the classic story of a good-cop-doing bad, throws in a half dozen chase scenes and double crossings and serves it on a platter in a giant warehouse-style-club. The French crime thriller has some experience at its back to cover all that madness as the cinematographer is Tom Stern, the cinematographer who has worked with Clint Eastwood for decades and is currently shooting The Hunger Games. The story follows Vincent, a morally ambiguous cop who finds himself in the worst situation imaginable when his son is kidnapped by an angry mobster. Why is the mobster angry? Vincent and his partner stole his drugs, that's why. With nowhere to turn, the only way for him to get his son back is to deliver the drugs directly to the mobster at his glitzy club, but unfortunately for Vincent, there are other players in the game. With all the odds mounting against him, the film is a frenetic chase after chase in an enclosed space as Vincent continues pulling any punch possible to save his son. (DD)

MONSTER'S CLUB (Sunday September 18th, 9:30am, AMC2)

Upon first glance, this film seems to be about a serial killer with an anti-establishment manifesto and may seem as if it is centered upon his most recent slayers. But that would be a wrong assumption, Monster's Club is, if anything, a philosophical and cultural manifesto that is appropriately Japanese. There is quite a bit of navel-gazing in this film, as we watch Ryoichi, who has already removed himself from society, turn darker and deeper into himself and his misery, reminiscing about his dead brothers while alienating his last remaining family member, his younger sister. The film spends quite a bit of time talking at you and uses flowery language to get the point across, and contains some stunning imagery that is seared into my mind days later. Not for those who fall asleep easily, but it is rewarding if you pay attention. (DD)

FABLE OF THE FISH (Sunday September 18th, 1pm, AMC 7)
Director Adolfo Borinaga Alix Jr introduced his film as a tabloid story that attracted his attention as a child, the story of a woman who gave birth to a monkfish instead of a child and paraded it around on tabloid news shows. While the story was obviously a hoax, the seed of his film was there. Set in the garbage heap slums in Manila, middle aged couple Miguel and Lina move into a small shack and begin working as garbage sifters. When Lina finds herself pregnant, the two are overjoyed and make plans for the future. Unfortunately these plans are derailed when her child is born a fish. The struggle between faith and love comes to a climax in this film, as Lina's husband, who didn't witness the birth, does not believe her story and their once strong relationship begins to drift. The film has a very careful tone, it is never mocking or laughing at Lina, and gives the film a freshness that sticks with you. (DD)

NOT RECOMMENDED

GOD BLESS AMERICA (Friday September 16th, 6:30pm, AMC 7)
Director Bobcat Goldthwait's manifesto against contemporary American TV culture is one part scathing criticism, and one part bloody mess. His every-man is Frank (Joel Murray) a middle-aged office worker who has daily struggles with his consumerist child, vapid co-workers and dead-beat neighbours. After a particularly bad week, Frank snaps and decides to murder a reality show star for the betterment of America, and somehow attracts up a young, sociopathic and hateful teenager along the way. The first half of the film is much like other anti-status-quo films we've seen before (Office Space for example), with multiple montages of advertisements and tv spoofs, but the second half of the film veers into melodrama, stops being funny, and the message begins to fail. For a final verdict I'm torn, I agree with Bobcat on so many levels and I want the best parts of this film to get out there, but I dislike being preached to, especially when it's been done more skillfully before. (DD)

THE INCIDENT (Friday September 16th, 3:15pm, Scotiabank 3 & Sunday September 18th, 9:45pm, Scotiabank 2)
My only walk-out of the festival was unfortunately one that appeared promising, but after 70 minutes I decided that nothing could happen to alter my opinions toward this film. The incident in The Incident is a power outage that throws an asylum for the criminally insane into chaos once the inmates take advantage of the situation to maim and torture the staff. A story like that could be paced and maximized for extra thrills, but with a small lead cast we're left waiting and WAITING for 60 minutes for action and then our 'reward' is a grisly and almost offensive and stupid onslaught of torture porn. There was nothing fun or shocking about the violence, it was typical and gratuitous. The film has absolutely no idea how to properly keep an audience invested in the situation at hand or give us that glimmer of hope. My walkout point was when it became clear that female background characters with no names or lines, were only bait for rape. (DD)

With contributions from Danielle D'Ornellas (DD) and Julian Carrington (JC)

A big thanks to Drive, an Alliance film opening in theatres on September 16th, for sponsoring our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

Still from Sleepless Night


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