TIFF

The Past

“I’m nobody in this story.” By the time Ahmed (Ali Mosaffa, consistently solid throughout the film) utters that comment halfway through Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, it’s far too late in the narrative and too deep into the story to hold much water. After all, Ahmed is not a nobody in the A Separation director’s latest tale of domestic disruptions, and neither is the woman who lies in a coma many miles away, or the man who has started a new life somewhere in Brussels, or any number of other nameless participants in the film’s various characters’ pasts that we never meet. It’s called The Past for a reason, not The Future or The Present, but it might as well be called The Past People in Our Lives We Can’t Forget and Move Away From and This is The Result of All of That Stuff. It’s certainly not as snappy, however. While the basic plotline of The Past sounds salacious – a man returns after many years to divorce a wife who already has a new husband lined up and he discovers many secrets along the way – it’s surprisingly tame in execution. The film could easily be tailored to fit the needs of an American studio, with Ahmed starring as the out-of-town-ex who transforms a mixed family with his charm, level thinking, and delicious cooking (think Uncle Buck with more complicated relationships). At least, that’s what happens for the first half of the movie, with Ahmed playing unexpected peacekeeper between […]

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Labor Day

Toronto: land of prestige films, poutine, and Oscar buzz. At least, that’s what happens every September during the Toronto International Film Festival (poutine is, of course, available year-round). With the festival kicking off later this week, we thought it prudent (and let’s be honest, sort of necessary and obvious) to run through the list of our most anticipated titles set to screen at TIFF. It’s a hell of a list, mainly because unlike so many other film festivals, a large number of the films set to screen at TIFF are already kitted out with their own (upcoming!) wide release date. This isn’t Sundance, where you can wait two years for a film that was beloved at the festival to come to a town near you. (Though, this is TIFF, where you can wait seven years for a film that was beloved at the festival to come to a town near you – looking at you, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane!) In any case, there are dozens upon dozens of films screening at TIFF (many of which sound alike), but only one dozen that we’ve deemed our Most Anticipated of the festival. Which one will be the breakout hit? Which one will pull in all the awards? Which one will you get to see in seven years? Let’s find out.

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TIFF

It happens at every film festival, and this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is no different – a string of titles are announced that sound almost laughably similar, either thanks to their actual titles (there’s a film called October November and one called September? Are you kidding me here?) or their overriding themes (no, you didn’t imagine that there are two films about regular dudes who discover creepy doppelgangers that are also both based on novels at this year’s festival). How will you ever unravel such strange mysteries? As a public service, we’ve compiled a guide to some of the most confusingly similar films at this year’s TIFF. Who’s going to be the first person to forget that Paradise is a standalone and Paradise: Hope is part of a trilogy? Not you! After the break, learn to tell the difference between Bastardo and Bastards, find out just who Joe and Belle and Therese and Violette are, unravel the mystery of dueling doppelganger-centric features, and find out if Love is the Perfect Crime has anything to say about Life of Crime (hint: it doesn’t).

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PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

Note: Andrew Robinson’s review originally ran during TIFF 2012, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Derek Cianfrance‘s The Place Beyond the Pines is broken up into three chapters. We open with Luke (Ryan Gosling) coming back into town with the circus and finding out that he has a son. He decides to stick around, but since he’s unable to make a living to support his family, he begins robbing banks using his skills as a professional motor bike rider. The narrative is then handed over to Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a police officer heading into politics and struggling with family matters. The film takes its time in making sure that we get a good grasp on each character as there’s very little overlap in screen time between each. The reckless rise of Gosling’s bank robbing spree and the troubled rise of Cooper’s political/social standing in the world parallel one another beautifully. What the film truly discusses is what someone is willing to do selflessly for others. While, morally, Cooper and Gosling’s acts are complete opposites of each other, their motivations start out in the same place, the intention to provide for their family. Luke’s robbing banks was never about himself; he never wants to take credit for them, reflecting his clear shame. Cross’s actions are one of motivations head-butting his own desires, even at the expense of his son’s affection.

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If you’re looking to make a talking heads movie that’s able to create big drama using little more than simple dialogue scenes, then populating your cast of characters with a bunch of sensitive, insecure creative types is probably a good strategy. And it’s exactly the strategy that first time writer-director Josh Boone has used for his debut picture, Writers. The film focuses on an unusual family that includes a critically acclaimed author (Greg Kinnear) as its patriarch, a daughter (Lily Collins) who has just published her first work, a teenaged son (Nat Wolff) who is developing his craft through journal writing, and a mother (Jennifer Connelly) who has been excommunicated from the family, probably because the guy she left the father for doesn’t have an impressive enough personal library. Each character has a struggle to go through. Kinnear hasn’t been able to get through the dissolution of his marriage, and he has found himself in a slump of depression that has not only affected his work but also turned him into the sort of creepy weirdo who hides in his ex’s bushes and peers through her windows. Collins, still processing the loss of innocence she experienced due to the infidelity in her parents’ marriage, has built a wall of acting out and defensiveness between herself and the rest of the world and may be in danger of becoming permanently bitter. Wolff is dealing with the pitfalls of being a sensitive young man in a world where thoughtlessness is a more […]

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The bad thing about The Exorcist is that it has been so influential that we’re coming up on 40 years since its release and still we’re getting a handful of cheap knockoffs released in theaters every year. From The Devil Inside, to The Rite, to The Last Exorcism, to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, demonic possession movie after demonic possession movie is made with the same plot, the same characters, and the same tone. And every time you watch the whole thing play out, it manages to hit with slightly less impact than it did the time before. It was with great enthusiasm, then, that I watched J.T. Petty’s (The Burrowers) latest film, Hellbenders, which is finally, finally an exorcism movie that’s nothing like all of the other exorcism movies that have come before. There are no creepy little girls and wise but weary priests here. Instead, Hellbenders populates itself with foul-mouthed, hard-partying priests who seem to be more comfortable sinning than they do going to Sunday mass. You see, the conceit is this: in order for a priest who deals in exorcism to be ready to take a demon into his body and escort it to hell — by offing himself — he must always have enough sin wracked up to actually be worthy of going to the place. So, the merry band of miscreants that this film follows have checklists to make sure that they’re on top of their sinning. They curse, they steal, they blaspheme, they engage in […]

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Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a collector for a loan shark. He cripples his non-paying clients in order to collect the insurance money. One day a woman, played by Cho Min-soo, appears claiming to be his mother who abandoned him as a child. This discovery leads Kang-do down a path which includes reconsidering his line of work and his viewpoint on life in general. Kim Ki-duk‘s Pieta plays wonderfully into an ever-growing subgenre of South-Korean revenge films (including I Saw the Devil, Oldboy and The Man From Nowhere). Here we’re able to enjoy a very slow burning plot as it’s broken into two separate sections. The first being where Kang-do is the collector who breaks limbs to reconcile debts, the next being where he’s a love drowned character, adoring his mother in an almost childlike state. As the film turns to that second half the reveal leads to interesting ideas of what one will do both for revenge and for love. We see characters endure in the face of despair as Kang-do’s mother goes missing and he goes hunting, believing this to be the work of one of his crippled former clients.

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Silver Linings Playbook

In a word – no. Over the weekend, the Toronto International Film Festival wrapped up and, like the end of all good things, the festival closed out with the bestowing of awards to various films. Winners included Artifact, Seven Psychopaths, Laurence Anyways, Keep a Modest Head, Antiviral, Blackbird, Call Girl, In the House, and the big winner – David O. Russell‘s Silver Linings Playbook. The Bradley Cooper- and Jennifer Lawrence-starring film won the BlackBerry People’s Choice Award, which is generally considered to be TIFF’s most important award and an indication of a film’s chances at a Best Picture nomination come Oscar time. As Wikipedia tells it, “Given that the festival lacks a jury and is non-competitive, regular awards handed out at other festivals for categories such as ‘Best Actress’ or ‘Best Film’ do not exist at the Toronto International Film Festival. The major prize, the People’s Choice Award, is given to a feature-length film with the highest ratings as voted by the festival-going populace.” Plenty of stories on the film’s win have noted that this all but guarantees that Silver Linings will end up with Oscar nominations, particularly a Best Picture nod. And why is that? Over the past five years, two People’s Choice winners have gone on to win Best Picture (The King’s Speech and Slumdog Millionaire) and one film picked up a nomination in the same category (Precious). Good odds, right? Well, maybe not so much.

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“Movie House of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week we look at a currently relevant but always excellent movie house in Canada. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.  Name: TIFF Bell Lightbox Location: 350 King Street West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada Opened: September 12, 2010, as the official hub and screening venue for the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the home for TIFF programming and events throughout the year. The theater is located in and part of a newly constructed complex. No. of screens: 5 Current first run titles: For the past ten days, the 2012 festival has naturally monopolized the theater’s screens, but starting Friday, September 21st, there is Beasts of the Southern Wild, Tabu and the new Canadian releases Laurence Anyways and Rebelle.

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Ben Wheatley‘s Sightseers is the ultimate dark comedy. It puts the most audacious visuals in front of you and dares you not to laugh at them. In the film, Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) take a week out caravanning across the English country-side. Little does she know, he’s a murdering psychopath with a short temper. Eventually, the two are traveling from one landmark to another killing anyone who pisses them off. Earlier this year, Bobcat Goldthwait similar God Bless America received a lukewarm response from critics. This feels like a less overbearing version of that film. While most instances of violence come from things that aggravate our protagonists, the murder spree doesn’t come out of some sense of entitlement. Chris and Tina kill just because they prefer that person dead, for their own gratification and to better enjoy their holiday. It’s not to improve the world around them. The film derives some great comedic moments from the bookends holding scenes together. Chris kills a man for telling him and Tina to clean up a piece of excrement, which is followed by them asking themselves, “Isn’t the country lovely?” The film revels in how easily Tina and Chris can justify their murders and brush them off as a part of their holiday.

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Matteo Garrone‘s new film, Reality, opens with a horse-drawn carriage, looking like it’s from the Victorian era, heading down a busy street filled with cars. As we zoom in closer and closer, the fantastical is highlighted more and more. It becomes pretty obvious that the film will wow us in a way not many others can, by presenting something that we just can’t believe is real. Luciano (Aniello Arena) is very much a larger-than-life character. After much pushing and prodding from his children, he tests to be on Grande Fratello, the Italian version of Big Brother. After performing so well, Luciano is certain — as is the entire town – that he will be called up to be on the show. The film follows his descent into madness as he waits for the call. An aspect of the world we live in that’s always ripe for discussion is the concept of celebrity. What is a celebrity? What do you have to do to become one? Would you want to be one? These are questions the audience asks while watching this film. Luciano never showed much interest in being on TV prior to his children’s suggestion, but when he gets a hint that it might happen, his fixation on being prepared for it causes his vanity and paranoia to get the better of him. We see Luciano become a celebrity in his own town, first for the potential of being on TV and then eventually for losing his mind.

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When you live in small-town Middle America, it seems that you have only three options. You farm, you drive a race car, or you leave. Ramin Bahrani (Man Push Cart; Chop Shop; Goodbye Solo) is a filmmaker who tends to look at immigrants in America who are trying to find a livelihood away from home. With his new film, At Any Price, he takes a closer look at the struggles of Middle America and how the shift in business models over the generations threatens the very fabric and moral pride of the people. Due to the bigger demand for more-focused growing, it’s become impossible for small farmers to survive on their own. As a result, these people become either antiquated and bankrupt or form progressive, self-made conglomerates. We then see the effect of corporate America and ask, “Is this great for the economy? The man? Both? Neither?” In At Any Price we see Henry Whipple (Dennis Quaid) as the farmer trying to be as progressive as possible. One of his first scenes puts him at another farmer’s funeral, offering to purchase land from the man’s bereaved son. Henry’s passion is his farm. He wants to make it into an even better business than he received from his father, so that he can then hand it off to his son. The problem is that he’s made some morally questionable decisions in the process of seeking to resolve his ambitions. And these decisions eventually come back to haunt him.

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Another week has gone by, but you can do a bit of time travel (Rian Johnson told us all how) by checking out some of our content you might have missed over the past seven days. Sift through our 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) coverage. Or, maybe you’re nostalgic and want to revisit Kate’s comments about feral children just like old times. Perhaps you just remembered you wanted to respond to Nathan’s post on how unfunny Ferris Bueller is. Whatever your reason, hop in and take a little trip with me. First stop, a very hot button piece on the huge story of the week, which wasn’t necessarily about movies: Addressing the controversy amidst the tragedy in Libya this week, Cole wrote at length and with great necessity on the importance of not blaming, let alone condemning, the movie Innocence of Muslims. As a matter of our First Amendment rights in the U.S.: “There are dozens of complex elements to consider here – personal loss, geopolitical cooperation, religious interests, local political posturing, Presidential responses – but certainly free speech is among them, and every once in a while (normally when something large and terrible occurs), it’s important to remind ourselves that we have to protect that protection even as we seek justice against the real crimes.”  

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Makinov

There are a lot of professions out there that might require a person to wear a mask: welder, murderer, Mexican professional wrestler. But one job that we don’t often think of as being held by hooded weirdos is film director. A mysterious figure from Belarus known only as Makinov is looking to change all of that, however. Despite the fact that Makinov appears in public only while wearing a creepy red bag over his head, and despite the fact that nobody really has any idea who he is, he was somehow able to make a horror movie called Come Out and Play and get it shown at TIFF. According to the festival’s synopsis, Come Out and Play is a movie about a young couple (Vinessa Shaw and Ebon Moss-Bachrach) looking to vacation on a beautiful island off the coast of Mexico. Unfortunately, things take a tragic turn when they discover that the island is populated solely by creepy children who want to murder them. Ain’t that always the easiest way to ruin a vacation?

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TIFF Review Smashed

Smashed takes a look at alcoholism through the eyes of a married couple, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), who should so happen to both be alcoholics. Their relationship is completely based on their shared love of a bottle of beer, wine, whiskey, tequila, and such other recipes for liver disease. After an incident at her job (elementary school teacher, oops), Kate decides to try getting sober, which proves to not only be a massive personal undertaking, but one that puts a huge strain on her marriage. Smashed quickly proves that Kate’s alcoholism, while not good for her, is exactly what makes her relationship with Charlie seem great. Before we reach the point where it’s clearly more than a just little problem and the audience is ready to call for their own intervention, the scenes of Paul and Winstead together on screen (while obviously self-destructive) are fantastic to watch. We see the couple doing such mundane things as playing croquet and riding their bikes, but these scenes are so beautiful that we really get a sense of their connection. 

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Dredd 3D

“Judge Dredd” started as a comic book series in 1977 and eventually became so long-lived and popular that it spawned a really bad film adaptation in 1995. Get that movie out of your head now – pretend like it never happened – because Dredd 3D is a completely new take on the character; one the values hard-hitting action over comic book camp, one that has no interest in wacky side kicks or studio mandated love interests. The story is simple: in the far future, humanity has started living in gigantic city-states the size of small countries that are densely populated and densely developed. What with so many people being piled on top of one another, poverty has run rampant, crime is ubiquitous, and street gangs rule the day. The only line of defense between innocent people and complete chaos are the Street Judges, a group of dangerous and highly trained operatives who prowl the streets on their big motorcycles while carrying their big guns, acting as judge, jury, and executioner all in one. Our story centers on a Judge who goes by the name of Dredd; he’s pretty much the most badass one.

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In Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami explored two people casually discussing their lives, revealing a surprising amount of information about themselves. The same format is taken here as Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a working girl who’s studying in Japan, is sent on an engagement with Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), a former professor. The film begins in a bar with Akiko off screen on the phone talking to her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who’s concerned and curious about what’s going on with her. Slowly we see Hikoshi step into the picture, her booker, who spends the next ten minutes talking her into taking the engagement.

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We all love Monty Python (if you don’t, just pretend you know what I’m talking about and keep going). And by that standard, anything with the name in the title must be gloriously brilliant. It’s going to break comedic ground by its ability to comment on the highest level of societal discussion. At the same time, it’s going to be the silliest piece of nonsense you’ve ever found yourself gut-splitting, on the floor, laughing at — while crying, as well. A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, however, is not a Monty Python film. It is an act of self-indulgent nostalgia by a group of men who love their colleague. In 1986, three years before his death from cancer, Graham Chapman decided to conduct an experiment by taping an audio book that would serve as a fictional telling of his life. It seems that filmmakers Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett got ahold of these tapes and thought it would be a grand idea to rally a few of the Python gang together to fill in some gaps and turn it into this odd animated feature.

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Seven Psychopaths

A film begins with its script. So when a screenwriter is poised with creating a script for a film entitled Seven Psychopaths and is unable to get past page one (for various reasons), it’s obvious we have a conundrum on our hands. Marty (Colin Farrell) has found himself, drunk more times than not, staring at a blank notepad still trying to figure out who the seven psychopaths are. As the story goes on, he encounters a series of psychopaths all surrounding a dog kidnapping scheme that Hans (Christopher Walken) and Billy (Sam Rockwell) are running. Billy has picked up a Shih Tzu dog that happens to belong to Charlie (Woody Harrelson), who happens to be a raving psychopath who heads up some sort of mob or something. While this film sets itself up (marketing-wise) as a crazy comedy about this slew of characters, it really isn’t. It’s more about the process of writing, with a lot of blood and guts involved. The film enjoys the use of shocking comedic violence in a way that allows its characters to get a laugh through their situations and reactions more than just through their catchy one-liners. There are some jokes in this movie that are so deeply embedded in character reveals that it’s made for multiple viewings.

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TIFF 2012 Header

Editor’s Note: We’ve asked a Jamaican to go to Canada to cover the movies of TIFF 2012. Andrew Robinson, whose work you can check out over at his blog, has obliged and will be filling us all in on the antics in the Great White North. Here’s his first missive. Any day now I’ll be on a plane heading to Toronto for the very first time in order to attend a film festival for the very first time. I’ve been excited to attend the Toronto International Film Festival (affectionately known as TIFF) for the past three years, and now it’s finally happening. Before we dive into this list, which honestly cannot do the festival’s amazing looking lineup any justice, I will give a couple caveats. It’s based on my confirmed schedule, and therefore two films which I’m genuinely excited for but will not be able to see (Rian Johnson’s Looper and Michael Haneke’s Amour) are not on it; it’s also in no sort of ordered preference. So with that out of the way and with all the excitement being thrown around, let’s take a quick look at the films that I’m most excited for:

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