September 16, 2014

2014 Toronto International Film Festival Capsule Review Round-Up

Here it is, devoted visitors of the Cinema Hut: my master list of capsule reviews from the just-completed 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, or TIFF as its friends call it. Clip ‘n’ save for future reference as these continue to roll their way through the film festival circuit.  Although I mostly pick titles without distribution in place as of the printing of the program book, many were picked up in the course of the event and will be rolling out to select theaters over the next year or so.  Then they’ll roll out to disc and VOD, then premium cable, and finally streaming services like Netflix. Titles from last year’s fest are now starting to pop up on Netflix, for example, so if you check out my list from then you’ll find stuff available to watch right away.

As always, I’ve arranged these in rough order of preference, which will probably change as certain films rise in my memory and others fade. Gradations within a header are slight.

Overall it was a very strong year. We’re hoping we won’t be, but if we do wind up priced out of the festival in future this was a good one to treat as a last hurrah. Never had I had so many contenders for the coveted third slot in my best of fest category. Any other year, it could have easily been taken by A Girl at My Door, The Golden Era, The World of Kanako, or They Have Escaped.

The Best

Fires on the Plain [Japan, Shinya Tsukamoto] in the dying days of WWII, Japanese soldiers stuck on the island of Leyte go to desperate lengths to survive. Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: Iron Man, Tokyo Fist) turns his career-long obsession with mental disintegration and brutal body transformation away from genre freak-out to the ultimate real world horror.

Partners in Crime [Taiwan, Chang Jung-chi] Trio of high schoolers who meet while discovering a schoolmate's body decide to investigate the reasons for her apparent suicide. Teenage paranoia thriller scores the trifecta: gripping, fresh, and always real.

Not My Type [Belgium, Lucas Belvaux] Unlikely love sparks between handsome Parisian philosopher and fun-loving small-town hairdresser. Deceptively simple romantic drama which becomes surprisingly suspenseful--because you're waiting for him to make the horrible mistake that ruins everything.

Recommended

A Girl at My Door [South Korea, July Jung] Alcoholic cop (Boona Dae, Cloud Atlas) transferred to serve as chief of a backwater police force creates waves when she protects the abused child of the labor broker who keeps the town working. Emotionally complex, powerfully acted, simply told drama of crossed boundaries.

The Golden Era [China, Ann Hui] Biopic follows the work and tortured love life of pioneering woman writer Xiao Hong  against the chaos of the Chinese war years. By declining to dramatize events not directly attested to in first hand accounts, and through distancing devices like time jumps and direct address, this biography suggests the unknowability of its, or any other, life.

The World of Kanako [Japan, Tetsuya Nakashima] Deranged, brutal ex-cop (Koji Yakusho) searches for his missing daughter. Assaultive, megaviolent neo-noir furiously upends the genre's moral expectations.

They Have Escaped [Finland, JP Valkeapää] Stutterer doing alternative military service as an attendant at a juvenile detention facility escapes with a cute punky inmate. Imagistic outlaw couple on the run movie initially plays like a gentler cover version of Badlands. And then it doesn't, and that's all I should say.

Tokyo Tribe [Japan, Sion Sono] All of Tokyo's cartoony gangs go to war when the lunatic evil ones lure the nice guy crew into a trap. Energetic insanity reigns in this martial arts manga adaptation hip hop musical.

The Dead Lands [New Zealand, Toa Fraser] When the enemies who slaughtered his tribe take a shortcut through accursed territory, a novice warrior seeks the aid of its resident   flesh-eating monster. Thrilling pre-contact action movie redolent with Maori mythology.

In Her Place [South Korea/Canada, Albert Shin] Well-off woman goes to the country to live with the family of the girl pregnant with the baby she has arranged to adopt, so she can pass it off as her biological child. Naturalistic social drama from first time director with the assurance to bring out the issues strictly through character behavior.

A Hard Day [South Korea, Kim Seong-hun] After he kills a man in a hit and run, on the night of his mother's funeral and an internal affairs raid on his detective squad, a cop goes to increasingly complex lengths to cover it up. Pulse-racing action-thriller with a wicked sense of humor.

The New Girlfriend [France, Francois Ozon] Woman discovers that her best friend's widow has taken to wearing her clothing. Sirkian drama for the age of gender multiplicity with standout performances from Romain Duris and Anais Demoustier.

The Grump [Finland, Dome Karukoski] Octogenarian potato farmer sows bullheaded havoc in the life and career of his daughter-in-law when he must go to Helsinki for physiotherapy. Lots of hilarity, just enough punching of the heartstrings.

Ned Rifle [US, Hal Hartley] On his 18th birthday a young man, aided by a fetching literary stalker (Aubrey Plaza), sets out to find and kill his father, who got his mother imprisoned for life on terrorism charges. Completes the decade-spanning trilogy that started with Henry Fool and Fay Grim with Hartley's trademark witty dialogue and underplayed delivery.

Over Your Dead Body [Japan, Takashi Miike] Love triangle between actors rehearsing a samurai ghost play mirrors their backstage lives. Stately contemplation of artifice and reality mixes experimental intentions with horror imagery.

Red Amnesia [China, Wang Xiaoshuai] Stubborn senior adjusting poorly to widowhood becomes the subject of a mysterious harassment campaign. Tells a suspenseful story with multiple turns in a completely naturalistic way.

The Face of an Angel [UK, Michael Winterbottom] Director goes off the rails in Siena after agreeing to make a true crime movie based on a tabloid frenzy murder case still wending its way through the Italian justice system. In this fictionalization of the process of fictionalizing the Amanda Knox case, Winterbottom weaves another of his moody, questioning anti-narratives.

Tokyo Fiancée [Belgium, Stefan Liberski] Young Belgian woman who wants to be Japanese moves to Tokyo and falls in love with a guy she's tutoring in French. Sweet, melancholy romance powered by the incredible charm of soulful, adorable lead actress Pauline Etienne.

Spring [US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead] Young Californian in Italy after the death of his mother falls for an alluring geneticist with an ancient, paranormal affliction. Reference points for this beguiling supernatural romance include Richard Linklater and Arthur Machen.

Haemoo [South Korea, Shim Sung-Bo] Desperate fishing boat captain agrees to take on a load of illegal immigrants. Nautical noir keeps on raising the stakes.

Scarlet Innocence [South Korea, Pil-Sung Yim] Caddish professor's affair with excitement-starved small town girl touches off a multi-year spiral of sexual obsession and vengeance. Ominous drama recasts a Korean fable in contemporary terms.

What We Do In the Shadows [New Zealand, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement] Vampire housemates face the stresses of life in modern Wellington, NZ. Hilarious deadpan mockumentary from the team that brought you Eagle vs. Shark.

Wet Bum [Canada, Lindsay McKay] Awkward 14 year old grapples with an attraction to her untrustworthy lifeguard instructor and gets to know residents of the retirement home where she has an after school cleaning job. Quiet, grounded coming of age drama shows a first time director in command of mood and image.

Alleluia [France, Fabrice Du Welz] Criminal career of con artist who specializes in lonely woman gets bloody when one of his victims won't let go of him. Intimate psychodrama with surreal touches transposes the Beck-Fernandez murders to modern France, as an amor fou with collateral damage.

Shrew's Nest [Spain, Juanfer Andrés & Esteban Roel] Agoraphobic seamstress imprisons virile injured neighbor in the small flat she shares with the younger sister she abusively represses. Suspenseful gothic thriller balances pathos and gory black humor.

Hill of Freedom [South Korea, Hong Sang-soo] Woman reads letters about the time a Japanese man spent waiting to find her--but she jumbles the pages, so the scenes play out of order. Sweet, funny meditation on time, language and longing.

Confession [South Korea, Lee-Do-yun] Two childhood friends bungle an arson scam, killing an accomplice, the mother of a third friend. Effective neo-noir about loyalty and betrayal.

Elephant Song [Canada, Charles Binamé] Stern psychiatrist (Bruce Greenwood) quizzes brilliant, game-playing mental patient (Xavier Dolan) on a colleague's disappearance. Acting duels nest within acting duels in this stage play adaptation.

Out of Nature [Norway, Ole Giæver] Disenchanted family man tries to sort out his thoughts with a weekend jogging trip into the mountains. Acerbic drama shows that if you want to heighten your midlife crisis, do it in the wilderness.

Cub [Belgium, Jonas Govaerts] Misunderstood Cub Scout realizes there's something sinister in the woods. Fast-moving horror flick lays booby traps for viewers expecting kid-friendly scares.

Itsi Bitsi [Denmark, Ole Christian Madsen] Young couple's commitment to their 60s odyssey derails their shot at love. Biopic  chronicles the life of a counterculture flame-out whose short-lived band remains iconic in Danish rock music.

Good

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 [HK, Johnnie To] Financier (Louis Koo) who lost out in a previous love triangle romances the boss of the woman he pines for. Glossy farce gives To lots of room to exercise his mastery of spatial relationships in a comic context.

Goodnight Mommy [Austria, Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala] Dread ensues when twin boys become convinced that the cold, bandaged woman freshly returned from plastic surgery is not really their mom. Drolly alarming neo-Kubrickian modern gothic.

Big Game [Finland, Jalmari Helander] 13 year old in the mountains on his rite of passage hunt protects the President (Samuel L. Jackson), whose plane has been downed by assassins. The director and young star of Rare Exports reteam for a crowd-pleasing entry in the endangered POTUS sub-genre.

Bang Bang Baby [Canada, Jeffrey St. Jules] Girl who dreams of singing stardom thrills when car troubles trap an Elvis-like star in her nowhere town, unaware of the mutagenic disaster about to issue from its purple mist plant. Mixes the streams of Canadian film with leaving home theme, stylized irony, and Cronenberg body horror.

Eden [France, Mia Hansen-Løve] DJ extends his adolescence into his thirties as the Parisian garage scene rises and falls. Impressionistic storytelling more interested in evoking experience than heightening it into drama.

Don't Breathe [Georgia, Nino Kirtadzé] Energy company middle manager, his friends and family wildly overreact to his bursitis diagnosis. Naturalistic drama with comedic touches explores the Eastern European appetite for doom.

Okay

A Second Chance [Denmark, Suzanne Bier] When his infant son dies. A compassionate cop (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) swaps the body for the living child of a junkie couple. Compellingly acted and directed, but the script has to expend a lot of effort making its premise seem believable.

Two Shots Fired [Argentina, Martin Rejtman] A teenager failed attempt to shoot himself to death is just the first in a string of miscommunications involving an ever-widening circle of characters. Ultra-deadpan absurdist comedy could do with some kind of new angle on the director's signature style.

Where I am King [Philippines, Carlos Siguion-Reyna] Tycoon on the skids moves with his young adult grandchildren into a tenement he owns in the slum he was raised in. Life lessons abound in this amiable melodrama.

Not Recommended

Princess of France [Argentina, Matías Piñeiro] Director of a radio production of Love's Labours Lost mentally remixes the cast's romantic miscommunications with various permutations of participant and outcome. Attractive actors perform a hermetically sealed experiment in deconstruction.

Revenge of the Green Dragons [HK, Andrew Lau & Andrew Loo] Young man recounts his experiences as member of a notorious Queens, NYC, Asian crime syndicate. If you're going to invite comparisons to Goodfellas (including a role for Ray Liotta) and the dialogue and narration aren't as insanely brilliant as Nicholas Pileggi's, you are not ready to start shooting yet.

The Judge [US, David Dobkin] Cynical hotshot defense attorney (Robert Downey Jr) takes on the case of his life when he must defend his uncompromising estranged father, (Robert Duvall) a small town judge, from a vehicular homicide charge. Magnetic actors fully commit to a sometime sharp, more often ridiculous script, packed with enough stock melodramatic situations to fill seven movies.

The Worst

Kabukicho Love Hotel [Japan, Ryuichi Hiroki] 24 hours in the life of a red light district sex hotel. Script for this ensemble drama includes such hallmarks of bullshit writing as heavy reliance on coincidence, characters spouting their backstories at each other, and cheap invocations of recent disasters.

Waste Land [Belgium, Pieter van Hees] To convince his wife to take her pregnancy to term, unstable homicide detective (Jeremie Renier) promises to quit--as soon as he closes a case involving Congolese artifact smuggling. Filmmakers have no idea how to construct a cop thriller--which they seem to realize partway through, throwing up their hands and heading off to crazytown.  

September 15, 2014

TIFF Sun Sept 14: Kiwi vampires, Korean boat noir, Korean cop noir and tabloid murder

When working out my schedule I start with the final day, to make sure it's as stacked as possible with sure bets, easier watches and fun titles. Let's see how well I did this time.

The Face of an Angel [UK, Michael Winterbottom, 4] Director goes off the rails in Siena after agreeing to make a true crime movie based on a tabloid frenzy murder case still wending its way through the Italian justice system. In this fictionalization of the process of fictionalizing the Amanda Knox case, Winterbottom weaves another of his moody, questioning anti-narratives.

Haemoo [South Korea, Shim Sung-Bo, 4] Desperate fishing boat captain agrees to take on a load of illegal immigrants. Nautical noir keeps on raising the stakes.

What We Do In the Shadows [New Zealand, Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement, 4] Vampire housemates face the stresses of life in modern Wellington, NZ. Hilarious deadpan mockumentary from the team that brought you Eagle vs. Shark.

By the last day most of the filmmakers have gone home and Q&As become thin on the ground. But Clement was there, fresh from seeing a bunch of other Midnight Madness titles, and like a trouper did his Q&A without breaking the documentary conceit. Only one audience member failed to "yes and" him.

This won the Midnight Madness Peoples' Choice Award.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 [HK, Johnnie To, 3.5] Financier (Louis Koo) who lost out in a previous love triangle romances the boss of the woman he pines for. Glossy farce gives To lots of room to exercise his mastery of spatial relationships in a comic context.

Ending is either a letdown or a setup for a third installment. If B, also A.

A Hard Day [South Korea, Kim Seong-hun, 4] After he kills a man in a hit and run, on the night of his mother's funeral and an internal affairs raid on his detective squad, a cop goes to increasingly complex lengths to cover it up. Pulse-racing action-thriller with a wicked sense of humor.

And that's it for another year--all over but the sleeping. And laundry. And more sleeping.
Somewhere in between those key activities I'll compile my full capsule review list in handy reference format, for posting tomorrow.

Until then, did I mention sleep?

September 14, 2014

TIFF Sat Sept 13: Scams gone awry, a President downed, mysterious calls and bear rug nookie

Finland is a nation of only 5 million people, but today they comprise 50% of my festival-going. Figure that out, statisticians!

Confession [South Korea, Lee-Do-yun, 4] Two childhood friends bungle an arson scam, killing an accomplice, the mother of a third friend. Effective neo-noir about loyalty and betrayal.

Big Game [Finland, Jalmari Helander, 3.5] 13 year old in the mountains on his rite of passage hunt protects the President (Samuel L. Jackson), whose plane has been downed by assassins. The director and young star of Rare Exports reteam for a crowd-pleasing entry in the endangered POTUS sub-genre.

The filmmakers weren't angling for someone of Jackson's stature; he got ahold of the script and approached them. When he signed on they realized they had to add a "motherfucker" to the dialogue. Now that they've been picked up for North American distribution and want a PG-13, they have to figure out what to do with it.

Red Amnesia [China, Wang Xiaoshuai, 4] Stubborn senior adjusting poorly to widowhood becomes the subject of a mysterious harassment campaign. Tells a suspenseful story with multiple turns in a completely naturalistic way.

In its themes and I emphatic treatment of what would otherwise be thriller material, this recalls last year's Trap Street. (Which was not quite as satisfying as this one.) Another example and it officially becomes a sub-genre.

They Have Escaped [Finland, JP Valkeapää, 4] Stutterer doing alternative military service as an attendant at a juvenile detention facility escapes with a cute punky inmate. Imagistic outlaw couple on the run movie initially plays like a gentler cover version of Badlands. And then it doesn't, and that's all I should say.

September 13, 2014

TIFF Fri Sept 12: Teen paranoia, neo-gothic kids, and fragile love

Titles I'm not seeing at TIFF that seem to be getting buzz: Force Majeure, Nightcrawler, The Theory of Everything, Tusk.

Partners in Crime [Taiwan, Chang Jung-chi, 5] Trio of high schoolers who meet while discovering a schoolmate's body decide to investigate the reasons for her apparent suicide. Teenage paranoia thriller scores the trifecta: gripping, fresh, and always real.

It's great to see a young filmmaker from Taiwan, best known for languid naturalism, grab hold of the full range of narrative tools: music, editing, camera movement.

Goodnight Mommy [Austria, Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala, 3.5] Dread ensues when twin boys become convinced that the cold, bandaged woman freshly returned from plastic surgery is not really their mom. Drolly alarming neo-Kubrickian modern gothic.

This was looking like a 4.5 for most of its runtime but then SPOILERS.

There are several directing pairs who are brothers. This is my first time hearing of an aunt-nephew team.

Where I am King [Philippines, Carlos Siguion-Reyna, 3] Tycoon on the skids moves with his young adult grandchildren into a tenement he owns in the slum he was raised in. Life lessons abound in this amiable melodrama.

This is Siguion-Reyna's first film in over a decade. I'll admit I was hoping for the satirical bite of his great 80s work, like Harvest Home.

Not My Type [Belgium, Lucas Belvaux, 4] Unlikely love sparks between handsome Parisian philosopher and fun-loving small-town hairdresser. Deceptively simple romantic drama which becomes surprisingly suspenseful--because you're waiting for him to make the horrible mistake that ruins everything.

September 12, 2014

TIFF Thurs Sept 11: Woodland horror, theatrical ghosts and lonelyhearts murders


After a day of relatively sober fare it's time to dive again into the roiling waters of genre.

Revenge of the Green Dragons [HK, Andrew Lau & Andrew Loo, 2] Young man recounts his experiences as member of a notorious Queens, NYC, Asian crime syndicate. If you're going to invite comparisons to Goodfellas (including a role for Ray Liotta) and the dialogue and narration aren't as insanely brilliant as Nicholas Pileggi's, you are not ready to start shooting yet.

Also, if you have what you think is a great line of serious dialogue and it has the phrase "American dream" in it, delete it forthwith.

Exec produced by Martin Scorsese, who remade Lau’s Infernal Affairs as The Departed.

Alleluia [Belgium, Fabrice Du Welz, 4] Criminal career of con artist who specializes in lonely woman gets bloody when one of his victims won't let go of him. Intimate psychodrama with surreal touches transposes the Beck-Fernandez murders to modern France, as an amor fou with collateral damage.

The same case forms the basis of previous films The Honeymoon Killers and Deep Crimson.

Over Your Dead Body [Japan, Takashi Miike, 4] Love triangle between actors rehearsing a samurai ghost play mirrors their backstage lives. Stately contemplation of artifice and reality mixes experimental intentions with horror imagery.

Cub [Belgium, Jonas Govaerts, 4] Misunderstood Cub Scout realizes there's something sinister in the woods. Fast-moving horror flick lays booby traps for viewers expecting kid-friendly scares.

It's Flemish, so the bad guys are French.

This week I have learned that "loser" is a loan word in both Mandarin and Flemish.

I have programmed a surprising number of Belgian films and from this have learned that there are no bright colors there.



September 11, 2014

TIFF Wed Sept 10: Jumbled missives, a missing psychotherapist and the shame of a damp bathing suit


Past the midway point now. Audience members showing signs of being tired and cranky and needing to be put down for a nap.

A Second Chance [Denmark, Suzanne Bier, 3] When his infant son dies. A compassionate cop (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) swaps the body for the living child of a junkie couple. Compelling acted and directed, but the script has to expend a lot of effort making its premise seem believable.

Impressive cast includes all the great male Danish actors who aren't Mads Mikkelsen.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is such a dedicated actor that he regrew his hand for the role.

Wet Bum [Canada, Lindsay McKay, 4] Awkward 14 year old grapples with an attraction to her untrustworthy lifeguard instructor and gets to know residents of the retirement home where she has an after school cleaning job. Quiet, grounded coming of age drama shows a first time director in command of mood and image.

Hill of Freedom [South Korea, Hong Sang-soo, 4] Woman reads letters about the time a Japanese man spent waiting to find her--but she jumbles the pages, so the scenes play out of order. Sweet, funny meditation on time, language and longing.

Elephant Song [Canada, Charles Binamé, 4] Stern psychiatrist (Bruce Greenwood) quizzes brilliant, game-playing mental patient (Xavier Dolan) on a colleague's disappearance. Acting duels nest within acting duels in this stage play adaptation.

If this movie gets seen it will mean big acting opportunities for Dolan, until now known for appearances in French in highly praised films he directs himself.

Co-star Catherine Keener was there to help intro the film. I know you all depend on me for fashion writing, so I'll describe her dress as black, sparkly and triangular.

Today reminds us that an umbrella is a key component of a well-packed festival bag--with a plastic bag to put it in, of course. Though directors find it very moving when they see festgoers lined up in the rain waiting to get into their movies, so there you go.

The Golden Era [China, Ann Hui, 4.5] Biopic follows the work and tortured love life of pioneering woman writer Xiao Hong  against the chaos of the Chinese war years. By declining to dramatize events not directly attested to in first hand accounts, and through distancing devices like time jumps and direct address, this biography suggests the unknowability of its, or any other, life.

Someone with a frame of reference for all the writers featured in this biopic might react to it quite differently. It's like reviewing a Hemingway movie without having heard of him before.

Upgraded half a star since original posting.

The Birds: Creep

Creeps

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September 10, 2014

TIFF Tues Sept 9: Hardboiled Hyper-Violence, Adorable in Tokyo, Wartime Horror Revisited and Aubrey Plaza in Lingerie


Today is a day of fave directors delivering the goods, plus a new star rises in a film by a first time director.

World of Kanako [Japan, Tetsuya Nakashima, 4.5] Deranged, brutal ex-cop (Koji Yakusho) searches for his missing daughter. Assaultive, megaviolent neo-noir furiously upends the genre's moral expectations.

Ned Rifle [US, Hal Hartley, 4] On his 18th birthday a young man, aided by a fetching literary stalker (Aubrey Plaza), sets out to find and kill his father, who got his mother imprisoned for life on terrorism charges. Completes the decade-spanning trilogy that started with Henry Fool and Fay Grim with Hartley's trademark witty dialogue and underplayed delivery.

Where the first one was novelistic in scope, the second paced like a screwball comedy, this one is spare and stripped down.

If you have a screen crush on Aubrey Plaza this film will do nothing to disabuse of it.

Tokyo Fiancee [Belgium, Stefan Liberski, 4] Young Belgian woman who wants to be Japanese moves to Tokyo and falls in love with a guy she's tutoring in French. Sweet, melancholy romance powered by the incredible charm of soulful, adorable lead actress Pauline Etienne.

Fires on the Plain [Japan, Shinya Tsukamoto, 5] in the dying days of WWII, Japanese soldiers stuck on the island of Leyte go to desperate lengths to survive. Tsukamoto turns his career-long obsession with mental disintegration and brutal body transformation away from genre freak-out to the ultimate real world horror.

The source novel was also adapted in 1959 by master director Kon Ichikawa. It is a masterpiece of the classic Japanese studio era, just as this version is a masterwork of the Japanese extreme cinema tradition.

September 09, 2014

TIFF Mon Sept 8: Good cop, bad cop, mutagenic purple mist

Monday is when the weaker entries start to sneak in. Today's ratings looked like they were going to pull down the overall average. But then I ended on my favorite so far, so complaint would be churlish.

Don't Breathe [Georgia, Nino Kirtadzé, 3.5] Energy company middle manager, his friends and family wildly overreact to his bursitis diagnosis. Naturalistic drama with comedic touches explores the Eastern European appetite for doom.

Two Shots Fired [Argentina, Martin Rejtman, 3] A teenager failed attempt to shoot himself to death is just the first in a string of miscommunications involving an ever-widening circle of characters. Ultra-deadpan absurdist comedy could do with some kind of new angle on the director's signature style.

Waste Land [Belgium, Pieter van Hees, 1] To convince his wife to take her pregnancy to term, unstable homicide detective (Jeremie Renier) promises to quit--as soon as he closes a case involving Congolese artifact smuggling. Filmmakers have no idea how to construct a cop thriller--which they seem to realize partway through, throwing up their hands and veering off to crazytown.

This does however argue for a Jeremie Renier/Jeremy Renner buddy cop movie. They're both cops, but one of them is Jeremie Renier and the other is Jeremy Renner.

Bang Bang Baby [Canada, Jeffrey St. Jules, 3.5] Girl who dreams of singing stardom thrills when car troubles trap an Elvis-like star in her nowhere town, unaware of the mutagenic disaster about to issue from its purple mist plant. Mixes the streams of Canadian film with leaving home theme, stylized irony, and Cronenberg body horror.

Docked half a star for copping out at the end.

Musicals and quasi-musicals like this one are all over the fest this year. But I feel safe in predicting that this is the only film featuring a Peter Stormare musical number.

A Girl at My Door [South Korea, July Jung, 4.5] Alcoholic cop (Boona Dae, Cloud Atlas) transferred to serve as chief of a backwater police force creates waves when she protects the abused child of the labor broker who keeps the town working. Emotionally complex, powerfully acted, simply told drama of crossed boundaries.

September 08, 2014

TIFF Sun Sept 7: Free love, gender-adjusted love, hotel love, creature love, broken love

My Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival was all about love, love, love. With a monstrous transformation or two along the way.

Itsi Bitsi [Denmark, Ole Christian Madsen, 4] Young couple's commitment to their 60s odyssey derails their shot at love. Biopic  chronicles the life of a counterculture flame-out whose short-lived band remains iconic in Danish rock music.

Rise and fall of the 60s movies always face a dramatic irony issue--the audience  knows the characters are making terrible decisions way before they do.

The New Girlfriend [France, Francois Ozon, 4] Woman discovers that her best friend's widower has taken to wearing her clothing. Sirkian drama for the age of gender multiplicity with standout performances from Romain Duris and Anais Demoustier.

Based on a Ruth Rendell novel. Loosely I'm guessing.

Kabukicho Love Hotel [Japan, Ryuichi Hiroki, 1] 24 hours in the life of a red light district sex hotel. Script for this ensemble drama includes such hallmarks of bullshit writing as heavy reliance on coincidence, characters spouting their backstories at each other, and cheap invocations of recent disasters.

Spring [US, Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead, 4] Young Californian goes to Italy after the death of his mother, where he falls for an alluring woman with an ancient, paranormal affliction. Reference points for this beguiling supernatural romance include Richard Linklater and Arthur Machen.

Breakup Buddies [China, Ning Hao, 4] Crushed by his divorce, a stereo salesman lets his womanizing movie producer pal rope him into a road trip to get him back in the dating game. Sweet-natured road comedy shows what a crowdpleaser looks like in mainland China these days.

September 07, 2014

TIFF Sat Sept 6: Sex vengeance, Nordic malcontents and more


Day two of my Toronto International Film Festival capsule reviews. Are the typos because I was sleep-deprived, or writing on my phone? The answer may surprise you!

Scarlet Innocence [South Korea, Pil-Sung Yim, 4] Caddish professor's affair with excitement-starved small town girl touches off a multi-year spiral of sexual obsession and vengeance. Ominous drama recasts a Korean fable in contemporary terms.
Korean movie star Jung Woo-sung was there to introduce the film, to the squealed delight of local fans. Toronto's Korean community turns up in force for Korean movies, which always adds to the fun when actors appear.

In Her Place [South Korea/Canada, Albert Shin, 4] Well-off woman goes to the country to live with the family of the girl pregnant with the baby she has arranged to adopt, so she can pass it off as her biological child. Naturalistic social drama from first time director with the assurance to bring out the issues strictly through character behavior.

Though shot in Korea, the director is from Toronto. Hence the combination of Korean cultural detail with the classic Canadian social drama.

Princess of France [Argentina, Matías Piñeiro, 2.5] Director of a radio production of Love's Labours Lost mentally remixes the cast's romantic miscommunications with various permutations of participant and outcome. Attractive actors perform a hermetically sealed experiment in deconstruction.

Out of Nature [Norway, Ole Giæver, 4] Disenchanted family man tries to sort out his thoughts with a weekend jogging trip into the mountains. Acerbic drama shows that if you want to heighten your midlife crisis, do it in the wilderness.

The Grump [Finland, Dome Karukoski, 4] Octogenarian potato farmer sows bullheaded havoc in the life and career of his daughter-in-law when he must go to Helsinki for physiotherapy. Lots of hilarity, just enough punching of the heartstrings.

September 06, 2014

TIFF Fri Sept 5: Maori monster, Spanish gothic, manga madness


It's that time of year again. Time for capsule reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival. We're hoping this won't have to be our last hurrah at the fest, and that some price relief will come next year after a 27% increase on our package this time. But enough with the behind the scenes stuff for the moment. Let's talk movies.

The Judge [US, David Dobkin, 2] Cynical hotshot defense attorney (Robert Downey Jr) takes on the case of his life when he must defend his uncompromising estranged father, (Robert Duvall) a small town judge, from a vehicular homicide charge. Magnetic actors fully commit to a sometime sharp, more often ridiculous script, packed with enough stock melodramatic situations to fill seven movies.
 
This belongs on a top 10 list of surprisingly watchable terrible films. Makes extensive use of courtroom gasping.
 
The lead actors, including Dax Shepherd and Vera Farmiga, were there to introduce the screening. Downey choked up while introducing Duvall. Vincent D'onofrio was already bald for his role as Kingpin in the upcoming "Daredevil" show.

This one will be in theaters in a few weeks. Unusually for us, we saw it as a Gala presentation, with the red carpet foofarah and stars in attendance, thanks to the miracle of comped tickets. We saw this on Thursday, if you're following along in your schedules at home and have become temporally confused.

The Dead Lands [New Zealand, Toa Fraser, 4] When the enemies who slaughtered his tribe take a shortcut through accursed territory, a novice warrior seeks the aid of its resident   flesh-eating monster. Thrilling pre-contact action movie redolent with Maori mythology.

In Maori with English subtitles.

Shrew's Nest [Spain, Juanfer Andrés & Esteban Roel, 4] Agoraphobic seamstress imprisons virile injured neighbor in the small flat she shares with the younger sister she abusively represses. Suspenseful gothic thriller balances pathos and gory black humor.

Produced by Alex de la Iglesias.

Eden [France, Mia Hansen-Løve, 3.5] DJ extends his adolescence into his thirties as the Parisian garage scene rises and falls. Impressionistic storytelling interested in recreating experience than heightening it into drama.
 
Fans of this music might bump it up a rating point or two.

Tokyo Tribe [Japan, Sion Sono, 4] All of Tokyo's cartoony gangs go to war when the lunatic evil ones lure the nice guy crew into a trap. Energetic insanity reigns in this martial arts manga adaptation hip hop musical.

This last one warrants entry in the Feng Shui 2 filmography, not least for its exemplary Scrappy Kid.

September 05, 2014

August 22, 2014

August 21, 2014

Finding Me at FanExpo Canada

As sure as summer turns ineluctably to fall, the packed-to-the-rafters multi-track madness of FanExpo Canada descends upon Toronto, this time from August 28th to 31st.  I’ll be taking part in the following gaming track seminars alongside a mix of local reliables and new faces.

Sat 4 pm Advanced Kickstarting and Crowdfunding (Room 701B)

Sat 5:30 pm GM Masterclass (Room 701B)

Sun 3:15 Robin’s Laws of Life, Love and Game Mastery (Room 703)

Sun 4:45 State of the Gaming Industry (Room 703)

Though I don’t do the booth thing at FanExpo, I’m more than happy to chat and sign books if you catch me in the hallway between seminars.  It’s what I’m there for.

The Birds: Unofficial

Unofficial
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