The following short reviews of some of the films screening on Saturday, Sept. 18 at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival are by James Adams, James Bradshaw, Guy Dixon, Rick Groen, Liam Lacey, Gayle MacDonald, Dave McGinn, J. Kelly Nestruck, Johanna Schneller and Brad Wheeler. The star ratings are out of four.
127 Hours Danny Boyle (USA)
The Oscar-winning director's film is based on the true story of Aron Ralston, an avid outdoorsman who has a freak accident, and finds himself trapped in a deep crevasse, his right hand crushed under a boulder, in the canyons around Moab, Utah. In the hands of a less skilled craftsman, the story - one man, little dialogue, in a crammed space - could have been a snore. But with the same deft touch, sensitivity, rapid-fire editing, and superb score he brought to Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle turns the near-death tale into a riveting re-enactment that will keep audiences squirming in their seats. James Franco gives a brilliant, nuanced performance as Ralston, a young man who tries every means at his disposal to move the rock before he makes the one decisive act - the self-amputation of his own forearm - to get back to the family he loves. G.M.
Sept. 18, 6 p.m., Bell Lightbox 1
Henry's Crime Malcolm Venville (USA)
Henry (Keanu Reeves) lives a dull life. He works as a highway toll-booth operator in Buffalo. He stares blankly at everything, even when his wife raises the idea of having a baby. So when he is sent to prison for a bank robbery he did not commit, Henry sees it as an escape. While Henry is in prison, his cellmate Max (James Caan) convinces him that "if you've done the time, you might as well do the crime." Henry leaves jail intent on robbing the bank with Max's help. He is now a man with a purpose. But when Henry meets an amateur actress played by Vera Farmiga, and soon begins acting alongside her in a Chekhov play, he must choose between following through on his plan or following his heart. As a heist movie that is also a romantic comedy, Henry's Crime fails at both, with little tension to the robbery and few laughs throughout. It will leave you with the same blank stare Henry comes home from work with. D.M.
Sept. 18, 5:30 p.m., Varsity 8
Cave of Forgotten Dreams Werner Herzog (USA)
Hidden in a limestone cliff in the south of France lies the rarest, oldest, possibly most intellectually fascinating artwork ever found. Werner Herzog took a camera crew equipped with 3-D cameras into the heavily protected Chauvet Cave, which contains what is believed to be the oldest cave paintings, drawn some 35,000 years ago. Because of the cave's delicate environment, no other film crew is expected to be allowed in again. Part documentary, part scientific footage, Herzog's film lingers on the mesmerizing drawings, produced incredibly when prehistoric animals still roamed the Earth and Neanderthals were still a competing human species. A historic, invaluable film. G.D.
Sept. 18, 9 p.m., Bell Lightbox 1
The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town Thom Zimny (USA)
Using unearthed footage from recording sessions and home rehearsals from 1976-78 as well as new interviews, the making of Bruce Springsteen's raw-powered album Darkness on the Edge of Town is explored in depth. Starting with a lawsuit that delayed the sessions and continuing with Springsteen's unwavering pursuit for the album's lean, hardened sound, Darkness was epic in its making, if not in its result. Where 1975's grander Born to Run celebrated escape and youthful abandon, Darkness had Springsteen dealing with the limitations of adulthood. With an unvarnished, illuminating film on the creative process of an iconic artist, director Zimny matches his subject's dogged focus. B.W.
Sept. 18, 6:30 p.m. and 8:45 p.m., Scotiabank 1
I'm Still Here Casey Affleck (USA)
For an hour and a half or so, Casey Affleck's experimental "documentary" on his brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix's apparent breakdown manages to keep the viewer trying to follow this ontological shell game: What's real? What's pretend? Purportedly, this is a documentary following Phoenix's decision to quit acting and become a rapper as he goes through a drug-assisted mental breakdown. Or is it possibly an Andy Kaufman-like performance-art piece in which the actor pretended to become unhinged as a demonstration of our toxic and dehumanizing celebrity culture? On the reality side, Phoenix seems genuinely messed up and most of the movie involves a series of awkward encounters between him and people who aren't sure how to act. Evidence of fakery includes selectively blurry shots, actors cast in some roles, and Phoenix and Affleck credited as writers. Verdict? Possibly it's a whole new genre - the focumentary. L.L.
Sept. 18, 8:30 p.m., Varsity 8
Black Swan Darren Aronofsky (USA)
Audaciously whacked-out and never less than entertaining, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan mixes a backstage dance drama with a Freudian psychological thriller that's indebted to Roman Polanski's studies of shattered feminine psyches and David Cronenberg's movies about repressed bodies in rebellion. The story follows a New York ballerina (Natalie Portman), who is striving to win the lead in a new version of Swan Lake, while suffering from hallucinations, an infantilizing mom (Barbara Hershey), an overbearing director (Vincent Cassel) and a sexy rival (Mila Kunis). Shot with a mixture of documentary-style handheld and traditional set-ups, Aronofsky's film has a lush surface and strong momentum, but he undermines the story's seriousness with horror shock effects and the absurdly overripe dialogue. Black Swan amounts to less than what meets the eye, but often what meets the eye - especially in Portman's entrance as the title character - is gorgeous. L.L.
Sept. 18, 9 p.m., Ryerson
The Town Ben Affleck (USA)
He hit a home run with his directorial debut of Gone Baby Gone in 2007. But with the high-paced thriller about a posse of low-life bank robbers in his hometown of Boston, Ben Affleck hits it out of the Fenway ballpark. Tightly woven, with edge-of-your-seat chase scenes that seem artlessly interspersed in an unlikely love story, Affleck directs and stars in this adaptation of the acclaimed book, Prince of Thieves. Flawless, and totally believable performances by Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm and Blake Lively bring the tough streets of Charlestown to despairing life in a redemptive tale about childhood friendship, loyalty, a woman (Hall) who finds herself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong guy. G.M.
Sept. 18, 9 p.m., Elgin
Amazon Falls Katrin Bowen (Canada)
Beautiful Burnaby, B.C., stands in for seedy Los Angeles in this low-budget potboiler about a bottle-blond B-minus movie actress, Jana, who, at 40, is well past her best-before starlet/ingénue date yet determinedly continues her quest for Hollywood semi-stardom. She works in a dumpy lounge; her (younger) boyfriend is a feckless, drug-addled DJ; the guys she auditions and works for are creeps; she lies to everybody (including herself) to maintain the delusion/illusion of career mobility. Sound familiar? You betcha. While April Telek is entirely believable as the desperate, vulnerable Jana, her performance is largely for naught in a feature that never gets beyond the clichés that inspired it. First-time feature helmer Bowen shot Curry Hitchborn's hastily drafted script in just 12 days, and it shows. J.A.
Sept. 18, 9:15 p.m., AMC 9
Good Neighbours (Notre-Dame-de-Grâce) Jacob Tierney (Canada)
As 1995 slouches into 1996, winter holds Montreal in an unrelenting grip. Adding to the chill are a series of unsolved rapes and murders occurring in the west-end neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, all of which, it seems, have been perpetrated by the same man. That's the set-up for Jacob Tierney's third feature, using a self-penned screenplay adapted from Chrystine Brouillet's novel Chère Voisine. The action revolves around three tenants of a run-down apartment: a cat-obsessed waitress (Emily Hampshire) working in a Chinese restaurant that never seems to have any customers, a wheelchair-bound widower (Scott Speedman) whose suite is filled with aquariums, and an emotionally needy, newly arrived elementary-school teacher (Jay Baruchel). Tierney, who scored big at TIFF last year with The Trotsky, garners great (and not a little creepy) turns from each of his leads to concoct a twisty tale that's part-mystery, part-psychological thriller, part-comedy. His assured mise-en-scène echoes Polanski's The Tenant and Boyle's Shallow Grave. J.A.
Sept. 18, 12:45 p.m., AMC 6
Trigger Bruce McDonald (Canada)
Sometimes an on-screen pairing just clicks. Though filled with recognizable faces - Sarah Polley, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Caroline Gillis - Trigger leans almost entirely on its leading ladies, Molly Parker and the late Tracy Wright. They play reunited rocker chicks who have taken widely divergent paths in life and are wrangling demons born of a youth spent with sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Looking gaunt, Wright is splendid as Vic, the sharp and sarcastic half of the duo wasted by a taste for heroin. Parker is a charming and convincing foil as the cheerier Kat, now a well-paid TV executive still battling demons of her own. Trigger was rushed into production after Wright was diagnosed with cancer, but it doesn't feel that way. Shot simply but compellingly, it feels like a polished and practised portrait of rekindled bonds. J.B.
Sept. 18, 12:45 p.m., Scotiabank 2
Dhobi Ghat (Mumbai Diaries) Kiran Rao (India)
Move over Bollywood, because India is going indie. More precisely, it's showing some early signs of returning to the auteur-driven sensibilities of a director like Satyajit Ray. Here, making her feature debut, Kiran Rao takes us to teeming Mumbai in the monsoon season, then glides fluidly through the urban strata embodied in her three principal characters - an affluent Indian-American woman with photographic ambitions; a dour artist with a troubled marital past; and a hunky laundry boy (a dhobi) keen to climb out of the slums and into the movies. Perched on their different rungs, each is looking up or down the social ladder and doing the same thing but from different motives: peering, either curiously or enviously, into the lives of others. As they do, the film means to be the cinematic answer to Suketu Mehta's book, Maximum City - that is, it wants to draw a vibrant portrait of Mumbai in all its cruel beauty. Wants to, and almost succeeds. R.G.
Sept. 18, 12 p.m., Bell Lightbox 1
Stone John Curran (USA)
Does sin come naturally to human beings? That, and how to look to be forgiven for it, is at the heart of Stone, especially where crimes that never reach a courtroom are concerned. Edward Norton steals the show as Gerald (Stone) Creeson, a convict of eight years looking for freedom through his parole officer, Jack Mabry (Robert De Niro). Norton is thoughtful and clever, but reptilian and rough. As Mabry, De Niro grapples ably with his own demons, entangled with the efforts of Lucetta Creeson (Milla Jovovich), a seductive manipulator trying to spring her husband. This film isn't without flaws: For example, its religious overtones, framed by the devout rituals of Jack's wife Madylyn and squawked out over Christian radio, don't quite strike the right chord. But it's worth the price of admission to see Norton and De Niro sparring across a prison-house desk. J.B.
Sept. 18, 6 p.m., Ryerson
Route Irish Ken Loach (U.K./France/Belgium/Italy/Spain)
Veteran British social-realist director Ken Loach's new conspiracy thriller focuses on private security companies, and the struggle of former guard-for-hire Fergus (Mark Womack), back in his hometown of Liverpool, trying to find out the truth about the death of his friend, Frankie, killed on Route Irish, between the Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone. When he is given a cellphone with incriminating evidence on it at the funeral, Fergus begins to find out about the company they both worked for, and finds his own life in danger. Full of fury and good intentions, Route Irish is a disappointment, unconvincing as a thriller and heavy-handed in depicting the dehumanizing effects of war. L.L.
Sept. 18, 3 p.m., Ryerson
Jucy Louise Alston (Australia)
This good-natured Australian "womance" follows two co-dependent twentysomething friends, the flamboyant, slightly unstable Jackie, and the overweight, underachieving Lucy. Together they end up acting in a community-theatre adaptation of Jane Eyre, which tests their friendship. The movie's second half - an attempt to add some pathos to the kooky mix (overbearing families, mental-health issues) - is strained but Jucy is a start in the right direction: Gal-pal comedies can be about more than shopping sprees and career girls landing Mr. Right. L.L.
Sept. 11, 7:45 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 13, 8:45 p.m., AMC 9; Sept. 18, 12:15 p.m., AMC 10
Modra Ingrid Veniger (Canada)
Modest and appealing, this Before Sunset-style drama follows 17-year-old Lina (Hallie Switzer) and a male school friend, Leco (Alexander Gammal), who accompanies her on a trip to her family's hometown of Modra, Slovakia. Both teenagers are nursing emotional wounds - she's just been dumped by her boyfriend, his mother has recently died. Old World scenery and music and a non-professional cast give the Slovakian interlude the quality of a breezy travelogue (marred by the precious inclusion of an enigmatic mute magician). The easy, natural performances from the young actors are refreshingly realistic: They come across as awkward, curious, empathetic and, mostly, a pleasure to hang out with. L.L.
Sept. 18, 5:15 p.m., AMC 2
Outside the Law (Hors la loi) Rachid Bouchareb (France/Algeria/Tunisia/Italy/Belgium)
A potentially inflammatory story about Muslim freedom-fighters/terrorists in France during the Algerian independence war gets the generic gangster-epic treatment from director Rachid Bouchareb ( Days of Glory). After an early historical set up, the drama coalesces into a schematic tale of three Algerian immigrant brothers who choose different life courses to fight French authority. Oldest brother Saïd is an apolitical pimp and boxing promoter; Indochina war vet Messaoub is a warrior with a conscience, while bespectacled intellectual Abdelkader is a heartless fanatic. Shoot-em-up scenes borrow so liberally from such Hollywood models as The Godfather and The Untouchables that it's difficult to take the anti-imperialist message seriously. L.L.
Sept. 18, 3:45 p.m., AMC 6
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Lung Boonmee Raluek Chat) Apichatpong Weerasethakul (U.K./Thailand/France/Germany/Spain)
Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has emerged at the top of international art cinema in the past decade - this latest film took the Palme d'or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. Uncle Boonmee is a delightfully original, if not entirely explicable, story of a dying Buddhist man's journey into the jungle. On the last night of his life, Boonmee is joined on his veranda by the ghost of his dead wife and son, who disappeared years before and now appears as a "monkey ghost" in an ape costume with glowing red eyes. Finally, Uncle Boonmee begins a journey into the forest to revisit his first birth place (as a fish?) to relive his past existences, including as at least one of the agents in an erotic underwater tryst between a catfish and a disfigured princess. L.L.
Sept. 18, 9:15 a.m., AMC 5
West Is West Andy De Emmony (U.K.)
This is a sequel to East Is East, the 1999 hit family comedy about a Pakistani family living in Salford, England, and their struggles with their Old World father, George Khan (Om Puri), and Caucasian mother (Linda Bassett). The new movie picks up in 1975, when George decides to sort out his unruly youngest son, Sajid, on a journey back to Pakistan, leaving his wife (temporarily) at home. As in the previous film the form is peculiar, a blend of cultural-alienation drama and sitcom. Puri is compelling as George, a hypocrite who holds his children to standards of conduct he doesn't meet. His conflicted character can seem out of place against the broadness of the Carry On Gang-style humour. But somehow, the idea that the struggles of culture shock can be both psychologically traumatizing and a bit of a laugh works. L.L.
Sept. 18; 6:15 p.m., Scotiabank 2
A Beginner's Guide to Endings Jonathan Sobol (Canada)
Writer-director Jonathan Sobol (a Canadian making his feature debut) is obviously enamoured with guys' guys, and here he gives us a fistful: a wayward, drunk, gambling dad (Harvey Keitel), and the three grown sons he inadvertently screwed over, the tough one (Jason Jones), the responsible one (Paulo Costanzo) and the womanizing one (Scott Caan). The story covers one frantic week in which they all attempt to change their lives, and the plot is one of those where seemingly disparate threads escalate until they all come together in cathartic coincidence. While I got it, I didn't quite buy it. Still, it's fun to watch the brothers punch each other around, and I always love seeing J.K. Simmons, who plays Keitel's voice-of-reason preacher brother. But the revelation here is Jones, the Hamilton-born actor primarily known as a correspondent for The Daily Show (and as Mr. Samantha Bee), who is as riveting as his handlebar mustache. J.S.
Sept. 18, 11:45 a.m., Varsity 8
Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon Paul Clarke (Australia)
With mixed results, an honouring documentary chronicles the inevitable rise and the quick anti-climatic fall of Lillian Roxon, the blazing sixties rock critic and libertine described so notoriously by the feminist pioneer Germaine Greer, who wrote of a fellow Aussie "who lives with nobody but a colony of New York roaches, whose energy has never failed despite her anxieties and her asthma and her overweight, who is always interested in everybody, often angry, sometimes bitchy, but always involved." An impressive cast of rockers, writers and confidantes recall Roxon, but it is the Warholian, counterculture art-and-music scene that stars just as much. The film suffers from sketchiness - we are not even told how old Roxon was when she died mysteriously. B.W.
Sept. 18, 12 p.m., AMC 2
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