Sept. 16, 5:30 p.m., Scotiabank 4; Sept 17, 8:45 p.m., Varsity 6; Sept. 18, 12:30 p.m., Varsity 6
A Town Called Panic
Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar (Belgium/France/Luxembourg)
You don't need 3-D glasses to get head-spinningly surreal stop-motion animation, just some crazy Belgian directors manipulating characters that look like cheap toy figurines and that sound like they're all on uppers. Based on the cult TV hit, Panic (the first stop-motion feature selected for Cannes) is episodic but just manages to sustain its story. The well-meaning but feeble-minded Cowboy and Indian accidentally order 50 million bricks after deciding to build Horse (the film's "manly" hero) a BBQ as a gift. The house is crushed, rebuilt, but then pointy-headed dudes from a parallel undersea world start stealing the walls. The trio encounter all manner of bizarre places and beings as they try to rescue the walls - there's no place like home! J.P.
Sept. 18, 11:59 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 19, 3:45 p.m., AMC 3
Jacob Tierney (Canada)
Don't give up on The Trotsky - it's one of those rare movies that starts weakly but soon gets better. Much better. The conceit has a Jewish teenager in Quebec (Jay Baruchel) convinced that he's "the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky," a down-with-the-system radical determined to fight the oppressors and organize the oppressed. And where else to begin than at the Winter Palace that is his local high school? Sure, the premise takes some swallowing, but the rest of the yarn goes down a treat. Tierney lets the farce bubble nicely, then spices the concoction with hints of satire, sprinklings of wit and a liberal measure of charm. Sometimes, when openly quoting his directorial betters, he's even brave enough to poke fun at himself. What's more, I'm willing to lay a small wager this is the only film in the entire fest that manages to blaze a narrative path from Sergei Eisenstein to Ben Mulroney. R.G.
Sept. 11, 9 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 13, 12:45 p.m., Scotiabank 3
The Young Victoria
Jean-Marc Vallée (Britain)
With successful films about Elizabeth I ( Elizabeth) and Elizabeth II ( The Queen), the royal biography wave continues with The Young Victoria, written by Julian Fellowes ( Gosford Park) and directed by Canada's Jean-Marc Vallée, of the Quebec coming-of-age hit, C.R.A.Z.Y. There's nothing crazy about this film, a prettily produced (partly by the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson) but dramatically tepid account of the plucky young queen (Emily Blunt). We watch as she struggles for independence from her overseers, gets into hot water through her friendship with Lord Melbourne (Paul Bettany) and eventually finds a good political partner and husband in her first cousin, Prince Albert (Rupert Friend). In an effort to improve on history, the film actually has Albert taking a bullet for the Queen during one of the assassination attempts against her. We are not amused. L.L.
Sept. 19, 6 p.m., Elgin; Sept 19, 8 p.m., Roy Thomson
Valhalla Rising Nicolas Winding Refn (Denmark)
Among some cognoscenti the only thing better than a good gladiator movie is a good Viking movie. And TIFF has one of the best in Valhalla Rising, a Danish-Scottish co-production helmed by Copenhagen native Nicolas Winding Refn. This film has it all - brutal action, memorable mugs, atmospheric music, brooding landscapes, spiritual desolation, a palpable sense of otherness. Mads Mikkelsen plays One Eye, an enigmatic, speechless warrior whose demonic fighting skills have made him legend in Viking circles. The only relationship he has is with a young blond boy who brings him his daily gruel and water. They eventually take up with a gang of Christianized Vikings determined to sail to the Holy Land to "reclaim His land in His name" and live like princes. However, after a long ocean journey, their boat pulls up in a menacing territory that bears no resemblance to Palestine. Refn's saga doesn't entirely escape the hokum seemingly endemic to the Viking genre, but it comes pretty damn close. Odin be praised! J.A.