The following short reviews of films screening on Friday, Sept. 10 at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival are by James Bradshaw, Guy Dixon, Dave McGinn, Rick Groen, Liam Lacey and Gayle MacDonald. Star ratings are out of four.
The King's Speech Tom Hooper (U.K./Australia)
Colin Firth excels as England's shy, repressed, stammering monarch, George VI (aka "Bertie"), in a performance that's deftly matched, syllable for syllable, by Geoffrey Rush as the monarch's brash Aussie speech therapist. In this latest crowd-pleasing peek into palace life, some historical liberties are taken (did the king really need to learn how to drop F-bombs before leading his nation into the Second World War?). Supporting performances tend to be mischievous caricatures: Helena Bonham Carter as the king's candy-addicted wife, Elizabeth; Guy Pearce as the sex-besotted abdicating monarch, Edward VIII; Timothy Spall as a gargoyle-like Churchill; Michael Gambon as the fierce George V; and Derek Jacobi as the wheedling Archbishop of Canterbury. Spoiler alert: England won the war. L.L.
Sept. 10, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 11, 12 p.m., Ryerson
Biutiful Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Spain/Mexico)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Biutiful, the Mexican director's first project after his much-publicized breakup with former screenwriting partner Guillermo Arriaga ( Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel) is an overdose of sorrow. Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a petty criminal in Barcelona (without the famous architecture) working with Chinese importers and African street sellers to sell knock-off goods, and offering fake psychic readings to bereaved families. Almost scene by scene, Uxbal's troubles increase - a diagnosis of prostate cancer, trying to care for his young son and daughter, dealing with his bipolar, promiscuous former wife, and his involvement in a shady scheme to import illegal Chinese immigrants. Ultimately Inarritu's habit of melodramatic piling-on becomes wearying, but Bardem's charisma and the poetic vitality of the street scenes create some breathing room in this overschematic script. L.L.
Sept. 10, 8 p.m., Winter Garden; Sept. 11, 9:30 a.m., AMC 6
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. 10, 6 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 11, 8 p.m., Scotiabank 1; 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. 10, 9 p.m., Elgin; Sept. 11, 2:30 p.m., Varsity 8; Sept. 18, 6 p.m., Ryerson
Route 132 Louis Bélanger (Canada)
Part buddy comedy, part grief-therapy tale, this eccentric hybrid begins on the day a sociology professor, Giles (François Papineau), chooses not to attend his five-year-old son's funeral to get drunk. At the bar, he unexpectedly meets an old crony, a small-time con man named Bob (Alexis Martin) and they decide to go to the country to rob banks. When that doesn't pan out, they begin a Don Quixote-like adventure through an arbitrary gauntlet of oddball characters, from a small-town doper with an Asian fetish, to a smug priest and a group of former Bosnian peacekeepers maintaining a strange vigil. Various sequences range from mawkish to juvenile slapstick, with a few reflective moments in between. Bob, as the Sancho Panza of the pair, is a consistently entertaining character, an honest crook who will be friends or fight with anyone. L.L.
Sept. 10, 9:15 p.m., Scotiabank 3; Sept. 12, 9 a.m., Varsity 7
Poetry (Shi) Lee Changdong (South Korea)
An aging woman takes up poetry to help cope with her Alzheimer's and the stress of dealing with her troubled grandson, in Korean director Lee Changdong's meditative melodrama. Central to the film's impact is the warm performance of Yun Junghee, as a naive, good-hearted eccentric. When her surly middle-school grandson, Wook, is charged with several of his classmates in a vicious crime, the parents of the other children arrange a chance to settle out of court, burdening the grandmother with a huge debt. As the troubles mount, she continues to follow the instructions of her poetry teacher and find beauty in life. A poignant ending helps redeem an overlong, rambling story in what stands as a decent, if second-rank, effort from the acclaimed director of Oasis and Secret Sunshine. L.L.
Sept. 10, 6 p.m., Scotiabank 2; Sept. 11, 9 a.m., Isabel Bader; Sept. 17, 9 p.m., Bell Lightbox 1
The Light Thief Aktan Arym Kubat (Kyrgyzstan/Germay/France/The Netherlands)
An electrician in a small village in the Kyrgyz Republic is intermittently accused of stealing power from the anemic electrical grid. It's the only way many in his rural area can light the most pathetic of light bulbs and live with a modicum of modernity. In this sparse drama by the acclaimed Central Asian director Aktan Arym Kubat, the townspeople, the shady powerbrokers, even the surrounding landscape all seem to be waiting for something to help them out. That used to be provided by the Soviet Union. Now it's provided by small-time investors from China or dim promises from thug-like local politicians. What's left is a clash of old customs and even older animosities toward outside forces doing little but exploiting the local people. G.D.
Friday, Sept. 10, 6 p.m., AMC 4; Sat., Sept. 11, 9:30 a.m., AMC 3
Daydream Nation Mike Goldbach (Canada)
In Canadian Michael Goldbach's directorial debut, Kat Dennings plays Caroline Wexler, a sharp-tongued high-school senior going through a very odd and unsettling year. She has moved with her widowed father from the city to the country. We're not told which city and which part of the country, although it doesn't much matter. Neither does the serial killer in the white suit who is stalking the town, and the industrial fire that is always burning. Both are irrelevant details, for the most part. What really matters is the love triangle that develops between Caroline, her history teacher (Josh Lucas) and a classmate who spends his time getting high on whatever he can to escape the boredom of small-town life. While Caroline's fierce independence makes her an outcast from her peers, trying to play grownup with her teacher eventually proves that adults are just as screwed up as teenagers, as Lucas undergoes an embarrassing breakdown. The film has a hazy, almost surrealist and, yes, dreamlike tone. What stops it from being somnambulistic is Dennings's performance. Best known for her role in Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, the 24-year-old is able to grab your attention and hold it like few other actresses her age. As she slowly learns what's real in this world and what is just posturing, she gives the film an emotional core that raises it up from being simply dreamy. D.M.
Sept. 10, 6 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 11, 12 p.m., AMC 3