The following short reviews of films opening on Tuesday, Sept. 14 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.
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. 14, 9:30 p.m., Varsity 8; Sept. 18, 12:45 p.m., AMC 6
Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires) Xavier Dolan (Canada)
Xavier Dolan's follow-up to his precocious Cannes sensation, I Killed My Mother, is a stylish tale of unrequited romance and beautiful cheekbones. Dolan plays the role of Francis, a sweet young gay man whose best friend is the bookish, acerbic Marie (Monia Chokri), who devotes herself to dressing like Audrey Hepburn. They both meet the Adonis-like Nicholas (Niels Schneider) at a party and share a crush on the young man. Nicholas, charismatic and gracious, keeps them both in a tizzy, though his own motivations remain obscure. Faux-documentary interviews with various young folk reveal other romantic miscues. Filled with slo-mo, fantasy scenes and lushly saturated images reminiscent of Pedro Almodovar and Wong Kar-wai, Heartbeats is a prettily wrapped if modest cadeau from a 22-year-old writer-director who continues to expand his palette as a filmmaker. L.L.
Sept. 14, 6:45 p.m., Varsity 8; Sept. 15, 3:15 p.m., AMC 5
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 of 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 Zimney matches his subject's dogged focus. B.W.
Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., Roy Thomson Hall (gala); Sept. 15, 2:30 p.m., Elgin Theatre; Sept. 18, 8:45 p.m., Scotiabank Theatre 1
Buried Rodrigo Cortes (Spain/USA)
Fears don't get any more primal than this - you're buried alive in a coffin, interred deep in the good earth awaiting death's premature appointment. Such is the fate of Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds), an American civilian all boxed up by his Iraqi kidnappers, with only two lifelines at his disposal - a Zippo lighter and a cellphone. Working exclusively in that confined space, unravelling a plot that unfolds in real time, Cortes does a nice job sustaining the suspense, even tossing in Hitchcockian dollops of black humour. At times, the military and corporate politics are rather strained, too theatrically cruel. But the basic conceit, which never falters right through to the surprise ending, speaks creepy volumes to a cinematic audience - blanketed in darkness with no exit strategy. R.G.
Sept. 14, 9 p.m., Ryerson; Sept. 15, 12:30 p.m., Varsity 8
Bunraku Guy Moshe (USA)
In this hyper-stylized mash up that's part Western and part martial arts flick, Josh Hartnett plays a mysterious stranger who is out for revenge against a crime boss known as the Nicola the Woodcutter. At his side is Yoshi, played by the Japanese actor and musician Gackt, a warrior seeking to recoup a medallion in the Woodcutter's possession. In a dystopian world without guns, it is up to the two of them to fight their way through the many killers in the Woodcutter's gang with the help of a bartender played by Woody Harrelson who knows how to navigate the treacherous world of the underground. With a graphic style that is reminiscent of 300 and Sin City, the film, whose title refers to a 400-year-old form of Japanese puppet theatre, can sometimes venture into cartoonish territory. But with great chemistry between Hartnett and Gackt, and incredible visuals, the ambitions of director Guy Moshe's sophomore feature more than make up for what it lacks in substance. D.M.
Sept. 14, 10:15 p.m., Scotiabank 2; Sept. 17, 5 p.m., Scotiabank 2
The Debt John Madden (U.K.)
At the heart of John Madden's spy thriller is a decades-long secret that binds together three young Mossad agents (Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Marton Csokas) who return from East Berlin to a heroes' welcome in Israel after finding and terminating a loathed war criminal in 1997. But they fabricated the truth and spend the ensuing years each trying to live with the lie. Finally, one of the three (played in later years by Ciaran Hinds, Helen Mirren and Tom Wilkinson) decides to set the record straight after reports surface that the target of their original mission is alive. Madden ( Shakespeare in Love) does a masterful job of keeping the pacing tight and the action believable while exploring the moral consequences of choosing fiction over the truth. G.M.
Sept. 14, 6:30 p.m., Roy Thomson; Sept. 15, 11 a.m., Elgin; Sept. 19, 10 a.m.; AMC 7
Mother of Rock: Lillian Roxon Paul Clarke (Australia)
With mixed results, an honouring documentary chronicles the inevitable rise and the quick anticlimatic 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. 14, 5:15 p.m., AMC 2; Sept. 15, 8:30 p.m., AMC 9; Sept. 18, 12 p.m., AMC 2