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By Any Other Name - The 2012 Toronto International Film Festival (Reviews)

by Erik Childress & Peter Sobczynski

Stay tuned in this spot as we bring you reviews from this year's Toronto Film Festival.

Erik Childress spoke with Jim Laczkowski of the Director's Club Podcast for over an hour-and-a-half discussing a number of films at length from this year's Toronto fest. The titles included: Antiviral, Cloud Atlas, Frances Ha, The Iceman, The Impossible, John Dies at the End, Passion, The Place Beyond the Pines, Seven Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook and To the Wonder. And there are even more write-ups

September 7, 2012 (Toronto Film Festival Report #1)
September 8, 2012 (Toronto Film Festival Report #2 - Aftershock, Cloud Atlas & More)
September 14, 2012 (Toronto Film Festival Wrap-Up)

Film festivals are theoretically meant to be celebrations of the joys that can be had by the cinema but they always seem contain a few entries that are so relentlessly grim and depressing that even the hardiest viewers may wish that they had simply stayed home and watched reruns of "2 Broke Girls" instead. This dark drama, the sophomore effort of Norwegian director Eva Sorhaug, is definitely one of those films--a relentlessly grim work intercutting three separate stories of different couples (a long-married pairing in which the husband has been keeping secret the fact that he has lost his job, a recently-divorced duo in which the husband refuses to recognize that his ex no longer wants him hanging around the house or their kids and a drug-addled punk coping badly with his recent introduction into fatherhood) during the last 90 minutes or so before one of them commits murder. Clearly reminiscent of the works of Michael Haneke (especially the early, funny ones), the film is as impeccably made and acted as one could possibly hope for but once the premise is established, it really has nowhere to go and viewers are left in the uncomfortable position of wishing that someone would die so that the film can end and they can go off and score a much-needed drink or four. (Peter Sobczynski)

When was the last time you saw a film that opened with somebody presenting the movie that they also happened to get top billing on? Eli Roth gets no less than six credits during the opening of Aftershock and though his stamp is certainly felt throughout, it is director Rodrigo Lopez's next credit that genre fans should be looking out for. Roth plays a divorced dad on holiday with a pair of his friends in Chile. As luck would have it, they meet a trio of ladies ready to party or, at least, two of them are. One of them has an older sister (Andrea OsvŠrt) trying to keep her out of trouble. Such luck turns though when a major earthquake ravages the city and the sextet must survive a crumbling club and try to escape the city before things get worse. That's right, the quake has busted out some local convicts and that late siren is not signaling an impending aftershock. Lopez's film takes it time getting to the quake (a full half-hour, in fact), but that allows us plenty of alone time with our six leads who, unlike so many terror-based exercises, are not all annoying and unlikable. Even Nicolas Martinez's verbose Pollo is a bit more than the size of his mouth and wallet and the relationships feel less strained than usual. So when the horror does begin, in a wonderfully put together sequence (think of a gorier Irwin Allen), there is some actual interest in getting these folks out alive. The film even mostly survives its post-quake complications until some baddies get particularly nasty with one of our heroines. Aftershock gets a little Sunshine-like ridiculous in its final act and becomes a bit too routine, but for a good hour this is a genuinely successful disaster flick with real terror, gory surprises and all the nasty fun a horror fan craves. (Erik Childress)

If prizes were awarded for the most squirm-inducing first five minutes of a movie this year, Sara Johnsenís film is an easy nominee if not a hands-down winner. The end game involving a coupleís luring of a third party into the woods is shocking, violent, shocking again and then wants us to rewind to see how we got to this event. It all goes back to childhood love and jealousy between Janne (Maria Bonnevie) and the brothers, gentle William (Kristoffer Joner) and disturbed Ruud (David Dencik). Ruud has never failed to throw a monkey wrench into the dynamic. Even after Janne and William re-discover one another as adults, Ruud is there with a mysterious scheme and unresolved emotions to disrupt what could be described as an adult version of Moonrise Kingdom. Johnsen never fails to continue stacking the mystery, complete with flashing back to the present as a cop with a history amongst the trio investigates the aftermath. In doing so, viewers might be expecting a more radical outcome instead of playing out precisely what we imagined were the motives from the very beginning. Nevertheless, the film maintains a haunting individuality and certainly isnít intent on leaving you with warm feelings but it is an accomplished feature that always has us on edge for the next turn and leaves us with less regrets than its characters. (Erik Childress)

There's no doubt about it that Brandon Cronenberg is a chip off the old block. By block, of course, I'm referring to his father David, and by old, I mean of the days when dad was more interested in the flesh than the mind. In a future that has gone off the deep end about celebrity worship, a company now offers the common folk to actually take a little piece of their favorite stars with them - in the form of viruses they have carried. Nothing lethal mind you, which is a good thing for Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) who has also taken corporate espionage to the next level by infecting himself with the latest spores, molds and fungus to sell to a butcher may not want to know. The story takes a turn for the slightly more mainstream as Syd becomes a ticking time bomb for a virus that killed a well-known starlet and working in tandem with her family must uncover what happened before it's too late. The cult of celebrity is still the driving force of Cronenberg's story, which is a lot ickier in its comprehension than any truly noticeable gross-out moments. Though hypochondriacs with touch phobias may want to stay away, fans of Brandon's dad will find plenty to enjoy and think about even if it has one or two ideas it isn't quite interested in paying off to the most satisfactory of conclusions. Between father and son, Antiviral is certainly the most interesting film of the Cronenberg lineage since A History of Violence and easily the most Cronenberg-y film since eXistenZ. (Erik Childress)

After the critical and commercial success of his previous turns behind the camera, "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town," the notion of Ben Affleck carving out a second career for himself as a filmmaker of note should no longer come as a surprise to anyone. That said, even the supporters of those films may be surprised with just how good his latest stint in the director's chair really is. The film tells the little-known story (one only officially declassified in 1997) about the rescue of six Americans in Iran who managed to escape from the U.S. Embassy as it was being seized by protestors and holed up in secret in the home of the Canadian ambassador who would be celebrated as the man who spirited them to freedom. In fact, their escape was engineered by a CIA agent (Affleck) who teamed up with a Hollywood producer (Alan Arkin) and legendary makeup designer John Chambers (John Goodman) to create a fake film production that would serve as a cover to get the Americans out under the guise of being a Canadian film crew scouting locations for a cheesy sci-fi epic. The first half of the film, largely devoted to pulling the fake production together, is pretty hilarious and if there was any justice in the world, Arkin would have won the Oscar he got for "Little Miss Sunshine" for his contribution. Surprisingly, the more serious second half chronicling the escape is just as impressive in the ways that Affleck is able to effortlessly generate genuine suspense and tension despite the fact that the ending is pretty much a given. This film will no doubt play a big role in the year-end awards derby but more importantly than that, it officially launches Affleck into the front ranks of contemporary American filmmakers. (Peter Sobczynski)

In 1953, after the stalling of one project (the never-produced "The Bramble bus") and the ongoing development of two others (that would become "Rear Window" and "To Catch a Thief"), Alfred Hitchcock acquiesced to the wishes of Warner Brothers that he produce a film in the then-new 3-D format and chose a popular play by Frederick Knott--telling the tale of a man whose seemingly foolproof plan to murder his socialite wife and inherit her fortune comes asunder when she winds up killing her attacker--as the ideal vehicle for such a venture. In later years, he would pretty much dismiss the movie as little more than a filmed record of a well-done play (although all the intrigue involving hidden keys and whatnot continues to baffle me to this very day) to which he was unable to contribute much of anything of value. While it is true that this is pretty much second-tier Hitchcock, it does deserve a place in his personal pantheon for marking his first collaboration with Grace Kelly, arguably his most fruitful artistic partnership with an actress, and for the legendary sequence in which Kelly is attacked by her would-be killer and, in the one overt use of the 3-D gimmick in a film that otherwise uses it sparingly, reaches out into the audience for help before grabbing the scissors that will save her life. This screening will be presented in a new digital restoration in 3-D in advance of its Blu-Ray debut later this fall. (Peter Sobczynski)

Fans of the super-violent British sci-fi comic book set in a dystopian future in which heavily armored and helmeted police officers serve as one-man judges, juries and, more often than not, executioners, will be relived to know that this attempt to bring the saga to the screen is more faithful than the disastrous 1995 version that featured Sylvester Stallone, if only because this version features a Dredd who keeps his helmet on all the time and Rob Schneider is nowhere in sight. Alas, being faithful to the source doesn't necessarily make for a good movie and this ugly, brutal and ridiculously violent slaughterhouse of a film is proof positive. In a story that unfortunately has too many parallels to the recent cult favorite "The Raid" for its own good, Dredd (a monosyllabic Karl Urban) is charged with determining where a prospective judge, spunky psychic Cassandra (an inexplicably blonde Olivia Thirlby), when they are sent to a run-down housing development under the thumb of psychotic criminal mastermind MaMa (a scarred Lena Headey) to investigate a triple murder. When they apprehend a suspect who can blow the lid off of MaMa's drug empire (she is selling a drug that causes its users to feel as though everything is moving in slo-motion around them--imagine if you took some of this before a Brian De Palma film), she responds by locking the entire complex down and ordering her minions to kill them. This is all just a flimsy pretext for 90-odd minutes of wholesale slaughter in which people are squished and skinned, brains are strewn all over the walls and floors and so much fake blood is spilled that you get the sense that Lionsgate gave the project the green light simply to make use of their stocks of the red stuff that have just been sitting around since the end of the "Saw" series. I don't have a problem with ultra-violent movies as long as they have some point or purpose (such as "Robocop," which comes far closer to a proper big-screen "Judge Dredd" than either of the official adaptations) but this is just nasty stuff that offers viewers nothing of value beyond a couple of admittedly nifty stylistic flourishes and the (presumably) unintentionally hilarious moment in which our psychic heroine hears a noise and asks "What was that?" Oh well, give them another 17 years and maybe they will get it right next time. (Peter Sobczynski)

David Ayer loves to make movies about two men in car. His screenplay for Training Day is well known whil his directorial debut, Harsh Times (one of the most intense experiences I've ever had at Toronto Fest) is even better. He likes stories about Los Angeles. He likes story about cops and men on the fringes of the law. (We can thank him for starting the Fast & Furious series too.) His latest film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena as Brian & Mike. They're cops. They do their daily ride, talk as best friends (or "brothers") do about their lives, pull over guys, respond to calls and stop bad guys. Working in one of the Centrals of Los Angeles their day is fuller than most beat cops. Currently cleared in a recent shooting incident, they still manage to get themselves into further hero-making situations. Brian is a former Marine working on a degree also has taken up filmmaking as a minor and shoots his daily routine all while eeryone within uniform earshot wars him of the potential hazards of an additional eye on their every move. Unlike Ayer's other film this is not one about dirty cops. No one on the take or bending the rules so much that anyone would notice. And there's something refreshing about that even if we as moviegoers have been trained that one stop or the next is going to be the big narrative drive that alters the course of their lives. Brian has time to meet the girl of his dreams and like everything else it is viewed through the eyes of the daily rides; two men narrating their lives. Gyllenhaal and Pena are both very good and natural in uniform. Anna Kendrick is unfortunately a bit wasted as "the girl" who is basically there to show a slight balance in Brian's life without ever really getting involved as either support or the usual worry-wart. Each random stop seems authentic and when some recurring villainy finally does occur it leads to some serious intensity. Real-life cops will likely appreciate the amped-up authenticity while moviegoers will be happy with a film that does its job well and then, like the first rule of policework, let's you go home alive. (Erik Childress)

Using a combination of new interviews with the likes of Ice-T, Chris Rock, Henry Rollins and more sociologists than you can shake a jewel-encrusted cane at and archival footage of the man himself, this documentary takes a look at the life of the late and legendary pimp from his early days as a premier love broker on the streets of Chicago to his later years when he reinvented himself as the author of a number of tough-talking books inspired by those times (including "Pimp" and "Trick Baby"). Presumably booked into the festival as a way of allowing those who attend to make themselves feel like they are total badasses, this is a disappointingly flat and overly fawning work by director Jorge Hinojosa that is more content to bask in the legend that to examine or critique the hard truths of his way of life in any penetrating way. (Sure, he may have put women into what was essentially sexual slavery but on the other hand, he felt bad when his mother died so the two cancel each other out, right?) Some of the old footage of the actual Iceberg Slim is still strangely compelling even today but the new interviews from fans and observers, outside of a couple of amusing observations from Rock, offer nothing other than hard evidence that is you give an academic the chance to freely use the word "pimp," he will take it. (Peter Sobczynski)

Here is a title that accurately reflects what it is like to imagine yourself on the day of Dec. 26, 2004. That was the day the deadliest tsunami on record tore through Indonesia. It is even more impossible to imagine how anyone could have survived at all. The story of the Bennet family even morseo, but director J.A. Bayona makes us believe it with a visceral and emotional force. On vacation with their three young boys to Thailand for Christmas are Henry & Maria (Ewan McGregor & Naomi Watts). Not two days in after fun in the sun and a happy holiday, the waters hit. Thrown instantly into the chaos of survival, Maria and her oldest, 10 year-old Lucas (a great Tom Holland), depserately try to connect through the debris as the boy is thrust into manhood to get them to safety. With no knowledge if the rest of their family is alive, they look to each other and anyone else they can help along the way until they can make it out or succumb to the harsh realities. The feat of the tsunami recreation alone (a mere 13 minutes into the film) is as technically impressive as anything you're going to see this year and should rank amongst the best disaster sequences ever put on film. But it is the emotional aftermath that is equally as impressive. Bayona has gone from the ghostly terrors of The Orphanage to real-life terror, sticking the landing with a decidedly Spielbergian flair. The theme of altruism takes on great meaning through the other side of this tragedy and the characters bring emotional closure to more than just their own triumphs. This is a terrifying crowd-grabber that, again, lives up to its title if you're wondering if you'll be holding back your own tears. (Erik Childress)

Over the course of one long New Year's Eve in the Irish city of Derry, a depressed young woman is rescued from jumping off a bridge by a man whose search for his missing brother has led him afoul of a local gangster. Meanwhile, one of the gangster's former henchmen--who has tried to leave the world of crime after accidentally killing a guy--is blackmailed into performing one last job by tracking down the guy responsible for stealing a lot of the kingpin's money. At the same time, the woman's two best friends find their night on the town going horribly wrong when it appears that they may have killed a man during their carousing. In other words, take the weakest Quentin Tarantino knockoff imaginable, right down to the deliberately convoluted time structure apparently deployed to feign complexity, infuse it with, of all things, the barely remembered "200 Cigarettes" (the main actress even bears a certain resemblance to Kate Hudson), boil it long enough to ensure that any excitement, humor or dramatic tension is leached away and you have this cinematic stew of stupidity that clocks in at a meager 77 minutes and yet still feels as painful and endless as the worst New Year's Eve celebration that you can possibly imagine. (Peter Sobczynski)

In the grand tradition of so many filmmakers who have gone before him, writer-director Rian Johnson made his debut with a celebrated indie film that caught the eye of critics and audiences alike and made him the hot new thing in Hollywood (the audacious high school melodrama/film noir hybrid "Brick"), stumbled a bit with a follow-up that featured a bigger budget and bigger stars but which, despite a number of nice individual moments, never quite jelled into a fully satisfying whole (the overly whimsical globe-trotting caper comedy "The Brothers Bloom") and has now been given a chance to step up to the big leagues with an expensive studio release top-lined by no less of a star than Bruce Willis. However, any fears that Johnson has slipped into the world of formulaic hackwork of the kind that offers a high paycheck and little else can breathe a sigh of relief because this is one of the most insanely ambitious original studio films to come along since "Inception." In the not-too-distant future, time travel is finally developed and, after being officially banned, falls under the purview of organized crime who use it to dispose of their enemies by sending them 30 years into the past where a hired killer known as a "looper" will literally make them disappear. Complications arise when a looper (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who starred in "Brick") discovers that his next target is his future self (Willis) and when the older version escapes, it sets off a chain of events that threaten the younger version, a woman living on a remote farm (Emily Blunt) and her young child. The film freely borrows ideas and notions from sources as varied as "Donnie Darko," "Back to the Future," "The Terminator" and a certain classic episode of "The Twilight Zone" but instead of simply rehashing those predecessors, Johnson has created something that is fiendishly smart, clever, ambitious, funny and exciting in equal measure. More importantly, he hasn't allowed the increase in available resources to make him lazy--there is nary a bum scene to be had and there are always clever dialogue, inspired performances (especially by Gordon-Levitt and Wills as two versions of the same person) or nifty visual effects to keep things hopping. Whether this will translate into box-office success is anyone's guess but at the very least, this is destined to go down as an instant cult classic, albeit one that does not need to be seen at midnight in order to be fully appreciated. (Peter Sobczynski)

ROOM 237
Although it was roundly disdained upon its original release in 1980 as an inferior adaptation of a superior novel, Stanley Kubrick screen version of Stephen King's "The Shining" has seen its reputation grow over the years to the point where it is now not just regularly regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made but a permanent part of the cultural firmament. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering both its popularity and the enigmatic nature of the project itself, people have been thoroughly scouring every frame of the film in the hopes of unlocking the clues that they are convinced that Kubrick hid in plain sight and discovering what it was really about. The much-discussed and absolutely fascinating documentary by Rodney Ascher gives voice to five such obsessives as they take viewers through every conceivable aspect of the film, ranging from the contents of the hotel pantry to the make of the typewriter used by Jack Nicholson to an apparent continuity error involving a chair, and claim that such elements prove that the film is really about things ranging from America's genocidal treatment of the Indians to the Holocaust to Kubrick's coded admission that he helped fake the moon landing. Some of these deconstructions are intriguing (such as the fascinating synchronicities to be discovered when one runs two prints--one from start to finish and the other in reverse--at the same time on the same screen) and some of them are pretty insane (such as all the NASA stuff, though I will concede that if any filmmaker could have pulled off such a thing, it would be Kubrick) but they are presented here in such a compelling manner that it will send most viewers scurrying to their Blu-Ray players to check them out for themselves. For fans of Kubrick and "The Shining," this is absolutely essential viewing and for everyone else, it is an eye-opening look at just how deeply a person can be affected by what others might consider to be just a mere movie. (Peter Sobczynski)

Here is a film that falls under the discussion of whether or not a film would be as widely enamored if it were not subtitled. It's a narrow point of view to look at a film to be sure, but a worthy question when the film is so laughably wrought with melodramatic complications and plot devicves, not to mention maintaining such an ADD mentality on what story they are trying to tell. If the name Nicholas Sparks was within fifty feet of it, it would be laughed out of the theater sight nearly unseen. What is seen though is the story of a single father that has whisked his son away from a mother that was using him as a drug mule. Taking refuge with his sister he gets a job as a bouncer where he meets and drives home the injured (Marion Cotillard) whom he says dresses like a whore. Actually she does have a hands-on approach with whales (just not of the Vegas variety) for a zoo spectacle. At her next show one of the mammals goes off script and lands her as a double amputee. With seemingly everyone abandoning her, she calls upon Alain who gets her out of the house, mostly for selfish purposes and then reinvigorates her will to live by sexing her up, again for mostly self-fulfilling reasons. (Even two-thirds of Marion Cotillard is more desirable than most.) If that is not enough to hook you, Alain also begins a side career as an afternoon backyard brawler which he lovingly brings Stephanie to so she can sit in the van and cheer him on. (The scene where she steps out onto the "no women allowed" grass with her new legs to give him a Hulk Hogan boost is a natural riot.) Oh yeah and the son? What son? Kevin McAllister wasn't forgotten about as much as this kid, who takes his own beating throughout the film thanks to the most neglectful parent this side of the Lohans. If hatred hasn't set in for this guy by the time he drops the kid on his head, then laughter should surely overtake you as nothing in this film rings true unless it is merely an examination of an alpha male at his worst. Jacques Audiard received a crazy amount of overpraise for his last work, A Prophet, and maybe this is residual love from an overcompensating press corps. Just remember to ask yourself how you would react to such an uneven, histrionic plot-shifting tale with an unsympathetic character if it were in English. (Erik Childress)

Roman Polanski has made so many great films over the years that to name one as his supreme artistic achievement would seem to be an exercise in futility. that said, I remain convinced that his greatest film (to date) is still his atypical 1979 adaptation of Thomas Hardy's classic novel about an innocent young woman whose life takes a turn for the tragic due to her involvement with two men--a rake who seduces and abandons her and a nice guy reacts badly when he learns of her previous indiscretion. While he has approached the majority of his other films with a sort of chilly and ironic detachment, he utilizes a much more open and direct take on the material here that makes for a viewing experience of stunning emotional power (aided in no small part by the equally stunning star-making performance by Nastassja Kinski in the title role) that is utterly removed from the live-action diorama that the material might have become in the hands of another filmmaker. The film will be presented here in a 4k digital restoration that will presumably be the basis of an imminent Blu-Ray release but to be able to see it is all its lush beauty on the big screen is an opportunity that is not to be missed. (Peter Sobczynski)

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originally posted: 09/09/12 01:47:26
last updated: 11/16/12 08:33:34
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