The simplest yet most important advice I would bestow on any TIFF-goer is to stay balanced. Don’t overdo it with any one genre of film, especially the heavy stuff. Festivals offer the schlock and strange because if they didn’t, critics and fans would go insane watching the most dramatic and draining of films. That will be the framework for the following five TIFF previews; there are three dramas (though ranging from quite good to excellent) that may leave you disheartened and questioning of the human spirit, and two more films that are just pure fun (here I am using a very loose definition of the word ‘fun’).
Lee Daniels’ follow-up to the acclaimed Precious is equally disturbing, tense, and challenging, with superb performances from a very talented cast. When a sleazy dweller of the swamps (John Cusack, not cute and loveable) of a 1960’s Florida town is sent to jail for murdering a bigot of a sheriff, two brothers peer into a case fraught with facades and seediness. The elder brother Ward, played by Matthew McConaughey (of whom I cannot say enough great things about the year he is having) is a journalist from the big city, and his younger brother Jack, played by Zac Efron (of whom I also think is having a great year, see below: At Any Price), is the titular Paperboy.
The brothers enlist the help of Ward’s partner Yardley (David Oyelowo) and Ms. Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman who has fallen in love with the prisoner through poetic letters as only a convicted criminal could write. Oscillating uncomfortably between blissful idealistic and shattering heartbreak, Daniels takes your emotions away and does with them as he pleases. It is an uncomfortable film to be sure, painfully honest, dripping with blood, sweat, and tears, and never exactly what is seems.
Friday September 14 – Visa Screening Room (Elgin) – 6:00 PM
Saturday September 15 – Ryerson Theatre – 6:00 PM
At Any Price
Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron are father and son in this unnerving drama about a family farm trying to stay successful and reputable in the 21st century. When the eldest of his two sons heads off to travel the world, Henry Whipple, patriarch of an Iowa farm that has been around for generations, turns to Dean (Efron) to help work and carry on the legacy. Dean is far more interested, though, in racing cars, hoping to make it big and escape the trapping of the rural Midwest. Meredith (Heather Graham) is representative of what may happen when you linger too long in a small town, as she carries on an affair with Henry while his wife Irene maintains the household.
Quaid gives a very unsettling performance as a man, as the title would suggest, looking to get ahead and maintain the appearance of happiness, within himself, and his family. It is a familiar story, yes, but one told in a captivating manner set atop the vast cornfields of Iowa, stretches of greens and blues meeting on the horizon, with the sun ever- shining over a slew deceptive, conniving, and stubborn characters.
Sunday September 9 – Princess of Wales – 10:00 PM
Monday September 10 – Ryerson Theatre – 12:00 PM
A chilling documentary chronicling the military past of Israel, as told through the formers leaders of the clandestine Israel security force Shin Bet , the film recounts tragedies and triumphs of the past 60 years (though it would certainly seem more tragic), and questions morality of war. The six men openly chastise the tactics and strategy (though that is often lack thereof) of the Israel, and protest the nation’s occupation of the West Bank.
Cleverly and captivatingly shot, with computers recreations of jail cells, secret meetings, and various incidents (moving to and from actual archival photographs), The Gatekeepers is simultaneously illuminating and disturbing while instantly and endlessly cold, you can’t look away but almost don’t want to know more, as men of great power look back on the life-or-death decisions they made, sometimes informed, and sometimes simply hopeful.
Friday September 7 – The Bloor Hot Docs Cinema – 3:00 PM
Sunday September 9 – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2 – 1:00 PM
The famed violent law-enforcer of the future brought to life through comic books is brought back to the screen in a remake of the 1995’s Sylvester Stallone vehicle Judge Dredd. This version, however, is the Batman Begins to Stallone’s Batman and Robin: a dark, bloody, and disgusting vision of a dystopian future where tens of thousands of people live in giant high rises, crime runs rampant, and drugs flow as freely as weapons. The 3D is used generously and responsibly (this film goes to the pro-3D side of the debate), with not only blood and bullets flying at the screen, but beautifully hypnotic glimpses of life from the perspective of someone high on the future’s drug of choice: slo mo.
Dredd (an always-masked Karl Urban doing his best Batman voice), is out on patrol alongside a rookie judge with psychic abilities (the blonde, attractive Olivia Thirlby, conveniently forgetting to wear a helmet), when the pair of course step into dangerous territory. Locked down in the biggest and dirtiest tenement you’ve ever seen, the two hunt down a sadistic drug lord (Lena Headey), as her men hunt them down. Urban is plays it straight, and thus there is much comedy, but the film delivers all you want and more, especially for Midnight Madness.
Thursday September 6 – Ryerson Theatre – 11:59 PM
Saturday September 8 – Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 7 – 12:30 PM
A film that appears too similar to the all-girl-singing-pop-group-rise-and-fall genre, The Sapphires is far more charming than Dreamgirls and endlessly more interesting than Sparkle (yikes). Based on a true story (a loose and oft over-used phrase, yes) of an Australian aboriginal female quartet from the 1960’s, the film succeeds only because of its loveable and convincing cast. Chris O’Dowd is the stand by far, playing Dave, a frequently intoxicated yet well-hearted producer who stumbles upon the four girls and takes them under his wing. It follows the standard thread of such films, but is simply more enjoyable because O’Dowd and his foursome of very different and talented girls are just easy to root for. The film tries to be serious when it needs to be, and that time is when it is set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, but for the most part it’s a fun ride, and during TIFF, it’s a pleasant reprieve that doesn’t involve the blood and gore of Dredd and the like.
Sunday September 9 – Winter Garden Theatre – 8:00 PM
Tuesday September 11 – TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 – 3:45 PM