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TIFF 2011: Five Capsule Reviews, including “Take This Waltz”

September 8, 2011

By John C.

The 36th annual Toronto International Film Festival starts tonight, with the world premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s documentary on U2, From the Sky Down.  Showing us why the great Irish rock band has continued giving us music worth listening to over the past thirty years, this is the first time that a documentary has been chosen as the opening night selection and only the third time that the spot hasn’t gone to a Canadian film.

The documentary kicks off the eleven day festival where a very diverse selection of some 336 long and short films will be screened at ten different venues across the city.  You can get more information on TIFF and purchase tickets here.

Below are my capsule reviews of a few wildly different films playing over the next eleven days, arranged in the order of when they have their first screening at the festival.  They aren’t all equally recommended, but these titles should give you a small taste of the true diversity amongst the numerous films that will be playing at TIFF.  A few of the other ones I would encourage you to check out include the silent film The Artist, George Clooney’s work in both The Ides of March and The Descendants, the cancer dramedy 50/50 as well as the psychological thriller Take Shelter.  Please come back next Thursday for another round of capsule reviews and on September 19th for my concluding thoughts on the festival.  I hope you all find something to see over the next 11 days.  Enjoy!

Drive:  Starring Ryan Gosling in a performance that reminds us of both Steve McQueen in Bullitt and Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver, Nicholas Winding Refn’s tightly wound Drive is probably the most stylish action thriller for adults in recent memory.  The expertly paced film follows a Hollywood stunt driver who highlights as a wheelman, only to have a hit placed on him after a getaway gone wrong.  The Driver finds himself somewhat of a superhero to a young mother, Irene (nicely played by the beautiful Carey Mulligan), entangling them both in a dangerous plot where it’s kill or be brutally killed to get out safely.  Bursts of disturbing graphic violence snap us back into the gritty reality of the film.  With excellent leading work from Gosling that quietly proves him as a solid action star and a strong supporting cast, Drive is a gripping and sometimes darkly beautiful film that keeps a strong sense of tension throughout every second of the running time.  Fasten your seatbelts for a thrilling ride.

Saturday, September 10th – 9:15 PM @ Ryerson

Sunday, September 11th – 9:00 AM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox

Take This Waltz:  With strikingly bright cinematography and moments of raw emotional depth, Take This Waltz is a worthy second film from the Oscar-nominated writer-director (and currently pregnant) Sarah Polley.  Margot (Michele Willams) and Lou (brilliantly played by Seth Rogen in a rare dramatic role) have been married for five years.  Their marriage is made up of charming little rituals, but Margot is tempted by a different type of lust when she falls under the obsessive seduction of their neighbour, Daniel (Luke Kirby).  Mixed emotions ultimately ensue.  Take This Waltz is a little long at 116-minutes, with some of the more stylistic flourishes and gratuitous nudity adding nothing but minutes to the running time.  But the strong performances keep it going and allow for some truly beautiful scenes, making this a Toronto film worth seeing.

(Gala Premiere) Saturday, September 10th – 9:30 PM @ Roy Thompson Hall

Sunday, September 11th – 12:00 PM @ Ryerson

Lucky:  If you attend festivals to discover films that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see, then Lucky is a moving and well acted drama from a country that doesn’t usually have their works of cinema seen on a wide market.  When his mother dies of AIDS in South Africa, little Lucky (Sihle Dlamini) is left to live with his abusive uncle.  But when he is denied his right to attend school, he finds refuge in the house of an elderly Indian woman, Padma (Jayashree Basavaraj).  They don’t speak the same language and Padma has a fear of other cultures, but she warms up to Lucky as they set out to find the secrets of his past.  The pace of Lucky is a little slow-moving, making this the sort of quiet little film that will likely get lost in the shuffle of bigger movies.  But with a universally relatable story about trying to find your place in a world filled with tragedy and heartache, as well as some touching performances, curious festival attendees and those interested in African cinema are sure to find Lucky a nice change of pace.

Sunday, September 11th – 3:30 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

Monday, September 12th – 8:15 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

Saturday, September 17th – 1:00 PM @ Scotiabank

The Odds:  Over the opening scene of The Odds, a group of Vancouver teenagers watch a high school wrestling match and shoot text messages to each other, taking monetary bets on who will win.  This decidedly modern sequence pretty much sets the tone for the entire film.  The smoothly involved Desson (Tyler Johnston) is caught up in an illegal gambling ring.  But after the apparent suicide of his best friend Barry (Calum Worthy), he uncovers a string of dark secrets that go deeper than their evening poker games.  A few of the plot points are delivered in a way that feels a little uneventful and the disturbing premise of underage gambling doesn’t always hold as much weight as it should, sometimes feeling more suited to TV or DVD.  But the handful of fine leading performances and occasionally clever screenplay make the film a mildly entertaining diversion at TIFF.  Odds are, The Odds would go over well with teenagers in high school as an introduction to independent Canadian cinema.

Monday, September 12 – 8:45 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

Wednesday, September 14 – 5:30 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

Sunday, September 17 – 3:00 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

Amy George:  The downside of festivals is that not every film is worth your time.  Such is the case with the unbearably boring and obnoxious Toronto film that is Amy George.  When 13-year-old Jesse (Gabriel del Castillo Mallally) is assigned a photo essay at his school, he reads a book saying you can’t be a true artist unless you have made love to a woman.  Naturally, he sets his sights of virginity lost below his own belt and on his next door neighbour, title teenager Amy George (Emily Henry).  With needlessly quirky and contrived undertones, the characters here are thinly written and underdeveloped, feeling more like clichéd stereotypes than real people.  The pacing and often mundane tone is all over the place, and the gritty and dirty look of the film certainly doesn’t help.  In fact, it’s so poorly shot that during the night-time scenes we can’t even tell what the heck is going on.  The way that the young teenaged characters are sometimes overly sexualized is just kind of creepy, and the final few scenes of the film left me feeling nauseous.  On no level is Amy George worth the inflated price of a TIFF ticket.

Tuesday, September 13th – 6:00 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

Thursday, September 15th – 9:15 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

Saturday, September 17th – 12:30 PM @ AMC Yonge & Dundas

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