The 2008 Toronto International Film Festival

Below is my tentative Toronto schedule, obviously subject to change. As in Telluride, films followed by “**” indicate a Cinematical assigment. Many films will get capsules; some will get full reviews, either on Cinematical or here.

Thursday, September 4

Rocknrolla (Guy Ritchie) – D

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)** – B

Dioses (Josue Mendez)** – C+

The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson) – B

Friday, September 5

Paris 36 (Christophe Barratier)** D+

Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme) B+
Can’t really review this one without a second viewing. Basically I think this might be a great film, but for some reason that I can’t quite put my finger on, I’m uneasy about the third act, beginning with the scene where Kym pays her mother a visit. I can’t quite make it gel, thematically or narratively. But there’s a lot of exemplary stuff here, and I really just need to see it again. Grade could obviously go up.

Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino)** C+
[Here I hit what festivalgoers know as the Wall, so take this grade with a grain of salt. A bit more here.]

Edison & Leo (Neil Burns)** C

Saturday, September 6

Lorna’s Silence (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne) – B

Genova (Michael Winterbottom)** – B+

The Real Shaolin (Alexander Sebastien Lee)** – B

The Mark of an Angel (Safy Nebbou) – C
The entire movie is predicated on the idea that a mother can identify her seven year-old child despite not having seen her since infancy. I think that idea is stupid, “true story” or no, and therefore think the movie’s pretty much stupid too. You can have a film that takes place in a universe where that’s true, I guess, but you gotta do more legwork that this one does. Works as a psychological thriller only in the sense that it’s awkward and uncomfortable, which occasionally translates to “tense.”

Sunday, September 7

Me & Orson Welles (Richard Linklater) – C+

Deadgirl (Marcel Sarmiento & Gadi Harel) – B
An unpleasant, relatively challenging horror allegory; probably too unpleasant for mass consumption, though the genre geeks should eat it up. The premise is nuts — two high-schoolers exploring an abandoned hospital find chained to a table a beautiful girl who literally cannot be killed, and decide to make her their sex slave — and the movie doesn’t shy away from it for an instant, working as straight-up horror (attempting to let the girl loose turns out to be a bad idea) and as an unexpected reflection on why people turn to a criminal lifestyle: because it’s a morally questionable horn of plenty when they feel they can’t do any better aboveboard. Could have been slicker and a bit better thought-out — J.T. is so clearly a psychopath that it’s not really clear how he and the shy, sane Ricky were ever best friends — but generally it’s one of the year’s strongest horror films, ambitious and scary.

Nothing But the Truth (Rod Lurie) – B

The Burning Plain (Guillermo Arriaga) – C

Monday, September 8

Che (Steven Soderbergh) – B
Everyone at Cannes was right: it’s crucial that Che‘s two parts be seen together, because the contrast between them (one depicting Guevara’s success in Cuba, and the other his failure in Bolivia) is the point: you can’t just go around fomenting revolutions, because revolutionary moments where such attempts will succeed are exceedingly rare. A bit too clinical for my tastes, and the four-and-a-half-hour length does sting, with the guerilla showdowns becoming interchangeable after a while. The level of detail is impressive, and Soderbergh makes an admirable attempt to balance his obvious admiration of the man with the inconvenient historical facts (executions, etc.). Del Toro is fantastic.

The Wrestler (Darren Aronofsky) – A-

Those expecting another Mansell-dominated tone poem from Aronofsky are in for a surprise, though not an unpleasant one: this is straightforward filmmaking, but even deprived of most of his tricks, the dude delivers a movie that stands up to the rest of his career. Elegant, melancholy, ultimately heartbreaking; Rourke’s performance is one of those belated revelations, a career-maker at the age of 52. You can pretty much guess the ending once you see the daughter subplot going south (if not before), but it feels more inevitable, in the Greek tragedy sense, than predictable. Randy the Ram having fun behind the deli counter is one of the most indelible images of the festival (“Whatcha havin’, spring chicken?”). Too early for spoilers, but I’ll say that the ending is more ambiguous than the way many people are reading it.

The Other Man (Richard Eyre)** – D

What the fuck? Honestly, I’m more puzzled than anything else, though I suspect the complete lack of narrative integrity on display here is due to the mistaken impression that books are movies. Starts out intriguingly, with a giant elision that seemed unlikely given Richard “Prestige Pic” Eyre was behind the camera, and of course it was unlikely, because it’s actually a bullshit trick, there for the purpose of unveiling a completely useless third act surprise. The extent to which this movie goes to hell in the last half hour is almost unprecedented. By the time Neeson’s wife appears to him in a vision to deliver thematic exposition, I wanted blood. Totally shameless, completely inept.

Pride & Glory (Gavin O’Connor)** – C+

Tuesday, September 9

Easy Virtue (Stephan Elliott)** – B+

At the Edge of the World (Dan Stone)** – B

Uncertainty (Scott McGehee & David Siegel) – B-

One of the warmest films of the festival, with boundless affection for, and confidence in, its two protagonists; their relationship is sweet and blissfully cliche-free. The two-paneled structure, with two parallel stories in two genres leading to the same result, works less well because the quality of the two panels is so lopsided. The low-key family drama winds up being far more suspenseful (and interesting) than the chase thriller, which turns out boring and stupid; Bobby being left alone at the dinner table with Kate’s mistrustful family is fifteen times more suspenseful than all the running and shooting in the film’s louder half. Lynn Collins is a discovery, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is characteristically great, and the film’s lack of cynicism is refreshing; it’s thematically well-conceived, too, it just struggles in the execution. Religulous (Larry Charles) – C-

A Film with Me In It (Ian Fitzgibbon)** – C+

The Burrowers (J.T. Petty) – C+

Wednesday, September 10

The Dungeon Masters (Keven McAlester) – C

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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