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September 8, 2012 3:25 AM
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102 Reviews From the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival

'The Bay'
The Toronto International Film Festival concluded on Sunday. Going into the festival, Indiewire had already reviewed a significant portion of the program, but we also covered dozens of films over the course of TIFF's 10 days. Links to each of our 102 reviews can be found here in alphebetical order.

"7 Boxes"

“The Fast and the Furious” with wheelbarrows, Paraguayan action-thriller-romance hybrid “7 Boxes” is a rollicking good time at the movies that offers breathtaking action and suspense, humor and appealing characters all in one visually flashy package. “City of God”-like, agile camerawork by commercials cinematographer Richard Careaga is smudgy yet breathtaking, and combined with a pumping score that mixes electronic music and local, traditional instruments it delivers, well, the goods. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"90 Minutes"

Just as with Austrian Markus Schleinzer’s "Michael," Norwegian Eva Sørhaug’s is obsessed with the banality of evil. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C+

"The Act of Killing"

In Joshua Oppenheimer's "The Act of Killing," a pair of gangsters -- responsible for murdering an untold number of suspected communists in the years following the 1965 overthrow of the Indonesian government -- get the chance to recount their experiences. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Aftershock"

Eli Roth basically wrote the modern book on the horror subgenre of hedonistic tourists receiving their comeuppance, so it comes as no surprise that his stamp is all over "Aftershock," a routine shock-fest about a couple of travelers led through a series of misfortunes when their vacation in Chile is interrupted by an earthquake. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C

"After the Battle"

Now that a number of documentaries have dealt with the 2011 Egyptian uprising at Cairo's Tahrir Square -- most prominently, the scrappy "1/2 Revolution" and broadly focused "Tahrir" -- it comes as no surprise that the events have been applied to a fictional scenario, and by no less than a prominent Egyptian filmmaker, Yousry Nasrallah ("Gate of Sun"). Ably using the turmoil at Tahrir as his backdrop, Nasrallah's "After the Battle" follows a burgeoning, ill-fated romance between two characters uniquely impacted by social upheaval. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B-

"Amour"

Few directors focus on dark, existentially dreadful scenarios with the consistency of the great Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke. Less consistent in terms of style than theme, in movies like "Funny Games," "Caché" and the Palme d'Or-winning "The White Ribbon," Haneke lingers in situations that find people trapped by circumstance and mystery. His latest, "Amour," is an incredibly focused and emotionally charged look at an elderly woman's gradual demise and her husband's attempts to cope with it. Although not exactly heartwarming, "Amour" has a more contained vision of human relationships than Haneke's previous films without sacrificing its bleak foundation. It's his most conventional movie about death, and the most poignant. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Antiviral"

From his earliest days, David Cronenberg pioneered a new form of body horror that never lost its potency. If there's such a thing as auteur DNA, the filmmaker must have passed some fundamental piece of it to his son, Brandon. The newcomer's debut, "Antiviral," literally oozes the influences of the senior Cronenberg from its pores. It would demand that reading even the two directors had no relationship, but the comparison isn't exactly flattering: The younger Cronenberg has made a derivative exercise in body horror that plays as little more than low rent Cronenberg pastiche. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C+

"Argo"

Equally a slick political thriller, intelligent period piece and sly Hollywood satire, Ben Affleck's "Argo" maintains a careful balance between commentary and entertainment value. Stepping beyond the raw thriller qualities that distinguished his first two directing efforts, "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town," the actor-director successfully broadens those skills with a historical scope. This tense and frequently amusing reenactment of a covert 1979 CIA operation to smuggle assailed American political operatives out of Iran amid revolutionary chaos by disguising them as a film crew takes the material seriously while still having fun with it. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B+

"Arthur Newman"

It takes some doing to make the only interesting thing about a character the fact that he has faked his own disappearance and assumed a new identity. Nevertheless, the title character in “Arthur Newman” – played by Colin Firth at his dourest – proves to be such a bore that it’s downright miraculous he finds the gumption to pull off this piece of “Passenger”-like subterfuge in the early scenes of this relentlessly drab and thoroughly enervating debut feature by Dante Ariola. Read more hereCriticwire grade: D

"As If We Were Catching a Cobra"

The relationship between the Islamic world and newspaper cartoons has been a hot international topic ever since the Danish newspaper Jyllandss-Posten published cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in 2009. It’s almost unfortunate for Paris-based Syrian director Hala Alabdalla that the Arab Spring took place while she was in production, as it causes the director to lose focus on the subject at hand. Read more hereCriticwire grade: D

"At Any Price"

"Expand or die" is the mantra spouted by farmers in Ramin Bahrani's "At Any Price," a menacing slogan that reflects the explosion of the cornfield market into a $2 trillion industry. It also provides a reminder of the movie's production conditions when compared to everything Bahrani has done before. With Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron in lead roles, "At Any Price" is a vastly different type of project than the astute, naturalistic character dramas that the neorealism-inspired Bahrani delivered with his first two features. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B-

"The Attack"

The Attack by the Lebanese director Ziad Doueiri (West Beirut), a former assistant cameraman on films by Quentin Tarantino, tells an unsettling story about Israel and Palestine. As it opens, an Arab surgeon Amin Jafaari (Ali Suliman) receives an Israeli prize for his life’s work. The same surgeon treats victims of a bombing that kills Jewish children, and the prime suspect turns out to be the surgeon’s wife. Amins is ostracized from most of his Jewish colleagues. After initial denial, Amin accepts that that hard evidence that his wife was the bomber, and travels to the Occupied Territories to find the sheik who taught and counseled her. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"The Bay"

Barry Levinson isn't a natural fit for the horror genre, but with "The Bay," he dips his toes in the eco-thriller genre to curiously provocative effect. Although technically a found footage assemblage of incidents replete with shaky cam effects, "The Bay" contains a more advanced collage of media than one usually finds in this overdone style, coupled with a cogent basis in reality that often makes it closer to a documentary than an appropriation of the form. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"Berberian Sound Studio"

Peter Strickland's "Berberian Sound Studio" is a largely satisfying enigma in terms of both its story and its structure. While the closest point of comparison for Strickland's eerie audiovisual thriller is Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation," its later scenes shift to Hitchcockian mode. In a fascinatingly contained performance that ranks among his best, Toby Jones plays peculiar sound engineer Gilderoy, a shy man tasked with working on the troubled production of an Italian giallo. While initially a face of innocence, Gilderoy suffers a gradual descent into madness that calls into question the reality of each passing moment no matter how hard one tries to work it out. At times frustratingly muddled, "Berberian Sound Studio" is nevertheless thoroughly enlightening for its complex formalism. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B+

"Beyond the Hills"

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu seemingly came out of nowhere in 2007 to snatch the Palme d'Or for his last feature, the tightly constructed abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," a distinctly powerful work. With so much pressure on the filmmaker from this early stage, Mungiu faced an impossible task, as his less appealing follow-up clearly demonstrates. While technically impressive and occasionally quite provocative, Mungiu's latest feature-length effort, "Beyond the Hills," is at once more ambitious and flawed -- in other words, only 50 percent post-Palme slump. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"Blancanieves"

Forget “Mirror, Mirror” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” — this year’s most daringly original adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale is “Blancanieves,” from Spanish director Pablo Berger (the porn comedy “Torremolinos 73”). Though perhaps a tad long, this gorgeously shot black-and-white extravaganza has the cojones to think outside the box and comes out on top. Read more hereCriticwire grade: B+

"Byzantium"

Contemporary cinema has featured a fair share of young, attractive vampires  in recent years, but Neil Jordan's "Byzantium" stands out for exploring that subject with a mixture of intelligence and gravitas. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"The Capsule"

Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari's terrific coming of age drama "Attenberg" was largely about a young woman coming to terms with her body. While playfully irreverent and sometimes borderline surreal, "Attenberg" nevertheless rooted its exploration in a conventional storyline made fresh. Tsangari's 35-minute avant garde follow-up "The Capsule," one piece of a installation work commissioned by the DesteFashionCollection, advances similar ideas in lively, shocking abstractions. It is truly a capsule of the filmmaker's vision boiled down to radical expressivity. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Cloud Atlas"

David Mitchell's metaphysical 2004 novel "Cloud Atlas" encompasses six different time periods joined together by themes and incidents that mirror each other in wildly different contexts. The layering device draws out the notion of individuals connecting across many lives without fully realizing it. Intentionally enigmatic in its fragmented structure, "Cloud Atlas" contains such a discursive exposition that the prospects of a big screen adaptation seem insurmountable on paper. The three-director credit for the movie, a surprisingly faithful adaptation brought to life by the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer, underscores the magnitude of the challenge. Unfortunately, many of the factors that provoke contemplation in literary form struggle to hold together within the considerably different constraints of cinema. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B-

"Disconnect"

Henry-Alex Rubin’s the-Internet-can-be-a-dangerous-place-drama “Disconnect” is not only already dated but also about as subtle as a sledgehammer, despite some strong performances. Read more here. Criticwire grade: D+

"End of Watch"

The prospects of a gritty cop movie in the context of the found footage genre makes sense when one considers that the reality series "COPS" helped solidify the vernacular associated with the format. But "End of Watch" only uses the first person approach to frame the familiar dramas of two hackneyed characters, cocksure young officers Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Michael Peña), as they uncover the dark underbelly of the drug trade in south central L.A. Taylor's obsession with filming their exploits provides a handy excuse for the constant shaky cam, but director David Ayer often abandons the device for more conventional storytelling, an arbitrary decision made worse by a trite screenplay that mainly revolves around the two smarmy men trading barbs as they chase down bad guys and complain about their problems with the opposite sex. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C+

"English Vinglish"

Bollywood fans will be delighted with the news that the very watchable Indian actress Sridevi has come out of retirement to play a mother-of-two growing increasingly frustrated with life as a housewife in Pune, India. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C+

"Far From Afghanistan"

Noble in theory, erratic in execution, the omnibus documentary "Far From Afghanistan" is a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen. The sprawling concept, overseen by John Gianvito ("Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind"), draws together the considerable talents of five established non-fiction filmmakers and several Afghan journalists for an essayistic exploration of the war's debilitating impact on both the local population and U.S. citizenry. It's also a far-reaching treatise against all acts of war, with detailed observations that are alternately provocative and obtuse. As with many anthologies, there's just too much stuffed into a single package. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B-

"Fidai"

The formally assembled and beautiful non-fiction feature, shot on crisp digital video, chronicles the story of Med El Hadi Benadouda, the filmmaker’s great-uncle, who was a Fidaï, or mujahideen soldier without a uniform, during the Algerian Revolution that sought to liberate the country from French oppression. As much about the specifics of the revolutionary FLN movement as it is about the effects of memory on both Benadouda and his extensive family, this film strikes an impressive balance between larger historical meaning and more personal issues. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B-

"Fill the Void"

Unlike the exposures of abuse and oppression that can be found in recent documentaries about women forced by orthodox men to follow the strictest of rules, "Fill the Void" operates more like a story by Edith Wharton about a woman pressured to grow up quickly in the only world she knows. The storytelling is deliberate, nuanced and memorable, but don’t expect anything reassuring. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A

"The Fitzgerald Family Christmas"

Ed Burns is back, with a comedy about an Irish-American family, this time set around the threat by a dead-beat dad (Ed Lauter) to return to spend the holiday with the wife and the seven children whom he abandoned. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang"

The latest film from French auteur Laurent Cantet (the Palme d’Or-winning “The Class”) is set in an impeccably evoked small town in the U.S. of the 1950s, but the story set there involving the titular girl gang, which clocks in at a hefty 143 minutes, is dramatically repetitive and somewhat inert. For his adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel, Cantet decided to work again with young, non-professional actors as in “The Class,” but to diminishing returns here. Read more hereCriticwire grade: C+

"Frances Ha"

A slight and largely charming portrait of post-college woes, Noah Baumbach's deceptively simple "Frances Ha" is breezier than any of his previous ventures and indeed features considerably less ambition than his earlier work. However, that's hardly an indictment for a movie so eager to please and thoroughly in tune with the themes percolating throughout Baumbach's career. Shot in black-and-white video that lends this New York odyssey a scrappy feel, "Frances Ha" foregrounds a characteristically endearing Greta Gerwig performance defined by her usual onscreen combination of high energy wit and awkward self-effacement. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"The Gatekeepers"

"The Gatekeepers," a startling exposé of Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, delivers an unequivocal indictment. The handful of former Shin Bet heads who deliver candid accounts of their reasoning for various destructive assaults in the constant horn-locking with their Palestinian neighbors initially come across as unsympathetic war-mongerers. However, director Dror Moreh allows the movie to exclusively unfold through their voices, humanizing them to the point where their logic and humanity fall into distinct categories. For every shocking justification of murder, there's another moment where they confess frustration and regret, resulting in a refreshingly even-handed portrait. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"Ginger and Rosa"

The fundamental coming-of-age conflict facing the troubled teen played by Elle Fanning in Sally Potter's "Ginger and Rosa" may look familiar, but the director brings a raw energy to the material that deepens its possibilities. Set at the height of nuclear paranoia in early-Sixties London, Potter's script has a lot to say about the progressive attitudes of its chosen era by cleverly analogizing them to the expanding horizons of a restless adolescent mind. A viscerally charged work that foregrounds surface tensions and gripping performances, "Ginger and Rosa" is the filmmaker's most accessible and technically surefooted work to date. Read more here. Criticwire grade: A-

"God Loves Caviar"

A breezy account of how a Greek sailor, Varvakis (Sebastian Koch) survives the Greek Civil War, before ending up working out of a Russian brothel from where he discovers a method of preserving caviar. Read more here. Criticwire grade: D

"Great Expectations"

It’s hard to understand how things could’ve gone so wrong with this latest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic cautionary tale of class mobility. Though too handsomely mounted and well-played to rate as a total disappointment, it inevitably seems superfluous when stacked next to David Lean’s still-stately 1946 adaptation or Alfonso Cuaron’s rather more playful 1998 update. Read more hereCriticwire grade: C+

"Hannah Arendt"

"Hannah Arendt" looks through a narrow window at the early 1960’s, when the German-born Jewish philosophy professor drew controversial conclusions in her 1963 New Yorker coverage of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B

"Here Comes the Devil"

Forget about the penumbral lesbian sex scene at the beginning of “Here Comes the Devil” and instead focus on the intriguing if somewhat hokily developed story of a young Mexican couple (also into sex, a lot of sex), whose two children go missing near a cave in Tijuana. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C+

"Home Again"

Jamaica is anything but an island paradise to the characters who’ve just been deported there in this well-intentioned but unconvincing drama by Toronto-based director Sudz Sutherland. All three have run afoul of recent legislation in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. that allows foreign-born persons who are convicted of criminal offences to be sent back to countries that many have not seen since they were children. Read more here. Criticwire grade: C

"The Hunt"

Danish director Thomas Vinterberg may never top the complex family dynamics that made his "The Celebration" into such a remarkable chamber piece, but he hasn't lost an ability to construct an engrossing narrative with dark, provocative shades of ambiguity. Read more here. Criticwire grade: B+

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1 Comment

  • James B | September 19, 2012 8:59 AMReply

    Please review Kon-tiki!