Another TIFF Bites the Dust… Again

By Bruce LaBruce


Photo from the Peaches Does Herself TIFF party by Bruce LaBruce

It’s time for my second annual list of mini-reviews from the Toronto International Film Festival, which I present partly in the belief that filmmakers should not be afraid to offer critiques of the films of other filmmakers, and partly because my own films routinely garner reviews in the zero to one star range so no one will likely pay attention to what I say anyway. In fact, contemporary critics are so often off the mark (see: The Avengers) that I’m thinking it might be better to replace them altogether with filmmakers, who at least have the advantage of knowing the mechanics of filmmaking. It’s gotten so absurdly topsy-turvy that on popular internet critic aggregator RottenTomatoes.com, the films deemed “rotten” (meaning under sixty per cent of polled critics having given it a favorable review, with the criteria for what is deemed favorable or unfavorable often dubious) are generally the ones I will bother to check out, while I tend to skip the plump tomatoes (over sixty per cent), generally represented by over-hyped Hollywood potboilers like The Dark Knight Rises or War Horse. I generally avoid seeing the buzz films at TIFF, which will most probably be released in theaters soon anyway, and concentrate more on an eclectic mix of films from a variety of genres and regions. So here are the 15-½ movies (all will be explained) I saw at the 2012 TIFF.

Spring Breakers

It’s always difficult to assess a friend’s film, so I will merely describe Harmony Korine’s new T&A extravaganza as a delirious mixture of John Cassavetes’ Killing of a Chinese Bookie and Russ Meyer’s Vixen sprinkled with Girls Gone Wild videos. Or, in terms of his own oeuvre, a mash-up of Mr. Lonely and Trash Humpers. It’s highly enjoyable, and James Franco’s bravura performance, including hardcore gun fellatio, has to be seen to be believed. For his singing and piano playing interpretation of Britney Spears’ “Everytime” alone, I smell Oscar – Oscar Levant, that is!

The Hunt

Veteran Danish filmmaker and Dogme 95 survivor Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) directed and co-wrote this harrowing tale of a divorced father working at a preschool who is falsely accused by a little girl of molesting her, leading to mass hysteria in the community and vigilante violence against him. The naturalistic performances and realistic style of the film keep you suspended in a perpetual state of dread.

Antiviral

What ever happened to acting out against your parents? Brandon Cronenberg (David’s son), presents a dystopian sci-fi nightmare that owes more than a little to his father’s early films like Shivers and Rabid. Personally, I found it a little disappointing that one of the celebrity-bred viruses being marketed in the narrative wasn’t AIDS. But I guess then it would have to be called Antiretroviral.

No

From Chilean director Pablo Larrain, a film with a light touch about a heavy subject: the 1988 plebiscite that eventually led to the ousting of murderous US puppet and tin-pot dictator Augusto Pinochet. Crafted in documentary style and shot in the low-grade video of the era, it’s largely composed of recreations of the advertising campaigns designed by rival ad execs from the same company to promote a Yes or No vote to keep Pinochet as leader. The film is inventive and clever, but it is kind of depressing that Gael Garcia Bernal’s character, the ad exec for the No campaign, is already in the 80s so thoroughly programmed by corporate mind-think.

Rebelle (War Witch)

Excellent Quebec film directed by Kim Nguyen about child soldiers recruited into wars in sub-Saharan Africa. Rachel Mwanza, who plays the title character, was living on the streets in her hometown of Kinshasa before the film was shot, and she gives a realistically heart-breaking performance.

Room 237

A documentary that is at times both entertaining and irritating by Rodney Ascher about Kubrick’s The Shining. It sometimes plays like a YouTube conspiracy video, but there are enough fascinating—if sometimes obvious—tidbits to make it worth watching. Did you know, for example, that it’s about the Holocaust? Duh!

A Hijacking

I didn’t want to see another movie from Denmark at the festival, but I went because it was directed by the co-writer of Vinterberg’s The Hunt. Although the subject matter is interesting—the negotiations between Somalian pirates and the corporate owners of a Danish boat—it’s a bit pedestrian and frustratingly distant from the characters.

Penance

I couldn’t pass up watching a work by one of my favorite living filmmakers, Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, even if it was a four-and-a-half-hour, made-for-TV serial. It’s not the best of his films (Cure, Pulse, Bright Future, and Tokyo Sonata are all much better), but I’m glad I stuck it out for its absorbing take on Japanese motifs of fetish, revenge, and deranged melodrama.

7 Psychopaths

I was a bit plucked when I heard that this film, by Irish director Martin McDonough and starring Colin Farrell, was voted most popular in the Midnight Madness section. For me, it’s the worst case of sophomore slump since Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales. I’m very fond of McDonough’s first feature, In Bruges, also starring Farrell, but everything that worked in that film—the off-hand violence, the over-the-top mob boss, the hapless buddy film anti-heroes—falls flat in this cringe-worthy retread. But then again, Toronto film festival audiences have notoriously questionable taste. See: The Artist and Slumdog Millionaire.

What Maize Knew

A contemporary, Hollywoodized adaptation of the Henry James novel of the same name, directed by Scott McGhee and David Siegel (The Deep End), with Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan as the selfish, absent parents who fight for the custody of their unwanted young daughter just to fuck each other over. Moore, as a neurotic, loony indie-rock singer (Courtney Love redux), and the dyspeptic Coogan are delicious, and the film admirably captures the whimsical, determined point of view of the child, but the over-idealized hipster characters who end up as the guardians of the child—as opposed to the frumpy governess of the novel—are a bit too perfect to be believed.

Tai Chi O

First of a high-end franchise-to-come of Kung Fu movies with a cast of star Chinese actors and athletes is part historical epic, part martial arts promo video, part comic book, and all entertainment.

The Last Time I Saw Macao

Another film made by friends of mine, Portuguese directors Joao Rui Guerra da Mata and Joao Pedro Rodrigues (the latter directed the great O Fantasma), it’s a low-budget, hypnotic, experimental anti-documentary shot in Macao with only glimpses of characters, played by body parts of the directors themselves, mixed with elements of film noir borrowed from the Josef Von Sternberg film Macao. Chris Marker’s La Jetee meets Godard’s Alphaville.

The Patience Stone

I walked into this Afghan/French production knowing nothing about it, but was immediately excited to discover in the credits it was co-written by the great screenwriter and frequent Bunuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carrier. Directed by Afghani Atiq Rahimi, it’s a grueling, riveting protofeminist story of the wife of a Mujahedin who protects the body of her comatose husband while confessing all her dark, sexual secrets to him. It’s a Muslim feminist twist on The Descendants minus the Hollywoodisms.

Aftershock

Typical Eli Roth fare (he produced, co-wrote, and stars) in which six obnoxious, superficial, and casually corporate characters who you give not a tinker’s damn about (especially Roth) get mutilated, raped, or burned alive in the aftermath of an earthquake in Chile. Not my idea of a good time. Makes Spring Breakers look like 2001: A Space Odyssey. I rarely walk out of movies, but I made an exception in this case, hence the “15 1/2 movies” designation in my introduction.

Ghost Graduation

The Breakfast Club goes Ghost in Mexico. For tweens only.

Peaches Does Herself

Directed by and starring my friend Peaches, who also hails originally from Toronto, it’s a beautifully shot, gender-bending concert film done on a modest budget that delivers a series of memorable shock-rock moments and musical thrills. Here are some of my photos from the TIFF-sponsored party for the film held at the Drake Hotel in Toronto. Mazel Tov!

Want more TIFF?

TIFF 2012 Celebrity Stalk-Off

Another TIFF Bites the Dust

TIFF Tribulations

@BruceLaBruce

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