Toronto International Film Festival 2009

Lars Von Trier

Kurt’s Review

The film follows an unnamed couple (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, both of whom deliver extraordinary performances) as they deal with the loss of their infant son. She collapses at the funeral and is hospitalized, but her psychologist husband decides to care for her himself – and insists that she “deal” with her fears. When he learns that she’s terrified of their cottage, which they’ve forebodingly named Eden, he forces her to confront her terror of the place. It’s hardly paradise on earth. (courtesy of TIFF)

Bad Lieutenant
Werner Herzog

Kurt’s Review

Terence McDonagh (Nicolas Cage), a homicide detective with the New Orleans Police Department, is promoted to Lieutenant after he saves a prisoner from drowning in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. However, during his heroic act, he severely injures his back and is put on prescription pain medication. A year later, Terence – struggling with his addictions to sex, Vicodin and cocaine – finds himself in the battle to bring down drug dealer Big Fate, who is suspected of massacring an entire family of African immigrants. (courtesy of TIFF)

Rick Jacobson

Laura’s Review

Mix three bad girls, one desert, a ruthless crime lord, 1,473 exotic weapons, $206 million in stolen diamonds and more cleavage than you can shake a stick at, and you’ll get Bitch Slap – a rip-roaring, sexy mashup of the audacious sexploitation films of the sixties and seventies. Like Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! injected with a lethal cocktail of estrogen, pheromones and steroids, Bitch Slap hits hard with machine-gun battles, corny jokes, knock-’em-out fisticuffs and even a refreshing slow-motion water fight. (courtesy of TIFF)

Pedro Almodóvar

Andrew’s Review

Almodóvar skilfully and effortlessly uncovers the secrets of everyone’s various pasts in this steamy, scheming and oh-so-romantic melodrama. Penélope Cruz continues to broaden her palette as a dramatic and comedic actress, turning the coquettish Lena into a fully rounded and completely sympathetic schemer, while Lluís Homar, best known for his role in Bad Education, is both dignified and skittish in the double role of Harry/Mateo. Almodóvar’s witty, well-written screenplay provides the intricate canvas on which this very Spanish dance of life and death is played out.(courtesy of TIFF)

Castaway on the Moon
Lee Hey-jun

Andrew’s Review

Kim Seong-geun (Jung Jae-young) has never learned to swim. When his girlfriend leaves him and debts feel insurmountable, jumping into the Han river seems the most logical way to commit suicide. But destiny has a very different plan. Coughing and spitting up polluted river water, he awakens washed ashore on what looks like a tropical beach but turns out just to be the small island of Bam at the centre of the river. Abandoning all suicidal intentions, Kim tries to attract the attention of passing tourist boats, but soon realizes that nobody will come to his aid. Slowly adjusting to life in the wilderness, with civilization so close yet so unreachable, he discovers the pleasures and agonies of nature. (courtesy of TIFF)

Atom Egoyan

Mike’s Blurb Review:

I wanted to like this film more than I did. Its premise of a jealous wife (Julianne Moore) luring her husband (Liam Neeson) into an adulterous affair with a call girl (Amanda Seyfried) so as to prove her suspicions while also living vicariously through the call girl’s lurid descriptions has the telltale signs of greatness; and for three quarters of the film, though somewhat clumsily handled, there remains at least a specter of this greatness, but by the final act everything completely derails in a poorly set-up twist. The film is still a pleasure to watch for Torontonians as it obsessively documents the Toronto landscape (from Cafe Diplomatico to the Rivoli to the Royal Conservatory onwards) and there are some fascinating ideas in the film about voyeurism and technology but all for naught. Amanda Seyfried is a stand-out though as the call girl.

Chris Smith

Mike’s Review

From the acclaimed director of American Movie, this portrait of radical thinker Michael Ruppert explores his apocalyptic vision of the future, spanning the crises in economics, energy, environment and more. (courtesy of TIFF)

Jordan Scott

Kurt’s Review

“The most important thing in life,” Miss G tells her students at an elite British boarding school in 1934, “is desire.” She needn’t have spelled it out. As played by the spectacularly cool Eva Green, Miss G is the walking embodiment of desire. She smokes, flouts the headmistress’s rules and hints at dark European adventures in her past. She even wears trousers. Determined to awaken in her girls a yearning for something more, Miss G encourages free thinking, late-night parties and the almost erotic freedom of diving lessons at the lake. (courtesy of TIFF)

Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Mike’s Review:

This twist on the vampire genre, where the vampires are the enfranchised majority and humans are run underground, works like gangbusters for the first thirty minutes or so. The minutiae of what would entail a vampire retro-fitting of modern commerce and urban living (complete with Subwalks and camera-vision driving for daylight transport) are inventive and stylistically interesting, but before too long the genre narrative has to get in the way of a perfectly good art direction. Characters revert to caricatures and everything I hate about straight-up genre takes place. Bored and looking at my watch by the end.

Serge Bromberg and Ruxandra Medrea

Bob’s Review

The French director Henri-Georges Clouzot is renowned for suspenseful classics such as Le Salaire de la peur (in English, The Wages of Fear) and Diabolique. Now this incredible documentary gives us new appreciation for his creativity by bringing to light footage from his unfinished film L’Enfer. In 1964, Clouzot set out to direct the story of a husband, played by Serge Reggiani, who suffers bouts of paranoid jealousy over his new bride, played by the twenty-six-year-old Romy Schneider.(courtesy of TIFF)

Enter the Void
Gaspar Noé

Kurt’s Review

Controversial filmmaker Gaspar Noé (Irreversible) is back with a mind-bending journey that transcends life and death as he follows the exploits of a young American drug dealer living in Japan. (courtesy of TIFF)

Tsai Ming-liang

Kurt’s Review

The story borders on the surreal: a Taiwanese director (Lee, who has starred in all of Tsai’s films and is a filmmaker himself) is making a movie based on the story of Salomé at the Louvre, with a supermodel (Laetitia Casta) cast as Salomé opposite a weathered veteran actor as King Herod (Jean-Pierre Léaud as himself). Tsai’s superb cast, rounded off by a number of iconic French faces, including Fanny Ardant, Jeanne Moreau and Mathieu Amalric, deliver seamless performances that blur the line between their parts in Tsai’s own film and the production being shot by his alter ego. This confounding of roles is best exemplified during the film’s meticulously choreographed final dance sequence. Whereas the preceding musical numbers showcased the supermodel lip-synching poppy Mandarin and Spanish love songs, the final dance is performed without a single word sung or note of music played. This scene, which takes place outside Lee’s character’s film shoot within a film, is surely the most erotically charged, the one most faithful to the original myth of Salomé. (courtesy of TIFF)

The Hole
Joe Dante

Kurt’s Review

When their single mother uproots seventeen-year-old Dane and his ten-year-old brother Lucas from New York City to the sleepy town of Bensonville, the boys’ summer fun grinds to a halt. With their mother always at work, the brothers spend their days bored and unattended. But the drudgery is disrupted when they find a seemingly bottomless hole under a locked trap door in the basement. As any curious kids would, they engage in a series of tests and experiments, only to learn that the dark pit seemingly goes on forever. (courtesy of TIFF)

Terry Gilliam

Kurt’s Review

Christopher Plummer plays a trickster showman in contemporary London, putting on acts with the aid of young Anton (the phenomenal Andrew Garfield from Boy A), his loyal friend Percy (Verne Troyer) and his beautiful daughter Valentina (Lily Cole). Their seemingly shabby shows involve antiquated tableaux that conceal the real deal: unsuspecting audience members are pulled onstage and sent through a magical mirror into a gleaming, surreal other world. (courtesy of TIFF)

The Joneses
Derrick Borte

Andrew’s Review

If ever there was a film perfectly attuned to the currentzeitgeist, it would be The Joneses. The Joneses are much more than just the new neighbours. Within days, all four family members have insinuated their way into the community. Their most dedicated fans are their next-door neighbours Larry (Gary Cole) and Summer (Glenne Headly), a couple devoted to each other yet prone to keeping secrets as well. Despite the Joneses’ success integrating into the community, soon the fissures in their family begin to spew. But it’s not until an outright catastrophe occurs next door that they are forced to make choices about their priorities. (courtesy of TIFF)

Yoichi Sai

Kurt’s Review

Pirates and shark hunters, luminous frescoes of daily fishing and hunting violence, underwater fights and magnificent ninja action scenes form the background to this heroic tale of life and death. Sometimes brutal, always exquisitely refined, Kamui puts a purely contemporary lens on an ancient soul and fills it with the rush of sheer entertainment. (courtesy of TIFF)

Last Ride
Glendyn Ivin

Andrew’s Revew

Kev (Hugo Weaving) and his ten-year-old son, Chook, are on the run, and at first we don’t know why – and neither does Chook. Travelling further and further into the Australian outback, the two clearly have an unusual but still oddly functional relationship, despite Kev’s periodic absences in the past to do jail time. One night after bedding Chook down, Kev sets out in search of food but is drawn to the local pub. A news story on television reveals that Max, a close friend, has been murdered and police are on the hunt. Trying to stay one step ahead of the law, Kev keeps the pair moving. Confused and tired, Chook attacks his father, and this burst of anger catapults the pair into a series of dramatic confrontations, which resolve in surprising and gratifying ways. (courtesy of TIFF)

Samuel Maoz

Kurt’s Review

It’s June of 1982, and four young Israeli soldiers are assigned to operate a single tank. Their first mission is to enter a civilian Lebanese village to clear it of possible PLO terrorists. Something goes horribly wrong, however, and the ensuing panic leads to miscommunication, death, destruction and hostages. All hell breaks loose around these young men as they face the perennial question: kill or be killed?(courtesy of TIFF)

Tim Blake Nelson

Andrew’s Review

Edward Norton assumes the roles of identical twins Bill and Brady Kincaid in this darkly comic tale of contrast and balance. Bill is an Ivy League classics professor who prides himself on having shed both his southern accent and his southern working-class family. Over a thousand miles away, the equally brilliant and amiable Brady has chosen a life teetering on the brink of danger and crime as a pot farmer. When Bill is forced home to Oklahoma to attend the ostensibly dead Brady’s funeral, the result is nothing short of vaudevillian. When confronted with his bitter relationship with his eccentric mother, Daisy (Susan Sarandon), all Bill can do is wish for a speedy return northeast to his tenure negotiations. Bill’s life soon completely unravels, making him realize no rational philosophy can protect him from life’s twists and dangers.(courtesy of TIFF)

Todd Solondz

Kurt’s Review

Separated from her incarcerated husband Bill (Ciarán Hinds), Trish (Allison Janney) is about to be married again. Bill is a pedophile, so Trish couldn’t be more excited to have Harvey (Michael Lerner), a “normal” father figure for her two sons. But when Bill is released from prison and the boys finally meet their future stepdad, the family is forced to decide whether to forgive or to forget. (courtesy of TIFF)

Mr. Nobody
Jaco Van Dormael

Andrew’s Review

Jared Leto, Sarah Polley, Diane Kruger and Linh-Dan Pham – one man recalls three love stories and inhabits three possible worlds in this spectacular fantasy from the fertile mind of Jaco Van Dormael. (courtesy of TIFF)

Men Who Stare at Goats
Grant Heslov

Andrew’s Review

Like a twenty-first-century Dr. Strangelove, The Men Who Stare at Goats takes war to its illogical conclusion, with hilarious results. George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges are in top form in this uproarious tale about a top-secret brigade of psychic soldiers trained in New Age warfare. Amazingly, it’s based on a true story. (courtesy of TIFF)

Paul Fierlinger, Sandra Fierlinger

Kurt’s Review

Middle-aged Ackerley (Christopher Plummer) has failed in his search for the “ideal friend” with whom to share his life. Though he never considered himself a dog lover, he comes to adopt an eighteen-month-old German shepherd named Tulip. What follows are the adventures of a devoted yet bumbling dog parent and the animal that becomes the love of his life, that ideal companion he thought he would never find, as they navigate their fourteen-year relationship. Through Tulip’s cycles we confront the facts of life, sometimes in vivid and startling detail; Ackerley minces no words, even as he weaves a touching memoir. (courtesy of TIFF)

Pen-ek Ratanaruang

Kurt’s Review

Belief in the supernatural has always been integral to Thai culture. Relationships between ghosts and the living have been chronicled and retold for generations. Chilling tales involving nature are especially numerous, with many concerning female tree spirits who appear in human form. Legend has it that anyone who dares disturb these nymphs will forfeit his or her life. In acclaimed Thai director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s latest work, Nymph, this type of spectral retribution is demonstrated via a breathtakingly bravura long take that serves as the film’s prologue.

Flash-forward to the present: a young couple, Nop and May, are stuck in a lovelorn marriage. Nop, a photographer, is sent to a country park for an assignment, where he becomes increasingly drawn to the natural world. May tags along, but she instead preoccupies herself with cellphones and laptops, unable to extricate herself from her modern trappings. When he goes missing, May, who is also having an affair with her boss, suddenly realizes the error of her ways, but not before strange events begin to unfold. (courtesy of TIFF)

Neil Jordan

Andrew’s Review

One day a simple fisherman, trawling off the Irish coast where he makes his living, catches a beautiful and mysterious woman in his nets. She appears to be dead but, miraculously, comes back to life before his eyes. So begins Neil Jordan’s deeply enchanting fairy tale of a movie. Ondine effortlessly mixes myth and fantasy with the life of a fishing community on the jagged seascapes of the wild southwest Irish coast. (courtesy of TIFF)

Perrier's Bounty
Ian FitzGibbon

Andrew’s Review

A tongue-in-cheek narrator introduces us to anti-hero Michael McCrea (Cillian Murphy), who is the perfect boy next door – or upstairs, if you’re his best friend Brenda. Night after night, he patiently listens to Brenda’s lamentations about her boyfriend Seamus’s cheating heart. A real catch, right? The unfortunate matter is that Michael is estranged from his father, Jim (played by Jim Broadbent). And he owes Dublin’s most ruthless gangster, Darren Perrier (Brendan Gleeson), a lot of money. With impeccable pacing, Perrier’s Bounty follows Michael during two whirlwind nights in the city.(courtesy of TIFF)

Rec 2
[REC] 2
Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza

Andrew’s Review

[REC] is told through a reporter’s camera as she accompanies firefighters on a routine call and ends up trapped with them in an apartment building infected with a ferocious virus. Sealed in and desperate, they trace the contagion to the attic, discovering abandoned research on demonic possession. Needless to say, [REC] didn’t have a happy ending. Now the duo returns with [REC] 2, which leaps right back into the action as a medical officer and a SWAT team outfitted with video cameras are sent into the sealed-off apartment to control the situation. (courtesy of TIFF)

The Road
John Hillcoat

Kurt’s Review

Mike’s Review

In this epic post-apocalyptic tale of the survival, a father (Academy Award® nominee Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit- McPhee) journey across a barren America that was destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm. From author Cormac McCarthy (No Country For Old Men) comes the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the beloved, best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road, also staring Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce. (courtesy of TIFF)

Fatih Akin

Kurt’s Review

Zinos Kazantzakis (Adam Bousdoukos) runs Soul Kitchen, a vast warehouse diner where the food might be spectacularly bad, but it’s edible. Regulars show up every day to chow down on bland lumps of carbs washed down by cheap beer. Beats sitting at home. (courtesy of TIFF)

Jason Reitman

Kurt’s Review

Based on the novel by Walter Kirn (who also wrote Thumbsucker), Up in the Air offers darkly humorous insights into corporate America and male mid-life crisis. Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is a “career transition consultant” – essentially someone who fires people for a living. Hired by downsizing firms to make the personal, well, impersonal, Ryan, in his perfectly tailored suits and professionally remote manner, aces the task. Ryan’s one real emotional investment is in his mastery of business travel. His goal is to reach that elite echelon of travelers who have achieved the ten-million-mile mark. (courtesy of TIFF)