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TIFF 2017 Capsule Movie Reviews

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With this year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival coming to a close, here is a sample of some of the more notable entries screened at the annual pricey film showcase.

The Disaster Artist (James Franco)

Portraying the making of the infamous bad movie The Room in the farcical tone perfect for the material, director James Franco clearly has an oddball affection for it. The Disaster Artist depicts Tommy Wiseau as both a pathetic puppy dog and an egotistic control freak without an ounce of knowledge in filmmaking. Dave Franco portrays Greg Sestero in a more sympathetic light, showing him as an actor trapped in a movie with no exit sign. Peppering the film with humourous cameos, the strongest portions are in the middle act when The Room starts shooting. The Room is clearly an example in how not to make a movie and The Disaster Artist offers a hilarious peek into what went wrong.

Breathe (Andy Serkis)

Andy Serkis’s directorial debut takes a fairly by-the-numbers approach in showing the life of Robin Cavendish. The film doesn’t take long in giving him the polio that would paralyze him and the script going straight to the point is appreciated. However, the movie starts to feel repetitive as Cavendish and his supportive wife Diana encounter frequent dilemmas, which the film solves only a few minutes later. Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy give strong performances and it’s nice Diana is given as much screen time as her husband. Everyone else fills the expected clichéd roles, while Tom Hollander plays dual parts in a bit of technical wizardry. It wouldn’t be an Andy Serkis film without that.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos)

With its stilted acting and unnatural dialogue, this is a difficult sit beyond the disturbing imagery and storyline. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a grim, narcissistic film with characters one finds themselves at a distance with. Despite all of the horrible events that happen to this family, only the son comes across as remotely sympathetic. That cold streak especially applies to the acting. The film picks up a little in the middle when Colin Farrell is allowed to have an emotion, but there’s nothing compelling about his character. The most disappointing performance comes from Raffey Cassidy, who is more like a robot here than the actual android she played in Tomorrowland. The whole experience is merely unpleasant.

The Breadwinner (Nora Twomey)

Depicting the harshness of Afghanistan, especially for women, The Breadwinner crafts a tale of a girl trying to help her family. There is a soft palette to the animation, created by Irish studio Cartoon Saloon, that portrays the environment as real as possible. Parvana’s story is an involving one with the right dosage of emotion. The decisions she makes are dangerous ones and the film never downplays this, but we understand what little choice she has. The use of a story-within-a-story isn’t nearly as compelling as the main plot, but the artists showcase some impressive imagery. With bombs flying overhead, that creates further uncertainty. This is the sort of animated feature we could use more of.

The Florida Project (Sean Baker)

A beautiful story of children being children and a mother-daughter relationship, Sean Baker follows up Tangerine with a funny film told through little scenes that add to an overall emotional experience. Willem Dafoe will deservedly receive the bulk of attention as the motel manager, but Brooklynn Prince delivers a layered performance as a young girl having fun on summer vacation and Bria Vinaite is equally brilliant in her film debut. This is a mother who, despite her many flaws, is a great companion to her daughter. Showing a different side to Florida beyond the theme parks, this is a film about people just trying to get by, through the point of view of the children who look up to them.

Brad’s Status (Mike White)

Taking a hard look into the competitiveness of human nature, Brad’s Status might hit a little too close to home for some people. Nonetheless, Mike White writes a smart and funny script and digs deeper and deeper into Ben Stiller’s head. The film plays with expectations at times as we see his former college classmates through his eyes. The screenplay looks at the younger generation with a respectful eye, while also gently poking fun at recent buzz words common in today’s social media obsessed youth. Stiller has solid chemistry with Austin Abrams as his college bound son and Michael Sheen has fun as a slightly pretentious television personality and author. There are some clever insights into the human psyche in Brad’s Status.

Submergence (Wim Wenders)

Clumsily stitching together two lovers and their individual stories, Wim Wenders creates a fairly mundane experience more likely to generates yawns than “aww’s.” Alicia Vikander is fine as an ocean studying mathematician, but James McAvoy doesn’t allow us to dig into the mindset of his supposed tutored humanitarian. The two actors share little chemistry and one wonders why they form this connection. Their two arcs don’t fit seamlessly and belong in entirely different movies. The directing fails to inspire much emotion and there are some obvious ADR problems with certain actors, which is surprising coming from a filmmaker who’s been in the game as long as Winders has been. It’s a dull affair and any potential meaning is lost, because Winders never digs deep enough into his two protagonists.

Surburbicon (George Clooney)

Taking over a screenplay initially written by the Coen Brothers in the 1990s, George Clooney seems like he will tackle the racial tensions of the ‘50s. However, that largely takes a back seat to Matt Damon’s suspicious plots next door. It’s an excellent film trying to compete for screen time with a good film. Noah Jupe provides the one intelligent voice in the madness and the most successful humour comes out of him figuring out what his father is doing. Clooney shows a keen visual eye and knows how to handle the Coens’ material, but the film as a whole doesn’t quite live up to the promise by the sharply scathing and satirical opening. There is a brilliant supporting turn by Oscar Isaac, however.

Stefan Ellison