TIFF 2015 Capsule movie reviews: Beasts of No Nation, Legend, The Danish Girl
CBC Arts News crew chimes in on films they've seen
Each year, the Toronto International Film Festival offers hundreds of films for voracious cinephiles to devour. But how best to navigate a list so long? Check out these quickie capsule reviews by CBC Arts News unit staffers to help you figure out the best from the bombs. New films will be added as the festival continues.
Al Purdy Was Here
Veteran Canadian film critic Brian D Johnson has chosen the most Canadian of poets for his first feature. From his booming voice to those plaid pants, Purdy makes for a fascinating subject. Perhaps inspired by this boisterous spirit, Johnson packs the doc with a variety of treatments; there's animation, archival footage, new songs inspired by the poet, a Tweeting statue and even a secondary story about Purdy's famous A-frame cottage. But Purdy– with his honest, workmanlike approach to poetry and an unquestionable sense of self – is much more than enough. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Writer Charlie Kaufman has dedicated his life to chronicling the existential ennui of modern life in films such as Being John Malkovich and Synecdoche, New York. But in his new stop-motion animated Anomalisa, there's a heightened level of artificially. The beautiful puppets are entirely convincing (the sex scene alone is blush-worthy), but there's also an eeriness that fits the main character's mid-life crisis (voiced by the always brilliant David Thewlis). 4.5 stars out of 5. –Eli Glasner, reporter.
Beasts of No Nation
From the accents to the violence to the storyline, Beasts of No Nation is an uncompromising look at child soldiers. Idris Elba may be the main attraction here, but Abraham Attah is the standout. As an orphan-turned-warrior, he encapsulates the horrible destruction these children are capable of while simultaneously showing us the spark of innocence that flickers in a smile. Director Cary Fukunaga's urgent, swirling cinematography immerses us in this tale of a boy and a charismatic leader capable of turning children into beasts. 4.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Bespoke suits, bhangra music and blood: Beeba Boys ain't your classic gangster movie. Deepa Mehta tells a story of West Coast gang warfare within the Indo-Canadian community. Jeet Johar, the charming yet vicious leader of a Vancouver Sikh gang called The Beeba Boys, is surrounded by a loyal contingent of brothers – each one impeccably dressed and ready to do anything for his boss. When Johar launches a takeover of the Vancouver drug and arms scene, things get bloody. Stylish and violent, Beeba Boys is an exaggerated reflection of real people and events. 2.5 out of 5 stars. – Tashauna Reid, reporter.
Why did Deepa Mehta make a gangster movie? I was looking to get into the dirty underbelly of the Indo-Canadian crime scene. Instead, I got jokes about samosas and moms. The suits look good though. 1 out of 5 stars. – Ed MacDonald, video editor.
An extremely stylish movie by Deepa Mehta about East Indian gangs in Vancouver. Through the metaphor of endless shots of aquariums, we come to realize that although the gang deals in the drug business, its members see themselves as observers rather than participants. Mehta focusses on the modern day story of gangs rather than try to explain the experience of the Indian diaspora in Canada – a breakthrough in that respect. 4 out of 5 stars. – Sian Jones, producer.
With pock-marked skin, a receding hairline and dead eyes, Johnny Depp is creepy and uncharacteristically uncharismatic as Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger, Boston's real-life mob boss who became an FBI informant. Joel Edgerton is crooked FBI agent John Connolly, all sweaty and shifty as the knowledge spreads about his dealings with the mafia. But he's served short by dialogue that's mainly iterations of "We're from Southie. It's all about loyalty. You don't understand." Though entertaining, Black Mass lacks the heart and cinematic aplomb of Martin Scorcese's similarly-themed The Departed. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Deana Sumanac-Johnson, reporter.
Johnny Depp wants an Oscar and Black Mass might give him a shot. Depp takes a break from playing his usually Peter Pan-type characters to inhabit the slimy skin of Whitey Bulger, the infamous mobster from Southie (Boston). Crazy Heart director Scott Cooper gives us a gritty, unglamorous tale that isn't so much an arc of a story, but rather a long slog. The cast is impressive, particularly Benedict Cumberbatch as Whitey's brother and Joel Edgerton as his inside man at the FBI. Depp is trying mightily here and there are moments where he's truly terrifying. At other times, it seems an artful simulation. 3.5 stars out of 5. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Born to Be Blue
Ethan Hawke delivers a gritty, raw performance as jazz legend Chet Baker in Born to be Blue, which is equal parts fact and fiction. It charts the story of Baker's real-life battle with heroin addiction, with the film focussing on the jazz icon's fall from grace in the 1960s, his struggle to get clean and his attempt to launch a comeback with the support of his leading lady, Jane (played by Carmen Ejogo). 3 out of 5 stars. – Tashauna Reid, reporter.
This story about Chet Baker's comeback in the late 60s, after having served time in jail and struggled to overcome heroin addiction, features a riveting performance by Ethan Hawke as the jazz legend. Born to be Blue does not gloss over his hopeless addiction and also gives insight into the U.S. racial dynamics of the era. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Sian Jones, producer.
You can't take your eyes off Saoirse Ronan's luminous and expressive face, which is in almost every scene of Brooklyn, in which she stars as Eilis Lacey, a young Irish woman encouraged to leave home and make a new life in the U.S. Her journey through homesickness, love (with the charming Emory Cohen as her Italian-American boyfriend) and return home to her mother is beautiful to experience and look at. On paper, this sounds like a movie you've seen a thousand times, but it's no stodgy period piece. With a funny and touching script by Nick Hornby, beautiful acting and directing, Brooklyn is a joy to visit. 4.5 out of 5 stars. – Ilana Banks, producer.
Jean-Marc Vallée does it again in this full-blooded tale about Davis, a man who decides to deconstruct his life after an accident. Jake Gyllenhaal is funny, soulful and sad as a man struggling for answers. Judah Lewis, as the son of Naomi Watt's character, is a revelation: a young man lost in his own way. Together, they make a wonderful mess. 5 stars out of 5. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
It's the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka and we meet Dheepan, a former Tamil fighter desperate to flee after losing his family. At a refugee camp, he recruits a young woman and a girl to pose as his family. Convincing aid workers and using the passports of a deceased family, the trio make their way to France where these strangers must live as a family and adjust to a new world. However, the violence they hoped to escape finds them in their new neighbourhood. Powerful, raw and timely, given the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. 4 out of 5 stars. – Tashauna Reid, reporter.
Another YA adventure where young people struggle to keep their emotions in check, Equals takes place in a futuristic society where feelings have been engineered away. Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult play two rebels who begin exhibiting emotions and decide to embrace them. While the themes may be familiar, what sets Equals apart is an artful aesthetic: austere white spaces and throbbing soundtrack. The film's "collective" looks like an Orwellian Society with a New Age makeover. With pursed lips and angst-filled glances, Stewart and Hoult give this love story a pulse. 4 stars out of 5. – Eli Glasner.
Everything Will Be Fine
Wim Wenders returns to 3D for this story of intersecting lives starring James Franco and Charlotte Gainsbourg. The film, which revolves around lives changed by an accident, is set in Quebec – but only nominally since no one seems to speak French (though Rachel McAdams attempts a Quebecois accent). The use of 3D is subtle and you'll have lots of time to admire the elegantly composed shots, as the movie itself meanders to a tepid conclusion. Franco sleepwalks and whispers through the entire film, while Gainsbourg's character is criminally underused. 2.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Eye in the Sky
A British colonel (Helen Mirren) who discovers a safe house of high-ranking terrorists sees her capture mission switched to kill when it's determined they're arming up for a terror attack. Meanwhile, an American drone operator (Aaron Paul) awaits the go-ahead to carry out a strike on the terrorists. Things get complicated when an innocent girl enters the kill zone. The film goes inside the control rooms of the world's most powerful militaries as they struggle to minimize collateral and diplomatic damage, while attempting to prevent a bigger catastrophe. Be prepared to be at the edge of your seat. 3 out of 5 stars. – Tashauna Reid, reporter.
Is it ok to kill people with the push of a button? This is the question asked by everyone in this movie, from the drone pilot (Aaron Paul) to the colonel (Helen Mirren in a bit of interesting casting). In the end, things go boom, people are upset. Not deep and the film had tonal issues. 1 out of 5 stars. – Ed MacDonald, video editor.
Overwrought and idealistic, Eye in the Sky is in many ways a typical TIFF film: packed with stars and likely doomed to fade out of sight afterwards. Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul and Alan Rickman star in this global drone-based drama centred on the real debate about a missile strike on a Kenyan terrorist cell. Is a drone strike worth the life of charming girl selling bread? Watch the Brits bicker and find out. 3 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
A traditional western with a storyline about family bonds, guilt, forgiveness and a whole lot of shooting. Father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland appear onscreen together for the first time as Reverend Clayton and his former gunslinger offspring John Henry Clayton, whose reformed ways don't last when he's required to avenge some wrongdoing, Jack Bauer-style. Michael Wincott delivers a strong performance as a villainous friend and rival and there's a twist at the end that's an audience pleaser. If you're a fan of the Sutherlands or of westerns, you'll happily munch popcorn through this one, but if not, don't expect too much from Forsaken. 3 out of 5 stars. – Stephanie Matteis, reporter.
The main selling feature of this weepy Western is the rare sight of father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland sharing the screen. Yes, they are both in this movie – along with a collection of clichés and dialogue so weighty it's amazing these cowpokes could stand upright. With its story about a gunslinger ruined by violence, Forsaken feels like it's stretching for the same territory of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. But with paper-thin characters and script that leans towards the obvious, the few real emotional moments between father and son are wasted. Only Brian Cox, as the rootin-tootin', F-bomb dropping land developer, remembered to have some fun. 2.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
It takes something significant to steal a scene from Julianne Moore, but that's exactly what Ellen Page accomplishes in Freeheld, a timely look at a gay couple's fight for equality. Moore and Page play two partners in New Jersey in the early 2000s. What keeps the story from drowning in sap is the dynamic relationship at its core: the tough cop scared of losing her career and her younger lover frustrated at being relegated to the shadows. It's a power struggle between two strong women. Steve Carell and Michael Shannon fill out the excellent cast. That Freeheld is based on a true story makes it slightly predictable, but doesn't take away from the emotion conclusion. Let's be honest: I nearly lost it in the final few minutes. 4.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
He Named Me Malala
From director Davis Guggenheim, He Named Me Malala suffers from a painfully earnest streak. No one can argue about Malala Yousafzai's courage in the face of what she suffered and the cause for which she continues to fight. You couldn't pick a better, more eloquent advocate for girls' right to education, which Guggenheim keeps reminding us again and again. What elevates the doc is Malala herself: a girl still adjusting to life and school in Britain, who enjoys magic tricks and Googling pictures of movie stars. It's not that Malala is every woman. It's her individually and infectious spirit that makes the film worth watching. 3.5 stars out of 5. – Eli Glasner, reporter
This horror movie from Bruce MacDonald starts off promising, but goes nowhere. Set in a small town on Halloween, Hellions centres on a 17-year old who discovers she is pregnant. Staying home that night, she is terrorized by small people with mean spirits. A complete waste of time that doesn't even have the benefit of camp, it suggests Bruce Macdonald should return to directing movies about rock bands on the road. 0 out of 5 stars. – Sian Jones, producer.
A unique look at the Canadian Armed Forces mission in Afghanistan, Hyena Road follows a group of Canadian snipers assigned to keep an important new transport highway free from danger. But after an attack by the Taliban, the plot thickens with the return of a former legendary fighter known as "The Ghost." Wisecracking intelligence officer (and director) Paul Gross tries to track him down, while navigating through the moral and ethical struggles of war. A honest depiction of the cost of war for both sides, through the eyes of those fighting in it. 3 out of 5 stars. – Tashauna Reid, reporter
As the phrase "A film by Paul Gross" appears onscreen, the actor-filmmaker's rumbling voice fills our ears describing the fiery furnace of Afghanistan. The narration is Phillip Marlow-meets-Pierre Burton, overbearing and unnecessary, because Hyena Road develops a momentum of its own as it explores a relationship between an intelligence specialist (Gross) and a Canadian sniper (Rossif Sutherland) who is trying to recruit former mujahedeen. Filled with heavy armour and call signs galore, Hyena Road has a bit of an authenticity fetish. In the end, it's the willingness to pull no punches that says more than enough. 3 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Into the Forest
Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood are two sisters living with their father in a remote cabin in the woods when disaster strikes. The continent appears to lose power, their father dies in an accident and the sisters are left to fend for themselves. Into the Forest is a story about the enduring relationships and an examination of how people can rise to the occasion when confronted with extreme challenges. Luminous performances by Page and Wood. 3 out of 5 stars. – Sian Jones, producer.
It's Tom Hardy x2 in this story about the real life Kray Twins, the dapper East End mobsters who ruled London in the Sixties. Hardy portrays both brothers: Reggie the handsome, somewhat civilised one and Ronnie the openly gay psychopath, who gets randy if he hasn't had a good punch-up. From the director of L.A. Confidential,Legend captures the cockney charm of criminal life in that era, but it suffers from third act problems as well as an underdeveloped character of Frances (Emily Browning), the wife of Reggie. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
A mother fighting breast cancer, a stoic soccer coach and a singing gynaecologist are the mushy heart of this Spanish film starring Penelope Cruz. Ma Ma is a full-blooded melodrama, its arteries clogged with cheese. As a woman losing her body to the disease, Cruz bravely bares all, but this slow film makes her self-professed atheist into a modern-day saint. 2.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Italian auteur Nanni Moretti directs and co-stars in this gentle drama about getting on with life while losing a parent – a subject matter surprisingly little-explored in film. It follows film director Margherita (the luminous Margherita Buy, basically the Italian Meryl Streep) as she tries to finish a movie while also tending to her dying mother. Welcome lighter moments come courtesy of John Turturro as a kooky American star with a propensity for forgetting his lines. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Deana Sumanac- Johnson, reporter.
Miss You Already
Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette are Jess and Milly: lifelong best friends until the end. They've always done everything together, until a life-changing cancer diagnosis alters their lives forever. This dramedy – at times funny, at times dark and emotional – offers a rocky ride as we watch the women struggle through the ups and downs thrown at them. Anticipate excessively sad (and sometimes predictable) moments. Bring tissue! 2.5 out of 5 stars, – Tashauna Reid, reporter.
In rural Turkey, an aunt and uncle take extreme measures to keep five orphaned sisters' immoral behaviour under control. This is about a sisterhood of young women cloistered by tradition and fear. The irrepressible spirit of the girls (and Mustang's excellent casting) gives the film a lightness, but there is something much weightier hidden behind those iron gates. A remarkably assured first feature from Deniz Gamze Erguven. 4 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
No Men Beyond This Point
A very interesting concept film in mockumentary style, No Men Beyond This Point tells the story of Andrew, a 37-year-old housekeeper who is the last man born on the planet. I enjoyed the fact the film was set in the present and how the filmmakers tweaked history to reflect female dominance, but the present day storyline was also the weakest part. 2 out of 5 stars. – Ed MacDonald, video editor.
Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer is riveting as Zev, a man seeking revenge on the Nazi soldier who murdered his family at Auschwitz 70 years earlier. His dementia makes his journey increasingly difficult. With help from a fellow Auschwitz survivor and friend, he relies on a handwritten letter to remind him of his mission. The plot becomes complicated as Zev's fading memory gets in the way. Director Atom Egoyan takes audiences on an intricate, thrilling ride, with a few surprises along the way. 4 out of 5 stars. – Tashauna Reid, reporter.
With the heart-pounding action and violence you'd expect from a movie about Mexican drug cartels, Sicario also has something more: the insightful character studies of director Denis Villeneuve and a female protagonist convincingly played by Emily Blunt. She portrays goody-two-shoes FBI agent Kate Macey, who is recruited into an anti-drug squad about to take down a cartel. We experience the horror, complexity and moral ambiguity of this world through her big, expressive eyes. This might be the drug wars movie for those who don't like drug wars movies. 4 out of 5 stars. – Deana Sumanac-Johnson, reporter.
Set among Northern Ontario's looming cliffs and open water, the real landscape of director Andrew Cividino's first feature is the inner terrain of the teenage male. Sleeping Giant revolves around the fitful friendship of Adam, Riley and Nate – bored kids looking for trouble and who find it in this slow-release story. Unspoken assumptions and secrets threaten in this artful debut. A lush percussive score and the quietly expressive Jackson Martin as shy Adam help make this Giant worth watching. 4 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Son of Saul
Based on the experience of a Hungarian Jew held in a concentration camp during the Second World War, Son of Saul follows a man who has the harrowing job of leading prisoners into the showers where they will be executed and cleaning up afterwards by shovelling their remains into the river. Shaken by the death of one young boy, he is driven to give him a proper Jewish burial. Featuring superb acting on all levels, director Laszlo Nemes takes us right into the camp through a unique use of surround sound and filming in 35mm. 5 out of 5 stars. – Sian Jones, producer.
Among the horrors of the Holocaust, the Nazis assigned so-called Sondercommandos a peculiarly dehumanizing job: to herd fellow inmates into gas chambers and dispose of their bodies. Saul is one such man, his face an effigy of pain. When he believes he's found his own son among the dead, his humanity is restored as he attempts to give the boy a proper burial. Much of the film lingers on Saul's face, leaving the most lurid shots out of focus: an interesting directorial choice that avoids a fetishistic lingering on the bodies of victims that still allows viewers to feel the full oppressiveness of his situation. A powerful, devastating film. 5 out of 5 stars. – Deana Sumanac-Johnson, reporter.
Journalists will love this film about the team of Boston Globe investigative reporters who exposed the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, but I'm not sure non-media types will get as much out of it. Anchored by Michael Keaton and Liev Schrieber, the cast is stellar though their characters – all good guys, all workaholics – seem underdeveloped. Amidst furious note-scribbling and frantic phone calls, the film's focus flounders at times. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Deana Sumanac-Johnson, reporter.
The Danish Girl
A sensual film artfully made, The Danish Girl gives Eddie Redmayne another opportunity to transform. This time, it's the tale of Lili Elbe, a Danish painter born male who ached to become a women. Redmayne's portrayal is a delicate, sensitive thing – a hand lingering over a woman's stocking and the desire written in Elbe's eyes and quivering lips. With the painterly composition of director Tom Hooper, the tale of Elbe's transition comes almost too easily. Perhaps that's why Alicia Vikander's performance as the artist's wife is so captivating. Torn between losing the person she married and respecting Elbe's wishes, it's a portrait of a devastating kind of love. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Geoffrey Rush, Miranda Otta, Sam Neil and an effervescent Odessa Young star in this Aussie drama about a knotted family tree. Dread gathers like storm clouds in this adaptation of Ibsen's Wild Duck, but director Simon Stone dives beneath the surface with craning camera movements and editing that's loose and impressionistic. Rush may be the big name here, but Young and Ewen Leslie (as her father) steal the show. 4 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
The Lobster is set in a dystopian future where it's illegal to be single and those who find themselves in this predicament are forced to find a mate within 45 days. Those who fail will be turned into an animal (of their choosing). Colin Farrell plays David, a man dumped by his wife and confined to an institution called The Hotel where he must find his true love. Full of dark humour and bizarre twists, I guarantee you've never seen anything like this. 3 out of 5 stars. – Tashauna Reid, reporter.
The Lobster is an absurd tale set in the future, where single people must check into a hotel and fall in love or be turned into an animal of his or her choosing. Our main character, Colin Farrell, chooses to become a lobster if he fails. He doesn't find love in the woods, but does with a group of renegades living in the forest. I laughed out loud from start to finish at this comic dissertation on dating and relationships. 4.5 out of 5 stars. – Sian Jones, producer.
The Man Who Knew Infinity
This is a soppy bit of spoon-fed cinema, where the makers of a film about mathematical geniuses treat the audience like simpletons. The movie recounts the unusual partnership of Cambridge University's Prof. G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons) and self-taught Indian wunderkind Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel), but fails to explore any of the fascinating parallels between these two rebels from different continents. Those looking for insights into Ramanujan's theories on infinity will be left starving for analogies, while being treated to endless scenes of Dev Patel furiously scratching equations on paper. 2 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
Oscar-winner Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom) follows the Silk Road Ensemble as the troupe brings its transnational folk music to audiences. Revelations about the musicians' tragic lives surprise even the group's founder, renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The Music of Strangers is a lovely look at the joy music can bring when it connects with its roots. 4 out of 5 stars. – Nigel Hunt, producer.
This straightforward bio pic revolves around cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France-winning cyclist Lance Armstrong (played by Ben Foster), who doped his way to the top and fooled us all. Or, as British director Stephen Frears seems to imply, perhaps we wanted so much to believe in his heroic story that we ignored the obvious deception until a determined journalist (Chris O'Dowd) finally broke the story. Though a solid retelling of the tale, The Program doesn't go far enough beyond the news and documentaries detailing this epic rise and fall from grace. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Nigel Hunt, producer.
The Rainbow Kid
This movie is the Down syndrome road trip movie nobody asked for. Dousing, punk, cross-dressing, sexual exploitation and rainbows are all part of this very strange journey that concludes with the main character ending up exactly where he didn't want to be. 1 out of 5 stars. – Ed MacDonald, video editor.
Cultures collide and Nickelback jokes abound when dysfunctional adult siblings (Emmanuelle Chriqui and Jason Ritter) make the trek from New York to cottage country to spend a dreaded weekend with their dad and wacky step-family, led by an effervescent Christine Lahti. The best zingers go to Benjamin Arthur, the standout as eldest son Keith, proud proprietor of "Ontario's third-largest paintball field." Though hokey at times, there's enough heart and edge here that you may find the film grows on you. Attention, real estate aficionados: get a load of the lake house. 2.5 out of 5 stars. – Charlotte Arnold, intern.
Hollywood has a soft spot for self-congratulatory stories like the tale of Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted screenwriter who went on to pen Spartacus. While the movie has a sense of inevitability, who can argue with the casting of Bryan Cranston as the rabble-rousing writer? Cranston brings his angry everyman energy to the role, aided by a wonderfully witty script (Trumbo had a talent for speechifying). Filling out the cast of this Lalaland tale is a cavalcade of stars, including Diane Lane as the stoic wife and a hilarious John Goodman as studio chief Frank King. Keep your eyes peeled for a scene-stealing Louis C.K. as Arlen Hird, the screenwriting pal who kept Trumbo grounded. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Filmed in a single continuous shot, German film Victoria comes across as a mix of Birdman, Bonnie and Clyde and Before Sunrise. Party girl Victoria leaves a club and is adopted by a group of "real Berliners" – petty criminals who are charming in a scruffy sort of way. As their late-night walking tour takes an ominous turn, the unbroken cinematography keeps the tension high while leaving room for expressive moments. Olivia Neergaard-Holm is remarkable. 4.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.
Where To Invade Next
Michael Moore tamps down the bitterness and instead takes us on a mostly lighthearted tour of countries excelling where America does not. More optimism and less cynicism is a good formula for the populist documentarian. 3.5 out of 5 stars. – Eli Glasner, reporter.