Author: Andrew Parker

Forty years of hidden gems: underrated past picks from TIFF’s programmers

As the Toronto International Film Festival celebrates its milestone 40th anniversary this year, the focus inevitably turns to the tangible origins of the festival, controversial or game-changing moments in cinematic history, as well as the films, celebrities and filmmakers that would go on to become massive commercial, artistic and award-winning success stories. However, something is lost in such a narrow viewpoint. Since 1976, TIFF has shown hundreds of films every year — thousands over its lifetime. While TIFF has most recently garnered worldwide attention, not only as a festivalbut as a buyer’s market, where independent, foreign and avant-garde cinema can find distributors and reach larger audiences, one of the biggest joys of the festival is catching films that might not ever be seen elsewhere. Not every film can strike multi-million dollar deals. Some will only receive token releases; some will never leave their country of origin again; some will be held up by rights issues that will plague distribution efforts; some will go straight to DVD; some will go to VOD; and some will never find a home. This isn’t necessarily an indictment that the films weren’t successful as artistic endeavours, more so that they flew so far under the radar that not many people saw them. Certainly the decision makers didn’t see many of them, and not every filmmaker can afford thousands of dollars for two weeks of...

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Review: Cop Car

In the remote badlands of Colorado, a pair of runaway kids under the age of ten (James Freedson-Jackson and Hays Wellford) happen upon what appears to be an abandoned Sheriff’s Department vehicle with the keys still inside. Seeing it as a chance to get further away from their previous lives and a fun chance for a joyride, they abscond with the car. What they don’t count on is the vehicle’s owner, crooked and corrupt Sheriff Mitch Kretzer (Kevin Bacon), coming after them in a desperate attempt to retrieve the car and the highly volatile contents located in the trunk. A narratively slow burning, but somehow still fast-paced thriller, Cop Car has been gaining lots of buzz on the indie scene since debuting at Sundance earlier this year, so much so that director and co-writer Jon Watts (who previously directed the Eli Roth-produced horror entry Clown) has been tapped by Sony for the latest Spider-man reboot. With so much expectation riding on Cop Car and its director, a certain pause should be taken. Cop Car is a good film not a great film and certainly not the second coming of cinema that the Hollywood hype machine seemingly wants to make it out to be. It’s a nifty, gorgeously mounted, well-acted and largely unpretentious thriller and should be gaining its merit points on those grounds. Watts and co-writer Christopher D. Ford (Clown, Robot & Frank)...

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Review: Learning to Drive

After being callously left by her cheating husband following 21 years of marriage, literary critic Wendy (Patricia Clarkson) finds herself lacking self-esteem, confused by her lot in life, and in the throes of a slow-burning breakdown. Spurned on by an invitation to visit her daughter (Grace Gummer) on a farm in Vermont, Wendy turns to a kindly Sikh cabbie and driving instructor, Darwan (Ben Kingsley), to learn how to get behind the wheel of a car. Darwan, who is trying to protect his illegal-immigrant son (Avi Nash) and is about to enter into an arranged marriage with a sheltered woman (Sarita Choudhury) he knows nothing about, tries to get Wendy to realize her strength and self-worth. Relentlessly corny, but also amiably warm hearted, Isabel Coixet’s unabashed, crowd pleasing Learning to Drive — which was a runner up for an audience award at least year’s Toronto International Film Festival — wears its heart on its sleeve, but that’s not necessarily a demerit against the film. It’s actually an asset that makes the film feel a lot less contrived and touchy-feely than the script from Sarah Kernochan (All I Wanna Do, 9 1/2 Weeks) comes across. Every moment of dialogue between Wendy and Darwan in the early going sounds like it has been ripped from a C-grade inspirational book with nothing but tacky quotes on the page, but these moments progress into...

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Review: Court

A folk singer, teacher, and left-wing radical (Vira Sathidar) has been arrested and charged for abetting the suicide of a young man in Mumbai. Two days after performing a song that references taking one’s own life, a sewage worker is found sans protective gear in a manhole, having suffocated from poisonous gasses. The attorney for the defence (Vivek Gomber, who also serves as producer), a human rights activist like his client, knows there’s more to the case than meets the eye, and that the prosecuting attorney (Geetanjali Kulkarni) has almost no evidence linking the two events outside of a draconian law and a wealth of accusations of potentially seditious activities. As the bail hearings and trial progress, however, the case becomes messier for both sides involved. The debut feature from Indian filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane, Court, is a slow, nuanced and ultimately pointed indictment of his country’s legal system, but it could just as easily be tweaked and adapted to look just as closely at North American and European issues. The case against the singer being questioned is nothing more than a straw man argument designed to talk about bigger issues and to instil fear into anyone potentially disagreeing with the government, but the prosecution refuses to admit as such. But Tanhane isn’t squarely focused on conservative paranoia or the letter of the law, but rather what’s happening within the...

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Review: We Are Your Friends

Aspiring EDM DJ Cole Carter (Zac Efron) is at the point in his self-admittedly easy career where he needs to decide if what he’s doing is a hobby or if he’s even any talented at all. Torn between impressing a once brilliant, now washed up, but still popular DJ (Wes Bentley) and his personal assistant-slash-vastly younger girlfriend (Emily Ratajkowski) or following along with his trio of best friends from the San Fernando Valley (Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer), Cole has to decide on a path where his music, his livelihood, and his well being will meet. We Are Your Friends is the rare kind of film that takes the perfect middle ground between being a good movie and being a bad movie, with the latter sadly winning out by a hair. For every two great moments in director and co-writer Max Joseph’s film that feel fresh, nuanced and vibrant, there are a handful of others that make the film feel like an even douchier version of a Bud Light commercial. The film should play quite simply as a mash-up of Magic Mike, Entourage, and Saturday Night Fever, but Joseph, co-writer Meaghan Oppenheimer, and the film’s cast have grander ambitions than to rest on bro-movie cliches. When the film works up the gumption to think outside the box, it becomes pretty special, but on the whole it’s like having...

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Review: No Escape

Texan water industry worker Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) drags his family to an unspecified (but apparently close to Vietnam) country in Asia for a new job. His wife (Lake Bell) and daughters are understandably trying their best to adjust, but mere hours after their arrival in the fourth world, the country’s government is overthrown, and Jack is unwittingly one of the people an angry mob of rioters and revolutionaries has marked for death. With almost every exit from the country impossible to reach and safe hiding places a scarcity, Jack is forced into a violent fight to protect his family. I hate when people bring out cell phones during a movie as much as anyone else, but only about 99% of the time. In the case of a film like the god awful No Escape, I welcome them for a variety of reasons. Primarily, if the movie I’m watching is reprehensible trash, I use a theatre texter to gauge approximately how long into the movie it took to lose this member of the audience. If I see a bunch of phones coming out, that’s a sign that most of the audience is lost. Then I pay attention to how long they’re on the phone. Do they need a brief respite from what they’re watching by taking a call or text or are they actively doing something else. I saw a lot...

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Review: How to Make Love Like an Englishman

The house style of Toronto Film Scene usually dictates that I start every review with a plot synopsis before getting into the review. In the case of the feeble, offensive, and pathetic wannabe romantic comedy How to Make Love Like an Englishman, I refuse. Part of that has to do with my seething hatred of what has to be one of the worst films I’ve sat through in years, but also because it’s so incompetent that I can’t fully tell you what the film’s about without explaining 100 minutes of exposition surrounding characters you’ll never want to spend a single second around let alone a feature film. Pierce Brosnan stars as Richard Haig, a British literary professor who finds his wandering eye halted when he shacks up with one of his students, Kate (Jessica Alba). She gets pregnant so he agrees to move to LA with her. He gets a job he hates, but he loves his kid. He also wants to desperately sleep with Kate’s sister Olivia (Salma Hayek). Kate cheats on him with a younger man (Ben McKenzie), he’s facing deportation, is busted for driving drunk and on painkillers, and his dad Gordon (Malcolm McDowell) is a lout who eventually comes to visit. Basically, Richard needs to get his life together, but not a word of it makes any sense. There’s no actual arc to the film’s protagonist. Stuff just happens...

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