Well, this is it. The Toronto International Film Festival begins tomorrow, and this is the last of our previews, with coverage of Vanguard films Boy A (pictured above) and Help Me Eros from Jonathan Goldsbie and Mathew Kumar, and reviews of a selection of Short Cuts Canada shorts from Mathew Kumar (in which he has the audacity to hand out a 0/5).
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to preview the Wavelengths or Midnight Madness programmes—or many, many other films—but we’ll be continuing our coverage throughout the festival with more coverage as soon as we can get it to you. If you’ve missed our coverage so far, don’t miss our previews of the Gala and Contemporary World Cinema programmes, or of the Special Presentation, Real to Reel and Canada First! programmes.
BY JONATHAN GOLDSBIE
I was shocked to learn from the end credits of Boy A that it’s actually a TV movie produced for Britain’s Channel 4; nothing in the film (save perhaps its crisp digital-video aesthetic) suggests that it’s anything less than a first-rate independent feature production. Andrew Garfield stars as Jack, a young adult who has just been released from prison and must begin living under a new identity for his own protection. Although countless films start from similar premises, what sets Boy A apart is the key fact that the titular character is not hiding from former criminal associates, but rather from a bloodthirsty public. Peter Mullan shines as his sympathetic caseworker. Irish theatre director John Crowley shows a remarkable command of the filmic medium, with careful compositions, bravura long takes, and precise coordination with location elements (a roller coaster’s perfectly-timed entrance into a shot is breathtaking). The working-class British milieu makes this the Dardennes’ Le Fils as directed by Ken Loach. Let’s hope it gets the theatrical release it deserves, both in its native Britain and elsewhere. 4/5
Help Me Eros
BY MATHEW KUMAR
Opening with some of the most shocking scenes of fish cruelty we’ve ever seen in the name of cuisine (way worse than Oldboy’s cephalopod abuse, we swear), observed passively on television by main character Ah Jie (played by Lee Kang-Sheng, also the director), Help Me Eros quickly sets up the motif of characters wandering through their lives alone—watching TV alone, eating alone. Shot in gorgeous style under the watchful eye of producer and art-director Tsai-Ming Liang, this is a much more evenly paced and complete film than Liang’s recent The Wayward Cloud (the most obvious point of comparison), with similarly charged but un-erotic sex scenes. The biggest problem with Help Me Eros is that a film with only stumbling, deeply alienated ciphers is itself quickly alienating. In the end it’s hard to care, but nice to look at. 2/5
Short Cuts Canada
BY MATHEW KUMAR
Loudly, Death Unties
Of Nick and Sheila Pye’s short at last year’s festival, we said, “becomes dull about half way through.” The same can be said about this one. The cinematography is meticulous and the themes initially intriguing, but it just doesn’t work for us. 2/5
The Last Moment
If you go to see Programme 1, this is the last short, and we recommend you walk out before it begins. Deco Dawson loops the story of a man, a woman and a room through a variety of decades, genres and styles, but never manages to do anything with it except bore. The final nail in the coffin is actress Eve Majzels. Woefully amateurish, she turns The Last Moment from just boring to truly excruciating. 0/5
Dust Bowl Ha! Ha!
Unemployment can be like a deep depression, a fog that clouds everything. Sebastien Pilote expresses this skilfully with this tight, well shot short. Shows real promise. 4/5
Da Da Dum
A woman with no eyes dances, defying the laws of gravity in an attempt to escape the room in which she is trapped. Similar, almost, to Loudly, Death Unties, but without any of the visual panache or even the limited interest. 1/5
Gene Boy Came Home
Gene Boy leaves the Odanak Reserve at fifteen, works in New York, goes to Vietnam, and comes home with mental problems. We’ve summarized this gentle 25-minute doc for you in a sentence, and there’s not much more to it than that. Sweet enough, we suppose. 2/5
If this doesn’t win the NFB (and Canada) its second Oscar in a row, it’ll be gob-smacking. Flawless, ground-breaking puppetry (featuring “eye-actors”) that has to be seen to be believed wraps the engrossingly fantastical night-train journey of Madam Tutli-Putli, with not a second wasted. If there’s a problem, it’s that it’s almost frustratingly perfect. See it. 5/5
Torontoist is quite soppy, really, so this cute short featuring a mix of live-action and CGI about Mr. Key on a terrible journey to rescue his wife from the evil Keyfiend wrapped us up completely. 3.5/5
Blood Will Tell
A strange creature spreads his disease in an attempt to escape it. The horror here is (really) understated, but it’s well put together. 2.5/5
Knights of Atomikaron
Oh dear. We love Adam and Dave to bits, but this 6-minute version of live-action role-playing doc Darkon is, well, pointless, at no funnier than the original (real) documentary. It even seems a bit mean-spirited, really. Do better next time, lads. 1/5
Apart from the sadly jarring exposition right at the start, A.J. Bond’s Hirsute is a solid short, inventive both visually and in narrative. Time travel is a tricky subject, but Bond crafts something that makes us all ponder what we’d do when presented with our future selves. 4/5
Very obviously the work of a visual-effects supervisor and commercial director, Trevor Cawood’s Terminus is a terrifically professional work that’s amusing and enjoyable to look at. The ending is complete rubbish, though. 3.5/5
Director of Eve and the Fire Horse Julie Kwan tells the small story of an immigrant Chinese family on their way to get a family portrait at Sears for the family in China, but it’s such a small story it’s a wonder why she bothers telling it at all. Smile also looks really (really) cheap. Disappointing. 1/5
A lonely Montreal cab driver hits a cyclist and then acts illogically in the heat of the moment. Code 13 sets itself up to examine the moral consequences of that action, but then just ends instead. Not sure why that is. Beautifully shot, though. 2.5/5
Preceding A Feature Film
A cute story utterly ruined by an invasive and pointless voiceover. Note to directors: if you can’t say it without narration, have a really long hard think about what you’re trying to do. If they dropped the voiceover we’d give it more than 2/5.