Toronto International Film Festival
9-18 September, 2010


For the benefit of those of you who may eventually be directed here from someone's TIFF rundown, and who may assume that 57/100 amounts to an F.

100-90: Masterpiece, or damn close. Very rare.
89-80: Fanthefucktastic. Near-lock for my year-end top 10 list.
79-70: Definitely something special. Do not miss. Likely list contender.
69-60: Very good, but also flawed or missing some crucial element.
59-50: Didn't quite work for me, but has many redeeming qualities.
49-40: Demerits clearly outweigh merits.
39-30: I really did not enjoy this picture, but talent was involved.
29-20: When will this fucking picture end. When.
19-10: Outright fiasco and/or unwatchably boring.
9-0: One of the worst movies I've ever seen. Very rare.
W/O: I don't know the director and the first two reels (about 35 to 40 minutes) didn't convince me that (s)he has it going on.

Thu 9

The Light Thief (Aktan Arym Kubat, Kyrgyzstan/Germany/France/Netherlands): W/O
[Earnest, clumsy travails-of-my-nation-in-flux pic boasts some fascinating local color, but not enough.]

The Four Times (Michelangelo Frammartino, Italy/Germany/Switzerland): 61
[Only picked up on 75% of the titular intention without assistance -- the one I missed was "mineral," it seems. More conceptually interesting than moment-to-moment engrossing, with the notable exception of the goat section (#2: animal), which is first precisely the movie I wanted Sweetgrass to be and then suddenly becomes a heart-piercingly sadistic live-action Disney film. Shot of the year: Truck, stone, procession, herd, and the most amazing dog in the history of cinema.]

I'm Still Here (Casey Affleck, USA): 47
[Review forthcoming soon for Las Vegas Weekly. I admire the Kaufmanesque fortitude involved, but insight is disappointingly sparse (especially given the amount of time and effort that went into this project) and Phoenix just doesn't make a very funny tool.]

The Edge (Alexey Uchitel, Russia): W/O
[Bellicose, train-obsessed WWII micro-epic seems content to be aggressively loud. Some of the least elegant cross-cutting in recent memory.]

Inside Job (Charles Ferguson, USA): 46
[If you've never heard of a subprime mortgage, this is a movie you desperately need to see. Unfortunately, you can't read, so you'll have to learn that some other way. Note to Ferguson: Asking adversarial interview subjects blunt, pointed questions and then cutting away after a bit of hemming and hawing but before they actually attempt an answer isn't the devastating GOTCHA! you seem to think it is.]

Fri 10

Black Swan (Darren Aronofsky, USA): 65
[Kind of gloriously deranged, and unafraid to use Tchaikovsky for maximum garish effect. I do wish it weren't quite so committed to narrative hokiness -- there's a point at which the archetypal bleeds into the hackneyed, and then a further point at which it becomes just plain stupid. With less spoon-fed psychosexual context this could have been in the same freak-out arena as Repulsion, which it frequently resembles. Still, it ultimately won me over, mostly through sheer unabashed commitment on the part of both Portman and Aronofsky. They take this nonsense all the way.]

The Strange Case of Angelica (Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/Spain/France/Brazil): 43
[Seen only because I'm an NYFF completist -- I've never been able to get with Oliveira's deliberately stilted anachronistic program and clearly never will, even if he lives for another 100 years. Like Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, this flimsy fable would barely fill out a 15-minute short, which requires MdO to kill entire reels with irrelevant, tedious "conversation" about general relativity (a subject I usually find fascinating; takes some effort to bore me with it) and economics. Plus for some reason he loves Ricardo Trepa, who makes the animatronic characters at Disneyland look blazingly lifelike.]

The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, UK): 52
[I'd like to think Tati never made this movie because he realized the script wasn't really all that hot. Gorgeous to look at, with billowing steam-engine smoke to die for, but the attenuated story smacks of Chaplin at his most maudlin. Furthermore, Tati's unique brand of comedy was predicated almost entirely on his own performance, which Chomet only halfheartedly attempts to replicate, leaving an enormous black hole at the film's ostensible center of gravity. Loved the obese angry rabbit, but magic otherwise in short supply.]

It's Kind of a Funny Story (Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden, USA): 48
[Not really. Almost painful whenever Fleck & Boden attempt Edgar Wright-style snappiness -- they're consistently a half-beat off rhythmically, which is a lot like watching a movie where the sound is just a fraction of a second out of sync with the image. And then when it calms down it's mostly just stale platitudes and canned one-liners. Actors do their best, but Vizzini's novel has clearly been gutted, and I'm not even a fan of his (at least based on his New York Press pieces back in the '90s). Scott Tobias reminded me during the closing credits of Manic, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, which showed here in 2001 and then was promptly forgotten, even by me; it's a superior movie in every conceivable way.]

Life, Above All (Oliver Schmitz, South Africa/Germany): W/O
[Earnest goes to South Africa. Or rather, it never fucking leaves. #racist]

Sat 11

The Human Resources Manager (Eran Riklis, Israel/Germany/France/Romania): W/O
[Starts off intriguingly but soon reveals itself as an Israeli Tom Cruise picture: self-absorbed but fundamentally decent guy is forced by circumstance to embark upon a journey, discovering his dormant humanity along the way. Which would be fine were the movie not still establishing his callous indifference 40 freakin' minutes in. ]

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Jalmari Helander, Finland/Norway/France/Sweden): W/O
[Took a flier on this in a dead slot, unaware that it's a feature-length expansion of the director's popular series of shorts. Cutesy premise seems like it might work in 5- or 10-minute doses; not so sure about hyperactive pseudo-Burton direction.]

Hereafter (Clint Eastwood, USA): 25
[But with a difference! Unlike other recent terrible Clintflix, this one doesn't announce its idiocy right from the jump -- only in retrospect does the full force of its pointlessness hit you like that opening tsunami. (All downhill from there.) Of the three cross-cut narratives, only Damon's avoids a sense of marking time, thanks to Bryce Dallas Howard's live-wire turn; otherwise, there's not much to do except wait impatiently for the inevitable convergence, which (a) Peter Morgan engineers via phony character traits and dopey coincidences that would make even Guillermo Arriaga smack his head in disbelief, and which furthermore (b) culminates in absolutely nothing whatsoever. Seriously: SQUELCH. Turns out Hereafter fancies itself less a multi-strand story than a sort of gentle "meditation" on the nature of life after death. Trouble is, Morgan has no remotely interesting thoughts on the subject, and it's not as if Eastwood's renowned as a gap-filler. Ambitious, well-intentioned, useless.]

Sun 12

Silent Souls (Aleksei Fedorchenko, Russia): 67
[As much anthropological essay as narrative, which is at once a limitation and its primary source of fascination. I wonder whether I might not have liked it even more without the expository voiceover narration, which is not without a good deal of interest but also demystifies images that would only benefit from remaining utterly mysterious. Also, while the ending arguably makes more sense here than it did in the original Cannes cut of The Brown Bunny, it still feels pretty ad hoc and arbitrary. But I could have watched these two guys lovingly tend to the corpse all day long.]

Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán, France/Germany/Chile): W/O
[Every year I have one walkout I later regret, and I think this is the one for 2010. The first ten minutes were lovely, but then Guzmán started adding talking heads to the mix and I felt like the movie was both moving in a more conventional doc direction and repeating itself. Might give it another chance down the road, especially since several folks on Twitter have insisted I abandoned something pretty transcendent.]

The Sleeping Beauty (Catherine Breillat, France): 45
[Full disclosure: I was nodding off during this one, and so may not be doing it full justice. But I saw more than enough to feel confident that the picaresque, quasi-random approach Breillat takes to this fairy tale doesn't work half as well for me as did the superimposition of her usual concerns onto a fundamentally faithful retelling of Bluebeard. That film was also well served by the necessity to cast somebody huge and hideous in the title role, whereas here Breillat is free to return to the vacuous pretty boys she evidently finds so alluring. (See also: Gus Van Sant.) Little girl has some nice impish moments -- best in show, possibly improvised, is when she picks up a rubber band from a chest and lets out a massive BOIIIING!! -- but I just couldn't hack the complete disconnect between virtually any two given contiguous scenes.]

Leap Year (Michael Rowe, Mexico): 73
[Virtually identical in its basic premise to a movie I walked out of in disgust at Sundance '08, which only reinforces how much execution matters. Rowe handles the more controversial material remarkably well, but that's in large part a function of how expertly he integrates such sensationalism into the film's mundane voyeuristic tapestry -- Leap Year is as close as anybody's yet come to JenniCam: The Movie, except imagine that Ms. Ringley had no idea the camera was on and was truly behaving without even the barest hint of self-consciousness. Laura's casual lies on the phone, her optimistic primping, her utterly healthy interaction with her visiting brother, all only serve to make her ongoing loneliness that much more piercing, and ultimately contextualize the extremity to which she ultimately turns, which here (unlike in the shitty Sundance movie) feels tragic rather than just cheap and tawdry. (Rowe also nicely underplays Laura's ugly backstory, which emerges fairly clearly without ever actually being articulated.) Final shot's a bit tidy, but at the same time you do kind of want it, perhaps even need it.]

Amigo (John Sayles, USA): 49
[Okay, Sayles is over in my opinion. We've lost him forever to dreary righteousness. I said it before and I can only say it again: Dude needs to swear off anything involving regionalism for a while and just dash off some lurid genre piece. Somebody stand over his shoulder at the keyboard and just slap him hard every time he types the word "American." Seriously.]

Mon 13

Potiche (François Ozon, France): 64
[Good mock-retro fun, though it lacks the deep melancholy undercurrent that made 8 Women something more than frivolous. Ozon should really stick to this sort of exaggerated piffle -- when he tries for quiet naturalism, his movies are just plain dull. Nice to see Jérémie Rénier bust out a little bit, too, though only Karin Viard feels completely at home with the sensibility.]

Boxing Gym (Frederick Wiseman, USA): 60
[Here's the thing, for better and worse: If you have any familiarity at all with Wiseman, I don't need to tell you a damn thing about this film. You already know. Not my personal favorite milieu (I still haven't caught up with La Danse, same reason), but while there's more sustained shots of fisticuffs and footwork than I really needed, every conversation among staff and patrons contributes to Wiseman's ongoing project, which could simply be called People Are Endlessly Fascinating.]

I Saw the Devil (Kim Jee Woon, South Korea): 54
[Accomplished, but kind of icky, and not just in terms of the explicit gore factor (= high). Kim revels too much in sadism for its own sake, and for long stretches the film plays like a particularly brutal episode of Dexter, only minus its title character's ongoing internal war. (Final shot does make a Hail Mary attempt, but the floodgates-finally-open ploy worked much better in Fresh.) I've now seen four films by this guy, and I don't really have a sense of him as much more than a skilled technician, engineering nifty effects that lack emotional resonance. Dude certainly knows how to make you squirm, though.]

3 (Tom Tykwer, Germany): 38
[Somehow developed an instant, visceral dislike for the female lead, and by instant I mean despising the character by the conclusion of a short opening montage sequence in which she barely says or does anything. Then I quickly found myself hating the male lead almost as much. Then a third major character was introduced and before long I was really eager never to see him ever again, ever. And this is all before the ludicrous plot kicks in, giving this painfully self-serious melodrama the basic structure of a bedroom farce. That the rating's as high as it is serves as a testament to Tykwer's visual panache -- even when he has repellent characters doing blatantly nonsensical things, he knows exactly how to photograph them. Extra credit for that pool location alone.]

Blame (Michael Henry, Australia): W/O
[The "B" is superfluous. Sample expository dialogue: "Of course you're upset. I mean, she was my best friend, but she was your sister!"]

Gorbaciòf -- The Cashier Who Liked Gambling (Stefano Incerti, Italy): W/O
[Another one-note showcase for Toni Servillo as a grotesque. I was happy to bail when he started pushing his non-Italian-speaking Chinese girlfriend around the mall in a shopping cart.]

Tue 14

Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, USA): 85
[Stephen Meek was a real person. He died in 1886 at the age of 78. You can look that up in about 10 seconds -- I should know, I just did. So it's not as if Reichardt, by concluding this stubbornly materialist Western the way that she does (or doesn't), is engaging in cutesy postmodern gamesmanship. Just as our heroes ultimately chuck the grandfather clock and other burdensome non-essential items, Reichardt has pared Meek's ill-advised Oregon Trail detour down to its dusty, laborious essence, which means -- water in the desert indeed -- that we get a bona-fide drama rather than a musty history lesson. Granted, it's a tale told glancingly, to the point where it took me nearly two full reels to identify most of the film's small cast of well-known actors. Jonathan Raymond's uncommonly intelligent script kicks off in medias res and avoids signposting, an approach that Reichardt complements visually by eschewing close-ups (in Academy ratio, no less!) until we've trudged alongside these lost souls for a while. All the same, a stark dialectic gradually emerges, one that takes on genuinely gripping weight with the sudden arrival of a newcomer whose intentions are arguably no more inscrutable than are Mr. Meek's. The beauty of Meek's Cutoff is that nothing is forced -- you can discern a pointed political subtext, but it remains gloriously, y'know, sub, never imposing itself upon the inescapable physicality of torn moccasins and dim lantern light, of guns that take minutes to reload and distances that take months to cross. (The hand-stitched credits are an inspired touch.) It's an almost perfect amalgam of intellectual and earthbound. When the final line of dialogue was spoken -- at once hugely significant and utterly mundane -- I instantly thought, "That's it. She should just end the movie right here." About 30 seconds later I came all over all giddy. She's actually going to, isn't she? And she did.]

Peep World (Barry W. Blaustein, USA): W/O
[Just fucking dire. Erection-at-the-lectern gags, etc. You really have to work hard to make Rainn Wilson and Sarah Silverman this anti-funny.]

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Werner Herzog, USA): 55
[Like visiting a museum with Herzog as your audio tour guide. Which is not such a terrible thing, by any means, but this still feels kinda low-impact by his standards -- I doubt that somebody else's sanctioned film of the Chauvet Cave would be significantly different, save of course for the absence of radioactive albino alligators. Paintings are breathtaking, and for once 3-D actually serves a genuine function, allowing for a sense of contour that wouldn't otherwise be possible. Might have made a superlative half-hour short; feels padded at feature length.]

Promises Written in Water (Vincent Gallo, USA): 69
[Took me a while to understand that this is a by-god avant-garde work, as opposed to just Gallo fucking around. (Though perhaps it's naïve to assume that the two are mutually exclusive.) Mssrs. Sicinski and Stults tell me it's practically a greatest-hits collection of Warholian tropes, which I'm sure is the case. Unmoored from that context, however, and given some foreknowledge of how this particular project came to be (Gallo reportedly more or less Bogarted somebody else's movie), it plays as thrillingly radical, as if somebody had detonated a bomb at the center of a traditional narrative and then assembled the broken shards into a mosaic of beautiful marginalia. (The moment in which Sage Stallone shows up to kick-start the plot and gets sent packing, never to return, is Charlie Kaufman's Robert McKee takedown condensed into 30 irritable seconds.) Like most feature-length experimental cinema (in my limited experience), Promises Written in Water is ultimately less than the sum of its numerous singular parts, admirable but not quite satisfying. But Gallo remains bold and uncompromising and fearless, and I'm not sure there's another American independent filmmaker whose next picture I await so eagerly.]

Blessed Events (Isabelle Stever, Germany): W/O
[Reliable reports suggest that my beef with this film -- viz., its apparent lack of any kind of dramatic conflict whatsoever -- is in fact the whole point, and eventually drives the protagonist herself around the bend. But the movie is only about 90 minutes long, and I saw 40 minutes of it, or nearly half, and it hadn't yet even begun to shade from politely bland into too-good-to-be-true creepy. If you're making a distaff version of The Stepford Wives, or whatever psychological variant this turns out to be, get some freakin' discord in by the end of reel two.]

Wed 15

Mysteries of Lisbon (Raúl Ruiz, Portugal/France): 56
[Don't be intimidated by the epic running time (4.5 hours in theatrical form, reportedly even longer on television). Unlike Time Regained, while really requires some working familiarity with Proust, this elegant adaptation of a classic 19th-century Portuguese novel unfolds...well, like a page-turner, basically, replete with incident and confrontation and long-buried secrets emerging into the amber light. Ruiz's fluidly moving camera holds stodginess at bay, and it's not difficult to get pleasantly absorbed in the story as you would reading Hugo or Dickens. At the same time, though, this film plays like film adaptations of Hugo and Dickens you've seen -- none of which, I suspect, thrill you to the core. (If you truly love, say, Lean's David Copperfield, disregard.) As visually sophisticated as Mysteries of Lisbon is, it never remotely transcends its rather plummy genre -- there's none of the curious, out-of-time affectation that Terence Davies brought to The House of Mirth, for example. The mysteries are entirely surface-level.]

Trigger (Bruce McDonald, Canada): 41
[Hated the opening scene so much it may have permanently thrown me -- screenwriter Daniel MacIvor favors the sort of ping-pong hostility that I associate with really bad theater, and I instantly lost any sense of these two women as anything more than diametric constructs. But there are painful moments throughout, most notably Tracy Wright's big overwritten monologue (Joe Versus the Volcano notwithstanding, playwrights should just be forbidden from working in film) and Molly Parker's utter non-persuasiveness as a former rock star (was she in Sleater-Kidman?). To be honest, I wasn't familiar with Wright, despite having seen her in a handful of films (Highway 61, Last Night, Me and You and Everyone We Know), and didn't learn that she had recently died until after the screening; any elegiac qualities MacIvor and/or McDonald may have intended were lost on me. All I know is that I was subsequently startled by her touching and far more richly human performance in You Are Here (see below), despite the inherently chilly nature of that film. It's a much better legacy than this cavalcade of phoniness.]

13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, Japan): 74
[Just when I'd pretty much given up hope that Miike would ever make another movie that qualifies as more than a curio, he suddenly decides to sell out in high style. With the exception of one memorably nightmarish moment involving a nude, limbless woman writhing in permanent agony, this is just a straightforward, expertly choreographed samurai action flick, albeit with an atypical emphasis on the physical demands of the position and a healthy disregard for its fabled code of honor. Setup's a bit pokey, as is often the case, but the entire second half of the movie is one long, kickass battle sequence, at once kinetically thrilling in the Kurosawa/Kobayashi tradition and as goofily absurdist -- flaming oxen! booby-trapped buildings! -- as something out of Jeunet & Caro. And the atypically high level of -- this sounds very damning-with-faint-praise, but there's no real alternative -- basic craftsmanship Miike demonstrates here makes me wonder what he might accomplish if ever settles down and makes, oh, let's say just one movie per year. In short, best contemporary swordfightin' in recent memory. Neither Koji Yakusho (as the samurai leader) nor Yusuke Iseya (as the samurai wannabe) is Toshiro Mifune, but let's not demand miracles from the guy.]

Tabloid (Errol Morris, USA): 71
[Minor Morris? I suppose, but also his best film in a decade, if only because Joyce McKinney makes for his least evasive subject in that time. (Leuchter, McNamara and the Abu Ghraib crew obviously all have an overt political agenda, which doesn't really suit Morris' style.) I'm not convinced there's a whole lot of subtext to this tale apart from "crazy people are crazy," but the Believe It or Not quotient is off the charts; each new development is even more gobsmacking than the last, to the point where Morris' efforts to goose it even further -- underlining salacious remarks with tabloid-style graphics and so forth -- seems like overkill. For all the ostensible commentary on the media, what I mostly took away from McKinney's saga is the alarming gulf between intelligence and sense. Her I.Q. may well be 168, as she claims -- it takes a certain kind of genius to flee the country by posing as a deaf-mute mime -- but every idea that big brain comes up with ought to be quarantined.]

Thu 16

Oki's Movie (Hong Sangsoo, South Korea): 68
[It's really a shame that TIFF didn't also show Hahaha, as the two complement each other in interesting ways. Both are exercises in constantly shifting perspective, but Hong's spring movie, in keeping with its season, alternates POV every few minutes throughout, fizzy but somewhat inconsequential, while this one here is...well, more autumnal, with four discrete tales -- no single one of which grabs and regales you like Hahaha's farcical baton relay, but the entirety of which, as the film haltingly quasi-progresses, achieves more cumulative power. Only at the end does the umbrella title Oki's Movie make any sense, but bearing it in mind makes you conscious at once of the odd little game Hong's playing with his multi-film structure, viz. Okay, Whose Movie Is This Then? The film as a whole works because the answers are anything but obvious, given the way that identities and sympathies subtly shift with each new rendition of "Pomp and Circumstance"; I haven't yet seen anyone cite it, but this is effectively Hong's Rashomon, except the point isn't so much that each person sees the same events in a different way but that the truth of personal relationships, much like the space-time question of what happens when and who's moving vs. resting, depends upon your frame of reference (an idea Hong previously explored in Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, but to much lesser effect in my opinion, mostly because the alterations seemed small and arbitrary). Glorious final segment makes this explicit with a compare/contrast memory play, and also, as many have noted, sees Hong abandon the blinkered-male viewfinder for what may be the first time in his career, giving us a clear sense of what he thinks his ill-used women are thinking. It's oddly touching.]

127 Hours (Danny Boyle, USA): 69
[So what we have here, obviously, is a story that's all about stasis. Which means there are two potentially worthwhile approaches. I would have loved to see some hardcore auteur's utterly locked-down Aron Ralston saga, in which we the audience are as agonizingly trapped as our hero, but evidently the folks who made 127 Hours want it to gross more than $127. All the same, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed watching Boyle take it to the other extreme, employing his patented hyperactivity in a context where it makes no sense whatsoever. In essence, the movie becomes a somewhat manic character study, formally embodying its protagonist's gung-ho superjock mindset -- if anything, I found it perhaps a little too restrained, at its best during such deliberately outré sequences as Ralston's imagined morning-show appearance (FYC, Best Scene) and his (understandably) self-pitying fantasy of the party he couldn't attend. What's most frustrating are the occasions when it skates right up to a thrillingly bold precipice, only to retreat; I nearly broke down when Aron, several days into his nightmare and nearly resigned to his fate, pauses his video camera on a shot of a cute girl's cleavage and begins sadly, tentatively jerking off (with what's probably the wrong hand, no less). Boyle chickens out, but give him credit for going even that far.]

How I Ended This Summer (Alexei Popogrebsky, Russia): 77
[Remarkably divisive, to judge from reviews filed at Berlin and ND/NF -- but then, so, I imagine, was (is?) Woman in the Dunes, a stone masterpiece of which I was frequently and favorably reminded. Popogrebsky (who previously co-directed the fine, little-seen Koktebel) isn't working in such a heavily allegorical mode -- this movie takes place in the real world, though its technology seems curiously antiquated -- but he likewise predicates his drama on two characters isolated in a single forbidding location, which gradually does a number on the newcomer's unacclimated psyche. And he's gratifyingly allergic to psychological spoon-feeding, never so much as hinting at the reason for the inexplicable decision (or non-decision) that drives the film's riveting inaction. Absurdist third act might be the dealbreaker for some, but I loved its descent into stone-faced black comedy, which seems to have escaped some folks' notice. (Andrew Schenker at Slant characterizes it as a "chase sequence," which is like calling Gerry a road movie.) Both actors are superb -- the younger one, Grigory Dobrygin, never telegraphs anything, for which he deserves a frickin' medal -- but the movie's true star is the island itself, with its imposing cliffs and dilapidated shacks and sporadic, static-filled connection to the rest of humanity. I picture Popogrebsky visiting it, or somewhere similarly desolate, and thinking, "You know what this wasteland really needs? An intern."]

Guest (José Luis Guerín, Spain): 53
[Interesting idea but it doesn't quite play, mostly because nothing connects these far-flung episodes apart from the high concept -- it's like watching clips from a dozen different Wiseman docs tossed together. And even that concept seems a tad hectoring and self-congratulatory: "Far from the red carpet in each of these cities lies another, far more vital and interesting world -- here, let me show you." I don't doubt the guy's sincerity, but neither do I especially need a guided tour of authentic regional misery, plus hey let's talk to Jonas Mekas.]

Red Nights (Julien Carbon & Laurent Courtiaud, Hong Kong/China/France): W/O
[This movie's stupid. And it isn't even good trash -- not outrageous enough to be fun, way too stupid to take seriously. Just kinda dull. Though I did like the bit where our heroine recognizes previously unseen Evelyn Ng on the street by her shoes.]

Fri 17

The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Andrei Ujica, Romania): W/O
[Nothing wrong with this, just Not For Me. Politicians' speeches and photo ops give me hives, and I've spent my entire adult life ignoring them, even from candidates and officials I admire; 40 minutes of newsreel Ceausescu was enough to confirm that I couldn't hack over two hours more, no matter how potentially enlightening the public trajectory of his reign might be.]

October (Daniel Vega & Diego Vega, Peru/Venezuela/Spain): W/O
[I cannot believe people are still making this film. And this is a sibling team, so you'd think that if Daniel or Diego said "What if our grumpy moneylending hero learns a little something about compassion when he's forced by circumstance to care for an unwanted child?" that Diego or Daniel might reply "Genius, bro! And we know the little kid is sensitive on account of he has asthma, right? Also, we can accompany one or more heartrending sequences with Arvo Pärt's "Spiegel im Spiegel." And oh, get this, at the end? It'll turn out that every character in the movie is really just a projection of our psychotic hero's imagination! Dude, are you on fucking drugs?!?" Except, y'know. In Spanish.]

You Are Here (Daniel Cockburn, Canada): 70
[A new, invigorating variety of essay-film, seemingly tailor-made for folks like me whose leisure-time reading is devoted largely to pop-science tomes on neuropsychology and the nature of consciousness. Not that you'd mistake this for a documentary directed by Oliver Sacks or anything, mind. Cockburn (with whose acclaimed short films I am unfamiliar) takes a playful, even antic approach; each of his multiple vignettes has its own distinct personality, even as they slowly begin to cross-pollinate. Despite the absence of a linear narrative or traditional characters, You Are Here genuinely feels like a movie...though it also kind of inevitably makes you feel a bit like a lab rat, tasked with the challenge of mapping the film's numerous ideas to specific functions of the human brain. But while I'm still not quite sure e.g. what the ground-traffic controllers represent -- individual neurons? decision-tree paths? -- Cockburn's prodigious imagination and innate sense of dramaturgy ensures that "getting it" isn't the point, that the journey is pleasurable for its own sake. (Given the kind of film it is, the performances are remarkably good across the board, with special mention, as noted above [see Trigger], for the late Tracy Wright as the Archivist.) If nothing else, it's great nerdy fun to see something like the Chinese Room actually dramatized, even if (ahem) the accompanying narration more or less inverts the very point that Searle devised that scenario to make. You are heretic!]

Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari, Greece): 63
[Put this on my schedule largely because Tsangari co-produced Dogtooth, but I must say I still wasn't prepared for the actual movie to be quite so Dogtoothy. Essentially, it's a kinder, gentler cousin to that bizarro-world microcosm, with a slightly less stunted solo protagonist and a much more benign authority figure; this allows something approximating a nuanced performance from Venice winner Ariane Labed, but it also inevitably means that Attenberg comes across as the Lite alternative to something truly singular. Conflation of Eros and Thanatos is a bit schematic, too. And yet I could happily have watched this young woman take tentative steps out of prolonged pre-adolescence for hours more, especially when said steps are interpolated with funky wild-animal dance routines. If you must be derivative, be derivative of awesomeness.]

Cold Fish (Sion Sono, Japan): 19
[Hate to get all p.c. but this is just wildly offensive, and not in any kind of interesting or productive or challenging way. I'm not keen on push-the-milquetoast-to-the-brink stories to begin with, even when they're conceived as adroitly as this one is -- opening reels play beautifully, with the unimonikered Denden a disturbing hoot as the suspiciously friendly business rival whose jolly bluster clearly hides major pathology. Once the carnage begins in earnest, however, the movie turns tediously ugly, and there's just no possible justification for the sub-Neanderthal climax, which pretty much comes right out and asserts that if you're not raping your wife and beating your daughter into submission, you might as well just cut your balls off and be done with it. Truly grotesque.]

Sat 18

/How I Ended This Summer/ (Alexei Popogrebsky, Russia): 75
[Still terrific, but Popogrebsky does kinda whiff the key confrontation that kicks off the final act.]

Sandcastle (Boo Funjeng, Singapore): W/O

The Town (Ben Affleck, USA): 61
[What everybody else said, pretty much.]

Fire of Conscience (Dante Lam, Hong Kong/China): 50
[Too much plot, not enough action.]