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TIFF 2013: First Batch of Capsule Reviews

September 5, 2013

By John Corrado

The Record BreakerThe 38th Toronto International Film Festival kicks off this evening with the world premiere of Bill Condon’s The Fifth Estate, a drama centred around WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Bruhl).

Although I am under strict embargo on reviewing The Fifth Estate until the film opens in October, I screened an unfinished cut of the opening night selection exactly three weeks ago, and have spent the last little while working hard to make my TIFF coverage as awesome as possible.  I have already had the opportunity to screen seven films in advance, and have tickets to see a bunch more throughout the festival, including some of the most hotly anticipated titles.

Below are my thoughts on five of the ones that I have already seen, arranged in order of when they premiere at the festival.  My capsule reviews will be published every couple of days, with the next set of several hopefully coming on Saturday.  You can get more information on all of the films playing at TIFF and purchase single tickets right here.  Enjoy!

Parkland:  Starting with the tragic events of November 22nd, 1963, Parkland dramatizes the murder of John F. Kennedy and how the subsequent days unfolded.  We see the nurses (Marcia Gay Harden and Zac Efron) who tried to save the president’s life, the investigator (Ron Livingston) who set out to solve the crime, and the reporter (Paul Giamatti) who witnessed and filmed those fateful moments.  Although the film sometimes veers into melodrama and certain scenes are overwrought, especially during the often frantic first act, there are some interesting elements in Parkland that are worthwhile.  Some of the more intriguing scenes come after Lee Harvey Oswald (Jeremy Strong) is convicted, and his brother (James Badge Dale) is left to deal with the aftermath and their mentally ill mother (Jackie Weaver).  The cast that director Peter Landesman has assembled is impressive, especially Paul Giamatti and James Badge Dale, and these performances make this fast paced historical drama mildly worth a look.

Friday, September 6th – 9:30 PM @ Roy Thomson Hall

Sunday, September 8th – 12:30 PM @ Winter Garden Theatre

Devil’s Knot:  Atom Egoyan turns his attention to the story of the West Memphis Three with Devil’s Knot, following Pam Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon), the grieving mother of one of the three young boys that were killed in 1993.  We see everything from the events of that fateful day, to the infamous court case that was set in motion, falsely accusing Jessie Misskelley Jr. (Kristopher Higgins), Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) and Damien Echols (James Hamrick) of the crime.  There was practically no convicting evidence aside from the fact that they were involved in the occult, and we are shown the struggles of Ron Lax (Colin Firth) to turn around this breach of justice.  Although Devil’s Knot often feels like a smoothed over dramatization of the well documented true story and this approach is sometimes surprisingly safe, this is still an unsettling film that is carried by fine performances, providing a pretty good introduction to this tragic case that remains virtually unsolved.

Sunday, September 8th – 9:00 PM @ Visa Screening Room (Elgin)

Monday, September 9th – 9:00 AM @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Don Jon:  Jon Martello (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) spends his days addicted to porn, and weekends at the club picking up women.  Every Sunday, he goes to church and joins his Italian parents (Tony Danza and Glenne Headly) and constantly texting sister (Brie Larson) for dinner.  But things change when he meets the “perfect dime” Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the first woman who sees him as relationship material, and she convinces him to join a night school where he meets the sensitive Esther (Julianne Moore).  I thoroughly enjoyed Don Jon and am highly recommending the film for mature audiences.  The edgy screenplay is ripe with quickly paced dialogue and offers some sharp insight into modern relationships, all brought to the screen with appealing stylistic flourishes.  With confident work from Joseph Gordon-Levitt both in front of and behind the camera, as well as strong supporting roles from Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore, Don Jon is an entertaining and fun film that reaches a touching conclusion.

Tuesday, September 10th – 6:30 PM @ Princess of Wales

Wednesday, September 11th – 3:00 PM @ Ryerson Theatre

The Dick Knost Show:  Dick Knost (Tom Scholte) is an impulsive and daring talk show host who will do anything to get more followers and is in love with all things hockey, while denouncing the serious injuries that can come from playing the game.  But then he ironically suffers a serious concussion of his own, putting his job on the line and causing him to rethink his life, much to the chagrin of determined producer Kelly (Gabrielle Rose) and fellow host, former hockey player Neil (Paul Skrudland).  Directed by Bruce Sweeney, The Dick Knost Show is an entertaining and nicely written little film that feels uniquely Canadian, providing a small but satisfying homegrown experience at the festival.

Tuesday, September 10th – 9:15 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Thursday, September 12th – 9:45 AM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Saturday, September 14th – 9:15 AM @ Scotiabank Theatre

When Jews Were Funny:  Through revealing interviews with a variety of Jewish comedians, When Jews Were Funny looks at how humour passed down through generations has helped shape the culture, and how their cultural identity continues to evolve in a world without the same types of oppression.  But this odyssey to uncover the true definition of Jewish comedy morphs into something even deeper, a thoughtful study of how past experiences shape humour, and the ongoing struggles to keep an entire culture alive.  Directed by Alan Zweig, who last gave us the inspirational 15 Reasons to Live which premiered at Hot Docs, When Jews Were Funny is an interesting and entertaining documentary that becomes another engaging personal journey for the Toronto filmmaker.

Tuesday, September 10th – 9:15 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

Thursday, September 12th – 9:15 PM @ Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

Sunday, September 15th – 4:45 PM @ Scotiabank Theatre

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