TIFF 2012 Recap: Days 1-4

Fred Topel reviews Byzantium, The Central Park Five, No One Lives, Pusher, 7 Boxes and Tai Chi Zero.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


As you can see from the full reviews we’re publishing this week, I am watching a lot of big upcoming movies at the Toronto International FIlm Festival. I also try to see as many obscure, oddball indie movies as I can to find some discoveries amid the big news. Here is a recap of some of the less publicized movies of TIFF over the first weekend. More as the week continues.



This mysteriously titled film stars Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton as vampires. Eleanor (Ronan) has a good thing going with old folks who let her drink their blood as a mercy kill. Clara (Arterton) uses all her seductive powers but looks out for Eleanor, her sister/daughter (it’s complicated when you gave birth and sired her but are both roughly 200 years old). This is vampires done as adult drama, where the tension of familial relationships is exacerbated by having lived together for centuries. There is a really rich mythology you learn throughout the film and it’s built up deliberately to a fascinating conclusion. A lot of it is tone, but there are some mighty outrageous ideas (vampire brothel anyone?) that are just played real.


The Central Park Five

The latest Ken Burns documentary (along with Sarah Burns) is about the five New York teens who were falsely convicted of a rape in Central Park in the ‘80s. It’s not the PBS Ken Burns approach with still photos and a narrator, but then it’s also a more contemporary story than most of the miniseries subjects. The victims in the case are around to speak, though one chooses to be heard in audio only. It’s a thorough documentary approach to chronicle a miscarriage of justice, and illuminate police tactics that force a confession. It actually reminds me of Compliance, where you’d think someone would just know not to confess to something they didn’t do no matter what threats or promises the cops made, but you don’t know when you’re not under that pressure yourself. The only way I can think to explain a lack of overwhelming emotion or enthusiasm is that it was kind of like watching the news. I was informed, educated and compassionate for the victims.


No One Lives

Wow, is No One Lives bad. It’s just bad idea after bad idea, kind of relentless in that respect. It’s like a series of ideas that seemed clever to an immature mind. Maybe it’s a J-horror thing; it seems director Ryuhei Kitamura thought of some crazy kills Americans have never seen before, but didn’t realize they make no sense. I don’t mean they stretch logic, I mean it is nonsense what is shown on screen. A kill using a car hood is certainly unique but that’s because it’s so stupid no one should try to pull that in a movie. The script was written by first timer David Cohen, so it may be a combination of his ideas and bad execution. The dialogue could have been saved by an editor (i.e. cutting most of it out) because it’s all filler. Characters in control announce what they’re doing and characters in jeopardy announce that they’ve been surprised. The story is a series of twists that ask the audience to shift identification between mysterious drifters, known killers, and then unknown killers and their victims. Again, ambitious ideas and no maturity. The killer apparently had his victim save his life at one point, in a way that is utterly ridiculous. Some other gems of dialogue: “The last I checked there’s strength in numbers.” Really, you checked that? “I’m your path to living and you seem bent on playing the dying game.” Wow.



I saw Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher trilogy before he’d made Bronson, let alone Drive. They stood out among the subtitled foreign crime dramas that are often my assignment, but it’s been so long I don’t necessarily remember all the details. So watching the English language Pusher, it felt pretty faithful. It’s still the story of a drug dealer (Richard Coyle) who owes a gangster a lot of money after losing a stash in a police bust. The specifics of what he has to do to get the money may be different, but whether it’s a beat for beat remake or just the authentic story of what any dealer has to do under pressure, it works. The momentum builds fast and you feel the strain. Like the original, it is a solid gangster thriller, maybe not tops in the genre but definitely one of the better entries.


7 Boxes

I wanted to check out 7 Boxes because it is a Spanish language action movie. A young bootlegger on the streets of Mexico gets a package to deliver for some gangsters, but there was a misunderstanding. He wasn’t supposed to get that box, so now other gangsters are after him. It’s a solid chase movie that shows foreign markets can produce solid entries in familiar genres. Foot chases through the street markets and back alleys are impressively shot, though it never quite explodes intro thrills. I think they worked with what they had and it created a solid thriller that stands alongside its international counterparts, if not ahead of them.


Tai Chi Zero

Stephen Fung’s latest Hong Kong action comedy is part one of a rock n’ roll martial arts movie. Lu Chan (Jaden Yuen) tries to sneak into the Chen village to learn the style they don’t teach outsiders. In addition to a rock score, Fung enhances the fights with visual elements. He diagrams the styles so we see pressure points unlocking, adds video game scoring to Lu Chan’s attempts at the Chen village. It’s part Stephen Chow, part Scott Pilgrim. There seems to be more action in the on screen text than actual fighting, but it’s fun. Then a big steampunk tank rolls into town like something from Wild Wild West. I found that part a little less interesting than the martial arts riffs, but it looks like part two will have a lot more fighting. They show a trailer for Tai Chi Hero in the credits, so when the entire story is released it might be even more awesome.