The Playlist

TIFF '11 Review: 'Friends With Kids' Is, Sadly, A Conventional Look At Unconventional Relationships

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • September 13, 2011 7:25 AM
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  • 2 Comments
The concept of the nuclear family is now something of an outdated notion. With children now found in a wide array of living situations -- single parents, gay parents, adoptions, etc. -- the "ideal" of a child being raised by a mommy and a daddy is shifting, with a newer idea of just two good parents -- whomever they may be -- being of utmost importance. The film world is slowly beginning to recognize and write stories that reflect the changing times. Of course, "The Kids Are All Right" is one of the best movies to present an unconventional family, while "The Switch" represents what happens when you try to approach this kind of thematic material without anything to say. Jennifer Westfeldt's ("Kissing Jessica Stein") latest effort behind the camera, "Friends With Kids," finds the actress/writer/director oscillating between an intelligent look at modern relationships and a conventional rom-com, to mixed results.

TIFF '11 Review: Fernando Meirelles' International Love Story '360' May Leave His Fans Heartbroken

  • By Cory Everett
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  • September 13, 2011 3:00 AM
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  • 15 Comments
In a photo studio in Vienna, a sleazy photographer (Johannes Krisch) is coaxing a young Slovakian woman Mirkha (Lucia Siposová) into posing for her first nude pictures. We soon find out this man is also a pimp and the pictures are for luring clients on the internet. Her younger sister Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova) tries to persuade her to reconsider but she has her mind made up. She needs the money and wants to change her life. Her sister intones through darkly humorous voiceover “If there’s a fork in the road, take it.” It’s a highly provocative opening for what ends up being just a so-so anthology of interweaving tales, even though director Fernando Meirelles ("City Of God," “The Constant Gardener”) assembles an international cast with interwoven stories spanning Vienna, Paris, London, Bratislava, Rio, Denver and Phoenix.

TIFF '11 Review: 'Pariah' Is So Much More Than Just This Year's 'Precious'

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • September 12, 2011 12:59 PM
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  • 2 Comments
Listen, we understand that sometimes in order to get some attention, indie films need glib comparisons and word out of Sundance this year was that Dee Rees' "Pariah" was this year's "Precious." However, not only is "Pariah" nothing like "Precious", it is so much better and so much more rewarding than anything Lee Daniels' "achieved" with his hysterical, exploitative, ghetto soap opera porno. Real in ways few movies ever are, "Pariah" mixes the coming out and coming-of-age story and pitches it against the backdrop of an African-American family adapting to the shifting cultural sexual tides. The result is a film that is warm and raw, sometimes both at the same time, and is easily one our favorites of the year.

TIFF '11 Review: Haphazard 'Your Sister's Sister' Ambles Towards Drama With Little Consequence

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • September 12, 2011 10:11 AM
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  • 10 Comments
Independent filmmaking has become somewhat hyper-obsessed in the last few years with "realism." Lighting rigs have been put away, available light filling in where it will and scripts tossed out for sketches, shaped by improvisation in an attempt to capture as close to an approximation of real human interaction as possible. It's an admirable approach and not just limited to "mumblecore" movies -- Terrence Malick has followed this path pretty closely throughout this career. However, the risk in this style is that if it's too loose, it can structurally crumble the emotional and narrative focus. And for "Humpday" director Lynn Shelton's "Your Sister's Sister," that's the unfortunate result of the ten day shoot on the film that gathered together a game cast -- Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass -- and sets them loose on a good dramatic premise ill-served by a far too casual approach.

Review: David Mackenzie's Music Festival Rom-Com 'You Instead' Has A Tin Ear

  • By Sam Price
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  • September 12, 2011 6:45 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Not many films are set at music festivals. D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary, “Monterey Pop” is vital, we’ll grant you, and other rock docs that expose something fundamental about the artists they’re profiling (“Don’t Look Back,” “Gimme Shelter”) remain compelling portraits of some of the most important artists of the twentieth-century. But, much like stand-up comedy or running for high office, fictional recreations of what compels a human being to get up onstage in front of thousands of people and expose themselves to the public at large, are far and few between.

TIFF '11 Review: 'Machine Gun Preacher' Is Essentially A Botched 'Rambo'

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • September 12, 2011 5:15 AM
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  • 15 Comments
In 2008’s blitzkrieg actioner “Rambo,” writer-director Sylvester Stallone recognized the real-life struggles of the people of Myanmar, dramatizing the struggle in a blood-drenched exploitation film that, despite its inelegance, emboldened the people of that region while lionizing a fictional hero of guerilla warfare. The problem with “Machine Gun Preacher,” Marc Forster’s third world drama about a real-life would-be savior who ventured into the Sudan and attempted to build an orphanage with sheer will and a smidgen of gunpower, is that it’s afraid to be “Rambo.”

TIFF '11 Review: Sarah Polley's 'Take This Waltz' Has Insights And Edges Sharp Enough To Stab

  • By James Rocchi
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  • September 12, 2011 3:15 AM
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  • 14 Comments
In Sarah Polley's Toronto-set drama "Take this Waltz," Margo (Michelle Williams) stumbles across Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip, only to find he lives across the street; despite being married to Lou (Seth Rogen), Margo can't stop thinking of Daniel. Or maybe it's because she's married to Lou that she can't stop thinking of Daniel … Following up "Away from Her," Polley's second film is sharply dividing critics and audience in Toronto: Many find it simultaneously exhilarating and depressing; others find it ugly and hateful; a third faction seems to be kicking against the film not for how it says what it says, but, instead, for what it says in the first place.

TIFF '11 Review: A (Mostly) Delightful 'Damsels In Distress' A Welcome Return By Whit Stillman

  • By James Rocchi
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  • September 12, 2011 2:15 AM
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  • 5 Comments
From the moment the Sony Pictures Classics logo pops up not in the usual blue -- but in cupcake frosting pink -- you know that Whit Stillman's first film in 13 years (!) is going to be something special. While word from Venice -- where the film closed the festival before heading to TIFF -- was good, the question to be answered was whether or not Stillman's style and cinematic persona would stand up in a filmmaking landscape that has changed immensely since "Last Days of Disco." Well, let there be no doubt: Stillman is just as enjoyable as when we last met him those many years ago and "Damsels In Distress" finds the director with lots (and lots and lots) left to say.

TIFF '11 Review: 'The Oranges' Delivers A Grove Of Big Laughs

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • September 11, 2011 11:18 AM
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  • 5 Comments
The indie ensemble comedy genre is fraught with pitfalls, from high concepts that just don't deliver, to outrageous storylines that can't sustain their own frenzied energy. For every "Little Miss Sunshine" there are countless more that attempt to create that film's almost intangible alchemy but falter somewhere along the way. "The Oranges" could have gone either way - with Julian Farino a mostly TV director ("Entourage," "How To Make It In America") making his sophomore film with a grab bag cast including Hugh Laurie, Catherine Keener, Oliver Platt, Allison Janney, Alia Shawkat, Adam Brody and Leighton Meeste,r we really had no idea what to expect from the film. But playing to huge laughs, this winning comedy overcomes some of its patchier elements to become a bonafide crowd pleaser.

TIFF '11 Review: Admirable, Low-Key ’50/50’ Splits Difference Between Genuinely Funny And Sad

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • September 11, 2011 10:46 AM
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  • 4 Comments
Let's get this out of the way early; the cancer dramedy, "50/50," formerly known as "I'm With Cancer," is an admirable effort by all the parties involved. There's maturity and restraint shown throughout in this story, about a healthy young twentysomething man staring his mortality in the face when he is suddenly diagnosed with a rare spinal cancer, and it's a well-intentioned humanistic drama that tries to demonstrate that life is complicated and never quite cut and dry. The measured film takes pains to illustrate there is laughter to be derived in difficult and near-tragic situations and melancholy can also be found in some of the most humorous moments. It's also a friendship movie that is wise enough to not feel like a bromance film. In fact, it feels like it comes from the playbook of master comedians like James L. Brooks, Judd Apatow and Albert Brooks who deftly understand that a little sour in sweetness and vice-versa can go a long, long way.

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