TIFF 2009 #1: Pre-fest screenings

Our Rating

TIFF officially kicks off tomorrow with the opening-night film, Creation, which is getting mixed buzz. I’ve picked up my tickets, and still have a few left to redeem. I remain undecided as to what I should see.

It also seems that my festival downsizing has to do with more than just my ticket purchases: this year, I’ve only seen a tiny handful of pre-fest screenings. Three, to be exact. So, as you prepare for the circus to open its doors and ten days of craziness to begin, I can tell you about:

A Shine of Rainbows (3/8), which I had very much been looking forward to seeing, turned out to be a hugely overwrought, lame drama with some of the worst Irish accents I’ve ever heard. Oh, and one terribly fake-looking animatronic seal. Connie Nielsen stars as Maire, a woman so a’glow with love that she practically glows, who adopts red-headed orphan Tòmas (John Bell) and brings him to the remote island home she shares with her gruff, humorless husband, Alec (Aidan Quinn). John is a nervous eight-year-old who stutters, but he slowly comes out of his shell thanks to Maire’s warmth and tenderness. Too bad Alec can’t stand the kid. Worse, though, is the fact that the story is painfully predictable and uninteresting, with a final quarter that feels so syrupy and falsely emotional that I kind of cringed. And I say that as someone who loves cinematic syrup.

Vincere (4/8) defines “uneven.” With an insanely over-the-top score, and a completely confusing first third, the film tells the true story of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno, very strong), the unknown first wife of a young Benito Mussolini (Filippo Timi, chewing all the scenery he can find), who bore him a son but who was nonetheless exiled from Il Duce’s life and eventually imprisoned in an insane asylum to keep her quiet. Festival director Piers Handling calls the film “brilliantly directed” in the official program book, but I found myself struggling to follow the narrative (especially in the beginning when it inexplicably jumps around in time), squinting to see the actors amid the profoundly dark cinematography and wondering why the meat of the film – Ida’s life and her struggles – is actually given secondhand treatment when, I thought, the film is meant to be about her.

Jennifer’s Body (7/8), meanwhile, totally and completely lives up to all the hype it’s been getting. Funny, sexy and smart, the horror-lite film – directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) and scripted by Diablo Cody (Juno) – centers on the titular high-schooler (Megan Fox), who becomes possessed by a demon and starts chowing down on her male classmates while her best friend (Amanda Seyfried) tries to thwart her efforts. Comparatively low on graphic gore (given the subject matter) and as steamy as it is scary, the film features excellent work from both Fox and Seyfried. It’s a hugely entertaining ride that sidesteps clichés, maintains its sense of humor and kicks the genre up a notch with its (albeit twisted) girl-power-driven narrative. I loved it. (Full review will be up on the ‘Pie on Sept. 18th.)


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