Toronto Films in Brief

Courtesy of Bankside Films

This year's Toronto International Film Festival includes entries from major Hollywood and international filmmakers. Here's a round-up of notable film premieres.

Directed by Michael Winterbottom

Winterbottom updates Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles to contemporary India, delivering emotionally muted yet arresting results, with Freida Pinto instilling the tragic heroine with a fragile dignity. The director is less interested in echoing precise events from the late-Victorian novel than he is in exploring how love can be poisoned by class divisions, even in a modern, urbanized environment. The restraint of the performances feeds nicely into what's overall quite a gentle tone.

Anonymous (Sony)
Directed by Roland Emmerich

William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) is portrayed as an illiterate buffoon, barely smart enough to fool London into thinking he wrote all those plays and sonnets instead of being a mere front for the noble Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans), one of the most twisted characters in English history. John Orloff's screenplay deals with unsubstantiated gossip and outright fabrications, but, surprisingly, the movie is easily director Emmerich's best film, steering  a coherent path through a complex bit of Tudor history while establishing a highly credible atmosphere of paranoia and intrigue.

50/50 (Summit)
Directed by Jonathan Levine

Screenwriter Will Reiser draws on his personal battle with a rare form of cancer in this comedy starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick. Its success rate in the delicate balance between comedy and the profound devastation of such an illness is much greater than 50/50, though the movie is not without its tonal lapses.

Friends with Kids
Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt

Graduating from co-screenwriter on the indie hit Kissing Jessica Stein, Westfeldt handles solo writer-director reins with confidence. Longtime friends Julie (Westfeldt) and Jason (Adam Scott) both want a child but don't want the accompanying strain it brings on a traditional relationship. So they decide to raise the kid as platonic co-parents. The movie dawdles a little in nudging the central love story to its inevitable conclusion, but the emotional conflicts are grounded in honest character observation.

The Lady
Directed by Luc Besson

Besson trades his usual muscular action and pumped-up visual style for a stately inspirational epic, a biographical drama about Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese independence fighter who challenged the country's oppressive regime. In this well-intentioned but pedestrian retelling of a stirring story, Michelle Yeoh radiates regality, poise, compassion and quiet conviction but never generates much of a charge, as if taking her cue from the film's generic title.

The Raid (Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions)
Directed by Gareth Evans

Welsh-born Evans teams with Indonesian action star Iko Uwais in this hard-driving, butt-kicking, pulse-pounding, bone-crunching, skull-smashing, blood-curdling martial arts siege movie. For a movie with very little down time, it is remarkably well modulated in its succession of extended set pieces.

Directed by Oren Moverman

The film takeswits name from
the LAPD's scandal-plagued Rampart division, where dirty cops once rubbed shoulders with drug dealers, undocumented aliens and terrified citizens. The movie gives you the dirtiest cop you can imagine, a monster conjured forth by director Moverman and crime novelist James Ellroy. Played by Woody Harrelson with an intensity that sears the screen, Dave Brown is a loathsome protagonist in a movie that fails to acknowledge any truly good person can possibly exist.

Take This Waltz
Directed by Sarah Polley

Polley's second directorial effort is a stumble backward after the soulful integrity of 2006's Away From Her. Michelle Williams, playing an aspiring writer, has an extended flirtation with an artist (Luke Kirby). Cute and quirky can get very tired very fast, and there's an awful lot of both here. The movie has a hard time deciding whether it wants to be a happy-sad flaky comedy or a dreamy mood piece.

Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Ever-surprising Brazilian director Meirelles toys with the audience in his latest film. The screenplay comes from the prolific Peter Morgan and is superficially inspired by Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler's Der Reigen, first filmed by Max Ophuls in 1950 as La Ronde. You watch the film rather than get absorbed by it. It's art house with Hollywood credentials.