TIFF 2012 – Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 & 2 Review (Robert Harding)

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Gangs of Wasseypur Part 1 and Part 2 (2012)

Starring Manoj Bajpayee, Richa Chadda, Reemma Sen, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Nawazuddin Siddique

Directed by Anurag Kashyap

The City to City program at the Toronto International Film Festival focuses on films from a specific city every year. 2012 was the year of Mumbai. In the listing of films playing in the City to City program was a film called the Gangs of Wasseypur… or rather two films. Much like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Gangs of Wasseypur was released in two parts.  But unlike Deathly Hallows, the two parts of Gangs of Wasseypur were not released six months apart, but rather, a little over a month separated the two films. Of course, in Toronto we had them released on the same day thanks to TIFF.  Outside of the subject matter the fact that, in film festival time, watching these two films back to back meant blocking out at least 6.5 hours of a day to watch them, interested me. To some, that might seem daunting but to a veteran film festival goer, that seemed more like a challenge.

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It would be an injustice to review each film separately. Though separated into two parts, the second part is a direct continuation of the first and continues the story where the first film left off.

Starting from the 1940s and making its way right into the 2000s, Gangs of Wasseypur is a gangster epic which chronicles a bloody turf war between two rival criminal families, the Singhs and the Khans, during the era of Indian independence and industrialization. Part 1 begins by explaining the two families, their connections to each other (socially and politically), the geography of the region as it changed over time, and eventually concentrates on the rise of Sardar Khan as he first struggles to make a name for himself and eventually rises, becoming a name to be feared. Part 2 focuses on Sardar Khan’s children (Definite, Faizal and Perpendicular), now grown, as they compete to be the families next Don.

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Considering that between the two films we’re looking at a time span of roughly 60 years, you’d almost expect the films to be disjunctive and confusing with varying story lines, and a multitude of characters.  This is far from the case. Short of the beginning of part 1, the films are very well structured and relatively easy to follow.

The characters in the film are very interesting and entertaining. Each has their own idiosyncrasies and thanks to some fantastic writing and equally fantastic acting the viewer is able to get a real sense of who they are and why they became that way.  You can’t help but want to see what’s going to happen next between the members of the two families. It is this drama and character interaction that drives the story forward, and pulling the viewer in many different directions. Everyone is both a bad guy and a good guy. It’s up to you to decide who to root for.

It wouldn’t be my idea of Bollywood film if it didn’t have song and dance numbers. But these are not the songs I’ve come to expect. In fact, I’d say the music is quite unconventional (both the expected Bollywood style songs and some very sexually charged background numbers as well). It’s been a long time since a film has made me seek out the music contained within but Gangs of Wasseypur did just that. I absolutely loved the music!

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If great writing, acting, and music weren’t enough, Gangs of Wasseypur also manages to deliver on the one aspect I was hoping for: action. From the start of the films, there is treachery, back stabbing, fist fights, gun fights and it’s forever escalating as the two films go on until it finally climaxes in a bloody scene I’ve never seen the likes of before. It’s the eye for an eye, revenge for the sake of revenge and the never ending cycle that gets repeated generation after generation that makes this film the enjoyable ultra violent ride that it is.

Gangs of Wasseypur ended up being my favourite film of the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and with good reason. Despite a total run time of over 5 hours and a long day devoted to watching both parts, this film educated, enthralled and most importantly, entertained. At no point through either film did I find myself bored, checking my watch or not entertained. As both parts should be watched back to back I can honestly say Gangs of Wasseypur, as a whole, is a fantastic film that comes highly recommended. Fans of action and crime dramas should not miss out.

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TIFF 2012 – Here Comes the Devil Review (Matt Hodgson)

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Here Comes the Devil (2012)

Starring Francisco Barreiro, Laura Caro, Michele Garcia, Alan Martinez

Directed by Adrían García Bogliano

The Vanguard programme at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was the biggest surprise for me this year. With Midnight Madness delivering a lacklustre lineup, it was the Vanguard section that provided me with the thrills, chills, and boundary pushing filmmaking that I require frequent doses of to maintain my ‘happy camper’ state of mind. I decided to check out Here Comes the Devil solely because of its inclusion in the Vanguard programme, other than that I knew next to nothing about the movie. While not one of my favourite Vanguard selections, Here Comes the Devil certainly has a lot to offer, particularly for viewers who get creeped out by quiet, unhappy, Village-of-the-Damned-like children.

The narrative follows a family of four, two parents, a young boy, and a slightly older sister. During a seemingly harmless family day the kids spend some time by themselves in and around a strange mountain or mound of rocks, but unfortunately they don’t return to the parents who await anxiously for them at the bottom of the rocky hill. When the finally do return, early the next morning, the parents are relieved, but soon discover that their children have changed in a mysterious way. The plot then takes multiple sinister turns, culminating in a what is certain to be a parent’s worst nightmare amongst other gory details.

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Here Comes the Devil definitely falls in the realm of low budget horror filmmaking, but certainly not in a negative way. The locations are limited, but that is the only noticeable limit placed on the film by the budget. Bogliano gets a lot out of his actors and manages to keep the audience on edge throughout the film, never telegraphing the outcome of the horror, albeit one particular portion of the conclusion was foreseeable from the outset. On the negative side of things Bogliano seems to be incomprehensibly obsessed with zoom shots which tend to distract rather than add to the tension. However, this is a minor complaint, Bogliano’s effort is mostly successful and it would be intriguing to see what his next project is like. Also worth mentioning is a particular special effect sequence involving a slit throat that was incredibly disturbing. One of my film blogging friends said it most appropriately: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before’.

Here Comes the Devil is definitely worth checking out for fans of horror cinema. It may not be a masterpiece, but there are enough intriguing aspects to make it worth your time.

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Disconnect Review (Dustin SanVido)

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Disconnect (2012)

Starring Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Frank Grillo, Hope Davis, Max Theriot, Alexander Skarsgard, Michael Nyqvist, Colin Ford, Andrea Riseborough and Jonah Bobo

Written by Andrew Stern

Directed by Henry Alex Rubin

The subject of social media and its positive and negative effects have never been explored successfully on film with the exception of The Social Network presenting a more focused and loosely based biography of Mark Zuckerberg. While I did enjoy The Social Network for its decision to tell the story of the creation of Facebook as a pseudo-super-villain’s rise to power, 2010’s lackluster Catfish is the only other ‘social-network’ film that comes to mind. Like Catfish, Disconnect is a story of the negative effects and darker side of social media, told through the course of three separate storylines that begin to intersect in a similar mold and structure of the Academy Award winning Crash. I did like Disconnect for its message, acting, and most of the story, but an underwhelming climax stopped all forward momentum which had been building rather splendidly for the majority of the film.

The three stories in Disconnect are that of a still-grieving couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) who must deal with online identity-theft, a news journalist (Andrea Riseborough) writing a story involving the online sexual exploitation of a group of youths, and a high-school outcast (Jonah Bobo) who is cyber-bullied and the severe ramifications that echo through the family of the victim (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) and that of the bully’s (Frank Grillo). These three storylines are so well-crafted and spend ample time developing so many characters, one might presume the story could feel a bit bloated. Thankfully that’s not the case, as Rubin shifts seamlessly from thread to thread allowing all of the actors’ individual moments to really get the point of the film across: as technology advances more and more our lives become more online-dependent and thus, some of our humanity is lost in the process and the growing isolation we feel in today’s society leaves us disconnected from one another.

The acting is the real standout of Disconnect. All of the actors give fantastic performances that help drive the narrative and really pull you into the turmoil, sadness, frustration and anger that permeates throughout the script. Frank Grillo and Paula Patton are the best of the bunch, turning in career best performances as struggling parents, broken in their own individual ways, and are by far the standouts of the film. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Alexander Skarsgard has also delivered a career performance here, much like his memorable turn as Model #3 from Zoolander. All joking aside, there are zero weak points to this film from an acting stand-point, and one can’t help but be fully invested in the well-being of every character represented, good or bad. I applaud Rubin for getting the most out of his actors and delivering a technically proficient look into unexplored subject matter, albeit with one small caveat.

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So much of Disconnect hinges on the climax where all of the interwoven stories CRASH into one another, and this is where the film regrettably comes up short. Due to the emotional moments that escalate toward the third act of the film, unlike Crash, the end resolutions just can’t deliver on the strong buildup that preceded it. I won’t spoil any of them, but they’re just so pedestrian and safe that the tension and suspense drawing out lands with a thud. This may have been a decision by the writers to keep the film from becoming a bleak and depressing vantage point from which to view the social media world, but if you’re going to send a bus full of children careening off a cliff-side with no hope of survival, I’d rather the bus hit the ground and explode than become caught in a large tree leaving the children to look at one another and think “aw shucks”. A poor choice of analogy, perhaps. But in the case of Disconnect, I’d say a poor choice of ending.

I still enjoyed the film quite a bit, but I would’ve lauded the filmmaker if he had been daring enough to go all the way with what his script was driving towards. In the end we’re left with an almost-great and very insightful look into the darker side of social media that stumbles slightly at the end, and as a result is ultimately satisfying.

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TIFF 2012 – Miss Lovely Review (Robert Harding)

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Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Niharika Singh, Anil George

Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia

Film festivals are a great place to find films you would not find anywhere else. Many of the films, both foreign and domestic, will not play theatrically anywhere else and may not even make it to VOD/DVD.  This year the Toronto International Film Festival’s City to City program featured films from Mumbai India. Looking them over I found a few I thought I’d check out, including Miss Lovely directed by Ashim Ahluwalia. Everywhere I researched the film it was described as being about two brothers who hit it big making horror-porn films in the mid 1980s. But don’t get fooled by what I amount to as clever marketing ploys. This is not exactly the film you may think it is.

Miss Lovely follows the life of Sonu (Siddiqui) who along with his brother Vicky (Anil George), produce low-budget sleazy horror films in Bombay. While Vicky clearly loves the money and lifestyle of splicing pornography into C-grade films, he wants more. Vicky convinces his brother that cutting out their less than above board backers is a good idea. Of course it isn’t and Vicky pays for it. This event only helps motivate Sonu who has never enjoyed making low-grade movies and has always wanted to make mainstream romance films. Enter Pinky (Niharika Singh), an exquisite ingenue with a shady past, and Sonu hasn’t only found his lead lady, but perhaps his partner for life.

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I had always thought India had pretty strict rules and regulations when it came to their film industry and never thought I’d hear the words Indian-Horror-Porn come up in my lifetime so I jumped at the chance to delve into the world of this underground film industry.

Miss Lovely is not a horror film. In fact, it has very little content with regards to horror films. Miss Lovely also isn’t a porn film and contains very little sex related material. There is a small amount of horror film and porn footage and some on set shots of the making of said films. The content was more underwhelming than expected especially when the sex scenes consisted of little more than bare breasts and “heavy petting.” Those expecting explicit or boundary pushing material may be disappointed.

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Miss Lovely is actually a family drama meets love story set in the seedy underbelly of the Bombay film industry. On this level the film is generally successful. Sonu’s relationships with Vicky and Pinky are well developed despite the finale with regards to Pinky and Sonu not being fully explained. You truly do feel for Sonu as the meek brother who’s often bullied and taken advantage of. The film looks quite good as it manages to re-create the 80s look really well despite a few missteps with the camera work.  But despite all that is good about the film, there’s still something lacking.

Miss Lovely is a film that I think falls prey to false expectations.  Going in expecting anything relating to the horror or porn genres would be a mistake.  Unfortunately, those were the aspects of the film I found most interesting.  Director Ashim Ahluwalia had originally set out to make a documentary about the Indian “horror porn” industry in the 80s and his research shows through in this film.  Those aspects of the film are not only entertaining but educational. Kinda makes me wish he had stuck to making the documentary rather than this Lovely Miss.

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TIFF 2012: The Fitzgerald Family Christmas Review (Paolo Kagaoan)

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The Fitzgerald Family Christmas (2012)

Starring Edward Burns, Connie Britton, Noah Emmerich, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Anita Gilette, Heather Burns, Michael McGlone, Kerry Bishe and Ed Lauter

Directed by Edward Burns

Caitlin Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald) stands looking distraught in her house. Her brother Quinn (McGlone) and sister Sharon (Bishe) are with their respective girlfriend and boyfriend driving to a beach house a few hours from New York City. Their brother Gerry (Edward Burns) is managing the family bar and asks a woman named Nora (Britton) for a drink. Those are just four out of nine siblings who seem to be living their pre-holiday lives on their own or within clusters. They traditionally have to cerebrate Christmas with their mother Josie (Gilette), but things temporarily change this year. Gerry, the family’s de facto patriarch and peacemaker, tells the members of his family that their estranged father, Big Jim (Lauter), wants to celebrate Christmas with them. Inviting him over comes down to a vote, but there’s a shocker that’s affecting their decisions – Big Jim has pancreatic cancer and has two months to live.

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There are times in this movie that make it indistinguishable from other straight to DVD sappy family dramedies. This is true especially with that piano driven score – derived from a Christmas song then veers off to different melody – which is the kind of music that’s an unwelcome presence in one’s head. Also, family comes first, making story lines about the siblings’ romantic relationships get crudely dropped, like the one between Sharon and her boyfriend. Most of the cast is competent except for Fitzgerald and Heather Burns, the latter playing their snobbish sister Erin. Both actresses reek whiny passiveness when they get outvoted by their younger siblings. Their less than stellar turns are a shame because Fitzgerald was excellent as the ex-suicidal Priss in Whit Stilman’s Damsels in Distress. Connie and Erin are great contrasts compared to the younger yet strong-willed Sharon, showing how the sisters have and can grow up differently. Painting the female characters with different brushes is an unexpected surprise from a male writer like Edward Burns. But I can’t say the same thing about the brothers who are essentially different variations of benevolent East Coast troglodytes.

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But a movie’s shortcomings sometimes end up to its advantage, especially with writer-director Edward Burns’ sense of structure. A working class family like the Fitzgeralds have no business being prolific (Disclaimer: I am also poor and my mother has six siblings). But a large family makes it plausible for its members to be divided not only by gender and age but also by economic class and, through marriage and relationships, ethnicity. Having a group of nine also means that each character would have their opinions about their father despite partially agreeing or disagreeing with another. We’re watching characters instead of symbols, distinct voices within contemporary symphony with just the right bittersweet tone. This movie is more about forgiveness and the uphill climb towards equilibrium towards the perfect holiday. It earns its way enough into our hearts.

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