Editor's Note: We can't all make it to the Toronto International Film Festival (which is too bad, since it's where some of the best films of the next year will be shown). But CT has the next best thing: daily updates during the Festival from our critic Ken Morefield. Stay tuned for the next week for capsule reviews and reflections on some of the world's most important movies.

Ladder to Damascus, directed by Mohamad Malas
Kill Your Darlings, directed by John Krokidas
Walesa. Man of Hope, directed by Andrzej Wajda
Jodorowsky's Dune, directed by Frank Pavich

I was a bit of a cinematic Agrippa on Wednesday, saying to a series of films, "almost thou persuadest me." But not quite.

Traveling to TIFF each year usually means I am not in the United States on the anniversary of 9/11. I am happy to have the global perspective that the festival provides while still being among a community of artists and people who lament the tragic loss of human life in any form.

So given recent political events, it seemed fitting to screen Ladder to Damascus, a film from the man the TIFF catalog calls "Syrian cinema's first auteur." The film begins with a camera confessional, as the protagonist laments living in a country that "demands everything" of him yet gives nothing. It's a major achievement that the film was made at all, and that achievement alone engenders tremendous respect. As the film unfolds, it becomes yet another tale of a boy infatuated with a girl played out against a historical backdrop that most want to be foregrounded. Malas can't really be blamed for how difficult it is to frame the backdrop of Syria for under-informed Western viewers, but the film ends up (by necessity perhaps) doing a lot more telling than showing.

There is always a certain danger in a straight male talking about gay-themed films: no matter how careful you are, a lack of enthusiasm will, in some rooms, be chalked up as understated homophobia. But the reasons I didn't much care for Kill Your Darlings—a portrait of the early days of the Beat generation, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg and Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs—had nothing to do with it being about gay men. (In particular, Harry Potter alum Radcliffe making waves by doing an explicit gay sex scene.)

The truth is, Darlings isn't really about much else. I've never been a huge fan of the Beat writers, but who could have imagined they were so dreadfully, pretentiously sophomoric in their quest to remake the world? There's something that feels just a little too hindsighted about the films representation of Lucien Carr's murder of David Kammerer, in which Burroughs and Radcliffe become embroiled. Maybe it is true that Kammerer was the all-in lover with emotional abandon and Carr the cowardly, self-hating manipulator who cried "sexual panic" and "honor killing" to save his skin. Given the fact that Carr was only fourteen when he met Kammerer, that the latter was over a decade older, and that the film glosses over Carr's attempted suicide at age eighteen, even a Wikipedia summary of the biography hints at more ambiguity and complexity than the film's sexual orientation side-taking allows.

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Walesa. Man of Hope is a very different biopic than Darlings, but it, too, lacks thematic complexity. Robert Wieckiewicz's performance as the former Polish president is crazy-good, but the film's interview frame feels tired, without much rhyme or reason to when it cuts from present to past other than needing to break up a repetitive structure.

The script's main problem, though, is that it presents Walesa as part savant ("God save us from the intellectuals"), part accidental hero thrust into the limelight by chance. Perhaps all these things are true, but with a subtitle like "Man of Hope," one expects some examination of where his inner resources come from. In one scene he says "I'm not afraid of consequences"; in another, he tells his wife, "If you are scared, it would be the end for me." There is some watching of Pope John Paul II on television, but when someone offers to read Walesa an encyclical, he brushes it aside with a seemingly tongue-in-cheek assent that he "believes everything" the Pope says.

The film paints the period well, and a scene in which Walesa's wife is strip-searched for contraband after returning with the Nobel Prize illustrates that frightening coexistence of brutality and pettiness that can crop up in oppressive political systems. Still, the most moving scene had nothing to do with Walesa. It came when a lactating prison guard breast-fed a hungry infant in a jail cell. There, just briefly, the film explored people within a political system rather than just ideas about that system.

Jodorowsky's Dune almost persuaded me that its eponymous hero was and is the mad genius the documentary claims that he is. The tale of the director's failed attempt to film Frank Herbert's Dune (a novel which he cheerfully and blithely claims he hadn't read) is carried along by Jodorowsky's infectious good cheer. If his story changes from time to time—he wanted to recreate the mood of dropping acid, or he wanted to marshal a band of "spiritual warriors"—there's still a reasonable case that he recognized and assimilated talent, and that the ideas in the sketchbooks and storyboards eventually pollinated other great science-fiction films.

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But I wanted the film to spend much more time on documenting the lineage of the product and less lamenting its death. And given the clips from Jodorowsky's El Topo and Holy Mountain that were included, I totally did not buy the insinuation that he lost the film because his talent was too threatening and his vision too frightening to Hollywood. If anything, he comes across a bit like a modern Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of those artists who enjoys getting intoxicated on the rush of a new idea or project but with even less inclination than the Romantic poet to buckle down to what C.S. Lewis once called "the laborious doing." Skepticism aside, though, fans of Star Wars or Alien or Prometheus or Terminator or Flash Gordon (if there are any) will enjoy seeing some of the art design of those later films in their earliest genesis.

On deck: Philip Gröning's first film since Into Great Silence, Alan Rickman and Rebecca Hall star in Patrice Leconte's adaptation of Journey Into the Past, and I see what all the fuss over Johnnie To is about.

Day 1: Closed Curtain
Day 2: The Last of the Unjust and Mission Congo
Day 3: The Past, Violette, Young & Beautiful,andThe Double
Day 4:Watermark, Can a Song Save Your Life?,andBelle
Day 5: Devil's Knot, Night Moves, and The Dark Matter of Love
Day 6: Friends from France and Under the Skin

Kenneth R. Morefield is an Associate Professor of English at Campbell University. He is the editor of Faith and Spirituality in Masters of World Cinema, Volumes I & II, and the founder of1More Film Blog.