Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with another report from the north where our good buddy Anton Sirius fills us in on his tip of the top, cream of the crop of this year's Toronto fest... then throws in a few reviews for good measure. As for his Top 10, I am itching to see all of them, but I just can't believe the high praise he throws on a Jiminy Glick flick... seriously... I think Glick is one of the most obnoxious, unfunny retread of the same old fat jokes that have been around since the dawn of man... What was remotely funny was putting celebrities in fake interviews and watch them react to getting fucked with. But everybody knows who Glick is now and we know that everyone is in on the joke. Can you tell I'm not a fan?
Anyway, I guess there's something to the Glick movie that I haven't anticipated or I just don't appreciate if Anton gives it such high praise. I do agree with Sirius on A DIRTY SHAME, but I don't think he gave enough props to Knoxville, who inexplicably runs off with the movie. It's his most assured, focused performance and he oozes charisma. Who knew? Anyway, on with Mr. Sirius. The man of the hour and King of Canada!
Post-Fest Roundup, Part One
Even with this batch, I've still got 21 reviews to write. Yikes!
2004 was, without a doubt, the best fest I've had up here since 1992 (the infamous Reservoir Dogs/Dead Alive/El Mariachi/Strictly Ballroom/Man Bites Dog/eighty million other things year). Coming up with a top ten list has been, to put it politely, a bitch. Any of the four films that just missed the cut (Cronicas, Omagh, Saw, Tell Them Who You Are) could have been my #1 last year. But here goes:
10. Innocence - Like some distaff French Tim Burton film, only the fantasy elements are played not as shtick but as a bridge to emotional truths. That final shot is going to haunt me for a long, long time.
9. Saint Ralph - Utterly, utterly charming. I feel bad putting it so low, but what the heck else am I gonna do?
8. A Hole in My Heart - Shocking for all the right reasons. I'm still trying to get my head around Moodysson's original vision of Christina Aguilera playing Tess (just wait for that interview...)
7. Kung Fu Hustle - I'm as shocked it's this low on the list as you are. Oh wait, you haven't seen it yet. Sucker!
6. Jiminy Glick in Lalawood - Martin Short's David Lynch impression needs to host its own, In Search Of...-type series.
5. Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson - Burns hits upon the perfect subject matter, mixing history and race and great visuals with a topic that nobody knows well enough to whine about what he left out.
4. Old Boy - It's Park's relentless, kinetic direction (moreso than the plot) which delivers the knockout blow.
3. Palindromes - Everyone's going to focus on the actress shuffle in the lead role, but then that's what Solondz WANTS to you focus on. Like a magician, his best work gets done when you're not paying attention.
2. Mysterious Skin - Watching one talent come into their own is extraordinary. Watching two of them (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Gregg Araki) do it at the same time, in the same film, is downright historic.
1. 3-iron - Like O Brother Where Art Thou?, the ending is so beautifully perfect is makes me cry from sheer awe.
Now let's get started on those reviews...
* * * * *
Ray (2004, directed by Taylor Hackford)
I hope Jamie Foxx is already working on his acceptance speech.
Ray is of course the nick-of-time biopic of the late Ray Charles ('nick-of-time' because Charles was able to record new performances for the film's concert sequences before he passed away). As Hollywood biopics go, this is about as good as it gets; it's a little too slick, and all the threads of Charles' life tie together a little too neatly, but it's got energy and purpose and keeps the focus of the film squarely where it belongs, on the music.
And that music is one of the film's aces in the hole. Too many people have forgotten, but Ray Charles isn't just a genius; he's arguably THE genius, the man who invented entire genres off the top of his head. And as a showcase for that music, Ray (the movie) is a more than fitting tribute to Ray (the man). Charles' hits are as important a character in the film as Ahmet Ertegun. And the performances... oy. Charles was transcendent in his 70s, and you can only imagine how much of a religious experience it would have been to actually be in the room the first time he ripped off What'd I Say?.
The other ace in the hole, of course, is Foxx. It would have been so, so easy for him to simply slap on some sunglasses, rock his head back and forth and let sentiment do the rest. Instead he cranks it up another couple of notches from Collateral, making Charles a necessarily tough son-of-a-bitch hiding more than just his eyes. It's an acting job that matches the music note for note, and finally pays off the potential Foxx has been showing since he was one of the only two good things about Any Given Sunday.
And just to be clear, I'm not saying Foxx's is the best performance of the year, although it's both better than what he did in Collateral, and certainly one of the best of 2004. I'm saying that given how good the performance is, given that it's his second great performance of the year, and given that he'll have that massive 'R.I.P. Ray' sympathy surge behind him... I honestly don't see how he can't win Best Actor in February.
* * * * *
Gunner Palace (2004, directed by Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein)
A companion piece of sorts to Fahrenheit 9/11, Gunner Palace is a ground-level view of US troops in Baghdad, specifically the crew stationed in Uday Hussein's old pleasure palace. Their life during wartime is surreal. They patrol the streets by day, conduct raids at night, live with the justifiable paranoia of an occupying force, and then come home to a swimming pool and putting greens.
There's no attempt to show a bigger picture here. Gunner Palace concerns itself exclusively with who these troopers are as people and as soldiers, and how they deal with the madness around them. Although there's no overt political agenda to the film (although, to be fair, it does open with a jab at Donald Rumsfeld), politics inevitably joins the party. As the film rolls forward the mood darkens. Baghdad becomes more dangerous, average Iraqis become increasingly hostile, former allies turn on the Americans, and the death toll among these kids who you've been getting to know so well, who are so obviously just like the kids working at the 7/11 and coming home from college with a bagful of dirty laundry, gets both heartbreaking and infuriating. The question hangs in the air, unasked and unanswerable: what the hell are these kids dying for?
Gunner Palace is one of those films that future historians are going to use as proof that the entire country didn't all go crazy early in the 21st century, that a few people managed to retain both sense and perspective.
* * * * *
The Libertine (2004, directed by Laurence Dunmore)
Like the Hurricane a few years ago, The Libertine is a rough cut, a work in progress that it isn't really fair to review.
That doesn't mean I can't talk about it at all, though...
As a movie, the Libertine is going to live or die on Johnny Depp's performance, and to that extent it's in good hands. Johnny isn't doing anything he hasn't done before, but he rips into the tale of the Earl of Rochester with relish, playing the charismatic cad to the hilt. The supporting cast, particularly Samantha Morton, is also quite good.
What I'm less certain about with the eventual finished product is Dunmore's direction. He's a first-time helmer, and it shows. His visuals have some power (particularly an orgy scene that looked like the bottom corner of a Bosch painting come to life) but he's clearly in love with them, re-using a couple of key images over and over (and over) as short-hand for Depp's internal demons. Trying to construct a visual equivalent to the leitmotif is one thing, but using the same damn shot a dozen times over two hours is just self-indulgent.
The Libertine could use about twenty minutes trimmed from it, but based on Dunmore's post-screening comments that doesn't seem likely. Ulp.
* * * * *
A Dirty Shame (2004, directed by John Waters)
Thanks, John, I was in the market for a new mantra.
A Dirty Shame is John Waters' best film in a long, long time. Not that movies like Serial Mom didn't have their charm, but they were like Waters Lite. This, on the other hand, is Waters XXXtra, a throwback to the Pink Flamingoes days when it wasn't enough for him to simply say nice things about the freaks, but instead it was his mission to warn the normals that their days were numbered.
Tracey Ullman plays Sylvia Stickles, a Baltimore (where else?) housewife with a bit of a problem. Her daughter (Selma Blair) is an exhibitionist with the world's largest implants, her husband (Chris Isaak) is a hound dog who actually wants to do 'it' during daylight hours, and her neighborhood is rapidly filling up with perverts. Fortunately, her perspective changes when a shovel handle poking out of a passing truck cracks her on the head, and she is delivered into the hands of Ray-Ray (Johnny Knoxville), a sexual messiah who turns Sylvia on to the glories of the libido unleashed.
The whole premise of the movie, that head trauma leads invariably to sexual deviancy, is inspired. The montage sequences when anyone gets bopped and switches between their 'neuter' and 'sex addict' states are worth the price of admission alone. But it also gives comedians like Ullman, Knoxville and (apparently) Isaak an opportunity to let it all hang out, and go as far as they need to go to get the laugh. Ullman's hokey pokey will go down in history, of course, but just about everyone in the cast, from Mink Stole straight on up to Blair and Knoxville, gets their moment in the sun.
More importantly, Waters seems energized by his return to his roots. A Dirty Shame is positively giddy at times, and by the end of the film, as Ray-Ray's disciplines rampage through the streets reveling in their fetishes, it resembles nothing so much as a zombie flick where the zombies are the good guys.
If you're a pervert, or simply aspire to be one, A Dirty Shame is the movie for you.