Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with more Toronto reviews! We got a big batch below with all the films in the headline plus more, like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and REVOLVER. There's also a comparison of one of the flicks to films like IN MY FATHER'S DEN as a great movie that will not ever be released in America... I loved IN MY FATHER'S DEN, a film a saw at the American Film Market a little while ago. It was such a damn good New Zealand film... I'd also add on the Dutch flick BEFORE THE STORM, a drama I saw at the Vancouver Film Festival in 2001 that was in my top 3 movies of the year that never came close to seeing the light of day in America. Anyway, enjoy the coverage below, squirts!
Hi Harry, I’m just back at home base in Rochester after the first leg of my annual two-leg excursion to the Toronto Film Festival. Due to the welcome upgrading of TIFF’s ticketing service, which now sends email confirmations to out-of-towners, this was the FIRST time I arrived in Toronto KNOWING exactly what movies I’d be seeing and – critically important for planning – exactly when and how long my FREE time blocs would be. This simple upgrade should greatly increase the appeal of the festival to out-of-town parties in the future. (Although there’s still that little problem of creating an itinerary within the 36-hour window they give you between (a.) when the actual screenings for the 300+ film lineup are announced and (b.) when you have to have your choices in.)
Another milestone helped reduce fatigue on what’s invariably a draining experience – for the first time ever, I SAILED to and from the festival aboard the jet-ski catamaran-style fast ferry now connecting Rochester and Toronto it even includes two onboard cinemas!) Sitting in a comfortable reclining chair having some first-class bloody marys at 9:00 AM with a fellow festival-going friend sure beats a three-hour (at absolute best) drive over a landscape that can be mercifully termed “sub-picturesque”! Plus you can get from the boat to any theater in the venue for $2.00 US (get a transfer). I began writing this piece during the return trip and would have made a lot more progress had it not been for my one cavil with the service: absence of promised WiFi access. THAT would have really been something.
On to the movies! I’ve listed them below in the order I watched them. Read and you’ll find two great movies and one “great cheese” movie (a fine French brie). Also: a sure-fire Oscar nomination and some warnings you ignore at your own risk.
In a word: mess. I went in predisposed to liking it, but no matter WHAT you think of Gilliam’s earlier work, you’re in denial if you think that this is anything but a weirdness-for-weirdness’s sake project devoid of anything even remotely resembling coherence. The program guide created the impression that Jeff Bridges would be in “Dude” mode for this movie, but this turned out not to be the case … his most emotive acting in the film is playing a corpse. Almost all of the picture has to be carried by young Jodelle Ferland (endlessly likened by publicity materials to Sarah Polley when she starred in Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), and she’s simply not up to the gargantuan task of doing so, what with a dearth of supporting help (at least Munchausen had a cast) and a screenplay that screams “acid.” When making up my schedule, I opted for this film over Thank You For Smoking (directed by Ivan Reitman, whose In God We Trust short I saw and loved back in 2000) If SMOKING is as good as I’ve heard, this may even surpass my previous biggest mistake -- opting for Jet Lag over City of God.
There’s nothing like a kickass Midnight Madness flick to lift your spirits after a big cinematic disappointment. This Luc Besson-produced futuristic (but not too futuristic) Parisian tale was just what the doctor ordered to get me out of my Tideland funk. It’s set in Paris in the year 2010 where sections of the city have been walled in Escape From New York-style to keep undesirable elements confined, and the action is first-rate. Anybody who dug earlier festival classic ONG BAK will love this film as well. In place of muay Thai, this film introduces viewers to the extreme sport of parkour – getting from point A to point B in an urban landscape in the fastest, most fluid way possible. And in place of Tony Jaa, you get parkour champion David Belle, also doing his own stunts with no assistance from editing, wires, or CGI. As with all of these types of movies, the plot is pretty much secondary – it’s based on the standard template of two natural enemies having to join forces to avert a major disaster. (BTW: Belle’s not-such-a-bad-guy enemy is impressively played by Cyril Raffeilli, who was on hand for a Q & A … check out his filmography if you’ve never heard of him). But what story there is plays much stronger than ONG BAK’s, with many more colorful characters and fewer stock clichÃ©s. One chase scene by Belle early in the film totally wowed the audience and in my book more than justified the cost of admission. It’s a keeper … check it out and you’ll definitely want a sequel (which the ending leaves the door wide open for). And there’s good news if you don’t want to have to wait to see it: it’s already available on region free DVD via Ebay.
One of the titular times (the first) doesn’t totally suck, and that was just about the only consensus I could come to with a friend after the screening. The film deserves some praise for its look – the low-lighting color noir cinematography is outstanding – but that certainly can’t mask the extent to which it’s found wanting in other areas. Particularly bad is the gimmick of the second segment – supposedly set in 1911 – being filmed in “silent movie” mode, with full-screen word panes spelling out what’s being said. It clashes ridiculously with the aforementioned color cinematography excellence and effectively makes already-slow dialogue take twice as long. Supposedly, this isn’t the final copy, but I don’t see where it’s salvageable at this point. The second segment would have to be completely reworked, and that’s just for starters.
I certainly couldn’t miss hometown-boy Phillip Seymour Hoffman in his lead performance in a wide-release film with obvious Oscar designs, and was glad to see him earn a certain nomination. But I doubt that there will be many more for this film (maybe Catherine Keener to help fill out the supporting actress category, but she’ll have a 40-year-old virgin to thank if she gets nominated … she never could have made it on the strength of this performance alone). It’s pretty hard to make a compelling biopic about an author (as compared to, say, a musician) given the fundamentally disparate mediums of paper and celluloid, and CAPOTE is, sadly, not the glorious exception that Quills was. It progresses in a straightforward manner from the killings in Kansas in 1959 through to the publication of In Cold Blood in 1965.and is certainly thorough and accessible. But it’s VERY dialogue-driven, and some parts really drag … especially Capote’s seemingly interminable jail interviews with co-killer Perry Smith. I imagine that it’s much better if you’ve read the book, but I won’t be encouraging anybody to go out of their way to see it unless they’re major PSH fans. Then it’s a must-see … he truly CHANNELS Capote.
While I can’t endorse this Palestinian-European production as a fun night out at the movies, I sure CAN say that it makes a great conversation starter. Based on much research into the kinds of men who become suicide bombers, the picture attempts to give such bombers a face. And contrary to what some people would have you believe, they aren’t wild eyed, foaming-at-the-mouth radicals who hate us because of our values – most of them are very regular looking guys who happen to hold absolute faith in their religions and are easily swayed by their superiors. You hear the arguments that they buy in to, but the film also shows Palestinians arguing passionately that violence isn’t the answer. You also get to see in chilling detail the two guys getting outfitted with strap-on bombs. The main problem is pacing -- it’s a 90 minute film that feels more like two hours. Must-viewing for anybody who believes in “know thy enemy:” … everyone else should be mindful that it’s a lot more sobering than entertaining.
A History of Violence
We have a winner! This was one of the movies I was most looking forward to, and Cronenberg didn’t let me down! (As he has several times in the past … David, you’ve earned amnesty for your complicity in the original CRASH, and at the time I saw it, I never would have guessed that you EVER would!) For the first time since the DEAD ZONE, he’s eschewed the macabre and given us a dark, straight-ahead, solidly-R-rated drama with a real kick. THIS is the film Viggo Mortensen should have made on the heels of LOTR instead of the Disneyfied Hidalgo. The movie is like a contemporary heartland western and Mortensen is the seemingly low-key good guy you just DON’T want to get on the bad side of! Great supporting bits by Maria Bello, Ed Harris, and William Hurt, too. Perfectly paced, with superbly choreographed outbursts of violence (including realistic firearms damage), and a payoff worthy of what’s come before. It’s a taut 95 minute film without so much as a single frame of filler, one that I’ll definitely be seeing again. All I can say is … YO, ARAGORN!
I loved this film, expect it to do well in the Audience Choice competition, but fear that long-term, it’s going to be joining past favorites like LILYA 4-EVER and IN MY FATHER’S DEN as films with 8+ IMDB ratings that never get released in America -- theatrically or on DVD -- for lack of an easy marketing hook. Its cast is superb, but no-name, and the storyline is the rich, multi-layered kind that can’t be condensed to the 25-words-or-less limit. All it has going for it is excellence top-to-bottom, with a great soundtrack and a super (but not overdone or over-obvious) period ambiance that takes dead aim the baby boom generation. I’m reluctant to reveal anything about the plotline since this information is readily available via IMD and your mind will start screaming “stereotype!” and “been there, seen that” if you hear the plot broadly described. Suffice to say that it’s a rare “gay friendly” family movie (on the order of SHOW ME LOVE), set in Quebec, spoken in French, and set over a 20-year-span (1960-1980). There’s not a stereotype in sight in the movie – ALL of the characters are well-developed and together they have familial camaraderie WAY beyond what you’d expect in a Hollywood movie. It’s the kind of rare, unexpected movie treat that will keep me coming to this festival forever … even if this means having to endure films like …
A big uh-oh went off in my mind after seeing C.R.A.Z.Y. … I realized that I’d seen two great movies in one day, and I’ve NEVER gone 3-for-3 in my eight years of attendance. Alas, my apprehension about Abel Ferrara’s latest effort proved to be well-founded, and my streak has been extended. This “Big Media Jesus” movie was mildly interesting in spots – not a complete waste – but even at 83 minutes it seemed intolerably long. It’s completely dialogue-driven, and some of the dialogue is frankly soporific. Matthew Modine has “moments” as a slimeball actor-director with a singular focus of riding Mel Gibson’s coattails and cashing in on the Jesus craze by making another movie about Christ (with himself in the lead to boot). Courting controversy is his game plan from day 1, and this brings him into contact with Forrest Whitaker’s character, who’s stake in the Jesus market is a series of TV specials called, ”The True Meaning of Christ.” Completing the trio of name actors, Juliette Binoche does a double acting role, playing an actress who played Mary Magdalene in Modine’s movie and then couldn’t come out of the role (ala JESUS OF MONTREAL)., staying in costume, moving to Jerusalem, and devoting her life to God. The actors don’t embarrass themselves, but the only way that this film is going to rate high on any of their filmographies is if you sort in descending chronological order. (It should look much better on Ferarra’s resume, though.). And there’s a specific cavil I have with this movie as well -- it seems too much like Ferrara is trying to do TWICE REMOVED exactly what Modine’s character is trying to do. My bet is that the movie will be deemed too inconsequential to be worthy of controversy. Look for it on video in short order.
Going into the festival, this and A History of Violence were my two must-sees. With the latter, my wishes were fulfilled. With the former, I was I’ll check it out again, as soon as I can do so for free. (NO WAY am I PAYING to see it again.) Add my voice to the growing, taunting chorus of “Mr. Madonna!”
Another name director (Michael Haneke, who made my favorite “dare ya” movie, FUNNY GAMES) … another great cast (Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil, who were great together in another husband-wife pairing that I saw at the 2000 fest, THE WIDOW OF SAINT-PIERRE) … great buzz from the Cannes Film Festival … and another disappointment. Once again we have a great start that winds up wheezing across the finish line with no plot resolution in sight. You’ve heard the premise, about a couple receiving videos of the outside of their home and threatening drawings from an unseen party. The gimmick of transposing shots of the outside of their home with the videos being played back on their deluxe flatscreen is used frequently. (Q: In his investigative work to find out who’s shooting the videos, why doesn’t Auteuil just track down the inventor of Hi-Def VHS tape?) To be fair, the production values are first-rate, and there definitely IS a “moment” late in the film that has Haneke’s name written all over it. But when the credits roll, it feels like a great opportunity has been squandered. (Very similar to another French movie I saw a few years back named CRIMSON RIVERS in that respect.) As with Revolver, I’ll watch it again if somebody can point out something that I missed that seems to tie everything together. (With this one, I might even be willing to pay again.)
A mixed bag so far, but the winners make it all worthwhile. I’m returning to the Festival on Thursday morning aboard the fast ferry again, and will be taking in another 10 movies between Thursday afternoon and Saturday. I’m going on an Asian kick: included in my choices will be Park Chan-Wook’s SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE, Jackie Chan’s MYTH, and the Donnie Yen/Samo Hung HK actioner, SPL.