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Toronto: El Chivo on MARTYRS, THE BURROWERS, CHE, GENOVA, 50 DEAD MEN WALKING!!!

Published at: Sept. 12, 2008, 7:23 p.m. CST

Hey folks, Harry here with another great report from El Chivo from Toronto. What a group of films he's seen - lucky guy, eh? Here we go

Greetings all! El Chivo here in Toronto after screenings of films about the IRA, Che, Brother Justin, a film named after an Italian city, and some truly wicked, French lady-revenge. CHE At last CHE has a North American distributor. IFC will be releasing Steven Soderbergh's epic as two separate movies, the way it was originally conceived. Che isn't an easy set of films. As a whole, I think it falls into the realm of difficult-to-love movies offering rich rewards for those in love with the craft of filmmaking, but will be a tough sell for people looking for more typical three-act structure and character development. On a technical level, CHE is like watching the best jungle documentary never made about Guevara's time spent in the countrysides of Cuba and Bolivia. The first half in Cuba could be called "How to Win a Guerilla War" and the Bolivian second-half "How to Lose a Guerilla War." Intercut throughout the first film, the only flashy, normal biopic moment is Guevara's speech to the United Nations in 1964. This event on the world stage is our only opportunity to see a truly impassioned version of the man and really represents our only chance to judge him. As Guevara, Benicio Del Toro spends most of his time acting with determined eyes and quiet words, slowly and methodically teaching others while on his way to earning the Cuban leadership role he takes by the end of the first film. These aren't films where characters sit down and really discuss Marxist philosophy at anything more than surface level or ever bait the audience with the kind of information that sparks lively debate. No, the main concerns of these films are how to get to the next town, what to eat, which new recruits brought their own guns, who's been shot, and when are the hearts and minds of the peasants going to swing their way. Technical rewards exist in the breathtaking clarity of the footage captured by the RED ONE cameras, also through Soderbergh's usual genius in the editing bay, and in the sparsely unique, percussive scores for each film. I was content without ever being fully engaged. It was something like THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS meets SILENT LIGHT in a jungle. I liked, even admired the film, but will probably only ever re-watch it to study the superior craftsmanship. My TIFF People's Choice Ballot: 3 out of 4. MARTYRS MARTYRS is described in the festival guide as "destined to become one of the most controversial titles in the history of Midnight Madness." I think expectations need to be scaled down a bit. Story starts with a young girl named Lucie escaping from the warehouse where she's been held and tortured for some time. Flash forward about 10 years to when Lucie and her friend from the hospital, Anna, locate the couple Lucie believes responsible for the terror inflicted on her. Lucie proceeds to blow them away in a scene with flashes of THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE-style shotgun violence. That's not really giving away much because all of that happens in the first twenty minutes. Shortly after, the tone shifts wildly, a bit like that bass note dropping out the bottom of the DARK KNIGHT trailer. I love the shift in tone and direction, but I have some big issues with what follows. My problems with the film are difficult to discuss because they are all about the last half hour. Trying to be careful with my words, I will say the last act is more intellectual than your typical release-through-revenge flick. Most people's reaction to the film seem to be based on how they responded to the last act. Certainly worth seeing for horror fans, but films like SALO and AUDITION have left a much larger stain on my memory than MARTYRS. My TIFF People's Choice Ballot: 2 out of 4. GENOVA It is appropriate that the name of Genova -- the Italian city where most of the movie takes place -- is in the title, because the film is every bit a character as much as the actors. Director Michael Winterbottom once again does a remarkable job tackling another unique style and tone, completely different than what I've seen from his work. Of the films on his resume, GENOVA is most closely be related to A MIGHTY HEART -- a film I really like -- but the new film comes off much stronger in my opinion. Story starts with a stupid, needless car accident leaving Colin Firth's character a widower with two daughters to look after. I don't recall their ages being identified, but the daughters are meant to be about 12 and 17. Firth decides the family needs to escape their apartment in Chicago and settles on a year-long stint teaching in Italy where a university position has been secured by an old friend from Harvard, played by the always-fantastic Catherine Keener. Titles for the film come during the flight to Italy and it was immediately apparent a skilled director was on the job. During the titles classical music and interesting editing choices kick in, giving life and character to Genova itself. What happens from here? Just living really. The mix of laid-back Euro-style travelogue and getting-on-with-life story really meld nicely and command a weight of tension I didn't expect. Each character finds their own drama: Sullen older daughter Kelly lends variety to the soundtrack when we hear through her iPod as she seeks the attention of young Italian men, while younger Mary is paralyzed by guilt-induced visions of her mother, and Firth's character juggles it all while finding himself suddenly single and available. Gosh, that all sounds painfully boring when I read it through, but trust me, you're in good hands with Winterbottom. My TIFF People's Choice Ballot: 4 out of 4. THE BURROWERS The premise for this film reads a bit like TREMORS in the Old West. The forces at play end up not really being like the giant TREMORS beasts, but it's still a highly effective premise to have the menace traveling just below the surface where you can't see it until it's too late. Another film in the Midnight Madness section, THE BURROWERS plays more like conventional -- but scary -- Western adventure, rather than standard horror flick. Don't get me wrong, plenty of gore is present, but with the exception of one or two scenes, THE BURROWERS is trying something different than just eliciting audience response with jump scenes and loud noises. This is an ambitious film to be made on such a small budget. Not exactly a homerun, but certainly solid. I hope these filmmakers move on to bigger and better. Also, does it make me sick if I was most moved by the scenes of horse violence? Like the Director mentioned at the Q&A, I'm part of that group of people that react more strongly to violence against animals than against people. Worth noting is the presence of Clancy Brown (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Brother Justin from CARNIVALE); he makes any film better. My TIFF People's Choice Ballot: 2 out of 4. FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING No, it's not about watching the Sean Penn film over and over. The title of FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING refers to those who's lives may have been saved through the events in the film. Based on the true story of Martin McGartland's time spent inside the IRA passing information back to British intelligence, Ben Kingsely does an adequate job of playing the British handler, but Jim Sturgess as McGartland is in way over his head depth-wise. Or perhaps my problem lies more with the character than the actor. Based on what we see in the film, I question how McGartland's character ever made it to adulthood. Most of the first half is spent with a hot-headed McGartland proving he is ready to fight armed men at any time for almost any reason. He provokes the IRA and the British in equal measure. Sturgess was never able to win me over, nor did the film have any of the weight I expect from the source material. I love movies about "the Troubles," but FIFTY DEAD MEN WALKING felt like a summer-movie take on a story that deserves a lot more. My TIFF People's Choice Ballot: 1 out of 4.

Readers Talkback

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  • Sept. 12, 2008, 7:36 p.m. CST

    Well-put thoughts on 'Che'!

    by CM1986

    Good stuff!

  • Sept. 12, 2008, 7:49 p.m. CST

    I think Sturgess is really getting fucked

    by IndustryKiller!

    Cause his agents are obviously trying to push him down the Colin Farrel route and campaigning hard to make him a star by shoving him in every big budget film they can possibly get him into. For a young guy who was a nobody a year ago it's really gotta be tough to say no to something everyone is telling you is right. What a lot of these guys fail to see is all the fame will ultimately turn up nothing at all if you don't SOMEDAY prove that you have the chops to make people care. Otherwise you're just a face on a poster and you'll end up like Ashton Kutcher if he wasnt being kept famous through awful reality shows and an older wife with a famous ex husband. I think Sturgess is talented and has a great mix of being handsome while still completely real and a great mix of "aww shucks" and a slight swagger which would make him PERFECT for Peter Parker if only that uber dork Tobey Macguire wasn't hogging it.

  • Sept. 13, 2008, 3:03 a.m. CST

    MARTYRS is better than this guy claims

    by BurgerKing

    Yes the last half drops in tone quite a bit and is mixed, but the first half is fucking amazing. And the finale is outstanding. Creepy and disturbing. I loved it. Best film I saw at the fest.

  • Sept. 13, 2008, 7:49 a.m. CST

    the book 50dead men walking is superb

    by bongo123

    grippin read into the backdoors of how the IRA & British intelligence worked was fascinating as was the window the fecker jumped from, i walked past it once and fair play to him, id've leapt out higher than be subjected to shit he was gonna face, great book, dude for all his own motives and politics risked a shitload to save people he didnt know

  • Sept. 15, 2008, 9:19 a.m. CST

    Agreed, Martyrs is better than indicated.

    by taylor2

    And Genova isn't. Martyrs is ultimately not what is expected. I loved the first half, got really annoyed at the beginning of the second half because I Thought it was turning into something I didn't care for and was pleased to see a purpose, a comment, or exclaimation point to justify all that you watched by the end... that said.. it did take a couple hours to process and fully (or more fully) appreciate. Genova is small. Narrow in scope. Not exactly an experience. My wife (who liked it) said it was like reading a book... which probably explains why I don't read novels. I would say it's character driven, but I'm not sure the characters are fleshed out like they were in say, The Wrestler. They're greiving.. annnd thats about it, I thought.