TIFF '10: Reviews Of 127 HOURS, BLACK SWAN, JULIA'S EYES, SUBMARINE And Much More From Talkbacker Garbageman33!
If there's one thing I've taken away from the coverage of this year's Toronto Film Festival, it's that there wasn't a consensus favorite. Some people really dug Aronofsky's BLACK SWAN, others fell hard for Boyle's 127 HOURS, while a particularly vocal group went absolutely bananas for Kelly Reichardt's MEEK'S CUTOFF. Adding his opinions to the discourse is AICN talkbacker Garbageman33, who saw a whole slew of movies at the just-concluded festival - some of which he liked, and some of which he could do without. I wonder what he thought of Brad Anderson's latest...
This documentary charts the rise and fall of Yves Saint Laurent, with amazing footage from his runway shows as well as more personal clips, like an intimate dinner party in which Mick Jagger dicks around on the piano as Andy Warhol looks on. The documentary is framed around a massive 2009 Christie’s auction of the art and artifacts acquired by Saint Laurent and his business and life partner, Pierre Berge. Berge also serves as the main talking head. But, the truth is, everything we need to know about Saint Laurent is contained in his collections, many of which were far ahead of their time. I found the fashion stuff as fascinating as a straight man possibly could. But the art aspect wasn’t as interesting. For me, filmed pieces of art lose something in the translation. So do 30,000 year old cave drawings. But we’ll get to that later.
CLIENT 9: THE RISE AND FALL OF ELIOT SPITZER
Forget everything you know about Eliot Spitzer. Well, except for the hooker part. That definitely happened. But this documentary, directed by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side), attempts to fill in some of the cracks of how Spitzer found himself standing at that podium, with his wife shooting daggers into the back of his head. It gives more background into the financial institutions he prosecuted and how they may have conspired to bring him down. Gibney manages to get some tough interviews, including the head of AIG, Spitzer himself and, most impressively, Spitzer’s regular girl, Angelina. Turns out, Spitzer only “visited” Ashley Dupre that one fateful time. It’s an enlightening, sometimes funny, sometimes infuriating documentary, with an unstated backdrop that the very institutions Spitzer went after are the ones that contributed to our current crisis. But because Angelina refused to go on camera or have her voice used, Gibney is forced to make an artistic decision that I felt undermined some of the film’s credibility.
Serious film festivals generally don’t schedule a lot of teen comedies. So I figured this had to be better than the usual tripe that shows up at the multiplex. Easy A stars Emma Stone (Superbad, Zombieland) as a high school senior who gets branded a slut after making up a little white lie about losing her virginity. Rather than fight the label, she embraces it, showing up to school in stripper heels, lingerie and a big red “A” on her chest. (Ironically, her English class is studying The Scarlet Letter). It may be the best Apatow film that Apatow never did. It has his typical mix of sweetness and raunch. Well, perhaps not as much raunch. And there’s no sign of Jonah Hill. But Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson are amazing as her eccentric parents. And it has a positive message for all you young girls out there.
Julia is having kind of a shitty week. Her twin sister has just committed suicide. And the same degenerative eye disease that caused her sister’s blindness is slowly robbing Julia of her sight. Nonetheless, she starts to play Nancy Drew after becoming convinced that her sister’s hanging wasn’t a suicide, after all. This Spanish thriller, produced by Guillermo del Toro, does a really good job of getting the audience to share in Julia’s plight, with all kinds of tricks meant to disorient and confuse us. I just wish there was less buildup and more payoff. It’s pretty slow moving until the last twenty minutes or so, when things pick up . Oh boy, do they pick up.
Rushmore doesn’t have a monopoly on hyper-literate teenage boys. But sometimes the comparison is inevitable. Such is the case with this comedy, executive-produced by Ben Stiller. It follows a 15-year old boy who insists on creating elaborate plans for everything, including losing his virginity and keeping his parents together when he thinks his mom (Sally Hawkins) may be having an affair with the new-age guru who just moved in next door (a fabulously mulleted Paddy Considine). The film starts on a high note as the boy imagines what his funeral might be like, complete with nationwide candlelight vigils and his eventual resurrection. In fact, the whole first hour is really smart and funny. But as the storylines get more serious (his girlfriend’s mom has cancer, his parent’s marriage is crumbling) it stops being funny. Like, entirely. Nonetheless, that first hour is good enough that it makes me curious to see what the first-time director (Richard Ayoade) can do once he figures out how to create a consistent tone.
VANISHING ON 7TH STREET
A few words of advice for Brad Anderson (The Machinist): if you’re going to do a horror film that’s mostly a character study, you might want to hire better actors than Hayden Christianson, Thandie Newton and John Leguizamo. And you should probably come up with a better threat than impending darkness. Yes, darkness is descending on Detroit, even though it’s the middle of the day. So if you’re not holding a flashlight or candle or one of those glow-in-the-dark rave necklaces, you’ll be reduced to a pile of clothes. Which, it turns out, is not that scary of a visual. Seriously, the scariest thing in this crapfest is watching Hayden Christianson try to emote. I kept thinking he was gonna burst a blood vessel or something. To say this film went over like a fart in church is an insult to farts. And churches. Although it was fun to watch the midnight madness programmer try to distance himself from it at the end. He mentioned multiple times that this was the first time he’d seen the finished film. Sure, Colin. Sure.
Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play slightly exaggerated versions of themselves in this largely improvised film from Michael Winterbottom (24 Hour Party People). Coogan is given a rather cushy assignment by The Observer to tour the English countryside, eating at five-star restaurants and staying at quaint inns along the way. When his girlfriend cancels at the last minute, he calls five or six other people, before finally settling on Brydon. The two spend the rest of the film bickering, sniping and doing impromptu auditions to be the next James Bond villain. Every joke, every observation becomes an opportunity for one-upsmanship. It’s side-splittingly funny. Especially when they perform dueling Michael Caines. But there’s also a poignancy to their friendship. Even though neither of them will actually admit that they’re friends.
Danny Boyle’s follow-up to Slumdog Millionaire is a much more intimate affair. As in, one man, a crevasse and a really heavy rock. 127 Hours tells the true story of Aron Ralston, whose arm was trapped under a rock in the canyons of Utah for, you guessed it, 127 hours before he made the incredibly painful decision to extricate himself the only way he could. James Franco is fantastic as the adventurer who doesn’t think he needs anybody until he really, really needs somebody. And there are some terrific set pieces, including the scene that reportedly caused four audience members to faint and one man to have a seizure. But Boyle’s kinetic editing style (split screens, fast motion, etc) somewhat undermines the claustrophobia of Ralston’s predicament.
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS
Yes, I know. Werner Herzog is a genius. So, anything he makes should at least be watchable, right? Sadly, no. Turns out, looking at the same 30,000 year old cave drawings for an hour just isn’t that enthralling. Not even in 3D. I guarantee half the audience fell asleep at least once. But very few of them would admit it. What with Herzog being a genius and all. There are a few redeeming segments, including a postscript that would appear to have nothing to do with the rest of the film as well as interviews with a couple people even more out there than the director. Herzog’s contemplative narration is good for a laugh or two. And the 3D is cool. At least the first two or three times we see the same goddamn drawings.
In the latest film from Darren Aronofsky, Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina who is up for the lead in a new Lincoln Center production of Swan Lake. But while the skeevy artistic director (Vincent Cassel) is sure Nina can handle the white swan, he thinks she’s too uptight to dance the more passionate black swan. Enter a new dancer (Mila Kunis) who has plenty of sensuality, but lacks discipline Nina also has to deal with a domineering mother who gives new meaning to “stage mom” (Barbra Hershey). It’s enough to make a girl lose her mind. Which is precisely what Nina does as her doubts and fears slowly begin to manifest themselves physically. The film does an amazing job of being specific to the world of ballet, but also espousing universal truths about what it takes to be really really good at something. Speaking of which, Natalie Portman is amazing in the lead role. She’s in every single scene in the film and owns all of them. Between this, Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler and Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky really seems to elicit amazing performances. Perhaps Hayden Christianson should give him a call.
MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED
In the late 60s and early 70s, “artists” like Roger Corman discovered they could make their drive-in and grindhouse fare even cheaper and sleazier by shooting in the Philippines. Director Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood) takes us back to that era with a bevy of clips, featuring explosions, cheesy-looking rubber monsters and boobs. Lots and lots of boobs. Oh, and a 2 foot 9 secret agent named Weng Weng who was, at the time, the biggest little star in the Philippines. There’s also commentary from Roger Corman, Joe Dante and some of the stars of that era. As high-minded documentaries go, it’s not exactly The Fog of War. But it does delve a little bit into the topic of whether the women-in-prison movies shot in the Philippines were empowering to women or just exploitive. Then, it’s back to the boobies.
Ryan Reynolds is having problems we can all relate to. His cellphone reception is spotty, his battery is dying and he keeps getting sent to voicemail. Oh, and he’s buried in a wooden coffin deep in the Iraqi desert. Which is slightly less relatable. But it makes for a neat little thriller. One that takes place entirely in that small wooden coffin. Over the course of 90 minutes, we learn who he is, what he’s doing there and how he plans to escape. It’s cleverly constructed, with important details filled in slowly. So we remain as much in the dark as he is. Although it’s a neat parlor trick, the film clearly aspires to be something more. But I don’t picture anyone describing it as “that movie that’s an allegory for our situation in the Middle East”. It’s just “that movie with Ryan Reynolds in a box”.
Thanks for the reviews, sir!
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Sept. 20, 2010, 5:10 p.m. CST
Sept. 20, 2010, 5:13 p.m. CST
I was there for these three... I liked Vanishing a little more than he did, but he's dead on about Black Swan. It was immaculate. Cave of Forgotten Dreams was worth it, I thought, and as someone who hates 3D, I thought it was well used here. Herzog doing his thing, which I'll sit through at least once each time.
Sept. 20, 2010, 5:13 p.m. CST
And he lived through Avatar?
Sept. 20, 2010, 5:16 p.m. CST
Sept. 20, 2010, 5:35 p.m. CST
Coogan and Brydon were great together in A Cock and Bull Story.
Sept. 20, 2010, 5:54 p.m. CST
I saw a lot of people walking out of this screening (I was outside the theatre). A movie about the Oregon Trail by the director of Wendy and Lucy? No, thank you.
Sept. 20, 2010, 5:58 p.m. CST
I got sucked in by all the praise for Wendy and Lucy and was bored to tears. Meek's Cutoff sounds like the same damn movie, but with cowboy hats and no dog.
Sept. 20, 2010, 6:12 p.m. CST
It's a travesty that it didn't go to Black Swan. Seems like every year it goes to something completely inoffensive that has a positive message about overcoming obstacles (The King's Speech, Precious, Slumdog Millionaire, Whale Rider). I can usually pick out the candidates just by reading the program book.
Sept. 20, 2010, 10:44 p.m. CST
F? When I see opinions like this about a movie, I usually start to wonder. Really not one redeeming quality? I don't think I would dismiss this film on one completely negative view of it but it makes me want to read more reviews to get a better consensus.
Sept. 21, 2010, 1:52 a.m. CST
loads of physical emoting and mugging for the camera does not a good performance make. also the ending was terrible. also big plot holes don't help this film AT ALL
Sept. 21, 2010, 4:47 a.m. CST
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Sept. 21, 2010, 7 a.m. CST
by Jack Burton
That one is at the top of my list right now. Too bad about Vanishing but I'm not all that surprised with Christensen in the lead. Seems Brad is just never going to match Session 9 is he?
Sept. 21, 2010, 9:20 a.m. CST
I heard that a lot of the older audiences were turned off by the gore/violence, which I'm guessing was a big obstacle in the critics choice. Extremely stupid, but oh well, I loved it. Also saw Never Let Me Go, Sarah's Key and Rabbit Hole. Rabbit Hole actually gave me faith that Nicole Kidman can still emote. Damn fine performance that just may end up giving Natalie some competition in the Oscar race.
Sept. 21, 2010, 6:57 p.m. CST
"(Ironically, her English class is studying The Scarlet Letter)" This is not irony. This is coincidence. (Unless there is a plot point that you did not mention which might have made it ironic).
Sept. 21, 2010, 7:29 p.m. CST
You must be fun at parties.
Sept. 24, 2010, 12:40 p.m. CST
Really not one redeeming thing. This movie was horrible. I totally concur with an F grade. It was the worst movie I saw in Toronto this year or any year for that matter. Ive read some ok reviews for the movie and now I question those reviewers and wonder if they saw the same movie that I saw.
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