Christopher: It's like insult to injury that this is the very next film I saw after John Carpenter's The Ward. This is a genuinely effective and creepy throw-back haunting story and then to top it all off, they used the Carpenter Font in the titles. Unrepentant torture pornographer and Saw series creator James Wan probably doesn't get a fair shake as a filmmaker because very important and intelligent critics have been in such a hurry to codemn his sick, depraved lust for violence and the Saw series is such a gimmicky drag in general, but he's proven his chops over and over again - if people could get a hold of themselves, they'd see that he really is the second coming of Wes Craven or John Carpenter or maybe something in between those guys and totally distinct and original (unlike certain, classic-aping hacks that inexplicably get all the internet love despite having no tricks up their sleeve beyond slavish, smug imitation.) Insidious is the film that I desperately wanted Carpenter's collosal failure to be, it gets incredibly mileage out of road-tested concepts and even when it pays pointed homage to films like Poltergeist, it never feels like a cheap knock-off. The acting is great - and trust me, I never thought I would be complimenting Patrick Wilson or Rose Byrne. Like its director, the film will probably have to wait fifteen or twenty years to get the credit it deserves. It's not a masterpiece, but despite the consensus adoration of fans neither are Hellraiser or A Nightmare on Elm Street. They're all just great horror films.
John: Chris was high on this one but cooled on it fairly quickly the next day [really? I didn't mean to cool on it - christopher.] , so I went in with no expectations one way or another. Richard Aoyade is an actor I've enjoyed in Garth Marenghi's Dark Place and The IT Crowd, but how often has an amusing TV actor proved to be an adequate director? Could the awesome people involved in this project really combine to create an equally awesome movie? The short answer is that I loved it. I'm tempted to call Submarine the best Wes Anderson movie since Rushmore, but it's so earnest in its charm and competent in its filmmaking and storytelling that actually seems like damning it with faint praise. It's kind of stupendous. Somehow it just gets everything right: the balance of humor and gravitas, the sharp perspective narrative, its nods to the French New Wave, the funny but not goofily overbaked characters and the impressively assembled cast who play them. Sally Hawkins deserves some kind of an award this year, either for her performance in this film, the fact that she was willing to show up for part of Never Let me Go, or for leading the sewing machine employees to strike out against sexual discrimination. This was by far the most charming film I've ever seen at TIFF, and I highly recommend everybody see it when the Weinsteins release it 10 years from now.
What I learned: I still don't know why the movie is called Submarine.
Christopher: Holy shit... I honestly had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't even read the description in the catalogue - it was just a toss-up between this and Cold Fish. John agreed he would go see one and I would see the other, just for variety's sake. So, I had no way of knowing that this film would be... this. And apparently neither did Brian DePalma, who sat right next to me in the theater and then walked out in a huff after about an hour (and hour and a huff.) The most original, sadistic, mind-bending film of the festival, Confessions piles calamities on top of horrors until it reaches a sublime, poetic trance that floats forward into an oblivion of pitch-black comedy. The plot is nothing beyond a series of awful events and even worse reveals and repulsive escalations - saying anything about it is probably too much and would spoil the experience of watching it unfold. Truly horrifying, truly unpredictable, truly difficult to come to terms with, I don't blame DePalma for throwing in the towel. When John told me this was from the director of Kamikaze Girls, I couldn't believe it. "Let a cabbage be your friend!" In Confessions, there is no evidence of the director of that goofy, candy-colored pop-culture-clash buddy movie - just about the only thing they have in common is an unpredictable narrative excess. But still, this is the find and revelation of the festival. I highly recommend you never see it.
John: I regretted missing Confessions, but this Fish was a good catch! Probably a better one than Catfish, at any rate. Allegedly based on a real guy, this Japanese film from Sion Sono, the maker of Suicide Club and Love Exposure is about the most unlikely ultimate bully, a homicidal tropical fish dealer. Character actor Denden is terrifying as the charmingly vocal, maniacally enthusiastic con man who loves showing off his pet shop almost as much as he loves dismembering corpses to make his victims conveniently "invisible." Believe it or not, there are thematic parallels to Another Year, with the message in this one being "the most seemingly successful, happy and sociable people are in fact sociopathic serial murderers." It also seems to say "being a decent person will turn you into a victim," as personified by Mitsuru Fukikoshi's unwilling accessory to Denden's poisoning, chopping and scattering of bodies. The giddiness Sono finds in his blood-splattered dark humor rivals that of Miike, but he's just as aware of the life decisions characters make which ultimately set themselves up to be placed under such gory circumstances. As in Suicide Club, there's a lightly-grazed theme of how violence and death force people to face life, but it's not like Saw or anything. What did you think this was, Canada First?
What I learned: Nobody plays 10 million yen for a rare African fish. This is knowledge that can apparently save your life.
Michelle sez, "I reckon I done warned you not to see this movie!"
Christopher: I wish the projectionist hadn't been so meek and would have cutoff this film after about twenty minutes. Har-har-har! Har.Seriously, watching this movie is like being trapped learning how a butter churn works in Colonial Williamsburg. A bunch of actors poorly playing dress-up with a tedious emphasis on "how things were" that makes sure to drive home just home boring and difficult it was to wash socks in olden times. The acting is hammy beyond belief (like at Colonial Williamsburg) and every sentence of dialog begins or ends (and somtimes both!) with a cheesy "I reckon - " Even people who enjoyed director Kelly Reichardt's wildly over-praised Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy aren't likely to enjoy this boring little trip to Nowhereville, U.S.A. (uh-oh, salt flats!) and there's certainly no adorable mutt involved. Did you know it takes a little bit of time to load and shoot a turn-of-the-century firearm? Well, how about a demonstration! We also have rock candy in the gift-shop.
John: I was a bit late coming into this packed screening, so I have no idea if we get to see Aaron Eckhardt and Nicole Kidman's little crumb-crusher get creamed by a car at the start of the film or whether we join them at the funeral or a few months down the line. Judging from what I saw it's probably the latter, as the bitter post-tramatic existence of this couple is what we're meant to focus on. I haven't seen either Hedwig's Hostile Rash or that porno movie, but it seems like John Cameron Mitchell is trying to make people take him seriously as a filmmaker by refusing to put a single thing into this film that could make someone mistake it for edgy or interesting. That was unexpected, especially when you consider the potentially rude double meaning of the title from this Radical Faerie whose reputation is based on his in-your-face queer cinema (is he jealous that Gregg Araki won that first-time "gay" award at Cannes?) Not that any of that matters... I just remember this guy bashing actors for turning down roles in the sexually explicit Shortbus because, in his words, "then they wouldn't get their guest performance on 'Everybody Loves Raymond.'" Well, this is the "Everybody Loves Raymond" of weepy melodramas, kind of a generic "tragic event" movie where every scene is about the same thing that's been done better in films like Sarah Polley's Away from Her. Basically alternating between scenes of Kidman being upset and Eckhardt getting frustrated with Kidman being upset or making a play for Sandra Oh (really? Eckhardt you can do better!), the screenplay starts to feel like a broken record. Totally inoffensive, but hammy and unoriginal. Despite the fact that she's more pathetic than sympathetic, Nicole Kidman will probably get awards for this movie. Dianne Wiest probably will too, Eckhardt will probably get snubbed because that's the story of his life.
What I learned: That I am very, very lucky my mom doesn't act like Nicole Kidman.
Christopher: I'm sure John will say something similar since we discussed this movie so much, but this is a Troma movie, through and through - director James Gunn got his start as a screenwriter on Tromeo and Juliet and has given Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman cameos in all his movies, so I'm not just pulling that comparison out of thin air: this is a Tromatic film to its very core. Or actually, it's a movie that fulfills the empty promise of Troma; a gory, perverted, funny genre-melting sucker-pucker to a played-out genre and conventional morality and movie-making. Heaping disturbing violence, silly comedy, sexual titillation and morally inquiry on top of each other within any given individual scene, it un-self-consciously mixes combustible, controversial elements into something truly potent. The story of a pathetic short order cook who decides to take the law into his own hands and do something about crime, I naturally worried that Super would suffer from working from such a played out premise. To my delight, it seems less concerned with engaging the concept of "how would superheroes function in the real world" and more with thinking about "how does the superhero mentality and mindset jive with reality?" It's very much to director James Gunn's credit that after seeing this film, I have no idea if he's a fan of comic books or not - the references it makes to comics certainly aren't obscure with people like Batman and Aquaman being just about the only figured referenced, and not even referenced in a revertial way. It's a film no desire to imitate the world of comic books, to have it both ways and build up a myth of Superheroism in recognizable reality - it doesn't want to be Kick Ass, in other words. Instead, it looks at the mindset of revenge and morality, of the the thought process that divides the world into a black and white division of good and evil - and what it finds is hilarious, unpredictable and far more complicated than you would think. It's not content with conventional questions or conventional answers and seems to exist on its own planet of cinema: it's what Troma should have been but never really was. Since the festival, this one has grown on me, to boot - I definitely liked it when I saw it, but now I think of it as one of the standouts of TIFF 2010.
John: For years I've speculated as to whether Lloyd Kaufman hates Jim Muro's Street Trash because it's the funny, Rabelaisian, expertly-made Troma movie that Troma will never be able to make. But now I think Troma veteran James Gunn has made the ultimate Troma movie, his own take on The Toxic Avenger's deep-seated themes of confusing what you want to do to make the world better with finding ways to secure your own happiness in a world that appears to hate you. The inciting incident is the main character's wife leaving him, a theme Gunn has clearly thought about since his own 2008 divorce. At least that seems what the movie is about initially; as it progresses, it seems like the film is trying to figure itself out as much as its hero is trying to understand his own purpose. I was worried that he would serve up a nerd-turns-superhero one-joke comedy like Defendor or Kickass, but Gunn manages to make you forget Super is even in the same subgenre as those kind of movies. It uses his love of gore and violence in a way that's closest to something like George Armitage's Miami Blues or a script by Shane Black: the cathartic supports the philosophical. I like it even better the more I think about it. Surprisingly good performances from Rainn Wilson, Kevin Bacon and - I have to admit - even Ellen Page help immensely. It's also satisfying to see Slither alumn Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker and the great Nathan Fillion show up in supporting roles, giving the film a family feel as charming as its low budget locations.
What I learned: Not to doubt James Gunn. I guess his Pets project probably would have been great too. I should read his novel The Toy Collector, I'd love to look at his draft of the aborted Spy vs. Spy project.
Christopher: Essentially a comic book version of The Seven Samurai, a more colorful and slick version of that story with the jagged moral and philosophical contours of Kurosawa's film smoothed down to a glimmering shine. 13 Assassins follows group of ronin banding together to take on a horde of marauding villians and even the basic structure of the film is the same: the hero (Koji Yakusho) is convinced to lead what amounts to a suicide mission, he auditions other samurai to join his group, they spend some time bonding and preparing, there's a big showdown. I don't say any of this to diminish Takashi Miike's take on the material - it's actually one of the most exciting and satisfying films I've seen all year. The two hour film is divided neatly in half: the first hour is all quiet, methodical preparation and slow-boiling minutiae, the second half nothing but the hellacious battle. After Sukiyaki Django Western I was kinda down on Miike and not necessarily expecting too much from this, but amazingly this is by far Miike's sturdiest film, an expertly constructed piece of entertainment machinery that functions with flawless precision; a classical work in every sense - it's the exact opposite of Sukiyaki Django's aimless, muddled post-modernism. Weighing heavily in its favor: it features the Bad-Ass moment of the decade (Yakusho's initial wordless confrontation of the evil warlord) and the epic, nearly hour-long battle really deserves the adjective "epic." It's the blood-soaked, barn-storming, flaming-oxen very traditional samurai action flick that I never knew Miike had in him.
John: Miike did his homework. As in several classic jidaigeki films - Hirikari, Chushingura, Samurai Rebellion - he lets the tension build to the breaking point before unleashing a hellacious 45 minute battle sequence that is every bit as satisfying as one would imagine (only a limbless, tongueless living torso betrays an incredible restraint by the typically excessive filmmaker up to that point, and the fight itself isn't really all that gory). Koji Yakusho is perfect - PERFECT - as the weathered warrior who gets a group of ragtag ronin together to off a corrupt lord. They meet with much more resistance than the 47 Ronin did in their historic quest for vengeance, and there are 13 of them as opposed to 7, so clearly it's not like any other movie that's ever been made in the history of Japan. In all seriousness though, what Miike does differently is flip the long-running Japanese theme of how noble warriors die adhering to the bushido code by having some of them dying needlessly defending the ultimate scumbag just because it's their duty. A pretty interesting touch that sets up a bittersweet final confrontation that doesn't wuss out like the end of The Hidden Fortress. The vagrant non-samurai warrior of the group suffers from not being Toshiro Mifune and I wish some of the lesser assassins were more distinguishable from one another, but even The Dirty Dozen had that problem.
What I learned: Turns out this is actually a remake of a 1963 film that's considered a classic in Japan. So did that movie model itself off Seven Samurai first or what?
Christopher: I love this movie. Just looking at that photo makes me happy. Go ahead, look at that photo. Remember in my Another Year write-up when I said that filmmakers should be ashamed to continue making movies with Mike Leigh constantly blowing them out of the building? Errol Morris doesn't have to be ashamed. I even grant Errol Morris permission to walk out of a screening of Another Year and say, "Eh. My movie is probably better." The crazy tale of a young woman who kidnaps her former fiancée while's out on his Mormon mission to England, this story has more twists and turns than a telenovella on top of improbable happenstance like a sleazy English tabloid journalist coming off as the most self-aware person in the whole sordid saga. Reasonably described by most critics as a super-sized version of an episode of Morris' "First Person" television show - but really far stylistically and cinematically superior to even that program's best episodes like Leaving the Earth and Stairway to Heaven - Tabloid finds Morris right at home in the kind of hilariously lurid and hard-to-believe subject matter in which he's most comfortable. His recent emphasis on politically-charged documentaries has produced at least two masterpieces, but Tabloid might be the best film of his career: the homegrown weirdness of Vernon, Florida combined with the stylistic deftness and intellectual self-assurance of The Fog of War. Just a fantastic, lovable, essential film. I want to watch it again right now, dammit!
You will never be able to think about the word "mini-bar" again without laughing.
John: Errol Morris' new film is about a woman named Joyce McKinney. That's literally all I can say without giving away the crazy details of her life, which Morris is never less than enthralled by from the beginning to the end of his latest masterpiece. What's amazing is that McKinney makes for his most open and honest protagonist, yet you always feel like she's hiding something. But one thing's for sure: what she says she believes, whether it's close enough to the truth to fabricate just the right parts or she's simply managed to convince herself over the years that she's not lying. Maybe she just comes off as truthful compared to the predatory muckrakers Morris clearly has a grudging respect for even as he holds them accountable for their own unabashed fabrications. Ultimately what we're left with is a playful and fascinating piece, a huge relief after the unrelenting gloom of Standard Operating Procedure. When I got back from Toronto, I immediately rewatched all the Mike Leigh movies I have. Now that I'm done, I'm going to start rewatching all the Errol Morrises.
What I learned: The film is dedicated to Karen Schmeer, the editor who worked with Morris on three films as well as "First Person." She was struck and killed on 90th & Broadway by the getaway car fleeing a CVS robbery at the beginning of the year. [Way to bum everyone out, dude - christopher.]
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (3-D).
John: I don't know man, is anybody buying Herzog's schtick anymore? There are some ancient (not very good) cave paintings and he has some thoughts on them. But are they even honest thoughts at this point in his career? Or does he just come up with generic Wernerbabble as he's sitting poolside at some fancy LA hotel schmoozing with Zak Penn and Brett Ratner? It's time to face it: he doesn't belong to us anymore, gang. He's doing what people think Werner Herzog should be doing, like voicing a plastic bag. Seriously, Funderburg and I were coming up with some mock Herzog narration before going into the screening and we weren't too far off what ended up in the actual film. After twin disappointments Bad Lieutenant and My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? from last year's festival, I was hoping that he would at least be able to maintain the sense of fascination and intrigue of his "documentary" films, which have been consistently astounding over his long career, but with Forgotten Dreams he's recycling the same stuff that's been recently regurgitated in his narrative work. There are little moments of his old inquisitive nature: by questioning a subject he learns that the guy, now a cave scientist of some kind, used to be an acrobat in the circus. But so what? Have we learned anything about this primitive graffiti we couldn't have found out touring the cave while listening to an audio walk-through recording? Is there any way to justify that forced connection between the cave art and the albino alligators at the end of the movie? If Frederick Wiseman can get me interested in the people before they're even introduced, I accept no excuses that Herzog needs an interesting subject like Walter Steiner or Dieter Dengler and it was too hard for him to make empty caves interesting. Sitting through this, occasionally nodding off, I kept thinking about Wa-keem Phoenix's stupid bullshit movie and how much Herzog now seems like a Herzog imitator. It made me genuinely sad to end the festival on this very low note.
What I learned: Once again, not to hold onto your heroes.
Christopher: Jeez'um Pete, this was just depressing. Herzog's docmentaries secretly form the spine of his career and I would rate his best non-fiction films above his best narrative work - Herzog has always fallen back on the documentary form in fallow periods like the late 80's when his talents for narrative cinema desert him. But now his proclivity for self-parody has bled over from excruciatingly bad narrative films like My Son My Son What Have Ye Done? and infected even his non-fiction work. There are solemn, pseudo-mystical pronouncements about the beating hearts of our tribal ancestors being felt across the expanse of time and quirky scientists dressed up in animal pelts and cut-away segments to unrelated curios, but it nevers feels less than forced and cloying, like a middle-aged guy trying too hard to be cool. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of sun-glasses and a pony-tail, of your dad buying the new Arcade Fire album and casually talking about "weed." The blurry, generally pointless and headache-inducing 3rd dimensional elements are crudely employed and a real mess 85% of the time. Herzog needs to find another Kinski or Bruno S. and quick - he needs someone to force him out of his rut and challenge him at every turn of the creative process. What I'm saying is that this film would've benefitted immensely from someone trying to murder him constantly during the production. Herzog the Huckster: what a revolting reversal of fate. It's awesome to actually get to see the cave paintings themselves - Stephen J. Gould has a typically great essay on them in one of his books, but the accompanying b&w photos are frustratingly impossible to make out - and in that context the 3-D actually is worth while. But other than the 10 or 15 minutes the camera spends in contemplation of the ancient artworks, this film is a joke.
Christopher: Danny Boyle takes ideas that sound tough on paper (poverty in Mumbai, heroin addicts in the UK, a man cutting off his own arm) and makes them rockin'. He adds colorful special effects, a brisk pace, spritely editing, slick cinematography, winning performances and a kickin' soundtrack then dials back the negativity and amps up the passion. In that regard, 127 Hours might be the most Danny Boyle film ever made. It should be a harrowing tale of a brutal endurance test with a helpless man forced to make a grisly decision, but instead the Boyle-ification machine turns it into a super-charged tale of triumph over gripping adversity. Not that I should complain and not that James Franco doesn't just hit it out of the park (i.e. strip-sack it for a touchdown return), but there's something unseamly about Boyle's ability to make everything go down silky smooth without the slightest hint of aftertaste. His clearest fault is that he's not great at coming up with endings - witness Sunshine's ridiculous space Jason or 28 Days Later's muddled foray into the military encampment - and this film doesn't exactly sprint to the finish line. It's a classic, "oh my god, can you believe what's coming? I know what's coming and I'm not sure I want to see it! Oh my god, here it comes!" movie that doesn't really have a lot to do after the Big Scene where good ol' Danny Desario hacks through his arm. A lot of descriptions of the film have said this happens in real time, but it takes maybe 2 minutes of screen-time at most. (And there's soime pumpin' music on the soundtrack accompanying the deed.) I imagine in reality it took more like hours than minutes.
The Cream of the Crop:
The Pretty Darn Good Ones:
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Ok in our Book:
Fire of Conscience
Detective Dee & The Mystery of the Phantom Flame
A lot to Recommend... and Not Recommend here:
I Saw the Devil
The Sleeping Beauty
The Crushing Disappointments:
John Carpenter's The Ward
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Inspiring Pleasant Enough Indifference:
Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie
Game of Death
Let Me In
Not our Cup of Tea, but not Deserving Contempt:
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
Deep in the Woods
Machete Maidens Unleashed
The King's Speech
Little White Lies
A Night for Dying Tigers
Never Let Me Go
Just Plain Bad:
The Butcher, The Chef and The Swordsman
Life, Above All
At Ellen's Age
Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project
Not Even Worth Thinking About:
I'm Still Here
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