TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2010

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DAY 4

 

 

 

 

 

Buried.

Christopher: A gimmick movie with Ryan Reynolds buried in a coffin for 94 minutes and nuthin' but. It sounds like a torturous experience, but fortunately the film is at its heart a cheap, obsequious thriller and since he has a working cell-phone with pretty good reception, the whole "nuthin' but Ryan Reynolds" angle is kinda a false promise (or threat.) It features voice acting from at least a half dozen other actors, so it's not like we just watch Reynolds making with the "acting" (or worse, delivering monologues.) The whole thing is played fast paced and goes down easy it's not actually a tough film in any way, other than it doesn't wimp out on the ending. An enjoyable film, but it's just a gimmick and nuthin' but.

 

Game of Death.

John: A diplomat's bodyguard is injured in a botched assassination attempt. He's taken to the hospital, where he teams up with a nurse to protect the diplomat from a team of ruthless assassins. The nurse soon learns that there is more to this sticky situation than expected! Actually, this is not the Wesley Snipes movie of the same name also being released this year, the one that Abel Ferrara abandoned during pre-production, but rather a French documentary based on the 1963 Milgram experiment where subjects were asked to administer a series of increasingly painful electric shocks to a second party in order to gauge the subject's level of obedience to authority. The idea is reworked as a game show where the contestants believe that they are pulling a lever which "punishes" an unseen actor every time he incorrectly answers a series of questions. The team of anthropologists behind this experiment seem to be pursuing the same conclusions as Milgram, but the movie's narrator pads the running time with redundant statements about how sensationalistic television has become so accepted that being a part of it will drive people to casual torture and (the film constantly suggests) public murder. The problem with that is, what's accepted on a managed professional set with multiple producers, a host and a live audience isn't quite the same as what's accepted in the living room of any average house in the country: concluding that television as an entity can dehumanize people based on this experiment is largely groundless. Still, it was interesting enough to see how the "consestants" responded. Aesthetically it's very similar to Errol Morris' "First Person" entry One in a Million Trillion, and it suffers by comparison. But isn't that the case with every documentary made anywhere in the world?

What I learned: Remember Colleen Camp as the kidnapped girlfriend in the additional footage of Bruce Lee's Game of Death? She was so skinny back then! (Also she was in a movie called Death Game with Sondra Locke and Seymour Cassel. I'm just saying it's a weird coincidence that she was featured in a TIFF 2010 documentary that WASN'T The Game of Death. Maybe she would have agreed to do the movie if it had been called The Game of Donuts.)

 

A Night for Dying Tigers.

Christopher:  One of those brutally obnoxious theatrical talk pieces that nobody-directors can rope semi-famous actors into by virtue of the fact that the script is just reams of dialog unburdened by shame or fear of pretentiousness. Jennifer Beals and Gil Bellows lead the cast through the story that takes place over the course of a single evening: before a man goes to jail for (like, totally justified but is it?) murder, his upper middle-class family gets together to indulge in recriminations, over-emoting and dramatic conversation. Not the worst film I saw in the festival, but certainly the worst kind of film that cinema can produce.

 

RIP Claude Chabrol.

John: Chris and I were waiting on line for Brighton Rock when my wife texted me that Chabrol had died at age 80. It was a sad coincidence: just a day earlier I had complained that his new film wasn't showing at the festival. I'm bummed that I'll never be able to collaborate with him on a dream project of mine, an interview book that would have covered his entire oeuvre Hitchcock-Truffaut style, but I really have no reason to complain. The man made over 50 films right up to his death...I've probably seen less than 20, a good amount of them masterpieces. There's still plenty of Chabrol to discover, and I have no hesitation in crowning him the greatest of the New Wave filmmakers.

Later that night I found out Kevin McCarthy had also died at 96 - stupid inevitability.

 

Brighton Rock.

Christopher: A slick-looking remake of the grim noir classic, this is a mediocre film absolutely torpedoed by its terrible lead performance. Sam Riley (a Leonardo DiCaprio look-alike who played Ian Curtis in Control) does nothing but sneer, sneer and sneer up until the moment he hops on a scooter and drives into the middle of Quadrophenia. Seriously, there's a whole section in this film remaking the iconic mods versus rockers riot from that movie and sneerin' Sam drives his fruity little moped right into the middle of it for absolutely no reason. Everyone else in a profoundly overqualified cast including Helen Mirren and John Hurt does their best, but the lead is just so grossly misplayed that the film's central narrative of a nave girl in love with a wicked crook can never get any traction. Probably not the worst film I saw in the festival, but certainly deserves a mention in that context.

John: I read in more than one place about how Rowan Joffe had "amped up" Graham Greene's excellent novel, previously adapted by the author with Terrence Rattigan for 1947's Young Scarface, directed by by John "Boulty" Boulting. When they wrote "amped" they must have misspelled "aped," as the most distinguishing characteristic of this new version is its resemblance to iconic British crime films such as The Long Good Friday, Get Carter and Mona Lisa. Mainly it's an overblown homage to Quadrophenia: in re-setting the story from WWII to the 60's Joffe captures the same Mods vs Rockers rumble, shots of well-dressed youngsters wearing hooded fishtail parkas while riding on those little Scooty Puff Junior bikes, and location shooting at the hotel where Sting worked as a bellboy and the lighthouse on the cliff. But lack of originality isn't the main problem with this botched update, it's just completely flat when it isn't flagrantly over-the-top. Sam Riley makes the unfortunate decision to play lead Pinkie Brown like Draco Malfoy, snarling threats and huffing around petulantly. He's not even the worst of the actors: Andy Serkis' performance as a flamboyant gang leader is so goofy that people in the audience were laughing at his campy dialogue. Helen Mirren and John Hurt are on hand to class things up, but neither of them have anything to do (the movie did have two Happy-Go-Lucky actors in its cast, which I didn't realize until looking them up after the screening). I've seen worse movies, but few so inexcusably fumbled.

What I learned: Don't try to pour acid on your opponent during a struggle from a vertical position. It will not go well for you.

 

The Sleeping Beauty.

John: In our TIFF Preview, I pondered what the ideal meal to enjoy during a Catherine Breillat film might be. During this screening I indulged in some poutine, which it turns out is more or less appropriate - the fries were dry and crunchy, the gravy was slippery, and it was complimented by big chunks of cheese curds. Just like a Catherine Breillat film, is what I'm saying. Anyway, god bless Catherine Breillat. She is constantly in danger of lapsing into self parody or overindulgence, but she's too smart and funny for that. And with this film she's found a whole new way to inappropriately employ her cast of minors, including far too many scenes in which a six-year-old girl has perilously sharp knives and swords pressed against her neck. I don't care if that guy playing the ogre is a really adept knife handler, when he whips out that blade it's like an inch away from the little girl's eye! The movie is as shockingly faithful to the myth it's named after as Tender Son is in no way an adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel; Brelliat just decides to fill in the time that the young princess is sleeping by leading her on a surreal journey in various meshed fantasy/historical contexts that collectively symbolize a young girl's romanticized view of the world. Some of the segments go absolutely nowhere, but they set up a great final joke that once again demonstrates Breillat's complicated opinions of maturing young women. 

What I learned: Not to let Catherine Breillat anywhere near my daughter.

Christopher: A strange little film that actually reminded me a lot of early Godard in the sense that characters wander aimlessly through surreal landscapes that make no effort to resemble reality. A little princess bowling with an ogre in the dungeon of her chateau to escape a ballet recital and then hopping on a steam-train to a magical land filled with midgets in modern garb has the free-associative quality of the famed Swiss crank's aggressive put-ons Pierrot le Fou, Weekend and Les Carbiniers. Breillat once again makes a convincing argument that it really fucking sucks to be a girl, but the film lacks the venom and cynicism that characterizes most of her work. I would describe the film as gentle and amusing, adjectives I am deeply surprised to use in reference to a Breillat film.

 

An Afternoon for Dying Eagles.

Christopher: What, am I supposed to root for Michael Vick now? I just can't. And was I wrong to think that my beloved Eagles could go even one entire game with their projected offensive line playing together? I just know that Clay Matthews seems like a tool and get ready for that spazzy jerk-off to fail a steroids test in the coming months.

 

Amigo.

Christopher: John Sayles, if you wanted to make a movie about the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan, why didn't you just make a movie about the situation in Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead, you made this leaden allegory using the American occupation of the Philippines to make pointier than pointed reference to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This film strains at every opportunity to raise points about the United States current imperial policy that everyone would've understood, anyway we get it, there's no need to step on it. The result is that it feels supremely disinterested in its own story and gives the audience thin signifiers in the place of characters and well-meaning political analogies in the place of a plot. Not worth sitting through, even for hardened Sayles fans such as myself. Is it even conceivable that he could pull out his tailspin at this point and make a halfway enjoyable film? Based on Amigo, I have my doubts.

John: Jesus, is that what Amigo is about? I just read James Bradley's The Imperial Cruise, which is one long forced parallel to Teddy Roosevelt and Billy Taft's occupation of the Philippines in relation to the current Iraq/Afghanistan situation. According to Bradley every kind of imperialism is the same, whether it's the gentrification of America and massacre of Native Americans or Hitler's rise to power - there's no difference, apparently. Because little things like the political climate, demographic shifts and geographical placements of any given period are apparently unimportant and completely interchangeable. Really, Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy was just like George W Bush's? Really, you want to stick with that? And John Sayles agrees with you? That's a shame. I'm guessing he doesn't even have any machete maidens in his movie. I was right to bow out of it in favor of the Cowboys game. It was so satisfying seeing Tony Romo's final touchdown pass being called back on a penalty resulting in a loss to the McNabb-led Redskins...probably moreso than seeing DJ Qualls as a scrawny soldier running around the jungle.

 

 

DAY 5

 

 

 

 

Potiche.

Christopher: Well, this proves it: there's really no predicting what you're getting into with Ozon. When I found out this one was a comedy, I assumed it would stink. Ozon's most comedic films, like Sitcom for example, are generally his worst... but I guess Angel had plenty of humor and that one was ok - or rather, the humor was the best thing about a mediocre film. Anyway, I assumed this one would be unfunny because Ozon doesn't have a strong history of being adept at comedy - and it's about labor strife in an umbrella factory, for God's sake. But it actually has its moments and Catherine Deneueve and Gerard Depardieu -  the wife of the umbrella-business owner and a Marxist mayor, respectively - are both very enjoyable in it. It definitely isn't a brilliant movie,  but it makes sense that it was picked up by the Chicago-based distributor Music Box, who put out the similarly straight-faced, goofy, foreign satirical comedy OSS 117: Nest of Spies.

 

The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman.

Christopher: My policy at TIFF is simple: I stay in a film through to the end, even if it's terrible - the exception is that I know in advance that I can only stay for a moment. I feel like I should always give a film its due and besides, this has led me to stick with some really interestings movies (like Confessions later in this year's TIFF) that I could've easily given up on if I was in the mindset to bolt once things got dire. So, I pop into Force of Nature: A David Suzuki Movie because I know I have some time to kill and enjoy it just fine, but I sit all the way through Three even though I hate its fucking guts and it rewards my patience and respect for the filmmaker by continuing to suck. So... that's why it's meaningful that I walked out of The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman after only 20 minutes. A flailing, super-broad gross-out kung-fu comedy that combines the hyperactive stylistics of a Tony Scott music video with the intelligence and charm of Jim Carrey farting in Adam Sandler's face. I left right after the impromptu rap musical number in which a portly brothel madame derides the yellow-toothed, obese, dirt-covered hero's desire to pay for sex with the prettiest prostitute in the whole whorehouse. He responded by slipping on something and then flying through the air in slow motion and falling through a table covered with sausages. Sorry, Three and Brighton Rock, but this one is definitely the worst of the festival.

 

Womb.

John: Portentous garbage made watchable by an attractive and talented cast. The plot: Eva Green is so devastated by the death of a cockroach-breeding Matt Smith that she gives birth to a clone who will grow up to be Matt Smith so she can have sex with him. Yikes. The movie's creepy, but not quite creepy enough, favoring instead such time-wasting philosophical elements as poetic voice-over, scenes of Green sitting in bathwater just soapy enough to conceal what's beneath before slowly dipping her head in and out, and more shots of contemplative belly-rubbing than any film I've ever seen (I counted six different occurrences in the first 20 minutes alone). The story flirts with the issue of clone rights (no shit!) but the most science fiction-y befuddlements of the movie are how Green looks just as amazing in the scenes set 20 years after her first introduction as she does at the beginning of the film, and how her character makes any money when she apparently never leaves the somber confines of her beach house. I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anybody, but I honestly got nothing against this movie or Matt Smith's cozy-looking sweaters. And as someone still recovering from the harsh reality of Another Year (all I could think during Brighton Rock was "It sucks that Mary didn't get her holiday to Brighton!"), it was therapeutic to see that this movie casts Lesley Manville and Peter Wight as a happily-married couple. Of course their son is killed...I guess they're screwed no matter what. It certainly wasn't the worst clone-related movie I saw at this year's festival; in fact Never Let Me Go would have been a much more appropriate title for this flick. Another alternative title: Panic Womb, or I Want to Marry a Cockroach Breeder.

What I learned: That I am very, very lucky my mom doesn't look like Eva Green.

 

Norwegian Wood.

Christopher: There's nothing really to be said about this sort of aimless East Asian drama. The film, about a Japanese college student falling in love with a suicidal girl in 1969, looks great and I appreciate its novelistic approach to narrative - its quick jumps through time and dense plotting are a nice antidote to the prevailing go-nowhere, long-take cinema so popular in that part of the (art)world - but the film still manages to generate very little heat. Director Tran Ang Hung (of Scent of the Green Papaya "fame") has a natural talent for composition and editing, so the essentially melodramatic proceedings are attractive and easy to digest, but there's just not much too it. A young guy floats through life, yearns for a crazy who girl whose nuttiness keeps him totally off balance while completely consuming his desire - oh and, the 60's are happenin', so politics n' stuff. Also: the Beatles. It's fine, but I was shocked to hear that it was one of the breakout hits of the festival and one of the best reviewed films. I liked it just fine, but it's pretty milquetoast.

 

Boxing Gym.

John: Nobody films empty buildings like Frederick Wiseman. The gorgeous static shots of whatever institution he's examining, before the people who frequent it are introduced, have become such a quintessential element of the filmmaker's observations. Watching them, you start wondering who put the posters up in the boxing gym, how the equipment got there - things you'd never think of if you were just standing in the gym looking around. So I was already wondering about the people before they even entered the film. It's also quickly apparent what Wiseman thinks of the place he's filming: he obviously likes this gym. With its lax training and friendly sparring, it's really a place for individuality, not some arena of conformity like so many of the institutions he's visited in the past. Fascinating is the communication in the gym: lots of dialogue among trainers and fresh trainees, mere grunts and nods between the more seasoned fighters. And somehow Wiseman makes the movie look great with sparse lighting; the group jog around the stadium is really memorable, even though nothing specific happens in the scene.

What I learned: I need to go to the gym more.

 

Submarine.

Christopher: Get excited: this is the next big cult classic in the making. It reminded me instantly of Rushmore, but without in any way imitating that film. Sure, they both share a self-asborbed, hyper-articulate teenage protagonist, but Richard Ayoade's directorial debut lacks the drive towards sentimentality and tweeness that characterizes even Wes Anderson's best films. Which is not to say that Aydoade's hilarious comedy can't also be sweet and overly delicate, just that it's natural impulse is towards comedy and it always goes for a laugh, even in its most sentimental (and darkest) scenes. The plot is standard coming of age stuff: a high school loser who attracts the attention of an equally dysfunctional girl, but Ayoade and his lead actors Craig Roberts and Yasmine Page just kill it with a pitch perfect mixture of humor and heartache. Towards the end of the film, I decided the film would hinge on how they handled the ending and Submarine's absolutely brilliant (but completely understated) final scene far exceeded my expectations: Ayoade dialed back the jokes and weirdness for the only time in the film in favor of a truly affecting moment of human connection. I don't want to spoil any of the comedy, but in casual conversations college freshmen and smart high school seniors are going to be constantly throwing out quotes from this one for the next decade. The only thing standing between this one and the adoration it deserves is it's distributor: the fucking Weinstein Company, who will no doubt put it on a shelf and forget about it until they go bankrupt.

 

I Saw the Devil.

John: This wasn't at all what I expected. From A Tale of Two Sisters, the single Ji-woon Kim film I've seen, I thought this would be a similarly cryptic and methodically paced supernatural thriller with a possible appearance by Old Scratch himself. Instead it's a fairly straight-faced revenge flick with a few weird touches and a good share of incredibly graphic violence (the audience had severely dwindled by the end of the film). Old Boy's dignity-less Min-sik Choi stars as a repulsive serial killer who's being pursued by the guy who played Storm Shadow in the GI Joe movie, whose wife was one of his victims. The main plot gimmick is both the best and worst thing about the movie: rather than just killing Choi when he finds him, Storm Shadow uses his secret service training to beat the living shit out of the guy, force him to swallow a capsule that serves as a tracker and an audio device (convenient), and then catch up with him later to torture him some more, over and over again. So basically every time this killer tries to claim another victim - he apparently figures he has carte blanche to murder anyone he wants at any given time - the dude shows up and just wails on him. It's a good idea that's also kinda funny, but the avenger makes some bad moves that allow the killer to victimize yet more people, including what's left of the his wife's family. So it's not such a good plan after all. Kind of like Taken meets Hostel, but most closely resembling Chan-wook Park's Vengeance trilogy, it's most notable for the almost surreal situations these guys end up in, from accepting a ride from a duo of fake-taxi cab hijakers to a weird scene set at some kind of a serial killer palace owned by a cannibal and his girlfriend. If Korea were really like this, murderers would outnumber the normal populace 3 to 1. Like I said, a lot of people evacuated the screening (in droves after the second uncomfortable confrontation) but after it was over I heard at least two different people say something along the lines of "That was by far the best movie I've seen so far." Therefore I'm not sure what the popular consensus on this film was. I have to admit I much prefer the subtle macabre of Two Sisters, but I certainly wasn't bored for one minute of the two and half hour running time. However I plan to never visit Korea. 

What I learned: Don't piss Storm Shadow off.

 

Three.

Christopher: This movie is just. so. punishingly. boring. Really, it ranks up with there with Seven Pounds (yeah, the Will Smith movie) as the movies I found it most impossibly tedious to endure. There's a married couple and, just coincidentally, they both begin affairs with the same (ugly) dude - it all takes a painfully long time to develop and I kept waiting (in agony) for the inevitable confrontation scene where they both find out about their improbably analogous out-of-wedlock shenanigans.. and then the scene comes and the movie just sorta shrugs. Aaaaagh! Goddammit! It was the only chance the movie had to be anything other than crushingly tedious. And they blew it. Not that there was ever any chance of any part of this movie being anything other than pretentious garbage (my alternate title would be the film's oft-repeated catch-phrase, Say Farewell to a Deterministic View of Biology), but at least it could have featured a satisfying dramatic freakout scene when the main characters both realize they're nailing the same repulsive German creep. They guy looks like a piece of gristle - in fact, all three actors are gross. God, there's so much to dislike about this movie: it begins with a bit of interpretive dance out-lining the plot and ends with a cutesy effects-shot of our protagonists in a petri dish. Another solid runner-up for "Worst of the Festival."

John: Remember that movie Threesome from 1994? Well, if you replaced Josh Charles, Stephen Baldwin and Lara Flynn Boyle with three hideous 50-year-old German actors in various states of perpetual undress you'd have Three. I read somewhere (probably the TIFF guide, which describes an opening scene that does not exist in the cut that was screened) that this was Tom Tykwer's return to the "raw adventure" of his early films like Winter Sleepers and Run Lola Run. Really? The, uh, "raw adventure" of a trio of stuffy middle aged intellectuals who meet for sex in the one guy's apartment? The film starts out with stupid split screen shots and bullshit voiceover about the recurrence of the number three (during which I thought, is this Three or The Number 23?) so grating it made me want to kill myself. Then the second half of the movie, where the ugly actors start playing naked tag team, actually made me nostalgic for the pretentious opening scenes. I have no clue why Tykwer felt this story had to be told - he's scraped by in the past making movies with tiny semblances of plot (Heaven, The Princess and the Warrior) but if this is what he's returning to after allegedly selling out to Hollywood, my advice for him would be to continue selling out. Go do a Nicholas Sparks adaptation or a Harry Potter sequel or something, just please don't case any of the people from this fucking movie.

What I learned: To say farewell to my optimistic view of Tom Tykwer's filmography.

 

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