TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2011
CHRIS: An update of Thomas Hardy's Tess D'Ubervilles set in modern day India (what a concept!), Trishna is Michael Winterbottom's best film in a decade and a half. He should be ashamed of himself. This is best he can do? The extremely gorgeous and highly sensual Frieda Pinto is extremely gorgeous and highly sensual in the lead role, so you really can't go wrong with that as the foundation for your film. For her luminous, smoldering presence alone, this movie can be endured with relative ease. But like most Winterbottom movies, it feels like a first draft, a rough sketch that hasn't been fully worked out, a hiccupping narrative with abrupt changes punctuating long stretches of wheel-spinning. And, like 100% of his literary adaptations, he captures nothing about what makes the source powerful and enduring, his take on the material comparable to an analysis by a really smart 11th grader who basically "gets it." It looks great, but it's too cutty; I mentioned it never really finds its footing overall, but even within individual scenes it's unfocused and jittery. There's a pervading feel of anxiousness to move the story along, but Winterbottom has a poor sense of what's essential to the story, so the film is packed with strange emphasis on trivial incidents and it has have the overall effect of making key moments feel glossed over. A throwaway scene of friends shooting the breeze in a beachside café with their self-important actress friend is constructed and emphasized identically to a crucial scene of Pinto and her loving reconciling after he disappears to the U.K. for a month and leaves her homeless. The cuts jump around like a Michael Bay movie, never staying on one shot for more than a matter of seconds, it's a jittery, addled film, an experience akin to having an important phone conversation about an emotional subject with a close friend who's distracted by their rambunctious toddler. Still, this film is miles ahead of truly incompetent crap like 9 Songs, The Killer Inside Me, Tristam Shandy and The Road to Guantanamo. I should give him a brownie point for improving, but I'd rather if he just stopping making movies. He should just stop. Please Michael Winterbottom: stop making movies. There's no malice in my heart. But you're wasting actors and ideas and source material by making these movies and you're just no good at it.
MARCUS: Michael Winterbottom's latest movie is about a poor attractive girl turned rich girl who then goes back to being poor again. Not even the attractive lead actress could keep me interested. I had plans to see Urbanized but after one painfully mediocre movie (The Descendants), two major disappointments (Tyrannosaur and Into the Abyss) and two bad movies (Kill list and Trishna) all in one day, I called it quits for the night.
JOHN: I saw Slumdog Millionaire at TIFF three years ago, and while the very astute Brian Ackerman correctly surmised that it would be a gigantic hit, my only reaction was "If I was a hot shot director, I'd cast this stunning young actress in every movie I made." It looks like people are finally starting to figure that out for themselves, and in the last 2 years the lovely Ms. Pinto has co-starred with apes and an ape-like Josh Brolin. But this is her first real starring role, which I guess explains how the unsavory Mr. Winterbottom (his name really does make him sound like a doll) was able to convince her to get down and dirty in scenes that I never thought we'd see Freida involved in. Because of that, it's hard for me to dismiss this entirely...ah, who am I kidding, no it isn't. Winterbottom is boring when he plays it straight and tedious when he tries to be experimental - it's the former here, as he forcibly relocates the narrative of Tess to the setting of modern Jaipur and Mumbai. The weirdest of Winterbottom's arbitrary changes to Hardy's story is making the dad the one who gets into the accident that disables him, whereas in the book it's Tess who crashes the cart/truck. So why would Trishna feel like she had to make up for the wreck and accept work when it's not her fault that her dad is unable to work? Why even include the scene if it's not going to serve as motivation to get to the next narrative step? It's an early example of how directionless the whole experiment is - for me, the film never recovered from this one beguiling change. I shouldn't be surprised that he failed to land it...this is the dude who couldn't even score Angelina an Oscar nod for playing Dan Pearl's widow in A Mighty Heart ("Platter? Champsionships? Hel-lo?!")
JOHN: Just. put. the. baby. down! That's all I could think as I gripped the arm rests of my seat during Shinya Tsukamoto's new movie, which places an infant in the hands of a warbling, highly unstable, knife-happy schizophrenic whose sliding reality consists of seeing two versions of every person she comes upon - one congenial, one menacing (the same sort of shifting reality as 2001's Shinya Tsukamoto-plus-actress movie A Drowning Man.) That's the kind of thing we're dealing with here, but really it's an indescribable experience. It was seeing this movie that made me realize why it's so hard to give a movie like Breathing a fairly-deserved thumbs up: this is a tour de force, a really bold and different kind of film that could only have been made by this psychotic director. If I were on the festival jury (or whatever it is they got in Toronto) I would vote hands down for Tsukamoto to receive the directing award, even over such worthy candidates as Lanthimos, Ceylan or Satrapi/Paronnaud - there just isn't one frame of Kotoko that isn't staggeringly intense or unbearably gripping or both. I just saw a preview for Scream 4 where the narrator uses that old cliche "NOTHING can prepare you for..." That's a hilarious trailer cliché - it's not like many people go through a preparatory process to see a movie one way or another, right? Well...nothing could possibly prepare you for Kotoko. Even if you crammed all night for this film, you would NOT be prepared. On that note, besides being a film constructed to knock your socks to the back of the theater then come back and rip the ass out of you, it's also amazing how much emotional resonance Tsukamoto milks from the challenging material - it's a tragic story, but it's also touching and hilarious - and out of his pop singer starlet. Not to mention the technical bravura he hammers out of the digital photography, jarring editing and otherworldly sound design.
CHRIS: Oh man... I, uh... This is just... There are some movies beyond criticism. Beyond reproach or praise. Films that exist on a another plane of...experience? Shinya Tsukamoto is favorite filmmaker of mine, but I almost had to run out of the theater at one point, so upsetting is the Japanese provocateur's story of a schizophrenic woman wildly failing to cope with the emotional and physical burden of her infant son. It was the scene of her freaking out and crying as she tried to make stir-fry while tenuously grasping her baby in her arms. That's a real baby right there and real flames and (based on this deranged, poetic performance) a real crazy woman holding that baby. I had never heard of "Cocco" who plays the central nutjob, but she seems to be some kind of malnourished Japanese chanteuse with a real penchant for psychotic flare-ups – a more frightening and jagged version of Audition's Eihi Shiina. This is not a film that goes beyond the normal boundaries of "acceptable subject matter" but begins over - well over - that line and dreamily floats through a world of psychosis and pain: violent doppelgangers, sadomasochism, wrist-cutting, infanticide, there's heavy doses of all those things. But there's also an indescribable sweetness to the film, an unforced, unsentimental beauty and poetry to the darkness. It also features the funniest scene of the festival, in which an author played by Tsukamoto stalks Cocco, breaks into her house and finds her bleeding with slashed wrists on the bathroom floor. Yes, funniest. This is real underground cinema that has far more in common with Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures or the work of the Kuchar brothers than it does with the "edgy" AmerIndie auditions to be the next Christopher Nolan or Robert Rodriguez that pollute SxSW and Sundance. If gross-out dare-films like A Serbian Film or The Human Centipede popped into your head as belonging in the same category as Kotoko, you don't know what this film is, you don't know what the hell you're talking about. This film is a direct expression of human pain and sadness, an elegiac poem vomited cruelly on the weakest among us.
DAY SEVEN: CATEPILLAR CHRONICLES, CORRUPT COPS & CHOKING ON CHICKEN
The Moth Diaries.
MARCUS: Lipstick lesbianism and vampires from the director of American Psycho. Not impressed at all.
CHRIS: This movie is nothing. Just nothing. Mary Harron's I Shot Andy Warhol is one of those AmerIndie hits that hasn't aged well because there's no authorial personality behind it and little meaningful traction to its mode: it's a film of its time, for its time. An art-film lite whirl on the Twilight gravy train, The Moth Diaries confirms Harron as a director almost spectacularly lacking in personality and vision; this "crazy new girl turns out to be a vampire, but no one believes our heroine as shady shit goes down" story probably would need a half dozen rewrites to qualify as good enough to have "Wes Craven Presents" slapped on it before it went direct to video to disappoint anyone with the misfortune of renting it. Cut out the (minimal, minimal) gore and hunky English teacher explaining the subtext subplot and it could pass for a bad episode of Goosebumps. Also, that reminds me: did you know vampire stories have a hidden sexual subtext? No? Well, hunky Scott Speedman will tell you all about it! Mind = blown. This movie delivers even less than what you might expect from a clunky trunk full of rotting clichés.
JOHN: What do we know about moths? They're bugs. They have wings. They terrify Ned Flanders' kids. And they're notoriously ugly, which is at least one thing it has in common with Lily Cole, the "model-turned-terrible actress" who guest-starred on the worst Doctor Who episode this season and stars as Mary Harron's pale parasite in this memoir-based mockery. She's supposed to be a vampire-like creature who seduces the guileless student body of an all-girls' school, but other than being immortal and phasing like Kitty Pryde citywide her supernatural abilities are left more or less ambiguous. Moth Diaries seems to have the same hang-up as Carre blanc in that it doesn't want to surrender to such genre trappings as showing Cole feeding on someone or bearing fangs or what have you, so they attempt to go the literary route by talking about the most obvious influences on vampire cinema of the last 100 years (specifically, Carmilla and Dracula.) By doing so, the story comes off as completely incompetent: IS she a vampire, or a life-sucking ghost, or a moth or what? It's as if Harron is saying "You get the idea, right? I'm not going to talk down to my legion of intelligent fans by having to go through the whole 'explain the monster' routine." But uh...that's kind of what you need to do. Even if all you get is the 474th movie this year to use this exact same premise, at least you've acheived that level of mediocrity. You can't just have 90 minutes of characters alluding to what's going on without anything actually happening. Turns out you're not too good for the genre, the genre is in fact apparently far too advanced for you. Cole has less to do than in her supporting part in Gilliam's Doctor Parnassus - basically she just leers at the very unappealing TV actress whose character we're supposed to care about even though she's perpetually whiny, needy and a cock-tease to boot. My favorite part is the end, which includes a sad flashback montage of her friends...even though half of them just left the school and are still alive. Jeez kid, you can't text 'em? Post a Facebook message: "OMG almost got Scott Speedman fired for flashing my moth at him in class LOL!" Actually, I can also recommend the campy line "What was in those crazy drugs?!"
On a side note, I was planning on doing a Second Chances on American Psycho, but this movie has convinced me that it would just be redundant.
CHRIS: I only saw the first 40 or so minutes of this film, so it could conceivably have some tricks up sleeve in the remaining 100 minutes. But I doubt it. It's Luc Besson doing a prestige pic starring Michelle Yeoh as a Burmese freedom fighter (actually, I guess technically, a freedom fighter from Burma?), so while that sounds like an odd fit of director and material, the results are pretty much predictable. Scenes of political assassinations and military action are filmed like something out of Leon, slickly staged with slow motion posing and stylized blood-splattering gunplay. The dramatic scenes look like something out of The Queen or Beyond Rangoon: unremarkable and glum, hitting the Important marks of an Important story. One weird thing that I could not for the life of me figure out that made me want to see the rest of the movie: David Thewlis, in a goofy wig and heavy make-up, seemed to be playing his own twin brother using some kind of Dead Ringers-esque special effects trickery. But it might have just been another dude in a fat suit. The situation was highly ambiguous - it's exactly the kind of unnecessary special effect-based stylistic distraction that you might suspect Bresson would jam into his Big Important Prestige Film. Michelle Yeoh was fine, but barely onscreen in what I saw: there was a lot of flashback set-up and then several scenes with other characters before she even set foot onscreen. I like her a lot. On Netflix, I've been watching her classics - Wing Chun, Heroic Trio, Yes Madam (with Cynthia Rothrock!) and Supercop. She's great. I like her.
JOHN: To clarify, I wouldn't say this is one of Shion Sono's worst efforts - it just falls slightly short from being counted among one of his best. From its description I suspect that Guilty of Romance, his other 2011 release which screened at Cannes, may be the more exciting of his two new movies. But this one's fine: it's missing the truly weird hook found in Suicide Club and Cold Fish or the satisfying arc of his epic masterpiece Love Exposure. But the tellingly Japanese story aspects I mentioned talking about Smuggler can be found here too: we've got a group of oddly-matched outcasts that hang around together even though it's clear the lead character kind of hates them. The best part of the movie is a subplot involving one of these derelicts - who lost his home due to the recent natural disasters that have plagued the country - teaming up with a pickpocket to rob a drug dealer, a scene that plays exactly how you hear most true crimes do: barely-planned, poorly-executed and somebody ends up dead. It's as intense and funny as anything from Sono's filmography, but makes the main story seem less successful by comparsion. Blame could be placed on the too-underplayed performance by the lead actor ("SUMIDAAAAAAAA!!!), although his brooding is clearly meant to contrast the manic personality of the schoolgirl who's obsessed with him. I'm surprised, because I had a great time watching Himizu but it hasn't stuck with me very much...to be fair, I guess it just had no chance next to Kotoko, which was still very much in my mind from the previous evening. I think Sono had a lot of ideas but couldn't focus them into one movie, so while I liked it a lot it didn't quite come together. With these kind of movies, I also find myself getting heavily invested in an adorable subplot that's meant to be instantly disposable - here, I was really rooting for the boat rental service to take off! Unfortunately one of their first customers is a guy who goes crazy and starts stabbing random people, so we follow that plotline without returning to check on how business is. Oh well.
MARCUS: Along with The Invader (which we'll get to in Day 8) this was a movie I REALLY struggled with. I'm always fascinated with gender-reversal roles like Variety, In My Skin or any other film where a lead role that should typically be played by a man is portrayed by a woman. Twilight Portrait walks a fine line between that and just utter stupidity. The plot of the movie has to do with a female social worker who's fed up with her marriage, the guy she's having an affair with, her job and just life in general. On her way home from work one night she's attacked and gang raped by a group of corrupt police. She's obviously traumatized at first, but then she seeks out one of the cops who took part in the raping and tries to havea relationship with him...??? I know that sounds a tad bit stupid but the reason I'm giving this movie a chance and not totally riding it off is because the director is a woman. As a man who am I to say that a scenario like this sounds farfetched? Maybe its a "woman thing" that I just don't understand. I've been thinking about this movie a lot and would love the chance to see it again but who knows when a low budget independent Russian film like this will hit U.S. theaters.
CHRIS: Man, so many great movies up there this year. Crazy Horse is different from I Wish or Life without Principle (which I'll get to in a moment) in that it isn't Wiseman's best film, simply another great film by a guy who been making great films since the 1960's. Five decades of sustained excellence is pretty good. No box office hits. Zero Oscars. I believe he hasn't even had a film nomiated, which goes to show what a load of horseshit that award is: a solid candidate for "the greatest documentarian of all time" can't even get his films nominated. That's what you get for failing to choose genocide for a subject. Anyhoo, Crazy Horse is fortunately not about ethnic cleansing, but naked dancing French ladies and the men who give them their marching orders. I'm not sure if Wiseman intended it, but this is the definitive (the most cruel and hilarious for sure) deconstruction of the French proclivity for inappropriate self-seriousness. In reference to the opening of the new season, the man behind the titular burlesque house's stage production says "I want a show that will impress the intellectuals." Do you really need to know any more than that? The show features set-pieces like "the erotic cosmonauts" and would you be surprised to here that this whoppingly unsexy glitter-smeared and purple-wig bedecked disco spectacle was directed and conceived of by two gay men? It’s a horror-show of disembodied undulating butts. It will make want to never have sex with a French person. Tellingly, the opening night audience consists almost entirely of tourist couples and the elderly. Honestly, this strip club has issues that can't be solved no matter how many tap-dancing male busboys they throw at the problem. The film itself is a visually gorgeous black comedy on Wiseman's favorite theme: the incredible amount of effort humans have to spend on building and maintaining their delusions. I can't say for certain that Wiseman doesn't admire the Crazy Horse (he is elderly, after all) but I don't think he would deny that the proprietor's intellectual approach - pridefully mindful of history employing classically trained dancers who repeatedly balk at any of the more "tawdry" elements - even Wiseman would admit that this approach drains the show of any spark and danger, anything sexy. What we're left is a burlesque of burlesque. The hilariously off-key theme-song (written and produced by the bug-eyed assistant director of the show who has dreamed of working for "The Crazy" his whole life) has been stuck in my head for weeks.
JOHN: The first thought I had coming out of it was how funny it is that, writing about When You Comin' Back Red Ryder? (another play set in one location turned into a movie with additional scenes), I said of Marjoe Gortner's portrayal of a charismatic sociopath:"If Matthew McConaughey ever saw this movie he'd be horrified by his resemblance not only to Gortner and their similar accents but to how Gortner uses his laid-back good old boy persona to grate beneath the skin of his victims and draw out their base fears and personal demons." Well, thanks for proving me wrong Mr. McConaughey...have your representatives get in touch with me and I'll buy you an ice cream. While not quite the sadistic psychoanalyst as Gortner's Teddy, McConaughey's Joe Cooper is woven from the same cloth, an intruder who imbeds himself within a group of people and eats it up from inside (although in this case the group is pretty rotten from the git-go.) You could also argue that he plays the same role as McBurney from Don Siegel's The Beguiled or The Visitor from Pasolini's Teorema, but by implementing his combination Southern gentleman/laid-back surfer charm and all-around self-assuredness to seduce and torment others into obeying him, Joe is a most specific kind of sleazy sinner a'la Teddy. I know it didn't work for Pinn, but I thought Friedkin's casting of McConaughey was inspired: he's not really a badass, he's just flawlessly kempt...the trailer trash family who hire him to murder one of their own for the insurance money sees how together he is and assume he's a man capable of anything. You almost believe he's nothing but a very convincing con man until that trunk opens, and the movie escalates the level of danger and uncertainty. There are tweeks that could have been made to make this a classic. It has stagey problems that occasionally getting them out of the trailer isn't going to solve. There are large plot holes that will probably bother other people more than they did me. Juno Temple is the one cast member whose patented 'acting' sticks out like a sucky sore thumb. But I've thought more about Killer Joe in the last few weeks than any other film from this year's festival - it leans towards 'great' the more I think of it. Friedkin appears to still be game for taking the kinds of chances he did with Bug, and I hope he keeps making 'em like this.
CHRIS: Here's the problem with seeing about 40 films at the festival and then trying to write them all up: I'm running out of energy and there's a lot to be said about William Friedkin's re-teaming with Bug playwright/screenwriter Tracy Letts. I sorta want to leave it at the long and short of it: this is an amazing film with a lot of problems.
Ok, ok: I'll at least give the medium and the medium of it. The set-up: A family of white trash losers played by Lowell from Wings, Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon and (get ready because this lady is in about 100 movies coming out) Juno Temple hire a corrupt cop (Matthew McConaughey) to kill Hirsh/Temple's mom (Lowell's ex-wife) for her insurance policy (which will go to Temple.) They don't have money for a down payment, so McConaughey takes the teenaged Temple "as a retainer." The good: the script builds really well and while it doesn't go in any unexpected directions (the murder-for-insurance plot predictably doesn't come off without a hitch), it goes completely off the rails. McConaughey is great - his performance reconfirms my notion that he should have been the one to star in The Killer Inside Me; his laid-back "let's chill, bros" persona elides the fact that he's a huge ripped dude and if he ever lost his shit, he'd be quite a physically imposing presence. The film starts out seedy and unpleasant before shifting gears to weird and truly upsetting in the final third. If you see the film, your relationship to "K-Fry-C" will be forever altered. The bad: this film can't get over the fact that it was based on a play and tries way too hard to undercut the inherent theatricality. It keeps changing locations so as not to feel bound to the trailer home set that dominates the second half of the movie, but this leads to ridiculous moments like the one where Hirsh and McConaughey have a meeting at one nondescript run-down location, exit the scene on flimsy pretenses...and then meet at a different run-down location and continue where the first scene left off. Also, it's Hollywood white-trash dress-up, so the performances are wildly variable with Temple giving the worst. She's supposed to be a young teenager (at one point, I thought they said she's 12, but it was completely unclear) but she looks 30 and acts exactly like an adult pretending to be a dim kid. It borders on awful and if I didn't like the movie so much (in particular the way her relationship to McConaughey is written) I would really want to slag it. Gosh, there's a lot to be written about this movie. I just have to end it there - I guess that's a little bit of a taste to how this is a good movie with terrible pieces.
MARCUS: The last GREAT movie I saw of the festival! The theme of Toronto for me this year was attractive actresses. House Of Tolerance, Trishna, Twilight Portrait, Damsels In Distress, The Invader, The Skin I Live In and Faust all featured some of the prettiest women I've seen on the big screen in a while (I found the lead actress in Faust to be VERY cute.) Alexander Sokurov's Faust, the award winning film based on the classic German tale that I wikipedia'd the night before seeing this, has the same trippy and disorienting feel as just about anything else he's done. The images on the screen would skew or distort at times, the dubbing of the voices was slightly off (something Sokurov has done before) and then there's a great scene with a Homunculus that creeped me out. Faust was one of my favorites at the festival.
Chicken with Plums.
JOHN: All I was hoping for was a satisfying follow-up to Persepolis, but this is a terrific film in its own right. It's hard to specify what's great about it without sounding like Every Critic in America, because quite frankly the stuff that people always rave about in other revered films can be attached to this one. At its heart, it's a story about living, loving and dying that recalls, without trying, the romance of Casablanca, the charm of Singin' in the Rain, the supernatural existentialism of The Seventh Sign...but that's not the right road in accessing what's really special about Chicken. Because it's not LIKE any of those movies - maybe it's just the first film in a long time to feel as fresh and exciting as those classics before their rabid canonization. Tradition, culture, family and personal history get examined without the film ever feeling heavy (and for the record, the film isn't above a good fart joke.) All the things I was complaining about Guy Maddin failing at? The filmmakers succeed here. The flowing back-forth in two time periods editing that didn't work in Let's Talk About Kevin? Works here. If the movie reminds you of Jeunet (cutesy trinkets and set decoration more than manic camerawork), note that it cuts the crust off the sentimental sandwich: its view is that life is rough, we can't always get what we want and for every beautifully-played violin piece there's a love affair that wasn't meant to be. Chicken with Plums is the story of a three people: tragically, the music written to win the love of one woman ends up ensnaring the heart of another. Regret over one shattered relationship ruins any possibility of happiness for the pairing that ultimately came to be. The title is weird and even slightly off-putting, but when it becomes relevant to the movie you'll realize it's heartbreaking.
CHRIS: Here's a terrible movie with terrible pieces. It actually reminded of Gangs of New York in that both films are supposedly about fascinating real-life historical subjects, but are absolutely not: before they came out, I read Rampart was about the L.A. Rampart scandal and Gangs of New York was about the New York Draft Riots. In reality, those very complicated and engrossing subjects are barely touched on, background filler for extremely dull stories. In a turn that will surprise no one, James Ellroy wrote this script about a corrupt, sex-obsessed, racist cop with self-destructive tendencies. Woody Harrelson (Cheers, Play It to the Bone) plays the aforementioned no-goodnik and somewhere simultaneously in L.A. the rampart scandal is happening. I thought this would be directly about the scandal when towards the beginning of the film Harrelson gets in a car accident and shoots the offending motorist; the real scandal was touched off by a similar incident where a corrupt, gang-conspiring cop shot an undercover police officer after a fender-bender. No such luck: this is just endless scenes of Harrelson (who is, incidentally, really good in the role) being a bad cop, a bad husband, a bad father, a bad-ass, amirite fellas, this is one cool dude! It has that typical Ellroy wavering between self-pitying moralism and "hey this is fucking awesome"-ism, but they never hooked me: I was rooting the whole film for Harrelson's gigantic jackass of a hero to get his violent comeuppance. Make no mistake, this movie is not about the truly mind-blowing Rampart scandal; it is an exhausting waste of time. Incidentally, Rampart is jam packed with cameos from famous people to the point it becomes distracting. Small roles are filled by people like Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon. Sigourney Weaver shows up for two scenes. Steve Buscemi plays the mayor and he's in maybe 3 shots total, reciting a handful of lines of dialog. Ice Cube shows up late the game as an underwritten I.A. guy and... is that? Yes, that is Ben Foster pointlessly playing a homeless guy. Julian Schnabel's daughter has a cameo. It's ridiculous.
MARCUS: Great performance from Woody Harrelson but the movie was bad. Rampart makes the assumption that the viewer knows all about the L.A. police scandals from the late 1990's. I don't know about you guys, but I was a teenager living in western Massachusetts in the late 90's and knew nothing about the Rampart scandal (and never cared to look in to it when I got older.) There's WAY too many actors in the movie with small parts that make one or two appearances then just disappear for the rest of the movie (Steve Buscemi, Sigourney Weaver, Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon, Ned Beatty...and you don't really expect me to take Ice Cube seriously as an internal affairs agent do you?) I seriously had no idea what was going on half the time. And even though Harrelson gave an amazing performance, the director creates these scenarios in the film where we're supposed to feel sorry for this racist, corrupt, scum bag cop. I wanted to see something else after this but I was pretty discouraged from the last couple of days of bad movies so I stopped.
JOHN: Is the title an onamonapia? You know, like the sound of a hiccup - *hick!* Cuz that's what this movie feels like: a crude, foul-smelling expulsion of gas that's less shocking than tacky and memorable for the exact amount of time it lasts. Coming close to overtaking the charmless lame-o from Take This Waltz in the annals of smarm and lack of appeal is Eddie Redmayne's ugly drifter, who leers at 13-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz and pisses in the drink he mixes for his employer. Are we supposed to like this guy? The director isn't interested or competent enough to make those kinds of decisions, which is why from beginning to the point-where-we-high-tail'd-it-out-of-there was one scene of nothing happening transitioning into another scene of nothing happening. Moretz's character is a lazy amalgram of every headstrong indie heroine stripped of motivation or likability. Blake Lively plays the devil-may-care Melanie Griffith-in-Something-Wild-you-get-what-I-mean-here-right-so-we-don't-have-to-really-do-anything-to-establish-her-character archetype who stages impromptu gas station robberies and openly snorts cocaine cuz she's kah-razzeeeeeeeeee! They drive around for a while, and also I think Juliette Lewis was in there. An hour of my life I genuinely wish I had back to watch police pursuit videos on youtube back at the hotel room.
CHRIS: The rarity of films like Hick at TIFF is fortunate; it affords me the comfort of the illusion that the "quirky American Independent dramedy" is a dying genre. I know that's not actually the case, that so long as there are pampered coastal liberals with money, they will be picking up movie cameras and writing awful scripts that mock easy targets like poor white trash in middle America, that there will be Hollywood starlets eager to throw on silly accents and silly outfits and drawl their way through aimless road movies in which unlikely duos find each other. And themselves. Ragtag surrogate families will be formed and shocking swear-words will pour from the mouths of youngsters while potential American Sweethearts will send powder up their noses and into their veins in vain attempts to redefine their images as "serious" and "full of acting." The tone will veer between broad comedy and earnest drama and maudlin sentimentality. The most famous cast member will get a monologue along with the opportunity to play against type and character actors will be granted big roles which they will be allowed play wackier than they ever dreamed. Chloe Moretz and Blake Lively are a mismatched duo that through a series of convolutions end up on a comical road trip to nowhere that suddenly takes a turn for the dramatic. There's invigorating petty crime played for comedy (the convenience store owner up and dies while they are trying to scam him!), Lively snorts coke from a lovingly production-designed bottle, Lively's husband is a wacky character actor with a thick drawl and a silly haircut, the humor is puerile crap like peeing in a guy's drink to get revenge and there's many attempts at humor that revolve around how shocked you all must be to hear a cute southern teenage girl say "fuck." Also, you're not going to believe this, but the main girl loves classic movies like Some Like it Hot and quotes from them all the time. John and I left after an hour (it's only 85 minutes long) and it honestly didn't even feel like it had started yet. Does anybody need to be warned to stay away from movies like this? Does anyone think a movie like Hick could possibly be any good?
DAY EIGHT: MONEY, MONSTERS AND MEXICO
MARCUS: A horror/fairytale film starring Clive Owen about a monster that's been haunting him and his mother since he was a child and is now after his daughter. I don't really have much to say about this one. I wasn't in to it. I'll let John take it...
JOHN: Dammit. I really went out of my way not to psych myself up for this one. I think I had it in the back of my head that it could have been the biggest surprise of the festival. And it was probably my awareness of said non-excitement that ended up getting my hopes up just the same. I guess it was a bad idea to base this movie's chances of being great on director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, who did a good job with 28 Weeks Later, and the casting of Carice van Houten (wasted as the wife, although she still does a nude scene.) Not that it's bad, it's just...nothing special. Pinn actually managed to give away the big - albeit fairly obvious - twist in his two sentence review, but until the two storylines converge at the end (turns out one is a flashback, but don't blame yourself for not picking up on it: Clive Owen doesn't look or sound Hispanic) it seems like the filmmakers came up with the brilliant idea of making a family-friendly Spanish horror movie, then just going ahead and doing the American remake...within the same film. Unfortunately, having two stories where basically the same shit happens (only one with subtitles) just doubles the amount of repetitive sequences in which a hooded spook dubbed Hollow Face - who for the most part slinks around as a hooded CG creature that is far less impressive than the Grim Reaper from The Frighteners - appears to a kid at night, causes him/her to cry out for their mother/father and then disappears before the adult can subdue him. All this really sets up is that everybody but the parent/child combo thinks they are suffering from some kind of shared delusion. The whole thing plays like half-baked Guillermo del Toro, with the monster transitioning from children's story to reality without ever seeming scary or dangerous or having much of a personality at all. By design, the story is so centered around its dumb mystery that it can't reveal much about the monster without giving it all away. Consequently, we don't care about learning anything about Hollow Face or what happens to his snotty little victims and the film drags along sluggishly up to its underwhelming conclusion. Overall it's just a huge cinematic shrug - even Clive Owen seems to have barely bothered showing up for filming and just ended up wearing whatever clothes he showed up on set in. It looks good, there's undeniably style and atmosphere and even some decent performances here - what's missing is a reason to care. Also the title makes no sense, since there's technically only one intruder and he doesn't so much intrude as just hang around like an obnoxious houseguest who doesn't get the message that it's time to leave. I guess The Loiterer wouldn't sound right.
My Worst Nightmare.
CHRIS: Here's the scenario for which we have all clearly been waiting: a wacky Isabelle Huppert comedy, in which her tightly wound gallery curator learns to loosen up after a beer-swilling strip-club loving Belgian (beloved European cut-up Benoit Poelvoorde) stumbles into her life. Like so many uninteresting European films I saw this year, this movie is filmed in that prevalent European style: lots of blandly composed medium and long shots, longish takes with minimal editing, a complete absence of style or personality. I bet you could seemlessly cut Habemas Papam and My Worst Nightmare into one long, mildly wacky film about a depressed pope who learns to loosen up after a beer-swilling, strip-club loving Belgian stumbles into his life. The leftovers (in which a gallery curator played by Isabelle Huppert goes to an athiest therapist) would make for a perfectly fine Ozon film (when he's not in "campy" mode, of course.) There is absolutely nothing to be said about a film like this. I'm just surprised Francis Veber wasn't involved.
MARCUS: Slept through the whole thing.
Life Without Principle.
CHRIS: Mark it down one final time: here's a masterpiece, the best film from an already esteemed director. Heroic Trio and its Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Chung, Anita Mui and dead babies aside, I'm not even a particular fan of the distinguished Johnny To - I actually feel like his films are strangely over-rated by the critical community. There's nothing about Election or Vengeance that would seem to warrant them being singled out as far above HK crime flicks like SPL or Fire of Conscience, but they're treated by critics like special, special gems of pure cinema greatness. They're fine. Life Without Principle, though, thoroughly deserves whatever praise anyone feels compelled to throw at it. The clever idea explores the effects of the recent economic meltdown on the criminal world. On the surface, this is typical To territory with terse cops, quirky Triad footmen, slick villains in business suits, bank robbers, stick-ups gone bad... but the secret of the movie is that this isn't an action film at all. Two or three scenes aside, there's very little violence in the film - it doesn't build to a shoot out or a heist, the stories mainly concern people attempting to avoid confrontation. It follows three stories interconnected by the robbery of a loan shark. I'm having a hard time finding the handle on how to pitch this one to you, Johnny Q. Reader: it's a complex and engrossing story featuring flawed characters and it revolves around stock prices. I'm sure of one thing: the Triad companyman that goes by the nickname "Panther" steals the movie. He's a sweetly dim and doggedly loyal foot soldier who can't fathom that his gang is becoming a joke and that his brothers are better off harvesting waste cardboard than strutting around like big men, shaking down local businesses who can no longer afford to fork over even meagre protection money. He's a great comic character, the kind with tragedy built into their amusing haplessness. The performance is top drawer, delivered by a To regular who (humiliatingly) I didn't catch the name of, but recognize from several other To productions. [Lau Ching Wan, aka Sean Lau, ten-time Hong Kong Film Award nominee and star of To's A Hero Never Dies, Mad Detective and two Running Out of Time films. For some weird reason the TIFF guide lists his character's name as "Buzzard." --john] This is a wild and unpredictable film, one deliberately constructed to mirror the erratic highs and lows of the stock market, one depicting a world in which honor is an alien concept, a delineation of the line between financial opportunism and the desire of decent people to get ahead. It's funny and scary, a thrilling film that finally earns To every accolade he's already been given.
JOHN: I didn't read about Life Without Principle before the screening: I saw the name Johnnie To and thought 'Got it.' Rival hitmen...maybe a detective who comes out of retirement to find he's in over his head...most likely one or more violent power struggles between triads witnessed through the perspective of low level gangsters. Efficient, entertaining, more or less generic Hong Kong crime-action fare. Always good to keep up with this stuff, of which To has been the prolific prince for the last two decades (after other perhaps more worthy directors high-tailed it to Hollywood in the mid-90's.) His new movie features the same sort of cops, crooks and corrupt corporate heads that populate his previous films, but this isn't a story about theft, murder and destruction for the sinful and the crooked. Well actually...it is. But the approach is completely different. You see, these characters are under the shadow of a fledging economy, and their ruin and redemption are the result of a devastating recession. So instead of a daring daylight heist it's an impulsive in-house job that is completely lost due to the shuffle of the bank going belly-up. Instead of being mowed down anonymously in gunfights, foot soldiers just up and quit on the spot, frustrated with the triad losing money. I was delightfully baffled by a brilliant sequence of events surrounding gang members struggling to get cash together to bail a brother out of prisoner only to be circumvented at each turn - you just never see that kind of thing in a movie like this. It's textbook storytelling in terms of multi-arcs that brush each other in service of one reigning theme that, as someone who is sort of terrified of money, gripped me more than any trading of heroic bullets from a typical To movie. Although the third subplot, about a cop's wife impulsively buying a dream apartment without her husband's knowledge, isn't as strong and doesn't tie in with the other stories as well, it all supports the idea that commerce can come crashing down at any moment, pining the most powerful and secure people in the world under its indifferent wreckage. It's one of those movies with which it feels great to get in on ground floor...I hope it does really, really well.
MARCUS: This movie made no sense at all. I'd love to tell you more about it but I had no idea what was going or who was who half the time. Sorry, but around Day 7 everything started to feel like one long continuous bad movie.
JOHN: Following the disappointment of Invaders, I had planned on bailing on screenings early and sulking about town alone (maybe even skip the last two films on Day Nine.) But Life Without Principal was so fucking good, I was on a movie high. My shitty mood instantly dissipated, and I wanted to see more movies pronto. This kind of thing can happen at TIFF: one bad experience, especially close to the end of the festival when you're more than a little exhausted from hours and hours of films, and it's tempting to simply throw in the towel and drown your miseries in the gravy of a huge cup of poutine. Then you see a movie like Principal and want to watch ten more before the day's over. That's the sort of phenomenon that keeps me coming back year after year. I was further resolved to follow Chris into the next film when he told me something about it which I was not aware of: Salma Hayek...playing a stripper. Man, even without the restorative powers of Johnnie To, that pitch probably would have ensnared me. Unfortunately what Funderburg couldn't have predicted was that the price to partake in the eye candy of the Veracruz Vixen heating up the strip club stage - still fantastic looking well into her forties - is an hour of Mathieu Demy behaving like a little brat, berating his dead mommy for not loving him enough, which goes on for more screen time after Salma's more or less done her thing. I don't understand what drove Demy to make this particular movie, although I suspect the superior footage from his real-life mom's film might have had something to do with it.
CHRIS: The moment about 45 minutes into the film where Salma Hayek finally makes her first appearance as a Tijuana whore with a scar down her cheek is shot and edited with a care and intensity that's completely absent from the rest of the film. Hayek looks as dynamite as ever, truly one of the most gorgeously pulchritudinous women to ever grace the face of the Earth, and her introductory strip tease freezes Americano in its tracks, stopping time and arresting our attention just as much as it does for the bumbling French naif at the center of the story. Sure, this is a cliche scene: the stripper does her dance and our hero immediately can think of nothing else - that's the film's entire problem: we've already seen its only memorable scene in a dozen other movies. Directed by and starring the son of Agnes Varda and Jacques Demy, co-starring Marcello Mastrionni and Catherine Denueve's daughter and Charlie Chaplin's grand-daughter, Americano seems on the verge of having an idea: in telling the story of a man who must travel from Paris to L.A. after his mother dies, it employs footage of young Mathieu Demy taken from one of Varda's films to portray the character's own memories of childhood. All of this feels like it should come together or at least fail in a compelling fashion, but this is just a bland movie. It suffers from the Euro-Art house style that I've bemoaned continuously in these quick reviews, which is appropriate for this movie: my most worthy comments are my most cliche. Still, I can't fault it for giving Hayek one of the few good roles she's ever been given, even if that role is more than faintly cliched. Did I mention that when Mathieu heads down to Tijuana, he picks up an adorable streetwise sidekick? Yeah, that's what we're dealing with here.
MARCUS: I didn't think another movie could get any kind of reaction out of me at this point but I was wrong. This movie made me feel guilty about staring at all the cute white women for the last seven days (I mean we were in TORONTO...they were everywhere!) This movie, about a big black African immigrant with the physique of a professional linebacker who stalks after the whitest looking women in France, enraged me just as much as it intrigued me. Imagine Jungle Fever directed by a talented director like Lodge Kerrigan but under the supervision of Quentin Tarantino and you'd have The Invader. Whether the director set out to make a somewhat offensive film on purpose or not (and I'm sure he didn't), he kinda did. Don't get me wrong, there were some insightful moments that spoke the truth about some interracial relationships, but at the same time it was kind of ridiculous. The lead actor was made out to be this big dumb ox roaming the streets looking for white women. Every encounter the lead actor had with a white female character was like a wild beast heavily breathing before attacking its prey. Maybe we should just let Claire Denis handle all race-related films coming out of France from now on. (More of Marcus' thoughts on the film here.)
CHRIS: Oof. If you don't have the budget for a grandiose biopic following an international celebrity who lived the highest of high lives in front of legions of adoring fans, then don't make the movie. The sorta tragic story of Brazil's 2nd greatest soccer player, Heleno de Freitas, this movie wants to be a slick and engrossing period piece (with luscious B&W cinematography and poetic voice-over to boot) but the very first match we see doesn't appear to have anyone in the stands. I guess the idea might have been that Heleno used to dominate matches which no one attended, but that doesn't jibe with the following "ladies at the beach love me and then I fuck them in my car and tell them to scram" scene which establishes Heleno as a man's man, man about town, beloved public figure. You big soccer match shouldn't cause the audience to ask "wait, this guy is famous, right?" is all I'm sayin'. There's not really much to say about this movie: it's an underfunded attempt to tell the story of a egomanical sports legend who got completely overshadowed at the end of his career (by Michael Caine's noted co-star Pele, of course) and then died of syphillis, alone in a sanitarium with nothing but his outsized sense of self to comfort him. They have to budget to properly realize about 20% of that.
DAY NINE: SNORTING, SUMMERS AND SIGNS
MARCUS: If your film is well under 80 minutes long, involves night clubs, murder, loud music and cocaine, and half the audience walks out before the lights come up due to boredom...you've failed. Avalon, a movie about a group of washed-up 60 year olds still trying to live life like they're in the coke-fueled 1980's was a shame because it could've been a pretty good movie, but just ended up being really boring with some MAJOR plot holes. I should've stayed in bed that morning.
The Scorching Summer.
CHRIS: Monica Bellucci caused a stir in press because she justified the opening shot of this film (an uninterrupted minute-long wide shot of her lounging naked on a bed, beckoning her lover to come to her) as being her gift to the world. Some folks thought that was a little snotty. I think she's a goddamned hero who understands the way the world really works. The rest of the movie somehow sucks while it blows, Bellucci and director Philippe Garrel's son Louis play a married couple with a sweet apartment in Rome who invite Louis' best friend and his girlfriend to come stay with them. Louis is a fussy painter who doesn't like to show his work to anybody, Bellucci is a famous actress, the friend is a day-player actor and the girlfriend is some lady. They don't do much but sit around and be very French in Italy. There's mild drama and lots of muted emotions; the whole thing is twice as boring as it needs to be because the second scene of the film is Louis running his car off the road in rural France and dying while the voice-over explains that he and Bellucci had recently broken up. This movie is so boring, it's just the worst. And I love La Maman et La Putain. I like pointedly boring movies about chatty French people. This is not worth your time even by those standards. As for the first minute of the movie, Belliucci has already been naked in plenty of other films; this is technically re-gifting.
The Cardboard Village.
JOHN: Well Gentle Reader, I'm sure you're super-excited to have come this far down our 2011 TIFF write-up only to come to yet another blurb about this particular, unexciting movie. I don't have much more to say about it than Chris did earlier, so I'm going to treat this like a dvd commentary where the director doesn't plan on speaking during the end credits so he starts winding things down prematurely during the epilogue of the movie, thanking the producers and actors and dvd producers and most of all the loyal listener for sticking with me while I tried to remember this little movie we made back when I was just out of college and wet behind the ears...oh look, there's Rutger...wonder how his kid's soccer team is doing... The title of Olmi's movie made me think of Dogville, so that was a turn-off. But there was no way I wasn't going to give it a glance and...there's nothing wrong with it, as Chris pointed out. Lots and lots of shots of people standing around. It's raining outside, so people stand around. The priest opens the door, there are some people outside standing around. The only real standout sequence is, as Chris described, the dismantling of the vestry at the beginning of the movie. But to be fair, it's as thrilling as anything in Melancholia. So nice work Olmi, keep it up...sport?
Jeff, Who Lives at Home.
JOHN: The brothers Duplass evoke Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000 with their title, but not with their artistry. I wish they would stop making movies, not because I think they're "bad" in the sense of being incompetent or completely devoid of talent, but because I'm sick of prefacing my feelings on them with the following introduction: Puffy Chair = better than I expected. Cyrus = tried to be something weird but turned out to be like any bland studio comedy. Jeff is somewhere inbetween, with Jason Segel and Ed Helms having a few nice love you/can't stand you brotherly moments a'la Puffy Chair but getting into situations that feel like they were written for Adam Sandler and Kevin James. There's really nothing to recommend or mention, except the very strange reappearance of Rae Dawn Chong 18 years after Mark Hamill's Time Runner, the last time I can remember seeing her in a film. (Weirdly, her last appearance was in a movie called Cyrus, NOT the Duplass Brothers' movie, some horror flick with Lance Henriksen. Were the Duplasses imdbing their own movie when they came upon the other Cyrus by mistake and thought 'Oh yeah whatever happened to Rae Dawn Chong? Let's put her in our next movie and have her make out with Susan Sarandon or something'?)
CHRIS: Might as well have been based on something by Francis Veber. The Duplass Brothers are the best thing to come out of the SxSW generation of AmerIndies and they make movies as roughly as good as that Isabelle Huppert comedy I was dismissing for being worthless, time-wasting garbage. Here it is folks, the best Duplass bros. movie: worthless, time-wasting garbage. It's fine. I like Jason Segel. I love Susan Sarandon and her subplot with Rae Dawn Chong warms my heart. Ed Helms is brought in to once again overact the role of "deluded jerk" - I guess people just love The Good: Live Hard, Sell Hard. I don't want to be too hard on this film because it doesn't deserve it. Segel and Helms play the sons of Sarandon, they're all unhappy in their own way, by the end of the film they reconnect and learn what's truly important in life, etc. But the truth is, this film doesn't deserve to be discussed at all. This is these people all doing exactly what they do (Judy Greer even turns up as a mousy, put-upon wife), so there's not even the novelty of seeing a high art Ice Queen known for exploring the depths of human depravity get into hijinx. I can see Segel get into hijinx anywhere. I can (but never would go out of my way to) see Ed Helms get into hijinx anywhere. I can watch Mr. Woodcock if I want to see Sarandon get into hijinx. The only thing this movie has to recommend it is a 10-line cameo by the great Matt Malloy, playing his character from In the Company of Men. (p.s. I just made up the most interesting part of that sentence.)
MARCUS: Another "ok" bro-movie ("brovie?") from the Duplass Brothers. Susan Sarandon and Rae Dawn Chong kiss about 25 years too late in this. The opening scene where Jason Segel is intellectualizing to himself about the movie Signs was the highlight for me. I was all "movied out" at this point and ready to be over with the festival (although not to go back to NYC.)
ALPS, Life without Principle, Crazy Horse, Chicken With Plums, God Bless America, I Wish
Just a shade below brilliant:
Killer Joe, Headshot, The Skin I Live In
Melancholia, Moneyball, From Up on Poppy Hill, Habemas Papam, Killer Elite, Dark Horse, Dark Girls, Sons of Norway, Into the Abyss, Trishna, The Cardboard Village, My Worst Nightmare, Americano, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, Himizu.
Coriolanus, A Dangerous Method, Take Shelter, 388 Arlette Avenue, The Incident, You’re Next, W.E., Kill List, The Moth Diaries, Rampart, Hick.
Movies about depression/mental illness:
Melancholia, A Dangerous Method, ALPS, Chicken with Plums, God Bless America, Headshot, Himizu, The Skin I Live In, Habemas Papam, The Cardboard Village, The Incident, Dark Horse, Trishna, Kotoko, Take Shelter, Sons of Norway – I’m even leaving out a few borderline candidates.
Arbitrary Top 10
1. God Bless America
3. Life Without Principle
4. Chicken with Plums
5. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
6. Damsels in Distress
8. Crazy Horse
10. Killer Joe
TOP 5 MOVIES AT TIFF:
God Bless America
House of Tolerance
Drive (I had already seen this so I won't count it in my top 5)
The Ides of March
TOP 5 DISAPPOINTMENTS:
We Need to Talk About Kevin
Into the Abyss
TOP 5 DISLIKED:
Twixt (I don't care if I didn't see the whole movie - I saw enough.)
MOVIES I REGRET NOT SEEING:
Chicken with Plums
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS AND RANDOM MEMORIES FROM TIFF...
-Uncle Marv, Atom Egoyan & Grace Kelly
-The female cast of House Of Tolerance
-Friendly Canadian cab drivers that actually pulled over for me
-A few of the female TIFF volunteers (some of 'em were cute)
-God Bless America
-Meeting Paul Cooney and debating/arguing about Ghost Dog & Miami Vice
-Trying my best to not lose my cool every time I spoke to the manager of the Bed & Breakfast I stayed at
-"Prince isn't dead?" (ALPS)
-The Prince impersonation in ALPS
-The lead actress from ALPS (I wanna hang out with her. She seems cool.)
-"Oh you mean the washroom?" (what every Canadian person said to me when I asked where the bathroom was)
-Them sorry-ass Hooters waitresses
-Them disgusting-ass Harvey burgers
-The books at the TIFF gift shop
-Albert Brooks' future Academy Award-winning performance in Drive
-The face stomp in Drive
-The soundtrack for Drive
-John passing out in the middle of Trishna then suddenly waking up and leaning forward in the middle of Frieda Pinto's shower scene
-Michael Winterbottom ruining one of my favorite Portishead songs in Trishna. Has their music ever been used in a good movie?
-The short, cute ditsy one from Damsels In Distress
-Eddie Marsan peeing on his wife at the beginning of Tyrannosaur. Was that really necessary??
-The lead female actress in Faust
-The homunculus scene in Faust
-The white female lead actress, ironically, from The Invader
-Pat Bowler and The Left Wing Fascists
-Woody Harrelson's performance in Rampart
-The last 20 minutes of Shame
-Michael Fassbender & Carey Mulligan's performances in Shame
-The nice nap I took during Monsters Club
-Giving some random guy a Claire Denis history lesson while I was waiting in line for a movie to start (hey, he shouldn't have asked me what book I was reading and he shouldn't have mentioned how he wasn't familiar with her work. it was his fault)
-The French TV station at my Bed & Breakfast (they showed The Bridesmaid and Le cercle rouge!)
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