THE PINK SMOKE'S TORONTO
INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2012 PREVIEW
christopher funderburg, marcus pinn & john cribbs
- 9/4/12 -
CHRISTOPHER FUNDEBURG WRITES:
Ah, 2011 and its Toronto International Film Festival of Curios, Masterpieces and Total Garbage. Last year's festival finally brought together noted Miami Vice enthusiast Marcus Pinn with noted Miami Vice antipathist Paul Cooney and the results were electrifying. A meeting of the minds, a battle of styles, an eating of the drryyyyy cookies beloved by Mr. Cooney occured. Truly the 2011 festival was one of the best experiences I've had since I began my initially lonely annual trek to the Queen City, the land of poutine and LLBO's. Remember last year when we all got to meet Canada's #1 robot inventor, the #3 robot inventor in the whole wide world? And when… What? We didn't meet Canada's #1 robot inventor? That was just what we overheard some fat guy in glasses telling a waitress at Hooters? That can't be right. Somebody get me the 2011 Robot Inventor rankings. Nevertheless, we did all watch in excitement as Philly's newly assembled "Dream Team" reeled off the first victory in their astounding one-game winning streak and marveled in disbelief as Marcus walked twenty minutes from his bed & breakfast to the theater every day. It was a time when legends were made and history was re-written. I saw a movie about a guy getting shot in the head as well as a movie about a teenage Bonnie and middle-aged Clyde shooting other people in the head. They were two of the best films I saw all year.
Mr. John B. Cribbs and I arrive for the 2012 festival on this very Wednesday while the gentleman of Leisure and Marcus Pinn reach Canada's urbanest urbanity two days later. Hopefully, this year's voyage to my own personal Mecca of cinema over-consumption with be a sequel worthy of the 2011 venture - all of the key players are returning (except for the somewhat unnecessary love interest - she's off studying something on an island somewhere at the moment) so there's no reason to doubt it won't prove a worthy follow-up. Certainly, I'm grateful to have an opportunity every September to spend a week getting into sub-Cassavetes-esque hijinks with my Floridian compadre (at the beach is where he can be reached) and the nobly ursine co-founder of this website, see dozens of films of wildly varying quality and interest, watch the NFL opening weekend kick-off, let my Eagles set expectations they'll be happy to crush over the course of the next 16 weeks, eat, drink and live a little for once, goddammit. Movies are my whisky* and I'll have a few.
This year I had the bad idea to write this preview not in out usual rambling epistolary format and have our presentation of everything be a more streamlined and coherent. I think that mandate to my fellow authors might have sucked a little life out the whole process. The result looks a little like a normal festival rundown that you might see on a professional website written by authors whose writing and opinions you don't really care about but you read them anyway because they offer so much content and what are you going to do at your job, anyway? Work? So if our preview this year reads less like an unadulterated expression of three cineaste's excitement and joy and more like the work of paid professionals, it's my fault. I accept that. I am hopeful though that this whole thing will somehow come out feeling like work no one could have possibly been paid to write.
* Whisky is also my whisky.
dir. Thomas Vinterberg
One of the habits I have with the films for which I'm most excited is to avoid finding out literally anything about them. This can result in embarrassing gaffes in these previews, such as the one where I am under the impression that The White Ribbon takes place during WWII. I can tell you honestly, I know nothing about The Hunt apart from that it is directed by Thomas Vinterberg and stars Mads Mikkelsen. Since I saw a still of Mikkelsen and a teenager holding rifles in the forest, I am presuming that it is in some way about a literal hunt and not some Quintet-esque game in a post-apocalyptic future where poor people are hunted for sport by the likes of Lance Henrikson. In his work with Nicolas Winding Refn and Susan Bier, Mikkelsen has proven himself to be one of the most versatile and engaging actors working today. I don't even know if there's a classic star with whom to compare him because he's as tough as Eastwood and as compellingly sensitive as Jimmy Stewart - no wait, I've got it: he's a modern Jean Gabin. Like any right-thinking human being, I love Vinterberg's The Celebraton, but like John Cribbs, I have an enthusiasm for one of Vinterberg's most reviled movies, Dear Wendy. I think that Vinterberg is a real artist, one who refuses to repeat himself and is indifferent to the critical derision that frequently misunderstands his intentions. Like his cohort Lars von Trier, he misses the mark as often as he hits it and his desire to provoke his audience frequently leave them with a bad taste in their mouth, but when he's on, he's quite something. Vinterbegr is a filmmaker capable of making films unlike any I've seen before with a philosophical/moral complexity unrivaled by almost any of his contemporaries. Count me in. Even if I have no clue what I'm in for.
dir. Brian DePalma
Alain Corneau's final film, Love Crimes, is not a great film. Like the majority of Corneau's work, it is a sturdy, satisfying, often shocking little genre flick, the kind of well-crafted but philosophically unambitious gut-punch thriller that has been almost totally replaced by smug genre "deconstruction" ever since Quentin Tarantino began his lifelong quest to ruin cult movies. Its simple plot finds two very different kind of women jockeying for position at a large, soulless corporation and using every method at their disposal - psychological, sexual, criminal - to undermine the other. That the notorious Brian Depalma decided to remake it starring Noomi Rapace** and Rachel McAdams gets my attention, ironically, because there's a chance he's going to bring his wicked, deconstructionist take on genre thrillers to the project. I'm hoping this is another deliriously sexualized and intensity weird thriller a la Femme Fatale… but the truth is he's been utterly useless recently, so I hate to get my hopes up. His last two films (Redacted and Black Dahlia) were not only two of the worst films of his career, but two of the worst films of the decade. Redacted deserves serious consideration for "one of the worst films of all time" honors. Passion finds him right in his wheel-house, a straight-forward genre exercise with no pretension to artistrys simple story that he can twist and warp and pervert into something original and shocking. It's the first time in decades I can recall him attempting to pull off a plot comparable to the films like made his reputation like Sisters, Obsession, Blow Out and Dressed to Kill - none of the heavy-handed politics of Redacted nor the silly self-seriousness and hard-boiled stylization of Black Dahlia, none of space adventures of Brian DePalm's Mission to the Red Planet Mars. None of the sexless stupidity and pretensions to Blockbuster status of Snake Eyes. I'm more excited than I reasonably should be considering what he's given me for nearly two decades.
** I refuse to write, as is seemingly required by law, "The original girl with the dragon tattoo, Noomi Rapace" because no one follows it up with describing Rachel McAdams. As though she's so famous her presence requires no explanation. What would they say, anyway? "The original hot chick, Rachel McAdams" or "the original family jeweler, Rachel McAdams?"
dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Kiyoshi Kurosawa. A woman obsessed with the murder of her daughter. Moody art-horror. Got it. I put this at the top of my list because no one is better than Kurosawa at that sort of thing and his unpredictable, beautiful films frequently obliterate the constraints of their genre to a point it's difficult to categorize much of his work at all. The J-horror label he helped define never fit his films apart from Pulse; his thoughtfulness and distaste for shock value made him truly unique amongst his contemporaries. He's a filmmaker, not a horror director - and that means no disrespect to horror directors, just that Kurosawa would never be asked to make a crummy hour-long t.v. movie in Canada. If he did, it'd end up being about something like poisonous jellyfish, remorse and the nature of our immortal souls. So, making Penance a priority was a no-brainer - it required no brain. None. Then John pointed something out to me. "Cougar," he said, referencing the out of date nickname bestowed upon me by John Mellencamp "Cougar, my friend, you're excited to see the new Kurosawa, right?" "Indeed I am, my impressively bearded Little Ceasar's-loving compatriot." "But are you excited to see the new 4 and a half hour long Kurosawa movie?" I paused. "I do believe… that I am." Penance apparently is a t.v. movie, but it's not an hour long and fortunately not made with Canadian actors or under the supervision of Mick "who the hell do I think I am?" Garris. But believe this: I'm in it. Full force. Give me a plate of poutine and 2 cans of Coca-Cola and let's make it happen. I feeling this will be the event of the festival for me.
SOMETHING IN THE AIR
dir. Olivier Assayas
I like Olivier Assayas a lot. Or actually, I should say I appreciate Assayas' films and love bits & pieces of them and that somehow averages out to liking the director a lot. He's never made anything close to a masterpiece (the first person to mention the painfully rote Carlos gets a complimentary disappointed head-shake) and his best films are his biggest messes: Demon Lover, Boarding Gate and Irma Vep have as many problems as virtues while his most even-keeled, fully realized works are inconsequential films like Summer Hours, Clean and Cold Water. I love Asia Argento's brilliance in Boarding Gate and the bold weirdness of Demon Lover's setting and story without fully embracing either film. Carlos' action sequences are thrilling, but what makes me luke-warm on it as a whole is its "Crime is awesome… just kidding, you naughty boy! It has terrifying repercussions!" story arc that seemingly every "big picture" crime film follows. So, when I say that I'm hugely anticipating Something in the Air, it's not because I fully trust the genius of Assayas. Truthfully, I am excited to see the exquisite Lola Creton in a starring role. Her breakthrough performance in Catherine Breillat's Bluebeard immediately reminded of Natalie Portman in Leon, not only because of similarities in their acting styles, but because their performances are a premonition of substantial careers to come. Both films announced preternaturally self-possessed young actresses whose confidences were a quiet hurricane of burgeoning talent (and both films also creepily sexualized their young stars - although unsurprisingly that's exactly the point of Breillat's film and just pointless pervy-ness in Besson's.) Creton will be around for decades if she so chooses and I can't think of any other young actresses in France or otherwise who makes for such a gripping screen presence. She's an amazing young talent and her pairing with Assayas makes me hope it will be as fruitful as his early work with a similar adolescent talent in Virginie Ledoyen. Watching a new star take command of the screen never gets old.
dir. Ben Affleck
A big change resulting my iffy idea to switch up the TIFF preview format this year is that I asked everyone to write about different films, so that none of us would repeat a single one of anyone else's Must-See, Must-Avoid and Wildcard films. Obviously, all three of us are psyched for Carlos Reygada's Post Tenebras Lux, but because of my new rule designed to dull the repetitiveness of three dudes slobbering all over a movie you probably haven't heard of (and to expand the variety of films we write about) only Cribbsy will be tackling (for a sack!)*** Reygada's movie. The other effect is that something like Argo ends up on my list. Now lookee here, I am interested in Argo and I am going to see Argo, but I don't want you to think I'm some kind of a Ben Affleck super-fan or that I believe his first two films are something more than deeply satisfying B++ genre pictures. A big part of my interest in Argo is to see if Affleck can make the jump from sturdy, intelligent, pretty fucking awesome crime capers to something more complicated and thoughtful. I'm truly curious how he handles the interesting material - it's the true story of a fake movie production organized to smuggle hostages out of Iran. Affleck has shown that he knows how to construct a movie and he certainly gets the best out of his actors; the only real problem with his first two genre pictures is, to paraphrase Raymond Chandler, that they are genre pictures. They don't quite transcend the cliches and limitations of the form, but he nail the films to every other degree possible. Argo is a different kind of thing, it has more complex political, historical and moral implications - it's a larger film than his preceding work in every sense. On the plus, he smartly has found a story with the kind of thriller elements he's proven he can handle, so it's difficult to imagine Argo will be a total bust. I have a feeling this could be an Oscar contender and I'm excited to see it. Not as much as Post Tenebras Lux… but still.
*** He's truly the Trent Cole of low-brow criticism of high-brow films!
THE WILDEST OF WILDCARDS:
dir. Neil Jordan
If you read my Second Chances piece on the Crying Game, you know that Neil Jordan used to be an important filmmaker to me. That time has long since passed. However, Jordan isn't irrelevant to the game entirely - he's got a 3-2 count and just keeps ripping off foul tips on pitch after pitch. He's on a streak of pretty ok, clearly not great, mildly interesting, basically forgettable films like The Good Thief, End of the Affair and Ondine mixed with total misfires containing pockets of genius like Breakfast on Pluto and In Dreams. You can see the old, vital Neil Jordan in nearly everything he's done, but he just can't quite put it together. Every time he takes a swing at a new pitch, I feel like it could be the home-run that has just barely been slipping off the tip of his bat seemingly forever... or it could be the strike-out that finally sends him to the bench. This one stars Gemma Arterton (ugh) and it's about vampires (like his worst movie!) The stills of Byzantium look stylish and sensual (and obviously sets up the sequels Constantinople and Istanbul), but since it's Jordan we're talking about I find it hard to get a bead on it. It's nice to see him keep plugging away and I have a certain faith in his focus and unflappability, but he could just as easily finally exhaust my patience and spit out the unconscionable junk he seems on the verge of creating. I thought Ondine would be the one that finally caused me to give up my hope for Jordan to deliver another Miracle, but it was just reasonable enough that I can't count him out.
THE ACT OF KILLING
dir. Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous
Hold up, hold up, hold up - listen to this, listen to this: "In this chilling and inventive documentary, executive produced by Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, the unrepentant former members of Indonesian death squads are challenged to re-enact some of their many murders in the style of the American movies they love." Are you in or what?
NO FUCKING THANKS:
dir. A dog dressed up like Murphy Brown for Halloween
A Barry Levinson-produced ecological horror film. It would be difficult to string together a description more repulsive than that. Jamie Kennedy-starring Hiroshima aftermath musical? Nope. Len Wiseman-directed Breakfast Club remake? Nah. Boondock Saints 3: Incongruously Re-appropriated Subtitle? Close. But I still think Barry Levinson-produced ecological horror film takes the cake. Midnight Madness, what happened to you? I used to see you on the block, like, every day. Now when you do come around, you're all like "hey, man, have you heard of these mumblecore guys?" or "kill list is The Wicker Man crossed with a Guy Ritchie movie" like that's a good thing. And I just stare and nod and remember when you used to be all about Takashi Miike and fake snuff films. What happened, man? You think I give a shit about some 3-D Judge Dredd movie? You're bumming me out.
dir. Deepa Mehta
Man, I would love to see an adaptation of Salman Rushdie's brilliantly phantasmagoric novel that slips between London and Bombay, fantasy and reality, love and rage. But Deepa Mehta is likely the director I am least interested in seeing do so. It's hard to imagine a worse match for Rushdie's wry, wild imagination than Meetha's dull, middle-brow style. There's no way she can do justice to this gut-punch of tender insanity and whatever her film does end up being (because it won't be Midnight's Children), I can only imagine it will infuriate me. This is as sure-bet a botch job as any of the eye-brow raising adaptations at TIFF this year, including the Kyrgzstani Crime and Punishment, the Joe Wright-directed Anna Karenina and the Chinese Dangerous Liaisons. If it's good - scratch that: if it's not irredeemably terrible, I will eat a $30 bill with Bill Graham's picture on it.
THE COMPANY YOU KEEP
dir. Reboot Radferd
But at least it has Another Earth's Britt Marling, so... I am even less interested in this film than I thought humanly possible.
I KNOW BETTER. HONESTLY, I DO:
THE SILVER-LININGS PLAYOBOOK
dir. David O. Rus- what the hell?
True story: I went to see The Campaign and the trailer for this came up beforehand. It looks awful. Just awful. It has Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence starring as emotionally damaged quirksters who fall in love while dealing with Cooper's equally humorously outrageous family. I hadn't been paying to what's going on with David O. Russell (a favorite director of mine) so I didn't realize this was his film. But in the trailer, Cooper's character is portrayed as a working class neurotic with extreme rage issues. What caught my attention was that his character wears a DeSean Jackson jersey for virtually the entire trailer - I couldn't help but think "man, this looks terrible… but they nailed that detail. An angry working class guy full of unfocused resentment, of course he loves DJax. It's not a Vick jersey, not McNabb - DJax. That is perfect." And that perfect detail gave me the nagging sense that they had gotten me, that I would see the movie on the basis of nailing that one detail alone. I checked the credits at the end to see who was behind this moronic nonsense to which I would unfortunately submit and wouldn't you know it? This screens at TIFF the morning before the Eagles kick off the season in Cleveland. Come on. I should just go ahead and buy a #10 Jersey to wear all day. DJax. Shit. Fuckin' punk.
The curse of TIFF: every year - and I mean every year - two must-see films end up screening once and only once right smack on top of each other. This year the curse forces me to choose between Vinterberg's The Hunt and Michael Haneke's rave-reviewed Amour. Obviously, I'm a gigantic Haneke fan and deep down I know nothing is going to keep me from seeing Amour in 2012. But for some reason, I've decided to check out The Hunt instead at TIFF. The curse hit Haneke's last film at the festive; and, inexplicably, then as now, I decided to see its schedule-hogging opponent - I choose Alain Resnais' Wild Grass over The White Ribbon. Although, The White Ribbon is clearly the superior film, for some reason I don't regret the decision. In fact, I have a funny feeling I'm about to repeat it. Lord knows why. Amour is clearly the film of the festival and I didn't feel like the TIFF line-up was complete until they announced it as a late booking. And now I'm not going to see it. Strange. That's the curse for ya.
Well... that's it. Pack the car. Pick up Cribbs. On to the 9 hour drive that will bring back into my life Sportos, Underboki & Associates and the best in world cinema/the best cinema in the world. Maybe, just, maybe, this time John and I will get to Toronto before 2:00a.m. I kinda hope we don't - I'd hate to spoil tradition.
(keep it going with the searing insight of Marcus Pinn on PAGE 2 and trenchant analysis from John Cribbs on PAGE 3.)
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