Thursday, September 29, 2011

Surprise, surprise: Social media means we just aren't surprised any longer


One reason we watch movies is for the hook. Another is the characters. But let's face it: The most fun is the surprise.
It doesn't happen too often, though, does it? In fact, it hasn't happened at all for me in a few years. I don't know if it ever will again.
There's so much out there to spoil the surprise. Spoilers lurk in Twitter, Facebook and e-mail, let alone the office water cooler. Hell it was hard enough not to hear about any major shock BEFORE social media. Homer Simpson, after all, spoiled one of the best (see below), and that was in 1983, before cell phones were just a twinkle in your eye.
Those who make movies don't seem to care about the surprise. They care about shock value, sure, but that usually translates into getting to see someone's skin peeled off or something equally gruesome or maybe lots of fecal jokes.
Shock = money.
The reason I'm partly blaming social media is because pulling off a surprise is nearly impossible anyway. How many can you remember? I will list five below. I call them the five best, but to be honest they are the only five I recall. It takes brilliant, Breaking-Bad-type writing, sturdy plot building and incredible acting. It has to get an increasingly cynical public because we're mostly fed fast-food remakes and retread "thrillers" (I'm one of them if you couldn't tell) to completely buy into a plot, then shift it and come up with a twist so amazing it blows our minds.
So let's say a movie actually does this, against all odds, the kind Phil Collins sang about. Well, come on. Our hype machines are just begging for some grease given today's entertainment climate. We'd Tweet, Facebook and text it to death. And even if any of us didn't give it away, again, Against All Odds, the rest of us would go to the movie expecting a surprise. And when you're expecting a surprise, you're not nearly as surprised when it happens. Talk to M. Night Shyamalan about that one.

My top five movie surprises of all time. I doubt these will shock you. You see what I did there?
1. "The Empire Strikes Back" — Oh, come on, admit it, you gasped, and gasped HARD, when Darth Vader told Luke he was his father. I still remember the theater recoiling in horror. Even Dad, who could tell us what would happen at the end of a movie within the first five minutes, didn't sniff that one out. That surprise also kind of made every other Star Wars movie sucky, or at least not as good as "Empire," but man was that a fun one. The only problem? No way would it work today. Our cynicism wouldn't let us buy into it, and the surprise would last about five minutes after the movie came out.
2. "The Usual Suspects" — This doesn't come until the very end, but that just makes it one of the best endings, ever, to a movie. And it manages to pull off a fun surprise twice. You actually think someone else is Keyser Soze before you find out someone ELSE is Soze. 
3. "The Sixth Sense" — I wonder if M. Night's career would have been better had he NOT made this movie. Granted it's probably one of the best movies ever made in the last 20 years, and wow did that ending throw me. You too. Admit it. No, you did NOT know Bruce Willis was really dead. But this movie haunted him throughout his career. He became the "surprise" guy, and that kind of magic only happens once in a director's life. By the time "The Village" came out the act had grown so tired that he seemed to just give up and made some horrible, horrible pictures after that.
4. "The Crying Game" — Hey, I thought he looked female, too, although I remember my mother whispering to me right before the twist "She doesn't have much of a chest." It's gotta be the only time a non-porno film had a shot of a penis be so central to the plot.
5. "Fight Club" — The thing I loved about this, just like "The Sixth Sense," is the surprise was like a delicious cherry on the sundae. We didn't need the surprise for it to be a terrific movie. Yet you add in the surprise and it's an absolute classic. One of the most underrated films of all the time.

Bonuses: Oh, how I wish I was in the theater when that creature popped out of the guy's stomach in "Alien." My uncle was and he said it was one of the biggest shocks of his life. And "Psycho" practically invented the surprise twist, although I saw it coming because of far too many references to Norman and his mother before I caught it on TV when I was 12.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

3.5" Movies - Red State

When I was a young teenager, writer-director Kevin Smith's first film, Clerks, debuted and became an indie sensation. The black-and-white movie was interesting as much for its quirky dialogue as for its sophomoric humor. Smith quickly became one of my favorite film makers after Mallrats and Chasing Amy, two comedies, the first of which is about slackers at a mall and the second, about a small time comic book creator who falls in love with a lesbian.

From there, my opinion of Kevin Smith movies gets worse and worse. Still, Smith has a special role in my heart, since he spoke to my sarcastic, sophomoric self, just when that self was developing. Even now, I follow his blog and maintain my old email address, which was derived from two Smith characters both played by My Name is Earl's Jason Lee, Brody (Mallrats) and Banky (Chasing Amy).

When I heard that Smith was debuting his new film, Red State, on various platforms other than a regular movie theater release, I was intrigued. Here was a guy who was going against the system. When the film finally became available on iTunes and most cable on Demand services, I decided to check it out. And I was delightfully surprised.

Whereas most of Smith's films are comedies, Red State is an intoxicating blend of thriller/horror, with a dash of comedy for full effect. The movie is about a family who lives in the sticks, known as the Coopers. They were modeled after the Phelps family, known for their fanatical anti-homosexual beliefs ("God Hates Fags!") and protests at soldier's funerals. In Smith's film, the head of the family is played by Michael Parks, a veteran actor who somehow makes the leader of an insular, homophobic clan into a charming guy. Unlike the Phelps family, the Coopers are not just content with protests. Things get a lot more heated when the Coopers end up with a couple of neighborhood kids on their property and law enforcement at their gates.

I do not want to give away too much, since part of the joy in the film are the unexpected turns. What I can say is that this film had several moments where you knew what was going to happen, only to have something else happen instead. Whether intentional or not, this set-up-and-swerve storytelling adds richness to the story and characters, rather than feeling like a cheap way to sensationalize or shock the viewer.

I give this film a whopping 9 out of 10. The story is unique, the plotting and pacing are pitch perfect, and the acting is fantastic. If there is any negative, it was in the film's length; quite frankly, I wanted more.

Until next time, keep 'em 3.5"!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TIFF Review - Barrymore

Chrstopher Plummer may very well be the finest classically trained actor alive today.  If you have any doubts about the veracity of this statement, make a point of seeing Barrymore.

In 1996, Plummer won the Tony for his role in this one-man (well one man + a guy offstage) play about the declining days of actor John Barrymore.  The play came back to Toronto earlier this year, with Plummer once again in the eponymous role. This time around though, it was decided that a a film version should also be produced.  Directed by Erik Canuel (Bon Cop Bad Cop), Barrymore the film is more than a simple documentary-style recording of the play. Canuel didn't simply set up some cameras at a performance; the play was reworked to fit the medium.

Without a doubt, Plummer IS the film.  A tour de force performance, a master class in acting, and deserving of every acting award that can be handed out for this year's movies. Seriously, halfway through I couldn't see anybody else coming close to being as Oscar-worthy as Plummer is here. Expect a rant from me if he's not on the list of nominees. This should be required viewing for anybody who wants to act, so they have a pinnacle to aspire to.

That's not to say the script and direction aren't noteworthy as well, but the command Plummer takes as the iconic actor he portrays eclipses all else.  Switching from congenial and humourous to lost and on the brink of madness to virtuoso performances of Shakespeare, all while recounting his life to that point, John Barrymore evokes sympathy and awe. Raw talent, ego, hedonism, and self-destruction are all laid bare for the audience to experience with the protagonist. Clever directorial choices enhance the experience, and the switch from theatrical to cinematic presentation allows for subtleties and acting choices that wouldn't be available in a live performance.

In fact, the very act of capturing a theatrical performance on film is itself a commentary on John Barrymore. A silent screen star who transitioned to live performances later in his career, with precious few recordings of his Shakespearean work, for which he had received stellar reviews. Plummer is equally renowned for his work on the stage, and this is an excellent means of capturing his intensity and talent in a permanent form.

My screening, the world premiere, was followed by a discussion between Plummer and Atom Egoyan, which made the on-screen performance that much more impressive. A bombastic, overpowering presence on screen as John Barrymore, Plummer was a more subdued, and frankly sane, persona in person. It was a fast reminder of what true acting can be - inhabiting the role as another person, not simply being a variation of your daily self. Add Plummer's long-held idolization of the Barrymore family (pre-Drew), and you can see why so much passion and success can be found in this role.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

TIFF Review - The Artist

No mincing words on this one - I loved this film. LOVED it. There's usually one film out of my TIFF selections that I end up adoring, and this is the clear favourite so far. This one already has tons of buzz from Cannes and TIFF, and has names like John Goodman and James Cromwell in it and Bérénice Bejo is a gorgeous face to plant on posters.  But, it IS a silent film about the end of the silent film era, so it probably falls into that quirky category that the morons that market movies can't figure out how to sell effectively.

George Valentin is THE movie star of silent films. He lives the high life in Hollywood in the late 20's, with a seemingly endless stream of crowd-pleasing movies with his name on the marquee. He hams it up for audiences, oozes charisma, and is on top of the world. But a new technology is coming in - sound. George laughs off this new form as nothing more than a fad, only to see his career dry up overnight as talkies take the world by storm.

The movie follows his descent from star to has-been, while at the same time charting the rise of Peppy Miller, a young ingenue whose career was launched by an accidental encounter with George. Peppy, infatuated with George and never forgetting how he helped her, tries to help him in return to regain his status, but has to break through his wall of pride and ego first.

The film is a thing of beauty.  Shot in a style that itself an homage to silent film - black and white, with a constant musical score underlying every scene, and completely silent except for two notable scenes - it shows that this nearly abandoned form still has much to offer. Actors are forced to act without voices; dialogue is often unimportant (and unrevealed), leaving the audience to fill in the blanks of what might have been said.  Hell, even the dog becomes a more effective actor (and won the prestigious "Palme Dog" at Cannes). By eliminating one of the senses we associate with movies, it forces us to watch more intently, and draws us deeper into this world.

I found it interesting that as I watched, I kept comparing the presentation to that of another of my fest favourites - Pontypool.  Where that production relied almost entirely on speech and voice to present its drama, itself nearly a radio play, The Artist relies solely on the visual, eschewing speech entirely.


Sure, there are observations to be made regarding those who are left behind by technological progress, or the ability of mankind to rebound from the bleakest depths, or even how the fickle nature of Hollywood has been largely unchanged over the decades, but in the end this is a movie that can be enjoyed purely for the story it tells and the means it uses to tell it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

TIFF Review - Keyhole

A shootout, a retreat, and a holing up of gangsters in their leader's home starts off Guy Maddin's version of the Odyssey.  In this instance, that means there's a character named Ulysses and he has to do some stuff to get to his wife. Oh, and there's a cyclops.

In reality, Keyhole is a gangster-ghost-love story about the lives of a house.  It is a movie about memories and how the everyday objects around us evoke them. It is about longing, and it is rarely what you think.

Ulysses  (Jason Patric) returns to his old home, troupe of straight-outta-noir gangsters in tow, a few gun molls, a captive tied to a chair, and a beautiful blind guide who happens to be drowning. They set up camp in the living room, hoping the cops don't show up, and start fighting amongst themselves. Ulysses needs to find his wife, Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini) , who is upstairs somewhere, but his memory is fuzzy.  The fact there are ghosts screaming and wandering amongst them is almost secondary.

Meanwhile, Hyacinth is lounging in her bed, with her lover in the corner and her naked father chained to the bedpost, warning of Ulysses' search for her.

The story of Hyacinth and Ulysses' past is slowly narrated to us as the search continues.  His blind, drowning guide reminds him of past events so that he can discover which items he must present to his wife to speak with her. He sends his minions out to find these lost artifacts, which he presents at the keyhole of every room he enters. Hyacinth says she will pretend he isn't there, and each door opened reveals another element of their past.

In the meantime, the gangsters downstairs are renovating a room for the boss while simultaneously planning their mutiny against him and rebuilding an electric chair Ulysses' son had built  years earlier.  Eventually, this all comes together. Of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

Over all of this is Maddin's trademark style.  Black and white, changes in media, obfuscated symbolism, and overt, slightly unsettling atypical sexuality are all there as expected. However, Keyhole is, like the house it portrays, a story of layers. Years of memories painted over even older ones. Ancient damage is plastered over and remade again and again.  For every person who passes through the doors of a home, the memories are different. Even ghosts have their ghosts that haunt them, and we all react differently to them. Even the perspective we believe we know can change subtly and dramatically.  And sometimes, these memories are all that is left behind for us.

TIFF Review - The Raid

Let's get the plot out of the way on this one: SWAT team launches a raid on an apartment building controlled by the most feared criminal boss in town. Apartment is full of other criminals hiding out from cops, because nobody, including cops, goes near this place.

SWAT goes in, bad guys get alerted, bullets fly, lots of people die. Not so many cops anymore.

Yah, van full of cannon fodder. 5 cops left.  One of who is Iko Uwais is one of them.

Iko Uwais is a Silat martial artist - a relatively unknown Indonesian fighting method that is all kicks, punches, elbows, knees, and a bunch of close-combat damage.

There, you can largely fill in the rest.

This movie is pretty much 80 minutes of kick-ass with 10 minutes of moving the plot along. There's no "six-feet-of-air" punches, or bouncy-castle fighting. Close-ups of fists to faces, knees to heads,  and general mayhem in a confined space caused a theatre full of aficionados of these kind of films to let out the grunts and groans that go with watching someone get their ass kicked in a monumental fashion.

One guy armed with a knife and nightstick vs 20 in a hallway. No problem. Same guy, unarmed, vs 6 guys with machetes? A bit tougher, but a quick rest will fix what ails ya. A mad-dog killer who drops his weapons to fight the captain of the force fist-to-fist? A valiant effort.  That same killer then facing off against two good guys (well, 1.5 good guys)? Well, when two of the combatants involved are the fight choreographers, you know it's gonna be good. Hell, the participants are all evenly beat up already to make the 2-on-1 battle a believable contest. There might be a few more battles in there, and a fair bit of pain.

If you're the type that likes watching people kick all kinds of ass in innovative ways, then you're the type that likes this movie. Also, it's actually good.  There's no "so bad it's good" cheesiness, or guffaw-worthy moments.  It's a fairly pure and straightforward piece of violence. Hell of a way to kick off my fest.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September to Remember

Just Go with it
Adam Sandler movies used to be good. Sigh. Now, I shall insert some glib pun like "just go see something else" because this movie about a plastic surgeon who realizes his homely assistant is really JENNIFER ANISTON will make you roll your eyes so hard you will need corrective surgery.

Piranha
HOLY SHIT this movie kicked ass! I mean, if Jerry O'connell screaming "It took my penis," doesn't make for a top notch, grade A movie, how about giant ass piranhas eating people in mid air?! AWESOMESAUCE! Was there a Piranha 2?? I actually have honest to goodness follow up questions.

Horrible Bosses
I liked this movie. I laughed A LOT. That little guy from It's Always Sunny is always funny! And Jason Bateman is a terrific straight man. The bosses were also geniusly cast! Brava.

Glee 3D
Speaking of AWESOMESAUCE...this movie had extra heaping ladles of the stuff! I don't even think you need to watch the TV show to love this movie...though, if you're not watching the TV show... WHY NOT? WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU? And please leave your name in the comment section so I have the correct spelling to give to Homeland.

The Help
This movie is about a spunky young white girl who comes home from college and wants to be a reporter. She gets a job writing the cleaning column for local newspaper. But she realizes "I'm white! I don't know anything about cleaning!" And gets her friend's maid to answer all the questions while she transcibes the answers. As she spends time with this woman who is cleaning and raising her friend's kid *IN ADDITION* to answering the questions for HER columnist job, she realizes that the help sure aren't treated very nice. She then asks the maid to tell her what it's like to be a maid, so that she can submit the stories to a publisher in New York. I saw this movie in a theater full of about 75% old white women. Eff yo nostalgia! My little hands were balled into fists for two and a half hours. It's a right good fine movie. Reminded me of Avatar. O_O. Seriously, when are we getting the sarcasm font? But no, really, if you liked Avatar you will LOVE THE HELP! Also, if you liked Avatar please leave your name in the comment section along with which high school signed over a diploma to you.

Planet of the Apes
This movie was terrific! This is EXACTLY what happens when we start letting animals live in our homes, eat our food and get human names. They blow shit up, murder people and destroy property! Finally, Hollywood stops pandering to the bleeding heart liberals and shows us the truth!

Vincere
A foreign movie about Benito Mussolini and his first wife that he apparently dumped and then disavowed. It's weird at the beginning. There are all kinds of "greek chorus" interludes and random spinning newspaper wipes in between scenes, but the movie settles into a nice pace about an hour in. It then becomes a movie about a woman trying to prove she is who she says she and her son are from the inside of a mental hospital. Not to spoil anything, but, um, it does not go well.

The Cove
This is a documentary about the brave soldiers standing on the frontlines protecting humanity from the impending dolphin threat AND THE SPECIES TRAITORS trying to stop them! O_O I can never run for office now, huh? So yeah, apparently, they brutally stab schools of dolphins to death until the water in the cove runs crimson with blood. Most people are appalled. Others think to themselves, hmm... I like that color, I think I'm buying a red coat for winter. *whistles*

The Lincoln Lawyer
This isn't the worst Matthew Mcconaughey movie I have ever seen. Still, it *IS* a Matthew Mcconaughey, so it's bad. He plays a shady lawyer who suddenly grows a conscience when he realized he talked an innocent client into taking a plea. OH NOES! Dumb.

The Eclipse
I really liked this movie and I think it's because I didn't know anything about it at all because when I googled it later and read descriptions like "horror" "thriller" I was like "What movie did they watch?" This was a short, simple story about a dude volunteering at a literary festival. Some stuff happens, he meets a pretty lady, gets in a fight, maybe sees a couple of ghosts. But that's it. Also, there was no eclipse...so the title's a bit weird.

16 Years of Alcohol
I rented this movie because I loved the series Rome and the lead actor in this was the lead actor in that. (He plays a shitty character on Grey's Anatomy now.) This movie is wretched. And not JUST because it relies heavily on stupid voice over narration...not that it helps. It tells the tale of an Irish boy whose mother leaves home and whose father is an alcoholic, so he becomes an alchoholic...oh wait, I already said "Irish," so the rest was redundant. Oh snap #RACES But yeah, skip it. There are way better Irish tragedy movies.

Ajami
This is an Israeli flick about too many damn things. Like, seriously, they could have broken this movie up into five movies and we'd all be better off for it. There's the Romeo and Juliet story, the Godfather story, the Oliver story, some comic book story... I dunno. I guess it was good...but it was all very superficial, too fast and you ultimately don't connect with any of the characters... plus, all middle eastern people look alike and it's confusing. #DOUBLERACES

Stripes
When am I going to learn that until I find inappropriate breast jokes hilariously funny, I need to stop renting Hollywood "comedies"? Oy. This movie is implausibly dumb even for the genre.

Fish Tank
This movie is awesomely sad, yet not sad, yet totally sad. Four thumbs up! Rent this instead of that 16 years of alcohol crap...they're not Irish, but they are British, so that's practically the same thing. It's a coming of age story of a girl from some poor English neighborhood. I don't quite understand how it got the title... but if you figure it out, let me know.

The Baby's Room
Dumb horror movie about a guy who crosses into a parallel universe and ends up coming face to face with the him that he might have been under different circumstances. Blah.

Paranormal Activity
I totally wrote off this flick about a couple dealing with sounds and objects moving in their new house, as a dumb horror movie. But then, the next day, I was in the shower, jamming to my itunes morning playlist and my computer screen suddenly went to sleep, plunging my bathed in pale blue light bathroom to total darkness. You have never heard such loud, panicked, incessant screaming in your life. So...um...yeah...this movie might have made an impression. Also, I'm getting a shower radio.

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
Here's the thing: the makers of this movie about one man's journey through the European healthcare system, totally ruined it with the title. I'm sayin. But it's a good movie and it's nice that someone isn't picking on the US healthcare system for once.

The Machinist
This movie SUCKS IT! Ugh. I guess I don't want to ruin it for anyone who still wants to see this so-called "thriller" starring the dude from Batman Forever...er...Batman...but SERIOUSLY IT'S SOOOOO DUUUMMMBBB. For instance, and listen, close your eyes if you plan to see it... but the main character comes home to find someone has started a hangman game with him and theyve posted the puzzle on his refrigerator. First of all, THAT'S NOT HOW YOU START A GAME OF HANGMAN! How will you know if the letters you guess are right or wrong?! Someone's gotta be there to DRAW THE HANGED MAN! OK, but that's not even the worse part...the word that the puzzle is has TWO ELS, but he only writes in ONE of them and then forty minutes later, puts in the second one! THE HELL?? If you get a letter right, they've got to PUT THEM ALL IN THE WORD AT ONCE! *Head desk*

Then She Found Me
I thought I hated this movie, then I liked it, then they tacked on the Hollywood ending and I hated it again. Boo. It stars Helen Hunt and Bette Midler as a mom who gave up her baby for adoption then tracks her down as an adult after her adoptive parents die. If it had ended like 15 minutes earlier, it would have been a strong movie. As is, meh.

I'm Through with White Girls
I got this because it had a black guy on the cover. And I thought "Ha! A movie that's going to not skewer black women!" Uh huh. This movie sucked and I was punished for my racism. It's what I deserve. And also, he ends up with a half black, half white canadian girl in the end. AS IF there are even half black people in Canada!

Eight Men Out
I'm obsessed with baseball cheating scandals...mostly I keep hoping there is some effective way that the Mets can cheat their way to winning another World Series. This movie provided NO helpful suggestions. It was also not a very good movie. There was no nuance to any of the characters...I was surprised to find a John Cusack movie I hadn't seen though.

Let the Right One In (original)
Story of a boy and the vampire who falls in love with him. I preferred the American version. These kids were too "kid actorish." Also, the American version improves on the supporting characters and makes their stories more plausible.

Hall Pass
Meh. I didn't hate this movie. I also didn't laugh at anything in this movie until the 60 seconds following the credits where the funniest shit ever happens and I couldn't stop laughing for like 20 minutes. I could almost recommend this movie on the strength of those seconds alone...almost.

Arthur
Yes, I cried during this movie. SO WHAT? I WILL FIGHT YOU! It's not a comedy per se (and as such, I don't consider it a remake of the Dudley Moore classic) but there is a grown man wearing tights and a cape, so it's not exactly a drama. But if you are not made of stone you WILL WEEP!

Battle: Los Angeles
GOT DAMB EFFING ALIENS ALWAYS TRYING TO COME FOR MY GOT DAMB PLANET! Earth is so lucky Americans are bad ass alien fighters! This movie falls just shy of awesome, but only barely. You get sucked into the story and the way it's shot makes you feel like you're totally in the movie. It's pretty good!

Rango
Um. So...um...yeah...I find myself at a loss for words because I can't say terrible things about a Johnny Depp movie, right? I mean, he's Johnny Depp...wait...never mind...Depp was in The Tourist...I can do this. This movie WAS WRETCHED HORRIBLENESS WRAPPED IN A CRAP BURRITO. I don't know how it got made or why it was then released or why every copy wasn't then rounded up and burned, but I'm writing a letter to my congressman. Ugh. Woman. Hate her sooo much.

Unknown
Here's a tip everybody: if you get in a taxi cab in Berlin and your driver is a smoking hot blond woman, SOME STUFF IS ABOUT TO GO DOWN! This was a pretty standard action flick. There's a twist, but it's not really that twisty. Stuff blows up and there are impressive car wrecks. I can't complain.

Last train home
I can't tell for sure if this was a documentary or not...I'm 79 percent sure it is. In which case, this movie about a family of parents who work in the big city and the two kids they left behind to be raised by the grandma, is pretty good. If it's fiction, it's just okay. My favorite part was this scene where thousands of Chinese people (oh, it's set in China about the workers who take a train home for Chinese New Year because that's the only time they see their families) are waiting for ten days for the train because there's been a power outage. There was no food or facilities and the conditions are wretched. But there's this one dude who tells the reporter he's excited about China hosting the Olympics and he "hopes the Chinese win all the gold medals. There are billions of us! Why should we not beat America, there are only millions of them!" I laughed so hard! Nationalism is nationalism even when you live in a facist psuedo communist country. Which that dude does.

Blue Valentine

I want to say this was the perfect movie, but I fear that may reveal exactly how twisted I am, so...er...this movie was so sad and these characters are damaged and flawed...nah, can't do it. Movie was perfect...that's exactly how life and relationships are. *B-boy stance*

The Adjustment Bureau
Why does Matt Damon keep making bad movies? Does he want me to Ben Affleck him? OH MAN THIS MOVIE WAS BAD. However, I did start paying attention to my every minor decision making for the next week wondering if I was really choosing or if the Adjustment Bureau was choosing... but then I lost interest and stopped. Or did I? Maybe they wanted me to stop because I was getting too close!

Source Code
Jake Gyllenhaal is officially Ben Afflecked.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Last Year's TIFF Quick(ish) Hits

Yah, I really DID look through the drafts folder. Here are quick hit reviews of what I didn't quite hit publish on last year:

The Illusionist

Yah, I saw this nearly a year ago, and Dawn wrote about it last month. That's shameful on my part.

A nearly silent animated film, The Illusionist brings the work of Jaques Tati to fruition. An aging magician, Tatischeff, is in the twilight of his career as the world moves on from simple magic shows to grander entertainments. A young, naive girl, Alice, sees his show and believes he is truly magical and forces her company upon him. Lonely, and with little to show for a life of performing, he reluctantly accepts her presence, rapidly developing a father-daughter relationship. In order to maintain his final illusion of magic, and being able to provide for her, he takes demeaning jobs and sells his few possessions to afford the meager lifestyle they live. Throughout this time he longingly stares at a photo, believed to be that of his own estranged daughter.

The film is about regret. Tatischeff, now believing himself to old to make amends, uses Alice a surrogate for his own daughter. While his life declines and he leaves all he has to her, the world he comes from declines as well. The performers he works with follow a similar path of deteriorating fortune and increasing depression. The world of vaudeville and live performance fades in the face of rock bands and modern entertainment. In the end, all he can truly hope to do is see that his new ward has a better chance than he does, while destroying the illusions around him.

You Are Here

This one is a bit of a mind trip. Disparate stories, all strange, come together in unexpected ways. There is no easy way to describe a film where an archivist picks up the pieces of a solitary man in a room translating Chinese without knowing the language while a group of men and women, all named "Alan" wander the streets of Toronto at the behest of people on phones in an office, constantly trying to avoid any of the "Alans" meeting one another. Or are we just watching a video of waves while pointedly trying NOT to look at the red laser pointer dot?

It's a twisted philosophical exercise on our place in the universe and elements of unseen control and coincidence in our lives. Maybe.

I really need to get me a copy of this and watch it again. Of course, it's also currently playing down the road from me, so I could wander there... if I'm given the proper directions.

Trigger

Bruce McDonald and Daniel MacIvor's My Dinner with Andre morphs into a night wandering the streets of Toronto for two women with a history. Seen as Tracey Wright's last film (she was also in You Are Here), her presence infuses every aspect of this film, which is, despite protestations of the filmmakers, as much about her as the story.

Kat (Molly Parker) and Vic (Wright) are former bandmates who fell out long ago. They reunite at a posh restaurant on the night of a local club show in their honour. The two women have obviously followed different paths, with Vic's face showing that her previous lifestyle, time, and illness have taken their toll. Kat is every inch the successful sell-out who moved to L.A. and abandoned her true roots. The two of them quickly put aside the pleasantries as past wounds open and the truth emerges. They move on, slowly making their way to their show, revealing bits and pieces of themselves as they go.

This is a conversation movie, but instead of a single room, it spans a city as it spans two lifetimes in a single night. We are drawn in to the story being told, an eavesdropper seeing painful truths and raw emotions being brought to bear. The fact that Wright was literally dying as this was filmed, as they raced to finish the film while she was still alive, only deepens the truth found within. It's a great piece from start to finish, and with the minor exception of a dream-like sequence near the beginning (which is used to give us a quick history of the main characters), the whole thing feels authentic. An easy favourite from last year's fest.

But then, I expected nothing less from the names in the credits.


Repeaters

I have to be honest, I had to look this one up, as I had NO recollection of what it was about. As soon as I did though, I remembered it.

It's Groundhog Day for psychos.

Three 20-somethings in rehab get a day pass to make amends with those they have wronged in their past. None of these attempts go well. In fact, they go as badly as possible, and all three just want the day to be over. Then it starts again. And again. And again.

So you're a young, recovering drug addict, with destructive tendencies, who has found themselves in a temporal loop where your actions have no consequences in the larger world. What would you do?

Yah...

Now make one of the three of them a developing psychopath. Who only gets worse with each iteration of the day.

Now have him realize the only people who he can really affect are the other two.

Have them develop a conscience.

Go.

The premise is good. The execution? Uneven. It's decidedly Canadian low-budget, which is somewhat distracting, but the trade-off being that it can be darker than a slick big-budget production would be allowed. In the hindsight of a year, I still recall walking out entertained but disappointed. It hit all the notes I had expected it to hit. The acting was good enough, there was tension and ridiculousness, and all that one would think they'd find. But it just felt like some polishing could be done.

Hey, I can't remember everything a year later, can I?

Monsters

This has popped back on the radar recently. I guess a recent dvd/blu release happened, or maybe HBO showings... I don't know. I do know that I saw it, and actually have notes!

First off, the director is a photographer, so they movie itself is beautifully shot. Which is good since it largely takes place in Mexican jungle near the US border. See, a little while back, some aliens crash landed on Earth. They started growing and becoming a menace, so a large swath of land (most of Northern Mexico) was abandoned and walled off to contain these giant monsters. Now, a very rich publisher has a very spoiled daughter on the wrong side of the border as they're doing a final evacuation of the area. He sends one of his photographers to escort her to the ferry that will bring her home. They do some stupid stuff and of course, missed ferry.

This leaves the option of... travelling through monster-land. What's that? Two attractive people going through dangerous territory together? I wonder if any feelings will emerge?

It's not a complicated movie by any means. Where one would normally expect a twist or backstabbing in modern films, this one goes straight through. Things are exactly as shown, the sketchy mercenaries are, in fact, just fine. The fear of bad things happening is misplaced. In short, it was somewhat refreshing to have a story go from A to B to C without taking detours. After all, it's a world inhabited by monsters, why should you need to worry about the humans?

Except the monsters don't really make that many appearances. A bump in the water, a rustle in the trees, some distant screaming, gunfire at the camera... but no monsters.

Until the bioluminescent cephalopods start floating around that is. They're beautiful creatures and suggest that, surprise surprise, these monsters may be somewhat misunderstood.

Monsters is a pretty film. It's a simple film. It's even a good film. But don't go in expecting a whole whack of excitement, or even much to keep it sticking around in your head. It's a romance wrapped up in a survival movie that takes a look at what happens long after the aliens get here.

Amigo

Nobody's ever accused John Sayles of being a-political. In Amigo, he uses the Philippine-American war as a means of commenting on the modern-day conflicts in the middle east. A small Barrio of rice farmers has become a makeshift prison for Spanish guardsman and Padre. The leader of the village, Rafael was given the task of holding them by his brother, the head of the local revolutionary guerrillas. Life continues on until a garrison of Americans show up en route to capturing Emilio Aguinaldo. They are left behind to "protect" the village, while trying to "win the hearts and minds" of the Filipino people. The Americans free the Spanish prisoners, who promptly turn on Rafael as a troublemaker. Rafael is dubbed "Amigo" by the Americans and finds himself answering to both the new occupiers and his people while trying to maintain some control over the situation. Things get worse as the Americans impose restrictions on the locals, slowly turning the village into a camp, and the guerrillas at the gates.

The movie strives for authenticity. Filmed in Filipino barrios, with locals cast in various roles, and Tagalog being the predominant language. There's also a valiant attempt at casting some grey into the various roles. The soldiers aren't generally bad guys, honestly believing they can help the locals. Some are racist bastards of course, but most are just kids trying to make it through. The villagers range from just accepting the situation and trying to get by to outright defiance. The guerrillas in the jungle are self-righteous and violent, but with a real cause. Where the black and white comes in is with the arrival of the American leadership. Chris Cooper riding in changes the tone from "hearts and minds" to "beat them down". There is no grey when you get higher up. It's obvious the American military leadership is not held in high regard. This of course turns things from middling to bad to terrible, all for naught. The message, while not reaching sledgehammer of subtlety levels, is nonetheless clear - war is hell, and America should stay at home, because the real victims are those who have nothing to do with grander political machinations.

It's a Sayles movie, so it's solid as usual. The message comes off as a bit heavy-handed, to the point where some lines and actions detract from the experience, pulling the viewer out of the movie entirely. On the whole, there's an earnestness to the film that is appealing. There's a fine job done showing both sides to the conflict. It isn't just troubled soldiers and cowering natives, as much time is spent on the villagers and their dialogue as on the Americans'.

TIFF Picks

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is rolling around, as it does ever year. The programmer's pick HUNDREDS of films to be shown over the week and a half of the fest. Me? I pick just TEN of those to watch. It's often a difficult process to narrow it down to such a small percentage, but this year seemed easier. My "long" list was only 31 films and the top 10 came fairly easily from those. Here they are:

The Raid

Indonesian film where a SWAT team gets stuck behind enemy lines in an apartment complex controlled by one of those untouchable badass gangster-types, thereby guaranteeing that it is filled with bad guys with guns and martial arts skills. The lead actor is compared favourably with Tony Jaa in terms of martial artistry. Yah, floor after floor of violence. This starts my fest at midnight.

Keyhole

I honestly have no idea what this is about. It's Guy Maddin's latest feature film, so that's enough for me. Okay, something about a guy desperately trying to reach his wife in her bedroom upstairs I think. But with Maddin, it's never that straightforward.

The Artist

A silent film. A MODERN silent film, about the last days of silent film. Has a definite Sunset Boulevard feel to the description, except it's actually a silent film. Also, it has John Goodman in it. Also Malcom MacDowell and James Cromwell.

Barrymore

The story of the last days of John Barrymore, as portrayed by Christopher Plummer. With Plummer doing a talk afterwards. Christopher Plummer - 'nuff said.

Juan of the Dead

Cuban zombie comedy. The title alone sells it.

Take This Waltz

Sarah Polley's latest directorial effort. Seeing as I must, by Canadian law, love Sarah Polley (I don't need the law for that), it's a given. Throwing Sarah Silverman somewhere in that mix (I just learned that) is a bonus. Something about Michelle Williams being married to Seth Rogen but falling for Luke Kirby. Oh, and also Toronto.

Surviving Progress

A documentary, based on the book A Short History of Progress, where a bunch of progressive thinker-types (David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood, Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking, etc..) talk about how somehow "good ideas at the time" lead to quagmires of stagnation for society - "progress traps". I need to get me some thinking in at some point.

Carré Blanc

Here, I'll just copy-and-paste the TIFF description:

A young boy ekes out an existence with his mother in an austere, unidentified city where loudspeakers make strange announcements and proclamations, a rapidly declining po­pulation resides in grim high-rises and the weak are killed and likely used for meat. In the wake of a suicide attempt, the boy undergoes a harsh rehabilitation in a state-run school. When we next see him, he’s a productive adult member of society, estranged from his wife and working for a nameless organization, where he puts other employees through a series of humiliating and bizarre performance tests.

Oh, and it's in French.

Coriolanus

Shakespeare's play, modernized by Ralph Fiennes, starring him and Gerard Butler. The preview looked pretty cool, I saw Colm Feore in the role at Stratford, so I'm looking forward to it. Besides, it doesn't get released until December otherwise.

Melancholia

Lars Von Trier tackles the end of the world. That's about all I know about it (other than Kiefer Sutherland and Kirsten Dunst are in it). That's more than I needed, as "Lars Von Trier" would be enough to get me to sign up. Oh, one more thing I've heard - it's beautiful and people like it.


So there they are - ten films for TIFF. Maybe I'll even get around to reviewing a few of them here. [checks drafts folder from last year...] Maybe I won't.