Apologies for the radio silence this week. Honestly? No will. We have plenty of stuff on the horizon, though, and in the meantime here are links to our festival reviews of Arrival and Elle, which open in theatres today.
***½/**** Image A Sound B starring Clive Owen, Charlotte Rampling, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Malcolm McDowell screenplay by Trevor Preston directed by Mike Hodges
by Walter Chaw Mike Hodges has only made a handful of films in the last three decades, even disowning a couple of them along the way because they were taken from him and edited to accommodate someone else's vision. Hodges's first film is the legendary revenge flick Get Carter featuring a never-better Michael Caine, and his latest, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, functions very much as a bookend to his directorial debut: it's the tale of a man of few words on a mission to avenge a wrong. Reuniting Hodges with Clive Owen, star of his modest hit Croupier, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is beautifully-lensed by long-time DP Michael Garfath in a manner that, although the picture was shot in London, looks extraordinarily like an Edward Hopper painting. Hodges, beyond being a narrative stylist, has evolved into something of a visual stylist as well. In this way, he suggests a British Wim Wenders.
***/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras C starring Alexander Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz screenplay by Adam Cozad and Craig Brewer, based on the "Tarzan" stories created by Edgar Rice Burroughs directed by David Yates
by Walter Chaw David Yates's The Legend of Tarzan is at once a long-overdue, if massively-fictionalized, biopic of George Washington Williams's time in the Congo observing colonial Belgium's abuses of the rubber, ivory, and diamond trades; and it's an adaptation, nay, updating of Edgar Rice Burroughs's first five Tarzan books, with heavy creative license taken but the spirit kept largely intact. Although it's more successful as the latter than as the former, both endeavours are carried through with seriousness and intelligence. It's not a perfect film: the editing is terrible, particularly during the action sequences, suggesting this was probably a longer movie truncated out of fear of diluting the "good" bits. I also don't love the washed-out colour palette that paints everything in a blue gloom--at least not as much as Yates seems to, between this and the last four Harry Potter films. And it bears mentioning that Samuel L. Jackson isn't really an actor anymore and that Margot Robbie arguably never has been. Yeah, The Legend of Tarzan is hard to defend objectively. It does, however, understand the appeal of the Tarzan mythos, answering in grand moments why it is that he's found his way into over 200 motion pictures and dozens more serials and television series (live-action and animated). I should disclaim, too, that I read (re-read, in some cases) all 24 original Burroughs Tarzan novels in the weeks leading up to the picture's release. In other words, I'm a big, giant pulp nerd.
Image B Sound B+ Commentary A- "Pilot", "The Last Stand", "Hot Objects", "Boggled", "Spooked", "Cheating", "Drawing the Line Part 1", "Drawing the Line Part 2", "Thanksgiving", "Finally", "Gimme an O!", "Friends," "Todd Mulcahy Part 1", "Todd Mulcahy Part 2", "Love and Marriage", "The Fugue", "Assassins", "Happy Birthday", "Docuventary", "Connections", "The Force", "Felicity Was Here"
by Bill Chambers
"Starring Golden Globe Award-winning actress Keri Russell and today's hottest young stars, Felicity introduces us to a wide-eyed college freshman and the most exhilarating journey of all--self-discovery. From co-creators and executive producers J.J. Abrams (Alias) and Matt Reeves, along with executive producer Brian Grazer, Ron Howard and Tony Krantz, comes to Felicity, which explores the excitement and uncertainty of living in New York City--a setting where anything goes and anything can happen." --DVD liner summary for "Felicity: The Complete First Season"
I had what I consider a pretty good excuse to watch the well-hyped pilot of "Felicity", a show that is not necessarily mine to judge: A year before, I directed co-star Scott Speedman in a short film--I like to keep track of the Ursa Major alumni. But, and the name-dropping/bean-spilling ends after this indulgence, Scott does not belong on a teen soap, per se--as far as my experience with him goes, the format is too rigid for his improvisational methods, which happened to lean towards the profane. It was a bit like observing a caged tiger throughout "Felicity"'s run, though I'd bet my bottom dollar that the first time his character, Ben Covington, called someone a "dick," it was unscripted. The moment sparkles.
*/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras C starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard screenplay by Ehren Kruger directed by Iain Softley
by Walter Chaw Wait, let me get this straight: black folks want to be white folks? Or is it that black folks have to be white folks because the black folks who could potentially be possessed are too afraid of ghosts to hang around long enough? Screenwriter Ehren Kruger's latest illiterate piece of crap (the degree to which his script for the legitimately effective The Ring was doctored is now the stuff of Hollywood legend) addresses these and other pressing plantation-era questions when he deposits snowflake buttercup Caroline (Kate Hudson) into the heart of bayou country, deep in Angel Heart Louisiana, where every phonograph spins a Dixie Cups platter and every cobwebbed attic has a secret hoodoo room. (Who do? You do.) That it's racist in the way that a lot of privileged white people are racist (casually and ignorantly--see also: Georges Lucas and President Bush) could possibly be defended by arguing that it reflects the naivety of the film's main character, hospice nurse Caroline, positioned as sensitive because she reads Robert Louis Stevenson to her charges until they die.
The Cat in the Hat ½*/**** Image A Sound A Extras C+ starring Mike Myers, Alec Baldwin, Kelly Preston, Dakota Fanning screenplay by Alec Berg & David Mandel & Jeff Schaffer, based on the Dr. Seuss book directed by Bo Welch
GOTHIKA */**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring Halle Berry, Robert Downey Jr., Charles Dutton, John Carroll Lynch screenplay by Sebastian Gutierrez directed by Mathieu Kassovitz
by Walter Chaw The vaguely infernal Dr. Seuss classic is given an overtly infernal treatment in the most excruciating rape of a beloved childhood memory since The Grinch (another Brian Grazer abomination), the replacement of director Ron Howard for production designer Bo Welch a case of bad for worse. I'd love to be able to say that The Cat in the Hat is inexplicable because I'd love to be able to be naïve about why and how films like this are made, but I fear by now I'm all too familiar with ideas of populism, condescension, the supremacy of opening weekend box-office, and the toxic belief that entertainment for children needn't hold up to the same kind of scrutiny as entertainment for non-children. Byzantine in the number of ways in which it declares its disdain for film and moviegoers, The Cat in the Hat is also crude, low, and proof at last (with Pieces of April) that Sean Hayes should stick to television, where it's easier to change the channel. There's a built-in audience for this picture (most of which will feel a little ill afterwards), it's going to gross an obscene amount, and it's proof positive that when large amounts of money are at stake, there are really no depths to which some people will sink to try to grow it.
*½/**** Image B+ Sound A Extras B- starring Jeffrey Donovan, Kim Director, Erica Leerhsen, Tristine Skyler screenplay by Dick Beebe and Joe Berlinger directed by Joe Berlinger
by Bill Chambers Despite the brainy posturing of director/co-writer Joe Berlinger, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 will probably never be canonized in a sequel debate, that lunchtime activity of film freaks everywhere which has brought a nerdish ascendancy to, among the handful, The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back. Why? Well, for starters, it's pretentious as hell; when the DVD liner notes--written by no less than Berlinger himself--for a fast-tracked cash-grab include such descriptive phrases as "mollify the cynics" and "post-modern approach," you know you're in for everything but a good time.
*/**** Image B Sound A- Extras A- starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, Clea DuVall screenplay by Stephen Susco, based on a screenplay by Takashi Shimizu directed by Takashi Shimizu
by Walter Chaw Fans of Takashi Shimizu's Japanese horror franchise Ju-On, rest assured that his English-language but still Tokyo-set version of The Grudge is laudably faithful to the source material. So faithful, in fact, that The Grudge is completely free of those tedious drags character development, tension, scenario, narrative, plot, intelligence, point, sociological relevance, technical aptitude, and scares, really, since it leaves "pacing" somewhere back where the rest of that stuff was jettisoned. What The Grudge has a lot of, though, are "jump scares," the cats-through-windows thing where somebody crawls around in an attic with a lighter because they've heard an ominous knocking and then a face appears in the gloom accompanied by a sting note on the soundtrack.
*/**** Image A- Sound A Extras D+ starring Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello screenplay by Eric Heisserer, based on the short film by David F. Sandberg directed by David F. Sandberg
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. This year's Brian Helgeland Award, named in honour of the man who wrote the Oscar- and Golden Raspberry-winning L.A. Confidential and The Postman, respectively, in the same year, goes to Eric Heisserer, who has somehow written one of the year's best movies about motherhood, Arrival, and one of its worst, Lights Out. Lights Out is not a good movie about anything, really (save perhaps the value of crank flashlights); as with the Heisserer-penned remakes of The Thing and A Nightmare on Elm Street, the Lights Out screenplay is joylessly aspirational in the way of a personal assistant doing menial chores to accumulate credit--the thankless task in this case adapting David F. Sandberg's simple but effective micro-short of the same name. That director Sandberg opted not to write it himself implies the short was intended as a calling-card rather than a proof-of-concept, and his direction of the feature hardly evolves its meat-and-potatoes style. He created a monster and now he's riding its coattails; what Lights Out desperately needs is someone with a vision for the film, not just a career.
***½/**** Image A Sound A+ Extras A starring Paul Dano, Daniel Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Winstead written and directed by Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan
by Walter Chaw Bridging the gap between Charlie Kaufman movies, the Daniels' Swiss Army Man is one high-concept conceit carried through to every possible ontological end. It veers, dizzily, between slapstick scatalogical comedy and poignant existential philosophy, doing so with the sort of invention generally credited to silent-film clowns. Open with Hank (Paul Dano), shipwrecked, about to hang himself when he notices the corpse of Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washed ashore. He looks for signs of life. There aren't any, save the rapid decomposition that's causing Manny to fart. A lot. Manny's farts carry Hank back to civilization, in fact, in a trailer-spoiled motorboat sequence that would be indescribable were it not right there. Like so many things in the film, it's not clear that this is "actually" happening or just a fantasy of Hank's before dying. By the middle of the picture, it's apparent that challenging the border between the cinema real and the cinema imagined is the point. If it destroys that conversation, it allows for a better one about the nature of friendship and honesty, whether it's possible to ever truly be open with another human being and, if it is, whether it would be something welcomed or rejected. Unconditional acceptance is a charming romantic fantasy, but that's all it is.
**/**** Image A Sound A Extras F starring Jeannie Berlin, Steve Carell, Jesse Eisenberg, Blake Lively written and directed by Woody Allen
by Angelo Muredda Woody Allen can't seem to make two consecutive films worth thinking about. Despite an abysmal trailer, pre-emptively dismantled online as insensitive or worse amidst revelations about his personal crimes, 2015's Irrational Man proved a surprisingly gritty respite from Allen's nostalgic euro-tourist cinema of the Aughts. True to its maker's aversion to progress, though, its follow-up Café Society is practically a jukebox-musical treatment of Allen's old (which is to say tired) hits, from the ennui L.A. inspires in native (which is to say white) New Yorkers to the beauty of other periods that aren't the present to romances strained under the weight of vast age discrepancies. Beautifully-lensed and defiantly dumb, it's another testament to Allen's surprisingly incremental growth as a filmmaker in his seventies, at the same time as he continues to atrophy as a writer.
THE BAD BATCH **½/**** starring Suki Waterhouse, Jason Momoa, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour
COLOSSAL **/**** starring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo
JACKIE ***½/**** starring Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, John Hurt screenplay by Noah Oppenheim directed by Pablo Larrain
by Bill Chambers Three very different #TIFF16 films--a postapocalyptic cannibal western (The Bad Batch), a modestly-scaled kaiju eiga (Colossal), and a period docudrama (Jackie)--form a trilogy in my mind thematically linked by crestfallen female protagonists who discover reserves of strength in dire situations. The Bad Batch is the only one of these movies directed by a woman, though, and dare I say you can tell, not only in how the camera softly caresses Jason Momoa's Olympian contours, but also in the way the framing and blocking of the heroine imply the constant peril of being a woman. Working through the neophyte filmmaker's genre playbook, director Ana Lily Amirpour follows up her vampire movie A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night with this dystopian flick most reminiscent of the Australian strain in terms of vibe/aesthetics, what with its shantytown sets, symbolic names, and obligatory feral child. (The only thing missing is a car fetish.) Winsome Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is exiled to the other side of some Trumpian fence in Texas with only the clothes on her back and a tattoo that identifies her as an undesirable (or bad batch). Almost immediately she's dragged away to a cannibal camp, where they chop off her right arm. Missing a leg, too, by the time she escapes, she finds refuge--and prosthetic limbs--in the village of Comfort, whose denizens mostly give her space. Time and body-image issues stoke her desire for revenge, however, putting her on a collision course with Momoa's Miami Man, a brilliant sketch artist who's also a fearsome, unsympathetic consumer of human flesh.
****/**** Image A Sound A Extras B starring Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Keanu Reeves screenplay by Nicolas Winding Refn and Mary Laws & Polly Stenham directed by Nicolas Winding Refn
by Walter Chaw There's a quote from The Right Stuff I love that I thought about constantly during Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon: "There was a demon that lived in the air." I found in it something of an explanation for, or at least a corollary to, the picture's title, in that the demon in The Right Stuff refers to the sound barrier while the demon in Refn's film refers to, perhaps, soft obstructions of other kinds. Artificially lit. Poisonous. The quote continues with "whoever challenged [the demon] would die...where the air could no longer get out of the way." The first film I saw by Refn was Valhalla Rising, an expressionistic telling of the Odin myth--the part where he spent time on Earth (went missing, basically) before returning--that touches on the scourge of Christianity and how that relates to feeling lost, or losing what you believe in. Valhalla Rising led me to Bronson and to Pusher and then I followed Refn through Drive, which talks about the difficulties of being male, and Only God Forgives, which talks about the difficulties of being a son. Now there's The Neon Demon, completing a trilogy of sorts by talking about the difficulties of being a girl becoming a woman and an object for men, eviscerated in certain tabernacles where women are worshiped as ideals and sacrificed to the same. It's astonishing.
I was five minutes late because I'm a chronic screw-up but Pete Travis couldn't have been more patient or forgiving. I'm doubly impressed by his zen calm when he tells me he starts shooting another feature in four days. I assume out loud that doing press at a film festival is the last thing he needs, but he says he's grateful for the respite from a constantly-ringing phone. Later Travis, who gives off a major Ben Mendelsohn vibe in person, will compare big-budget filmmaking to lying on the beach; if we'd ordered drinks, I would've had what he's having.
Travis came to this year's TIFF with his follow-up to the sensational Dredd, the London-set City of Tiny Lights, in tow. Starring the charming, ubiquitous Riz Ahmed, it's about a detective (Brits, including Travis, favour the term "gumshoe") whose search for a missing prostitute brings him in touch with his own tragic past. It's a conventional hard-boiled whodunit--the genre has survived by being incorruptibly formulaic, allowing it to comment on modern times by throwing into relief our changing mores and values--with one glaring exception: only one of the main characters is white. It's fascinating how deceptively fresh this makes it feel. My major complaint after the movie was over was that it retreats from those Chinatown places that would give it resonance beyond its enlightened casting (screenwriter Patrick Neale, adapting his own novel, scaled back on his book's doom and gloom considerably), but upon spending some time with Travis, I came to see the optimism of City of Tiny Lights as deeply personal to a serene and hopeful man.
We spoke on September 15, 2016 at the Azure Restaurant & Bar in the InterContinental Toronto Centre.
Acqua e Zucchero: Carlo Di Palma, i colori della vita ***/**** diretced by Fariborz Kamkari
by Bill Chambers This is an illuminating if less than revolutionary documentary about a cinematographer who's more of a DP's DP than a consensus Great among film buffs. (Google "greatest cinematographers" and Carlo Di Palma doesn't even number among the sixty thumbnails in the banner at the top.) Perhaps the reason is because he spent so long in the weeds with Woody Allen (from 1986 until his retirement from fiction features in 1997), whose movies are statistically ephemeral; perhaps it's because Di Palma is a key figure specifically in Italian cinema, which seemed to exhaust its cultural cachet as art films became outmoded there. Inspired by an exhibit devoted to Di Palma curated by his widow, Adriana Chiesa De Palma, Water and Sugar: Carlo Di Palma, The Colours of Life--a title derived from a late-film anecdote about Carlo as a young boy that packs an emotional punch I wasn't quite expecting--sees Adriana poring over his papers and videos, interviewing her husband's colleagues and admirers, and wistfully recalling their marriage. Surprised herself by the vitality of his contribution to the cinematic arts (it sounds like he didn't talk shop much at home), she makes for an ideal entrée into the filmmaker's oeuvre: she knows the titles and the people involved (sometimes personally), but not well enough to be disenchanted with them.