by Bill Chambers There's something a little ghoulish about
still reviewing TIFF movies at this late date, I know, but I wanted to briefly touch on
a few of this year's selections I never got around to reviewing in full, before they became indistinguishable dots in the rearview.
by Angelo Muredda Following the boys-only slate of the Cannes Film Festival, which made room for tepidly-received efforts from the likes of Andrew Dominik and Lee Daniels but shut out women in a comparable phase of their careers, June has been a surprisingly fruitful month for female directors of North American independents. Not that it's compensation for that snub, but it's heartening to see Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister and Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz get the lion's share of positive indie press in recent weeks, putting them in good company with Wes Anderson, whose Moonrise Kingdom did make Cannes's official selection. You could think of the Female Eye Film Festival, now entering its tenth year and running through June 24th at Toronto's Carlton Cinemas, as a low-key companion to those higher-profile releases.
The first TIFF movie I saw this year, a Canadian teen-gambling thriller called The Odds (**/****, Canada First!), is unfortunately a tiny dot in the rearview now. What I remember of it is that writer-director Simon Davidson, shooting in 'scope presumably to announce his transition to a bigger canvas (he's a veteran of short films, all of which previously played at the TIFF), seemed to have a good eye but trouble maintaining momentum for the length of a feature. With its Psycho-esque shocker a half-hour into the film, in fact, The Odds comes to feel like a short with two more acts tacked on. And its distinctly "Degrassi"-esque vibe of kids playing dress-up affirms the wisdom of Rian Johnson's Brick in stylizing its high-school setting to abstraction.
originally published September 10, 2005 Because Cameron Crowe considers it a work-in-progress, critics at last night's TIFF screening of the interminable Elizabethtown were asked, in not so many words, to handle the film with kid gloves. (Apparently the folks at Venice saw a completely different cut.) So to avoid a flap, I won't be posting a capsule review at the mother site, but let me just say that the version I saw--which looked polished but by no means finished--makes one long for the subtlety and finesse of Garden State. (And really, how much more warning do you need?) Its epiphanies are so processed and its characters are so inorganically whimsical that the movie verges on self-parody (and it's possible that a performance of "Free Bird" by the Stillwater-esque Ruckus pushes it over the edge, albeit consciously)--the suicidal hero (Orlando Bloom, channelling Crowe surrogate Tom Cruise (Elizabethtown's producer)), for instance, plans to do the deed by rigging up his exercycle with a butcher knife to simulate a stabbing motion! While it may say more about my proclivities than about Kirsten Dunst that she still turned my knees to jelly even though I found her Claire insufferable, there is distilled in one aspect of Dunst's characterization virtually everything that is wrong with the piece as it currently stands: she does this thing where she pretends to take a picture, and the first time, it's fetchingly spontaneous; but by the third, you can smell the screenwriting. (I'm reminded of something Alex recently wrote concerning the cigarette-lighting motif in Now, Voyager.) And the presence of Susan Sarandon actually increases one's respect for the similarly-themed Moonlight Mile, which at least knew when to get the hell out of Dodge (hint: before Sarandon had a chance to embarrass herself with an impromptu stand-up routine/tap-dance number). Know that I really want to go to, er, town on this flick, but some form of chivalry is holding me back.
originally published September 15, 2005 Wassup Rockers (d. Larry Clark) Somehow the most humanistic film of Clark's career is also his most nihilistic. Nice to see him acknowledge the "other," but they're still skater punks. *** (out of four)
Romance & Cigarettes (d. John Turturro) A fugue. In the words of David Lynch, "Fugues make me crazy!" Actually eager to rant about this one. *1/2 (out of four)
All the Invisible Children (ds. Various) As with any omnibus film, hit-or-miss. I think I liked Kátia Lund's segment best, but John Woo does his best work since heading West. Your mileage will vary. **1/2 (out of four)
originally published September 9, 2006 Seems we're all a little constipated right now but rest assured reviews are on the way; here's a quick rundown of TIFFpix screened thus far by yours truly.
BABEL (d. Alejandro González Iñárritu) It coheres better than 21 Grams, but Iñárritu and screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga are really spinning their wheels at this point. A few funny extratextual lessons are imparted: never take a Fanning to Mexico (Elle has almost as harrowing an adventure there as sister Dakota does in Man on Fire); and never trust a director who includes a post-script dedication to his children. As with 21 Grams, though, Babel doesn't make room for any intentional levity, eventually desensitizing you to all the calculated anguish. *½/****
originally published September 14, 2006 Two more days until I turn back into a pumpkin (or something like that), probably for the good of not only my health, but also that of FILM FREAK CENTRAL. Anyway, some more stopgap coverage for you...
FAY GRIM (d. Hal Hartley) As far as this unlikely sequel to the brilliant Henry Fool is concerned, those hoping for a Before Sunset should brace themselves for a Texasville. The movie feels like it came out of Hartley sideways (or, conversely, all too painlessly), and it never really catches fire until Thomas Jay Ryan makes his long-delayed cameo as Henry Fool. By then, it's too little too late. **/****
originally published September 9, 2007Control is an authentic-feeling biopic about the late Ian Curtis, the epileptic front man for Joy Division who committed suicide--though a revisionist theory absurdly contends that he "accidentally" hung himself from the clothesline in his Manchester flat--in 1979 at the age of 23. Spoiler. Directed by music-video auteur Anton Corbijn and objectively lensed in black-and-white and 'scope by Martin Ruhe, the film overcomes the central miscasting of Samantha Morton as Ian's wife Deborah (though she would've nailed this role in her Morvern Callar days, she's far too long in the tooth for it now) with the near-perfect casting of Sam Riley as Curtis, Craig Parkinson as Tony Wilson, and Alexandra Maria Lara as Annik Honoré, a.k.a. The Other Woman. (Morton's incongruous star-power is easily explained by the basis for Control's screenplay: Deborah Curtis' own memoir Touching from a Distance.) The film is admirably not a hagiography while engendering empathy for a gifted asshole more successfully than, say, Man on the Moon, and the song recreations are surprisingly persuasive, although I was a bit disappointed with how literalmindedly the music is applied at times.
originally published September 7, 2008 The stars don't tell the whole story, of course, but for quick reference purposes, here's a rundown of everything I've screened so far @ this year's TIFF, followed by brief commentary:
originally published September 14, 2008 As threatened, a few stream-of-consciousness thoughts on Charlie Kaufman's latest...
When Synecdoche, New York premiered at Cannes, I remember being annoyed by how feeble the critical coverage on it was. But I get it now. This is a film I'm hard-pressed to describe, let alone review in depth, after just a single viewing. I can say that I see why Kaufman kept this one for himself rather than entrusting it to Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry—it's so dense and cryptic that it would be nigh uninterpretable by anyone but the source. Kaufman is a pretty meat-and-potatoes director, all things considered, but there are so many idiosyncrasies built into the material that it's stylish by default.
The films are fading fast in the rearview for me (no reflection on them, necessarily), but before they become too vestigial I want to at least highlight the rest of what I saw at this year's TIFF, starting with a movie called White Irish Drinkers. How I wound up catching this flick is fairly embarrassing: the director is "John Gray," which I misread in my bleary, end-of-festival state as "James Gray." I was severely late for the flick, so I don't want to pummel it (or even officially rate it), but keen auteurist that I am, I figured out my mistake pretty quickly: James Gray just wouldn't have a naked girl (the maddeningly familiar Leslie Murphy) run around a cemetery with "free spirit" music cued up on the soundtrack--he's not a de facto film student anymore. Though it turns out that John Gray has an extensive TV-movie resume, having done everything from The Marla Hanson Story to the remake of Brian's Song, this feels very much the work of a novice, not a little for its pretensions to be the next Mean Streets. Because Stephen Lang salvaged Public Enemies virtually single-handedly, I was hopeful when he turned up here, but his character may be even more one-note than the one he played in Avatar. As his put-upon wife, Karen Allen has seemingly recovered from the stupefying euphoria of getting to resurrect her iconic Marion in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Strangely, I missed said goofy grin, yet she makes the most of a thankless role that indirectly references her previous brush with this genre, Philip Kaufman's The Wanderers. The rest of the cast is made up of baby-faced thugs who have to be given black eyes at regular intervals in order to pass for tough. On a related note, I never could shake the feeling that this is exactly the sort of project Vinnie Chase would be hot for on "Entourage".