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.
***/**** Image A Sound A Extras F starring Michael Rogers, Eva Allan, Scott Hylands screenplay by Panos Cosmatos, inspired by the book Be Your Self by Mercurio Arboria directed by Panos Cosmatos
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by Angelo Muredda Panos Cosmatos claims he wasn't allowed to watch R-rated movies as a kid and had to make do with the lurid box covers he saw on video store shelves. Rising above those less-than-ideal conditions, the first-time helmer and son of famed Cobra and Rambo: First Blood Part II director George P. Cosmatos makes an auspicious debut with Beyond the Black Rainbow. As befits its retro title, this is a bravura pulp homage that recreates the feeling of a preteen creeping down the hall to catch a sidelong glance of the bygone genre cinema pulsing out of the living-room TV and painting the walls orange. Still, it's best approached not as a found object from that time, but as a mood piece--a sustained exercise in atmospheric nostalgia for what LCD Soundsystem eloquently called the "unremembered '80s."
by Angelo Muredda For a long time, it
seemed like Terrence Malick would vanish altogether before he made a serious
misstep, but for better or worse, he's now delivered To the Wonder, the bum note
that forces you to warily retrace a major artist's career. A muted
greatest-hits compilation of Malick's oeuvre, To
the Wonder borrows whole
apostrophized lines to God from The
Tree of Life, nicks The
Thin Red Line's trick of meting out disembodied humanist voiceovers across
the cast (including an underused Javier Bardem), and re-stages Pocahontas's
carefree romp through the palace gardens in The
New World via a young girl's
joyous dance through the aisles of a supermarket. It's all here, in a manner of
speaking, but as the little girl tells her mother at one point, "There's
by Angelo MureddaTabu opens, fittingly enough, at
the movies, with an old melodrama about an explorer who's just been turned into
a brooding crocodile. That's the first of many transformations in a protean
film that shifts gracefully from ironic postcolonial critique, to essay on the
cinema as a means of appropriation and reincarnation, to thwarted love story.
While those layers may seem impossible to navigate, take heart: Director Miguel Gomes's
great coup is to let this complex material flow instinctually from its
emotional core. Fluidity is key to Gomes's aesthetic, which pairs the
breathless momentum of a page-turner with the non-sequitur progression of a
dream. Case in point, a moment when Pilar (Teresa Madruga), the first half's
protagonist, sees a movie with the stuffy man who loves her. Pilar is visibly
moved by what's on screen, but we never see it, hearing only a Portuguese cover
of "Be My Baby" on the soundtrack--a thread left dangling only to be
gingerly picked up in the second half. "You know what dreams are
like," as one character tells us: "We can't command them."
GRAY'S ANATOMY **½/**** Image A- Sound B Extras B directed by Steven Soderbergh
A PERSONAL HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN THEATER ***½/**** directed by Skip Blumberg
AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE ****/**** Image N/A Sound B Extras A directed by Steven Soderbergh
SEX AND DEATH TO THE AGE 14 ***/**** directed by Dan Weissman and Brad Ricker
by Walter Chaw The first ten minutes of Steven Soderbergh's Gray's Anatomy are
obnoxious, and though there are few artists as interesting to me or as influential in my own life as Spalding Gray, the last 109 don't exactly blow my
skirt up, either. Let me back up. I tripped over Swimming to Cambodia in
English class, Freshman year, then procured my own copy at Boulder's invaluable
The Video Station so that I could go back to it and, sure, impress Liberal Arts
girls with it on a double-bill with Stop Making Sense. You might say
that Gray and David Byrne were my wing-men for a couple of years there; it's
fitting that my VHS copies of both those pieces are now and forever in the
possession of ex-girlfriends and love interests. I wonder if I would ask for the tapes back were I to run into them again. I know that one of them, after I
was married, tried to return Swimming to Cambodia, and I asked her to
please keep it. If you don't know what Swimming to Cambodia is, it's
Spalding Gray's unbelievably great performance-"monolog" about his time on set,
on location, shooting Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields. I've never
heard Joffe speak, but I have Gray's impersonation of Joffe--calling out to a
tripping-balls Gray, floating in shark-infested surf in the South China Sea--lodged in my brain. I pull it out once in a while at a party, just as a
sonar ping to see if anyone could possibly identify the echo of the echo.
ZERO STARS/**** Image D Sound D
starring Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Ward, Katrina Caspary, Lauren Stanley
screenplay by Stewart Raffill and Steve Feke
directed by Stewart Raffill
by Walter Chaw One of the most woeful and dispiriting films ever made, Stewart Raffill's Mac and Me qualifies as a hate crime. It's a feature-length commercial for McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Skittles, and Sears masquerading as a rip-off of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ("MAC" = "Mysterious Alien Creature") that, what with Alan Silvestri's awful score, indicates that it's also ripping off Back to the Future during a key scene in which our wheelchair-bound hero, Eric (Jade Calegory), grabs the fender of a passing car and hitches his way to relative safety. Chips it might earn for casting an actual disabled kid in the role are cashed in when it's revealed that Eric's wrinkled-flesh puppet alien pal can only be sustained on this island earth by a combination of Coke and Skittles. It's enough to put you off not only junk food, but movies altogether. There's a place in Hell reserved for the clowns who peddle stuff like this (Ronald McDonald makes a cameo in the picture, and an even longer one in the trailer)--the movie is so venal and grasping in its conception, so astonishingly inept in its execution, that upon death, Raffill and writing partner Steve Feke should have this piece of crap projected onto their caskets to counter the pain of their passing. I'm serious. Mac and Me lowers the conversation for everyone, to the extent that it's almost a satire of greed and corporate malfeasance. Show it in a double-bill with Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room for an example of what corporations think they can get away with--and what they do.
****/**** Image A- Sound A- Extras A starring Paul Booker, Dave Cloud, Chris Cofton, Rachel Korine written and directed by Harmony Korine
"To me, there is only one form of human depravity--the man without a purpose."-Ayn Rand
by Alex Jackson My last job was as direct-support staff in a group home for adults with autism and severe mental retardation. The grave and morning staff, I was basically responsible for getting them bathed, dressed, and fed for the day. In one of our training sessions, the instructor told us that all behaviour has some kind of payoff or reward. Of course, I had to challenge this. "What about pica?" I asked. More precisely, I wanted to know why one of our clients ate his own shit. The instructor politely scratched his chin and replied, "The behaviour must be rewarding unto itself."
Identificazione di una donna ***/**** Image B- Sound A- Extras D starring Tomas Milian, Daniela Silverio, Christine Boisson, Lara Wendel screenplay by Michelangelo Antonioni & Gérard Brach directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
by Angelo Muredda When SIGHT & SOUND announced the long-awaited results of their 2012 critics poll earlier this month, the Internet was abuzz with the shifting fortunes of Citizen Kane and Vertigo--the flip-flop heard 'round the world. Less noted was the latest demotion of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura, which debuted at a startling second place in 1962's poll (the film was only two years old at that point), then steadily declined with each decade before landing at number 21 on the most recent survey. What to make of this seemingly calamitous downward shift? Probably not much. Like fellow countryman Federico Fellini, who's also been increasingly received as a curio despite the continued respect for 8½ (particularly among directors), Antonioni's canonical films are stamped by their era; L'Avventura's downgraded fortune likely says as much about the limited shelf life of European modernism--which its cool classicism and intellectual rigor so fully embodies--as it does about the film itself.
*/**** starring Blair Underwood, Julia Roberts, David Hyde Pierce, Catherine Keener screenplay by Coleman Hough directed by Steven Soderbergh
by Walter Chaw An experiment in perceptual distortion that questions the nature of viewership and the law of observation that states, in part, that the nature of the process of observation necessitates a change in the essential quality of the observed, Steven Soderbergh's Full Frontal is a hyper-pretentious film-within-a-film-within-a-film conceit so gimmicky it hardly matters that by the end gimmickry is its point. The picture begins with the opening of a fictional film called "Rendezvous" starring Calvin (Blair Underwood) and Francesca (Julia Roberts), written by Carl (David Hyde Pierce) and produced by Gus (David Duchovny), and as this "fake" film proceeds in perfectly acceptable 35mm, it is interrupted by long stretches of extremely grainy digital-video footage that purports to represent "reality."
****/**** Image A Sound A Extras B- starring John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, John Malkovich screenplay by Charlie Kaufman directed by Spike Jonze
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by Walter Chaw The moment you realize that Spike Jonze's Being John Malkovich is more than just another ultra-high-concept indie calling-card is right at the end, when all that quirk reveals itself as bleak, desperate, lonesome. It's the first time most of us conceptualized the idea of Charlie Kaufman, in fact--the moment that any follow-up became a cause célèbre. It's silly, really, to bother trying to synopsize the film, but for the uninitiated, it's about a failed puppeteer's discovery of a portal behind a file cabinet on the low-ceilinged floor of an office designed for the dwarf wife of a sea captain. ("Curs-ed t'ing," he calls her.) The portal leads, of course, to the inside of John Malkovich's skull for around fifteen minutes before expelling the interloper to the side of the New Jersey Turnpike. Looking here, it's possible to begin to trace Kaufman's auteur obsessions with interiors, with language (in a job interview hinged on malaproprisms and miscommunications), with doubling, identity, surrealism, systems of belief, and, sneakily, science-fiction. What's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, after all, but a fairly extraordinary SF piece that just happens to be one of the best movies about love ever made?
Image A Sound A- Extras B "Arrival," "The Chimes of Big Ben," "A, B, and C," "Free for All," "The Schizoid Man," "The General," "Many Happy Returns," "Dance of the Dead," "Checkmate," "Hammer into Anvil," "It's Your Funeral," "A Change of Mind," "Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling," "Living in Harmony," "The Girl Who Was Death," "Once Upon a Time," "Fall Out"
by Walter Chaw The closest television came to true surrealism until the inception of "Twin Peaks", Patrick McGoohan's remarkable, landmark brainchild "The Prisoner" is the headwaters for a dizzying array of modern genre confections. It's audacious in its ironclad refusal to provide the happy ending; in its determination to bugger expectation with every complex set-up and sadistic resolution, the show effectively honours the surrealist manifesto of defeating classification. The fact of it is the function of it--the delight of it being that the series functions as a tonal sequel to Antonioni's Blowup, using the disappearance of that film's photog protag as the launching point for its hero's imprisonment in his Welsh oubliette. Colourfully, quintessentially mod, it even looks the part, after all, acting in 1967 as prescient post-modern (po-Mod?) commentary on the elasticity of this genre model (Bond films in particular, the lead in said franchise McGoohan was offered, er, once upon a time) as allegory for the plastic-fantastic of a progressively absurd world. In its setting of a small town, isolated and beset by what seems a common psychosis, find a connection to Robin Hardy and Anthony Schaffer's claustrophobic The Wicker Man (1973), John Frankenheimer's similar-feeling Seconds (1966), and, yes, Godard's structuralist textbook Alphaville. Of all the ways to approach "The Prisoner", in fact, the most fulsome--if also potentially the most obscure--is that, like Alphaville, it establishes itself as a structuralist (as in Claude Levi-Strauss) exercise while predicting through its execution the post-structuralism/deconstructionism (and eventually surrealism) of, say, a Jacques Derrida.
by Bryant Frazer The avant-garde in film has always had an uneasy relationship with home video. Grainy old VHS tape of works by luminaries like Bruce Conner or Kenneth Anger might have made the texts themselves available for more careful study by a larger audience, but the picture quality compromised the work tremendously. The arrival of DVD technology allowed for a better visual representation, yet brought with it certain dangers. For one thing, there's a moral issue: Filmmakers who had objections to the commodification of art and culture were put on the spot as their once-ephemeral films were transferred to a new medium that was easy for an individual consumer to purchase and own. There's also an aesthetic issue. No matter how close a video transfer gets to the visual qualities of a projected film--and a good transfer to Blu-ray can get very close indeed--a video image is not a film image. For avant-garde filmmakers, and especially for so-called "structural" filmmakers like the late Hollis Frampton, for whom film itself was subject, text, and subtext, the difference is key.
FAHRENHEIT 451 ****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A starring Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring screenplay by Francois Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Ray Bradbury directed by Francois Truffaut
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH ****/**** Image A- Sound A Extras A starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry screenplay by Paul Mayersberg, based on the novel by Walter Tevis directed by Nicolas Roeg
by Walter Chaw SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. The second film of Francois Truffaut's "Hitchcock Period" (and the Nouvelle Vague legend's first English-language feature), Fahrenheit 451 is swathed in dread and melancholy--a sense belying cinematographer Nicolas Roeg's bright, elemental colour scheme and simply blocked mise-en-scéne, though a sense completely in line with Roeg's subsequent work as auteur. The weight of Roeg's compositions--and arguably the genius of them--is the way in which he uses the weak side of the screen to introduce an element of disquiet into otherwise innocuous situations. The brilliance of the man's eye in locating the menace and ineffable sadness in the midst of the bright and the mundane.
Image B- Sound B- Extras B- Goldie Gold and Action Jack: "Night of the Crystal Skull" Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos: "Deadly Dolphin" The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley: "Tall, Dark & Hansom" The Flintstone Kids: "The Bad News Brontos/Invasion of the Mommy Snatchers/Dreamchip's Cur Wash/Princess Wilma" Mister T: "Mystery of the Golden Medallions" Dragon's Lair: "The Tale of the Enchanted Gift" Thundarr the Barbarian: "Secret of the Black Pearl" Kwicky Koala Show: "Show #1 - Dry Run/Robinson Caruso/High Roller/The Claws Conspiracy/Hat Dance/Dirty's Debut" The Biskitts: "As the Worm Turns/Trouble in the Tunnel" Monchhichis: "Tickle Pickle" Galtar and the Golden Lance: "Galtar and the Princess"
by Alex Jackson
"Portions of original film elements from certain programs contained within no longer survive in pristine condition. As a result, archival elements of varying quality have been carefully assembled to provide you with as close an approximation of the original program as possible."--Actual disclaimer on the "Warner Bros. Presents Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s" DVD collection
From the sound of that, you would think they discovered these episodes of "Chuck Norris: Karate Kommandos" and "Monchhichis" in the basement of an Argentinean mental hospital. Certainly, "Warner Bros. Presents Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s" holds genuine appeal as a cultural artifact. I was born in 1981 but have vague memories of watching an episode of "The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley", which might have featured a clip from the 1933 Fay Wray horror film The Vampire Bat. I have a better but still hazy memory of putting a cartoon "Mister T" temporary tattoo on my mom's guitar case. If nothing else, this collection is irrefutable evidence that I didn't imagine these programs.
***½/**** starring Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh screenplay by Massy Tadjedin directed by John Maybury
by Walter Chaw Lyrical, dislocated, and grim in the fashion of a Derek Jarman film (and director John Maybury served as editor on Jarman's The Last of England), The Jacket, like Altered States, Miracle Mile, Jacob's Ladder, and 12 Monkeys before it, is the sort of doom-filled genre romance that's regularly underestimated in popular contemporary conversation. Peter Deming (the cinematographer on David Lynch's Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive and on the Hughes Brothers' From Hell) shoots the film in a straightforward, beautifully-(under)lit fashion that is equally adept at underscoring the claustrophobia in some sequences and the breathless expanse of others. A scene where Adrien Brody, as Gulf War I vet Jack Starks, wanders away from his loony bin down a long tunnel in a Robert Frost wood and Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) stumbles after him demonstrates both, with Deming painting a beautiful landscape from paint pots full of bleak, oppressive isolation. Scored lightly by a series of Brian Eno compositions, The Jacket is an apocalyptic poem of love and loss that's unusually wise about its visual vocabulary--about ways of looking, the line between dreaming and reality, and how eyes on film can be a powerful and elastic metaphor for the audience engaged in a kind of liquid dreaming.