Day Five & Six of the Toronto Film Festival

September 13, 2011
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Despite my plan to post summaries of every film every day I am now beginning to realize that sleep and the need to eat precludes my ability to deliver a daily report. So, I’ve decided to instead mention the highlights of my last four days at the festival.

Day 5 – Monday

Kicked things off with a breakfast with documentary makes Morgan Spurlock, Alex Gibney, Joe Berliner, Jessica Yu, and others. It was an informal affair in a tightly packed room at Hyatt Regency. It was announced that General Electric and Cinelan were planning to produce 30, three minute documentaries by some of the best filmmakers in the form. (Even Barbara Kopple, my favorite, was mentioned).

The idea is to present three minute films about world-changing innovations at festivals across the country, debuting them before features at Sundance and Tribeca, to name two.

From there I high-tailed it over to the screening of “Albert Nobbs,” dropping into my seat as the movie began. Meh. Glenn Close will get plenty of buzz for playing a woman who lived most of her life disguised as a man in Victorian England but for money Janet McTeer was the best performance in an otherwise slight film but well-made movie.

Killer Joe” is William Friedkin’s latest big screen adaptation of a Tracy Lett’s play. The first was “Bug,” which few people saw. This one, another sordid descent into trailer trash noir, will probably be seen by even fewer people. The cast is first-rate (Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church) but it’s Juno Temple and, I kid thee not, Matthew McConaughey as a murderous police detective (with a taste for very young women) who stand out. It sports all of Friedkin’s misogynistic tendencies and yet still manages to enthrall. How much you’ll enjoy it depends on your ability to handle Gershon giving a violent blow job to a hotdog. I highly doubt this will ever be released into theaters. Look for it on VOD or DVD.

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” is the third documentary chronicling the gross injustice delivered onto the West Memphis Three, a trio of teens who were falsely convicted of murdering three young boys. If you’ve seen the first two Paradise Lost documentaries by Joe Berliner and Bruce Sinofsky you know the anger and frustration those masterpieces evoke. This final installment, now nearly 20 years after the teens arrest, masterfully captures what these men have endured in a criminal justice system that does not live up to its name. Moving, infuriating and engrossing, it is documentary making of the highest order. And yet, with the recent release of Jason Baldwin, Jessie Miskelly, and Damien Echols (a travesty unto itself), Berliner and Sinofsky are forced to include breaking news only in post script. It’ll be interesting to see whether they incorporate the trio’s freedom in the public release in 2012.

I rounded things off with “Hysteria.” It was a slight but amusing period piece about the invention of the vibrator. The direction was uninspired and the plotting a bit awkward but the cast, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Price, and Hugh Dancy elevated it well beyond its modest and predictable aspirations.

Day 6 – Tuesday

It seems strange to say this but with only four well spread apart films, today almost felt leisurely. Things kicked off with my ‘what-the-hell’ choice: a Czech animated feature called “Alois Nebel.” It was visually arresting, but dramatically inert. I followed it with “The Last Gladiators” (Alex Gibney’s look at professional hockey’s enforcers and, in particular, Chris Nilan), which starts great then peters out after the first hour. Ending daylight hours (not that I’d know it in a darkened theater) I caught Michael Winterbottom’s emotionally grueling “Trishna.” An adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Winterbottom puts the beautiful Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire) through the hell of poverty, male entitlement, and, ultimately, physical and spiritual rape as he mercilessly transfers Hardy’s tragedy of class and sexism to modern Indian. It’s masterful filmmaking but a heck of a downer.

The day finished off with the premiere of Ralph Fiennes directorial debut, Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus”. Set in a timeless but more modern (and war ravaged) version of Rome, Fiennes does a remarkable job of taking one of the Bard’s ‘problem’ plays and bringing it to the big screen. Casting himself as General Coriolanus, his performance is both feral and kinetic, a masterful balance of pride, ego, honor, and action. While the direction gets a bit chaotic at times, Fiennes and screenwriter John Logan (Gladiator, Rango) bring some very clever staging to the story. Fiennes also surrounds himself with a first-rate cast. Vanessa Redgrave is Oscar-worthy as his mother, Jessica Chastain is effective as his wife and Gerard Butler gives the best performance of his career as rival general Tullus Aufidius. I’m not sure general audiences will accept this Shakespearean adaptation the way they’ve embraced Kenneth Branaugh’s efforts (and certainly not the way they came out for “Romeo+Juliet”), but “Coriolanus” is a worthy and intelligent first effort.

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