Day Two of the Toronto Film Festival
I can’t begin to describe the complexities of planning which film screening to attend, how to get there in enough time, what to do when something is delayed (a 15 min technical issue can mean an entire shift in your day), or how you secure tickets to the public screenings. It’s dizzying, and sitting in hallways and lines outside of theaters reveal hundreds of others checking schedules, muttering plans, and letting colleagues know which films to avoid. Just like readers look to reviews to pick what they want to see on a Saturday night, reviewers look to other reviewers to steer them away from the misfires and toward the hits.
Buzz for today: “The Raid,” a Malaysian action flick that supposedly boasts non-stop insanity and what one critic called “badass machete-fu”. No plans to see it yet but I’ll see if I can squeeze it in. It was a midnight movie. Celebrity in attendance: Comedian Brian Posehn.
Day Two was a marathon. Arrived at the ticket office before 9am, got to a 10am screening of “The Killer Elite” then watched 5 more films, the last of which featured a 2am Q&A. It’s an endurance test for my bladder if nothing else.
THE KILLER ELITE – Though it borrows it’s title from the 70s Sam Peckinpah thriller (with James Caan battling the Yakuza), this Jason Statham shoot ‘em up is meat and potatoes, middle of the road meh. It’s poorly directed and, in all truth, the weakest film I’ve seen at TIFF. There’s a spark of promise with Clive Owen’s dismissed SAS officer dealing with blowback from England’s intrusions into the Middle East… but the historical context is mostly in service of unengaging plot mechanics. The press around me were pretty vocal about their disappointment in the film… Especially because the screening was delayed by 45 minutes, sending tight schedules into a tailspin.
A DANGEROUS METHOD – David Cronenberg seems to have found his cinematic muse in Viggo Mortensen. Working together for the third time, Mortensen puts down the weapons of “A History Of Violence” and “Eastern Promises” and trades them in for Sigmund Freud’s equally phallic cigars. Talky, stately, and well acted, this period drama works best when Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Freud are meeting minds and playing subtle power games with one another. Unfortunately, this isn’t the film’s focus. Instead, Cronenberg charts the sexually-charged affair that Jung carries on with patient/student Sabina Spielrein (a violently jaw-jutting Keira Knightly). Though the story culminates in a killer final line, what comes before doesn’t earn the hoped for impact. Knightly’s performance is one-note and her Russian accent spotty. Fassbender is effectively cocky and repressed but never develops the kind of chemistry necessary to compel. Though there are hints of kinkiness, Cronenberg keeps things so tightly restrained that the psycho-sexual impact is minimal. Ultimately, “A Dangerous Method” is an interesting experiment that should have been far more dangerous and will, undoubtedly, struggle to find fans.
THE SKIN I LIVE – It’s hard to write too much about Pedro Almodovar’s latest Hitchcock-inflected melodrama/thriller but once ‘El Tigre’ shows up you know whose film you’re watching. Suffice to say Almodovar is indulging in all the usual fetishes: exquisitely composed shots, complicated family relations, a sexes-up thriller with big dollops of melodrama, a stunningly gorgeous female lead, and a world where boys will be girls. The plot twist IS the movie so this one is going to be short. If you enjoyed “Bad Education” you’ll probably dig this too.
TAKE SHELTER – Michael Shannon, who made such a powerful impression in “Revolutionary Road,” stars as a man struggling with growing mental illness in this slow burning but always gripping drama. With a sensitivity and flare that surpasses Ron Howard’s overrated “A Beautiful Mind,” director Jeff Nichols proves adept with his actors, camera, and story. Plagued by apocalyptic visions, working-class Shannon desperately clings to his wife (go-to actress Jessiac Chastain) and deaf daughter as he tries to discern what is real and what may be delusion. The ending is a kicker that can be taken two ways – one which elevates the film, the other which cheapens it. It’s to Nichol’s credit that I can’t figure out which he intended.
GOD BLESS AMERICA – Bob Goldthwait’s “World’s Greatest Dad” was a transgressive, black-hearted fable that had real moments of greatness (including a superlative performance by Robin Williams) despite an occasionally clumsy script. His newest, a TIFF Midnight Madness feature, definitely drew the crowds… a near sell-out at the 1500 seat Ryerson Theater. Goldthwait wait warmed things up (he’s still very funny) making the point that his film was just completed a few days ago and is still for sale – “not like that “Red State” crap he promised. Warning the audience that he intended to pull no punches, he admitted “this could be my Springtime For Hitler.” Which is understandable, since It’s hard to imagine who is going to make the distribution leap.
While “God Bless America” is fearless in its misanthropy and violent satire–it’s rants are first rate stand up material– dramatically the movie struggles to convince. Joel Murphy (Mad Men) plays a divorced sad sack with a brain tumor who decides to go on a cross country shooting spree, killing Americans (and in particular, celebrities) who casually indulge in meanness and rudeness. Along the way he picks up a teenage Bonnie (Tara Lynn Barr) to his antisocial Clyde. Their targets are broad, the violence unabashed (an opening scene involving an infant will keep most distributors at bay) and while some of the jokes hit hard others seem hopelessly dated (Mary Kay LeTournieu?). The movie is also, inevitably, hypocritical the same way Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” was – indulging in the very inhumanity and callousness it seems to decry. While cinematic wish fulfillment can be fun it’s hard to make a deeper point when you’re killing teenagers for making noise during a movie. It’ll be fascinating to see if Goldthwait’s movie finds a home. The Canadian crowd ate up every anti-American morsel so maybe there’s hope. For my own taste, Ben Elton did a better job of tackling many of the same topics in his novel and stage play “Popcorn.”
Goldthwait then returned aft the screening with the film’s two stars for a 2AM Q&A. Funny, sincere, and brutally honest, it was the best part of the show.