The 2012 Toronto Film Festival: Day Three and Four

September 18, 2012
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DAY THREE

I’ve got miles to go and my energy is already lagging. I decided to keep the day light in order to ready myself for tomorrow’s marathon screening of six films (and an interview).

I really wanted to start the day with the 8AM showing of The Place Beyond The Pines but couldn’t quite get my act together. Pity, it’s the only showing of this Ryan Gosling / Bradley Cooper drama. Director Derek Cianfrance is following up on his sour-on-love Blue Valentine debut, which also starred Gosling (and the luminous Michelle Williams). Word from a colleague is that it was very good.

Instead I kicked off the day with a double dose of Viggo Mortensen in Everybody Has A Plan. This Spanish-language drama from Argentina (yes, Aragorn is fluent, he was born there and it’s his native tongue) has Viggo playing twin brothers – Pedro is a cancer-ridden beekeeper from the Tigre Delta who was involved in a kidnapping, Agustín is a depressed pediatrician who is starting to question his life, marriage, etc. When Pedro dies, Agustín decides to fake his own death and assume his brother’s identity. Moving into Pedro’s shack he learns care for his bees and strikes up a relationship with a local girl, oblivious that his sibling’s past deeds will come back to haunt him. Writer-director Ana Piterbarg doesn’t shy away from violence but presents more of an uncomfortable, slow-burning drama than a pulse-quickening thriller. Mortensen is convincing in his dual roles and remains highly watchable, even if his morose character seems more anxious about whether his ruse will be revealed than the potentially lethal consequences of his actions.

David Ayer’s found footage-style thriller End Of Watch followed. A fresh and aggressive take on the buddy cop formula, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena shine as L.A. patrolman who irreverantly joke, bitch and candidly confide in each other as they make the rounds in South Central. Their relationship is incredibly infectious, enough to compensate for the increasingly annoying first-person shooter shaky-cam approach. A nerve-jangling love-letter to the men in blue, it’s a good addition to Ayer’s cop-drama resume (Training Day, Street Kings, Harsh Times, Deep Blue)

Buzz for Cloud Atlas has been huge, given the Wachowski brothers involvement (The Matrix), its A-list cast and, of course, David Mitchell’s source novel’s dedicated following. The Press And Industry screening was packed to the gills. Well, it certainly is ambitious. And pretentious. And grandiose. And hokey as hell. It’s also filled with some of the worst make-up effects I’ve seen since J. Edgar. Threading together six disparate storylines set in six different time periods, the movie moves breathlessly and, at first, confusingly from melodrama to melodrama. Some are more successful than others. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and Doona Bae are both protagonists and supporting players in parallel vignettes that bounce through time and, eventually, space. Over the course of nearly three hours, Cloud Atlas shifts genre and tone with each leap through time, from comedic to action-packed to paranoid to sentimental, but keeps its stories connected by universal themes of greed, oppression, redemption and the embrace of love in even the bleakest of situations. It’s the ultimate mash-up of past Hollywood hits… but not as good as most of the movies it steals from. Earnest to a fault and, frankly, just to jammed-packed with story to make us really care, I suspect this will attract a loyal core of fans and chuckles of derision from many others.

DAY FOUR

Today was a test of bladder control and appetite suppression. Theater food just doesn’t sit well with me, so this was my TIFF fasting day (Okay, I did break down and buy a blueberry muffin). This one’s going to be a sprint…

Kicked things off with an 8:45AM showing of Silver Linings Playbook, David O. Russell’s (The Fighter, Three Kings) rather iconoclastic take on the romantic comedy. Bradly Cooper is bipolar. Jennifer Lawrence is a young widow with anger management and sexual promiscuity issues. Sound like a match made in heaven? Maybe not, but the movie is kind of heaven-sent. Russell takes his dark-hued subject matter and turns it into something fleet, funny, and engaging. Robert Deniro gives his best performance in a decade, Cooper and Lawrence are topnotch, and even Chris Tucker shows up to impress. Biggest regret? I had to duck out 20 minutes before the ending to make it to an interview. Now I may never know what “crabby snacks” are. I expect several Oscar nominations in this movie’s future.

Sat down with Martin McDonagh for a Q&A for both the Metro Times and Script Magazine. I’d heard that the celebrated Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker could be a tough interview. Not the case for me. Charming, candid, and clever, he fielded all my questions – even the ones that challenged some of his choices – with good-natured generosity. The interview will appear here closer to Seven Psychopath’s October opening.

 Room 237. This documentary about the obsessive conspiracy theorists and over-analytical film scholars who regard Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as a watershed moment in Hollywood filmmaking is fascinating… for those who geek out over movies. I can’t imagine general audiences sitting still for what amounts to an extremely dense visually-packed podcast about the Stephen King adaptation that Stephen King hated. With unnerving passion a quintet of narrators (never seen – a grave misstep of the doc) lay out their arguments for why The Shining is, respectively: (1) proof that Kubrick helped fake the moon landing, (2) an allegory about the Native-American genocide, (3) a metaphorical examination of the the Holocaust, (4) an exercise in thematic, visual and narrative puzzles. “There’s a lot of stuff there nobody has seen,” one speaker says. “People should keep watching.” Whether you, Kubrick, and they agree is irrelevant. Their faith in their own ideas and theories makes clear that no artist can control how his or her art will be interpreted.

Hyde Park On The Hudson: Bill Murray as randy, handjob-happy FDR? Yup. Though this period piece plays more like a jauntier take on Merchant And Ivory’s literate adaptations, the final results about the same. Solid performances, a few sparkling scenes, but mostly ho-hum drama. The main story concerns Roosevelt’s affair with a distant cousin (Laura Linney) but the best moments come in the middle of the film when Britain’s stuttering King George must persuade the American President to get the United States involved in the smoldering beginnings of WW2. Murray is at his best here, merging smiley celebrity with savvy politics.

Thanks For Sharing: I went into this one divided. On the one hand it was billed as a dramedy about sex addiction with Pink in a supporting role. On the other it starred Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, and Gwyneth Paltrow – a first rate cast to be sure. While I’d hardly call the movie a huge success it was surprisingly engaging, approaching the issue of sex addiction seriously… but far from the austere nihilism that infected last year’s Shame (though Michael Fassbender was amazing). It’ll be interesting to see how the film’s distributors market the film and whether it finds an appreciative audience.

Yellow: There’s always one, one film that’s so bad I want to punch whoever thought an audience would want to plunk down $15 and see this self-indulgent, narcissistic insult to cinema. Have I conveyed how much I hated this film? Nick Cassavetes (The Notebook) directs his now-ex wife Heather Wahlquist in hallucinatory examination of a primary school teacher who struggles with all sorts of addiction and family problems. David Morse, Gena Rowlands, Melanie Griffith and Ray Liotta (in the movies final and only good scene) waste their talents on this interminably shrill piece of garbage. I need another movie to wash the bad taste out of my mouth fast. A late night horror sounds about right.

 Hellbenders: Another Midnight Madness 3D premiere. And probably the cheapest-made 3D film I’ll ever see. Essentially a mash-up of Animal House style humor and Ghostbuster’s plotline, J.T. Petty’s comedic horror follows the the Augustine Interfaith Order of Hellbound Saints, a team of over-the-top sinning ministers who are tasked with fighting evil demons (are there any other kind?). It’s pretty uneven stuff but the crowd ate up every blasphemous joke and gore-filled minute.

There is little doubt that TIFF has produced a wildly-successful Midnight Movie program. The Ryerson Theater clearly holds north of 1600 people and every screening I’ve attended there – this year and last – is packed to the gills. Ninety minutes before the screening, the line circles an entire city block. I can only imagine how much beer they’d sell if it was on tap. I have no idea if this scene is repeated at other top tier film festivals, but it’s clear that the midnight program is a must-attend for genre releases. To the programming staff’s credit, they balance the schedule with both big releases and indie underdogs.

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