TIFF ’12 Diary: Day 5

September 15, 2012
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Okay, time to try speed-blogging. I saw four films today: one was very good, one wasn’t very good, I fell asleep in one, and one was one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. Let’s do this.

 

Thanks For Sharing

When tackling the subject of sex addiction, it seems like there are two obvious strategies: over the top comedy, or a heavy drama that takes the characters to dark, sordid places. But Thanks For Sharing dares to do both, and it succeeds. In his directorial debut, Stuart Blumberg (who wrote 2010’s wonderful The Kids Are All Right) weaves a funny human drama around three sex addicts, played by Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, and Josh Gad (current Broadway star of Book of Mormon). For the first hour or so, the film is mostly just very funny, but each character is slowly sent on a dark spiral that tests their resolve, and Blumberg deftly takes us on the journey without drawing too much attention to the change in tone. That the audience is absorbed into the new mood so easily is a testament to how skillfully Blumberg brought us there. If the movie has a major flaw, it’s that things wrap up a little too tidily, but it’s a fun and challenging journey to get there.

The Grade: B+

Thanks For Sharing writer/director Stuart Blumberg 

Lore

(Click here for the trailer)

Taking place in the closing days of World War II, Lore, a fourteen year-old German girl, must care for her younger siblings and help them reach safety when their Nazi parents are arrested. Directed by Australia’s Cate Shortland (but filmed in Germany), this heartbreaking film is seen through the eyes of the title character, who doesn’t fully grasp the nature of the war. She doesn’t see Germany as the enemy, only as the side that lost. She hates Jews, but doesn’t know why. The journey she and her siblings go on is essentially the awakening of her soul, and the first time she’s been forced to confront the nature of right and wrong. The cinematography of Lore is absolutely stunning. Stylistically, the visuals recall Terrance Mallick, but because the images more firmly relate to the themes and events on screen, they retain a greater poignancy. Lore is the exact kind of film one hopes to discover at a festival, and it’s one of the most striking and powerful films I have ever seen. It’s just been named Australia’s official candidate for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category, which is the first step on the road to American distribution. Anyone who gets the chance to see it absolutely should—it’s one of those films that can redefine what a great film is to you.

The Grade: A

Lore director Cate Shortland, three writers/producers, and star Saskia Rosendahl

 

To the Wonder

The nature of the Tiff schedule and the duration of the festival make it pretty inevitable that you’ll doze off a bit here and there. When I first outlined my itinerary last week, I even looked at this screening and said to myself “If I’m severely behind on sleep by day five, it’s a virtual lock that a Terrance Mallick film will conk me out.” I don’t know whether self-fulfilling prophecy played a role or if I just know myself that well, but sure enough, I only made it through the first half hour of To the Wonder before I was out. Luckily, I fully regained consciousness in time to see the last 40 minutes or so, so I saw enough to get the basic gist, and to know that I actually liked the film pretty well. (Even if it reveals me as a philistine, I admit I didn’t care for Tree of Life, though I’ve enjoyed all of Mallick’s previous films.) During my conscious half of the film, I never saw Rachel McAdams, and I don’t think I saw Ben Affleck utter a single line of dialogue despite being in every scene. Given that, it’s odd that they’re the two on the film’s promotional image, as Kurylenko is clearly the main character. But anyway, Wonder looked great from what I saw, and it’s a shame I didn’t make it through. But it’ll be in theaters soon.

The Grade: N/A (Probably a B+)

To the Wonder stars Olga Kurylenko & Rachel McAdams

The Iceman

(Click here for the trailer)

When you see so many films in such a short span, it’s impossible not to draw parallels between them and see certain narratives emerge. The Iceman is a film I might have liked better had I seen it under different circumstances, or at least I might not have been so hyper aware of its flaws. But seeing it shortly after Lore was the worst thing that could have happened. Michael Shannon stars as Richard Kuklinski, the real-life hit man who killed over 100 people working for organized crime in the New York area during the 1960’s and 70’s. The (implied) conflict at the heart of Kuklinski is that he was a dedicated family man who provided a normal life for his wife (Winona Ryder) and two daughters. But beyond that dichotomy, the film never addresses why the audience is supposed to find Kuklinski interesting. Why is he a worthy subject for a biopic? Why would a feature film be made about a real-life cold-blooded killer without any internal dilemma played out on the screen?

In execution, The Iceman is pretty good. It’s well paced and directed by Vromen, and the acting is uniformly fantastic (particularly Shannon and Chris Evans, as another killer named Mr. Freeze). But it’s the script that left me cold. The film just tells Kuklinski’s story, without embellishing anything or digging into what made the man tick. There’s one, very brief, great scene at the end with Kuklinksi on death row and offering a few words about what he’d done, but after two hours of glorified killing, it was too little too late. I have absolutely nothing wrong with gratuitous violence for entertainment (hell, Die Hard is one of my favorite movies), but it has to be fictional. I need some cognitive dissonance to enjoy myself. If you’re telling a true story about violence, it needs to be more than entertainment, and with The Iceman, it isn’t.

The Grade: C

 

The Iceman stars Chris Evans, Ray Liotta, Winona Ryder, and Michael Shannon, introduced by director Ariel Vromen

Tomorrow: A German philosophy movie, a French period piece, and an Australian rock and roll movie.

Daniel Joyaux is a film and pop culture critic living in Ann Arbor. You can read more of his work at thirdmanmovies.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @thirdmanmovies.