TIFF ’12 Diary: Day 7

September 17, 2012
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The latter half of Tiff gets a bit sparser in terms of high profile stuff and major premieres, so this is where its fun to try and exit your comfort zone and start seeing stuff that just kind of interests you and might not otherwise be on your radar. Unfortunately today wasn’t the greatest example of success in that venture, but there’s still some great stuff in the days to come.

 

Great Expectations

(Click here for the trailer)

The important thing to ask about Great Expectations is why? Why make yet another adaptation of this classic novel when so many prior adaptations have been quite good? Seriously, when you type “Great Expectations” into IMDb, this version is the eighth one listed. You can kind of sell me on the idea that there’s never been a color feature film adaptation that was faithful to the novel’s original setting, but look how many modifiers it took just to use the word “never.”

Ignoring the curiosities surrounding the film’s existence, it is pretty good. Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter do quite well as Magwitch and Miss Havisham, respectively, and the rest of the cast is uniformly capable. Director Mike Newell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) is very faithful to the material and does a fine job editing the story into a coherent 2-hour feature. And the creation of Victorian London is good, but nothing as artistically interesting as we’ve seen in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd or several others.

With remakes, I really only see three reasons for them to exist: 1) the original wasn’t very good, 2) the original is hopelessly dated, or 3) the remake will have a vastly different approach. But none of those really apply here, as the David Lean version from 1946 is wonderful and hasn’t aged a bit. Plus, the story looks better in black and white anyway.

The Grade: B-

 

Great Expectations director Mike Newell. I got the chance to talk to him after the show, and I asked him what draws him to a project. He said “I’m a sucker for stories about a good chap in a bad fix.”

Antiviral

(Click here for the trailer)

And the sleep virus struck again. I only made it through the first half of Antiviral before falling asleep, and I didn’t wake back up until the final five minutes, which made absolutely no sense given what I’d missed. What I saw was impressive, even if a bit slow. The debut feature from Brandon Cronenberg (son of horror legend David) involves a corporation in the near future that harvests and sells infectious diseases taken from the cells of celebrities, so people can feel closer to their favorite star by being infected with their illnesses. It’s a pretty grim vision of where our celebrity culture might be headed, but it’s executed in an interesting and visually stimulating way. The production design is all sterile and empty, like an Earth-bound 2001, and the themes are (from the parts I saw) handled intelligently. I thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity to cast an up-and-coming actress (Sarah Gadon) as Hannah Geist, the beautiful celebrity that drives the plot. Cronenberg might have had a more powerful meta-commentary if an actual major celebrity—someone like Jessica Alba or Mila Kunis—played the character. But even still, I liked what I saw here and it looks like the young Cronenberg has real promise, even though he’s really just mining the same body-horror theme that his father has explored so wonderfully. I’ll be checking this out again when I get the chance.

The Grade: Incomplete

 

Reality

Italian director Matteo Garrone’s follow-up to 2008’s excellent mafia epic Gomorrah, Reality takes a very different look at modern Italian society. Telling the story of an every day fish salesman’s quest to be on the Italian version of TV’s Big Brother, and how the prospect of reality TV fame completely consumes him, Reality is an interesting look at our insta-fame obsessed contemporary culture. Reality won the Grand Prix at Cannes, which is sort of like their second place award (with the Palme d’Or being the major prize), but now that I’ve seen several of the films that played at Cannes, I don’t think Reality is quite worthy of that prestige. When the film is at its best, it recalls Fellini, with its whimsical mood and an Alexandre Desplat score that deliberately mimics Nino Rota’s style. And the final scene/final shot is wonderfully constructed and memorable. But getting to that point is never quite as engaging as it seems it ought to be.

The Grade: B

 

The Bay 

(Click here for the trailer)

The first real foray into horror from acclaimed director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man, Bugsy), The Bay is both innovative and legitimately disturbing. This found-footage film chronicles 4th of July weekend at a small Chesapeake Bay town in Maryland, as the citizens promptly become terrorized by mutant isopods (fish parasites) that have grown to unruly sizes by consuming the steroids that get dumped into the bay from the local chicken factory. The Bay had a fascinating genesis, which Levinson talked about in the Q&A following the film. Apparently, Levinson was asked a while back if he was interested in making a documentary about pollution in the Chesapeake Bay (Levinson is from Baltimore). As Levinson began researching the project, he eventually thought the message might be better conveyed (and more fun) in a mock-doc horror movie. While I can’t say for sure here, I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot of horror films out there that began as documentaries. And even though the found-footage genre is already growing old, The Bay a slightly different route, by using not one character’s camera, but using footage from every camera in the town to piece together what happened. It’s an approach, and a film, that works really well.

The Grade: B+

 

The Bay director Barry Levinson

Tomorrow: Javier Bardem’s passion project, an American indie about alcoholism, and a 3-hour Quebecois epic about transgender (really).

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.