TIFF thoughts & 123 movie reviews

Cinema ah ah.

So the 35th annual Toronto International Film Festival finished up last weekend and while most people with more pressing deadlines will have posted their reviews, recaps and summaries, I figure the casual nature of my blog affords me a little more time to get my thoughts down…

So I got to 6 movies over the course of the week, which I admit isn’t a lot by any stretch of the imagination for a self-confessed movie nut. However when a premium gala screening sets you back $43 and a regular run of the mill screening is in and around the $20 mark, it’s not easy to get to too many. And factor in the fact that for the first four days of the festival we were actually out of town on an epic road trip to New York (10 hours drive either way, wrong side of the road, living off bananas, Coke and Twinkies – love it).

On a quick sidenote, the demographics of the festival attendees is worthy of note. At the film festivals I’ve attended in Dublin and Venice (I always consider pretending I’ve attended the Cannes Film Festival but we arrived for a summer sojourn there one week after the festival ended in 2005, so the Palais de Festivals was actually being used for an advertising festival), the crowd is a healthy mixture of pensioners, middle-aged couples, movie geeks, students and teenagers. At TIFF, I (or indeed “we” – some of the screenings I went to were in pair or trios) was among the youngest people at most of the screenings. Which was weird. I looked around at the 9am showing of The Bang Bang Club and kind of felt I was at an IFI Wild Strawberries screening or something. Anyway I aint hatin’ on the OAPz (they smell delightful), I’m just observing.

Anyway, on to the mini movie reviews (all are 123 words or there abouts, I love self-imposed restrictions.) To put it all into context, here’s a link to my preview thoughts looking ahead to the festival a couple of weeks back > “My TIFF 2010 Movie Schedule“.

Blue Valentine
directed by Derek Cianfrance
[imdb | tiff description]
me rating: 5/5

The director manages to effectively depict both the birth and date of a relationship within his 113 minute running time. The movie jumps back and forth from two separate timelines, with each scene bringing a new perspective to what we later (or previously) see unfolding.

The early formative scenes were all shot with minimal rehearsal and that nervous energy really comes through. The two leads, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, then spent a month living together, co-habiting so they could learn how to hate one another.

About five years in the narrative pass and the cameras start rolling once again. To see these heart-breaking break-up scenes juxtaposed against the so-called “early years” made for an emotionally draining cinema experience and really puts into a new light how fickle a relationship can seem when cut down to its bare bones like this. Cheery!

Bang Bang Club
directed by Steven Silver
[imdb | tiff description]
me rating: 3/5

Canadian/South African director Steven Silver’s makes his drama feature debut with the story of a group of photographers working together in the final years of apartheid in Johannesburg.

With a movie like this the main nagging issue is always going to be how North-American stars get on with the challenges of the South African accent. Ryan Philippe and Taylor Kitsch do well and bring real energy to their depiction of Pulitzer-winning photographers Greg Marinovich, on whose memoir the screenplay is based, and Kevin Carter. But Torontonian Malin Akerman just didn’t cut it as Robin Comley, a largely superfluous character to begin with whose very presence is symptomatic of the negative effect the Hollywood influence has on medium sized productions like The Bang Bang Club.

Credit has to be given to Silver for giving a truly authentic air to his township riot scenes (his post-screening Q&A revealed most were shot in identical locations), but ultimately this feels like a wasted opportunity.

Never Let Me Go
directed by Mark Romanek
[imdb | tiff description]
me rating: 4/5

The three leads are all brilliant, Carey Mulligan and Kiera Knightley performing as well as we would expect after similarly styled performances in An Education and Atonement.

Andrew Garfield deserves special mention for his depiction of Tommy. When he was announced as the new Spider-man over the summer, there were quite a few “who’s this now?”, but on the basis of this and his upcoming role in The Social Network, he’s going to be a star for some time to come.

If you force yourself to hold back cynicism toward either the over the top score or some glaring plot-holes, Never Let Me Go is truly brilliant dramatic cinema. But somehow, and maybe this is Romanek’s intention, you’re left feeling empty and drained at the end of it all.

127 Hours
directed by Danny Boyle
[imdb | tiff description]
me rating: 5/5

I’ve never seen Slumdog Millionaire. I’ve read countless articles, seen making of documentaries and was delighted to see Danny Boyle win Best Director at the 2009 Academy Awards. But something about the movie just made me feel like it wasn’t worth my €10. I’m probably just a big raging racist.

Anyway, any fears that Danny Boyle has gone soft need to be put aside now that I’ve seen 127 Hours. The movie tells the extraordinary story of Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), an adventurer trapped in a canyon with a squashed arm for five days.

The movie is an explosion of colour, energy and sound. You really feel like you’re brought into Ralston’s world feeling his plight as he attempts escape, acceptance and redemption. The flashbacks and hallucinations allow Boyle to revert back to his Trainspotting days, and the infamous “amputation” is as gruesome and chilling as anything from his zombiefest 28 Days Later.

After feeling trapped and parched for the preceding 93 minutes, the sip from my bottle of water during the closing credits never tasted so good. Job well done Franco & Boyle.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (3D)
directed by Werner Herzog
[imdb | tiff description]
me rating: 4/5

If someone had said five years ago that an arthouse film-maker like Werner Herzog would be end up making a movie in 3D, they would be laughed at. But here we are in 2010 and the Bavarian master is utilising the technology that has everyone talking. The justification for it all is that the 3D pictures are the only way to appreciate the startling 35,000 year old paintings as they appear on the uneven stone walls. And the thing is, he’s dead right.

The whole movie plays a bit like a spooky dream, with the 3D being so subtle, you quickly forget you’ve got the glasses on. Whether you want to see the oldest art known to man, debate what defines “humanness” or you just dig Herzog’s weird outlook on things, you need to see this.

The Debt
directed by John Madden
[imdb | tiff description]
me rating: 2/5

I really wanted this to be a Munich-esque Mossad thriller but left the cinema disappointed at how things had played out.

The movie has two timelines, the first deals with three agents going to East Berlin in 1965 to bring back a Nazi war criminal to Tel Aviv for trial. The job goes wrong but they agree to lie and return to Israel as heroes. We then jump forward 30 years as the three agents have a debt (hence the title, clever stuff) to take care of in order to preserve their golden reputations.

Sounds pretty exciting, right? Unfortunately the film plays out far too slowly and while everyone involved does an honourable enough job, things just unravel and climax in a dull and implausible final act. Also Sam Worthington doesn’t look anything like a 30year old Ciaran Hinds. Age fail.

(I’ve seen the next few on general release since the end of TIFF and felt like reviewing them… coming soon I’m Still Here, Let Me In, The Social Network & Wall Street 2! Gah!)

The Town
directed by Ben Affleck
[imdb | trailer]
me rating: 3/5

Ben Affleck’s second feature as a director (after 2007’s excellent Madeleine McCann-esque Gone Baby Gone) got the lamest TV spot line ever… “from the studio that brought you The Departed”. Come on, are people that dumb that they’re sold by studio links? Oh wait, this had an opening weekend of $23m? Job well done marketing people…

Anyway, putting that quibble aside, I loved this. It’s not as smart or clever as it would probably like to be, but as a mainstream crime thrillamady (thriller meets drama, a genre I just invented), it’s exciting and engaging stuff.

The ensemble cast all perform really well (Jeremy Renner and Pete Postlethwaite in particular were terrifying) and it’s nice to see after his slightly fumbling cameo at the end of The A-Team that Jon Hamm can actually do roles that aren’t set in 1962.

The American
directed by Anton Conbijn
[imdb | trailer]
me rating: 4/5

I don’t read too many books, but over the summer on the recommendation of a friend I picked up John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold from a second-hand book shop in Cape Town. This movie seemed like some of a companion piece to it, with George Clooney playing an American spy sent to a mountainous village in the Italian region of Abruzzo. He wants to retire and becomes incresingly paranoid throughout the course of the film as the years of isolation and secrecy begins to catch up with him.

While some would consider the movie to be “slow”, I thought Anton Corbijn (following up from the Ian Curtis biopic Control in his second of a proposed three-film directorial career) and a subtle restrained lead performance from George Clooney combined to create a stylish and memorable tragedy.

directed by Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
[imdb | trailer]
me rating: 4/5

I think it would do this movie a dis-service to give it a full review as the less you know about the movie’s background or story the more you will enjoy it. It’s about two people falling in love on facebook. This may sound lame, but what plays out over the hour and a half makes for a remarkable film.

Now you could of course watch the trailer, but hell even seeing that is a bit of a giveaway and confuses things. Do yourself a favour, go see it and for once, do as the marketing people tell you – “Don’t Let Anyone Tell You What it Is”.

directed by Ethan Maniquis & Robert Rodriguez
[imdb | trailer | 2007 grindhouse trailer]
me rating: 4/5

Surely a movie based on a spoof trailer shouldn’t be this much fun, right? The best of the specially-created trailers that preceded the Rodriguez/Tarantino 2007 Grindhouse double-bill now has its own movie. And it’s pretty awesome. In keeping with the concept and mantra of the exploitative b-movie grindhouse “concept”, this hoaky (cheers Sir Anthony), ridiculous and downright offensive.

Robert de Niro, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Alba all show up at various points, with LOST alumni Jeff Fahey and Michelle Rodriguez completing the ensemble cast. But of course the movie belongs to “Machete” himself, Danny Trejo. Here’s a man who has overcome heroin addiction, a lengthy spell in prison and a silly moustache to be Hollywood’s go to guy for Mexican meanness.

I really hope Rodriguez wasn’t joking with the post-credits tease of “Machete will return in… MACHETE KILLS!…. and…. MACHETE KILLS AGAIN!

My TIFF 2010 movie schedule!

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