Toronto International Film Festival 2004
It seems like yun-fat had a much better time at Venice than I did at Toronto -- a combination of a fairly weak program plus scheduling conflicts causing me to miss some well-received flicks led to this decent but not-great line-up of films. Nevertheless, here's the report, but the short version is that Park Chan-wook's Old Boy was the best thing I saw, and yun-fat is highly overrating the Hou, which is one of his weaker efforts.
(Don McKellar) -- 7/10
Moments of brilliance followed by moments of facile industry satire. Luckily the intelligence outweights the cliche, and McKellar's inspired visual design keeps the film fresh and enjoyable. Aside from the fine performances by McKellar, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a hilarious Eric Stoltz cameo, there are a number of whip-smart one-liners, my favorite being: "He's supposed to be the president of the United States! One idiot and a blowjob ago that meant something!"
(Kim Ki-duk) -- 8/10
My favorite Kim film to date: ironically, the less preachy he is about his Zen philosophy, the more effective he is at communicating it. The complex and likable leads go from mute and passive to ghostly and stable, culminating in one of the most poignant shots of emotional balance I've seen on film. After the tonal randomness of Bad Guy
and the sedate sermon of Spring, Summer
, Kim is finally honing a confident style.
(Roger Michell) -- 4/10 until I walked out
Enduring more than an hour of this thing proved far too difficult. Amazingly, the film can't even coast for five minutes on the terrific opening scene; it plunges straight into a risible therapy session with two whiny and despicable male leads, not to mention Samantha Morton's undercooked love interest. Michell's direction is as skillful as it was in Notting Hill
and Changing Lanes
, but the dialogue just dies.
(Johnnie To) -- 7/10
Deliriously entertaining; is there a finer craftsman in this genre than To? His action scenes are beautiful capsules of pure kinetic art and grace, fusing his camera movement and his physical choreography into a singular performance. However, much like in 1999's The Mission
, his character development tends to ramble -- I wanted more from the Tony character just as I was starting to find protagonist Sze To rather redundant. Still, the judo subject matter allows To to formulate a sweet-natured comedy of redemption that finds all three of the leads (including drop-dead gorgeous 20 year-old Cherrie In) at a crossroads of existential action.
(Hirokazu Kore-eda) -- 5/10
After getting Maborosi
out of his system, it seems Kore-eda has left behind questions of identity and existence, turning instead to more concrete social drama. This overlong feature repeats the ways in which our abandoned children display resilience in the face of their plight, and in response Kore-eda's style is repressed: his compositions have loosened significantly, and now his work resembles less of the Japanese masters he used to quote, and more of someone like the Edward Yang of Yi Yi
, but without the force. Some cute observations pop up here and there, and the film is fairly guileless in its storytelling, but basically this is just a dull piece of inertia from a formerly challenging filmmaker.
(Alexander Payne) -- 7/10
Payne tosses up a softball here, making his most crowd-pleasing, conventional comedy to date. Plants are paid off like a shooting gallery target, characters have their required arcs, and each scene builds its beats to a foregone climax. It would be a disappointment if it didn't also have some really, really big laughs. Thomas Haden Church has the most fun, and gets some great throwaway gags, while Mrs. Payne (the glorious Sandra Oh) is as good with comedy as she is with looking fantastic. Virginia Madsen keenly delivers a well-written monologue about wine, but it also underscores one of the script's problems, which is an overuse of the "life is like a bottle of wine" metaphor -- sort of like Forrest Gump + cabernet. Trite at times, highly amusing at others, Sideways
is a step up from About Schmidt
because it's tighter and funnier, but Giamatti's squishy protagonist is a sign of Payne's increasing tendency to cater to what most audiences will want instead of sharpening his edge with the clever and discriminating mind behind Citizen Ruth
(Gregg Araki) -- 7/10
Not sure what we're supposed to get, message-wise, out of a film that seems to merely be putting an exclamation point on the idea that child molestation has negative consequences. But that doesn't stop me from praising Araki's characteristically accurate direction, fusing a wry sense of humor with the weightiest material of his career. Joseph Gordon-Levitt blew me away with the performance of the festival so far (though apparently his work in Manic
might have lessened my shock had I seen it); this guy can fuckin' act. Nice support from Elisabeth Shue and Hal Hartley vet Bill Sage as a frightening baseball coach. The Brady Corbet storyline is far less successful than Gordon-Levitt's, but I like seeing Araki take himself as seriously as his craft -- this is probably his most personal project since The Living End
(despite being based on a novel), and even if it's not as out-there as Nowhere
or as memorable as The Doom Generation
, it's more mature and definitely worth seeing.
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS
(John Duigan) -- 5/10
A hopelessly middle-brow romance novel following the same old lovers-torn-apart-by-war scenario, martyring yet another free-spirited, heroic character. Charlize Theron and Stuart Townsend make likable leads, however, and thanks to their chemistry the first 45 minutes are fine -- but then Penelope Cruz comes in (she needs to work with Cameron Crowe again) and WWII begins, and suddenly the story becomes the Captain Corelli's Mandolin
version of Cold Mountain
. Duigan, you may have done a masterpiece in Flirting
, but you're no Minghella. At least not in the last ten years.
A DIRTY SHAME
(John Waters) -- 1/10
A wretched piece of shit. Nothing in this god-awful movie comes close to being funny, which isn't even its worst sin: Waters has always been a little square, but this film really reveals him to be a reactionary conservative at heart -- to the Waters of A Dirty Shame
, no sex exists on the planet outside perverse, shameful, fetishistic sex, and even in promoting such deviance, he denies any healthy, liberal lifestyle. It's an abominable, humiliating waste of time for all involved, most notably Tracey Ullman, who might not even know how embarrassing she looks, and Selma Blair. Also, poor Johnny Knoxville ruins his own reputation by revealing that he can't act at all; there is simply nothing remotely positive about this pathetic waste of celluloid which is enough to put the horniest film critic off sex for good.
(Danny Boyle) -- 6/10
Sweet and tender enough, but the hooligan boys at the center prove far too sugary and sedate for a film that should have some more edge to it; the style is nifty, but the story is straight-up Christmas feel-good, and for Boyle that's just not interesting enough. It has its nice little moments here and there, but I wasn't nearly engaged enough to outlast the complacency.
(Pedro Almodovar) -- 8/10
Eye-popping visuals underline a ripping good yarn that unpeels the uncomfortable layers of two fascinating relationships: two Catholic high school boys who discover their homosexuality along with their freedom; and that of a younger, deceitful brother with the priest who committed the most grievous of trust violations. Amazingly, Almodovar keeps everything restrained while the entire film unfolds with a slow burn towards a film noir of admirable aesthetic power.
(Hou Hsiao-Hsien) -- 6/10
Hou's nod to Ozu gets the static camera compositions right, but the slight attempts at narrative cause the film to go off its own rails. Basically, there's a pregnant Japanese girl wandering around town looking for a musician at a cafe while trying to interpret a strange dream. Any hints at plot are quickly snuffed out by some nicely modulated scenes of abstract beauty, but Hou's deliberate distancing from the protagonist causes us to remain emotionally detached from her plight, something impossible to accuse him of regarding the Shu Qi character of the far superior, far more glowing Millennium Mambo
. A slow-paced film that's easy to sink into, but it never threatens to engage us beyond its formal exercise.
(Park Chan-wook) -- 9/10
Holy crap. "Miles of style," as Scott Tobias would say, but it's far more than just a visual feast of shattering compositions (always trying to catch up with the breathless plotting), rapid cuts, and relentless sound design -- it spreads layers and layers of complex themes over the story, juxtaposing extremes in order to achieve its goal: you've got cold vs. warm hands, laughter vs. crying, sex vs. violence, love vs. sin, and it all dovetails into a twist-generated coda that informs so much about the preceding 100 minutes that my grade rose significantly in the final moments. This is an exhilarating viewing experience, loaded with imaginative visuals and fantastic acting, but it's the passionate and intelligent storytelling to go along with the camera work that pushes this violent, emotional drama into the realm of Great cinema.
(Michael Winterbottom) -- 4/10
A relationship told through sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Not a terrible idea, but the execution is questionable at best, thanks to two fairly marginal human beings in the lead roles. Great music on stage, from the Von Bondies to Franz Ferdinand to Dandy Warhols, etc., but it commits one of my most hated sins: too-direct lyrical content, such as when Winterbottom cuts from the girl leaving to BRMC performing "Now she's gone, and love burns inside me..." Also the film is too short and slight to really get anything done.
(Marziyeh Meshkini) -- 7/10
Interesting political undercurrent to this cute, innocent fable starring the cutest little girl in Iranian history, and an equally irresistible dog. There's something going on with the succession of generations coming to terms with the unjust regime under which they live, as imprisonment becomes not only a way of life but a desired destination. All of the emotional moments are earned, and the film-geek pandering at the end with the De Sica homage works well in the story's context. I was nodding off a bit in the first half, but by the end I was won over.
(Wong Kar-wai, Steven Soderbergh, Michelangelo Antonioni) -- 6/10, 7/10, n/a
Wong's "The Hand" is an all-too-Zalman-King take on his now-standard themes of unrequited love and drawn-out, decades-long passion. Gong Li is looking older and sadder, assisted by Wong's characteristically beautiful images; it's a gorgeous thing to watch, but comes up short in the substance. Soderbergh's "Equilibrium" is grand entertainment. What the hell do you think is going to happen when you throw Robert Downey, Jr. and Alan Arkin in a room for 20 minutes? Duh. Genius. I'm not sure it really fits with the Eros theme, nor do I totally get the dream-within-a-dream plot, but I liked it. Due to poor advance word, combined with time constraints, I didn't choose to watch Antonioni's segment.
THE SEA INSIDE
(Alejandro Amenabar) -- 3/10
Fuck this stupid movie-of-the-week. Alex, how dare you.
(Francois Ozon) -- 6/10
The easiest movie of the festival to watch -- it's like drinking lemonade in France, but the film is as lazy as the Sunday afternoon during which you'd do such a thing. A rigid structure to be sure, but Ozon's camera work is totally uninspired, just sitting there letting the sort-of interesting characters tell their story. Works better early on, when the observations about infidelity and pain and mistrust aren't saddled by the cheap irony of the later (read: chronologically earlier) episodes. Looks nice enough, but doesn't really take charge of its material.