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The Rambling: TIFF 2007 (Days 4-6)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

And on we go. More of the same no-proofing, no-editing, no-thinking brand of film reviewership. The Toronto International Film Festival for 2007 continues unabated, and I’m along for the ride, growing ever-increasingly abated. laebmada

Days 1-3

Day FourDay FiveDay Six

Day 7-9

Monday, September 10th

Only one for today. Stuart Gordon was kind enough to give us Re-Animator, and now he’s kind enough to give us Stuck, which is an entirely different kind of thrill, but not completely without his authorial touch. A classic example of Gordon’s touch: Severed Head Cunnilingus.

Don’t let that frighten you away, though — Stuck’s nowhere near that nuts. Key to ensuring that, I’m sure, is that it’s based on a true story, one we all heard and were all pretty shocked by. A young woman, drunk and high, driving home late one night, nails a homeless guy and brings him with her, jammed through her windshield. She leaves him there, skewered, in her garage, to die.

Mena Suvari is the woman, and she does very well in her role, while Stephen Rea is the stuck bum, and he’s just incredible. His early moments, losing his apartment and facing his first night in what may end up being the rest of his life spent sleeping on benches, are fresh and moving, and then in later scenes when he’s just desperate to stay alive, or trying to reposition his crumpled limbs and escape, his performance rises above most anything else I’ve seen in the people-scared-and-in-pain milieu (and I’ve seen my fair share).

As much weight as its lead actor brings to it, Stuart Gordon still manages to insert plenty of moments featuring his brand of sassy. Little bits of violence or gore that lean a little bit cartoony — they’re certainly fun to watch, but aren’t as strong as the more seriously-taken graphic moments, where the pain being endured/inflicted feels more real. This isn’t enough to take away from the film though; it really is an excellent piece of work, and one I hope gets a good distribution.

Stuck: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Tuesday, September 11th

I don’t know why, but I went into Very Young Girls expecting a dark comedy. It’s actually a documentary about a New York shelter for teenage victims of exploitation in the sex trade. They start it off with, and reiterate multiple times throughout, the sobering statistic that the average age a girl enters the sex trade is 13. Then they introduce us to several of the shelter’s girls, and we hear their sad stories of how they got into “the life” — and the story is the same for each: she’s 12 or 13 and a man in his late 20’s pulls up next to her, sweet talks her, takes her out, makes her feel important, tells her he loves her, then tells her he’d love her more if she would make some money for him.

Their stories are so sad and their struggles not to fall back into prostitution so heartbreaking, that the filmmakers don’t really need to do anything but point their cameras and edit carefully. Which means there’s no particular visual flair to the digitally-shot film, but there doesn’t really need to be — detailed shots of the girls’ faces during interview sections are absolutely enough on their own. And the editing — they started with hundreds of hours of footage — is very well done; the multiple segments on the various girls, as well as the admirable women who run the shelter, are all clear and well-paced and engrossing. This documentary doesn’t look to have been made for theatrical release, but rather television, though I don’t know where or when it would air. But it’s very worth keeping an eye out for.

I’m glad there’s a filmmaker like Gus Van Sant out there. He’s certainly capable of doing a straightforward narrative well, Good Will Hunting being his biggest. But more frequently he likes to play around, to experiment with his films, with the big difference between his experimentations and those of a million flakes-with-cameras out there (aside from quality of output) is that he can actually get his seen. Whether it be slow, pseduo-fact-based, barely narrative films like Elephant or Last Days, or a pure science experiment of a film like his Psycho shot-for-shot remake, he can somehow draw an audience.

Paranoid Park should be no different. It fits in fairly well with Elephant and Last Days (and from what I’ve heard about it, Gerry), though it’s not quite a new chapter in that series. There is a similar slow pace to it, and a similar naturalistic performance style from its amateur actors as there was in Elephant, but it also contains a more clear, conflict-based narrative than the others did. Which I’ll avoid spilling here, but say that the overall conceit — a teenage boy, who isn’t able/isn’t allowed to show response to the swirling, emotional wreck of typical teenagedom, is faced with a very serious and real problem, and he can’t figure out how to express himself — is nicely handled; subtly and slowly, it took a while for it to dawn that that’s was the big idea. Not to say Paranoid Park is just a criticism of todays kids, with their skateboards and their inabilities-to-communicate-how-they-feel an their iPods — van Sant is completely sympathetic to the boy’s turmoil, never chastising him by suggesting any “if only he were more emotionally mature” solutions.

It’s a very small, simple story, without much in terms of plot redirects, but van Sant’s experimental style keeps it unique and interesting. Long, lingering shots keep the tone mellow, in line with the boy, who is himself stuck in mellow; the editing (which van Sant did himself) leaps around in time, repeating moments, building context gradually.

The music really stood out for me. While the visuals and performances are always kept flat, the music can get quite tense. But there’s no stylistic consistency to the music; it’s eclectic, it runs the gamut. It’s a clever technique for letting us in on the boy’s internal mix of confused emotions when he can’t display them at all on his face. Shocking to me was the Q&A revelation that van Sant had basically trial-and-errored the musical selections; shocking because it was all so peculiar and yet fit so well, I’d assumed the music was part of the original vision for the film.

And now, can I invite Mr. James17930 to the stage for the Q&A? Mr. James, what were your thoughts on this film?

Hi! Cameo appearance as himself. Okay — so I saw this one with Beal on Tuesday night, and I haven’t yet read what he’s written about it (I will obviously do this once I’ve finish writing what I’m about to write, which I also haven’t done yet, since I’m still typing this sentence. Weird).

So, Paranoid Park — it’s a shame. Another one of those movies that could have been so good — the concept was great, the visuals were great — but the execution was flawed. This movie was two things:

1) Gus Van Sant trying to remake Elephant (which he pretty much explicitly stated in the Q&A by comparing it so much with Elephant); and

2) Gus Van Sant trying way too hard to remake Elephant.

I say way too hard because he basically took some of the same cinematic techniques from Elephant and used them here, even though they don’t really fit. In Elephant, style and substance, form and story, fit together perfectly. All those long, slow tracking shots really worked because the whole movie takes place in a heightened state of tension — the audience knows that the events on screen are either taking place at the time of the shooting, or they know there’s a shooting coming up, and so they’re riveted by the slow banality of the school day and how that compares to the carnage that follows.

In Paranoid Park, however, all that tension is only there throughout the first half of the film (which really works), and then, because of poor editing choices in terms of presenting the chronology, it is abandoned and the rest of film plays out like a limp noodle. An excruciatingly slow limp noodle. We find out about half-way through that the kid is going to get away with what he did, and so we’re waiting, waiting . . . waiting, for something from him, some kind of response, but, in typical Gus-Van-Sant-teenage-apathetic/unemotional/unrepsonsive-style, we get a few scenes of him crying, we learn that he’s basically a pathological liar, and that’s it. Since Van Sant was going for the non-consequence, non-carthatic, non-epiphanic resolution to the story, he should have kept the ‘problem’ until the end of the film; hint at it all the way through, show the protag’s reactions, but leave the audience wondering right until the end, at which point they can go back and analyse the kid’s behaviour and draw their conclusions. By doing the ‘big reveal’ in the middle of the film, Paranoid Park unfortunately falls directly in that batch of dreaded “films which are good, but could have been great if not for the dreaded ‘anti-climax.'”

Gus — do a re-edit before you wide-release this. Thanks.

I give it 2 out of 4 . . . umm . . . Beal said I wasn’t allowed to use Cadillacs because those are for official TIFF voting purposes and this is the only festival movie I’m going to see, so . . . what’s applicable here . . . limp noodles. Right. 2 out of 4 Limp Noodles.

Hmm, interesting. With Paranoid Park over, it was time for yet another midnight entry at the Ryerson. I got there much later than ever before, around 11:50, and Sweet Jesus Monkeybrains, what a lineup. The entrance was at the circle, I was at the X.

Which meant I had a terrible seat. And it actually shouldn’t have been terrible — in any decent theatre, it would’ve been a fine balcony position. But this Ryerson theatre just isn’t made for movie watching, and as a result I had a trio of headbumps at the bottom of the screen throughout the show. Oh sweet, lamented Uptown.

I’m reall, really glad there’s a filmmaker like Takshi Miike out there. This would be my fifth Miike Midnight Madness Movie — after The City of Lost Souls, personal favorite Ichi the Killer, Gozu, and Zebraman, and he never fails the stick at least half a dozen completely original moments of insanity in his films. Tonight was Sukiyaki Western Django, and though not one of his best, it had one of his clearest narratives, and plenty of ridiculous hilarity. It’s a samurai-western, with its entirely English dialogue spoken by Japanese actors in rough, second-language accents, with one exception, an actual English fella by the name of Quentin Tarantino.

Miike is an insanely prolific guy (imdb gives him 74 directing credits since his start in 1991), and the amazing thing is that, not only do his movies manage to consistently be pretty darn good, there’s a variation in genre and a level of inventiveness to each individual film that most directors won’t summon over a decade of work. And this is an inventiveness that’s across the board — plot, character, action, visual, auditory.

Sukiyaki Western Django has it all as well, and though it suffers from a few slow patches, which I find to happen in several of Miike’s films (it could just be that his madness wears me out by midpoint), but there are numerous gags that I’ve never seen before, will never see again (save for another viewing of this film), and won’t ever forget. There’s always a Miike Midnight Madness entry, and it’s always something to look forward to. And it’s getting popular — film programmer Colin Geddes, in his introduction, told us that the Miike screening sold faster than those by old horror icons Dario Argento, Stuart Gordan, and even Romero. Not to mention the damn lineup wrapping halfway around the block.

(Take note: the voices in this trailer are NOT the ones I got at the screening. I heard the original Japanese actors fighting their own way through the English dialogue.)

Very Young Girls: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Paranoid Park: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

Paranoid Park by Guest Festival Goer James17930: 2 out of 4 Limp Noodles

Sukiyaki Western Django: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs 03971semaj

Wednesday, September 12th

An uneventful lineup at the Scotiabank Theatre (you know, just up the street from Rogers Stadium) preceded Run, Fat Boy, Run, a comedy with serious promise of standing out from the pack on account of lead actor/co-writer Simon Pegg and a complete absence of Christopher Walken. In the end, it’s a very nice, sentimental story of a unreliable schlub becoming a responsible adult (which is actually what a lot of comedies are about these days, correct me if I’m wrong) — in this case by getting his ass in shape and running a marathon. It’s never painfully funny, but it still has plenty of good laughs to offer, as many coming from Shaun of the Dead co-star Dylan Moran as from Shaun himself.

But it does prove (if this even needed proving) that Simon Pegg is every bit as good a straight comedic lead as anyone else out there right now; though it probably won’t prove it to anyone over here, as it is a British film (despite being directed by one David Schwimmer — He’s Ross!!) and probably won’t get much of a release over here. Worth seeing if it does, especially for how the marathon plays out, with a great, clever, extended and emotional climax.

(Take note: This trailer makes it looks as garden-variety as possible, and while it actually is a fairly garden-variety comedy, it’s a better-than-average one.)

Mad Detective starts off great, with our titular character showing us just how worthy of that name he is — he solves a case by rolling himself down several flights of stairs inside a piece of luggage (he’s an insanely brilliant detective), and then cuts off his own ear as a gift to his retiring chief (he’s just freakin’ insane). It’s the latter act that gets him booted from the force, and the former that has him sought out several years later to help track down a missing cop, who may have been robbing stores and killing people.

His brilliance manifests itself in his “ability” to see the inner personalities of people — if you’re a shrill harpy on the inside, he’ll actually see the harpy, instead of seeing you. I guess this was supposed to be a kind of intuition coming through in his madness, I don’t know, it was never that clear. It’s certainly not pure crazy, because it worked.

Aspects of the premise and the execution are well done, and the main character gives a very good performance, but aside from a few funny moments (deliberately so, though this isn’t really a comedy), the film has a nasty case of the unfocused borings. It takes way too long to get to certain points, and it would benefit a lot from better explanation of the mechanics of the plot. It’s not a bad film, but the promise of its elements demand it be better.

And then there’s The Devil’s Chair. Ooh lordy. It’s not quite as bad as Frontiere(s), though only because of its twinklings of ideas. It’s ultimately just a stupid, bloody horror thing, but there’s a good moment where it pokes fun at the kind of audience that thrives on stupid & bloody — pokes fun, it outright shouts insults at them. Us? Me? Eh, I guess. But that’s literally just one good moment, surrounded by piles of mostly shit. The violence and blood, 9 times out of 10, isn’t even that visceral or affecting — Frontiere(s) did them better by that.

To the filmmaker’s credit, though, they did an extremely impressive job with the budget they had. It must’ve been really low, but they pulled off some quality effects and creatures, and the sets are nice and run-down. But the part that awed me the most is the quality of the video — as far as HD filming goes, this is some of the nicest I’ve seen. The colours are rich and alive, the lines are clean. The director of photography should be proud; the writer and director, not so much.

Run, Fat Boy, Run: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

Mad Detective: 2 out of 4 Cadillacs

The Devil’s Chair: 1 out of 4 Cadillacs

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Frenchie permalink
    Wednesday, September 12, 2007 11:48 am

    Whoah, Beal, you’ve seen more movies this week than I’ve seen all year. I did go to the premier of Running the Sahara, the Matt Damon produced doc about 3 runners (one a Canadian) who ran right across the Sahara. Completely insane accomplishment. Great movie, very human story.

  2. Friday, September 14, 2007 10:14 am

    Yeah, it’s been a busy week. And at Day 5, it’s really only half over. Kinda thought I’d be hating movies and dreading the thought of seeing them ever again at this point. But no, still looking forward to all that remains.

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