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The Balanced Equation: TIFF 2008 (Part 2)

Sunday, September 14, 2008
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Well, well, well. Turns out I was right. First Darren Aronofsky gets the Venice FIlm Festival Best in Show. And now Danny Boyle gets the Golden Cadillac. Never doubt me again. I am laebmada!

On with my Toronto International Film Festival coverage. Surprises within!

Previously in the coverage, I wrote this: Friday definitely leads to Not Quite Hollywood and may or may not lead to Blood Trail. We’ll just have to wait and see.

We waited, and WE SAW!! (Or rather, didn’t see.)

Not Quite Hollywood
Hong Kong/Canada
Director: Mark Hartley
Writer: Mark Hartley

Pros:

  • As it is a documentary, seeing Not Quite Hollywood allows me to answer people who ask “What did you see at the festival?” with “I saw a documentary,” thus impressing them greatly with my culture and class. Providing they don’t ask me what it’s about, because it’s about nudity, gore, martial arts, car chases, monsters, and vomit, all as filmed in Australia.
  • This would be a good movie to own on DVD just as a resource. There are so many movies referred to here that look to be a blast, and only a tiny few that I’d seen or even heard of. An online directory of these film would be greatly appreciated.
  • As documentaries go, it’s got a great energy, with its blaring music, pulpy edits, and being unafraid to show the full graphic quality of its subject matter.

Cons:

  • It’s essentially just a Discovery Channel documentary on one area of cinema, a DVD supplemental on the history of “Ozploitation,” in terms of the information it gives. It’s a standard history lesson, dressed up in its fun pants. That means no emotional punch, and which the clips are pretty much all great fun to watch, there’s nothing really fascinating going on here.
  • Sometimes a portmanteau works for me, sometimes it does not. “Ozploitation” does not. Let’s find a new term, fellas.

I’m actually not sure what I gave this film on the Cadillac system. Either 2 or 3, but which? But its own merits, for what it was and for what it wants to be, it’s a solid 3. But ranked next to the other films of the festival, next to your JCVDs, it has to falls to a 2. I think I went with a 2. Damn my not giving JCVD 4 out of 4; it has skewed too many of the results since.

Not Quite Hollywood: 2 out of 4 Cadillacs

Blood Trail
Belgium/Luxembourg/France
Director: Richard Perry
Writer: Richard Perry

Pros:

  • It looked really good. A guy documents his trips as a photojournalist to several different war zones, from 1993 to the present. I guess he starts off naive and learns about something or other.

Cons:

  • I don’t know for sure because I didn’t see it. I was foolish in my film selection, and Blood Trail started two hours after Not Quite Hollywood, at a theatre five subway stops away.

Blood Trail: Undefined out of 4 Cadillacs

The final day of the fest is a doozy!! The Sky Crawlers!! Tale 52!! Chocolate!! And perhaps … a surprise?

A doozy PLUS ONE!!

The Wrestler
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writer: Robert D. Siegal

Pros:

  • The fact that I saw it at all is pretty good. I didn’t even bother putting it in my preorders, assuming it’d sell out so damn quick. I wasn’t going to trek down to the Ryerson theatre for the 9 am Saturday, but then, Friday evening, I made myself an Executive Decision and opted in. It was indeed sold out when I arrived, so I took to the rush line. I was pretty far down, twenty plus, almost didn’t even bother, but bother I did, and got in I did. And then, then, someone gives me one of their extra tickets. I didn’t even have to pay.
  • The fact that I was so confident that there’d be no getting into The Wrestler that I told a co-worker not to even try, and then I went anyway and got in. That’s a special kind of satisfaction.
  • And Mickey Rourke was really great. He nails the bulky, shouting-in-the-ring half of Randy “The Ram” Robinson, and he nails the washed-up, pathetic, sick and empty side of The Ram. All that stuff people have been saying about him, let it be known that I concur. I hereby validate their opinions.

Cons:

  • The story is exactly what you expect. Ex-actly. Tell someone to come up with a story about a broken down, former glory, 1980s superstar wrestler, and this plot is what they’ll give you. It’s not bad or wrong, it’s just exactly what you think it’ll be. And the final climax was easily foreseen; I knew what was coming for the dramatic D’enoument from about twenty minutes in. So the plot is by the book; but Mickey Rourke makes it something fairly special.
  • The very, very end, I’m talking the final shot before they cut to credits and kick in Bruce Springsteen’s nice, Bob Dylan-channeling title song, is a little … easy. It’s noble, but I don’t think it’s as much of a gut punch as it thinks it is.

Funny thing is, this film is a perfect companion for JCVD. They both cover the same basic themes, the tones aren’t identical but they definitely overlap. And the thing is, for all the praise and awards The Wrestler has coming, JCVD is a better film. It takes those same themes and does more interesting, more surprising things with them. True, Mickey Rourke is great, most people would agree he’s better than Van Damme here, but his strength is no where near the surprise Van Damme’s is. So here’s what you do: see them both.

The Wrestler: 3 out of 4 Cadillacs

The Sky Crawlers
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Writer: Chihiro Itou

Pros:

  • This Anime hits us with its usual shot: some beautiful art, in this one it’s aerial scenery, the backgrounds and foregrounds of a number of sometimes-great dogfights; the way the artists painted the fields and forests from high above is amazing. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen an Anime film that didn’t have at least a couple of stunning visuals, so this is all standard operating procedure. It’s so expected you can almost brush it off.
  • The IMDB plot keywords for The Sky Crawlers are: Genetics | Bowling | Prostitute | Love | Scooter.
  • It’s got that old-tech science fiction thing going on — kind of an alternate past, where some wackadoo technologies have been developed, but we’re all still chugging along in our ’48 Plymouths, and our heroes of the sky zip around in WWII bombers. And that leads to some interesting twists, or at least, I think it does.

Cons:

  • At least, I think it does, because I passed out for most of the first hour. It’s not that it was boring, maybe, it’s that I’d just eaten a fat lunch of salmon eggs benedict and pancakes. Tasty, but it destroyed me. I just couldn’t keep conscious — this isn’t really a con against the film, though. Maybe.
  • Another standard operating procedure of Anime is the monologue. Now, normally I’m quite pro-monologue; I believe that too few films contain lengthy monologues nowadays. But Anime don’t do it right. They always take an absurd, jarring step aside from the moment, have the character go on philosophizing in ways that don’t suit them, ways that are twenty IQ points above their pay grade. And they’re so god damn dry when they do it. Visual design- and especially voice acting-wise, all the characters in The Sky Crawlers are boring-ass motherfuckers to begin with (boring enough to put an egg-filled man to sleep? Maybe ), and the bland design of their faces (which may have been thematically logical, I’m not sure) don’t do anything to help. When the girl starts with the talk about how “humans need war,” the ideas presented are interesting, just not enough to be overwhelmed by the flatline delivery. Oh, and Anime also tend to be so, so painfully obvious with their high-minded ponderings. Though I guess the Japanese have never been known for their subtlety.
  • And you know, I’ve always felt a resistance to calling Japanese animation “Anime.” Why the hell do they get their own word? It’s just an animated film from Japan! Was Heavy Metal “Canadime”? Fine, there’s a distinctive style to the Japanese (and Japanese-influenced) animated output, but it’s not distinctive enough to warrant its own special term. Screw that monkey crap.

So, with knowledge of its potential boringness, I would nonetheless like to see The Sky Crawlers again — those splinters of interesting sci-fi ideas that I got through my drowsy haze intrigue me. However, at this juncture, I feel ill-qualified to render a verdict.

The Sky Crawlers: Not Enough Information out of 4 Cadillacs

Good things will come to those who wait!! Things like Tale 52 and Chocolate!!

Wait no longer!!

Tale 52
Greece
Director: Alexis Alexiou
Writer: Alexis Alexiou

Pros:

  • The first thirty minutes or so are a fairly normal series of events — a relationship begins and develops — but there’s a thick tone of dread maintained via lighting, music, and performance. Aside from a wee tidbit here and there, nothing special happens, but it still kept me in suspense and eager for the reveal — of time travel shenanigans!!
  • The conceit behind the plot is an interesting one, similar to that one creepy repeat section of Groundhog Day, as well as recent indie game darling Braid. What if you could go back and fix all the little mistakes, try the relationship again? Creepity!
  • The guy’s name is Alexis Alexiou. That’s like if I were called Bealing Bealton. Which is to say great.

Cons:

  • Once it really gets down to it, Tale 52 gets down to confusing. This worked well in Primer, where even after several viewings I couldn’t tell you exactly what happens, because Primer still manages to feel like there is an explanation to it all. Tale 52 strikes me as not really making sense. Either that or it relies on some variety of subjectivity cop-out, a possibility of which I wholehartedly disapprove.
  • The shocking things our main character’s screwy time line drive him to do aren’t in and of themselves especially surprising or inventive or shocking — once again, it’s performance and tone that make a fairly plain and easy series of events more interesting than they should be. Nonetheless, this is the kind of movie that demands something at the climax to stun you, a surprise development or twist or even just a really strong emotional kick. Tale 52 doesn’t have that.

So, no high scores for this one. But it has something going on, I think, and I would be interested in a second viewing, if only to straighten some plot out in my mind, and to decide for sure if there’s a logic behind its temporal chaos. I’m not especially confident I’ll ever have the chance, however.

Tale 52: 2 out of 4 Cadillacs

Chocolate
Hong Kong/Canada
Director: Prachya Pinkaew
Writers: Chukiat Sakveerakul & Nepalee Sakweerakul

Pros:

  • Whatever the overall quality of the festival, you can always count on Midnight Madness to deliver one fantastic martial arts film. Versus. Flash Point. Ong-Bak. And from the director of said Ong-Bak we get this year’s dose of kickassery. It’s Muay Thai with a girl! Director Pracha Pinkaew knows how to build your basic martial arts movie in terms of giving us the basics in character and motivation, and then he’s fantastic at setting up dramatic, escalating fight scenes built around their settings. Plus she’s a girl!
  • The film is another entry in that beloved genre of the superpowered handicapped. As Rain Man was to math and Forrest Gump was to world domination, Zen is to fucking people up. She’s autistic, loves herself the M&M’s, hates those pesky flies, and mimics the bone-busting moves of her favorite movie martial artists. And she’s a girl! So she sits around twitching occasionally and freaking out over nothing, and it could be seen as needlessly offensive. But the movie loves its main character, and its main (girl) actor plays her cuteness up, so it’s hard to get too mad. Plus it’s a damn martial arts movie; nobody’s going in expecting too much sensitivity or respect for humanity. They go to see humanity get beat up.
  • They really, really seem to be putting a lot on the fact that it stars a girl (like we haven’t seen Michelle Yeoh or Zhang Ziyi or various other ladies-who-could-totally-hurt-me already). That fact alone doesn’t mean much to me, but the girl they got is a real keeper. Jeejah Yanin sells every elbow and knee, she’s got great screen charisma (acting chops it’s harder to say, since she spent the whole movie doing one-dimension of ‘tard), and, I have to say it, she’s a cutie. It’s on frequent display in the film itself, but before it started we got a little video greeting from Jeejah, where she spoke impossible-to-decipher English to us while stunmen knocked each other around in the background, and she was just adorable. I get a warm Snuggle Bear kind of feeling just thinking about it.

Cons:

  • While it expertly does the requisite stuff as all good martial arts flicks do, it fucks up in all the same ways. It’s not especially emotional, it’s a story that wouldn’t warrant telling without the chopsocky, it’s got plot turns which don’t have much logic or reason behind them beyond setting up the next setpiece. These things, while unfortunate, are also forgivable. There is one common crime of the martial arts genre that’s a real problem though — all too often, they take forever to get going. I guess it’s hard to fit action into setup and exposition scenes, but I think it’d be worth the extra effort. Because some of these movies just drag for their first thirty minutes. Last year’s Flash Point is a big offender in this regard. Chocolate’s offense ain’t so bad, sensibly loading the opening act with a cute little kid playing handicapped and kicking walls as it does.
  • I guess I was expecting the fat comic relief kid to grow up into the fat comic relief guy from Ong Bak and Tom Yum Goong, so that was unfortunate. And they all speak Thai, which is truly the worst of our human languages. But I’m had enough of this searching for faults. The movie kicks ass. It’s the kind of movie that should kick ass.

Do I have to repeat myself? It kicks ass.

Chocolate: 4 out of 4 Cadillacs

And that’ll do it for this year. Except for a roundup-rundown-review of the year as a whole I’ll be whittling out. A nice little summary. Think I might stick in some trailers, too, as I probably should’ve been doing all along. But linking to YouTubes takes a lot of time, so don’t expect it too soon.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. James17930 permalink
    Monday, September 15, 2008 1:09 pm

    I heard the festival, overall, was a bit of a disappointment this year.

    Your thoughts?

  2. Monday, September 15, 2008 7:29 pm

    My concluding thoughts will come once I have concluded. You be patient!

  3. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, September 16, 2008 4:35 am

    But most would say that patience is a virtue. I, however, am not virtuous.

  4. Tuesday, September 16, 2008 11:58 am

    Yeah, I’ve never considered patience to be one of my virtues either.

  5. James17930 permalink
    Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:22 pm

    And yet here we are, patiently awaiting the conclusion of this post.

  6. Wednesday, September 24, 2008 10:15 pm

    PATIENCE REWARDED!! VIRTUE MAINTAINED!!

    UPDATE!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. James17930 permalink
    Monday, September 29, 2008 8:24 pm

    Wait — you’re still not done?!

  8. Friday, October 3, 2008 10:22 pm

    Oh, am I trying your patience?

    SIT UP STRAIGHT, I GOT YOUR UPDATE!!!!!!

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