Toronto International Film Festival Update #1

We’re four days into the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and we’ve been running around town from the Scotiabank Theater to various hotels both uptown and downtown, doing interviews with filmmakers and actors. While we’re still touching up the first of our full reviews from the festival, we wanted to give a brief recap of what we’ve seen so far, what we’ve liked, loved and loathed, basically an overview of what we’ve been doing for the past few days.

The absolutely best thing we’ve seen so far is Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight – Nov. 5), another masterful foray into a new realm, in this case, the story of fun-loving mountaineer Aron Ralston, played by James Franco, who became helplessly trapped in a canyon crevasse in the middle of nowhere for nearly six days. Unlike the other TIFF film Buried (Lionsgate – Sept. 24), this isn’t a claustrophobic film that spends most of its relatively short run time with tight shots on Franco trying to get loose, although that’s a big part of it. Instead, Boyle uses the expansive landscape to create a much larger scope, but also gets deep into what Ralston must have gone through psychologically while trapped. Needless to say, this may be the performance of Franco’s career (so far), because it relies entirely on his versatility as an actor, not only to keep the scenes of him trying to escape entertaining but also creating true empathy within the viewer. It’s by far one of the best films we’ve seen this year.

While we rarely cover docs at film festivals, we couldn’t miss Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for “Superman” (Paramount – September 24), which is likely to be considered one of the best as well as one of the most important movies of the year. It deals with education and the fracture school system in our country, but it come at the hefty and complicated topic from another different angles, particularly by looking at the public school system and how public charter schools, which are growing exceedingly hard to get into, have found a way to focus on getting students through the system and into college. Following roughly a half dozen young students in various parts of our country as they and their parents try to get them the best possible education, something that proves exceedingly difficult, it’s a smart, sometimes funny, often poignant look at something that has an incredibly significant effect on pretty much everything in our lives. (Look for our interview with Guggenheim and producer Leslie Chilcott later this month!)

Our most anticipated film was Darren Aronofksy’s Black Swan (Fox Searchlight – Dec. 1), and it delivered with a psychological thriller set in the competitive world of ballet starring Natalie Portman as Nina, a dancer who is starting to fall apart under the pressure of being cast as the lead in a challenging version of “Swan Lake.” Portman is absolutely astounding in a role where she goes through a startling transformation both figuratively and literally, but we also loved Vincent Cassel as the lecherous director of the company, Barbara Hershey as her overbearing mother and Mila Kunis as a free-spirited newcomer who threatens Nina’s place in the company. It’s a fairly straight-ahead movie that delves into De Palma and Hitchcock territory, and though it’s driven by fantastic performances, this is an Aronofsky film through and through with the same sort of clarity of vision he’s brought to all his previous films while putting Portman’s character through the wringer.

Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech (Weinstein Co. – Nov. 24) is a delightful movie based on what might not seem like a rather mundane subject matter, the speech impediment of England’s Duke of York, but it’s the performances by Colin Forth as that Duke, Geoffrey Rush as his speech therapist, and the entertaining chemistry and rapport between them that makes this film such a crowd-pleaser. Expect a number of Oscar nominations for this one, including Best Picture, since this movie is just the type of thing that Academy voters love.

On the other hand, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful (Roadside Attractions – Dec. 29) isn’t going to be for everyone, as it’s essentially a two-and-a-half hour slice of life film, but it does star Javier Bardem in the role of his career as Uxbal, a street hustler whose family and personal life is slowly falling apart, as he deals with a schizophrenic ex-wife–Maricel Alvarez in an impressive film debut–business deals gone wrong and progressively worsening health problems. It does take some time to get going and you really do feel the length of the film, maybe because for the first hour you may not quite be sure what is going on, but it does pay off, and it’s not a movie that you can easily shake off after seeing. Hopefully, the Academy won’t overlook Bardem for this like they did for The Sea Inside.

Im Sang-Soo’s remake of the Korean thriller The Housemaid starts out with a grisly suicide and ends with one of the sickest climaxes we’ve seen in recent memory, and along the way, it has so many twists and turns as you watch Jeon Do-yeon as the beleaguered young woman who has to put up with all sorts of indignities from the master and mistress of the household where she gets a job as a nanny. In that sense, it has a lot in common with Black Swan, being a thriller that works better due to the combination of top performances and a visionary filmmaker.

Another remake (of sorts) is Matt Reeves’ Let Me In (Overture – Oct. 1), which readapted the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which was made into Tomas Alfredson’s highly-acclaimed Swedish thriller Let the Right One In. As hard as it is to talk about the new movie without making comparisons to the original, especially for those who’ve seen both, being adapted from the same book, there are many similar scenes between the two movies. Even so, Reeves does a fine job handling the material and making it his own, but the romance between a young boy and a vampire girl is just as strong due to the performances by Chloë Moretz (from Kick-Ass) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (from The Road). Let Me In is probably a lot more gorier than its Swedish counterpart, but one thing that bothered us was the use of CG, especially in body doubling, which is a lot more noticeable in a bad way.

It may be obvious at times that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating (Overture – Sept. 17) was based on a play from the Labyrinth Theater where he and co-star John Ortiz shared creative director duties, but Hoffman does a fine job capturing the spirit of Woody Allen’s New York romance while creating a terrific showcase for the many talents of Amy Ryan, as the neurotic but compelling woman Hoffman’s character falls for. It’s a film that grows progressively more dark and strange as it goes along, but it’s exactly the type of movie you might expect Hoffman to choose for his debut as a director. We’ll have an interview with Hoffman later this week.

You can now read our review of Ben Affleck’s The Town by going here and we’ll also have a full review soon of Easy A (Sony/Screen Gems). We generally liked both of them, maybe the latter a little more than the former, maybe because Easy A delivers a lot more as a straight comedy, while The Town has a lot more dialogue-driven scenes than may be expected from watching the trailers and commercials.

John Curran’s drama Stone (Overture – Oct. 8) took us by surprise because of its unique tone and the fact that it is a straight drama in which the most powerful scenes involve Robert De Niro and Edward Norton sitting in a room talking, the latter playing the inmate trying to convince the former to release him from jail. Even with two such prestigious stars, we were more blown away by Milla Jovovich as Norton’s sexpot wife who will do anything to get her husband out of jail, including seducing De Niro. The film’s distinctive subdued and ambient tone is what captivated us the most, even though it is sometimes a bit too esoteric for its own good, especially in dealing with spirituality. That aspect of it reminded us of the drama Bee Season and we expect this one will be just as polarizing. We’ll have an interview with Curran, Norton and Jovovich closer to release.

Filmmaker Guillam Morales had the benefits of Guillermo del Toro as a producer for his thriller Julia’s Eyes, as well as the beautiful Belén Rueda, star of Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage, and some of that film’s crew, all which helped the director create a suspenseful and stylish film that harks back to the likes of Wait Until Dark, Peeping Tom and at times, some of the gory Italian horror flicks from the ’70s. There are a lot of ideas in the movie, some which work better than others, but there’s no denying that the beautiful Belén Rueda is an actress who keeps the viewer riveted to the screen in every single scene.

The title of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s third film It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Focus – Oct. 8) might be a bit of a misnomer, because it isn’t a straight comedy, despite the presence of comic Zach Galifianakis. The fact that many of the biggest laughs are in the trailer might be bothersome to those expecting a comedy, but it’s definitely more in the vein of “Garden State” as it follows Keir Gilchrist’s 16-year-old Craig through five days in a psychiatric ward. Much of the movie relies way too much on creating laughs from the behavior of “crazy” people, but it fully recovers by the end, saved by the romance between Gilchrist and Emma Roberts as a rebellious fellow inmate. It’s hard to determine whether the film played to Boden and Fleck’s fortes, as it’s as different from Sugar as that was from Half Nelson, but the Broken Social Scene soundtrack does help with their hipster status.

We were somewhat disappointed by Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (Fox Searchlight – Sept. 15) for reasons we’ll get into when we post our review later this week. We do have a great video interview with the filmmaker that probably would be worth watching if you’re unsure whether the movie is for you.

Sadly, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Sony Pictures Classics – Sept. 22) is not one of Woody Allen’s best, being rather erratic and all over the place and not as funny as one might hope for one of his comedies. It certainly has a great cast including Naomi Watts, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin and Freida Pinto, but the actor who steals the movie is probably Lucy Punch as a sexy young golddigger who Hopkins’ character falls for. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that once again, Woody Allen is making a movie about an older man with a significantly younger woman, something he really has to get away from. Brolin has some funny moments as well, but the many subplots just never really come together.

So far, the only “Midnight Madness” movie we’ve been able to make is James (Slither) Gunn’s highly-anticipated Super, starring Rainn Wilson as a man who dons a superhero costume to fight crime after his wife leaves him. The best part of the movie is clearly Ellen Page as his psychotic sidekick. Juno fans may die of shock when they see what she gets up to in this. The movie’s a bit erratic in tone, but it has a lot of crazy and gory violence as well as some funny in-jokes for the comic book crowd. We’ll have an interview with Gunn later in the week as well. The movie was just picked up by IFC and we imagine this will be a cult classic.

We were probably a little more disappointed with Andrew Lau’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen starring Donnie Yen, which is very much a tribute to the legendary Bruce Lee, almost to a fault as Yen dons some of Lee’s most famous outfits and recreates some of his moves. Set in Shanghai shortly after WWI, it just tries to cover too much ground in terms of genres with humor and romance filling in the lengthy gaps between action scenes, and though it does have some fun moments, it just doesn’t live up to the film’s many influences.

That’s all for now but we hope to have some full reviews and another update later in the week, as well as some of the interviews we’ve done the past few days.


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