TIFF Review: Room 237

Room 237 (2012, directed by Rodney Ascher)

We've all been there. You're watching a movie and all of a sudden, bang! You get an epiphany about it. Maybe you were trying to figure out why the basement door always seemed to be locked and the knob was red, or why Kevin Spacey held his cigarette funny, and all of a sudden pieces start falling into place and it all makes sense. Or maybe you were talking with your friends after the movie and words tumbled out of your mouth that you didn't even know were there and you found yourself arguing that wait, no, the Gods Below are actually the audience, and it's their suspension of disbelief that needs to be maintained in order to keep them 'asleep' and stop the world/film from being destroyed.

What happens when you start telling your theory and your friends look at you like you're crazy, though? What do you do with your theory? Do you pack it away, or do you look deeper into the movie for more evidence to prove to them that you're right?

A doc about the obsessive/paranoid end of the cinephile spectrum, Room 237 could almost have been subtitled Kubrick Plays Itself. A group of people with very distinct takes on The Shining spin their theories exclusively in voiceover while film clips, mostly from the Shining itself but also drawing heavily from other Kubrick works like 2001 and Eyes Wide Shut as well as a wide range of other films, are used to illustrate the various points they're trying to make. The theories are, to be polite, a bit odd. One person thinks the film is about the Holocaust (cue the American Werewolf in London demon Nazis dream sequence), another about the genocide of native North Americans (cue the crying chief anti-littering ad). A third thinks it's Kubrick's admission that he was involved in faking the moon landing footage (not, the speaker stresses, that he thinks we didn't actually go to the moon. Just that the images we saw on television were faked on a sound stage. Cue the Capricorn One clips.) The impossible architecture of the hotel gets explored, as does the numerology of the rooms and the cars in the parking lot. Much is made of the psycho-sexual composition of the carpets. In fact each theory gets "supported" by a careful textual analysis of background details and apparent continuity errors that of course can't be accidents at all, but must have been deliberately placed there as clues by a mega-genius like Kubrick.

Yes, the film is funny and extremely well put together and the theories are barking mad, but the film does have something to say about the nature of film fandom and film criticism that might just hit a little too close to home for some, a message punctuated by the decision to never have Room 237's theorists appear on camera. Just as the lack of visual detail in a cartoon drawing of a person makes it more universal and easier to identify with, hearing only the voices of the speakers makes it that much easier to put yourself in their shoes. I can remember sending friends a long, detailed email in the lead-up to the release of Scream 3 "proving", beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Dewey was in fact the mastermind behind all the killings. (And I still think that theory would have made a better movie than the pile of shit Ehren Kruger actually gave us.) Really, if you are invested in movies beyond a certain point, you're going to have opinions and theories about specific ones that are, umm, outside the mainstream. The trick is understanding that they are just theories, and not letting yourself become too attached to any of them, because once you fall down that rabbit hole it's hard to find your way back out.

Room 237 is an entertaining and at times unnerving piece of work. It's an absolute must-see, whether you're a fan of Kubrick, the Shining or just of movies in general.

TIFF Review: Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas (2012, directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer)

(Note the credit: Lana and Andy, not just "the Wachowskis". It's fitting, in a way, that this is the movie for which Lana first gets billing under her new name, as Cloud Atlas addresses questions about the nature of human identity, what it means in fact to be 'human', as well as dabbling in themes of persecution and freedom. Now as to how successfully it addresses those themes and questions, well...)

Based on a thought-to-be-unfilmable book, Cloud Atlas tells six disparate stories set in six disparate time periods: a harrowing ocean voyage in the 1800s, a young composer struggling to make a name for himself in the 1930s, an intrepid reporter uncovering a scandal in the 1970s, the comic escapades of an aging publisher in the present day, the education and enlightenment of a cloned worker in Seoul in the 2100s, and a desperate quest for the remains of a lost civilization in the far future. The film hops back and forth between each story, gradually teasing out links between them, while also featuring nearly the same cast of actors in each playing sometimes wildly different roles. The result is not the confusing mishmash it might have been: each story and each time period is clearly distinct from each other in look and feel, and thanks to makeup, language and accent there's never any confusion about who or what you're seeing on screen. That, alone, makes Cloud Atlas an impressive achievement, but there's a lot more going on in it than just some nice plot-juggling. On a certain level it's also a puzzle movie. Each story shows up as a story in the succeeding time period: the young composer, for instance, finds a torn copy of a book that purports to be a journal of that 1800s ocean voyage, while the aging publisher is sent a manuscript presenting the '70s investigation as a crime novel. The entire film is also bookended by an old storyteller entertaining children around a fire. Those touches adds a nice bit of uncertainty to the proceedings, creating a smidge of doubt as to whether the stories are supposed to be 'real' or merely fictions within the larger fiction. There's also a fun game of 'spot the actor' that goes on once you realize how the casting operates, as the roles of some very recognizable faces are not always obvious.

That uncertainty is actually necessary, because unfortunately the film felt just a little too simplified and straight-forward thematically. I hesitate to say it's dumbed-down for a mass audience, but I'm not sure I can be more charitable. When you get down to its core, Cloud Atlas tells us that freedom is good, persecution is bad, and people are people. Well, duh. It isn't enough, for instance, to have Sonmi-451's story in Neo Seoul be one of a "fabricant" and her dawning realization that despite her origins she is as human as someone who came from a womb. No, the futuristic society that created her has to be shown treating her as inhumanely as we treat livestock today, if not worse. And those elements are also reflected in the stories of the young man on the ocean voyage, who befriends a runaway slave and eventually becomes an abolitionist; and in the publisher's imprisonment in an old age home against his will; and the struggles faced by the composer due to his sexual orientation. Such links may help make the movie feel more coherent, but they also make it feel awfully on the nose at times, like it's one story told six different ways as opposed to six different stories. Granted, that is one of the things the film is trying to say, but it doesn't so it with much subtlety.

The other area in which Cloud Atlas feels like something of a let-down is in the performances. Tom Hanks is particularly cringe-worthy in a couple of places, portraying a thuggish "British" author (I'm putting British in quotes because his accent is just excruciating), while neither he nor Halle Berry come across looking good trying to handle a future island dialect that veers dangerously close to Jar-Jar territory. The makeup also isn't up to the herculean tasks set for it. Hugo Weaving is supposed to look comical as the Nurse Rached-like matron at the old age home, but Jim Sturgess looks no more like a Korean resistance fighter than Boris Karloff did an evil Chinese mastermind, and dotting Doona Bae's face with freckles doesn't allow her to pass as the very British wife of the ocean voyager.

The film's strengths more than balance out those missteps though. In terms of cinematography and effects it looks amazing across all six time periods while still always feeling like one movie instead of six different ones, which is even more astounding when you consider the Wachowskis shot three segments and Tykwer shot three using two completely separate crews. The performances are for the most part very good (Jim Broadbent will never let you down, while of the supporting cast Hugh Grant of all people is tremendous) and certainly its themes are worthy ones, even if they get treated a bit shallowly. In fact if I'd compare Cloud Atlas to anything (and I know it's a weird comparison, so bear with me on this) it would be the film that really cemented Hanks as an A-list star, Forrest Gump. The two have nothing in common plot-wise, but both are incredible technical achievements that sell their source material a bit short in order to take a shot at reaching a wider audience. That calculation paid off big-time for Gump, but I'm not convinced it will for Tykwer and the Wachowskis' crazy collaboration. For the record I liked it far more than Zemeckis' facile blockbuster though, and I'm really hoping it does strike the necessary chord with audiences to become a hit.

Whatever flaws Cloud Atlas has, we need more movies with this kind of ambition.

TIFF Review: The Lesser Blessed

The Lesser Blessed (2012, directed by Anita Doron)

As long as kids continue to come of age, there will be coming-of-age stories. No matter what time, place and culture the story's set in, the near-universality of the passage into (or at least towards) adulthood gives an audience an easy hook into a worldview they might not otherwise be able to relate to. You might not be a snot-nosed teen in post-war America, or a young woman finding her place in the world in England in the 1800s, or a troubled boy in '50s Paris, but you can find enough common ground with them to give yourself over to their journeys.

Which is not to say that The Lesser Blessed (the film, at least... I haven't read the book it's based on) is a classic on the level of Catcher In the Rye, or Jane Eyre, or the 400 Blows. But it's unique enough to carve out a little space of its own next to those heavyweights.

Larry is a gawky, withdrawn teenager whose past can be traced in the burn scars all over his body. A member of the Dogrib tribe living in a small town in the Northwest Territories, he seems to wander through his days listening and drumming along to heavy metal, pining after perky blonde Juliet and avoiding getting beaten up by the class bully Darcy. When bad-boy Johnny Beck arrives at school though, putting Darcy in his place and hooking up with Juliet, Larry finds himself drawn out of his shell and forced to confront the demons he's been denying.

While there's nothing terribly original about the basic setup, The Lesser Blessed gets full value out of its northern setting and native heritage. In another time and place Larry might have become a Dogrib medicine man or prophet, but in a 21st century high school he's just an awkward kid prone to dreaming of the bush and making sweetly cryptic, poetic pronouncements. The sense of isolation is palpable; living in a place where there isn't much to do other than drink and get high Larry's options for escape are very limited, and running away means sleeping outdoors and a potentially quick death whether you're prepared for what nature can throw at you or not.

Joel Nathan Evans mostly strikes the right notes as Larry and Benjamin Bratt is solid as the new guy in Larry's mom's life, but it's Kiowa Gordon (yes, one of the Twilight hunks) that makes the biggest impression as Johnny, letting just enough of his pain show through to explain, if not excuse, his behavior.

The Lesser Blessed is aptly named. It isn't the greatest coming-of-age film you'll ever see, but you won't regret seeking it out.

TIFF Review: The Hunt

The Hunt (2012, directed by Thomas Vinterberg)

A kindergarten student gives her favorite teacher and her father's best friend an innocent peck on the lips. He gently scolds her and tries to let her know that the peck was inappropriate. Feeling rejected, she tells an ugly lie to another teacher. From such small seeds are tragedies born.

The Hunt is a frustrating film, which is suspect is exactly the reaction Vinterberg wants from his audience. Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen, tremendous as always) is too perfectly nice. A divorced dad whose ex-wife seems to be the one with the issues he struggles to deal with being separated from his son but makes the best of it, and is even just starting a relationship with a woman who works at the school. There's no chance of there being anything dark or sinister in his character. He's clearly an innocent man caught up in a horror show. And watching that horror show unfold makes you want to reach into the screen and shake some sense into all the dumbasses who make it happen. Fear and ignorance spread like wildfire. Even young Klara is able to recognize something isn't right, that what she's inadvertently unleashed needs to be put back down, but even though she tries to tell the "adults" that she made it up no one wants to listen. Her denials are dismissed as an attempt to suppress her memories. Lucas' life is ruined in an instant, as Klara's one little lie turns into a witch hunt and a supposed epidemic of abuse among all the kids in Lucas' charge.

In fact the dominoes seem to fall too neatly as the lie escalates, and critical thinking skills are found to be completely lacking among Lucas' friends and neighbors, but that has to be Vinterberg's point. False accusations and witch hunts happen in real life, and this is more or less exactly how they happen. It's a little too pat in the film, but that just heightens your sense of impotence in the face of the injustice. If it's frustrating to watch it's because human weakness can be frustrating to watch. We should be better than this, and far too often we aren't.

Mikkelsen's ability and willingness to let himself get broken down completely and discover what's at his character's core is on full display, and his performance saves the film. The Hunt feels like a lesser effort from Vinterberg in the end, simply because things are just too black and white, but that's hardly an indictment. Personally, I'll take lesser Vinterberg over peak Haneke any day.

TIFF Review: No One Lives

No One Lives (2012, directed by Ryuhei Kitamura)

Kitamura isn't exactly the most subtle of filmmakers, granted, but when the demented brain behind 2001's Versus unleashes a film on you called No One Lives, you pretty much get locked into certain expectations: a high body count, gruesome kills, and probably a certain amount of cheekiness with regard to the whole enterprise.

I am happy to report that No One Lives meets all those expectations in spades.

The film opens with a couple moving to a new city, hauling a trailer behind their car and looking for a place to stop for the night. There's something off about their relationship though, something disconcerting that you can't quite put your finger on. When they cross paths with a gang of robbers whose mad-dog member just killed a couple of people during a heist gone wrong, bad things happening seem pretty much inevitable. How bad though, and who they happen to... well, that would be telling.

This is a movie you need to have some faith in. I'm not going to mince words: the dialogue in No One Lives is stilted, awkward and cringe-worthy. Even actors who are known to have some pretty decent chops, such as Luke Evans and Lee Tergesen, aren't able to do anything with it. Through the first 10-15 minutes of the film you're going to wonder what the hell you've gotten yourself into. Then The Scene happens, and all that doubt will disappear and you'll know exactly what you've gotten yourself into - a film that is genuflecting at the altar of '70s horror, both American and Italian. The Scene is... I can't even. Suffice it to say there's a couple of kills that kick the plot into gear, and then a thing happens that is so perfectly over-the-top and awesome and gross and spectacular that it just sweeps you along in its bloody wake. You can't prepare yourself for The Scene, and you wouldn't want to. If anyone tries to spoil it for you just shoot them in the face, for the good of all humanity.

The rest of the movie is a cat and mouse game, if the cat and mouse are both heavily armed and deeply disturbed sadists. None of the remaining violence and mayhem rises quite to the level of The Scene, but it doesn't need to. There are guns and explosions and wood chippers and shower curtains a-plenty for the rest of the cast to get massacred with, and there's a tremendous slow reveal in flashback of just how sick the sickest of the sickos in this movie really is that adds the perfect depraved accents to the proceedings. And just for fun, No One Lives also features the back half of one of the greatest synchronicities/links in Midnight Madness history: one night after Seven Psychopaths has as a not-insignificant plot point multiple slashed throats, No One Lives sees said sickest of the sickos (say that five times fast...) giving a lesson in how to keep someone alive after their throat's been slashed.

No One Lives is pure, unashamed modern grindhouse, with all that that implies. Don't say you weren't warned.

TIFF Review: Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone (2012, directed by Jacques Audiard)

I freely admit it- I'm a sucker for melodrama. From Douglas Sirk to My So-Called Life to Carlos Siguion-Reyna, if the emotions portrayed on screen are inflated you're probably going to hook me in at least a little. The trick with the melodramatic style, of course, is walking that fine line between exaggerated and grotesque, between engaging and campy. Get it right and you generate tears in your audience; get it wrong, and the results is eye rolls.

Rust and Bone is a film where you'll probably want to bring a lot of kleenex along with you.
Ali (Bullhead's Matthias Schoenaerts) is a single dad who's taken his son away from his mother, giving dark hints that the boy was being used as a drug mule. He's no saint himself though, stealing food on a train and a camera in town to keep the duo going until they get to the home of the sister he hasn't seen in years. Anna and her husband take them in, but Ali has trouble holding up his end of the bargain. He's a fairly negligent dad, preferring to bang chicks at the gym rather than pick Sam up at school. He briefly lands a job as a bouncer due to his boxing background and, while breaking up a fight, meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), an orca trainer at a nearby Seaworld-style amusement park. Stephanie has issues of her own, and while there are sparks at their first meeting nothing much comes of it.

Then Stephanie has an accident and loses both of her legs at the knee. As she tries to rebuild her life she reaches out to Ali, who by this time is knocking out teeth in backyard brawls as a French Kimbo Slice. Without even really knowing why, he lets her in, and a rough, cautious romance starts to bloom.

One of the most amazing things about Rust and Bone, for me, is the way Audiard fuses old school Hollywood melodrama with modern filmmaking. The basic setup is essentially An Affair To Remember, only Cary Grant has been replaced by Kirk Douglas from Champion, but there is nothing retro about this movie in large part due to the two outstanding leads. Cotillard is her usual magnificent self, with pain and the will to survive dancing in her eyes and across her face like shadows, but Scheonaerts is no second fiddle. His Ali is exactly the self-centered man-child you expect and yet he manages to invest Ali with a surprising innocence. When Ali hurts the people in his life he does so out of ignorance and carelessness, not malice. And the mirroring of Ali's unintentional efforts to help Stephanie find herself again with her own very intentional efforts to help him grow up give their relationship incredible depth.

The other element that makes that relationship so interesting, of course, is Stephanie's disability. This is the single best depiction of a person handling the loss of their limbs I have ever seen on screen. Granted, it's not a subject that comes up much in movies, but between the absolutely seamless digital effects used to remove her lower legs (or, eventually, replace them with prosthetics) and Cotillard's total investment in a character struggling to deal with her new physical reality and prove to herself that she is still intact and whole, Rust and Bone is a spectacular triumph just for that one achievement alone. It's the kind of showy role that would normally seem like total Oscar-bait, but Cotillard's performance is as far from, say, Pacino's cartoonish scenery-chewing in Scent of a Woman as it's possible to get. Stephanie's journey through her personal crucible feels achingly real, and the moment when she finally regains herself - ludicrously and gloriously punctuated by Katy Perry's Fireworks - is as uplifting a scene as you will see in any movie this year, and probably this decade.

Of course Stephanie's journey is only half the movie and Ali's crucible is just as hellish as hers, although for different reasons. But Schoenaerts' desperate despair is just as compelling as Cotillard's when he hits bottom, and his own rebirth just as believable. Throw around all the young Brando comparisons you want with regard to this performance; Schoenaerts earns them all with an intensity and physicality maybe only matched in recent years by Tom Hardy in Bronson or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Mysterious Skin.

Rust and Bone manages to tell a larger-than-life story with all the trappings of classic melodrama in a grounded, realistic way, and the result is simply magic. Find it, watch it, and have a good cry. You won't regret it.

TIFF Review: Tai Chi Zero

Tai Chi Zero (2012, directed by Stephen Fung)

This movie is... well, there's... it just... I mean, fuck.

I don't want to simply rehash the tweet I sent out right after seeing it, but it's really the best description I've got. Tai Chi Zero is the crazy, crazy baby of Kung Fu Hustle and Scott Pilgrim. Ostensibly it's a Chinese historical epic about Yang Lu Chan, the man who popularized tai chi, and tells the standard tale of his quest to learn the secrets of the style and master them, but at the same time it's a batshit, steampunk-infused story of good versus evil, tradition versus progress, and xenophobia versus inclusiveness delivered along with a visual maelstrom of comic book elements. Yes, I said steampunk. Chinese steampunk. Deal with it.

This is most giddily ridiculous film I've seen in a long time. It feels like almost every frame gets jazzed up with something. I suppose it's become a bit old hat to superimpose a credit when a character appears on screen for the first time, but when have you seen superimposed credits that list not only the character and the actor playing them, but also why the actor is in the film? (For example, the actress who plays Sister Mahjongg apparently coached the 2008 Italian Olympic Wushu team. I looked it up - they scored a silver. Good job, Sister Mahjongg!) When tai chi techniques get used, charts pop up showing you the appropriate foot placement and movements so, I guess, you can practice them yourself. And when our hero finally arrives at the tiny mountain village that's the home of the fabled tai chi practitioners, a handy legend appears denoting what all the buildings are, and even helpfully points out a flagpole. It's hilarious, and absurd, and awesome.

The fighting is fantastic, no surprise when you have a cast of Olympic coaches and '70s martial arts film legends and whatnot. Fung shows it in small doses though and is liberal with the wire work and effects, sometimes putting them to the most ridiculous uses. 2008 Olympic Wushu overall champion (hmm, 2008 must have been a good year for wushu) Yuan Ziaochao makes his film debut in the lead, and plays Yang Lu Chan as, well, as an idiot. Half his dialogue seems to be him saying "What the hell?" at stuff that really shouldn't require that much explanation. He's great at it though, giving Chan a naivete and optimism that carries him through when his intellect and martial arts prowess fail him. If Jackie has an heir this is probably him: Yuan seems to have a clear gift for comedy along with his fighting chops. And Hong Kong model/actress Angelababy shines as Chan's main foil and inevitable love interest (sort of), the daughter of the legendary tai chi master Chen, who is played with gruff but lovable charm by Tony Leung Ka Fai.

There are two really awful things about seeing Tai Chi Zero though. One, it's only the first half of the story. Tai Chi Hero is still apparently in post-production, so the plot just stops dead at the end of the movie and it's kind of cruel because there's about to be a big wedding and everything and I want to see how it ends right the hell now now NOW. They do throw a trailer for Tai Chi Hero in the credits though, so that's something. Peter Stormare even shows up in it, because why not. Also, in China they get to see this insane thing in Imax 3D, while we were stuck with a 2D print over here. Given what Fung does with the other technical elements of the film I can only imagine what his mad genius did with the 3D.

Look, Tai Chi Zero has major pacing problems and the music could be better and the English dialogue is of course stilted, but you won't care. You simply won't care. It's too awesome.

It's just... ridiculous. Stupid, and ridiculous, and an assload of fun.

TIFF Review: Seven Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths (2012, directed by Martin McDonagh)

Once upon a time in the land of Hollywood, after the usurper king Quentin the Loquacious had unleashed Pulp Fiction on the world, a host of lesser talents tried to make star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thrillers with titles like Six Heads and Two Days in Duffel Bag Valley While You're Dead in order to carve out their own little fiefdoms. They were pretty much uniformly terrible, and mostly disappeared without leaving much of a trace in the collective unconscious aside from a vague sense of nausea at the thought of ever watching another hackneyed star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thriller again.

So, naturally, the demented mind behind In Bruges decided to make his next film a star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thriller. Only McDonagh made it mostly a comedy, and a meta-comedy making fun of star-studded ensemble crime comedy/drama/thrillers at that, and that decision pretty much saves the film.

Now, that's not to say Seven Psychopaths is a great film, or really even a very good film. The "plot" involves a drunken sot of a screenwriter named, ahem, Martin (played with his usual slightly ditzy charm by Colin Farrell) who's trying to write a movie called, ahem, Seven Psychopaths but is having trouble finishing it because he's kind of sick of writing about violence and death and just wants to know why the psychopaths can't talk through their differences instead of resorting to gunfire and bloodshed. His best friend Billy Bickle (a perfectly loopy Sam Rockwell), who wants to co-write the script with him, keeps trying to push him forward by pointing him towards some real-life psychos including a masked lunatic who kills only mid- to high-level members of the Italian mafia or the yakuza, a man who grew weary of being part of a Bonnie and Clyde-meets-Dexter couple who killed serial killers (Tom Waits in a fantastic little extended cameo) and a Quaker who torments the man who murdered his daughter into committing suicide and then follows him to hell by slitting his own throat. I imagine you've spotted a pattern there. Billy is in the dognapping business with Hans (Christopher Walker being, well, himself), but they run afoul of the head of the crime family (an over-the-top Woody Harrelson) Psychopath #1 has been targeting when they take his dog by mistake. Paths cross, mayhem ensues, bodies pile up etc etc etc.

If that sounds like a dumbed-down Adaptation, well, it kinda is, right down to Billy's insistence on getting "his ending". But Seven Psychopaths manages to carve out an identity of its own, so that the similarities don't make it seem like a retread. McDonagh, as with In Bruges, has written some crackling dialogue and handed it over to a cast that knows what to do with it, so even if the story doesn't really go anywhere and the big reveals get telegraphed from a mile away the movie still plenty entertaining enough to carry you past all the rough edges and slow spots.

I feel like I should dismount with some sort of labored "seven psychopaths out of 10!" closing line here, but honestly it wouldn't rate more than six and a half. Whatever. Seven Psychopaths is an entertaining, amusing time waster - no more, no less.

TIFF Review: The Master

The Master (2012, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)

Oh boy.

This was, by far, the film I was most looking forward to at this year's TIFF. Paul Thomas Anderson has never made a bad film - hell, the man's never made anything less than a great film. And given what the film was, given that it supposedly did to L. Ron Hubbard what Citizen Kane did to William Randolph Hearst, given that PTA shot it in 70 mm, there was simply no way I was missing it. Eris, in her finite capricious wisdom, even graced me with a ticket to the public premiere at the relatively glorious Princess of Wales, a space normally reserved for live theater that only shows movies during the film festival.

On the surface, The Master is everything you would want and expect from a PTA film. It looks exquisite, moving from a blue ocean churning behind a ship to the Arizona desert and making everything look glorious. It does as fantastic a job of recreating the early '50s as Boogie Nights did of recreating the '70s and early '80s. The performances are uniformly outstanding, with Phillip Seymour Hoffman firing off what will probably be acclaimed an Oscar-worthy turn as the charismatic, insecure charlatan/guru (those two have always been opposite sides of the same coin) Lancaster Dodd, Joaquin Phoenix tearing into his role as Freddy, the immovable object to Hoffman's irresistible force, and Amy Adams matching those two blow for blow as Peggy, the power behind Hoffman's throne (and Amy, if you're reading this: you need to do Lady MacBeth. Like, right now. I will pay any price, airfare included, to sit in the audience and watch you perform the Damned Spot monologue on stage.)

And yet... when the screen cut finally to black, I did not have that immediate "OMG that was the greatest thing I'd ever seen" reaction I've gotten from just about every other PTA movie. In fact, I was left wondering what the point of it all was. The Master is a film about unenlightened people making a show of striving for enlightenment, so while that creates an opportunity for some acting fireworks it results in none of them really having any kind of character arc. Hoffman ends the film in the same place he started it, offering freedom to the weak while slowly putting them in chains. Adams is still the same driven woman she was at the beginning, equal parts dutiful wife and puppet master. And Phoenix... his Freddy is everything Hoffman's "Cause" decries, a laughing, fucking, drunken monkey of a man who cares nothing for bettering himself. All he really learns, by the end, is how to mimic Hoffman's attempts to indoctrinate him and turn them into a juvenile sex game.

Don't get me wrong. There's a lot going on in The Master, on the surface and below it. The film does a solid job of filling in the early history of Scientology under a thin veneer of fictionalization, while the interplay between Freddy, Lancaster and Peggy so obviously represents the relationship between id, ego and superego that the Freudian... Christ, I can't even really call it 'subtext' since it's so transparent - that Freudian reading supplies a bigger fuck you to Hubbard and his legacy than anything in the actual plot of the film. Like I said, every individual part of the film, looked at in isolation, has no obvious flaws. And yet... and yet.

Maybe it's that lack of character development that creates a distance that I've never felt before in a PTA film. There was no emotional distance between me and Daniel Plainsview or Dirk Diggler. Maybe it was the lack of big moments that left me feeling wanting. There are no pudding-fueled trips to Hawaii in The Master, no rains of frogs. Nobody gets beaten to death with a bowling pin. All we get that comes close is a jailhouse shouting match. Or maybe it was the curious divide between Phoenix's overtly Method-driven style of acting, rooted so strongly in his physicality from his clenched jaw to the apparent chronic back condition that seemed to inform his movements, and Hoffman and Adams' more organic styles that prevented me from connecting fully with the movie. All I know is that when the credits started rolling, I felt the space between myself and the screen very, very keenly. I felt like I'd been lectured at, not engaged.

The Master is a film that will most likely be acclaimed as great, and I don't really have a problem with that. This isn't some banal Ron Howard piece of shit Oscar bait that folks will gush over because it's non-threatening. But, barring some big epiphany striking me, this is going to be the Paul Thomas Anderson film I revisit the least down the road.

TIFF Review: Dredd 3D

Dredd 3D (2012, directed by Peter Travis)

This is probably the single most faithful comic book adaptation to ever hit the big screen.

Now, let me be clear here: I don't think it's the greatest comic book movie ever made. That title is clearly reserved for either Dark Knight or Scott Pilgrim, or possibly A History of Violence, and there are a bunch of others (X2, for instance) I'd stack above Dredd too, but in terms of being true to its origins nothing adapted so far has come within a mile of Dredd. This film is exactly what a movie based on your old 2000AD issues should be, and I genuinely can't conceive of a Judge Dredd movie ever being any better than this.

The quick and dirty for anyone unfamiliar with the character (and by 'unfamiliar' I mean 'have only seen that abortion of a Stallone movie'): in a future America mostly destroyed by nuclear war, a small part of the Eastern Seaboard is still inhabited, with the people living in one giant metropolitan area called Mega City One. This being a dystopia, the city is a chaotic cesspool of crime and sin, and the law is represented by Judges who have the authority to arrest, try and convict criminals on the spot. The baddest of these badasses is Judge Dredd, which makes sense given his name.

In short, Dredd the character is a fascist wet dream. And what makes Dredd 3D so nearly perfect is that it embraces that idea down to its very core. The film saddles him with a psychic rookie Judge (played by a spunky and steely Olivia Thirly) who's in danger of washing out of the force, and by seeing Dredd through her eyes while he teaches her how to be an 'effective' Judge the movie effortlessly sucks you into its worldview. It quickly becomes very easy to root for Dredd, even though by any rational standard his very existence should be horrific. Dredd, as a character, is a wrong house drug raid that kills your dog and trashes your stuff taken to its logical extreme. Dredd is the living embodiment of the bureaucratic nightmare that's the real villain in Brazil, and yet you cheer for him because he wears cool gear, has an awesome gun and has good tough-guy lines, and because Karl Urban (the man behind the face shield) knows what makes him tick and does a great near-Clint Eastwood impression for Dredd's voice. In fact based on his work here, Urban's now joined my Preacher dream cast as the Saint of Killers.

Plot-wise there's little here you haven't seen before, and recently. Once you get past the setup the movie is essentially a sci-fi version of the Raid, right down to the architecture of the building. But you know what? It doesn't really matter whether this is another case of 'parallel projects intersecting' or whether Alex Garland saw a good idea he could run with. Dredd still feels like its own thing, still feels like it was ripped out of those 2000AD back issues, and that's what matters here. Dredd and the rookie get called in to a megablock to investigate three drug-related murders, the gang in control of the block lock the whole thing down so they can't escape with a prisoner who knows too much, and the two Judges have to fight their way up to escape. Cue the ultraviolence. Lots and lots of ultraviolence.

There's almost nothing bad I can say about this movie. The effects are great, the slo-mo camera work on the drug trips is great (they didn't bring in Antichrist's DoP for nothing), Lena Headey is terrifically vicious as the gang leader, the 3D is effective, Dredd doesn't talk too much and has no romantic interest whatsoever in his cute rookie partner... it gets everything right. My only nitpick is that the aerial establishing shots of Mega City One look too much like modern highways and traffic patterns just cobbled together. That's literally the only thing I found to complain about.

Having said all that... Dredd still isn't a great film. It's just about perfect, but its ambitions are small and limited by that same source material it gets so, so right. I mean, let's be honest here. I like Judge Dredd, but he's not exactly one of the greatest or most complex characters in comics history. But that's fine. No one's going to walk into Dredd expecting an Oscar winner. They're going to walk in expecting a guy to shoot and blow up a fuckload of skeevs and wastoids, and see only the lower half of his face while he does it, that's exactly what they're going to get.

TIFF Review: Looper

Looper (2012, directed by Rian Johnson)

If there's one thing we've learned about Rian Johnson over his brief career, it's that he has an impeccable sense of genre. Brick understood when to adhere to the beats of the hard-boiled gumshoe film, and when to use it as a springboard for something new. Brothers Bloom, for all its (in my eyes anyway) faults still knew that the most important thing that a con/heist flick has going for it is charm, and that the inner workings of its plot are much less important than the need for the audience to care whether the heroes make it through to the other side.

Which brings us to his latest project, a gritty piece of time travel madness. A successful time travel movie, above all else, needs to keep one thing straight to work: it can't break its own rules. What those rules actually are isn't terribly important. The rules of time travel in 12 Monkeys are very different than the ones in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, or Back To the Future, or Primer, but in every case the movie establishes its rules and sticks to them. Those films don't cheat.

Looper doesn't cheat. Looper, in fact, moves like a beautiful, intricate piece of clockwork, and in doing so joins 12 Monkeys and Bill & Ted's and Back To the Future and Primer on any reasonable list of the greatest time travel movies ever made.

Here's the plot you've got to wrap your head around: it's 2049, and the world's gone mostly to shit. Joe (played with his usual laid-back aplomb by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 'looper', a mob hitman whose targets are people zapped back from 2079 to be offed, because a) forensic technology in 2079 makes it almost impossible to dispose of a body and get away with murder and b) time travel is a one-way trip backwards, and the world of 2079 is even more in the shitter than 2049 and no one has the cash to use the tech other than the mafia, so forget about some university mounting an historical expedition or any of that nonsense. A looper's job is a pretty easy one. Targets arrive at a designated place and time, hooded and handcuffed, and all the killer has to do is pull a trigger and collect the bars of silver strapped to the target's back as payment. Loopers have a limited shelf life though. At some point, just so their future bosses can neatly tie off any loose ends, a looper will find their hit has a bunch of gold strapped to them instead of silver, and they'll realize that they're just killed their future selves. They keep the gold and retire to the good life... for 30 years.

With a setup like that, it's pretty easy to predict what sets the plot in motion. A target arrives, a bit late, on Joe's landing pad and it turns out to be Joe's future self (Bruce Willis in full-on 'grizzled and not joking the fuck around' mode), only he's not hooded or handcuffed and not in the mood to have a hole blown in his chest. Young Joe hesitates, Old Joe gets the drop on him, and all hell breaks loose.

The thing is though, that's all just setup. Once the plot gets going, once those gears start whirring, Looper is simply a work of art in terms of how beautifully all those gear teeth fit together and how well the whole engine just merrily clicks along to a finale that blindsides you until you realize in retrospect that it was totally inevitable.

What really elevates Looper though, beyond an intricate and entirely satisfying plot, is the attention to detail Johnson brings to bear on the material. Biblical allusions abound. Joe(seph) as the prodigal son, his boss Abe(raham) sacrificing his looper 'children' when called on to do so (Abe, by the way, is played by Jeff Daniels, who knocks it out of the park as a guy who never lets his feelings get in the way of the job), the fact that the loopers are paid in silver... those allusions may be little more than window dressing but they add some nice grace notes to the film. The plot also borrows a lot of familiar elements from other time travel stories, and really classic science fiction in general, but Johnson has fit those elements together seamlessly into a movie that, if not what you could call new, is certainly fresh. Even the design of the world is outstanding. This is not a shiny happy glossy future. The homeless can be shot down in the streets without consequences if they seem at all threatening, and there are a lot of homeless both inside and outside of the cities. Most technology is from their recent past (i.e. our present), desperately jury-rigged to make it more environmentally-friendly (there are a lot of rusted-out cars powered by solar panels stapled to their hoods in Looper). In fact, all the tech seems to have a dirty aesthetic somewhere between steampunk and DIY, contributing to the sense of a society held together by little more shoelaces, chewing gum and a quick soldering job.

Really, there just aren't any glaring weak links here. Emily Blunt is sassy, sexy and pretty much perfect as a single mom caught in the crossfire between the Joes, while Paul Dano and Garret Dillahunt both show up and shine as fellow loopers, doing Dano-ish and Dillahunt-ian things. About the only thing that's a little off is the makeup job they give JGL to make him look like a younger Bruce Willis, but you quickly get used to it.

Looper is, quite simply, an astounding piece of work: a fantastically entertaining film and an airtight, engaging puzzle that lets you think you're one step ahead of it while it remains two steps ahead of you.

TIFF '12 Preview: Saturday the 15th/Sunday the 16th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview
Saturday Sept 8th preview
Sunday Sept 9th preview
Monday Sept 10th preview
Tuesday Sept 11th preview
Wednesday Sept 12th preview
Thursday Sept 13th preview
Friday Sept 14th preview

Saturday Sept 15th/Sunday Sept 16th:

  • A dying woman (Vanessa Redgrave) tries to show her bitter husband (Terence Stamp) how to live on after she's gone by forcing him to take her place in a senior's choir in Song For Marion. Before you roll your eyes, keep in mind that said choir has stuff like Ace of Spades and Let's Talk About Sex in their repertoire...
  • And to close out the fest perhaps the most anticipated Midnight Madness film this year, Don Coscarelli's adaptation of whacked-out cult novel John Dies At the End, in which a couple of drugged-out losers try to thwart an interdimensional invasion, kind of.
  • Also repeat screenings of Three Kids, Key of Life, The Central Park Five, Cloud Atlas, Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, English Vinglish, Hotel Transylvania, More Than Honey, Painless, Artifact, Argo, The We and the I, Peaches Does Herself, The ABCs of Death, Wasteland, The Girl From the South, Imagine, Thale, Far Out Isn't Far Enough, Room 237, The Deflowering of Eva von End, Everybody Has a Plan, Tai Chi 0, Dangerous Liaisons, Come Out and Play, Thermae Romae, Outrage Beyond, Byzantium, Me and You, Frances Ha, Thanks For Sharing and Hellbenders.
  • And Sunday sees repeats of Pieta, Lore, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In the House of God, The Color of the Chameleon, Imogene, A Werewolf Boy, Room 237, The Suicide Shop, London - The Modern Babylon,  Penance, Yellow, A Hijacking, Aftershock, What Maisie Knew, Artifact, Here Comes the Devil, Peaches Does Herself, John Dies At the End, The Thieves, Kinshasa Kids, The Master, The Act of Killing, No Place on Earth, Motorway, Reincarnated, Sightseers, Call Girl, The ABCs of Death, Fin, Amour, To the Wonder and How To Make Money Selling Drugs.

TIFF '12 Preview: Friday the 14th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview
Saturday Sept 8th preview
Sunday Sept 9th preview
Monday Sept 10th preview
Tuesday Sept 11th preview
Wednesday Sept 12th preview
Thursday Sept 13th preview

Friday Sept 14th:

  • 30 Seconds To Mars front man/Fight Club punching bag Jared Leto directs (under a pseudonym no less, Bartholomew Cubbins - because he's wearing a lot of hats, see? Ha! Ha? Sigh) Artifact, about the band's war with EMI. I'm hoping for something as monumentally indulgent as I'm Still Here, only for keepsies.
  • Legendary Bollywood actress Sridevi returns after a 15-year absence from the screen in English Vinglish, a fish out of water comedy about an Indian mom stranded in Manhattan before her daughter's wedding.
  • And at Midnight the massive horror anthology The ABCs of Death gets unveiled, as 26 directors turn the letters of the alphabet into excuses for mayhem and carnage.
  • Also repeat screenings of Much Ado About Nothing, Great Expectations, Motorway, Burn It Up Djassa, Mr. Pip, Blancanieves, Come Out and Play, Therese Desqueyroux, Outrage Beyond, Pieta, No One Lives, The Brass Teapot, Janeane From Des Moines, Ghost Graduation, Penance, The Thieves, in the Name of Love, Greetings From Tim Buckley, Passion and Ginger and Rosa.

TIFF '12 Preview: Thursday the 13th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview
Saturday Sept 8th preview
Sunday Sept 9th preview
Monday Sept 10th preview
Tuesday Sept 11th preview
Wednesday Sept 12th preview

Thursday Sept 13th:

  • There may be no pantheon director whose work is more susceptible to conspiratorial interpretations than Kubrick. The Eyes Wide Shut/Trance-formation of America theory alone (it's worth Googling) would push him to the top of that chart, but Room 237 delves deep into all the various theories that have sprouted up in the wake of The Shining, including the idea that it's a coded apology for Kubrick's faking of the moon landing.
  • Master mindfucker Kiyoshi Kurosawa is back with Penance, a four-hour episodic bit of craziness about a long-grieving mother visiting the schoolgirl chums of her murdered daughter, who may or may not have grown up to be emotional wrecks after witnessing the murder and not being able to help catch the killer.
  • Peaches Does Herself sees the electroclash queen turn her life story into a Hedwig-esque musical. And while she's in town, she's taking over a local hotspot for a night of boundary-blurring performance art.
  • South Korean action impressario Choi Dong-hoon brings us The Thieves, a glossy heist flick with the requisite gang of misfits and old scores to be settled.
  • And finally we get the official Midnight 'creepy Spanish kids' flick, Come Out and Play, about a vacationing couple trapped on an island where the kids have massacred all the adults. It's also directed by the Subcommandante Marcos of horror movies, a guy who calls himself Makinov and hides behind a mask to avoid the ego-trap that comes with being a director. Or something.
  • Also repeat screenings of Sightseers, A Royal Affair, The Bay, The Secret Disco Revolution, Inescapable, Smashed, Aftershock, More Than Honey, Thale, A Werewolf Boy, The Central Park Five, Passion and Burn It Up Djassa.

TIFF '12 Preview: Wednesday the 12th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview
Saturday Sept 8th preview
Sunday Sept 9th preview
Monday Sept 10th preview
Tuesday Sept 11th preview

Wednesday Sept 12th:

  • Takeshi Kitano, back doing yakuza flicks, cranks out a sequel to 2010's Outrage called Outrage Beyond. While I'm disappointed to see him throttling back his ambitions, hey, it's still Kitano.
  • Scott Pilgrim's Mary Elizabeth Winstead (what do you mean she was recently in a horror prequel? Lalalalala I'm not listening) gets to flex her acting chops in Smashed, about an alcoholic teacher who tries to straighten out her life while her equally-unsober husband (Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul) tries to keep it crooked.
  • I think the program note for Thale sums it up nicely: "Two forensic clean-up men discover a deadly mythological siren hidden in the basement of a remote cabin in the Norwegian woods." So, basically, Quentin Tarantino's Splash.
  • A Royal Affair sees Mads Mikkelsen starring as a German doctor who tore apart the Danish court of Christian VII in the 1700s. Oh, and it's from the screenwriter of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
  • South Korea's resident demented genius Kim Ki-duk is back with Pieta, about a loan shark's sadistic enforcer who reunites with his long-lost mother. Wherever you think that set-up might go, I can pretty much guarantee it's going to go somewhere else.
  • Johnnie To produces Motorway, which looks like some sort of Hong Kong mashup of Drive and The Fasts and the Furiouses.
  • Patrice Leconte, best known for crime-tinged dramas like Monsieur Hire and L'homme du train, turns up with an animated musical that Tim Burton will probably be doing a stop-motion adaptation of any day now, about a family-run Suicide Shop that sells the accoutrements of euthanasia and their optimistic white sheep of a son.
  • And on a day that features name-brand international directors like Leconte, Kim and Kitano, name-brand American director Barry Levinson does something I never in a million years would have expected from him: namely, make a Midnight Madness film, and a found footage MM film at that. The Bay looks like a mutated hybrid of Slither and Contagion, and I have absolutely no idea what Levinson is up to in making this. That's a good thing.
  • Also repeat screenings of Great Expectations, Key of Life, Ghost Graduation, Antiviral, The Hunt, Lore, Lords of Salem, Imagine, Here Comes the Devil, In the House and A Hijacking.

August Travesties

Just 12 songs. Sigh.

Changes - David Bowie
Doctor My Eyes - Jackson Browne
Every Rose Has Its Thorn - Poison
Father and Son - Cat Stevens
Fell In Love With a Girl - White Stripes
Great Balls of Fire - Jerry Lee Lewis
Heart-Shaped Box - Nirvana
Instant Karma - John Lennon
Life During Wartime - Talking Heads
Photograph - Def Leppard
Tumbling Dice - Rolling Stones
You'll Never Find - Lou Rawls

TIFF '12 Preview: Tuesday the 11th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview
Saturday Sept 8th preview
Sunday Sept 9th preview
Monday Sept 10th preview

Tuesday Sept 11th:

  • Here Comes the Devil is another movie about creepy Spanish kids (there are a lot of them this year) who may or may not have been touched by something evil after disappearing for a day.
  • From Microcosmos on up, modern camera technology has made recent bug docs true wonders to behold. More Than Honey focuses that lens on the imperiled world of the noble bee.
  • Inescapable casts ST:DS9 alum Alexander Siddig as a former Syrian dissident who's built a very comfortable life for himself in Canada only to have his daughter disappear in Damascus, forcing him to go back home and be a badass once again. So, basically, a Liam Neeson movie without Liam Neeson.
  • Many years ago I was a huge fan of Philippine films, and not just because the women in them were crazy hot and they all seemed to be ridiculous melodramas. There was an energy to their film industry that no one seemed to be matching at the time. I'm getting hints that West African films might be about to plug into that same socket... Kinshasa Kids I mentioned earlier, but Burn It Up Djassa is another one I get that vibe from. It looks like a City of God-esque brother-against-brother crime flick from Cote d'Ivoire, from a director named Lonesome Solo (!!!). Buckle up.
  • In addition to films about creepy Spanish kids, there's also a subset of TIFF movies this year about Japanese bathhouses. Entrant #2 after Thermae Romae is The Key of Life, about a down-on-his-luck actor who swaps identities with a hitman after the hitman slips in a public bathhouse, bumps his head and gets amnesia. So, basically, a Takeshi Kitano comedy without Takeshi Kitano.
  • A Werewolf Boy is a South Korean film about a poor family with a teenage daughter who take in a feral lad they find in the back yard and try to civilize him. It's described as a 'wistful fantasy'. Sure, what the hell.
  • Audrey Tautou graces us with her presence in Therese Desqueyroux, Claude Miller's final film and based on a novel that's sort of the French equivalent to Tess of the d'Urbervilles or Anna Karenina.
  • Kill List director Ben Wheatley is back with a bloody romp across the English countryside that sounds as much like Grant Morrison's Kill Your Boyfriend as it does Bonnie and Clyde in Sightseers.
  • Since we have a film in Mr. Pip about people who like Great Expectations, it's only fitting that we also get a reverential adaptation of Dickens' classic as well, this one from Mike Newell and starring half the people who appeared in the Harry Potter series: Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter etc etc.
  • Passion sees Brian DePalma trying to stay relevant by getting Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace to star in a sexually charged thriller set in the advertising world. I'm sure it'll be very DePalma.
  • And at Midnight, Aftershock casts Eli Roth (who also co-wrote it) as an American tourist caught in the middle of a devastating Chilean earthquake that quickly rips the veneer of civilization off the survivors. The director is Nicolas Lopez, who apparently has films called Fuck My Life and Fuck My Wedding on his resume. I guess he figured calling this one Fuck My Apocalypse might not play internationally.
  • Also repeat screenings of Byzantium, The Iceman, Greetings From Tim Buckley, Hyde Park On Hudson, Tai Chi 0, Berberian Sound Studio, Dangerous Liaisons, No Place On Earth, The Lesser Blessed, To the Wonder and Hellbenders.

TIFF '12 Preview: Monday the 10th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview
Saturday Sept 8th preview
Sunday Sept 9th preview

Monday Sept 10th:

  • Cate Shortland, who was here a few years ago with an Aussie coming-of-age story called Somersault that showed a fair amount of promise, shoots the moon with her latest film Lore, an inverse end-of-Sound of Music about a group of children raised by SS parents trying to escape across a war-ravaged Germany in 1945.
  • Berberian Sound Studio sees Toby Jones as a British sound engineer used to doing nature docs hired to work on an Argento-esque '70s horror film, and slowly losing his grip on reality. So basically, DePalma's Blow Out made a demon spawn baby with In the Mouth of Madness. Sweet.
  • Vinterberg collaborator Tobias Lindholm makes his directorial debut with A Hijacking, about the taking of a Danish freighter by Somali pirates.
  • Bill Murray plays FDR in... wait, I'll let that sink in for a moment. Bill Fucking Murray plays Franklin Delano Motherfucking Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson, from Notting Hill director Roger Mitchell. (Admittedly, that part's less mind-blowing.)
  • Casting By shines a spotlight on trailblazing casting director Marion Dougherty, whose name you've seen on more great movies than you realized.
  • Imagine if Haley Joel Osment's Sixth Sense character grew up and became a sad-sack high school teacher? And that the Breakfast Club ends with them all dying in a giant explosion? Then, provided you're imagining it in Spanish, you're imagining Ghost Graduation.
  • If you could handle that last mental exercise, try this one: imagine if Matt Murdock gave up being Daredevil, and instead tried to teach a blind Portuguese woman how to 'see' like he does. Then you'd be imagining, umm, Imagine. Yeah, OK, enough of that.
  • It's becoming clear that David Cronenberg will probably never make another Videodrome, or even another Rabid. Fortunately, he had children, and one of them is now picking up that fleshy, throbbing gauntlet. Son Brandon makes his debut with Antiviral, about a black market for celebrity diseases and the people who procure and inject them. Hot damn.
  • No Place On Earth pieces together the history of a small band of Jewish escapees who survived the Nazis by hiding in a series of underground caves for 18 months.
  • Fittingly, along with Lindholm's debut feature A Hijacking (listed above) we also get the latest film he co-wrote with Thomas Vinterberg, The Hunt, about a town torn apart by accusations of pedophilia which stars the always awesome Mads Mikkelsen.
  • Zhang Ziyi and Cecilia Cheung star as the nice one and the slutty one, respectively, in a '30s Shanghai version of Cruel Intentio... err, I mean Dangerous Liaisons.
  • The Iceman has Michael Shannon doing what he does best (namely, being a sick, creepy fuck- in this case mob hitman and serial killer Richard Kuklinski).
  • Terrence Malick enlists Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Javier Bardem and others to help him analyze  the mystery of love in To the Wonder.
  • In the House sees Francois Ozon in fine form, with a story about a teacher who unwittingly invites a bad seed into his home in the form of a prized pupil.
  • And Rob Zombie's latest for Midnight Madness, Lords of Salem, sounds like an extended Night Gallery episode, with a rock DJ in Salem accidentally awakening witchy evil by playing a cursed record. Or something.
  • Also repeat screenings of Midnight's Children, The Act of Killing, The Girl From the South, The Company You Keep, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In the House of God, Blancanieves, Mr. Pip, The Impossible, Free Angela & All Political Prisoners, Fin, Everybody Has a Plan, The Deflowering of Eva von End, London - The Modern Babylon, The Color of the Chameleon, No One Lives, Quartet, Thanks For Sharing and A Liar's Autobiography.

Oh Lord, My God, Are There No Votes For A Widow's Son?

Huh. I just found out, through Anne Laurie over at Balloon Juice, that Paul Ryan is a widow's son.

Maybe picking Ryan was Romney's way sending out the Masonic distress call in code. Goddess knows he needs all the help he can get.

TIFF '12 Preview: Sunday the 9th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview
Saturday Sept 8th preview

Sunday Sept 9th:
  • Ken Burns returns to Toronto with a doc about a more contemporary subject, The Central Park Five, about the Central Park Jogger case in New York.
  • Pixar takes their first crack at a 3D film with the Finding Nemo re-release.
  • Free Angela and All Political Prisoners examines the life and work of scholar, activist, firebrand and (depending on who you talk to) terrorist and traitor Angela Davis.
  • Hugh Laurie stars as a schoolteacher with a love for Dickens' Great Expectations caught on the fringes of a civil war in Mr. Pip.
  • Documentary maestro Alex Gibney is back with Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In the House of God, a scathing look at the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church.
  • One of my hunch picks, The Lesser Blessed is a First Nations coming-of-age story set in the Northwest Territories.
  • Greetings From Tim Buckley recounts the period in Jeff Buckley's life just before he became, well, Jeff Buckley, leading up to a tribute concert for his father.
  • One of the biggest movers and shakers behind modern pop culture gets the biodoc treatment in American Masters: Inventing David Geffen.
  • Deepa Mehta adapts Salman Rushdie's acclaimed Midnight's Children, which I'm sure will be all lush and magic realist and whatnot.
  • Orphanage director Juan Antonio Bayona tackles The Impossible, a ground-level drama about a family caught in the 2004 southeast Asian tsunami starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.
  • The Deflowering of Eva van End looks kind of like a Dutch Welcome To the Dollhouse, which would be just fine with me.
  • Neil Jordan gets back to doing weird, Neil Jordan-y stuff with Byzantium, a sexy vampire romp starring Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan.
  • Robert Redford gets back to doing righteous, political, Robert Redford-y stuff with The Company You Keep, about a fugitive former Weather Underground member gone straight who has to go on the run when Shia LeBeouf threatens to expose him. Stupid Shia.
  • Quartet sees Dustin Hoffman stepping behind a camera for the first time, directing a story of four opera singers reuniting in a retirement home for musicians.
  • And JT Petty returns to Midnight for the third time with Hellbenders, about a group of badass rogue exorcists led by Clancy Brown.
  • Also repeat screenings of How To Make Money Selling Drugs, Something In the Air, Silver Livings Playbook, Cloud Atlas, Pusher, Ginger and Rosa, In the Name of Love, Thermae Romae, Much Ado About Nothing, Call Girl, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Janeane From Des Moines, The Brass Teapot, Painless, and Yellow.

TIFF '12 Preview: Saturday the 8th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview
Friday Sept 7th preview

Saturday Sept 8th:
  • Japanese box office champ Thermae Romae is about a Roman architect who becomes a hit after accidentally time-slipping back and forth to modern Japan and adopting elements of their public bathhouse culture for his own time period.
  • Genndy Tartakovsky, the animation genius behind the Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack, the Clone Wars and Dexter's Laboratory finally directs a feature, the 3D CGI romp Hotel Transylvania.
  • Much Ado About Nothing... sigh. Leave it to Joss Whedon to crank out a Shakespeare adaption with all his friends in 12 days while in the middle of shooting a massive Hollywood blockbuster.
  • The long, sad story of the West Memphis Three gets one more chapter, although not from Berlinger and Sinofsky, with West of Memphis.
  • There's a very The Man Who Was Thursday vibe about spy thriller The Color of the Chameleon, from first-time Bulgarian director Emil Christov, that has me intrigued.
  • The Year of Big Screen Snow White Adaptations (which I'm sure is how 2012 will be immortalized by historians) wouldn't be complete without a silent art-house riff, Blancanieves, in which Snow becomes a bullfighter. Because why the hell not.
  • Video director Ramaa Mosley debuts with the Twilight Zone-ish The Brass Teapot starring Juno Temple.
  • Viggo Mortensen plays twins with a dark past in the Argentinian thriller Everybody Has a Plan.
  • The Wachowskis team with Tom Tykwer to film the unfilmable, Fountain-esque Cloud Atlas (Tykwer didn't do too badly with the almost-as-unfilmable Perfume, so I have hope this'll be more than just a spectacle).
  • [REC] writer Luiso Berdejo co-writes Painless, about a surgeon with a mysterious past and an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War where bizarre experiments were conducted on bizarre children.
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower is Emma Watson's first big post-Potter chance to show she's worth paying attention to. Oh, and it's also an adaption of a beloved teen novel blah blah blah. We all know why you're really seeing it. You're fooling no one.
  • David O. Russell, who has yet to make a bad film in his career, returns to more idiosyncratic, Flirting With Disaster/I Heart Huckabees-ish territory with Silver Livings Playbook.
  • Argentinian doc filmmaker Jose Luis Garcia tries to finish a film he started over twenty years ago, tracking down a North Korean activist who miraculously walked through the DMZ to South Korea in The Girl From the South.
  • Fin looks like a post-apocalyptic thriller crossed with the Big Chill, from a first-time Spanish director. That's fest-speak for "total wild card that could be anything from great to awful".
  • Olivier Assayas does a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film set in the wake of the May 1968 Paris protests, Something In the Air.
  • Julien Temple parades you through his version of the last 100 years of history along the banks of the Thames in London - The Modern Babylon.
  • The Act of Killing literally made me sit up and shout "Holy shit!" to an empty room when I read the synopsis. Former members of Indonesian death squads (people who have never been brought to justice and see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, since after all their side won) re-enact their crimes as though they were movie scenes, complete with special effects, sets, costumes and extras to gun down. Errol Morris and Werner Herzog apparently had the same reaction I did, since they signed on as executive producers after seeing early footage.
  • Yellow sees Nick Cassavettes possibly remembering who his father was and ditching his relentlessly middle-brow CV to do a pic about a woman who hallucinates her way through life.
  • Leave it to Graham Chapman, Monty Python's most subversive member, to narrate his own animated pseudo-biodoc, A Liar's Autobiography, decades after his death.
  • The Secret Disco Revolution continues a long, proud Canadian mock docs that began with the criminally-underseen The Canadian Conspiracy.
  • Tai Chi 0 is a cheeky, steampunk-and-anime-infused historical martial arts flick with fight choreography from Sammo Hung. That, folks, is what you call "must fucking see".
  • Palme d'Or winner Amour sees Michael Haneke trying to make something that isn't agonizingly misanthropic for once, as it portrays an old man watching his wife slowly fade away after suffering a stroke. On second thought, that could easily end up being just as misanthropic as the rest of his filmography...
  • Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow (Gwynnie-cakes to no one but me) headline Thanks For Sharing, a comedy about sex addiction from Kids Are Alright director Stuart Blemberg
  • And finally, No One Lives sees Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura pitting kidnappers against backwoods clans against who knows what else at Midnight, with an appropriately high body count.
  • Also, repeat screenings of Reincarnated, Far Out Isn't Far Enough, Argo, The Place Beyond the Pines, The We and the I, Dredd 3D, Three Kids, What Maisie Knew, Imogene, The Master, Seven Psychopaths, Me and You, Anna Karenina, Frances Ha and Wasteland.

TIFF '12 Preview: Friday the 7th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th preview

Friday Sept 7th:
  • Another classic restoration sees the light of day, this time of Rossellini's little-seen Stromboli (the film on which he and Ingrid Bergman fell in love). It's paired with a doc on the shoot itself, War of the Volcanoes.
  • Imogene stars Kristin Wiig in what seems like a fairly by-the-numbers American indie wacky family comedy but hey, it's Kristin Wiig.
  • Three Kids looks like a vaguely George Washington-esque film about some young 'uns trying to survive in Port-au-Prince in the wake of the Haitian earthquake.
  • Zizek returns for another round of analyzing film clips while making your head simultaneously spin and hurt with The Pervert's Guide To Ideology.
  • Ryan Gosling re-unites with Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance, hooks up with Eva Mendes (in real life, I mean. I have no idea what their characters get up to in the film) and goes mano a mano with Bradley Cooper in moody crime drama The Place Beyond the Pines.
  • Call Girl is a '70s Swedish period piece and stripped-down procedural recounting the tale of a prostitution scandal that derailed the government.
  • Janeane From Des Moines is another semi-doc, this one about a Republican Iowa housewife who experiences a crises of political faith during the 2012 GOP caucuses.
  • Ben Affleck returns as director (yay!), but also as leading man (uh oh...), in Argo, a thriller about the Iranian hostage crisis and the too-crazy-not-to-be-true, Wag the Dog-ish rescue effort.
  • The We and the I sees Michel Gondry (who I've decided to forgive for the Green Hornet) riding shotgun with a pack of Bronx schoolkids on a bus on the last day of school.
  • Hip hop godfather Snoop Dogg becomes reggae neophyte Snoop Lion in the doc Reincarnated.
  • Paul Thomas Anderson. The Master. 70 fucking mm. Holy fuck. Did I mention there's a non-zero chance of a Scientology protest or something given their large, decrepit church/chapter house/gormless office building on Yonge Street in Toronto?
  • I'm actually not terribly looking forward to this one, but the English remake of Nic Refn's Pusher sees the light of day. At least Zlatko Buric returns as Milo.
  • Sally Potter is back with a Cold War coming-of-age flick starring Elle Fanning, Ginger and Rose.
  • Wasteland looks like a Ken Loach film made a baby with The Usual Suspects, which is too ridiculous a mishmash not to check out.
  • Julianne Moore struts around in leopard print and spars with Steve Coogan in What Maisie Knew, a 21st-century Kramer vs Kramer based on a Henry James book.
  • How To Make Money Selling Drugs is a doc exploring the US drug trade from the inside out, apparently structured like a video game that sees you rise from selling crack on the street corner to lording over a cartel and featuring interviews with everyone from David Simon to "Freeway" Ricky Ross (not the MC, the guy who says he invented crack).
  • A childless Vietnamese couple gets torn apart when the wife decides to let her husband's ex-best friend impregnate her in In the Name of Love.
  • Bernardo Bertolucci is back behind the camera with Me and You, about a couple of troubled young half-siblings who have different ways of hiding, and different reasons for doing it.
  • Joe Wright teams back up with Keira Knightley, again, for an adaptation of Anna Karenina.
  • Indie darling Noah Baumbach teams up with indie darling Greta Gerwig for a film about a rootless Brooklynite that's sure to be an indie darling, Frances Ha
  • And at Midnight Colin Farrell re-teams with In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh and drags Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Tom Waits and Goddess known who else along with him for Seven Psychopaths, which looks like nothing less than a rebirth of that crazy '90s sub-genre of crime film that featured insanely deep, talented casts and made no sense at all (you know the ones I mean... Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, 8 Heads In a Duffel Bag, Two Days in the Valley etc etc). Of course Seven Psychopaths looks like it might actually be good, but I'll settle for random, entertaining bosh.
  • Also, repeat screening of Kinshasa Kids and On the Road.

TIFF '12 Preview: Thursday the 6th

I'll eventually be compiling these into one big omnibus preview piece for Ain't It Cool News, but in the meantime here's the day-by-day preview of the hell that is trying to narrow a list of 101 picks into a workable, non-life-threatening 11-day schedule. Yes, I said 101 picks... this year's TIFF program is flat out ridiculous. I've never had a more laughably named 'short list'.

Thursday Sept 6th:

  • Things kick off with a bang as the opening night Gala is Rian Johnson's existential dilemma of a time travel thriller, Looper.
  • Kinshasa Kids is a semi-doc about Congolese children thrown out onto the streets because of suspected witchcraft, only some of them form a band instead of moping (there's a lot of this in the program this year, by the way, where the lines between fiction and documentary are deliberately blurred.)
  • The 3D restoration of Hitchcock's Dial M For Murder gets a test drive.
  • Rust and Bone stars Marion Cotillard and Bullhead's Matthias Schoenaerts as broken, damaged people trying to rebuild their lives. I can't think of two actors I'd rather see tackle that kind of material.
  • A doc on counter-culture illustrator Tomi Ungerer tells us that Far Out Isn't Far Enough.
  • Motorcycle Diaries' Walter Salles brings us his long-awaited adaptation of Kerouac's On the Road, with Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund and Viggo Mortensen along for the ride.
  • And Midnight Madness hits the ground running with Dredd 3D, the plot of which sounds suspiciously like a riff on The Raid. Frankly, if it's as hard core as a Judge Dredd movie should be (and which all the early reports say it is), I'm OK with that.

TIFF 2012: ...and the rest

With the last of the program announcements rolling out from TIFF, here are the final handful of films that seem like they might be worth my time in September:

- PTA's The Master. Mentally, I'm already in line

- Claude Miller's final film, Therese Desqueyroux, stars Audrey Tautou, which means there are two good reasons to check it out

- Nick Cassavettes' Yellow should prove once and for all whether he inherited any of his father's talent. I mean, would you trust the director of The Notebook with what sounds like a doggedly middle-brow Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?

- Key of Life is a Japanese film about an unemployed actor who switches lives with a hit man after the hit man slips in the bath house, hits his head and develops amnesia. This is now the second movie announced for this year's fest about weird things happening in a Japanese bath house.

- Kinshasa Kids sounds like its right in my wheelhouse: Congolese children get kicked out of their homes due to charges of witchcraft, and decide to form a band.

- Kiyoshi Kurosawa returns with what at blush looks like a non-genre effort called Penance, about four women burdened by guilt years after their childhood friend was murdered and they weren't able to help bring the killer to justice.

- despite the Thing remake I still adore Mary Winstead, so seeing her get a chance to actually act will be interesting. James Ponsoldt's Smashed has her as a school teacher trying to figure out which parts of her life are worth salvaging after she checks herself into AA.

- Jeon Woo Chi director Choi Dong-hoon returns to his caper flick roots with The Thieves, about a jewel heist in Macao.

TIFF 2012: Midnight Madness and Other Goodies

I've fallen behind in skimming through the TIFF program announcements to see what looks good. Let's rectify that:

Midnight Madness

No Man With the Iron Fists, sadly, but the program still looks pretty crazy even without it.

- The ABCs of Death is a 26-chapter horror anthology by, well, everybody. I'm sure the quality will be uneven (anthologies always are) but my big worry with this one is that, unless it's a six hour epic, each film is going to be no more than about four-five minutes long (even if they average five minutes, with no framing device, that'd still be an over two hour movie). That's a lot of shorts to digest in one sitting.

- Aftershock: a US/Chilean co-production starring Eli Roth and Selena Gomez, which appears to be a post-earthquake survival thriller or something. No, seriously, Eli Roth and Selena Gom... shit, what if Biebs shows up at the screening? OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG

- The Bay is "a brutal and harrowing film about a deadly parasite" infecting a Maryland town, which is fine except that it's directed by Barry Levinson. Yes, Diner/Homicide/Wag the Dog Barry Levinson. Or, if you're a pessimist, Sphere/Envy/Man of the Year Barry Levinson.

- a Mexican creepy kids (as in, the kids are creepy, not that it's a kids movie that is creepy) flick called Come Out and Play

- Dredd. Fantastic.

- JT Petty's exorcism spoof Hellbenders, which should make a fine double bill with...

- John Dies In the End. Most excellent.

- Rob Zombie's latest, Lords of Salem. Unless the buzz is off the charts, or Rob agrees to come out to karaoke with me, I imagine I'll be skipping this one.

- Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura's latest, No One Lives. Ain't skipping this one, especially with that title.

- In Bruges writer/director Martin McDonagh re-teams with Colin Farrell for another crime comedy-thriller, called Seven Psychopaths. It also stars Chris Walken and Sam Rockwell. Yes please!

Other Crazy Stuff

- when they say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, this is what they're talking about: Cronenberg's son Brandon directs a film called Antiviral, in which a guy who works at a clinic that specializes in celebrity diseases (not to treat them, but to inject them into obsessed fans) gets accidentally infected himself and has to track down the mysterious star whose pathogen he now shares. I mean, of course he's Cronenberg's son. Who else would be making a movie like that?

- apparently learning nothing from I'm Still Here, 30 Seconds To Mars singer and Brad Pitt punching bag Jared Leto directs a doc called Artifact about his fight with EMI over some bullshit or other. I'm sure it won't be hopelessly myopic and self-indulgent in the least. Nope. The fact that he directed it under a Dr. Seuss-inspired, multiple hat-themed pseudonym isn't a tell-tale sign of wankery at all. I strongly suspect this will be epically bad.

- Berberian Sound Studio is about a composer who loses his mooring to reality while working on the score for a '70s Italian horror flick. Sure, what the heck.

- another Mexican creepy kid flick called Here Comes the Devil, although this one seems more of the psychological thriller "maybe the parents are just nuts" variety. Still, if I'm seeing one I better see them both.

- Johnnie To produces a Hong Kong car chase movie called Motorway.

- [REC] writer Juan Carlos Medina directs a "creepy kids grow up and one of them starts digging into the past" thriller. Seriously, what is it with Hispanic filmmakers and creepy kids this year?

- Peaches directs and stars in a semi-sorta-authobiographical rock musical called, naturally, Peaches Does Herself.

- Luis Prieto's English remake of Pusher gets a showing. I guess I'm obligated to see it, aren't it?

- I'll finally get to see Room 237, the doc about crazy Shining fans and their crazy theories

- Down Terrace/Kill List director Ben Wheatley returns with Sightseers, which sounds like the love child of Natural Born Killers and Grant Morrison's Kill Your Boyfriend. Very nice.

Other Non-Crazy Stuff

- one of my early hunch picks, The Lesser Blessed is a Native Canadian coming-of-age story.

- Ken Burns and crew bring a doc about the Central Park Five

- more docs: ones on Tomi Ungerer (Far Out Isn't Far Enough) and Iceberg Slim (Portrait of a Pimp), a Julien Temple doc on his London (London - The Modern Babylon), an Alex Gibney film on the Catholic Church's cover-up of widespread abuse (Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In the House of God), and a doc/spoof on disco called The Secret Disco Revolution

- Michel Gondry's The We and the I is about kids on a school bus. That's all, just kids on a school bus. Good enough for me.

- Hotel Transylvania is... hang on a minute, before you slag me for wanting to see it, keep in mind it's the feature debut of Genndy Tartakovsky. Powerpuff Girls, Dexter's Lab, Samurai Jack, Clone Wars Genndy Tartakovsky. Fuck you, it'll be awesome.