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Sex, Murder, War & Women You Just Want To Hug: Toronto Festival 2007
by Erik Childress

Another year has come and gone on the Toronto film festival. By next year there will be a faint memory of what films premiered here (outside of the reminder by festival programmers), but no less excitement for a new batch of titles vying for attention, many hoping to take their first step towards buzz for year-end statuettes. Every journalist who comes here has their own beat. Some for the celebrity sightings and red carpet events. Others interview those stars in a more intimate setting or attend press conferences. As usual, I’m all about the movies. Nothing more even if some such experiences leave me with a little less. In a week’s time, I managed to squeeze in 39 screenings front-to-back. No leaving early and selling you on any less than a full experience with a filmmaker’s vision on my part. Filling up such a schedule leaves one little time to write-up breaking news and reviews on the spot. But I’m here now with a full report and even adding another 11 features into the mix that I had seen beforehand so that you can adjust your own moviegoing schedules accordingly.

WE’VE COME FOR YOUR DAUGHTER, CHUCK!
If there was a prevalent theme at the festival this year, or at least in the choices I made (which may leave unfavorable questions about me), was young people having sex. In the interest of good taste (and because I can’t wait to discuss one of the best movies I saw) I’ll begin with a film that tackled the subject matter in the least sleazy way. The word is already getting out there about Jason Reitman’s Juno, and unlike his slightly overrated debut effort, Thank You For Smoking, the hype is 100% justified. The film stars Ellen Page as a 16 year-old who finds herself pregnant after an impromptu fling with her best friend (Michael Cera). Knowing full well the responsibility she’s not ready for, she decides to become a surrogate for a yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner & Jason Bateman) unable to have a child. What cannot possibly be described in just a few sentences is the way Diablo Cody’s script finds its own way to put just enough a twist on the dialogue of the main character so it combines the goofiness of Napoleon Dynamite, the sassiness of Ghost World and the sincere raunch of the recent spate of Judd Apatow comedies. All of that is just words though without the performance of Ellen Page, who gave one of last year’s best performances in Hard Candy and now becomes an underdog to deservedly snag a Best Actress nomination for her work here. This is more than just a performance. It’s the kind of role that people will look back on in a young career and remember as the one that jump started her into A-list territory. This is on the level of Natalie Portman in Beautiful Girls and Reese Witherspoon in Election. And if that’s not enough to mark your December calendars, you also have the great Allison Janney and J.K. Simmons as her parents contributing more than just one-note worry-warts and the kickstart of a one-scene knockout by Rainn Wilson of TV’s The Office setting the perfect tone for a film that is not just one of the year’s funniest comedies but an exceedingly touching and wise exploration of doubt and growing up.

Moving up a little in the age group, but not as much in the intelligence factor are the characters of Young People Fucking. Yes, that is the title and the filmmakers are standing by it. It’s too bad that the film itself isn’t nearly as taboo-breaking as the title. During one evening we’re taken through the various stages of having sex from foreplay to afterglow through five couples ranging from marriage to a first date. Those looking for LaBute-like observations on the male/female dynamic should look elsewhere as most of the segments consist of the usual run-of-the-mill angst about hooking up. Sure the film does deliver on its title, but not in the Shortbus/Baise Moi milieu. There are lots of breasts (courtesy of Carly Pope, Natalie Lisinska & Sonja Bennett) and a lot of fucking – but even in the simulations we’re not hitting Cinemax levels of dirtiness. One guy wants to masturbate to his girlfriend doing his roommate and the married couple suggests spicing up their sex life with a strap-on and a G-spot most guys wouldn’t want to find with toilet paper, but hardly anything worth the fight to keep that title. There are some funny moments interspersed (including a guy’s dirty talk taken to extreme levels) and you may not turn it off if you saw it on cable, but overall it’s just an average comedy at best.

While everything is concentual in Martin Gero’s film, Alan Ball shows us that Nothing is Private when a 13 year-old Arab-American girl moves into the horniest neighborhood in America. Summer Bishil (who is really 19) plays the teenager who is sent to live with her father after her mom’s boyfriend introduces her to shaving (and I don’t mean your legs.) Dad (Peter Macdissi) is a strict cultural enforcer and an ardent Saddam hater. The film is set just before the first Iraq invasion. Next door is an Armed Forces reserve (Aaron Eckhart) who wants to touch the girl all over. There’s an African-American boy at school also interested in shaving. And young Jasira discovers what can happen when you rub your thighs together while looking at girly magazines. If you imagine what an intersection of American Beauty and Crash would look like without the subtlety, than there’s little else that Alan Ball can show you with this film. Racism, sexuality and noisy neighbors who mean well all play into Ball’s over-the-top allegory on America’s current middle east quagmire that ends with a rapist’s pseudo-redemption and the birth of new life. Thanks, I get it.

If that newborn needs to be watched, then some fathers might be interested in the girls of David Ross’ The Babysitters. In it we have another sexually curious girl (played by Sam Waterston’s daughter, Katherine) with a crush on John Leguizamo? After realizing the connection between dalliances on the drive home after a sitting gig and the cash she is paid for the job, the “enterprising” good girl begins gathering her high school friends to cater to more than just diapers. The creepy premise wants to have that Heathers/Mean Girls type of vibe but never develops a comic consistency that expands it out of the creepiness. There are virtually no consequences for their actions (nor the husbands) and Waterston, while looking the part, has no other looks and makes her shifts in the film too unconvincing for the story to take its supposed dark turns. Risky Business it certainly ain’t even if Leguizamo has a train fetish. At least it’s a warmup while we look forward
to Katherine’s next performance in the film, no lie, Good Dick.

Speaking of businesses in the sex trade, David Cronenberg introduces us to the Russian mob in Eastern Promises. Well, re-introduces us is more like it since this is hardly fresh territory even for Cronenberg. Naomi Watts is the London doctor who saves the baby of a teenage prostitute and finds her diary leading her directly into the heart of the local mafia. Viggo Mortensen plays “the driver”, an errand boy who can equally show his ruthlessness cleaning up a body as his reluctance to disrespect women. Cronenberg’s signature violence is on display, but it’s the only appearance of a director whom we’ve come to equate with discovering more about human nature and the shells of our souls we call the flesh. Aside from a literal balls-out fight sequence in a steam bath, there’s nothing here that we haven’t seen before in countless mob thrillers. A late twist is a rather obvious turn and quite played out to the point where it actually removes much of the ambivalence and moral fortitude of the central character. Viggo does solid work while Watts is wasted as just a tour guide with mommy guilt. Cronenberg’s A History of Violence was also a simple story, but he was able to find the nuances that elevated it beyond just being a solid thriller in its own right. Eastern Promises feels more like just an opportunity to work with Viggo again than a project worth his intellect.

I’M READY FOR MY CLOSE UP AND THIS MEANS WAR!!!
Coming in second to R. Kelly’s favorite portion of the festival would be films about films and about filmmakers trying to make those films. Got that? Vic Romano, aka Takeshi Kitano goes the self-spoof route in Glory to the Filmmaker. Known primarily for his “Beat Takeshi” Asian gangster flicks (Brother, Fireworks, etc…) and now his alter-ego on the priceless Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, Kitano plays himself in a mockumentary on his attempts to branch out from the genre he’s become attached to. The opening half-hour of the director looking sad and displaced while a narrator unveils his stabs at more socially conscience Ozu-esque works and horror films are quite funny. Then the film derails at a lightning pace with non-sensical broad comedy and repetitive jokes as if Kitano had watched Kentucky Fried Movie a few too many times and tried to do his own Pocketful of Yen when the material that came before it was far sharper and funnier.

Kitano could actually learn something from the kids who make their own Stallone sequel in the wonderful Son of Rambow, a film I’ve adored since Sundance this year and hope to see in theaters soon after numerous delays.

Continuing the spotlight on Iraq allegories, we go from behind-the-scenes to the frontlines with Brian DePalma and Redacted. Taking the approach of a squad soldier making his own documentary of his experiences in the war, we drift into the dramatization of a real-life incident involving the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and her family. Told strictly through the lens of video cameras and the occasional online news report or YouTube entry, this is an earnest if not entirely successful campaign to give us the dangerous moral decline of the side that’s supposed to be the good guys in this futile war. We get all the main talking points of Iraq including Abu Ghraib, bombs, crossfire innocents and beheadings surrounding what is little more than an updating of DePalma’s own Casualties of War. It’s hard to see the film as any more than a Cliff’s Notes version of much bigger issues and a better film.

And if I’m not referring to Casualties of War, than I’m talking about George Romero’s latest entry into his Living dead canon. Diary of the Dead takes the exact same approach as the DePalma film but conducts it with a little more style and a lot more cleverness. A group of film students hit the road during the zombie outbreak and their director opts to document every moment of their trip in an effort to get the truth out there. Just as Romero so brilliantly did with Land of the Dead, he concocts a world of misinformation and the media instability to bring us so much of it that we can’t distinguish the truth from the speculation and outright lies. Oh yeah, and there are some great zombie kills on top of it. You’ll never look at an Amish guy with a hay sickle the same way again. With Romero belting two out of the park with Land and Diary, here’s hoping the next one will come sooner than later as he’s got a second trilogy worthy of standing alone as one of the great allegories of the Bush administration.

Absent of zombies, a film I first saw at CineVegas earlier this year was Cristian Nemescu’s California Dreamin’. The great tragedy of this production was that Nemescu was killed in a car crash shortly after filming, ending what was the start of a very promising career. This is the story of a NATO train in 1999 led by Armand Assante that is held up at a Romanian checkpoint by a stubborn station manager who ignores orders from his superior to let them pass. Over the next few days, the two men butt heads while the American soldiers integrate themselves into the local village, their customs and even a little romance with a girl with dreams of relocation. With an impending strike on the verge of a mini-revolution, all the storylines collide into cultural understanding, anti-war sentiments and all with a comical edge that provides an incredibly satisfying experience that is as subtle as it is devastating.

Maybe less subtle for some, but no less devastating for me was Paul Haggis’ In the Valley of Elah. Also based on an actual incident it stars Tommy Lee Jones as a former military man confronted with the AWOL status of his second son. When he turns up murdered and cut into pieces, he begins his own investigation with the help of Charlize Theron’s police detective. The mystery itself begins with the “who” but digresses into what the real question is about the murder and about the current situation in Iraq – why? As we were told in JFK, “the who and the what is just scenery for the public…it prevents us from asking the real question, why.” It’s almost a rule in liberal Hollywood that a character as pro-duty as Jones (like Ron Kovic in Born on the Fourth of July) must come around to the other side by the end. What’s so striking about the film’s resolution (and a final image that appears heavy-handed but is far more symbolic) is how its nonchalance is more heartbreaking than unmasking some master villain to give us closure. It’s not about Jones admitting he was somehow wrong in his beliefs, but discovering that he doesn’t have all the answers and how we all need help in finding them. Whatever you think about Haggis’ handling of the picture’s themes, there’s no denying that Tommy Lee Jones is just about perfect in this film and deserves a nomination, if not a win for Best Actor this year.

Far less interesting (and fifty-times less subtle) is Gavin Hood’s follow-up to his overly praised Tsotsi, named Rendition. The title sounds like a “whose story do you believe” type motif, but actually refers to a governmental policy for interrogation. Yes, welcome again to the torture debate. An Egyptian-American businessman on his way home is detained after a terrorist explosion. His wife (Reese Witherspoon) gets worried when he doesn’t arrive and seeks help from a Congressman’s aid (Peter Sarsgaard) she went to school with. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a CIA analyst who was witness to the bombing that claimed the life of a fellow agent and he’s asked to supervise the Q&A with the Kafkaesque prisoner. With Meryl Streep as a determined Washingtonian unafraid to approve extreme measures and Alan Arkin as the Congressman looking out for everyone’s better interests, this is a serious list of actors to be involved in what is such a base treatment of a topic that really has no winners. Either Witherspoon’s husband is involved with the bombing or he isn’t. If he is, it helps support the argument for torture as a necessary evil. If he isn’t, than the shift in his behavior during questioning is just a ploy to jerk around the audience without ever considering the greater picture involved. Witherspoon is almost reduced to third banana role as the frustrated wife. By the time she finally gets her big scene, it comes off like the whining of a spoiled child rather than a strong, adult woman demanding justice. Sarsgaard and Streep have a nice scene together where they get to trade a couple hot potato soundbite zingers and Gyllenhaal mostly gets to play lost as the conflicted conscience of the film. The big trick Hood plays on us with a Clearing-type timeline adds nothing to the film but more confusion about why it was necessary in the first place. By credits roll we’re no wiser on either side of the issue and if you’re going to lecture us on the evils of torture, you better not make a film where in the end we feel there’s more information to be discovered.


BROTHERS WHO KILL PEOPLE
After Match Point got critics interested in Woody Allen again, he just as quickly lost us all with the lame comedy Scoop. So it’s back to foreign territory and accents again with Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell playing brothers in Cassandra’s Dream. Beginning as the promise of a good guy meeting the wrong girl (the amazingly sexy Hayley Atwell), that aspect becomes an afterthought as a rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson) enters the picture and seeks the brothers’ aid in offing a potential witness in a criminal case against him. What was the abrupt shift in tone from Match Point becomes basically the whole movie here as the murder is plotted, carried out and Dostoyevsky-type guilt carries the rest. Just once wouldn’t you like to see someone immediately kill the person who has doubt about their actions? This is pretty base material even for Allen who drops the occasional opera reference to rival our intellectual base but not our prior knowledge that he’s done this before and with far more profundity.

Faring much better in the veteran director/familiar material department is Sidney Lumet with his latest, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. The film gained some early online notoriety when footage of Marisa Tomei’s nude scenes were leaked, but that’s only one of the many pleasures the film has to offer. It’s the story of two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman & Ethan Hawke), both in financial straits who decide to knock off a mom-and-pop jewelry store. Literally. It’s their mom and pop. Tomei is Hoffman’s wife but is sleeping with Hawke and Albert Finney is the pop who is looking for justice when the robbery goes awry in all manner of ways. Much of the film is done in the character-by-character flashback of what brought them to the robbery and its kind of a fun gimmick for a while until you come to terms with precisely how unnecessary it actually is. If the film has one great flaw, it’s that it’s Reservoir Dogs-like timeline actually depletes the dramatic arc, one that goes well beyond just a routine crime thriller. It’s the story of a family - brotherly angst and fatherly favoritism wrapped into a classic Greek tragedy that would have been far more powerful in the end had it just played it straight. Still, it’s Lumet’s best work since 1997’s underrated Night Falls On Manhattan.

Brothers of both the familial and friend sort make up the triad in Blood Brothers. With names like John Woo and Terence Chang giving credence as producers, I was hoping that first-timer Alexi Tan was going to breathe some life into the Asian shoot ‘em up; a genre that has been rather flaccid for years no matter how much praise Johnnie To gets with fans. Unfortunately this one turns out to be even more flaccid and at times laughably so as the action has no energy to it and there’s so little of it to begin with. We’re left with a rather limp and unconvincing Cotton Club that at 95 minutes can’t find an emotional core to forgive its talkiness and feels five times as long.

ASIA??? YOU FRAMED AN ASIA POSTER?
Well yeah, wouldn’t you if you had one? Of course I’m not talking about the 1980s supergroup, but Asia Argento whose beauty is matched by her willingness to put every inch of her body out there and star in more festival entries than Parker Posey. She had five movies at Cannes this year and Toronto picked up two of them. The first is a reuniting with dear ol’ dad, Dario, who completes the unofficial trilogy of Suspiria and Inferno with The Mother of Tears. Not being an Argento follower over the years, I was familiar enough with his work to expect a nonsensical plot and buckets of gore. And in that respect, the film doesn’t disappoint. There’s a woman disemboweled and then strangled with her own entrails, a priest whose head becomes a chopped melon and another who should have known to keep her legs closed when a long, sharp knife is present. There’s apocalyptic madness, a hot nude witch and even dad filming daughter in the shower. Nice, but kinda “ew” at the same time. Did I enjoy it all? Well, kinda. It flirts a very thin line between intentional and unintentional ridiculousness, which for Argento fans is probably half the fun. I can’t in good faith recommend it to anyone but serious Argento nuts and gorehounds, but in that respect it’s clearly a success.

The other is Catherine Breillat’s The Last Mistress which would be described as a period piece if that wasn’t a label that could apply to every Breillat film since the script notes usually read “Tampons optional.” In this one, Asia earns the titular label as an aristocratic Spanish woman in 19th century France who can’t let go of her relationship to the man who stole her from her rich husband. Or is it the other way around? Fu'ad Ait Aatou plays the hoity-toity tool who is now engaged but looks for a few last flings with the Asia. Elements of Dangerous Liaisons and a sexier Jane Austen are abundantly on display (as well as a little period blood – did Toronto reject Asia’s other three Cannes choices for their lack of vaginal bleeding?) and this is one of the more tolerable Breillat efforts (along with Sex Is Comedy) that doesn’t bludgeon you with icky, sticky bodily functions.

Sticking with period pieces from the French we’ve got François Ozon’s latest, Angel. Unfortunately it’s not a remake about high school hookers thus keeping with my festival experience’s theme. No, this one stars Romola Garai (who wouldn’t be a bad choice for such a remake) in an adaptation of a novel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that one) about a lower class girl in England with aspirations of being a writer. Sam Neill is the publisher that gives her the big break and the film is about her rise and fall as her life takes on the melodramatic plotting of her novels. What’s most fascinating about Angel is that it plays it so close to it’s Alcott/Austin-like roots that it’s almost impossible for the viewer to recognize that Ozon is actually trying to play up the satiric tone of Taylor’s work. After the first half-hour where Angel’s sassy attitude is at odds with the more civilized Neill, the dramatics take over, but never climbing the top that would clue us in to begin laughing. Give us a nudge, anything.

A film that is far more serious and one of the favorites to pull-in some serious nominations next January is another adaptation. This one by Pride & Prejudice’s Joe Wright of Ian McEwan’s Atonement. It stars Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as a society girl and a servant’s son who strike up a fiery flirtation in the days surrounding WWII. When Knightley’s younger sister (an aspiring writer in her own right who will grow up to be…Romola Garai) doesn’t understand their relationship, a horrific lie will separate the lovers while he goes off to war. Divided into three diverse chapters, Atonement’s first is clearly the strongest; Jane Austen by way of Neil LaBute with differing points of view all seeing the same events so we judge along with the characters before getting the truth. The middle portion while the pair are apart takes on the manner of Cold Mountain with McAvoy’s remaining squad trying to make it back to their company. A lot of walking, much more longing. Not nearly the sting of it’s first 40 minutes. This chapter does redeem itself though with what is certain to be a much ballyhooed six-minute tracking shot that is not just impressive in its scope, but is able to perfectly summarize the isolation and horror of war that the surrounding minutes never achieves. Redeeming itself even further is the very satisfying final act when all the parties come together to air their burning grievances before pulling the rug out from under us one last time. Maybe not the most deserving Best Picture candidate of the year, but one that is going to be hard for the voters to ignore.

So, I’ve mentioned Jane Austen twice already. I guess I should bring up The Jane Austen Book Club. If ever you wondered what a feature film adaptation of Oprah’s book discussion shows would be like, well, OK it’s not quite that intolerable. Guys can have Dario Argento but the ladies will have their Jane. And this is not your usual coffee clatch. What guy wouldn’t want to join a discussion group consisting of Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman, Maggie Grace and Emily Blunt? Well, his name is Hugh Dancy and he’s the token penis is bicycle shorts for the group. Basically the women all have their problems. Blunt is married to a guy who works and plays video games. Grace has lesbian trust issues. Bello can’t admit she wants a boytoy in Dancy who fancies her. And Brenneman just can’t stop leaving people from NYPD Blue. And their lives simulate the works of Austen, etc… Blunt continues to be a standout even if she’s saddled with a sad sack caricature attracted to one of her high school students. (The trend continues.) If you can resist wanting to strangle Kathy Baker in every scene, you might just be able to get through this one with a date. There are far worse films of the chick flick variety that you could sit through…

…like Then She Found Me, the directorial debut of Helen Hunt. See if you can even tolerate the description. Hunt plays a 39 year-old Jewish teacher in New York. She desperately wants a baby but doesn’t want to adopt, is dumped by her best friend-turned-husband (Matthew Broderick) after just a few weeks of marriage, her mother dies and then her “real” mother turns up for the first time in her life to reconnect. Oh yeah, and she’s played by Bette Midler. Calling Fandango yet? Add Colin Firth as a single dad who likes to say way too much except when he’s mad and walks by himself to say all the horrible things he doesn’t want to say in person. No, it’s not the most ill-conceived sequel to Project X ever. It’s just enough to make you ill.

KILLING A LEGEND
Much has been made over Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Ron Hansen’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Delayed for over a year, the word on it’s Malick-like ambitions was slow and mythically boring. Not a shoot ‘em up but an introspective piece on the outlaw. As screenings finally began to occur this year, there was ribald enthusiasm from critics who saw it, with the rare naysayer confirming all of our fears about it. Masterpiece? Pretentious bore? Two camps. No middle ground. Except that’s where I am, waving and acknowledging both sides of the argument. There is much to admire about this film beginning with what is the performance of Brad Pitt’s career, a brooding, charming, psychotic piece of work that should go down much like Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday as the defining performance of the historical legend. Casey Affleck is equally good as the second titular character, the hero worshipper gone turncoat who pulls the trigger and became part of history. Roger Deakins’ cinematography becomes the front-runner for the Oscar this year. So why isn’t it a masterpiece? Well part of it is that the story itself is actually the least interesting chapter of a life that is rich for epic treatment. By splitting the story between the two characters (and giving an unnecessarily extended portion to members of the James gang) the ultimate irony of the epilogue is never fully realized. It was the same basic flaw of Dominik’s Chopper. We never have a complete understanding of the outsider’s view of James’ legend, so while we get Ford’s motivation for the shooting, the outcry over it becomes an afterthought instead of a gut punch. Wading through 150+ minutes, it wouldn’t have made the film any better by chopping it down, but a stronger focus on either of the leads could have made this a classic instead of just another good, interesting Western.

So imagine you are Shekhar Kapur. You burst onto the English language scene with a well-received historical epic called Elizabeth. It garners seven Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and helps catapult the career of Cate Blanchett. $30 million in box office not great, but not terrible considering. You follow it up with an unquestionable critical and financial disaster (2002’s The Four Feathers). What usually occurs when an actor or filmmaker begins losing their stock? SEQUEL! Going back to what got you that stock in the first place. Although can you think of the last time a historical biopic got sequelized? Me neither. Maybe a new trend is on the verge of being birthed. When Elizabeth: The Golden Age was all over all I could think about was how the pitch meeting for this thing went. I could see Mr. Kapur desperate to mount this project and the executives over at Universal acting right out of a screwball comedy.

- “For starters you can’t deliver an R. Get us a PG-13.”
- “That queen was pretty surly in the first film. Can we give her a sense of humor this time?”
- “This Virgin Queen stuff won’t fly. Can we add another hunky love triangle kinda thing? Forget Joseph Fiennes. How ‘bout Clive Owen?”
- “Leak that Cate Blanchett shows her breasts. But we’ll only give them a body double butt at a distance. That’ll keep the PG-13.”
- “Give her a William Wallace moment in that Excalibur-type armor on a horse.”
- “Pirates of the Caribbean is a billion dollar franchise. Any chance we can get some sea battles in there?”


And the film plays just as silly as all that sounds; almost a parody of itself at times to the point where I was audibly snickering at the supposed dramatic gravitas that comes with shouting lines for urgency. I even have a standing bet with a colleague that Blanchett WILL NOT receive another Oscar nomination for this film. It’s too silly and she’s already favored to win a nod for Todd Haynes’ I’m Not There. Some nice costumes and production design, but don’t go looking for another lucky seven come January.

Nobody killed a legend greater than what Julie Taymor did to the music of the Beatles in Across the Universe. Attempting a big-screen equivalent of Mamma Mia, The Jersey Boys and Cirque Du Soleil’s Love, Taymor did the unthinkable and invited comparisons to one of the all-time cinematic musical embarrassments, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Silly” should have been the worst of the adjectives lobbed at such an ambitious experiment. Instead the film is notable for its abject lack of ambition. Never would I have imagined the musical numbers to be so lifeless and repetitive, but why waste words? You can read more about my thoughts on the film as I long for the day for someone to go Across the Universe with Huey Lewis .

Adding another title into the pantheon of musical biopics about A-level twats, we now have the story of Joy Division’s lead singer, Ian Curtis, in Anton Corbijn’s Control. The characteristic that sets this film apart from all the other A-level twat biopics is that it’s in black-and-white. Ooooh, edgy. Pretty much defines the movie too. The guy had folders of stories and lyrics and lyrics that told the stories of his life. A wacky dancer who wrote some interesting songs but treated his wife badly and repeat. I’m sure Sam Riley captured the downtrodden presence of the singer, but there’s nothing interesting about his performance. Much better is the always astounding Samantha Morton in the thankless role of the put-upon wife and Craig Parkinson playing Tony Wilson, Joy Division’s manager formerly immortalized by Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom’s fantastic 24-Hour Party People, a far more interesting piece about this period and its music.

A much more palatable story about musicians is Eran Kolirin’s breezy and sweet, The Band’s Visit. Members of the Egyptian Police Force Band are dropped off for a gig in Israel and left without transport and with little clue as to where they are supposed to go. A local woman from a café offers to put them up for the night. The band’s resident lothario schools a shy, local kid on how to succeed during a night on the town while their leader (wonderfully played by Sasson Gabai) cautiously accepts a dinner invitation from the respectfully flirty café owner (Ronit Elkabetz). The film may not be heavy lifting but has the kind of perfect lighthearted sensibility that will strike at the heart of those charmed by films like The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine. Only partially subtitled, The Band’s Visit should find its audience over time and was a perfect antidote to the recent spate of dramatic culture clash cinema.

DOUCHEBAGS ON JOURNEYS
Some are quick to admire Christopher McCandless, the twentysomething society dropper whose story was told in Jon Krakauer’s book, and even quicker to admire Sean Penn’s epic treatment of his story, Into the Wild. Don’t count me in on either front. While it’s hard to gauge from the film exactly what Penn’s ultimate attitude is on the kid himself, the film while well-made and beautiful to look at, does McCandless no favors by showing him for what he is – a spoiled, selfish jackass who took off on his own after college to hit the open road and ultimately make enough money to live in Alaska. So he gives $24,000 in savings to charity and the next time we see him with some greenbacks, he’s openly burning them. Yet he has to take jobs to earn money to get himself to John Sayles country and has no qualms about picking up paychecks despite giving petty speeches about the evils of materialism. Hey, screw you buddy! If you were out there for the greater good (repeat: the greater good) on some environmental mission, then I might have felt a little bad when you starved to death. Sorry, you were out for yourself and contributed nothing to society than some pretentious wisdom and another corpse. Maybe if the film had concentrated on his relationship with an elder widower (lovingly played by Hal Holbrook) from the latter portion, it could have developed into what seems to be Penn’s ultimate point – that the beauty of life is best shared with someone. As it stands, that point is a big “gotcha” that makes me snicker at McCandless’ journey rather than applaud it.

While less selfish, but exceedingly more tedious are the journeys of Michael Pitt’s character in François Girard’s Silk. This poor bastard is married to the gorgeous and often naked Keira Knightley, but he has a local silk tycoon (Alfred Molina) running him off across the world to capture the secrets of keeping silkworms alive. He goes to Japan, comes back and has to go right back where he begins to fancies the chief baron’s concubine who writes him love notes he can’t understand. Pitt continues to be the actor’s equivalent of a Botox experiment gone wrong and this film is wholly reflective of his method.

BUSINESS IS MURDER
The last thing you might expect to find at a film festival is the name Renny Harlin. With a recent track record of The Covenant, Mindhunters and Exorcist: The Beginning, maybe the once (semi)-respected action director was turning over a new leaf with something a bit more auteurist. The result is Cleaner, a noir-ish type thriller that doesn’t seem to know it’s supposed to be noir. It stars Harlin regular Samuel L. Jackson as a guy who cleans up homes when someone expires unexpectedly. Apparently the states do not involve their civil servants in sprucing up your carpets and furniture after a loved one dies. Well, the former cop gets called in to clean up one bloody mess only to discover the homeowner (Eva Mendes) had no idea of the mess. Jackson calls in former partner Ed Harris to help him out of the jam as the cops and the wife all suspect something fishy. Cleaner is a respectable enough time waster for about an hour, but as what few plot twists there are zero in on the resolution you realize how much of a time waster you were actually watching. Worse off, this is as un-Harlin a film as there has ever been. And without the big action sequences, you have to wonder just how much the director understood of the plot. Clearly you have an innocent man, a cover-up, police corruption, red herrings and a potential femme fatale (even if it’s played by the thoroughly uninteresting and consistently awful Mendes) but Harlin never molds it into any coherent genre of the potboiler variety and the big unmasking is to no one’s surprise.

Also cleaning up death are the inhabitants of the funeral home at the center of Chaz Thorne’s Just Buried, a film that so wants to be the next Heathers and just never takes off. Jay Baruchel (of the Judd Apatow family that includes Knocked Up and TV’s Undeclared) inherits the home from his late father and soon falls in lust with the fetching mortician (the equally fetching Rose Byrne). After an accidental roadkill, the pair carefully cover it up on their table and hit upon an idea to boost business for the near bankrupt business. See where I’m going with this? Absent of Heathers’ dark subtext, Just Buried can only succeed on its comic overtones being more twisted than usual. But its all rather tame and even the oddly alluring site of Byrne in a wedding dress cutting down doors with a bonesaw isn’t enough to drum up interest.

Speaking of guys who wish they were dead, there’s Stephen Rea in Stuart Gordon’s uber-brilliant dark comedy, Stuck. Starting off in the realm of social satire that was his film adaptation of David Mamet’s Edmond from last year, Rea plays an evicted tenant wandering the streets with his possessions and Mena Suvari is a well-meaning hospice nurse good to the patients who clearly cannot care for themselves, but without much of a life outside of work. Surely these two will meet and form some kind of co-dependent bond. Well, sort of. Rea’s bond will come with Suvari’s windshield when she smashes into him with her car. Dazed and flustered, instead of stopping she drives home with him embedded in the window and leaves him in the garage. To spoil just how much mileage Gordon gets out of this premise (based on an actual 2003 incident) in a little over 80 minutes would be crueler than the fate Rea has in store for himself as he desperately tries to wedge himself from shards of broken glass and the imprisonment of a girl who doesn’t know the first thing about discarding a body or finishing it off in the first place. After one bad macabre comedy after another, Gordon shows the kids how it’s done with probably his best work since his ‘80s Lovecraft double bill of Re-Animator and From Beyond.

FIXING THINGS ONE STEP AT A TIME
Tony Gilroy gets his share of points for amping up the Bourne series with truncated and bare essential versions of the Ludlum books. In his directorial debut, Michael Clayton, his screenplay once again has the vision of something far more complex but on the surface ends up pretty simplistic and not as satisfying. George Clooney gives a brilliant performance as the titular character, a law firm “fixer” at the end of his professional ropes. In a moment of conscience he begins looking into the meltdown of a fellow lawyer (Tom Wilkinson) over a multi-million dollar class action suit thus fraying a few nerves in his office and the company rep (Tilda Swinton) on the line if they come out on the losing end. Much of Michael Clayton plays like an extended third act of better, Steven Zaillian scripts. Similar to A Civil Action’s change of heart but without the setup that really defines where our protagonist must pull a 180 on, Clooney’s character is a fixer whom we never see really fix anything. The climactic confrontation between Clooney and Swinton is terrific enough to warrant the film its own second chance at redemption, but the first go-round left me rather cold.

Not nearly as cold though as Paul Schrader’s The Walker which stars Woody Harrelson as an unapologetically gay escort to Washington’s elder socialites. When one of his closest (Kristin Scott Thomas) discovers her lover stabbed to death, he shields her and her politician husband from potential scandal by reporting it himself even while he harbors some slight suspicion that she may have been involved. As he becomes the suspect of the district attorney, he does some slight investigating himself. Notice the multiple use of slight and you’ll see the lack of both drive and savvy insider talk that the film lulls us through. Barely any sort of mystery or thriller, it also never grasps a true study of this character whose traits contradict what it is to be a Washington insider even if he doesn’t know it. We’re left wallowing through a lackluster plot and a cast including Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, Willem Dafoe and Ned Beatty; none of whom get to make a real impression with potentially fascinating characters.

Finally, trying to fix his relationship with Thandie Newton (and because it’s title provides the necessary antonym for flowing purposes) is the great Simon Pegg in David Schwimmer’s Run, Fatboy, Run. Pegg plays a guy so commitment-phobic that he has a panic attack on the day of his wedding and runs off leaving the pregnant bride stranded. Years later, he has managed to live up to his responsibilities as a shared parent but is distraught when his ex’s new beau (Hank Azaria) appears to be everything he’s not. Making a competition out of it, hopefully to reacquaint himself in her heart, he decides to run with the new fiancé in a London marathon. Yeah, not much of a comic plot there for even an Adam Sandler let alone Pegg whose affiliation with Edgar Wright and Nick Frost have produced two of the best comedies in recent memory (Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz). Pegg gets some scattered laughs with a little help from Shaun co-star, Dylan Moran. Azaria is mostly wasted as the standard smug, perfect guy who must show his jerky side by the end to make the woman’s choice easier. There’s a bit more heart than your usual lame, one-joke comedy but not enough to make your choice a tough one on whether to see this or what’s playing next when in arrives in theaters.

CAN WE GET A LITTLE (more) SEX?
That’s pretty much what you expect when someone slaps the NC-17 rating on a film and Ang Lee has gone that route with the appropriately titled Lust, Caution. Not only does it warn more conservative moviegoers what they are in store for but also for the liberal crowd that it’s about all this film has to offer and you have to wait about 90 minutes to get what you paid for. Essentially the Asian version of Paul Verhoeven’s far more involving and exciting, Black Book, Lee’s film involves a young Chinese woman (Tang Wei) joining up with a local resistance to take down a traitor (Tony Leung) during the Japanese occupation of WWII. Well she takes him down all right, and backwards and forwards and on top making it the second set of balls I saw on my Toronto trip after Viggo’s. But Notorious this isn’t unless that’s how you describe somewhat graphic sex. I’d describe it more as Memoirs of a Gay-sha. Take away the repetitive coitus and a nasty stabbing sequence and you’re left with about 140 minutes of tedium that makes Brokeback Mountain look like Cliffhanger.

One thing I can’t say about Julio Medem’s Chaotic Ana is that it’s boring. It’s way too nutty for that despite a narrative that is perhaps a compliment to label as unfocused. A young painter (the stunning Manuela Vellés) is giving a chance to study at a commune for other artists. After starting a quick sexual relationship with another student who soon abandons her, she begins a series of odd breakdowns which a hypnotist believes are visions of past lives. The film counts us down through its various chapters as if we’re under hypnosis ourselves and we’re taken through Ana’s connections and body-baring encounters with numerous men only to discover the whole exercise may be a thinly veiled attack on our involvement in Iraq. Hey, if you were watching a sexualized Spanish-language film only to see none other than Gerrit Graham (yes, Gerrit Graham) appear for the English-speaking final act as a horny Donald Rumsfeld-type who gets literally dumped on by the title character, you’d think you were in a trance too. Is that a success? I don’t know. But I know I’ll never forget it.

Turning to a film that sounds like it should be about sex, but is actually something far sweeter and sadder. It’s Craig Gillespie’s Lars and the Real Girl. Don’t let his association with Mr. Woodcock put you off and I take back everything I said about Ryan Gosling being on notice for his bag-of-tricks performance in Fracture. Here he gives one of the best performances of the year as a reserved, emotionally shutoff guy who lives in the converted garage of his brother and sister-in-law (Paul Schneider & Emily Mortimer, both terrific.) Taking a cue from a co-worker he unexpectedly purchases one of those lifesize love dolls and carts her around as a living object. He has conversations with her and even has a whole backstory created, but what’s left of his family fears they have lost him for good. That is until a therapist (Patricia Clarkson) encourages them to go along with Lars’ fantasy. What sounds too goofy to be believed and maybe an overly quirky experiment turns out to be a quietly affecting powerhouse about a community looking out for one of their own and how someone works through their own dementia to come out the other side. When it was all over, I felt the emotional weight of having someone close put an arm around you to assure you everything will be OK. Few films are able to suckerpunch me the way this one did and I thank everyone from screenwriter Nancy Oliver to Gillespie to the entire cast for doing it just when I needed one.

As real girls go, there are few more worthy of crushing on than Anna Faris who, in her still young career, has given more genuine comic performances than most twice her senior. The staple of the Scary Movie franchise has been brilliant in small roles from May to Lost in Translation to stealing the show in the otherwise by-the-numbers comedy, Just Friends. Only she could make a Gregg Araki film watchable and she does so in spades as the pothead center of Smiley Face which I first saw at Sundance this year.

If ever there were a pair of films a strenuously sober person like myself would have welcomed a drug-induced stupor for then it would be the double feature of Love Comes Lately and New York City Serenade. The former is based on the short stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer who shares part of the blame for Yentl. It follows an eighty-something writer named Max Kohn (pronounced “CONE”, a fact that I wish had a drinking game involved while being reminded of) who travels around on speaking gigs about his work and is under constant suspicious of infidelity from live-in love Rhea Perlman. Along the way he meets a delusional hotel maid (Elizabeth Pena), a former student (Barbara Hershey, still unbelievably sexy at close to 60) who still wants to sleep with his wrinkled balls (thankfully no trifecta here) and an even crazy suicidal widower (Tovah Feldshuh) whose fate made me laugh uncontrollably in an dwindling audience of industry buyers. Some of it is real, some of it imagined, all of it unwatchable. Clearly the worst film I had seen at the festival. Until the morning of New York City Serenade.

While colleagues questioned my waking up at 7:30 am on the 7th day of the festival to catch a Freddie Prinze Jr./Chris Klein joint, I brought up that it was a film directed by Frank Whaley. Yes, the guy from Career Opportunities. But it was enough to provide momentary pause to them forming an intervention. Whaley had directed a festival semi-fave a few years ago called Joe the King with Val Kilmer. OK, step down in leading men but still – maybe Whaley was the guy to bring Prinze into the next phase of his career. That Brooklyn Rules movie has was in this year that nobody saw got some praise from highbrow critics. I didn’t read the reviews so maybe everything in the film was good except him, but c’mon, give the guy a chance.

Scratch that. No more chances for Freddie Prinze, Jr. You could be directed by Martin Scorsese in a script by David Mamet and you would still come off as a dazed fruit plate. In New York City Serenade, while I waited for any remnant of a vocal solo to explain its title, the pretty straightforward film strains credibility everytime its mentioned that Prinze is a filmmaker. Granted it’s a short film invited to the kind of film festival that even the organizers aren’t aware is going on, but c’mon. So he’s this wannabe filmmaker who doesn’t understand the foreign film he takes Meadow Soprano to see. (OK, typecasting.) Klein plays the ne’er-do-well best friend with pussy and beer on the brain always getting him into trouble. Think the literal bizarro version of Superbad. That’s about it. Unless it’s goal was to get into Guinness for the longest, pointless, worst written epilogue in film history where Prinze and Klein run into each other after being estranged for years and have something like four breaks in the conversation to finally separate and they never do, New York City Serenade is the kind of film that indie filmmakers without money should band together against with pitchforks and torches. Stab the film in the teeth, run it through a bread slicer and then flambe the fruit plate. Both films get ZERO STARS

FAMILIES WHO SUCK
When did Noah Baumbach become the Gregg Araki for New York intellectuals? He used to be just the guy who thought he was Whit Stillman. Now after all 75-some minutes of The Squid and the Whale he’s the guy determined to show you how crappy family life really is? His latest, Margot at the Wedding, has Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Jason Leigh as sisters. Leigh is getting married to Jack Black and the divorced Kidman is coming to their countryhouse with her son for the festivities and see how many scenes of random revulsion they can cram into two hours. They include Black’s naked ass as he stares at his body in the mirror, Kidman’s adrogynous son talking about masturbation and getting bitten by the white trash neighbor kid. He tosses in the sight of Kidman doing her own clambaking and Leigh with her shirt open for like the seventeenth time but it hardly makes up for the countless other behaviors employed by Kidman’s interfering, mistrustful bitch of a character and how many inferences Baumbach makes to the suburbs being such a horrific place. From one suburbanite to I assume another at one time, the worst anyone can say about such areas is that they are boring or somehow represents a closed-off conservative place to inhabit. You obviously grew up to be a god damn filmmaker, so how bad could it have been for you?

Another pair of unhappy siblings, yet far more tolerable in appreciating their miseries are Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Tamara Jenkins’ The Savages. Hoffman is an English professor and author, Linney the aspiring playwright, both in relationships that neither can commit to. But they have bigger fish to contend with when their father takes a trip into dementia and they must put him into a nursing home. Here is a film, much like Baumbach’s, that is not steeped in plot and yet finds the everyday human foibles of its central characters as natural (and sometimes comic) flaws rather than attributes that rank them above or below our own. It’s one of the year’s festival favorites, a solid drama defined by two top drawer performances. Like Away from Her, maybe not the most appealing subject matter to draw you into the theater, but a film that handles with enough humor and a whole lot of class.

Michael Douglas also plays a father who lost his mind in Mike Cahill’s King of California. You introduce a little bipolar into a family and everyone from the neighborhood wonders why your new pet from the North is humping your stuffed Yogi doll. Seriously though, mental illness is no laughing matter. Particularly if you think The Fisher King was actually a documentary about what happened to Robin Williams after one too many crappy movies. Evan Rachel Wood plays the daughter left behind to take care of herself and she’s horrified to discover her just-released father believes there’s Aztec Gold buried in the catacombs of a Costco. In “”’s film it’s bipolar that brings a family together as Wood joins the hunt and fails to share her shovel with us so we can dig our own way out. A false exercise from start to finish that hopefully won’t possess thousands of schizophrenics to take over their nearest Sam’s Club. Actually, on second thought…

The children of Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage also might have a gripe about how they were raised. One of their bunkmates managed to get a family and leave the domain, but returns decades later to live within the now domestic residence hoping to turn it into her home for children of special needs. Her own adopted child actually has a terminal illness and now he’s beginning to see a few more imagianry friends in their home and the cave along the shore. When a creepy social worker shows up and the boy discovers both his past and his fate, he disappears, leaving mom to seek outside assistance as the only one convinced he’s still alive. It all leads to clues within the supernatural and the past history of their home but not completely in the manner you have built up in your head. Through all its well-executed jolts and calculated suspense building, The Orphanage ends on a note that is as moving as it is surprising. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro (but better than anything he’s ever directed – including the overrated Pan’s Labyrinth), The Orphanage is the best ghost story I’ve seen since Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others from 2001.

Amos Gitai clearly has gone to the “film it all” school of storytelling. Lots of long takes, much of it without dialogue. Sometimes it’s hypnotic, like the opening single take on Natalie Portman’s face in Free Zone. Sometimes it’s just dull, like much of Disengagement. Juliette Binoche plays the stepsister every guy from 12-60 wishes they had. Her father has just died and her half-brother has come back into her life to assist in the grieving process, which isn’t very long. After discovering she doesn’t have a prominent place in the will, she must journey into Gaza with the bro (who is a policeman there assigned to kick out Israeli settlers) to find the long-lost daughter she gave up years ago to inform her of her newfound inheritence. If you’ve seen Free Zone, then expect more scenes about problems getting into areas. If you’re a Binoche fan, you may be confused at first by the American accent and the oddness of her fress spirit performance. By the end she shifts back into the expressive Binoche we love to watch. If you even notice at all. Your mind still might be on the scene where she flaunts her naked body for stepbro over and over again. That’s a beautiful, real woman right there, guys. Take note the next time you hear “Paris Hilton” and “hot” in the same sentence. Also take note that once you see that scene, you’re free to leave and not miss much.

YOU’VE MET MY FRIENDS ROB, CHEAT AND KILL?
One of the most irresistible cast/plot combos I saw in the festival lineup this year was for Ira Sachs’ Married Life. You have Chris Cooper married to Patricia Clarkson in 1940s suburbia. Cooper is fooling around with Rachel McAdams and his skirt-chasing best friend is played by Pierce Brosnan. Cooper, fearing that asking for a divorce would socially humiliate his wife, who already suffers from a irritable (but not fatal) stomach condition, he decides that putting her out of her misery for good is the best avenue for everyone’s happiness. Dark comedy? Hitchcockian thriller? Nope on both counts. Sachs goes for Sirk-ian melodrama. He’s got the look right and the right actors for the job and yet for 90 minutes, Married Life feels as if he’s working us into a state of euthanasia along with Clarkson. Every performance is incapable of being described as anything less than dead-on. Few do dissatisfied and sad better than Cooper. Clarkson is the disillusioned homebody who exists in this period to put on a happy face. McAdams is more than just another golddiggin’ crazy mistress, but someone who just wants to be happy and appreciates those around her seeking the same. Then you have Brosnan who is just born to play roles like these, the cad in the hat, who finds out more about himself watching over McAdams for Cooper than he ever thought capable of. And yet the film just never pops. Even as just mood it’s still a yawner.

Onto another husband plotting murder to spite his wife, there’s Kenneth Branagh’s remake of Anthony Shaffer’s classic play (and subsequent film version of) Sleuth. Michael Caine switches sides to take on the game-obsessed Laurence Olivier role and his modern Alfie counterpart, Jude Law, takes on another Caine performance. (Be sure to pay attention for that Alfie reference, too.) Scripted now by Harold Pinter, Branagh’s version runs nearly a full hour shorter than the Joseph L. Mankiewicz film and it still crackles with the sight of two terrific actors going at each other non-stop. But like the 1972 version, Branagh still cannot solve how to pull off the big second act twist on film. It’s nearly impossible unless you completely cheated in an Ethan Hunt kinda way. It’s a stage trick that lives and dies on an audience’s field of vision. It’s a shame too because Caine is great as always, Law is having fun throughout and Branagh is really directing the hell out of this thing. I don’t know if introducing Alec Cawthorne II would have helped fool more people, but it’s the one thing they could have at least tried.

It’s too bad that Sleuth is only a two-act production, because I would have loved to have seen a surprise third act where Caine invites one or more characters from Bernie Goldmann and Melisa Wallack’s Bill and just shoots them point blank. When I saw The Black Dahlia last year I stated that Aaron Eckhart, a normally very reliable actor, gave the most embarrassing performance of his career. It’s a year later and that position has to be re-thought. No he’s not picking up where Mickey Rooney left off as the title character. Rooney’s Bill had a lot more dignity. Eckhart’s Bill is kind of a pathetic offshoot of William H. Macy in Fargo. He has a bank job thanks to his father-in-law whom he’s hoping to get support for his own doughnut franchise. His wife (Elizabeth Banks) is cheating on him with TV reporter Timothy Olyphant and he’s being followed around by a high school kid (Logan Lerman) with a crush on Jessica Alba that he’s been finagled into mentoring. Insufferable is more appropriate than merely just being unfunny and that’s just describing the plot. Eckhart’s stuttering manic performance gets less traction than his uncombed moptop, the beginning of some loopy metaphor that consists of multiple scenes of watching Eckhart shave off his body hair one section at a time. Banks and Olyphant are completely wasted. The best thing you can say about Alba is that this isn’t Good Luck Chuck. And Logan Lerman’s performance is almost historic in being so misguided, so smugly without purpose or personality aside from smiling inhabiting a character so nerve-grating and witless that you’d rather see him in a looped one-man show of Hostel.

Where is Jodie Foster from Neil Jordan’s The Brave One when you need her? She could have tracked down this little bastard, recognized evil incarnate and blown his ass away. Certainly would have made for a better movie – but you can read more about that HERE.

I always like to end on a positive note; the kind of grand finale I wish more movies of any genre would be able to find for themselves. It doesn’t get more grander than the Coen Bros. when they are firing on all cylinders. And they haven’t been this turbo-charged since the debut of Fargo in 1996. No Country for Old Men, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, is one of the most striking, violent, darkly humorous works of art this year. Mixing the bloodier realms of new crime with the philosophies of the old West, this is a brilliant molding of a crowd pleasing cat-and-mouse thriller and a stimulating thinker on the nature of fate and the beginnings of a seminal decade. Josh Brolin plays a guy who comes across the remains of a drug deal gone bad. Numerous corpses and a case full of two million dollars. Aware of the gravity of the situation, he hits the road and tells his wife (the lovely Kelly MacDonald) to do the same. Gangs full of guns would actually be welcome though compared to one of the great portrayals of villainy in all of cinema history by Javier Bardem. He will as soon flip a coin to decide your fate as he will pump you close range with a cattle gun. On both their trails is the crusty Texas sheriff played by, who else, Tommy Lee Jones as the film’s dwindling symbol of hope. For a full 90 minutes through its first two acts, No Country for Old Men ranks as the most satisfying and nail-biting entry into their crime excursions. It’s final half-hour though is going to throw some audiences, just as it did me at first, a dramatic shift of tone where words speak louder than action and we must accept that fate is not interested in good guys and bad guys and even less with plots. Dissenters of The Sopranos final episode should have a whole new field day in store, but this only takes two solid hours instead of seven spotty years of your time. Time well spent in welcoming back the Coens to the top of their form.

That concludes another week at the Toronto Film Festival. We'll do it all again next year and try to hit a magic 40 films during my stay.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2263
originally posted: 09/29/07 00:23:05
last updated: 10/21/07 07:09:15
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