Friday, September 26, 2008

TIFF 08 Recap Part 3

Part 1 (Featuring JCVD, RocknRolla, etc.)
Part 2 (Featuring Nick and Norah's Infinite Playist, Ashes of Time Redux, etc.)

Flash of Genius

In this David versus Goliath tale, Greg Kinnear plays professor Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper. Based on real events, the film documents how Kearns was the first person to successfully master the device; beating out many of the major car companies’ top engineers. Kearns brought his invention to the Ford Motor Company with hopes of manufacturing the device himself. Unfortunately Ford had different plans; they stole his data and started massed producing the wipers in their own vehicles. What followed next was an extensive legal battle that ultimately pushed both Kearns and his family to the brink.

If “Flash of Genius” had been done in an edgier style, say like Michael Mann’s “The Insider”, I think you would be hearing a lot of Oscar buzz for Kinnear’s performance. Sadly the film harkens back to the Frank Capra era of cinema, and ends up coming off a little too predictable. The thing I found most fascinating about the film was the relationship between Kearns and his wife (Lauren Graham). The film does a good job showing how Kearns obsession for justice slowly ate away at their once perfect marriage. Another aspects that stood out for me was Robert Kearns’ persistence. It was never really about the money; he merely wanted the public recognition. While his drive is to be commended, ultimately the audience is left to question if the result worth the journey? Flash of Genius” may not bring anything new to the genre, but it is worth checking out mainly for Kinnear’s performance.

The Wrestler

Speaking of great performances, Mickey Rouke does a stellar job as a Randy “The Ram” Robinson a wrestler twenty-five years past his prime. Unable to give up the life, Randy moves from one meaningless wrestling gig to the next just to cover rent. Randy’s personal life is also in shambles, he has not spoken to his daughter (Rachel Evan Wood) in years and his health is not what it use to be. The closes thing Randy has to a friend is a stripper named Cassidy (Marisa Tomei); who only views Randy as simply a client. After a wrestling event leaves Randy in the hospital, he is forced to contemplate his celebrated life in the ring versus rebuilding the shatter pieces in his personal life.

While Rouke will receive most of the praise for his work, and deservedly so, credit must also go to director Darren Aronofsky. For once Aronofsky proves that he can tell a straightforward story. There are no fancy editing devices, no major special effects, no major plot twist, etc. “The Wrestler” is just a small simple story rich with well developed characters. Both Marisa Tomei and Rachel Evan Wood give strong performances in their respected supporting. Hopefully Tomei will finally see some better roles comeback her way. She proves in this film, as she did with “In The Bed Room”, that she can handle the meatier roles if given the chance. As a lot of press has already been given to “The Wrestler” since its win at the Venice film festival, I will merely say that it is definitely one the better films to come out this year.

Last Stop 174 (Ultima Parada 174)

Having missed Jose Padilha’s much acclaimed documentary “Bus 174”, about the hostage taking of Brazilian transit bus 174, at the festival a few years back; I was looking forward to at least seeing the dramatized version of that event. Unfortunately the events surrounding that tragic day are only featured in the last twenty minutes of “Last Stop 174.” What we get instead his a tale of young misguided Sandro eventually becomes the infamous 22 year-old hostage taker. The film follows both Sandro and his friend Alessandro as they struggle to survive the harsh streets of Brazil. They commit “drive-by” style robberies on unsuspecting citizens stuck in gridlock traffic, sell drugs, and various other deeds just to get by. There are also several other subplots going on in the film as well. One focuses on Sandro’s relationship with his prostitute girlfriend; another focuses on an outreach group trying to help the homeless kids; and the one involves Alessandro’s birth mother Marisa who, once a former drug addict, is now a born again Christian. Having not seen her son since he was a baby, Marisa mistakes Sandro for Alessandro and tries to bring him into her personal life…to the dismay of Marisa’s preacher husband.

Sadly all these threads feel extraneous, and only bog down the film. I had several problems with this film, the main one being that Sandro’s life is not that interesting. There is no real depth to the character, and frankly he is just not that likeable. You feel no sympathy at all for him. Yes he lost Sandro mother at a young age, but so have many other kids on the streets of Brazil. He descent into crime and drug use is nothing we have not scene before. “City of God” painted a far better picture than this film of the youth in Brazil. Also I did not see the use of having Alessandro, or his mother, in the film at all. By time everything plays out, you realize that they have no real part the direct events leading up to the hostage crisis. I actually found Alessandro to be a far more interesting character; too bad the film could not have focused on just him. Skip “Last Stop 174” and just rent the vastly superior documentary “Bus 174.”

A Film With Me In It

The problem I have with a lot of dark comedies is they go so dark, that the creators forget the humour. Fortunately, “A Film With Me In It” is not one of those films. This is dark comedy the way it should be done. The plot is about an aspiring actor, Mark (Mark Doherty), whose life seems to be getting worse by the day. He cannot get any roles, his live-in girlfriend has started sleeping in a separate room, his brother is a paralyzed, and his landlord refuses to fix his faulty apartment until Mark pays his three-month late rent. On one fateful day three unforeseen, yet hilarious, events occur mere moments from each other. Unsure of what he should do, Mark calls on his best friend Pierce (Dylan Moran) for advice. Yet it seems that despite their best efforts, Mark and Pierce only succeed in making the situation even worse.

While I would love to go into more detail around the plot, “A Film With Me In It” actually works better if you know little going in. Mark Doherty and Dylan Moran give great performances as well-meaning men who simple do not have a clue. The script, which was written by Doherty, perfectly plays to both actors’ comedic strengths. I was surprised by the fact that this film seemed to go under most festivalgoers, and film critics’, radar this year. Especially considering how well it was received at the screening I was in. Again, it is tough to talk about all the things I enjoyed about the film without ruining the best moments. I will just close by saying that I would highly recommend catching “A Film With Me In It” if you are in the mood for some witty dark Irish humour.

The Hurt Locker

War is a drug. That statement is featured in a quote at the beginning of Kathryn Bigelow’s latest testosterone filled movie. Those four simple words may not seem like much at the beginning of the film, but it will all make sense at the end. While the film takes place during the Iraq war, “The Hurt Locker” is not concerned with preaching about the horrors of war. This is film is all about the entertainment, and on that level it succeeds greatly. After losing their squadron captain (Guy Pearce), the Bravo Company must deal with a new leader who has his own unique methods for defusing bombs. James (Jeremy Renner) is what many would consider “a cowboy” in the field; he frequently breaks protocol and recklessly puts his life on the line. This makes his subordinates in Bravo Company, especially Sanborn (Anthony Mackie), very uneasy about working with him. As the bomb-defusing missions get more difficult, the uneasy tension between the men grows even greater.

“The Hurt Locker” is a film that thrives on tension. Bigelow does a fantastic job keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. Whether it is the stellar opening sequence, the shootout in the dessert, the numerous bomb-defusing scenes, or simply the men reaching their boiling point with each other, the film is never dull. Jeremy Renner and Anthony Mackie have great chemistry together, they bring good depth to their individual roles. Not only do we understand what makes James tick, but also how it affects the decisions he makes later on in the film. The bond that James and Sanborn have always feels authentic, even when they are ready to knock the other person out. I also like the little subplot in the film regarding a solider who fears death. Not only is it a good contrast to James’ character, but it also brings a subtle human aspect to the overall crisis overseas. Easily the most accessible (i.e. purely entertaining) movie surrounding the Iraq war to come out in a while, “The Hurt Locker” delivers the suspense on several levels. Be sure to keep an eye out for some inspired cameos by Ralph Fiennes and David Morse.

A Year Ago in Winter

Yet another festival film about a family torn apart by death, “A Year Ago in Winter” looks at a family whose life may not have been so perfect to begin with. When Alexander dies unexpectedly, he leaves a huge void in his family. A year later his mother, who loved Alexander more than she loved both her husband and her daughter combined, commissions a nearby painter to do a portrait of Alexander and her daughter, Lilli (Karoline Herfurth). Although she is adamantly opposed to the idea, Lilli agrees to meet the painter, Max (Josef Bierbichler), for a few sessions. As Lilli and Max spend more time together an unlikely friendship forms. Lilli soon discovers that Max has his own emotional issues regarding loss. As Max and Lilli help each other work through their individual pain; Lilli’s parents must also come to terms with Alexander’s death and the state of their relationship.

Directed by Caroline Link, who won an Oscar in 2003 for her film “Nowhere in Africa”, “A Year in Winter” did not grab me the way I thought it would. Maybe it was the fact that I had viewed “Genova” a few days earlier, or maybe it was the mood I was in, but I found the film to be rather boring. It is not a bad film per se, it just felt like I had seen this story done better elsewhere. Plus the only character I really found myself caring for was Max. There were times where Lilli was just a tad too annoying. I know that Lilli’s actions are partly due to the grieving, and partly due to how her parents treat her. Still, by time the moment of Lilli’s catharsis arrives I honestly felt nothing for her. I also thought that the Caroline Link could have developed the parents a little more. The parents, especially Lilli’s father, were far too one-dimensional. If Link had cut down on some of Lilli’s scenes and spent more time flushing out the parents, “ A Year Ago in Winter” might have actually been memorable.

Still to come: The Brothers Bloom, Slumdog Millionaire, Killing Kastzner, Gigantic, What Doesn’t Kill You, etc.

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