Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TIFF Recap 2

Part 1 (featuring JCVD and RocknRolla)

Lost Song

Winner of the “Toronto-City Award” for best Canadian feature-length film, ”Lost Song” is a startling glimpse at how postpartum depression can destroy a marriage. Pierre and Marie move out to the countryside after the birth of their still to be named child. Despite Pierre’s mother being in the cottage next door, there is a noticeable level of tension between the couple. As the days go by, the isolation becomes more present for Marie. Her only real source of joy comes when she spends time with Naomi, a young women staying at a cottage nearby. With the tension mounting between Pierre and Marie, life becomes vary unstable for all involved and leads to some tragic consequences.

Not an easy film to watch by any means, “Lost Song” really requires a lot of mental endurance on the part of the audience. The pacing is very slow and there are many lingering shots that are sustained only by the authentic sounds of nature. With very little dialogue throughout the film, the audience is left to fill in a lot of the missing pieces. In fact, the words “postpartum” or “illness” are never even uttered in the film. It also does not help that director Rodrigue Jean drops us right into the middle of things. When the film starts you immediately get the sense that something is not right with Pierre and Marie. It feels like they have been arguing for weeks over something we know nothing about. While I ended up really liking “Lost Song”, I literally had to let everything sink in overnight before I could reach a final decision. It also helped that I got into a very heated debate regarding the issues presented in the film moments after the credits started to role. “Lost Song” is a film that is both compelling and maddening at the same time. While the film rewards patience, it does not make the endurance test any easier for the audience.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Michael Cera follows up his work in “Superbad” and “Juno” with this charming teen romantic comedy. After being dumped by his girlfriend, Nick (Cera) accidentally come across Nora (Kat Denning) a strong-minded girl who is also experiencing some relationship lows. Although they get off to a rather rocky start, the two bond over one coming goal…to find Fluffy. Known for their legendary mystery concerts, the band named Fluffy is playing somewhere downtown that same night. Following clues placed throughout the city, Nick and Norah spend one crazy night attempting to find music and possibly love.

Helmed by “Raising Victor Vargas” director Peter Sollett, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” plays like a light-hearted Cameron Crowe film for the younger set. Since Sollett spends so much time focusing on the importance of music, the soundtrack practically becomes a characters in the film. The cast does a decent job at making their characters likeable and the situations somewhat believable. Michael Cera gives pretty much what you expect him to give. While his awkward deadpan-style of delivery is no longer surprising, it still works well for the film. Kat Denning brings some much-needed edge to Norah. Denning portrays Norah in a way that seems really authentic and well rounded, unlike most teen movies where the female characters are one-dimensional stereotypes. Yet the real highlight in the film is actress Ari Graynor, who steals every scene she is in as Norah’s drunken friend Caroline. Not only does Caroline have the funniest moments in the film, but some of the most disgusting as well. Although hardly anything new, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” is decent entry into the already extensive teen romance canon.

Treeless Mountain

Set in Korea, this semi-autobiographical tale from director So Yong Kim is about six year old Jin and her younger sister Bin coming to terms with issues of loss and abandonment. After their financial strapped mother sends the girls to live with their alcoholic aunt, Jin and Bin are forced to fend for themselves. Jin and Bin spend most of their days catching grasshoppers and waiting at the bus stop for their mother to return. As the days go by, and with no sign of their mother, the girls decide to start selling cooked grasshoppers to local kids. They figure that once their piggybank is full of money, their mother will finally comeback for them.

Treeless Mountain is a heart breaking film that stays with you long after the ends. The two leads, both novices, give fantastic performances. I found the film to be an interesting commentary on both the nature of family and the loss of innocence. The only real complaint I had with this film was the pacing. The film is extremely slow moving, which can often result in a few momentary “power naps” in film festival situations. Still, I found the film to be powerful without being too sentimental.


I will be the first to admit that I do not get the obsession women have with Colin Firth. Needless to say “Genova” was not as high on my list of films to see as it was for my female friends. Yet once I saw that Michael Winterbottom was the director, I decided to put my Firth at TIFF issues (i.e. the horrendous “Trauma” a few years back) aside and give this film shot. In “Genova”, Firth stars as a father who moves to Italy with his two daughters (Willa Holland and Perla Haney-Jardine) five months after his wife (Hope Davis) dies in car accident. Through the help of an old collage friend (Catherine Keener), Joe (Firth) lands a job teaching at a local university and finds a place for the family to stay. Despite being in picturesque Genova, there are still many unspoken wounds that Joe and the girls have regarding the death. Kelly (Holland), who is filled with anger towards Mary, starts to rebel by partying all night with locals. While Mary (Haney-Jardine), who is haunted by guilt-riddled nightmares, starts to question the existence of an afterlife.

Although there were many films about families dealing with lost at the festival this year, “Genova” was one of the best in my opinion. Winterbottom crafts and tale that takes a very realistic look at how families deal with grief. All the characters are at a crossroad, and the way each person handles it feels appropriate for both their age and situation. On the cusp of womanhood, Kelly’s actions and confusion seems very understandable. As Mary, Perla Haney-Jardine brings a level of range and emotion that few actress her age can achieve. Colin Firth is great as a man trying to cope with the past while trying to establish a new feature. I also really liked how Winterbottom handled the strenuous relationship between Firth-Keener-and a female student. Instead of going for a more traditional angle on the relationship, Winterbottm takes a more subtle and meditative approach. “Genova” is a fascinating, and realistic, portrayal of loss and the grieving process involved.

The Other Man

Richard Eyre follows up his brilliant film “Notes on a Scandal”, with this story about love, friendship and adultery. After losing his wife Lisa (Laura Linney) to cancer, Peter (Liam Neelson) discovers that she was having an affair with a man named Ralph (Antonio Banderas). Filled with anger Peter flies to Italy in hopes of tracking down, and killing, this mysterious Ralph. Once in Italy, Peter begins to play game of chess, both a literal and figuratively, with Ralph. While not revealing who he really is, Peter slowly tricks Ralph into opening up about the nature of his steam relationship with Lisa.

While the premise is interesting, “The Other Man” does not have enough gas in it to sustain the whole film. The film ends up being merely average at best. While Neelson, Linney, and Banderas are all very talented and capable actors; they can only do so much with the material they are given. One thing I found interesting about this film was how each character viewed the affair. Peter, the cuckold, immediately wants to seek revenge. Ralph sees his time with Lisa as the greatest love story he has ever encountered. Whereas Lisa merely views it as nothing more than I choice she has the right to make. This view is also echoed in the film Cloud 9, which I also saw at the festival. I guess I find it interesting mainly because this view would be completely different had Peter been the one who cheated. Another issue I had with the films was the fact that it strives to hard to reach an ending that can only be described as neat. It seems like the last half of the film is merely one big set up for the rather substandard finale.

New York, I Love You

Shown as a work in progress, the creators behind the “Paris Je T’aime” repeatedly urged the press not to review the film until the final product was ready. Although that does not impact me, I think I will hold off my full review until the film is released. Mainly because I am not sure what, if anything, will be cut or rearranged from the version I saw. What I will say is that this is the second film in the “love series.” Similar to “Paris Je T’aime”, “New York, I Love” features numerous vignettes on love from 12 directors from around the world. These directors include: Mira Nair, Allen Hughes, Shekhar Kapur, Natalie Portman, Brett Ratner, and Scarlett Johansson just to name a few. The film also features an all star cast with the likes of: Kevin Bacon, Julie Christie, Orlando Bloom, Natalie Portman, Shia LaBeouf, Ethan Hawke, Andy Garcia, Maggie Q, Chris Cooper, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Hayden Christensen, etc. Personally I found the majority of the shorts hit the mark, there were about five or so that were laugh out loud hilarious. Only a couple of them really fizzled out. Still it will be interesting to see what the final product looks likes. So far the film seems to be on the right track. The creators said that the next two installments in the series will be set in Jerusalem and Singapore.

Ashes of Time Redux

Oddly enough one of the few star struck moments I had at the festival this year was when Wong Kar Wai walked on stage to introduce the new version of his1994 film, “Ashes of Time.” In his introduction Kar Wai stated that there would not have been films like “In The Mood For Love” or “Chungking Express” if it had not been for “Ashes of Time.” He iterated that the film was a difficult shoot, yet it taught him many of the tools he uses now. “Ashes of Time Redux” is Wong Kar Wai one and only martial arts film. Featuring the likes of Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung, and a young Maggie Cheung, the film looks at how the lives of various swordsmen are intertwined. The men must not only take on ruthless bandits, but must also come to terms with the various women in their lives.

Having never seen the original “Ashes of Time”, I cannot speak on the changes the Wong Kar Wai has made. Although the film looks a bit dated the story holds up quiet well. What was interesting about this film was that Kar Wai was more interested in the themes of loving too much and not loving enough; than he was about the actually martial arts. This is not to say that the action sequences are bad, in fact they are very well orchestrated. Having said that, I found the overall pacing of the film to be slower that I thought it should be. Yet this is a minor quibble, which probably had to do more with my festival schedule than the actual film. Fans of Wong Kar Wai’s other films, will find much to enjoy in “Ashes of Time Redux.” Though, I am not sure well the film will be received by those unfamiliar with Kar Wai’s work.


Easily the most disturbing film I have seen this year, Deadgirl is a creepy coming-of-age tale that is firmly planted in the horror genre. One day while cutting class two social outsiders, Rickie and JT (Shiloh Fernandez and Noah Segan), break into an abandoned mental hospital to drink beer and goof off. When touring the institute the come across the body of a naked dead woman strapped to a gurney in the basement. Although all indications show that now one has been in the building for years, the body is still in good condition. Things get even weirder once they realize that not only is the woman alive, but she also cannot be killed. This evokes two vastly different reactions between the teens; JT wants to keep the woman as their own personal sex slave, where as Rickie wants no part in JT’s plan. As Rickie struggles with both the situation with the dead woman and his crush on a girl at school, JT starts spending a unhealthy amount of time with the dead girl. JT even goes as far as bringing in another fellow outcast to join in on the fun. This leads to a series of events that will both impact and test Rickie and JT’s friendship.

There were several things that bugged me about this film. Despite the coming-of-age tagline, all this film really has to say is that raging hormones drive teenage boys to do dumb things. Not that this much of a revelation. On top of that, all the women in the movie are treated as mere disposable objects. I would have loved to have known what the female audience members thought of this movie. Regardless of whether the “dead girl” is human or not, it is tough to sit back and watch her get repeatedly raped and beaten. What is also disturbing about the movie is the fact that it will probably do quiet well at the box office. Judging by directors Marcel Sermiento and Gadi Harel’s post screening Q&A, it seems that the they had no problems finding financing or securing music from high profile bands for the soundtrack. According to Sarmiento, everyone seemed more than keen to be involved with the project. The only real highlight in the movie comes during a botched kidnapping attempt. While the scene is wrong on so many levels, morally speaking, it is also the funniest moment in the whole movie. I guess my main issue with the film is that it is basically gratuitous for gratuitous sake. You really do not care for any of the characters too much, especially since they all make one bad decision after the next. Once you get past the shocking premise it becomes quite clear that, even by horror standards, Deadgirl has no real substance to it.

More review still to come in the next week or so (including: The Wrestler, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire, The Brothers Bloom, etc.)

1 comment:

  1. there were some awkward moments in nick and nora that were hard to get past... such as every time that gum was re-used (yuck!)


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